Tag Archives: Edmonton Journal

Dave Cournoyer (left) with two teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics, Andrew Kaczynski (centre) and Al Meunier (right).

Thank you to the teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics

Today is World Teachers’ Day, which is held annually on 5 October as part of a UNESCO initiative to appreciate, assess, and improve the educators of the world. In this spirit, almost everyone can name a teacher they had in school who played an important role in inspiring, encouraging and challenging them to further their interests and studies.

I am blessed to have had many great teachers during my K-12 and university education in Alberta but there are two Social Studies teachers who I credit for playing big roles introducing me into the world of Alberta politics.

During the 1997 provincial election, as part of my Grade 8 Social Studies course at École Georges H. Primeau School in Morinville, we were given an assignment that required us to collect news paper clippings of media coverage of the election. Each evening, after my parents had finished reading the papers, I studiously cut out relevant news stories from the Edmonton Journal, the Morinville Mirror and St. Albert Gazette, and glued them into a scrapbook.

I cannot remember whether I was asked or if I volunteered, but my teacher, Al Meunier, was organizing an all-candidates forum at the school and was looking for student volunteers. Each of the election candidates was to be introduced by a student at the start of the forum and I was chosen to introduce and read the biography of Tom Turner, the local New Democratic Party candidate. I remember not completely understanding the differences between the candidates, but I do remember starting to pay more attention to Alberta politics after that event.

Three years later, Andrew Raczynski, an excellent teacher who had taught my Grade 9 Social Studies and English courses announced that he was running for the nomination to become the local provincial Liberal candidate in the next election. Unlike most rural areas in Alberta, the community I grew up in had a unique history of electing Liberal MLAs (Nick Taylor in 1986, 1989 and 1993 and Mary Anne Balisilie in a 1996 by-election). The PC candidate had only narrowly captured the constituency in 1997.

I had become more politically aware after the Progressive Conservative government attempted to ram through a law allowing for increased privatization of health care in Alberta. As a budding politico and soon-to-be voter, I was a impressed when I received personalized responses to letters I had sent to Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu about my concerns with increased privatized health care.

I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to volunteer on Mr. Raczynski’s campaign. I was elected as a director on the local constituency association board and over the next year I campaigned alongside the candidate in communities across the sprawling rural Redwater constituency. I knocked on doors in every hamlet, village and town in the constituency and attended more rodeos, parades, town fairs and demolition derbies than I ever imagined existed.

It was a great time. I learned a lot about politics and about the people in that area of Alberta. And even though the campaign was not successful in getting Mr. Raczynski elected (not for lack of hard-work, it was a really bad election year for Liberals in Alberta) it was a worthwhile experience. I was hooked on politics.

Soon after the campaign ended, I moved to Edmonton and began studying Political Science and History at university. I continued my involvement in party politics and became active with the Students’ Union at the University of Alberta, which led to an increasing interest in communications and media.

Mr. Meunier and Mr. Raczynski were two teachers who played a big role in sparking my interest in Alberta politics.

Without them, I might have become involved in politics in some role but likely not through the same path. I thank them for challenging me to think critically about my own views, giving me an opportunity to become involved and encouraging me to pursue my interest in Alberta politics.

Photo Above: Me (left) with two teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics, Andrew Raczynski (centre) and Al Meunier (right), at a 2014 rally featuring Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Edmonton.

Premier Rachel Notley and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee survey the wildfire damage in Fort McMurray.

Fort McMurray provides a humanizing break from hyper-partisan politics in Alberta

One year ago, the Edmonton Journal published a letter written by Greg Stevens, in which the former cabinet minister sent Alberta’s newly elected New Democratic Party best wishes at the start of its term as government. Mr. Stevens, who served in the Assembly  from 1979 to 1989 wrote that “Albertans have weathered storms before and they will rise to this change and continue to lead Canadians ahead.”

The learning curve has been steep for the new government over the past year, but Rachel Notley has faced the largest storm of her premiership this past week.

Ms. Notley has been a calm and commanding presence as the wildfires damaged the community of Fort McMurray. The Premier, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a registered nurse from Slave Lake who has served as a key communicator during this crisis, have been factual and compassionate in their communications with Albertans.

Clear communication has been key to the success of Ms. Notley’s daily press conferences with fire and safety officials. Ms. Notley is doing what she needs to be doing as premier: being a strong and compassionate leader for Albertans through this disaster.

Facing the wildfires that have devastated his community, including the loss of his own home, Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean has abandoned his normally adversarial tone and has been reasonable in his support of the government’s response to the wildfire. Faced with these losses, I cannot begin to imagine what he must be going through on a personal level. Not many of us can fathom what it feels like to lose our home and much of our community to a natural disaster.

Whatever his plans for the future as leader of the opposition, Mr. Jean would be smart to recognize that the collaborative and less confrontational tone looks good on him.

Similar reflections on leadership can be made about the strengths of other elected leaders who have stepped up to help during these wildfires, including Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, whose city has opened its doors as a refuge for tens of thousands of Fort McMurray evacuees. We continue to witness a refreshing dose of humanity in our country as people from all walks of life have stepped up to help those who have fled the wildfires.

The break in hyperpartisanship is, unfortunately, not universal. Nasty Internet memes and conspiracy theories have been promoted on social media spinning wild untrue accusations against the NDP, environmentalists and ISIL.

Not unlike other natural disasters, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have put aside their partisan differences for a moment in order to rally for Fort McMurray. It has taken a tragic event to provide a humanizing break from the increasingly hyper-partisan and polarized daily politics in Alberta.

As we move past the disaster and closer toward cleaning up and rebuilding the community, it is inevitable that the cordial feelings will break and partisanship will return, but our leaders have an opportunity to define what tone post-wildfire politics will look and feel like.

Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a rally in Edmonton in the summer of 2014.

What do the federal election results mean for Edmonton and Alberta?

With the excitement of the 2015 federal election one week behind us, now is a good time to take a look at how the results of the election could impact Edmonton and Alberta. The reality of a majority Liberal government in Ottawa will make Conservative Albertans uneasy, but there is little reason to believe this new government will lead to doom and gloom for our province.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion about the election results with Edmonton Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand and University of Alberta professor Steve Patten at a Institute of Public Administration of Canada event at Government House. With this discussion still fresh in my mind, here is a look at some of the ways last week’s federal election results could impact Edmonton and Alberta.

Liberal growth in Conservative Alberta
Conservative Party candidates earned 59 percent of the vote and elected candidates in 29 of Alberta’s 34 federal ridings. The Liberals broke a nearly five decade long drought in Calgary with the election of Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre and Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview. In Edmonton, two Liberals were elected in bellwether ridings – Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre and Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods. Since 1984, these two Edmonton ridings have elected MPs belonging to the party in government. (Note: the election results in Edmonton-Mill Woods will face a judicial recount).

The “Class of 2015”
There was a significant turnover in Alberta’s representation in Ottawa, with 18 of 34 Members of Parliament from our province being elected for the first time, including seven first-time MPs representing Edmonton ridings. This ‘class of 2015’ includes four Liberals and fourteen Conservatives.

Alberta in Cabinet
It is expected that Alberta will have representation in the federal cabinet but it is not clear how large that representation will be. In my opinion, it would be a grave mistake for incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to not appoint a cabinet minister from both Edmonton and Calgary. The third and fifth largest municipalities in Canada should have representation at the highest levels in Ottawa. These large urban centres also represent an area of future electoral growth for the federal Liberal Party. In Calgary, the Liberals earned a surprising 30 percent of the vote and in Edmonton they earned 23 percent. The new cabinet will be sworn-in on Nov. 4, 2015.

Federal-Provincial Relations
We have already witnessed a change in tone that could signal a significant improvement in the federal government’s relationship with the provinces. In the first week after the election, Mr. Trudeau invited provincial premiers to join Canada’s delegation to the important COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in November. Mr. Trudeau has also indicated his intention to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces.

Alberta-Ottawa Relations
The relationship between Ottawa and Edmonton would have been sour had Stephen Harper’s Conservatives been re-elected. After attacking Alberta’s NDP government numerous times during the campaign, it is unlikely that Mr. Harper and Premier Rachel Notley would have been able to develop the kind of productive working relationship that would benefit Albertans.

Even though she appeared on stage with NDP leader Tom Mulcair in the final days of the election campaign, Ms. Notley has indicated that she was willing to work with whoever became the next Prime Minister. If she and Mr. Trudeau can develop a good working relationship, Canadians may see progress on issues like pipeline expansion in the next four years. Although Mr. Harper was a vocal supporter of Canada’s oil and gas industry, he failed to secure the construction of new pipeline projects during his decade as Prime Minister.

A Municipal Agenda
The Liberals promised increased investment in public infrastructure and increased funding for municipal public transit projects. During his three-terms on city council, Mr. Sohi has been an vocal advocate for expanded Light-Rail Transit funding in southeast Edmonton. Mayor Don Iveson has been critical of the Conservative government’s lack of commitment to LRT funding in the past.

Commitment to defence funding
The Liberal platform committed to “maintain current National Defence spending levels, including current planned increases” which should at least be positive news for Edmontonians who work at CFB Edmonton.

The last First-Past-the-Post election
Mr. Trudeau promised that this federal election would be Canada’s last using the antiquated ‘first past the post’ electoral system. This would likely mean an end to Conservative overrepresentation of Alberta in Ottawa. Any system, whether it be proportional representation, single transferable vote or mixed member proportional representation, could allow voters choices to be better reflected in their representation in Ottawa. This would likely mean an end the system which allows 59 percent of voters to be represented by 81 percent of the Members of Parliament from Alberta.

Conservative Leadership
With Mr. Harper’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, that party will be thrust into a contest to select a new leader. While that party may seek to choose a new leader from another region of Canada, it is expected that Conservative MPs from Alberta will be candidates in that race. Already, there is speculation that Calgary-Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel and Calgary-Midnapore MP Jason Kenney are interested in seeking the leadership.

Liberals and NDP in the West
Western Canada is no longer a monolith of the Conservative Party support. With British Columbia and Manitoba electing more Liberal MPs than Conservative MPs, Alberta and Saskatchewan are now the only provinces where Conservatives outnumber other parties. While the Conservatives remain strong in the rural west, that party has lost ground to the Liberals and NDP in the western urban centres of Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. Twenty of the NDP’s 44 MPs and 29 of the 184 Liberal MPs were elected in ridings west of Ontario.

Trudeau wave bad news for Notley?
Conservative critics have already predicted that the rise of the federal Liberals in Alberta spells bad news for Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP. I suspect that the results of this federal election will have little impact on the level of NDP support in the next provincial election. It has been clear for some time that Mr. Mulcair is unpopular in Alberta. His noticeable absence from the province during the spring election campaign and low support for the federal NDP in four by-elections since 2011 suggests that Mr. Mulcair’s unpopularity has little impact on Ms. Notley’s political fortunes.

Tories invite Mike Allen back in, Wildrose show Joe Anglin the door

Mike Allen Jim Prentice Fort McMurray MLA

Alberta PC MLAs voted to invite Independent MLA Mike Allen back into the government caucus after a year in the opposition benches.

Progressive Conservative MLAs have voted to extend an invitation to Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen to rejoin their caucus. A relatively popular first-term politician in his constituency who many watchers believe will still do well in the next election (as an PC or an Independent), Mr. Allen left the PC caucus after he was arrested while trying to hire two prostitutes in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unfortunately for the Mr. Allen, the prostitutes happened to be police officers.

Police said he answered an online ad placed by undercover police, agreeing to pay two women $200 for sex. He was arrested and charged with a gross misdemeanour but pleaded guilty in December to a lesser misdemeanour of trying to hire prostitutes. He was fined $500, ordered to pay another $500 in court fees and sentenced to one-year of probation. His probation expires Dec. 18. (Edmonton Journal)

From a jail cell in Minnesota in July 2013 Mr. Allen did not deny the allegations, he admitted to his mistakes and voluntarily resigned from the PC caucus. As for his readmission into government, perhaps the MLAs in the PC caucus believe that one-year banishment into the opposition benches was punishment enough for Mr. Allen’s indiscretions.

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Joe Anglin

Joe Anglin Out
What is Joe Anglin to do? After losing the Wildrose Party nomination in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre last weekend, some political watchers have speculated that he might join the Alberta Party, others believe he could run as an Independent candidate in the next election. He has yet to let his intentions known.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith cheekily suggested he should run in Edmonton, which would be akin to Stephen Harper saying Rob Anders should run for re-election in Toronto. A one man wolf pack, Mr. Anglin is a liability for any party in the rigid system of party discipline that exists in our political system. And the closer a party gets to power, like the Wildrose is, the more rigid they become with their MLAs and candidates.

Is it uncommon for incumbent politicians to lose party nomination races? In Alberta, yes. In fact, there are only a handful of examples I can remember from recent history in Alberta politics:

Carl Benito MLA Edmonton Mill Woods

Carl Benito

– First-term MLA Carl Benito was defeated by Sohail Quadri in the Progressive Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods in 2012, Mr. Benito ran as an Independent in that year’s election. He placed fifth of six candidates with 480 votes (3.9%).

– PC MLA Art Johnston lost two nominations in advance of the 2012 election – to Rick Fraser in Calgary-South East and Ric McIver in Calgary-Hays. Mr. Johnston retired from politics after the election was held.

– Then-Leduc mayor George Rogers upset two-term MLA Albert Klapstein in the PC nomination in Leduc before the 2004 election. Mr. Klapstein retired from politics after the election was held.

– Two-term MLA Tony Abbott was defeated for the PC nomination in Drayton Valley-Calmar by then-Drayton Valley mayor Diana McQueen before the 2008 election. Mr. Abbott retired rather than run for another party or as an Independent.

New Licence Plates
Albertans are living with flooding hospitals, overcrowded schools and a cash-strapped legal aid system, but a new licence plate design is a government priority? Premier Dave Hancock announced changes to Alberta’s licence plates at a press conference today, including the removal of the long-time slogan ‘Wild Rose Country‘ from the plates. Recent polls suggest that the current slogan is accurate.