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Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017: Shannon Phillips, Sarah Hoffman, Sandra Jansen, Derek Fildebrandt, Brian Jean, RIchard Starke, Thomas Dang, Christina Gray, Jessica Littlewood, and David Swann.

Ten Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past decade. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits. As is tradition on this blog, each December I sit down by the open fire and pen a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or Finance Minister Joe Ceci, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here is my list of MLAs to watch in 2017:

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): The implementation of Alberta’s much lauded and much derided Climate Leadership Plan will be central to the government’s agenda in 2017. Navigating attacks against the incoming carbon tax, which led to the approval of two oil pipelines, will be critical to the success of the plan. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will also have to navigate the politics of replacing Alberta’s dirty coal fired power plants with renewable electricity generation, which could include potentially controversial hydro electric dam projects in northern Alberta.

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Now as Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Sarah Hoffman continues to prove that she is one of the toughest MLAs in the government benches. She has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Ms. Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I noted in last year’s list, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016 could find herself with a cabinet post in 2017. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Notley could shuffle the cabinet early next year. Appointing Ms. Jansen as Minister of Energy could help shore up NDP support in Calgary, especially with the recent approval of two oil pipelines. Or perhaps she could replace embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir?

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): The outspoken attack dog of the Official Opposition is unleashed, as was demonstrated by his rant against “political correctness” at a recent event organized by Ezra Levant’s fringe advocacy group. After being muzzled by Wildrose leader Brian Jean in early 2016, Mr. Fildebrandt is already feeling empowered in 2017 by the rise of Jason Kenney in Alberta’s Conservative movement. Like Mr. Kenney, he is a former Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a rigid conservative ideologue. Expect Mr. Fildebrandt to be one of Mr. Kenney’s chief lieutenants in his bid to merge the PC Party with the Wildrose Party in 2017.

Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Conklin): What lies ahead for the leader of the Wildrose Party? After Mr. Kenney succeeds in his hostile takeover of the PC Party leadership in May 2017, Mr. Jean might be the only obstacle standing in the way of the two parties merging. He saved his party from the electoral abyss in 2015, but the well-meaning Fort McMurray politician will face significant pressure from his party and the federal Conservatives to step aside to let Mr. Kenney take over. It seems unlikely that his leadership will survive 2017.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): If PC Party members want to preserve their party, rallying behind the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster might be their only, and last, chance. Standing in opposition to Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover, Mr. Starke appears to understand that his party’s success over the past four decades was not based in rigid ideology but in the ability to build a big tent that invited conservatives, moderates and liberals to the table. If he cannot win, then 2017 will be the final year for the PC Party in Alberta.

Thomas Dang (Edmonton-South West): Alberta’s youngest MLA could become known as the Daylight Saving Time Slayer in 2017. He announced this week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill in the spring session of Assembly that would abolish the unpopular annual time-shift.

Christina Gray (Edmonton-Mill Woods): Labour Minister Christina Gray is not the most high profile cabinet minister but she is charged with steering some of the NDP government’s important policy changes. This fall she introduced reforms to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, and next year she will face the government’s much-needed review of the Workers’ Compensation Board, expected changes to the Labour Relations Code and implementation of Occupational Health & Safety rules under the controversial Bill 6 farm safety law.

Jessica Littlewood (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): She had a rough time while serving as chair of the Special Select Committee on Ethics and Accountability, but the trial by fire was more than most of her rookie MLA colleagues have experienced. Despite the committee fumble, Ms. Littlewood stands out as a well-spoken and articulate member of the NDP caucus. A junior cabinet position could be in her future.

David Swann (Calgary-Mountain View): The ernest and hardworking interim leader of the Liberal Party will step down from that role in June 2017. It is not clear who will succeed Dr. Swann, who is currently Alberta’s only Liberal MLA (he is serving his fourth-term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View), which makes it difficult to predict what his role will be in a Liberal Party led by someone from outside the Legislature.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 20162015 and 2014.

Parties gear up for federal election 2015 – Alberta nominations update

Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses with some of the Conservative Party's newly acclaimed Alberta candidates (disclaimer: Candidates might actually be humans dressed in horse costumes).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses with recently acclaimed Conservative Party candidates (disclaimer: Candidates may actually be humans dressed in horse costumes).

Aside from recent updates about Kent Hehr running in Calgary-Centre and Darshan Kang running in Calgary-Skyview, it has been a while since I have published an update to accompany the list of candidate nominations for the next federal election, expected to be held in 2015. So, without further ado, let me present you the latest update:

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge Medicine Hat

Jim Hillyer

The Lethbridge -> Medicine Hat Shuffle
Almost as soon as Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne announced that he will retire at the next election, neighbouring MP Jim Hillyer jumped into the nomination race to replace him. The controversial Mr. Hillyer, who has represented the Lethbridge riding since 2011, had initially announced he would run against Mr. Payne for the Conservative nomination in the redrawn Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, but  was then sternly directed by his Ottawa bosses not to challenge a fellow MP. But once Mr. Payne announced his retirement, Mr. Hillyer jumped back into the Medicine Hat race.

As a nomination challenger, he faces Dan Hein, the former president of the local Conservative association and former the campaign manager for Mr. Payne in 2011.

Meanwhile, the NDP have nominated Cheryl Meheden in Lethbridge. That party did particularly well in the last election as the NDP candidate in 2011 earned 13,097 votes (27% of the total votes cast). Ms. Meheden is a former University of Lethbridge management instructor and former board chair for Economic Development Lethbridge. 

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta

Kyle Harrietha

Fort McMurray-Cold Lake
Fresh off the by-election campaign trail in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, the Liberals are expected to nominate Kyle Harrietha as their candidate in their candidate in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake on July 26 (the current riding boundaries will change when the next federal election is called). Conservative Member of Parliament David Yurdiga is expected to be automatically acclaimed as his party’s candidate because of the recent by-election.

Bow River
City of Brooks mayor Martin Shields is seeking the Conservative nomination in this new southern Alberta riding. Evangelical talk-radio host Paul Arthur is also running for the nomination.

Edmonton-Centre
The Liberals will hold a nomination meeting on August 7, 2014 where party members will have their choice of three candidates – entrepreneur Randy Boissonnault and lawyers Don Padget and Harold Robinson.

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals

Randy Boissonnault

On July 15, Conservatives gathered for what was described as a “soft launch” event for James Cumming, President and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, in support of his potential campaign for the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Centre. Current MP Laurie Hawn has announced his plans to retire at the next election.

Edmonton-Strathcona
 Liberal activist Wendy Butler, artist Heather Workman (aka Lady Dolphin), and lawyer Eleanor Olszewski are running for the Liberal nomination in this south central Edmonton riding. Lawyer and Edmonton-Gold Bar Progressive Conservative association president Len Thom is seeking the Conservative nomination. The riding has been represented by NDP MP Linda Duncan since 2008.

Edmonton-Riverbend
On May 5, Valerie Kennedy was acclaimed as the Green Party candidate in Edmonton-Riverbend. Ms. Kennedy was the Green Party candidate in Edmonton-Leduc in 2011. where she earned 2,896 votes (4.87% of the votes cast).

Nicole Van Kuppenveld Conservative Fort Saskatchewan Sherwood Park Election

Nicole van Kuppenveld

Edmonton-West
Local hotel manager Kelly McCauley has jumped into the Conservative contest in this new west Edmonton riding. Before moving to Edmonton, Mr. McCauley was the president of the Victoria Conservative association. He now faces Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao and Edmonton Police Constable Brad Rutherford for the nomination.

Edmonton-Wetaskiwin
MP Mike Lake defeated Leduc County mayor John Whaley for the Conservative nomination in this new mostly-south of Edmonton riding. A third candidate, Mohinder Banga was disqualified shortly before the nomination vote was held.

Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan
Four candidates are contesting the Conservative nomination in this new east-of-Edmonton riding. Past Wildrose candidate Garnett Genuis Bee Clean Building Maintenance vice president Randy Moore, Telus employee and retired Canadian Forces Major Joe Theberge, and 2013 Strathcona County municipal candidate Nicole van Kuppeveld.

And a whole swath of Alberta Conservative MPs have been acclaimed as candidates in the next election: Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary-Heritage, Devinder Shory in Calgary-Skyview, Chris Warkentin in Grande Prairie,  Kevin Sorenson in Battle River-Crowfoot, Earl Dreeshen in Red Deer-Mountain View, Blaine Calkins in Red Deer-Wolf Creek, Rona Ambrose in Sturgeon River, and Jason Kenney in Calgary-Midnapore.

Nomination battles in Edmonton-Wetaskiwin, Griesbach

Edmonton-Wetaskiwin Riding

The new Edmonton-Wetaskiwin riding includes portions of (1) Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, (2) Edmonton-Leduc, and (3) Wetaskiwin.

What happens when three federal ridings become one? South of Edmonton, large portions of the Wetaskiwin, Edmonton-Leduc and Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont ridings have been merged into the new Edmonton-Wetaskiwin riding.

Mike Lake

Mike Lake

The three Conservative MPs representing the area have chosen not to run against each other for their party’s nomination in the new amalgamated riding – Blaine Calkins will run in the new Red Deer-Wolf Creek and James Rajotte is expected to run in the new Edmonton-Riverbend – leaving Mike Lake to contest the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Wetaskiwin.

Northeast Edmonton MP Tim Uppal was recently quietly acclaimed as the Conservative candidate in the new Edmonton-Mill Woods riding.

First elected in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in 2006, Mike Lake now faces a challenge from Mohinder Banga and Leduc County mayor John Whaley in the new riding. In a recent post on his Facebook page, Mr. Lake suggests that he might need to sign up 3,000 new members to defeat Mohinder Banga, who he claims could sell up to 4,000 Conservative memberships to win the nomination. It would certainly be some sort of record if 7,000 people showed up for one nomination meeting.

Deadline for membership sales is Thursday, May 22 and the nomination meeting is expected to be held in mid-June 2014.

Mona Gill NDP Edmonton Griesbach Alberta

Mona Gill

Edmonton-Griesbach
The NDP will choose a candidate in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding at a June 2 nomination meeting at Alberta Avenue Community Hall. Mona Gill, Janis Irwin and Zane Smith are seeking the nomination and have drawn crowds of hundreds to town hall forums organized by the local NDP association.

A recent Elections Canada report transposed the 2011 federal election results with the new riding boundaries and showed the Conservatives with 19,832 votes, the NDP with 14,151 votes, and the Liberals with 2,484 votes in the new Edmonton-Griesbach.

Edmonton-Strathcona
Liberal activist Wendy Butler is seeking her party’s nomination in the only NDP-held riding in Alberta. The Liberal vote has declined sharply in this riding over the past five elections as non-Conservative voters coalesced behind NDP MP Linda Duncan. In 2000, candidate Jonathan Dai earned 17,816 votes (31.8% of total votes) and in 2011, candidate Matthew Sinclair earned 1,372 votes (2.8% of total votes).

Regular nomination updates can be found on the Federal Election 2015 page.