Tag Archives: Gary Mar

And then there were three (white men)

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver
Alberta PC Party leadership candidates Thomas Luksazuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

As the deadline for candidates to enter their names (and $50,000 fee) in the contest to become the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association came to a close yesterday, three politicians have put forward their names – bank vice-president and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and former provincial cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

A quick glance at the names of the three candidates confirms that no women or visible minorities have entered the race to fill the position vacated by Alberta’s first woman premier, Alison Redford, who was pushed out of office only a few short months ago. A few woman candidates were rumoured to be interested, but the most high profile of those rumoured, Energy minister Diana McQueen, declined to run, choosing instead to endorse Mr. Prentice.

While Canada reached a high-water mark in recent years, with women occupying the premiers office in six provinces and territories, the number has plummeted after recent elections. Today, only British Columbia and Ontario have women premiers (and Ontario voters will decide the fate of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals on June 12, 2014).

Alberta could once again enter this category if Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith leads her Wildrose Party to win the next election. Edmonton MLA Rachel Notley is said to be considering a run for the Alberta NDP leadership and some say she would become an instant front-runner if she enters the race.

All three PC leadership candidates have cut their political teeth in Alberta’s largest cities. Mr. Prentice was the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre North from 2004 to 2010, Mr. McIver as a Calgary MLA, former Alderman and mayoral candidate, and Mr. Lukaszuk as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs since 2001.

The presence of three urban candidates signals both the growing political importance of the province’s two largest cities (and the urban agenda’s put forward by popular mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi) and the PC Party’s weakness in rural Alberta.

Not having a candidate from rural Alberta is embarrassing for the 43-year governing party. Once almost universally dominated by PC MLAs, the Tories have seen their support plummet in rural and small-town Alberta over the past four years. In the last election, many PC MLAs, including a some senior cabinet ministers, were handily defeated by Wildrose candidates in rural constituencies that had voted enmasse for the PC Party for more than three decades.

This is also the smallest number of candidates to participate in a PC leadership race since the party chose Don Getty as leader in 1985. In 1992, there were 9 candidates; in 2006 there were 8 and the 2011 leadership race attracted 6 candidates.

The small-number of candidates is a testament of the internal turmoil in the PC Party following the coup d’etat that caused Ms. Redford’s departure and the strength of Mr. Prentice’s campaign. Whether it is perceived or real, the ‘Team Prentice’ brand quickly drew the support of more than twenty PC MLAs and an army of party insiders and political consultants.

Unlike the deflated front-runners in previous PC leadership campaigns – Jim Dinning and Gary Mar – Mr. Prentice has succeeded in scaring away most of his credible potential challengers. Whether he suffers the same fate as these former ‘front-runners’, who were later defeated by underdogs, is yet to be seen.

The challenge for the three candidates will be to generate interest in a campaign that already feels like it is a forgone conclusion (a victory by Mr. Prentice). A big question is whether the any of the candidates in this race will be compelling enough to convince those thousands of ‘two-minute Tories‘ to lend them their votes.

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding
MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

In party leadership races, endorsements by sitting MLAs can be a double-edged sword. Endorsements can lend credibility to candidates and individual MLAs own local political networks to the campaign. Large numbers of endorsements can also signal to rank and file party members where their party’s establishment is lining up.

But MLA endorsements are not always a solid indicator of who will win a party leadership vote. In 2006, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning had the support of the majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Ed Stelmach. In 2011, Gary Mar had the support of a majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Alison Redford.

In this year’s Alberta PC Party leadership race, bank vice-president Jim Prentice has the overwhelming lead in MLA endorsements. As of today, I count at least 15 PC MLAs who have lent their names to support his campaign to become their leader. More are expected to endorse Mr. Prentice:

MLA’s endorsing Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC leadership are Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway), Neil Brown (Calgary-Nose Hill), Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead), Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar), Kyle Fawcett (Calgary-Klein), Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright), Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) Ken Hughes (Calgary-West), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater), Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon), Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed), George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont), Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West).

The only other candidate to enter the leadership race, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, has no declared support from inside the PC caucus. Thomas Lukaszuk, who is expected to enter the contest, also has yet to receive any MLA endorsements.

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan and Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey endorsed the short-lived leadership campaign of Ken Hughes, who is now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

I will be tracking the list of PC MLA endorsements on the 2014 Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest page.

Alberta Tories waiting for a Jim Prentice coronation

Jim Prentice: The Great Tory Hope
Jim Prentice: The Great Tory Hope

Could the snoozer that has become Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership race risk becoming a coronation if former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice jumps into the race?

Necessitated by the resignation of Premier Alison Redford on March 19, the race to choose the next leader of Alberta’s 43-year long governing PC Party has so far drawn little interest from serious candidates and yawns from political watchers.

While other would-be contenders, like Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, are kicking-tires and positioning themselves for a run, the popular wisdom of the day suggests that Mr. Prentice would be an unstoppable front-runner. Even the sole candidate to have entered the contest so far, former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, has publicly suggested he would consider withdrawing his candidacy if Mr. Prentice runs. [see comment section below for clarification]

This popular wisdom is based on the assumption that he will actually be a candidate, which may not be a forgone conclusion.

Some Tories I have spoken with talk about Mr. Prentice as their only hope of stopping Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party in the next election. They talk about Mr. Prentice as the only person who can shake off the damaging baggage left after Ms. Redford’s tenure as PC leader. And they talk about the large amount of corporate money they expect he could attract to fill their party’s coffers.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Mr. Prentice has already received the endorsement of Calgary cabinet minister Manmeet Bhullar and is said to be convening a team largely made up of  supporters of past PC Party leadership front-runners Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

As an outsider, it appears the Tories risk being blinded by star power, as all these hopes and dreams are built on a complete lack of information about what Mr. Prentice would stand for as a party leader and premier.

Sure, Mr. Prentice has built a respectable career as a cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a senior executive of a major Canadian bank, but no one really knows what kind of Premier or Party leader he would be. Does he support Finance minister Doug Horner‘s plans to impose drastic changes on public sector pension plans? How would he approach the province’s choppy relationships with Alberta’s fast-growing cities? Where does he stand on public health care? Education curriculum? Agriculture? Public infrastructure? Climate change?

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia
Jonathan Denis

Two years ago, many Albertans looked at Ms. Redford’s resume and assumed that she hailed from the Lougheedian progressive side of the her party. Many of those same Albertans were bitterly disappointed when she forced deep funding cuts on universities and colleges, and attacked the public sector workers whose votes saved her party from defeat on election day in 2012.

A coronation would also present a missed opportunity for the PC Party to reconnect with its supporters and discover who its base of support is in 2014. This would be important because it is not entirely clear what the PC Party stands for today and is very unclear what it will stand for after their new leader is selected in September.

Provincial By-Elections?
With Ms. Redford appearing uninterested in continuing her duties as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, it is possible that a by-election could be held to provide an opportunity for a new party leader who is not an MLA to earn a seat in the Assembly. This would be the second by-election in that riding in eight years. Liberal Craig Cheffins won the seat in the by-election held to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.

Other opportunities for by-elections may open up if the three MLAs seeking federal party nominations – Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang, Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, and Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao – decide to resign their seats in advance of the next federal election.

Insiders will pretend to be outsiders in the PC leadership race

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is not running for the PC Party leadership

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel announced yesterday that he will not run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. Mr. Mandel was seen as a great hope by many Edmonton Tories, who believed him to be the outsider who could breath some fresh air into the stuffy corridors of the Alberta Legislature. Mr. Mandel would have been 70-years old by the time the next election would be called.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

Former cabinet minister Gary Mar has ruled himself out as a candidate, as has former Finance minister Jim Dinning. Conservative MP James Rajotte is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but it seems unlikely. Senator Scott Tannas briefly expressed interest, but has since declined.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice is frequently mention as a contender, but is he willing to abandon his high-paying job on Bay Street, and a chance at becoming Prime Minister? Why would Mr. Prentice want lead a provincial political party that is scandal-ridden and behind the times on fundamental social policy issues?

With the obvious outsiders sitting out, this leadership race could end up being a contest defined by insiders pretending they are outsiders.

Announcing his bid last week, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes is the first candidate to enter the contest. He launched his campaign by positioning himself as a political outsider, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

The former MP and chairman of Alberta Health Services served on Premier Alison Redford‘s transition team before he jumped back into electoral politics in 2011. Running for the PC nomination in Calgary-West, Mr. Hughes lost and then won a subsequent vote against former MLA Shiraz Shariff. Upon his election, he was immediately appointed Minister of Energy, one of the most coveted positions in cabinet.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

If Finance minister Doug Horner is going to run for the leadership, which may not a certainty, he is expected to wait until after the provincial budget is passed before resigning from cabinet. Mr. Horner’s support for controversial changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plan, which could negatively impact the retirement security of more than 300,000 Albertans, will certainly dog him during the campaign.

Currently scheduled to break on June 5, Premier Dave Hancock suggested this week the spring session of the Assembly might be cut short before May 15. That also happens to be the first day that candidates for the PC Party leadership can pick up their nomination packages and pay $20,000 of the $50,000 entry fee. Nominations close on May 30 and accepted nominees will be announced at a party event on June 2.

Ending the session early would also save the Tories from an embarrassing two weeks of having to dodge tough questions from the Wildrose Party about Ms. Redford’s travel expenses and Alberta Health Services’ $1 billion in untendered sole source contracts. Other than Mr. Horner’s provincial budget and two pension bills, the PCs have brought almost no substance to this session.

Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be preparing a run for the leadership include Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Energy minister Diana McQueen, and Infrastructure minister Ric McIver. Of this group, perhaps only Mr. McIver, a first-term MLA and former Calgary alderman, could realistically argue he is an outsider.

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Union donations in Alberta
Labour unions traditionally make up a small percentage of donors to Alberta’s political parties, and when they donate, it is typically to one party in particular.

According to financial disclosures from Elections Alberta, the large majority of political donations made by trade unions in the first quarter of 2014 were made to the Progressive Conservatives, with more than $18,000. The province’s social democratic NDP, the traditional party of organized labour, collected slightly more $6,100 in union donations in the same period.

PC Party opts for a short and expensive leadership campaign

Ken Hughes MLA PC leadership Race Calgary
Cabinet minister Ken Hughes has launched an “exploratory committee” to investigate a leadership bid.

In 2006, it was $15,000, in 2011, it was $40,000, and in 2014, the fee to become a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race is $50,000.

Senior officials from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party gathered in Red Deer last night to discuss timelines, entry fees and the rules that will help shape their party’s 2014 leadership race.

The first ballot vote will be held on September 6, 2014 and, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on that ballot, the top two candidates will compete on a second ballot held on September 20, 2014.

The combination of a short campaign period (5 months and 18 days) and a high entry fee could limit the number of candidates able to enter the race.

Gary Mar Alberta Representative to Asia
Gary Mar’s campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million in his 2011 bid for the PC leadership.

In order to run a campaign, candidates will need to raise significant amounts of funds in a very short period in addition to the cost of the entry fee. In 2011, Gary Mar‘s frontrunner campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million on his leadership bid (collecting more than $200,000 in debt). Alison Redford‘s campaign spent $1.3 million.

It is not known whether the PCs will limit the amounts that individual campaigns are allowed to spend or if they will require the disclosure of financial donors to the leadership campaigns.

The practical reality for the PC Party is that they needed to consider high entry fees in order to help finance the organization and promotion of the leadership campaign. As leadership candidates  sap funds that would normally fill party coffers, the party needs to quickly recuperate the costs of the leadership race after in order to prepare for a general election in 2016 (or sooner).

Leadership candidates emerge, kind of…

Defying expectations that cabinet ministers should resign their posts when running in a party leadership race, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, 60, launched a public “exploratory committee” website at a press conference yesterday. A “serious” person, according to quotes on his website, Mr. Hughes does not appear to be serious about whether he should be a candidate in this race.

Other cabinet ministers, including Thomas Lukaszuk, Jonathan Denis, Doug Horner and Diana McQueen are rumoured to be considering leadership bids.

A website was launched yesterday to draft Senator Scott Tannas into the PC leadership race. Mr. Tannas is the founder of Western Financial Group and the son of Klein-era MLA Don Tannas. He was involved in a minor scandal related to $24,000 in questionable travel expenses as a Senator, which may turn off a few PC Party members still recovering from Ms. Redford’s travel expense scandals.

On the peripheries of public attention, it appears as though Stephen Mandel, 68, could be preparing to come out of retirement. The recently retired three-term mayor of Edmonton is rumoured to be preparing a campaign team to test the waters. Mr. Mandel will be 70 years-old by the time the next election is called.

Also said to be interested in mounting a leadership bid is former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice. The former Calgary Member of Parliament is currently serving as a Senior Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He recently accepted a role as Enbridge’s envoy to northern British Columbia’s First Nations communities in their bid to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat.

Liberal leader makes fundraising pitch

Raj Sherman 2010
Raj Sherman

In a fundraising email sent yesterday, the Liberal Party announced that leader Raj Sherman will match all donations made to the party before March 31, 2014. According to Alberta’s political finance laws, individuals can only donate a maximum of $15,000 each year.

As a physician, Dr. Sherman has also frequently made donations to the Liberal Party through his professional corporation, raising his limit to $30,000. And as the Daryl Katz-PC Party donation fiasco taught us in 2012, you can always depend on family members or employees to make donations as well.

The Liberals fell behind the other major parties in fundraising in 2013, only raising a small $339,540 (the NDP raised $623,763 in the same period).

8 candidates who could run for the leadership of the Alberta PC Party

With yesterday’s announcement by Premier Alison Redford that she will resign on March 23, 2014, the Progressive Conservative caucus will need to select an interim premier and the PC Party is required to hold a leadership contest to select a new leader.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock: Interim Premier

Deputy Premier Dave Hancock and Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson have been rumoured as potential choices for interim premier until the party selects a new leader.

UPDATE: Dave Hancock is the new Premier of Alberta until the PC Party is able to hold a leadership vote. Candidates for the interim position are said to have included Doug Griffiths, Frank Oberle, and Verlyn Olson (who declined).

According to section 14.2 of the PC Party constitution, a leadership race must be held between four and six months from the time previous leader resigns. This means the vote will need to be held between July 23, 2014 and September 23, 2014.

Unlike previous PC leadership races, according to recently changed party rules, if no candidate earns a majority of votes on the first ballot, only the first and second candidate move to the second ballot vote. Previously, three candidates would move to the second ballot.

The future of the PC Party could be determined by the candidates who step forward to become its next leader and, for the time being, the next premier of Alberta. As blogger David Climenhaga writes, “[v]ery possibly the quality of the field will be a weathervane for the party’s chances of survival.”

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

With that in mind, here are some potential candidates who could run for the leadership of Alberta’s PC Party:

Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays)
A former Calgary Alderman and mayoral candidate, Mr. McIver was first elected to the Legislature in 2012. Upon his election he immediately joined cabinet and served as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, becoming a high profile member of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Because of his conservative political leanings, some observers were surprised when he shunned the Wildrose in favour of being a star Tory candidate in the last election.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs)
Until recently, the former deputy premier had become the most recognizable face of the PC government. Serving as the unofficial premier while Ms. Redford traveled the globe on trade missions, his combativeness and growing public profile may have been the reason he was demoted to labour minister in December 2013. It has long been suspected that Mr. Lukaszuk has aspirations to occupy the premier’s office.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia
Jonathan Denis

Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert)
Currently the Finance minister, Mr. Horner was first elected as MLA in 2001. He placed third in the 2011 PC leadership race and became an ally of Ms. Redford’s after the leadership race. Born into a political family, his father Hugh Horner was Lougheed-era minister, his grandfather Ralph Horner was a Senator, and three of his uncles served as Members of Parliament.

James Rajotte
Member of Parliament representing south Edmonton since 2000, Mr. Rajotte chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. He is said to be considering his options after he was once again looked over for a spot in the federal cabinet.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity
Donna Kennedy-Glans

Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia)
The current minister of Justice and Solicitor General is relatively young compared to others on this list, but Mr. Denis is a long-time politico. A lawyer and former business partner of federal Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre‎, he could earn the support of his party’s shrinking right-wing. A “Draft Jonathan Denis for Premier” Facebook page has already been created.

Donna Kennedy-Glans (Calgary-Varsity)
The first-term MLA left the PC caucus earlier this week, blasting what she described as a culture of entitlement. A former senior executive in Calgary’s corporate oil sector, Ms. Kennedy-Glans would bring business experience, deep pocketed friends and, now, an independent streak, to a candidacy for leadership.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Gary Mar
The sure-bet to win the 2011 PC leadership race was quickly whisked away to Hong Kong after losing to Ms. Redford. Since then, the former cabinet minister has been far away from the lime-light while serving as Alberta’s envoy to Asia. It is unclear whether he would try a second time to win his party’s leadership.

Stephen Mandel
Oft-talked about as a potential premier, the retired mayor of Edmonton has not shown any signs he is actually interested in the job. After nine years as mayor of Alberta’s capital city, Mr. Mandel left office in October 2013 as a well-respected civic leader. He has since been critical of Ms. Redford’s government’s policies, but is is unclear why he would want to lead the deeply divided caucus.

Redford Tories rack up frequent flyer miles, open new overseas offices.

Alison Redford Travel Alberta
Since Alison Redford became Premier in November 2011, cabinet ministers and backbench Tory MLAs have made trips to twenty-one different countries.

The Government of Alberta re-announced plans last week to open new trade offices in Chicago and Singapore, and yet to be announced locations in India, Brazil, and California. The Alberta Government is currently operating trade offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, London, Munich, Mexico City, and Washington D.C.

The re-announcement opening the new offices coincided with the release of the provincial government’s International Strategy document. Reading the document, Albertans can learn how the government is “Taking a Team Alberta approach,” “Strengthening Alberta’s position on the ground” and “Promoting Alberta within the Canada Brand.” Overflowing with buzzwords and jargon, the document reads as if it came fresh off the desk of some high-paid consultant.

Since Alison Redford became Premier in November 2011, cabinet ministers and backbench Tory MLAs have made trips to twenty-one different countries. During that time, cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs have made fourteen trips to Washington D.C., highlighting the importance that the current government is placing on its relationship with the United States and the construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.

Trips to more than a dozen countries in Asia, including twelve trips to Hong Kong (now home to Alberta’s appointed representative and former Tory leadership candidate Gary Mar), also show the importance the government is placing on trade expansion to Asia. Currently, Finance Minister Doug Horner is traveling through China and Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson is visiting Kazakhstan.

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson suggested in a recent column that public funds might be well used by opening up a trade office in Victoria, B.C. to convince newly re-elected Premier Christy Clark to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Here is the updated map showing international travel by Alberta Government cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs since November 2011 (click map to see locations and dates):


View Alberta Cabinet Minister and MLA Travel November 2011-June 2013 in a larger map

‘Building Markets’ and ‘Building Alberta’

Building Markets” and “Building Alberta.” are two slogans that anyone who has read a recent government press releases or listened to recent ministerial speeches will be familiar with. The key words were spoken by government ministers more than 70 times in the recent sitting of the Legislative Assembly. Are regular Albertans noticing? On Twitter, almost the only tweets that include the #buildingmarkets and #buildingalberta hashtags are coming from accounts belonging to Tory MLAs or their paid employees.

Hard pills to swallow: Tories duck-and-weave amid allegations of conflict.

Alberta Doctor Tobacco
What do doctors and the tobacco industry have in common? They were the hottest issues in Alberta politics this week.

A CBC investigative team, led by intrepid reporter Charles Rusnellreported this week that Premier Alison Redford may have put herself in a conflict with the government’s selection of a legal consortium in a $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Premier Redford’s ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, is a prominent Tory Party member and partner in a law firm that is participating in the consortium.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

Responding to opposition attacks, Premier Redford and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis claimed there was no conflict. To be fair to the Premier, in a province where one political party has been in power for more than forty years, it may be difficult to find a major law firm that does not have connections or has not made contributions to a political party.

The opposition parties claim to have evidence that Premier Redford was involved in the decision making process. NDP leader Brian Mason even called on the Premier to step down to allow the Ethics Commissioner to  investigate the allegations.

This story fits the corruption narrative curated by Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party and provides another familial connection to the Premier for the opposition to criticize (no media outlet has mentioned this conflict in relation to a story from earlier this year connecting Ms. Smith’s party and the tobacco industry).

Yesterday afternoon, the Premier was expected to address the accusations at a scheduled media conference at 3:00 p.m. The media availability was cancelled with short notice at 2:40 p.m., and a brief media scrum was rescheduled later that day at 4:30 p.m.

Whether or not conflict accusations against Premier Redford are overstated, the government’s duck-and-weave reaction is creating a perception that they are avoiding responsibility.

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Discussions will resume between the Tories and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) after a week of warring words culminated with government radio ads and leaflets in Health Minister Fred Horne backyard.

Fred-Horne-Alberta
Fred Horne

The dispute between the doctors’ association and the provincial government, which has lasted nearly two years, took a defiant political turn in this year’s spring election. With only a few weeks before the vote, which was expected to be close, the AMA released a series of newspaper advertisements criticizing the long-governing Tories. The ads were easily interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the right-wing Wildrose Party, which made some sort of political confrontation inevitable after the Tories were re-elected.

An important element to this dispute goes beyond financial compensation. The Tory government is challenging the role doctors hold as the gatekeepers of our public health care system through the creation of Family Care Clinics as an alternative to Primary Care Networks.

First proposed during last year’s PC leadership contest, Family Care Clinics were initially used to differentiate Premier Redford from front-runner Gary Mar, who was Minister of Health & Wellness when the initial funding for Primary Care Networks was given to doctors.

Created as a joint-venture between the regional health authorities and the AMA following the 2003 Canada Health Accord, Primary Care Networks were intended to improve access to front-line primary care for Albertans. In some cases they have been successful, but according the Alberta’s Auditor General, the Primary Care Network model lacks accountability.

The Family Care Clinic model remains somewhat intentionally vague and flexible, but its introduction has been enough to raise criticism of doctors, who would not necessarily be in complete control of the new model (Premier Redford has talked about an increased role of health care teams).

alberta’s tories could have already won another election.

Premier Alberta Alison Redford Election 2012
Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford is expected to call a provincial election today.

Had Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives followed conventional political wisdom and dropped the writ shortly after tabling the 2012 provincial budget on February 10, they may have already secured their next majority government.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Party leader Election 2012
Danielle Smith

Instead, in an attempt to bump that conventional wisdom by holding a spring sitting in the Assembly after the budget was tabled, Premier Redford may have bolstered the opposition parties resilience. With the organizational ability to have had candidates nominated in every constituency by February 10, 2012, a mid-March Election Day would have saved the Tories from a month of embarrassing media coverage and robbed the opposition parties of one full month of organizing (this also demonstrates the uselessness of the new fixed-election period, which does not set a fixed election date, but a period over three months that election can be held).

Unfortunately for Premier Redford, “change from within” has not looked very flattering over the past month. A rough pre-election session has bruised the Tories and quickly ended the new Premier’s honeymoon period, allowing the opposition parties to expose weaknesses in the Tory battle lines (some more aggressively than others).

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012
Raj Sherman

The loud protests by religious homeschooling parents, the MLA committee pay fiasco, the drawn out “judicial” inquiry into health care, investigations into illegal political donations, and allegations of unethical conduct by Premier Redford’s man in Asia and former Tory leadership opponent Gary Mar, have scuffed the shine off the new PC administration. Even Rod Love, the former chief of staff to Premier Ralph Klein, has publicly asked “what the hell is going on in Edmonton?

It is difficult to say what actual effects delaying the election until after the Spring sitting will have had on Alberta’s opposition parties. Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party are hitting the Tories hard on the fiascos that have developed over the last month, and putting personal egos aside, they could make some significant inroads. For the Liberal Party, former Tory MLA and new leader Raj Sherman needs to prove wrong the predications of  doom and gloom for his official opposition party. The NDP led by Brian Mason are hoping to replace the Liberals as the main opposition on the centre-left. And managing expectations well, the Alberta Party led by Glenn Taylor are very conscious of the uphill battle they face.

Calling in the big guns, the Wildrose Party has long-time conservative stratagist Tom Flanagan as campaign manager and Cliff Fryers, the former chairman of Enmax and chief of staff to Preston Manning, as their campaign chair. Along with flocks of federal Conservative organizers migrating to their party, rumour has it that high-priced political consultants from Ontario are being flown in to advise the Wildrose Party’s central campaign.

Despite all this new ammunition made available to the opposition parties after the rough Spring sitting, a betting man would look at the Tories’ 41 years of election victories and easily weigh the odds in their favour of winning once again. Maybe all of these cracks in the Tory armour will amount to nothing Election Day? Maybe the will make all the difference? Maybe new cracks will appear?

alberta politics: stormy waters ahead.

A Sun News Network commissioned poll looks good for the Wildrose Party and bad for the Progressive Conservatives.
A Sun News Network commissioned poll looks good for the Wildrose Party and bad for the Progressive Conservatives.

Global leaders were shocked yesterday when a new poll commissioned by QMI-Sun News Media showed Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party has made significant headwaters against the governing Progressive Conservatives.

There are serious questions being raised about the results of this poll, which make me question the results. For example, the regional breakdown of party support includes only 81 respondents surveyed from southern Alberta, which results in an unreliably high 11% margin of error (via @calgarygrit). The optimistic results for the Wildrose Party, which already receives daily enthusiastic editorial support from right-wing Sun media, leads me to take with a grain of salt any political polling produced by this media network.

Most legitimate polls, including those conduced by Leger Marketing and Environics, have shown the Tories with 45%-55% support province-wide and the three main opposition parties – Wildrose, NDP, and Liberals – grouped together in the mid-teens. A number of recent polls, including one conducted by Return on Insight, have produced results suggesting that the Wildrose Party has begun to break from the pack of opposition parties, which is not unbelievable at this point.

Update: Dan Arnold and David Climenhaga have shared their views on these polls.

Nervous Tories

Recent heavy-handed actions by Premier Alison Redford suggest that the establishment of the 41-year governing party is beginning to worry about their electoral fortunes.

The release of negative radio ads (which were tame in my mind) suggests that the Tories are feeling pressure to hit back at harsh criticism by the Wildrose Party about new laws limiting blood alcohol levels to 0.05%.

Suspending all Legislative and Government committee pay for PC MLAs was a reaction to wide-spread criticism of an absent committee. The drastic move may also have been a shot across the bow of unhappy PC backbench MLAs and former cabinet ministers, who some insiders say have been sowing discontent towards their party’s new direction. The departure of former Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove, who now sits as an Independent MLA and will not be seeking re-election, is one example of the tensions between Premier Redford and loyalists of the former Premier.

It is not difficult to imagine some Tories expressing discomfort with Premier Redford’s move to discipline her former leadership competitor Gary Mar. The majority of the current PC MLAs supported Mr. Mar’s leadership bid in 2011.

The PCs are deliberately focusing their attacks on their largest perceived threat, the Wildrose Party, ignoring the current official opposition Liberals. Premier Redford’s appeal to political moderates has led to more than a few prominent Liberal supporters migrating to the PC Party, including two-term Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor who crossed the floor to the PCs in November 2011. As Alberta’s dominant big tent political party, the Tories will naturally benefit from neutralizing any potential centrist opposition while trying to push the other opposition parties to the ideological fringes.

Promise kept? 

Email inboxes across the province yesterday were treated a to the “bing” signalling a new PC Party online newsletter touting Premier Redford’s fulfilled promise to hold a “Full judicial inquiry into queue jumping.” Of course, the decision to allow the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA), led by a retired judge, to investigate allegations of queue jumping is a pretty loose interpretation of an actual “Full judicial inquiry”.

To quote Premier Redford’s leadership campaign email newsletter from June 14, 2011 (ASCENT: Alison Redford’s Campaign Newsletter Issue 7):

“Albertans want answers regarding the allegations of queue jumping by wealthy and well-connected people. Alison also wants answers. This week, she became the first candidate to call for a full judicial inquiry into queue-jumping.”

Created in 2002 as a result of the Report of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Health, the mandate of the HQCA is to “promote patient safety and health service quality.” Of course, resistance by politicians to holding a real judicial inquiry is not surprising. Real judicial inquiries are uncontrollable and politically dangerous, just ask former Prime Minister Paul Martin how his judicial inquiry worked out for him.