Tag Archives: Gay-Straight Alliances

New Democrats party and Kenney cringes. It’s Pride Week in Edmonton.

Photo: Jen Kish and Premier Rachel Notley

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was dancing up a storm in front of thousands of Edmontonians at the capital city’s Pride Festival Parade on Saturday. The annual march travels down Whyte Avenue in the heart of Notley’s Edmonton-Strathcona district.

Notley was joined by dozens of Alberta NDP MLAs and Olypmian Jen Kish. Kish was captain of Canada’s Women’s Sevens Team at Rio 2016 where they won bronze in the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament.

The United Conservative Party held its own event a few blocks away. After being declined a spot to march in the parade, UCP leader Jason Kenney announced that instead of attending the parade or other pride events, his party would hold its own event. The event featured speaker Lorne Mayencourt, an openly gay politician who represented downtown Vancouver in the BC Legislature from 2001 and 2009 and was a federal Conservative candidate in 2008.

This was not the first year Kenney has avoided attending Pride. As the newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, Kenney declined to attend the Edmonton Pride Festival in 2017. He also declined to attend Calgary’s Pride Festival in 2016, claiming his schedule was too full, and in 2017, claiming he was wasn’t invited, despite being invited by internationally known Alberta artist kd lang).

The now-defunct PC Party participated in Edmonton Pride-related festivities in the past. Premier Alison Redford spoke at the parade in 2012 and Premier Dave Hancock rode in the parade in 2014. Even Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith showed up at Edmonton’s Pride events in 2012.

The obsession some Wildrose-turned-UCP MLAs and UCP party activists have about gay-straight alliances has certainly contributed to the party believing its representatives might feel less than welcome at Edmonton’s Pride celebrations.

As a professional politician Kenney is a master at schmoozing his way into all kinds of events, so it is unlikely he did not show up just because he was not allowed to march in the parade. Kenney is a social conservative who has spent much of his 21-year long career in elected office opposing LGBTQ rights in Canada and he appealed to social conservatives in order to win the leadership of the UCP last year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, even though he did not attend the event, Kenney has strong opinions about the Pride Festival Committee deciding not to include police and military in future parades.

With an election coming up in early 2019, and Kenney’s UCP holding a solid lead in the polls, it might be unlikely we’ll see another Premier dancing in the streets anytime soon.

UCP draws huge crowds, huge controversy to its first policy convention

(Photo credit: @Alberta_UCP on Twitter)

With more than 2,500 party members in attendance, this weekend’s United Conservative Party founding convention was one of the biggest political events in Alberta’s recent memory. It was a big show of force for the official opposition party, which continues to dominate in the polls and fundraising.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

The convention should have been a victory lap for Jason Kenney after forcing the merger of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties and winning the new party’s leadership. Instead, the big story of the convention is how it was derailed by a membership base weirdly obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances.

Fifty-seven percent of convention delegates voted in favour of a policy that would out students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. Supporters of the policy claimed it was about parental rights, but that did not stop three MLAs from going to mic to plead with UCP members to end the madness.

“This is about outing gay kids,” said Calgary-Hays UCP MLA Ric McIver as he pleaded with party members not to pass the policy. “Don’t be called the Lake of Fire party, I’m begging you. This will really severely hurt our chances at winning. Don’t do that to yourself.”

“When we’re talking about freedoms, that means all people’s freedoms. That means making sure that children have safe spaces in schools,” urged Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

But the pleas from the MLAs were not enough to change the minds of members, including a well organized contingent of social conservatives, at the convention.

The debate over this motion came only days after Edmonton’s Pride Festival Society rejected the UCP’s application to march in this year’s pride parade. A similar application was rejected by Calgary’s Pride festival in August 2017.

Even though it was Kenney’s comments about Gay-Straight Alliances that reignited this issue back in March 2017, he now says he won’t implement the policy if he becomes premier.

It could, and probably will, be argued that Kenney’s denouncement of this policy contradicted his “Grassroots Guarantee” that the party membership will determine the party’s policies. Kenney used the “guarantee” as a way of circumventing any substantive policy debates during the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

It is not clear what other member-endorsed policies Kenney will choose to ignore if and when he becomes Alberta’s next premier.

UCP members also adopted policies to eliminate the carbon tax, reintroduce a flat tax, increase privatization in health care and education, and require parental consent for invasive medical procedures on a minor (this motion was cheered by anti-abortion groups).

All things considered, it is hard to imagine that Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats could have hoped for a better outcome this weekend.

One Big Conservative Family

An underreported story of this weekend’s convention is the very close relationship between the UCP and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The presence of a federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer as a keynote speaker would have been unheard of at any provincial party convention in recent years. Scheer was joined at the convention by a number of Conservative MPs, and former leader Rona Ambrose, who spoke at the convention on a panel about women in politics.

The relationship between the federal and provincial conservative parties has always been complex, but it has been exceptionally complicated over the past three decades. The rise of the Reform Party and collapse of the federal PC Party in the early 1990s meant there was no formal alliance between the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta for many years.

Almost as soon as the Conservative Party of Canada was formed in 2003, the Alberta Alliance, and later the Wildrose Alliance and Wildrose Party split the provincial conservative movement, leaving federal Conservative MPs divided in their loyalties for the PC and Wildrose parties.

While most of the focus has been on the Wildrose-PC merger, Kenney’s “unity” extends to the federal party as well.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney

Read the nearly 800 policy proposals from United Conservative Party members

You might have read about them in Don Braid’s Postmedia column today, but if you want to take a deeper look, here are the full list of draft policy proposals submitted by United Conservative Party members for debate at the party’s founding convention on May 4, 5 and 6, 2018 in Red Deer.

The documents mostly include generic and predictable partisan conservative policy proposals with a focus on repealing many of the laws and policies implemented by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government since 2015. But not surprisingly, a number of policies submitted from the right-wing fringe of the UCP make it into this list.

Introduction of more private schools and increased parental control in education (code for undermining student-led Gay-Straight Alliances), removing funding for abortion services, cutting the size of the public service and public sector employee pay, allowing MLA recall votes, and defining family as the union of a man, a woman and their offspring are among the controversial proposals included in the list submitted by UCP members.

While many of the policies included in this document will not actually become official party policy, the list of proposed policies provides a glimpse into the priorities of the UCP membership in 2018. As noted in Braid’s column, a “final list of resolutions, about 250, won’t be disclosed until members and journalists get their convention packages on Friday.” Those policies will be debated by members at this weekend’s UCP meeting.

UCP member proposed policies:

United Conservative Party Constitutional Document 2 – Member Policy Declaration – V2.0 (Member Proposal Con… by davecournoyer on Scribd

UCP member proposed amendments to the party’s Statement of Principles

United Conservative Party Constitutional Document 1 – Statement of Principles – V2.0 (Member Proposal Conso… by davecournoyer on Scribd

Best of Alberta Politics 2017: David Eggen, Minister of Education

With more than 1,200 votes cast in the Best of Alberta Politics survey, Minister of Education David Eggen came up on top in the Best Cabinet Minister of 2017 category. Adam Rozenhart and I were delighted to visit David Eggen at the Legislative Assembly this month to present him with his award.

Eggen was appointed Minister of Education in May 2015 and has since been a champion for investment in public education infrastructure and creating safe learning environments for all students, including protecting the rights of students to form Gay-Straight Alliances.

He was re-elected as the New Democratic Party MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2015, a district which he had previously been elected in 2004 and 2012. He ran for the leadership of the Alberta NDP in 2014, placing second to Rachel Notley.

Listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play, or wherever you find podcasts online.

Winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey: David Eggen, David Shepherd, Rachel Notley and Greg Clark.

Episode 3: Best of Alberta Politics 2017

In the latest episode of The Daveberta Podcast, Ryan and I discuss Kara Levis‘ entry into the Alberta Party leadership race, the results of the Calgary-Lougheed by-election, Conservative MPs being challenged for their nominations, and we reveal the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey.

With more than 1,200 votes cast in two rounds of voting, we were proud to announce and discuss the results of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey on this episode:

  • Biggest Issue of 2017: The economy and jobs
  • Best political play of 2017: The formation of the United Conservative Party
  • Best Opposition MLA of 2017: Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • Best Cabinet Minister of 2017: David Eggen, Minister of Education
  • Up and comer to watch in 2018: David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre
  • Best Alberta MLA of 2017: Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta and NDP MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and wherever you find podcasts online.

We’d love to hear what you think of the podcast, so feel free to leave a positive review and share the podcast with your friends and family. Also feel free to leave a comment on this blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We’d also like to send a big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for his help in making this podcast a reality.

We will be back in January 2018!

Merry Christmas!

Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey Photo: Jessica Littlewood, Greg Clark, Shannon Phillips, Nathan Cooper, and Sarah Hoffman.

Vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey (Round 2!)

In our most recent episode of The Daveberta Podcast, Ryan and I asked you to help us shape our final episode of 2017 by voting in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey.

More than 300 of you responded to the survey last week with your choices for the biggest political players and defining political issues of 2017. We tallied all the responses from that survey and we are now asking you to vote on the top 3 choices in each category.

Voting will be open until 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 21, 2017 and we will reveal and discuss the results in the final podcast episode of 2017, which we will be recording on the same day.

Here are the top 3 contenders who you can vote for in Round 2 of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2017? – Vote

  • Premier Rachel Notley, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre

An honourable mention to Sandra Jansen, the NDP MLA for Calgary-North West, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting.

What was the biggest political issue in 2017 in Alberta politics? – Vote

  • Gay-Straight Alliances
  • The Economy and Jobs
  • Oil Pipelines

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2017? – Vote

  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Seniors
  • David Eggen, Minister of Education
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Danielle Larivee, Minister of Children’s Services, and Deron Bilous, Minister of Trade and Economic Development, who placed a strong fourth and fifth in the first round of voting.

Who was the Best Opposition MLA for 2017? – Vote

  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • Nathan Cooper, UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • David Swann, Liberal MLA for Calgary-Mountain View

Honourable mentions to Richard Starke, the Independent PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, and Brian Jean, the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, who placed a strong fourth and fifth in the first round of voting.

Who is the up and comer for 2018? – Vote

  • Jessica Littlewood, NDP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville
  • Jason Kenney, UPC MLA for Calgary-Lougheed and Leader of the Official Opposition
  • David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre

An honourable mention to Brian Malkinson, the NDP MLA for Calgary-Currie, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting.

What was the biggest political play of 2017 in Alberta politics? – Voting Closed

In the first round of voting, 59 percent of you chose the creation of the United Conservative Party as the biggest political play of 2017. Because of this was the choice of a clear majority, we have declared this result as the winner in this category. Congrats, UCP.

Other notable choices in his category were Premier Rachel Notley’s pipeline tour, Greg Clark’s being forced out of the Alberta Party leadership and the NDP government’s Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools.

Photo: Jessica Littlewood, Greg Clark, Shannon Phillips, Nathan Cooper, and Sarah Hoffman.

Jason Kenney Calgary-Lougheed by-election

NDP should recalibrate their line of attack after Kenney’s crushing landslide in Calgary-Lougheed

Attempts by Jason Kenney’s opponents to paint him as an extremist social conservative failed to stop the United Conservative Party leader from winning a crushing landslide victory today in Calgary-Lougheed.

Phillip van der Merwe NDP Calgary Lougheed

Phillip van der Merwe

With 22 of 22 polls reporting, Kenney had earned 7,760 votes, 71.51 percent of the total votes cast in the by-election. The UCP had a strong candidate, a strong organization and solid base of voter support in the district. And like the previous two by-elections held since the last election, this district avoided the New Democratic Party’s Orange Wave when voters re-elected Progressive Conservative Dave Rodney in 2015.

NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe placed second with 1,822 votes, 16.79 percent of the votes cast. van der Merwe was a high quality candidate for the party in Calgary, but his chances of upsetting Kenney were always slim to none.

The NDP were spared the embarrassment of placing third, a spot that fell to newly elected Liberal Party leader David Khan, who earned 1,009 votes, 9.3 percent of the total vote. Khan’s showing was only a small improvement on the party’s showing in 2015, but it should be enough to concern the NDP that even a Liberal Party on life-support can eat into their vote share.

Despite support on the campaign trail from Premier Rachel Notley and a handful of high-profile cabinet ministers, NDP support was cut in half from the 2015 election, which is not a good sign for the governing party.

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader

David Khan

The NDP should use the Calgary-Lougheed by-election as an opportunity to recalibrate their line of attack against the UCP leader. Kenney is a professional political networker unlike we have ever seen in Alberta politics, and he should not be underestimated.

While the NDP have been racking up easy wins against fumbling and confused UCP MLAs on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, Kenney has been activating a network of conservative political activists and supporters he has built over the past twenty-five years.

Two months ago, I wrote that the NDP were betting Albertans would forgive their more unpopular policies when reminded of the Kenney’s more bizarre social conservative views. On the flip-side, Kenney was betting Albertans would forgive his social conservative views when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.

The NDP painted Kenney as an extremist during the recent debate over Gay-Straight Alliances, and while his social views are probably out of step with most Albertans in 2017, that does not appear to have had an impact on him or the UCP in this by-election. Kenney’s relentless attacks on the NDP’s fiscal and economic agenda appear to be resonating in Calgary, where NDP MLAs are expected to face a very steep uphill battle in their bids for re-election.

While I am sure the NDP’s strategists in Edmonton are hard at work preparing for the next election, it may be time to rethink how they approach the UCP leader as he enters the Assembly.

This may have only been one by-election in a district already held by the UCP, but it should be a wake-up call for the NDP. The next general election is only a short 14 months away.


Results of the Calgary-Lougheed by-election (December 14, 2017)

Jason Kenney, UCP – 7,760 (71.51%)
Phillip van der Merwe, NDP – 1,822 (16.79%)
David Khan, Liberal – 1,009 (9.3%)
Lauren Thorsteinson, Reform – 137 (1.26%)

Romy Tittel, Green – 60 (0.55%)
Wayne Leslie, Independent – 42 (0.39%)
Larry Heather, Independent 22 (0.22%)


Vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey

Make sure to vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey. The first round of voting will close at 11:59pm on Friday, December 15, 2017. Voting for the top 3 results in each category will begin on Sunday, December 17, 2017. We will reveal the results of the survey on the next episode of the Daveberta Podcast, which you can listen and subscribe to on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and wherever you find podcasts online.

Rachel Notley Phillip van der Marwe Calgary Lougheed by-election

Calgary-Lougheed by-election update and a chat with NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley and Calgary-Lougheed NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe. (Photo from Facebook)

I had a chance to chat with New Democratic Party candidate Phillip van der Merwe on the phone this week about the December 14, 2017 by-election in Calgary-Lougheed. The first-time political candidate practices family medicine in Calgary and was the co-chair of the PCN Physician Leads Executive during their recent negotiations with the Alberta government.

Glenn van Dijken Barrhead Morinville Westlock United Conservative Party MLA

Glenn van Dijken

The construction of a new cancer centre in Calgary was a big issue in the last election, so a recent comment by a United Conservative Party MLA Glenn van Dijken about the new Calgary Cancer Centre being a “fancy box” certainly gave van der Merwe some extra material to use while campaigning at the doors. But while health care is one of the issues he spoke most passionately about during our chat, jobs and the economy remain a top issue for many Calgary voters.

While the economy has stabilized since 2014 and is showing signs of growth, van der Merwe was honest about the slow recovery in Calgary.

“Officially, if you look at all the indicators the recession is over, but we are certainly empathetic to the fact that this has maybe not translated to families yet,” said van der Merwe. “People are hurting and we know there is still more work to do and that’s exactly why we have to continue.”

“I can tell you that families are very concerned about Mr. [Jason] Kenney’s 20 percent budget cuts and what that will mean in the economy alone – just ripping the bottom from under it,” said van der Merwe, echoing statements made by Premier Rachel Notley about the dangers of UCP budget cuts.

And on the NDP’s chances in a future election, van der Merwe believes that 2015 election was more than the “accident” that the NDP’s opponents tend to frame it as.

“I think people are underestimating what happened in 2015, thinking that it was purely a protest vote. And while there obviously was elements of that, I think it was a sign that Alberta has changed,” said van der Merwe. “And that is what we are finding in this race.”

“Mr. Kenney is out of touch with what Calgary wants. Not only is his social stance out of touch with the 21st century, period, but it’s out of touch with what Albertans and Calgarians want,” said van der Merwe.

Kenney and the UCP tied themselves in knots last month over the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools, an issue the NDP were eager to let their opposition stumble over.

“Alberta is not the Alberta it was 20 years ago, and that’s a good thing.”

Dr. van der Merwe has had help on the campaign trail over the past few weeks from Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Education Minister David Eggen, Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda, Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.


UCP leader Jason Kenney on the campaign trail in Calgary-Lougheed (photo from Facebook)

UCP leader Jason Kenney on the campaign trail in Calgary-Lougheed (photo from Facebook)

Here is a quick look at what the other by-election candidates have been up to:

  • UCP leader Jason Kenney hosted a well-attended town hall meeting in Calgary-Lougheed on December 5, 2017. He was also spotted campaigning alongside Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda and Fort McMurry-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao.
  • Green Party leader Romy Tittel released her party’s manifesto for democracy, which calls for the adoption of a Proportional Representation electoral system, the banning of all election donations and use of mass media for campaign communications, and the creation of citizen initiated legislation through online petitions.
  • Liberal Party leader David Khan was endorsed by 8-time Juno Award-winning artist Jann Arden. Arden tweeted her support for the Liberal leader on December 6, 2017. “We have to move intelligently forward. Not backward,” Arden wrote in her endorsement of Khan.


All-Candidates Debate: The Calgary Leadership Forum is hosting an all-candidates debate for Calgary-Lougheed on December 10, 2017 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Braeside Community Hall (11024 Braeside Drive SW, Calgary).

Peter Lougheed Alberta Premier Now

Week 1 Update from the Calgary-Lougheed by-election

Photo: Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. The Calgary-Lougheed electoral district is named after Lougheed.

It has been one week since the Calgary-Lougheed by-election was called. The by-election is being held on Dec. 14, 2017, but voters in this district also have the option of voting in advance polls on Dec. 6, 7, 8 and 9, 2017.

This is the third by-election since the general election of 2017 that swept the New Democratic Party into government. And like the previous two by-elections, this one will be held in a district where voters elected a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015.

Four candidates have so far been nominated to stand in the by-election:

Phillip van der Merwe, New Democratic Party

Premier Rachel Notley was on-hand with Alberta NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe at tonight’s opening of the party’s campaign office in Calgary-Lougheed. Having just returned from speaking engagements in Vancouver and Toronto, where she pitched the benefits of oil pipelines, Notley returned to Calgary days after the Conference Board of Canada projected Alberta’s economy could grow by 6.7 percent in 2018.

But do not expect the NDP to spend much time focusing on economic issues. They are doing their utmost to make sure Jason Kenney’s opposition to the recent Gay-Straight Alliance law and his support from anti-abortion groups remains a topic of discussion.

This will be a tough election for the NDP, as this area of southwest Calgary is considered bedrock conservative territory. In the recent Calgary mayoral election, voters in this part of Calgary supported conservative Bill Smith over progressive Naheed Nenshi.

Jason Kenney, United Conservative Party

UCP candidate Jason Kenney drew a big crowd of supporters when he opened his campaign office on Nov 19, 2017. The recently elected UCP leader is almost universally considered the favourite to win this by-election.

Kenney and his supporters have started to claim that Albertans’ home heating bills will increase by 75 percent because of the province’s Carbon Levy. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips denied Kenney’s claims, describing them as ‘patently false,’ but the UCP has capitalized on confusion about the provincial and federal carbon taxes in order to draw connections between the Notley NDP and the Trudeau Liberals.

The claims are reminiscent of Kenney’s rhetoric and photo-op from December 31, 2016, when he insinuated the same Carbon Levy would lead to a spike in automobile gas prices. That didn’t happen. With constant predictions that the sky is falling on the issue of a carbon tax and rampant truthiness on other issues, Kenney is sounding more and more like Chicken Little.

David Khan, Liberal Party

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader

David Khan

Liberal Party leader David Khan announced he will stand as his party’s candidate in this by-election. The Liberals currently hold only one seat in the Legislature, Calgary-Mountain View represented by former leader and fourth-term MLA David Swann.

This will be Khan’s third election attempt since 2014 and his first since becoming leader earlier this year.

He first ran as his party’s candidate the 2014 Calgary-West by-election, where he placed 3rd with 8.5 percent of the vote. In the 2015 general election he ran in Calgary-Buffalo, where he placed 3rd with 24.7 percent of the vote (the constituency was represented by Kent Hehr from 2008 to 2015).

The Liberals will host an “Ugly Christmas Sweater & Karaoke Party” fundraiser at Khan’s campaign office on December 9, 2017.

Romy Tittel, Green Party

Romy Tittel Alberta Green Party Leader

Romy Tittel

Recently elected Green Party leader Romy Tittel will run as her party’s candidate in the by-election. An online statement said she plans to champion “Doughnut Economics” based on Kate Raworth’s 21st century vision for future economic health and prosperity.

Tittel was selected as the party’s leader at a November 5, 2017 meeting in Red Deer. She previously ran for the federal Green Party in the 2015 general election in Foothills, where she placed 4th with 3.25 percent of the vote.

No candidate, Alberta Party

The Alberta Party announced this week that it will not be running a candidate in the by-election. Party leader Greg Clark, who is stepping down as party leader next year, called the results of the by-election “a foregone conclusion,” suggesting that the party would have no chance of defeating Kenney.

This is the second consecutive by-election in which the party’s has declined to run a candidate. In a Feb. 29, 2016 media release about the Calgary-Greenway by-election, party leader Greg Clark said “Running in this byelection is not the best use of our resources as we build towards 2019.”

Sitting out this by-election presents a missed opportunity for the Alberta Party to debut itself following its revival last weekend in Red Deer. But having their candidate get clobbered by Kenney would take a bite out of their narrative that they are a growing home for moderate conservative voters. By not running a candidate, the Alberta Party saves themselves the embarrassment of placing third, fourth or fifth in this by-election.

Jason Kenney and the Secret Gay-Straight Alliance Agenda

Despite pledging to build a big tent conservative party, Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party MLAs appear to be doing their best this week to define themselves as the voice of social conservatism in Alberta. While I was convinced this new Conservative party would be disciplined enough to avoid being caught in the trap they found themselves in 2014 and again earlier this year, their actions this week suggest otherwise.

Mike Ellis MLA Calgary-West United Conservative Party

Mike Ellis

UCP opposition to Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, has caught the party on the wrong side of public opinion and on the wrong side of history. The bill would protect the privacy of students who decide to participate in a student-organized Gay-Straight Alliance and prevent those students to be outed to their parents by teachers or school administrators.

While introducing an amendment to Bill 24, Calgary-West UCP MLA Mike Ellis suggested GSAs could be a cover for the teaching of a covert sexual education curriculum. Ellis told the Assembly that his party “unequivocally support GSAs” but he believed the bill “deliberately or unwittingly erodes parental rights.”

“…it’s deeply disappointing that the members opposite continue to peddle dangerous conspiracy theories instead of accepting the simple fact that this is about protecting kids,” said Calgary-Hawkwood NDP MLA Michael Connolly in response to Ellis’ proposed amendment.

While Ellis did not actually use the words ‘secret gay agenda’ when suggesting GSAs could have a covert sexual education curriculum (which they do not), one of Kenney’s prominent supporters is actually saying just that.

Ted Byfield Alberta United Conservative Party

Ted Byfield

Conservative commentator and former Alberta Report publisher Ted Byfield, age 88, shared some pretty disgusting opinions  about GSAs on his blog, referring to the student-organized anti-bullying clubs as “sex clubs” designed to push a homosexual agenda.

“If my son or daughter, having reached, say, the age of ten or eleven, is lured into a school sex club, is persuaded that he or she must be homosexual, acts accordingly, acquires HIV and then AIDS and remains crippled for life, whom do I sue?” wrote Byfield. “The government, or the minister that helped bring this tragedy upon us?”

Byfield’s blog post made a powerful argument for why Bill 24 is necessary to protect LGBTQ students, wrote Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson.

I was surprised to discover the recent announcement that Byfield will be awarded a Senate 150 Medal by Edmonton Conservative Party Senator Betty Unger. The medal recipients were chosen “in recognition of their significant contributions to their communities.” According to a message on Unger’s Facebook page, the medals will be presented in a ceremony on November 14.

Michael Connolly NDP MLA Calgary Hawkwood

Michael Connolly

Despite the opposition of the UCP and some outdated conservative commentators, educators and school board trustees continue to voice their support for the NDP’s Bill 24.

Cheryl Low, chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, told the Calgary Herald that the changes included in Bill 24 align with the school division’s current procedures.

David Keohane, superintendent of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, told the St. Albert Gazette that his board appears to be in compliance with the new bill. “Job number one is ensuring the safety and well-being of a child while they’re at school,” Keohane told the Gazette, noting that outing a child before he or she is ready can harm them.

John Lehners, chair of the Grande Prairie Public School District, told the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune that “I don’t think we’d have a lot of problems adhering to (the new requirement) because I think a lot of our policies reflect that.”

Despite school trustees from across the province voicing their support for Bill 24, Kenney argues that teachers should be allowed to decide when to inform parents when a student joins a GSA.

“We trust highly trained educators to use their professional judgment to make decisions in the best interests of children, particularly given that this policy applies to children as young as five years of age,” Kenney said in a press conference on November 2. It is unclear where Kenney found evidence that five year olds have been organizing GSAs, which seems like a fairly silly and weird claim.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Greg Jeffery, says his organization supports Bill 24. Jeffery also says a lack of response by Kenney is the reason he has been unable to arrange a meeting to discuss education issues with the new UCP leader.

Perhaps the most convincing argument I have heard this week in response to Kenney’s opposition to Bill 24 came in the form of a comment on Facebook:

“I’m frustrated by the way he is using the “teachers know better than politicians” line. Actually, as a teacher, we don’t. The point of the legislation is that the student gets to decide when and to whom they come out, because that is best for the mental health of the student. I feel like he is trying to frame the issue to make himself appear that he is on the side of the teachers, when in reality, many support this bill because it supports the mental health of some of our most vulnerable students. He says he doesn’t want to out LGBTQ+ students, when mere months ago he was saying exactly that to pander to his social conservative base. So frustrating.”

Kenney’s reaction to Bill 24 this week actually surprised me. I did not expect the UCP leader to embrace a progressive agenda, but I believed a 20-year veteran of Ottawa politics would at a bare minimum take a reasonable approach to creating safe school environments for students, not, as Postmedia columnist Paula Simons tweeted this week, sound an “air raid siren of homophobia.”

United Conservative Party Caucus Gay-Straight Alliances

Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill

Photo: Jason Kenney with UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Leela Aheer, Ric McIver and Prab Gill on October 30, 2017.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced on November 7, 2017 that his party’s MLAs will vote against Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances.

David Eggen

Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.

The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

The bill has the support of Premier Rachel Notley‘s 54 New Democratic Party MLAs, 2 Alberta Party MLAs and Liberal MLA David Swann, making its passage into law almost certain. Numerous public school board trustees have voiced their support for the bill.

Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”

Fort McMurray Catholic School District board chair Paula Galenzoski told Fort McMurray Today that “Our board has always been supportive of our LGBT community and LGBT students, and the health and inclusion of all students. If a person isn’t able to stay safe in their environment, then we’re failing big.”

Even former MLA Jeff Wilson, who served as a Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Shaw from 2012 to 2015, is urging UCP MLAs to vote in favour of Bill 24.

The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.

The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.

As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.

Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.

The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.

Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade.

No Thanks and So Long. Former PC MLA Rick Fraser leaves the UCP to sit as an Independent

Photo: Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade (Photo from Facebook). 

The recently formed United Conservative Party may be leading in the polls but the party is looking a lot less united. One of the party’s 28 MLAs, Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, announced on social media this morning that he was leaving the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Fraser, who was re-elected for a second term as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015, is the third politician to leave the ranks of the UCP since it was formed in July 2017. Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke declined to join the UCP and decided to continue sitting as a PC MLA in the Assembly shortly after he party was founded. Then, in August 2017, the party’s co-finance critic Derek Fildebrandt resigned from the caucus after an expenses controversy and a traffic-accident related court battle.

In his resignation letter, Fraser gave a number of reasons for his departure, ranging from social and economic issues to the party’s increasingly polarizing hyper-partisan tone. While the UCP does not yet have any official policies, or even a permanent leader, it is seems clear that Fraser is uncomfortable with the direction that the province’s largest conservative party is heading.

Social issues are the achilles heel for the UCP, just as they were for the party’s previous incarnation, the Wildrose Party.

The two main candidates for the leadership of the party,  Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, are openly appealing to the party’s social conservative and rural base of supporters and have been extremely reluctant to discuss any social issues. And as we saw in this week’s UCP leadership debate, only Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer was willing to come out in support of gay rights, taking Kenney to task for his silence.

Earlier this year, Wildrose MLAs were tying themselves in knots over student-organized Gay-Straight Alliances and whether school administrators should be required to inform parents if their children joined one of the anti-bullying clubs. The debate, which was triggered by comments Kenney made to the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary, was painful and acrimonious to watch.

And while the party’s interim governing board has issued a statement in support of LGBTQ rights, support for that position by some of UCP MLAs and party members is questionable.

The unanimous position among the UCP leadership candidates to repeal the carbon tax without proposing any alternatives to reform or replace it suggests that none of them see climate change as a serious issue.

Comments, tweets and Facebook posts promoting climate change denial and skepticism have been rampant among the former Wildrose MLAs in the UCP caucus. Earlier this year, Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes helped fund a film promoting climate science skepticism. And last year, Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman was  forced to apologize – twice – after penning an article comparing Alberta’s carbon tax to the Holodomor – the Ukrainian genocide of the 1930s.

An MLA’s first responsibility is to their constituents, and if Fraser does not feel he can effectively represent the people of Calgary-South East as a member of the UCP, he has every right to leave that caucus. He was elected under that banner of the Progressive Conservative Party and now that party is now essentially defunct.

Fraser writes in his letter that he will consult his constituents before making any future decisions, which means he might be open to joining another party sometime in the future. I am willing to bet that Greg Clark , leader of the upstart conservative-lite Alberta Party, is making some phone calls today.

Wildrose-PC merger a big deal, but not a silver bullet for 2019

Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.

For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.

There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.

A) If members from both parties vote to approve the agreement and amend their party constitutions, then a joint board of directors will be appointed to govern the business of the UCP and the two existing parties. The creation of a new party will need to be approved by Elections Alberta, which I expect will happen shortly after a successful vote.

An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.

A leadership race will be scheduled for October 28, 2017 and four candidates have already declared their candidacy or interest in running: Wildrose leader Brian Jean, PC Party leader Jason Kenney, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

B) If the vote fails, it is expected this would be because of opposition by Wildrose Party members. While I would be very surprised if the vote fails, it would not be the most outlandish event to occur in Alberta politics in the past decade. The Wildrose membership are known for being cantankerous and notoriously anti-establishment.

A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.

A Plan B could take the form of a non-compete agreement, where the two parties would not challenge each other in constituencies in the next election. This would be similar to what Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke proposed during the PC leadership race.

If technical issues hamper the vote and cause party members to question or challenge the validity of the results, it could damage the UCP before it is even officially formed.

What does this mean for the conservative movement in Alberta? 

With some prominent PC members jumping to the Alberta Party, a group of disgruntled Wildrose members threatening to start another new party and some conservatives even joining the NDP, Conservatives actually appear less united than they have been in years. While much of the Conservative establishment is backing the Wildrose-PC merger, there is a threat that it would lead to a further split into smaller conservative parties.

The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.

Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.

What does this mean for the NDP?

While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.

Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has stated that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.

What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?

Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.

Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.

Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet

Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.

And, as the past two elections have proven, Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.


I joined Brock Harrison and Shaye Ganam on July 21, 2017 to chat about Alberta politics and the July 22 vote on 630CHED. Here is the audio recording of our discussion.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Jason Kenney emerges from hiding at Conservative fundraising dinner in Vancouver

As Premier Rachel Notley returns from leading a ten-day economic trade mission to China and Japan, political watchers have been wondering where the recently elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has been? Jason Kenney appeared to go into hiding around a month ago after he sparked controversy with his comments about Gay-Straight Alliances and outing gay kids in Alberta schools during an interview with the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary.

Vancouver-based website TheBreaker reported this week that Kenney was recently spotted in British Columbia speaking at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative Party fundraising event at Hy’s Steakhouse in downtown Vancouver. Kenney tweeted that he was in Vancouver for a conference, but did not mention any other political activities the PC Party leader has been engaged in on the west coast.

The website author, journalist Bob Mackin, alleged that Kenney urged guests at the fundraising dinner to support the BC Liberal Party of Christy Clark in the province’s May 9 general election and that a new conservative  party could be formed in Alberta as soon as this weekend.

Readers will remember that a question first asked on this blog on December 5, 2016 about whether the Alberta New Democratic Party would lend a hand to their BC cousins led to a decree by Notley banning any west coast election-related travel by her government’s political staffers. The BC NDP under the leadership of John Horgan oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, a project that the Notley NDP are firmly in favour of.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted on April 22, 2017, Horgan’s NDP leads Clark’s Liberals 44 percent to 34 percent, with an insurgent Green Party led by Andrew Weaver polling at 22 percent support.

Meanwhile, as the unite-the-right discussions continue, a new poll released by Mainstreet Research asking Albertans who they would prefer as leader of a merged Wildrose-PC party showed Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean leading Kenney with 29 percent to 24 percent support. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose “Someone Else” and 23 percent were unsure, suggesting that there could be appetite for a third or fourth candidate to enter the contest (some Conservative activists have suggested outgoing interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose could fill this void).

Jean has been criss-crossing the province holding town hall meetings ostensibly to collect feedback on the party merger, but in reality he is campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be-named and yet-to-be-merged Wildrose-PC party.

I am told that one of the significant issues of debate between the leadership of the two conservative parties is the timeline for a leadership vote. Jean has firmly said the leader of a new party should be chosen before October 15, 2017 while Kenney has been saying since last year that he wants a founding convention to be held in late 2017 before a leadership vote takes place in early 2018.

Jean’s preferred timeline appears to be more sensible, as it would allow a leader to hold court over a founding convention that could be unruly and filled with bozo-erruptions if a leader is not in place to keep the rowdy membership base in line. Kenney’s preference would buy him more time to compete with Jean in a leadership vote, which he might need now that he has decided to lend himself out to conservative fundraising efforts in British Columbia.