Tag Archives: Gordon Shrake

Bob Hawkesworth with Premier Rachel Notley during the by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

What about Bob? Hawkesworth swoops into top political job.

Former Calgary alderman Bob Hawkesworth has been appointed Executive Director of Premier Rachel Notley’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary. A press release sent out on Nov. 7 states that Mr. Hawkesworth will be responsible for “the day-to-day operation of McDougall Centre, including stakeholder relations, communications and outreach services.

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Mr. Hawkesworth is a familiar name in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.

But his long career in municipal politics ended with a flame out. When faced with dwindling support in his bid for mayor in 2010, the respected alderman known for his ‘nice guy’ image launched a blistering negative attack on Naheed Nenshi before dropping out and endorsing Barb Higgins (his name still appeared on the ballot – he earned 1,513 votes). The negativity and surprised endorsements had many Calgarians scratching their heads in confusion.

He attempted a return to provincial politics in a September 2015 by-election but was defeated by Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda.

Reaction from the opposition parties to his appointment this weekend was surprisingly mixed.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose

Prasad Panda

Calgary-Fish Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Gotfried tweeted a congratulatory note, describing Mr. Hawkesworth as “A good man and an able representative of the @albertaNDP in #YYC.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon attacked the announcement as “a patronage appointment while Albertans across the province are hurting.” It seemed odd that the Wildrose caucus did not choose their only MLA from Calgary, Mr. Panda, to respond to the appointment. Maybe they are still preparing themselves for the rigours of a 9:00 a.m. start time?

Was this appointment based on political connections? It is hard to argue it is not. We can expect Ms. Notley to hire who she knows and who she trusts to these top positions. Mr. Hawkesworth might be the most well-connected and well-known partisan New Democrat in Calgary (Finance Minister Joe Ceci, another former alderman, might be the only other Calgary New Democrat as well connected). And he did earn endorsements from a number of conservatives during his by-election bid, including Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake and former mayor Rod Sykes.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Jason Nixon

This appointment of a long-time party loyaltist also signals that the NDP don’t have a broadly developed network of fresh talent to draw from in Calgary and southern Alberta, which may explain the large number of out-of-province hires. Many Calgary progressives I speak with regularily, some who are affiliated with Mr. Nenshi’s mayoral campaigns, are completely unfamiliar with the NDP’s political networks in their city, mostly because these networks are just now being built.

Despite electing 15 MLAs in Calgary, the NDP only earned 35 percent of the city-wide vote in the May 2015 election. It will largely depend on these 15 MLAs in Calgary and their colleagues in Banff-Cochrane, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to develop those networks through the work they do on the ground in their constituencies over the next four years.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC

Rob Merrifield

The appointment of Mr. Hawkesworth does raise the question about Ms. Notley’s pledge to operate differently than the old PC government. In fact, only a few months ago, the NDP government publicly fired and criticized former Alberta representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield for being a political appointee.

Mr. Merrifield was a partisan political appointee, hired by former Premier Jim Prentice, because he knew him and believed he could trust him to do a good job. Just as I am sure Ms. Notley knows and believes she can trust Mr. Hawkesworth to do a good job running the Premier’s office in at the McDougall Centre.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

It is anyone’s guess what comes next after today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills

Today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills is the first major litmus test for Alberta’s political parties in the post-Progressive Conservative political world. After forty-four years of PC Party-government in Alberta end earlier this year, politics in this province could still be in flux.

Bob Hawkesworth NDP Calgary Foothills

Bob Hawkesworth

When Rachel Notley led NDP candidates to victory in fifteen constituencies in the city on May 5, 2015, the “Orange Wave” broke at the boundaries of Calgary-Foothills as conservative voters re-elected Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice as their MLA (Mr. Prentice the triggered the by-election when he resigned as MLA on election night).

Despite considerable conservative strength in Calgary-Foothills, the NDP have willingly turned low expectations into high stakes by pouring significant resources into this by-election. Ms. Notley has personally visited the constituency at least three times to campaign alongside Bob Hawkesworth, a well-known candidate with thirty-years of experience in municipal and provincial office in Calgary.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose

Prasad Panda

Mr. Hawkesworth’s campaign has released impressive endorsements from some unlikely figures – former Calgary Mayor Rod Sykes, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake, former Liberal candidate Brian Edy, and current city councillors Diane Colley-Urquhart and Druh Farrell – to demonstrate a broad support for his candidacy.

Talk in political circles is that he would be a shoe-in for a cabinet spot if elected, maybe as Minister of Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour or Minister of Infrastructure.

But the decline of the international price of oil and recent energy-sector layoffs may have voters in this constituency sticking with their conservative options. The opposition parties have been quick to blame NDP plans to review resource royalties for making the economic situation worse.

Blair Houston PC Calgary Foothills

Blair Houston

The war of words in the by-election got nasty after it was discovered that a Chinese-language pamphlet circulated by Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda’s campaign accused the NDP of being communists. The Wildrose campaign claimed the translation was unintentional but it is difficult to believe this would be a mistake.

There is a reason why the communist message was only included in the Chinese-language material. According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, 12.4% of homes in Calgary-Foothills identify Chinese as their household language and 24.1% of the population in the constituency is of Chinese ethnic origin.

Instead of repudiating Mr. Panda’s claims, Wildrose leader Brian Jean doubled down on the communist accusations, telling NewsTalk770 yesterday that the NDP “are the most socialist out of any party in Canada.”

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

The presence of an increasingly depressing PC Party, represented by candidate Blair Houston could spoil an easy Wildrose victory. Mr. Houston’s campaign material claims that “only the moderate can defeat the extremes,” sending a strong message that there is still significant distrust between the two conservative parties.

The split between Wildrose and PC conservatives is evident among conservative activists on the internet.

An army of Wildrose twitterati launched online attacks yesterday against Calgary-North West PC MLA Sandra Jansen for her support of former television news anchor Nirmala Naidoo, who is running as the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Rocky Ridge, which overlaps with the Calgary-Foothills constituency.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Ms. Jansen responded that she is not a member of the federal Conservative Party and is under no obligation to support their candidates (her pragmatic reply is unlikely to appease her Wildrose critics).

As litmus tests, by-elections can be indicators of citizens approval or disapproval of a governing party at a given time, but by-election results are not necessarily indicators of how voters will cast their ballots in the future.

The Progressive Conservatives swept four by-elections in October 2014, including one in Calgary-Foothills, leading many political observers to believe that Mr. Prentice was an unstoppable political juggernaut. Only ten months later, Mr. Prentice is gone, the NDP have a majority government, the Wildrose rebounded into official opposition and Alberta has been thrown into a new political reality.

It is anyone’s guess what comes next after today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

Unofficial results from today’s by-election will appear on the Elections Alberta website after 8:00 p.m.