Tag Archives: Graham Thomson

PC Alberta Tammany Hall

NDP Bill aims to take Big Money out of Alberta politics

The Alberta NDP are pushing forward with their plans to reform Alberta’s outdated election finance laws.

Christina Gray Edmonton Mill Woods MLA

Christina Gray

Labour Minister Christina Gray, who also serves as Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, introduced the NDP’s latest election finance reforms in the Legislature today in Bill 35: Fair Elections Finances Act. This follows in the footsteps of the first bill championed by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP after the party formed government in 2015, banning corporate and union donations to political parties.

The bill introduced today includes a handful of the reform ideas that were debated by the now-defunct Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability, which was created during the euphoria that followed the election of the NDP. The political mood soured quickly after the election and the committee quickly succumbed to a year of partisan wrangling and procedural brinksmanship until the Legislature allowed the committee to disband in September 2016.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

The new bill has already received the support of committee member and Liberal Party leader David Swann. Dr. Swann, who is believed to be quite sympathetic to the NDP on many issues, was quoted in a government press released praising the changes.

The bill picks up where the committee left off, but does not include some of the more controversial ideas, such as per-vote financial subsidies for political parties.

Bill 35 would lower the limit that individuals can contribute annually to political parties to $4,000, which is a positive move, and is a reform that NDP and Wildrose MLAs on the all-party committee found room to agree on. The current annual contribution limits are $15,000 outside election periods and $30,000 during election periods.

Eric Rosendahl

Eric Rosendahl

The bill imposes a spending limit of $50,000 for each individual candidate’s campaigns and a $2 million limit for political parties (the Progressive Conservatives were the only party to spend more than $2 million in the last election). I am in favour of spending limits but I do believe that a $50,000 limit for constituency campaigns could be too low. I expect this could lead to some candidate campaigns spending additional funds in advance of the election being called in order to circumvent the low limit.

There are currently no spending limits in Alberta and our province is currently the only province in Canada without spending limits. The lack of spending limits has led to some significant disparities in what is spent in elections campaigns. For example, Edmonton-Whitemud PC candidate Stephen Mandel‘s campaign spent $132,991 in 2015, while candidates like West Yellowhead New Democrat Eric Rosendahl spent $748. Generally, the rule is that the candidate who spends the most money is likely to win, but 2015 was an exception to that rule (Mr. Mandel was defeated and Mr. Rosendahl was elected).

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

The NDP have allowed a handful of costs to be exempted from the limit, including travel costs, parking and gas, childcare expenses, expenses related to a candidate living with a disability, and financial audits required by law. I suspect the exemption of travel and gas costs are meant to address some concerns that MLAs on the committee raised about additional expenses incurred when campaigning in geographically large rural constituencies. This issue was raised by Wildrose MLAs on the committee who represent some of these large rural areas.

The bill also proposes limiting spending by candidates running in party nomination contests, which currently does not exist in Alberta. Nomination candidates would now have to register their candidacy with Elections Alberta, which is similar to a system that already exists for federal political parties.

Rick Strankman

Rick Strankman

Perhaps most controversially, Bill 35 seeks to limit the total amount of money that third-party advertisers can spend during elections campaigns. The proposed limit of $150,000, of which no more than $3,000 could used in an individual constituency, is severely limiting. The high costs associated with advertising campaigns would mean that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any third-party group to run an effective province-wide campaign during an election period in Alberta.

The province’s original third party advertising laws were introduced in 2009 by first term Progressive Conservative MLA Rob Anderson, who later crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 before crossing back to the PCs in 2014. Mr. Anderson is now supporting Jason Kenney‘s campaign to merge the two parties and penned an apology to Wildrose supporters on his blog.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, considering the vastly different political environment in 2016, the third-party advertising laws passed by the PCs in 2009 were seen as a reaction to the Albertans for Change advertising campaign targeted then-premier Ed Stelmach. The ads, which became infamous for the spooky “Noooo Plaaan” tagline, were sponsored by a handful of Alberta labour unions.

It was during the 2009 debate in the Legislative Assembly over Mr. Anderson’s bill that the rookie MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, Rachel Notley, foreshadowed what seven years later would become her government’s reforms to Alberta’s elections finance system:

…in Alberta we should have a much more comprehensive set of rules around our own election financing as candidates, as members of political parties, we should have much more substantial limits on how much we can spend as political parties, and we should have much more substantial rules on the maximum donation that we can receive, all of that designed to ensure it is the individual voter whose activity and whose engagement ultimately makes the day one way or the other at the end of the process and that it’s not one person or a group of 20 people with $15,000 each who can decide a particular campaign in a particular riding.


Where is Strankman’s bill?

Post media columnist Graham Thomson raises an important point in his latest column. Earlier this year Wlidrose MLA Rick Strankman introduced a Private Members’ Bill calling for a blackout of government announcements during election period in order to prevent a governing party from using public funds to influence the election.

The bill was introduced in the Assembly but then referred to the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability, which never had the opportunity to debate it before it was disbanded. It is unclear whether Mr. Strankman’s bill will ever resurface in a future sitting.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

A Timeline of Derek Fildebrandt’s bizarre “suspension” from Wildrose

The Wildrose Party was not one big happy family this week. Albertans might be confused about what exactly happened between Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and Finance critic Derek Fildebrandt.

It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.

Brian Jean

Brian Jean

Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.

An outspoken critic and a fierce partisan, Mr. Fildebrandt has been a opponent of nearly everything the New Democratic Party government has proposed since it formed government in 2015. But the second highest profile MLA in the opposition benches has also attracted his share of controversy.

Here’s the timeline of what has become a fascinating internal struggle for power inside Alberta’s Wildrose Party:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was a guest at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, Official Opposition Finance critic Mr. Fildebrandt attacked her record as premier as she sat in the Speaker’s Gallery. In reference to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall,  Mr. Fildebrandt shouted “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall at Premier Rachel Notley as she tried to answer a question during Question Period. Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Ms. Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper

Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”  Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.

Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen Wynne

Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ronda Klemmensen, President of Mr.Fildebrandt’s Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose constituency association spoke out against the suspension. Ms. Klemmensen was backed by the Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose constituency association and at least five other associations that wrote letters in support of Mr. Fildebrandt. Lakeland Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs posts a comment on Facebook in support of Mr. Fildebrandt.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Calgary-Shepard Conservative MP Tom Kmeic tweeted his support for Mr. Fildebrandt.

CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.

Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.

The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.

Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley saidwith respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”

AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga suggested that Mr. Jean may have violated the Wildrose Party constitution by how Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

For Wildrose, “Mr. Wynne” Facebook comment was last straw for Derek Fildebrandt

A statement released late on Friday night announced that Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean had suspended Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt from the Official Opposition Caucus.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga wrote on Friday night:

A screen shot of a Facebook message posted earlier Friday evening by Mr. Fildebrandt and shows the message referred to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment adds to Mr. Fildebrandt, “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”

Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized but the flippant Facebook comment about Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality too clearly crossed the line. Remember that it was only four short years ago that a statement claiming gays and lesbians would burn in a Lake of Fire cost the Wildrose a shot at forming government in Alberta. Since then the rural-based party has done its best to avoid discussing social issues that could hurt its public image.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology, but wondered whether a man would have faced the same kind of vicious attack.

Mr. Fildebrandt made headlines last week after he took to the floor of the Assembly to attack Ms. Wynne’s record as premier as she sat as a guest in the Speaker’s Gallery in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Premier Rachel Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. As unabashed advocates for oil pipelines in all directions, the timing of the Wildrose critic’s hyper-partisan rant was baffling.

The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson fit naturally into his role as the Wildrose Party’s chief attack dog but his antics sometimes attracted more attention than his party’s actual message.

As the Official Opposition Finance critic and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fildebrandt was one of the most high profile opposition MLAs and the New Democratic Party government’s most uncompromising and unrelenting critic. He will now sit as an Independent MLA.

Recommended Listening: A list of my favourite podcasts

I had the pleasure of chatting with the talented Karen Unland on her excellent Seen and Heard in Edmonton podcast last week about my experiences while blogging about Alberta politics and some of the changes that have happened in online media since I started writing this blog a decade ago.

One of the things that has changed over the past ten years is the proliferation of podcasts available on almost any topic. On Karen’s podcast, I recommended a handful of podcasts that I listen to on a weekly basis. Here is an expanded list of podcasts that I would give my seal of approval:

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

Alberta Election Week 1: The Economy and Corporate Tax confusion

Recent polls show a three-way split in support between the Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic and Wildrose Parties have generated some interest in Alberta’s provincial election campaign but with 24 days left until voting day we can expect a lot to change. Here is a quick review of what the politicians were saying and political parties were spinning in the first week of this election campaign.

Progressive Conservatives
PC leader Jim Prentice launched his party's election campaign in Edmonton.

PC leader Jim Prentice launched his party’s election campaign in Edmonton.

Campaigning on issues related to the March 2015 provincial budget, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice spent most of his week travelling around rural Alberta in his party’s campaign bus.

Mr. Prentice targeted his opponents as extremists while moderating his own tone around Alberta’s economy. Before the election was called, Mr. Prentice’s repeated doom-and-gloom messages led opposition critics to name him “Grim Jim.” The PCs are attempting to present Mr. Prentice as the balanced (a.k.a. safe) candidate, as opposed to the extremist (a.k.a. dangerous) leaders of the opposition.

The PCs promised to double the $17.4 billion Heritage Fund as part of a ‘ten year plan’ and Mr. Prentice repeated his pre-election statement that he would remove the provincial government’s dependence on natural resources revenues.

PC Social Media blitz

PC Social Media blitz

The recent provincial budget included almost sixty tax and fee increases, including increases to personal taxes but no increases to corporate taxes, which appears to have been a political miscalculation on the part of the PCs. The government’s own budget survey results showed 69% of Albertans support a corporate tax increase, a point the NDP has stressed.

PC MLAs and candidates took to social media to post different variations of a message that 8,900 jobs would be lost if corporate taxes were increased by 1%. It is unclear what study the 8,900 jobs number originates from.

Creating more confusion around corporate tax increases, a PC press release from April 9 stated ‘Prentice pointed out that more than 95% in Alberta are small businesses, employing fewer than 50 people, and questioned those who would put those jobs at risk with a corporate tax increase.” This is a good talking point, if not for the issue that small businesses do not pay corporate tax rates.

According to the Department of Finance website, small businesses earning $500,000 of less profit each year pay a separate 3% small business tax, not the 10% corporate tax applied to companies earning more than $500,000 in profit annually. The PCs dropped the corporate tax rate in Alberta from 15% in 2001 to the current 10% in 2006.

Edmonton Police are investigating bribery allegations made during the Edmonton-Ellerslie PC nomination contest and disqualified Edmonton-Decore PC nomination candidate Don Martin is suing the PC Party for $124,000 over bribery allegations. Dismissed nomination candidate Jamie Lall declared that he is running as an Independent candidate against PC MLA Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rockyview.

New Democratic Party
NDP leader Rachel Notley with Calgary candidates on April 8, 2015.

NDP leader Rachel Notley with Calgary candidates on April 8, 2015.

NDP leader Rachel Notley launched her party’s election campaign in Edmonton and travelled to Calgary and Lethbridge to campaign with candidates in those cities. It is notable that the NDP are focusing resources on candidates outside of Edmonton, where the party has traditionally been weak. Calgary-Fort candidate Joe CeciCalgary-Varsity candidate Stephanie McLean and Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips were prominently placed at Ms. Notley’s side during photo-ops at these stops

NDP messaging in the first week of the campaign focused on the economy. Ms. Notley announced the creation of a Job Creation Tax Credit for businesses as the first NDP election promise, providing balance from their calls for corporate tax increases. The credit sounds reasonable, but much like the PC Party’s 8,900 job loss argument, I am skeptical about this credit creating 27,000 new jobs. The NDP also announced that in-province refining and upgrading is also a top priority. Before the election was called, Ms. Notley’s unveiled her party’s plans to create a Resource Owners’ Rights Commission.

The NDP responded to Mr. Prentice’s “extremist” claims with an “extremist of the week” press release quoting former Premier Peter Lougheed’s support of increased corporate taxes and former Deputy Premier (and current PC candidate) Thomas Lukaszuk support for in-province refining and upgrading.

Ms. Notley was also a guest on this week’s #abvote Google Hangout.

Wildrose Party
Wildrose leader Brian Jean

Wildrose leader Brian Jean

Focusing on rural Alberta, Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned in southern Alberta and his Fort McMurray constituency this week. While the campaign trail in Strathmore-Brooks, Mr. Jean and candidate Derek Fildebrandt cleverly walked around town with a giant arrow in hand pointing out services and commodities, like alcohol and gas, which became more expensive due to tax increases in the recent provincial budget.

Mr. Jean released his party’s “Five Priorities” that include positions on taxes, health care, education, democracy and rural Alberta. Part of the Wildrose plan to balance the budget by 2017 without raising taxes includes cutting 3,200 management jobs, including 1,600 in Alberta Health Services and 1,600 in the Government public service.

The Wildrose announced they would sell the Kananaskis Golf Course, a publicly owned and privately-operated golf course that the provincial government had paid millions of dollars to repair after it was damaged by floods in 2013.

Mr. Jean backtracked on comments made about Mr. Prentice undermining Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Wildrose Party also nominated new candidates this week including City Councillor Buck Buchanan in Red Deer-North, past mayoral candidate Shelley Biermanski in St. Albert, Don Koziak in Edmonton-Glenora and Ian Crawford in Edmonton-Riverview.

Liberals
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, interim leader David Swann and Edmonton Liberal candidates unveil the party's pay equity proposal.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, interim leader David Swann and Edmonton Liberal candidates unveil the party’s pay equity proposal.

The Liberal Party announced they would introduce pay equity legislation, increase funding to Family and Community Support Services and reinstate the Charitable Donation Tax Credit, which was decreased in the recent budget. Interim leader David Swann , who is running for re-election in Calgary-Mountain View, received an endorsement from Senator and retired Lieuteant General Romeo Dallaire. Receiving the 2015 Calgary Peace Prize this week, Mr. Dallaire called Mr. Swann a “true humanitarian.”

Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson wrote that the Liberal Party might need “a ballot box miracle” in order to save themselves from political oblivion.

Alberta Party 

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark released his party’s policy platform and Economic Recovery Plan. Most of the party’s focus is on electing Mr. Clark in Calgary-Elbow, where he placed a strong second to PC MLA Gordon Dirks in a 2014 by-election. Mr. Clark’s campaign is using DirksRecord.ca to target Mr. Dirks’ record.

The party also grabbed media attention for scooping up the domain names choosealbertasfuture.ca and .com after the PC campaign slogan was unveiled earlier this week.

Green Party 

The Green Party published a media release criticizing the PC Government’s record on environmental regulation, describing it as a “fake, not authentic, regulation and thus an insult to the intelligence, dignity and trusting nature of Albertans.”  The release takes issue with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and calls on the government to create a regulator that understands the impact of proposed activity and puts rules in place to prevent any unacceptable impacts.

Other Groups

The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) launched a campaign to increase voter turnout among university students in this election. “We are going to sign up thousands of students and make sure they turn out on Election Day,” CAUS chairperson Navneet Khinda said in a press release.

The Parkland Institute released a new report looking at political values of Albertans. Public Interest Alberta released its “Priorities for Change” report as a resource for political candidates in this election And Change Alberta has returned to rank the progressive candidates most likely to win in constituencies across Alberta.

Wildrose wilts as Danielle Smith joins the PC Party

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith introduces candidate Tim Grover during the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

For four years, Progressive Conservatives told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. Today, it now appears that the leaders of the two parties have now put the past four years behind them and are joining forces.

Following a Tuesday, Dec. 16 caucus meeting, it is being reported that six of the Wildrose Official Opposition’s 14 MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, have decided to leave their party to join the 43-year governing PC. Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell reported yesterday that PC leader Jim Prentice offered a “Reunification Agreement” as incentive to his opposition colleagues.

CBC is reporting that the six MLAs include:
Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Blake Pederson (Medicine Hat)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)

The governing PC Caucus will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 17 and are expected to discuss the acceptance of the six MLAs into their ranks. The addition of the six would bring the total number of Tories to 69 of 87 MLAs in the Assembly. The remaining eight Wildrose MLAs would remain Official Opposition.

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson reports that a cabinet shuffle could happen as early as Thursday to make room for the new MLAs.

Some sources say that Ms. Smith could become Mr. Prentice’s Deputy Premier and Mr. Anderson, a former PC MLA who joined the Wildrose in 2010, could be appointed to a senior ministry. Another potential cabinet appointment could be former Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, who crossed the floor earlier this month.

Once source speculated that current PC ministers like Kyle Fawcett or Maureen Kubinec could be shuffled out of cabinet to make room for their new caucus-mates.

The phenomonally rapid collapse of the Wildrose Party raises questions about the unstable foundation of the party. Splits in the party became public after the loss of four by-elections and as Ms. Smith battled with party’s activists over an equality motion and her position in the Gay-Straight Alliances debate.

Just six months ago, the Wildrose Party was out-fundraising and outpolling the 43-year governing PCs. Only three months since becoming PC leader, Mr. Prentice has been able to demoralize, destabilize and now co-opt his main opposition.

The departure of the six could damage the Wildrose Party beyond repair and remove it as a viable political force in Alberta, at least in the short-term. Whatever your opinion of the party, the floor crossings are certainly a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast a ballot for Wildrose candidates in order to send the PCs a message.

Wildrose Party activists are pledging to fight any formal merger between the two parties, but the loss of high-profile leader Ms. Smith is a death-blow to the party.

The loss of Ms. Smith to the government benches and the crippling of her soon to be former party is also a blow to democracy in Alberta. After coming very close to winning the 2012 election, the Wildrose have been the most effective and aggressive opposition parties in recent memory. Their work exposed corruption and cronyism in the government and ended the careers of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

It is unclear who will replace Ms. Smith as leader of the Official Opposition, but candidates could include Shayne Saskiw or Drew Barnes. Neither have the provincial profile of their predecessor.

While the blow to the Wildrose could rob the non-conservative opposition parties of a conservative vote split in the next election, the decline of the Wildrose creates opportunities for other opposition leaders. This is especially true for new NDP leader Rachel Notley and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who now have an opportunity to present an alternative vision to Mr. Prentice’s (and Ms. Smith’s) 43-year governing PC Party.


2014CWA-secondAwards…
I was pleased to discover that daveberta.ca earned second place in the 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards in the Politics category.

Congratulations to Gender Focus for their first place finish and John Ibbitson for placing third. Thank you to everyone who continues reading, commenting, contributing and sharing this blog.

Fundraising numbers expose PC, Wildrose strengths and weaknesses

Alberta Fundraising 2013 2014

The total combined first and second quarter financial disclosures from Alberta’s political parties from 2013 and 2014.

The latest quarterly fundraising disclosures from Alberta’s provincial political parties were released by Elections Alberta this week, and Alberta’s two conservative parties remain the dominant forces in political fundraising. Continuing a trend that has become the norm in Alberta politics, the Wildrose Party has once again raised more money than the long-governing Progressive Conservatives.

Wildrose Party raised $1,572,159.26 in the first two quarters of 2014, slightly down from their  $1,625,290.94 raised during the same period in 2013. The PCs, despite their recent internal turmoil, are claiming $1,406,924.81 raised by the party in the first half of 2014, up from the $1,237,607.50 raised in the same period in 2013.

As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson wrote in his column yesterday, “[t]he issue here is not that the PCs are bad at raising money, it’s that the Wildrose party is proving particularly good at raising money.”

Not included in these numbers are funds raised at the constituency level, where the Tories raised more than the Wildrose. This should not be a surprise, as the PC Party has 59 MLAs who form the government. That the Wildrose Party has only 17 MLAs and has continues to be successful at party level fundraising remains troubling for the long-governing PCs.

While the Tories continue to show heavy reliance on large corporate donations to fill their coffers, a significant percentage of Wildrose funds come from individual donations in amounts less than $250.00.

The Tories continue to show signs of weakness in constituencies represented by Wildrose MLAs. The Medicine Hat PC Association has not raised any funds since 2012 and the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Tories claimed $300.00 in the second quarter of 2014, its first revenue since 2012.

Meanwhile, the Wildrose Party appears to be dormant in two important northern constituencies – Fort McMurray-Conklin and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. According to financial disclosures, the two Wildrose constituency associations have not raised any funds since 2012, when PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier was unseated by Tory Mike Allen in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo.

Looking at the other parties, the NDP showed positive growth as their fundraising numbers increased by more than $26,000 from last year to $273,214.50 in the first half of 2014. The Liberals continue to be stuck in fourth place in the fundraising department, only raising $181,385.56 in the first half of 2014.

Celebrating 42 years in power, PC Party expected to back Redford

UPDATE: Delegates to the PC Party convention in Red Deer have voted 77% not to hold a leadership review, leaving Ms. Redford firmly in the leader’s chair for the time being. This is a solid endorsement, though the vote indicates that opposition inside her party ranks is still a concern. 

This “teaser” video released before the Progressive Conservative Party Annual Meeting focuses on “trust.”

There was no mention of the ‘Socred Retreads‘ in Premier Alison Redford‘s speech to Progressive Conservative Party faithful last night. Unlike her speech to her party’s annual general meeting in November 2012, Ms. Redford took no partisan thrusts at the opposition Wildrose Party during her speech at this year’s PC Party convention. Instead, she promised to continue her party’s “legacy of success.

Alison Redford Alberta Speech

Premier Alison Redford delivers her opening speech to PC Party convention delegates.

Demonstrating the organizational strength of a party that has been in office for 42 years, the PC Party is said to have drawn up to 1,500 delegates and observers to their annual convention in Red Deer.

Although the event has attracted the attention of partisan faithful, most regular Albertans turned elsewhere for their Friday evening entertainment. According to the ticker on the party’s website, only 40 viewers appeared to tune in to the the online streaming of Ms. Redford’s opening speech. With the Grey Cup kicking off tomorrow in Saskatchewan, the Canadian Football League will attract significantly more attention for the Saskatchewan RoughridersHamilton Tiger-Cats game.

While delegates will spend time today discussing issues and party policy, the main event of this weekend’s gathering is Ms. Redford’s leadership review. Each delegate will have the opportunity to vote on whether they would like to hold a leadership race to replace Ms. Redford or to keep the current leadership.

Speaking to the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid, former Premier Ed Stelmach‘s chief of staff Ron Glen questioned why his party continues to schedule mandatory leadership reviews two years after elections.

Managing expectations before the vote, staunch supporters of the Premier began to lower expectations this week. Former party campaign manager Susan Elliott told the Globe & Mail that “Anything in the 60s is good. And anything in the 70s is actually a triumph.” While Ms. Redford does have her detractors inside her caucus and party, and recent budget cuts have threatened to unravel her new electoral coalition of moderates and former Liberals, it appears unlikely that party faithful will turn on their leader this weekend.

With Ms. Redford’s staff working hard to stack the meeting with supporters, it would be an organizational failure if her support at this convention reaches even the low 70% range.

What are the pundits saying? Despite a long list of broken election promises, including deep budget cuts to colleges and universities, the Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell does not believe the PC Party is ready to part with Ms. Redford and the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson agrees. David Climenhaga believes her victory in this leadership review is a forgone conclusion, and I agree.

Ralph Phillip Klein (1942-2013).

Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

Various news media are reporting that Ralph Klein has passed away at the age of 70. Mr. Klein served as Mayor of Calgary from 1980 to 1989 and Premier of Alberta from 1992 until his retirement from politics in 2006.

Despite leading the Progressive Conservatives to form four majority governments – in 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2004 – his own party turned against him in a 2006 leadership review. He announced his resignation shortly afterward.

He had suffered from numerous ailments, including temporal dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, since his retirement.

Here is some coverage of former Premier Klein’s passing:

Colby Cosh: Ralph Klein, R.I.P.: the deceptive shape of a shadow

Graham Thomson and Tony Seskus: Ralph Klein was unconventional, controversial, entertaining – and often underestimated

CBC: Alberta’s Ralph Klein dead at 70

Toronto Star: Former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein dies

Globe and Mail: Ralph Klein, long-time and colourful Alberta premier, has died

what happens after prime minister harper? prime minister redford? prime minister mulcair?

Premier Alison Redford, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Premier Alison Redford, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Prime Minister Stephen Harper

With the start of Stampede season came the latest round of gossip and predictions about what the future might hold for Calgary MLA and Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford. Earlier this week in a column in the Edmonton Journal, Graham Thomson speculated that Premier Redford’s next political challenge could be the biggest in the land – Prime Minister of Canada.

I have no reason to doubt Premier Redford’s political acumen or capability. Having only become Premier of Alberta eight months ago, she has hardly had an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on the national stage.

The upcoming Premiers’ conference, hosted by Premier Darrell Dexter from July 25 to 27 in Halifax, might give Albertans, and Canadians, an opportunity to watch Premier Redford demonstrate her leadership skills on a national level.

The issue of oil exports and pipeline construction, which will certainly be a topic of conversation at the Premiers’ meeting, became more complicated this week as American National Transportation Safe Board investigators criticized Enbridge for its slow response to a major pipeline leak in Michigan in 2010. Supported by the Government of Alberta, Enbridge wants to begin construction of the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. Adding another roadblock to the pipeline’s construction is BC Premier Christy Clark, who called Enbridge’s response to the Michigan spill disgraceful.

Closer to home, more than 50 organizations are calling on the Alberta Government to review the safety standards of the province’s aging pipelines.

Premier Redford has an opportunity to lead, and distinguish herself from her federal counterparts, by taking a positive lead on the renewal of the Canada Health Accord. The Accord, which was signed 10 years ago and expires in 2014, gave the provinces a significant monetary transfer for health care funding. The previous incarnation had little strings attached and the success of a future accord would benefit Canadians if more accountability were attached to the federal transfer.

Premier Redford’s road to 24 Sussex Drive is also complicated by another major factor. Only six years in to the job and still a young 53 years old, there is no indication that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be retiring in the near future.

Relations with Premier Redford’s Progressive Conservatives is cool to cold in some, or perhaps even most most, federal Conservative circles. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney‘s recent reply-all email describing Deputy Premier Thomas Lukazsuk as a “complete and utter asshole” serves as a reminder of how strained the relations are between some federal and provincial Conservatives. In the recent election, a significant number of Conservative Members of Parliament supported Danielle Smith‘s upstart Wildrose Party.

Two years ago it would have seemed impossible, but current federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair may actually have a shot at 24 Sussex Drive after the next federal election. The NDP are tied or leading in the polls and while there is three years until the next election (aka an eternity in politics when anything could happen), Mr. Mulcair appears to be the first Leader of the Official Opposition to take an aggressive offensive position against Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives.

Earlier this week, the NDP released an attack ad against Prime Minister Harper, giving the federal Conservatives a taste of their own medicine. If anything, the ads demonstrate that Mr. Mulcair’s NDP are not afraid to use the same tactics that Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party used to destroy the political careers of weak former Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

pre-election games: progressive conservatives and wildrose spar with new ads.

As the Spring 2012 provincial election approaches, the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party have rolled out a series of television ads (on YouTube) delivering their political pitches to Albertans.

The Wildrose ads, as David Climenhaga and Graham Thomson have already written, are cast with two faces of leader Danielle Smith.

To quote Mr. Climenhaga, ‘Bad Danielle is going to slap you around a bit now for even thinking about voting for Alberta Premier Alison Redford… while she’s gone, Good Danielle may offer you a cup of coffee, apologize for her partner’s behaviour and try to sweet-talk you out of your troubles…”.

The first Wildrose ad, ‘Flip Flop’, takes a negative angle and could be confused with the Conservative Party ads from the last federal election. Accentuating the negative, these types of ads were deadly for federal Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

The second Wildrose ad features leader Ms. Smith speaking about education, which I believe may be the best of the ads released by any party so far. Ms. Smith is clear, confident, and shockingly warm for a conservative politician (though I still would not trust the former Calgary School Trustee to run our education system).

The first of the two Progressive Conservative ads introduces Premier Redford and the second ad features the Premier talking about the promise of education. They are rather plain and fuzzy feeling, which is surprising considering Premier Redford’s interesting background (including her surprisingly extensive international experience).

The theme of the PC ads appears to be ‘look how good your quality of life is,’ which appears to be a reaction to the negative tone of Wildrose ads. Although they cry for excitement, these dull and numbing ads should not hurt the PCs so long as they do not linger too far into the Harry Strom-like “don’t even think about doing anything drastic like voting for another party’ because ‘we’ve renewed… really… we have… a new leader… look at our exciting new leader!’ territory.

why early opposition attacks on alison redford will backfire.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose No Plan

Left: No Plan ads from 2008 election. Right: Wildrose attack ads in 2011.

Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party has launched a series of negative television ads against soon-to-be Premier Alison Redford, who will be sworn-in as Premier tomorrow in Edmonton. The television ads bear an eerie resemblance to the negative ads used by Nancy MacBeth‘s Alberta Liberals in the 2001 election and the “No Plan” ads aired by the ‘Albertans for Change‘ coalition in the 2008 election.

The Wildrosers early attack ads are a page out of the federal Conservative Party election campaign textbook, which should not come as a surprise considering that Ms. Smith has surrounded herself with federal Tory activists, including Vitor Marciano, William McBeath, Ryan Hastman, and Steven Dollansky.

The most obvious differences between Ms. Redford and successful targets of federal Conservative smear campaigns are that:

1) she is not a Liberal, she is a Conservative
2) the PCs have a massive majority government in the Assembly and are still the best-organized and most well-funded political organization in the province, and
3) I believe that Albertans have generally been impressed with what they have seen of her so far.

Is it too early for the opposition parties to be lobbing grenades at the yet to be sworn-in Premier Redford? Ms. Redford was selected as leader at around 1:30am on October 2 and at 4:45pm, Wildrose attack dog Rob Anderson had already sent out a media release criticizing her. Always a gentleman, Mr. Anderson later tweeted that he would take a break from attacking Ms. Redford on Wednesday so that she could attend her mother’s funeral. How compassionate of Mr. Anderson.

Rob Anderson Twitter MLA Wildrose

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson's October 5 tweet.

With the next general election expected within six months, the Wildrosers have decided to strike a negative tone, starting with attack ads and releasing a list of forty mistakes they say that the PCs have made during their forty years in government. The PCs have made many mistakes, but Albertans will reject the negative tone of the Wildrosers just as they have rejected the negative tone of the other opposition parties year after year. It is not enough to just remind Albertans that the Tories have become a monument to institutional mediocrity after forty years in government. Albertans know that because they voted for the PCs. Opposition parties need to take an extra step to give Albertans compelling and positive reasons to support them at the polls, something the Wildrosers have failed to do.

Not to be outdone by the Wildrose attacks against Ms. Redford, the NDP joined the fray. On Monday morning, NDP leader Brian Mason attacked Ms. Redford for delaying the fall sitting of the legislature, which was scheduled to begin on October 25, and the appointment of Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes to her transition team. While both criticisms were valid, they were never meant to be “constructive” as Mr. Mason claimed on his blog the next day.

Unlike the opposition parties, who rely heavily on the daily Question Period to get their media hits during the legislative session, I believe that it was perfectly reasonable for Ms. Redford to want more than 15 days to prepare a legitimate legislative agenda. Regardless of what I may believe, Ms. Redford took the opposition advice, and to Mr. Mason’s surprise, announced that there will be a fall sitting.

Meanwhile, Ontario conservative blogger Stephen Taylor spun the Wildrose talking points this week claiming that Ms. Redford is the product of a labour union conspiracy, because of the support she received from front-line education and health care workers during the campaign. Maybe the view from Ottawa is blurred, but Mr. Taylor’s argument is silly when you take into account that most of these front-line workers probably regularly vote for the PC Party anyway.

Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson pointed out early this week that Ms. Redford’s ‘honeymoon,’ a period that is traditionally given to new political leaders to allow them to settle into their new job, has been cut short by the opposition attacks. I predict these early aggressive tactics will only backfire on the opposition.

Every Albertan knows what is is like to start a new job and how bad it feels to get criticized before you even have a chance to started. No one likes the jerk who criticizes them before they have a chance to get familiar with the job. Hardline supporters of the opposition parties will rise to support their leaders attacks, but as the Wildrosers ads say, Albertans support integrity and democracy, but they also support fairness and don’t like jerks.

what’s next for raj sherman and the alberta liberals?

MLA Raj Sherman's victory speech at Alberta Liberal leadership event September 10, 2011.

Newly elected Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman gives his victory speech with his wife Sharon standing to the right. Leadership co-chair Josipa Petrunic and candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald, and Bruce Payne stand to the left (Bill Harvey did not join the other candidates on stage).

What kind of leader will Raj Sherman be?
This is a tough question to answer. As Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson somewhat dramatically described yesterday:

Sherman – energetic, intelligent, charismatic – could prove to be a political white knight riding to the Liberals’ rescue. Or Sherman – inexperienced, mercurial, impetuous – could yet prove to be one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

Simply put, Dr. Sherman is a mixed-bag. (Don Braid, David Climenhaga, and Maurice Tougas have all penned opinions on what Dr. Sherman’s acendency to the leadership might mean for Alberta’s Official Opposition party).

The Caucus
Former Tory MLA Dr. Sherman will walk into his new office as the Leader of the Official Opposition this week surrounded by an eight MLA Liberal caucus, which has had a tense relationship with its leaders since the 2008 general election. The caucus includes two of his leadership competitors (Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald) and two of the party’s former leaders (Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft). Of the group of eight, two (Dr. Taft and Calgary-Varsity MLA Harry Chase) are planning to retire at the next election.

The Big Four
It is my experience that the Chief of Staff, Caucus Communications Director, Party President, and Party Executive Director are four key positions that a Liberal party leader needs support from in order to successfully command the leadership of the party. Two of these positions are about to be vacated.

As noted in a recently Globe & Mail article, Erick Ambtman has resigned as President. Corey Hogan, executive director since 2009, has announced his plans to move on to future challenges. Chief of Staff Rick Miller, a former MLA and nominated candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford, may want to focus his energies on his election campaign. In his short time in the job, Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has proven to be an effective communication manager in a position that has turned into a rotating door over the past few years.

The Liberals need a ground game
While only around a paltry 8,600 out of almost 27,000 eligible voters actually participated in the leadership vote, the party is still left with a vast list of almost 30,000 potential volunteers, sign locations, and voters to help them in the next provincial election. One of the areas that Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Payne stressed during the leadership campaign was the need for the Liberals to build their strength on the ground.

Currently, the Liberals do not have functional organizations in most constituencies across the province, including in constituencies that they held up until the 2008 election. The lack of local organization and funds will pose a challenge in finding credible candidates to run in an expected fall 2011 or spring 2012 general election.

Mending fences
A significant number of the party’s staunch loyalists supported Mr. MacDonald’s candidacy and his criticisms of the open voting leadership process. Many of these Liberals were furious at former leader Dr. Swann’s attempts to cooperate with other opposition parties in response to his party’s shrinking political fortunes. Dr. Sherman will need to mend fences with this sometimes unreasonable group of stalwarts while cementing his own activists into the party ranks.

It will also be interesting to see if right-wing leadership candidate Bill Harvey remains in the Liberal Party (it is suspected that he may join the Wildrose Party). The two-time candidate, who was supported by right-wing agitator Craig Chandler, earned 7% of the vote in this contest.

Of interesting note, party Vice-President (Policy) Debbie Cavaliere challenged Dr. Sherman for the PC nomination in 2007 and later ran as the Liberal candidate against him in the 2008 general election.

Other Parties
The Progressive Conservatives will be voting for the first ballot in their leadership contest on September 17. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then a second ballot with the top three candidates will be held on October 1. The victor of that leadership contest will determine the tone and calendar of the next provincial election, which many political watchers are expecting to be held later this fall or early next spring.

Since 2010, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith have moved into second place in the polls, with the NDP led by Brian Mason are competing with the Liberals for third place. The question is whether Dr. Sherman’s star power can write the Liberals back into the political narrative they have been largely absent from over the past two years.

There is also the question of what effect Dr. Sherman’s victory will have on the new Alberta Party, which continues to organize, but has dropped to a lower-profile since Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was chosen as its leader earlier this year.

alberta politics notes 6/03/2010

– The Inspiring Education report was released by Education Minister Dave Hancock yesterday. I wrote about it earlier and the Public School Board Association of Alberta has a list of links to related articles on their Legislature Watch Blog.
Calgary Herald editorialist Licia Corbella reflects on Finance Minister Ted Morton‘s new role as the default-Premier of Alberta.
– The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson has written an interesting column on the synergizing happening at the Competitiveness Review.
– Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight has declared Grizzly Bears as a threatened species in Alberta. This decision follows a public campaign calling for increased protection for Grizzly Bears in Alberta.
– Armed guards will be removed from public hearings being held by the Energy Resources Conservation Board northeast of Edmonton.
– An abundance of witnesses may further delay the trial involving Greenpeace‘s oil sands protest at a Fort Saskatchewan upgraded last summer.
– The Friends of Medicare have begun their province-wide public consultations on the proposed Alberta Health Act, including recent meetings in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
– Trustee Sue Huff has blogged about her experience at a Big Listen hosted by the Alberta Party.
– Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will in Edmonton on June 19 to hold a policy discussion meeting at the University of Alberta.
– Former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy is already gearing up for the next election and has launched a website promoting his nomination campaign. Mr. Elsalhy served as the MLA for Edmonton-McClung from 2004 to 2008 and ran for the Liberal Party leadership in 2008. I have been told that he is likely to seek the nomination in the new Edmonton-Collingwood pending the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission expected to be released this summer.
Elections Alberta has started the search for 87 Returning Officers and Election Clerks for the next provincial election expected in 2011 or 2012. This is a very early start compared to the 2008 election, where a last minute scramble to hire elections officials and organize riding offices put Elections Alberta in the embarrassing position of having hired an estimated over 50 staff who had direct connections to the PC Party (including candidate nominees and constituency organizers).
Today in Alberta Politics History on June 3, 1920 a by-election was held in Athabasca following the death of the Honourable Alexander Grant MacKay. Mr. MacKay served as Leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario from 1907 to 1911 and as an Alberta MLA from 1913 to 1920. Mr. MacKay died of pneumonia in the Edmonton General Hospital in 1920 while serving as the provincial Minister of Health. The by-election was contested by Liberal G. Mills and Independent J.K. Cornwall. Mr. Mills was elected 640 votes to Mr. Cornwall’s 286 votes.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.