Going through some files last night I rediscovered some screenshots of newspaper advertisements from Alberta’s 1967 election. I posted them on Twitter and Instragam earlier today, but as fast as those social networks flow the images will be lost in the feed before long, so I thought I would share them here as well.
But first, a little bit of background on the significance of the May 23, 1967 general election in Alberta:
It was the seventh and final election in which Premier Ernest Manning led the Social Credit Party, which had formed government since 1935. Social Credit MLAs were elected in 55 of 63 districts but this election marked the first time since 1955 that the party earned less than half of the popular vote. It would be the last time Albertans elected the Social Credit Party to form a government.
It was the first election that Peter Lougheed led the Progressive Conservatives. The party formed official opposition with six MLAs, including future premier Don Getty and former PC Member of Parliament Hugh Horner, who acted as Lougheed’s rural lieutenant. The party had been shut out of the Legislature in the 1963 election.
It was the last time until 1986 that the Liberal Party elected MLAs, three, to the Legislature. Party leader Michael Maccagno was re-elected in Lac La Biche, a district he had represented since 1955. Also standing as Liberal candidates were well-known Calgary Liberal Daryl Raymaker, who ran in Calgary-Queens Park, and J. Bernard Feehan, father of current Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA Richard Feehan, who ran in Edmonton-West
The first New Democratic Party MLA elected to the Legislature in Alberta, Garth Turcott, was defeated. He became an MLA after winning a by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest in 1966. Party leader Neil Reimer succeeded in increasing the party’s vote to 15 per cent, an increase of 6 per cent from the previous election, but the party failed to elect any MLAs.
Future NDP leader Grant Notley was defeated in Edmonton-Norwood. Alderman Ivor Dent was unsuccessful as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-North East but would be elected mayor in the 1968 election.
Defeated PC Party candidates in this election included future Prime Minister Joe Clark, who lost by 461 votes to Social Credit MLA Art Dixon in Calgary-South (Dixon would go on to defeat PC candidate and future Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong in 1971).
This election marked the last time an Independent candidate was elected in a general election. Independent Clarence Copithorne defeated Coalition MLA Frank Gainer in Banff-Cochrane.
As far as my research could find, this was the first election that included an in-person leaders debate. Manning, Lougheed, Reimer and Maccagno gathered at a debate sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience in the packed church. This was the last time party leaders would meet for a debate until the 1993 election.
This was the last provincial election where the voting age was 21 years old and the first which allowed voting by Indigenous people with Treaty Status.
Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”
Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.
Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.
Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.
“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”
A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”
Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.
There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.
Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.
Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.
Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.
It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.
Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.
Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.
Connolly, 24, was one of eight under-30 NDP MLAs elected in 2015. He was elected in Calgary-Hawkwood, unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Jason Luan (who is now the nominated United Conservative Party candidate in Calgary-Foothills) and had declared his plans to seek re-election in the newly redrawn Calgary-Varsity district. Due to boundary redistribution, the Hawkwood district is being split into the new Calgary-Edgemont, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-Varsity districts.
Connolly is the eleventh MLA to announce plans not to seek re-election in 2019.
NDP MLA Deron Bilous was nominated as his party’s candidate for re-election in 2019. Bilious has represented Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview since 2012 and currently serves as Minister of Economic Development and Trade.
MLA Ron Orr defeated Lacombe City Councillor Thalia Hibbs to secure the UCP nomination in Lacombe-Ponoka. Orr was first elected in 2015 as a Wildrose Party candidate and currently serves as his party’s critic for Culture and Tourism.
Long-time conservative partisan activist Whitney Issik defeated Michael LaBerge, Christopher Grail, and Philip Schuman to win the UCP nomination in Calgary-Glenmore. As noted in a previous article, Issik worked as a campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002 and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.
One of Issik’s opponents, Philip Schuman, was forced to apologize days before the nomination vote after it was revealed that he offered to introduce potential fundraisers to the administrators of an Instagram account that frequently posts anti-Semitic and racist memes.
Jeremy Nixon defeated Kathy Macdonald to secure the UCP nomination in Calgary-Klein. Nixon ran in this district under the Wildrose banner in 2012and 2015, when he placed third with 23 percent of the vote. He is the brother of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.
If elected, the Nixons might be the first brotherly-duo elected to Alberta’s Legislative Assembly at the same time. While there are cases of family members serving as MLAs during different periods of time (perhaps most notably, current Premier Rachel Notley and her father Grant Notley), I have not found a case of two siblings serving in the Legislature at the same time.
The closest case I could find was the Paproski brothers. Kenneth Paproski served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Kingsway from 1971 to 1982 and was succeeded by his brother, Carl Paproski, who served as MLA of the same district from 1982 until 1986. Their other brother, Steve Paproski, served as MP for Edmonton-Centre and Edmonton-North from 1968 to 1993. (If any readers know of a period where two relatives served together in the Assembly, please let me know).
Calgary-Klein is currently represented by NDP MLA Craig Coolahan, who was elected with 44.3 percent of the vote in 2015. Coolahan is expected to be nominated as a meeting on October 3, 2018 and former Alberta Party leadership candidate Kara Levis is her party’s nominated candidate.
Upcoming nomination meetings
UCP members in Drumheller-Stettler will choose their candidate for the next election at meetings being held on September 27, 28 and 29, 2018 in communities across this sprawling rural central Alberta district. Incumbent UCP MLA Rick Strankman, who was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2012, is believed to be in a fight for his political life against challengers Nate Horner and Todd Pawsey.
The Alberta Party is expected to nominate Mount Royal University contract faculty member Lana Bentley as their candidate in Calgary-Acadia on September 24, 2018. Bentley teaches in the Faculty of Health, Community and Education. The Alberta Party is also expected to nominate a candidate in Edmonton-Glenora on September 25, 2018, but the party has yet to announce who is seeking the candidacy. Previously nominated candidate Carla Stolte withdrew her candidacy during the summer.
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
Daveberta Podcast co-hosts Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman were thrilled to have the opportunity to present Notley with her award in-person in the Premier’s Office at the Legislature Building. We are grateful to Notley for making some time in her busy schedule to sit down with us for a short interview that will be included in the next episode of the Daveberta Podcast (which will be online on April 9, 2018).
Notley became Premier of Alberta in 2015 after her New Democratic Party’s swept the 44-year old Progressive Conservative Party out of office in a remarkable and historic election. First elected to the Legislature in 2008, Notley was re-elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2012 and 2015. She was elected leader of Alberta’s NDP in 2014, one year before leading her party into government.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at the University of Alberta, and a law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School. Immediately before entering politics, Notley worked as a Labour Relations Officer with United Nurses of Alberta.
Notley is the daughter of Grant Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 to 1984 and served as the MLA for the northern Alberta district of Spirit River-Fairview from 1971 until 1984.
Become famous in Alberta politics and one day you could have a provincial electoral district named in your honour.
It has become a custom in recent decades in Alberta for electoral districts to be named after former politicians. As far as I can tell, Alberta and Quebec appear to be the only provinces who have widely embraced the practice of of naming districts after historical figures.
“Canadians often decry their limited knowledge of their own history and fail to recognize the accomplishments of those who have made outstanding contributions to the country,” Courtney wrote, suggesting it would “be a welcome change from ponderous directional reference points and an excessive reliance on hyphenated place names.”
In Alberta, at least 10 out of the 87 current electoral districts bear the name of a political figure from Alberta’s history. When compiling this list, it was important to make the distinction between electoral districts that have been specifically named after individuals and districts named after communities that were already named after individuals (ie: Calgary-Currie, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Livingstone-Macleod, and St. Albert).
Looking through the list, I discovered a few interesting facts. For instance, despite Alberta’s reputation as an unfriendly political environment for Liberal partisans, there are today more electoral districts named after former Liberal MLAs than there are actual Liberal MLAs in the Alberta Legislature.
The earliest instance of electoral districts being named after individuals may have been in Alberta’s first election. Two districts were created in 1905 – Victoria and Alexandra – which may have been named after Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.
Why and when naming districts after historical figures began in more modern times might a little more difficult to determine. The Calgary-Egmont district, named after Frederick George Moore Perceval, 11th Earl of Egmont, was created in 1971 and existed until it was renamed Calgary-Acadia in the 2012 election.
The Calgary-McCall district first appeared in the 1971 election and was either named after First World War ace fighter pilot Fred McCall or the airfield that was named after him (McCall Air Field became the home of the Calgary International Airport after 1966). Also created in 1971 was the Calgary-McKnight district, which was either named for McKnight Boulevard or the boulevard’s namesake, Second World War flying ace Willie McKnight. The district was renamed Calgary-Nose Creek for the 1993 election.
In 1986, the Calgary-Shaw district was created and appears to have been named in honour of Joseph Tweed Shaw, who represented west Calgary as an MLA and MP in the 1920s and 1930s. He served as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party from 1926 to 1930.
The next instance occurred in 1993, when the Calgary-Lougheed, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Rutherford, Edmonton-McClung, and Edmonton-Roper districts were created, named after former Premiers Peter Lougheed, Ernest Manning and Alexander Rutherford, one of the Famous Five and former MLA Nellie McClung, and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Elmer Roper. Lougheed, Manning and Roper were alive at the time but had retired from politics many years before.
The original recommendation from the MLA committee that oversaw the redrawing of the electoral map at the time had the Manning and McClung districts in difference locations from where they now exist. Manning was originally to be located in southwest Edmonton and McClung in northeast Edmonton, until it was later discovered that Ernest Manning once owned a home in northeast Edmonton Also, Manning Drive, which was named for Manning in 1972, is in the district. An amendment introduced in the Assembly swapped the two closer to their current locations on the electoral map.
While the other names remain on the electoral map, the Edmonton-Roper district was renamed Edmonton-Castle Downs in 1997.
In 2004, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended the creation of the Calgary-Hays, Calgary-Mackay and Edmonton-Decore districts named after former Calgary mayors Harry Hays and Donald Mackay and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Laurence Decore. The Decore district was created from Edmonton-Glengarry, which Decore represented in the Assembly from 1989 until 1997.
Six years later, two more districts were named after former politicians. The first was Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley was named in honour of former MLA and NDP leader Grant Notley, who represented the area in the Assembly from 1971 until 1984.
And the second, created through an MLA introduced amendment in the Assembly after the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s final report had been tabled, is the only example I could find of a district being named after an individual who has recently retired from political life.
On October 26, 2010, Progressive Conservative MLA Kyle Fawcett introduced an amendment to rename Calgary-North Hill to Calgary-Klein, after former premier Ralph Klein, who had been retired from elected office for only three years. Fawcett, who represent North Hill, admitted that Klein had never actually represented that area of Calgary as an MLA, but that he was born and raised in the community of Tuxedo Park in the district.
The amendment was accepted by the Assembly, but it raises questions about the lack of process of honouring individuals by including their names in electoral districts. Unlike the process used to name parks, public spaces and schools used by municipal governments and school boards to honour notable community members, there does not appear to be a clear process in naming electoral districts.
The 2009/2010 Commission recommended in its final report that the Assembly consider adopting a protocol for the naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions. It is unclear whether any protocol has been adopted or whether the current commission will continue the trend of recommending naming new districts after political figures from Alberta’s history.
DST was introduced in Alberta after a 1971 province-wide plebiscite resulted in 386,846 votes (61.47%) in favour of adopting the change. This followed the first plebiscite, which took place in 1967 and resulted in a narrow defeat for the Daylight Saving Time change (248,680, or 51.25%, against the change).
While the time change is anecdotally unpopular, a CBC report suggested that lobbyists representing big-box stores, sporting and recreational goods manufacturers, barbecue and charcoal retailers, shopping malls and golf courses remain big supporters of Daylight Saving Time.
National Post columnist Colby Cosh chimed in today, taking a totally reasonable if it’s not broken why fix it? approach to the debate.
Since it was introduced in Alberta, there have been a handful of attempts by opposition critics and government backbenchers to abolish the practice or at least raise concerns about Daylight Saving Time.
In 1978, Spirit River-Fairview MLA and New Democratic Party leader Grant Notley tabled a petition in the Assembly from 36 constituents “living in an area of the province that comes closest to having the midnight sun,” which called on the government to hold a referendum or plebiscite at the time of the next provincial election.
In 1983, Walt Buck, an Independent former Social Credit MLA representing the Clover Bar constituency, asked in Question Period whether the Progressive Conservative government “if any studies have been done as to the feasibility of leaving daylight saving time year-round?”
Premier Peter Lougheed was quick on his feet with a non-response to Buck, “I have to admit I haven’t had a question on that subject since possibly 1972, and I would be somewhat concerned to ask the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Economic Development. So the question is quite properly directed to me. I’ll have to take consideration and decide who will be the fortunate person to whom I delegate the answer.”
Lacombe PC MLA Ronald Moore introduced private members’ bill in 1991 and 1992 which proposed the adoption of daylight saving time year-round. Both bills were introduced into the Assembly but did not make it further than first reading and were not debated.
In March 2015, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske tabled a petition organized by Ruby Kassian calling for an end to Daylight Saving Time. More than year later, in December 2016, Vermilion-Lloydminster PC MLA Richard Starketabled a petition urging the government to introduce legislation to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act and require the observance of Central Standard Time in Alberta.
Daylight Saving Time now longer than it was in 1972
The first Daylight Saving Time was observed in Alberta at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday in April in 1972.
In 2006, Justice Minister Ron Stevens introduced Bill 4: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November. This was in response to the same change made by the United States Congress in 2005.
Looking for that special gift for the political junkie in your family? Or maybe you’re searching for a good book to read by an open fire on a cold winter night? If so, here are a few Alberta politics books that might look good under your Christmas tree this year:
An enjoyable mix of politics and intrigue make this fictional murder mystery a must-read for political watchers in Alberta. “Lisac’s backdrop may be the political scene, but his story is in the heart of his main characters, their flaws and aspirations. He is an elegant and efficient writer and sets lovely scenes and characters, creating a murder mystery with twists and engaging characters,” wrote Samantha Power in Vue Weekly.
Calgary author Sydney Sharpe and Postmedia columnist Don Braid look at how decades of one-party rule, right-wing discontent and a growing progressive streak in Alberta led to the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in our province’s historic 2015 election.
This book was launched today, so I have not yet had a chance to read it. Here is the description from U of A Press:
Bill 6, the government of Alberta’s contentious farm workers’ safety legislation, sparked public debate as no other legislation has done in recent years. The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act provides a right to work safely and a compensation system for those killed or injured at work, similar to other provinces.
In nine essays, contributors to Farm Workers in Western Canada place this legislation in context. They look at the origins, work conditions, and precarious lives of farm workers in terms of larger historical forces such as colonialism, land rights, and racism. They also examine how the rights and privileges of farm workers, including seasonal and temporary foreign workers, conflict with those of their employers, and reveal the barriers many face by being excluded from most statutory employment laws, sometimes in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Written by his former executive assistant, this biography provides a look into the compelling life story of Grant Notley, the father of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 until his death in 1984. His passion for our province and social democratic politics is a refreshing reminder of a level of respect that used to exist among political opponents and adversaries in our province.
Thin Power is the unauthorized biography of former mayor of Calgary, Rod Sykes, featuring the achievements and bitter controversies of his eight-year term ending in 1977. David Climenhaga wrote a review of the book over at AlbertaPolitics.ca.
The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil
Hard to find but worth the read, this 1976 book provides a thorough background background to the politics and economics that led to the creation of the Syncrude project and development of the Athabasca oil sands. A review by ActiveHistory.ca describes the book as an essential text on the history of Alberta’s tar sands. Used copies can be found on amazon.com.
A compendium of John Dickerson’s favourite moments from US Presidential election history. The host of Face the Nation on CBS News and columnist for Slate Magazine does an excellent job translating stories from his popular Whistlestop podcast into this fun to read political history book.
Mr. Notley’s first private members’ bill, An Act to Amend the Elections Act, proposed the creation of spending limits and the disclosure of financial contributions to candidates and political parties, which was not required at the time. The bill proposed to limit campaign spending to “25 cents per elector in the aggregate” or “$2,000 in anyone electoral division.” According to the Bank of Canada online inflation calculator, $2,000 in 1972 would be the equivalent of $11,898.62 in 2016.
“The first major principle in the bill is the concept that election expenses should be limited. It is my submission, Mr. Speaker, that it is important in a democratic society that all political points of view should have, as much as possible, equal access to public opinion,” Mr. Notley said when introducing Bill 202 for second reading in the Legislative Assembly. “The lack of control over the expenditures in an election campaign can lead to a great inequality in the right of political organizations to make their case before the people of the province or the country.”
“Mr. Speaker, one of the principal reasons for limiting election expenses is that, in my view, it would force political parties to move away from what I claim to be an over-dependence on the public media and to get back to the kind of participatory campaigning which to me is basic to the whole democratic process,” Mr. Notley argued.
The bill faced stiff opposition from some of his conservative colleagues in the Assembly.
Bill Purdy, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Stony Plain, warned that “…if we regulate campaign spending we are getting away from the democratic system” and Edmonton-Jasper Place PC MLA Les Young argued that “…the amount of money suggested in this particular bill, is in my opinion, quite inadequate. It is not a great deal more than I spent in my own personal campaign, but nevertheless, it would be quite inadequate if applied on a provincial basis.”
And cabinet minister Julian Koziak, the PC MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, argued that “that if the gentleman will recall the election expenses that were advertised especially for the constituencies of Edmonton Glenora and Edmonton Whitemud by the Social Credit candidates, one can verily see that the amount spent has no bearing on the results of the election.”
Drumheller Social Credit MLA Gordon Taylor, who would later join the PC Caucus, spoke in support of Mr. Notley’s bill:
“I would like to support Bill No. 202 in principle. When I say that I can’t say I could subscribe to everything in the bill from clause to clause. But I think the principle of limiting to some degree election expenses is very sound. If each candidate from every status of life is going to have a reasonably equal chance to present his platform to the electorate then there has to be some limitation on the amount of money. Because otherwise we’re making things very unequal.
The labouring man can’t find huge sums of money with which to fight an election campaign, compared to a man who happens to be wealthy — and instead of saying a ‘labouring man’ let’s say a ‘poor man’, whatever category he happens to be in. He might be a doctor or lawyer, too, some of them are poor, maybe not very many but a few of them are poor also. But a poor man cannot find the same kind of money — large sums of money — to fight an election campaign from his own resources compared to a wealthy man.
When it comes to contributions from other people the poor man may have a wider scope and may be able to secure more money than a wealthy man, but it is questionable whether he could secure sufficient money to equal that of a wealthy man who is determined to be elected by the amount of money he has.”
But perhaps the most colourful and poetic commentary during the 1972 debate came from Charles Drain, the Social Credit MLA for Pincher Creek-Crowsnest:
“…looking at it as a history of democracy and a tree of democracy and how it has grown from the time of Athens and the time of ancient Rome and even to the time of the Magna Carta, when the voting and the processes of democracy, and the right of he who could hold office was predetermined by the prerogatives of birth, and in later time by religion and ancestry, and watching the progress that we have now made.
Truly, Mr. Speaker, the tree of democracy has managed to flourish despite the fact that it has been bent by many winds, many winds that have been retrogressive. But in spite of all this, we evolved onward and prosperously further along the road to what true democracy should mean to all of us. The right of people to predetermine the management of their affairs.”
So as history evolves, we can look at the history of early elections in Canada and the politician who bought the greatest amount of whiskey won the election, and this is history because I know where of I speak. I have talked to old timers who have managed to drink vast quantities of liquor for one party and then vote for the other; which is proper democratic justice.”
Bill 202 was debated in the Legislature but does not appear to have made it further than second reading. Mr. Notley would go on to introduce private members’ bills in 1974, 1977 and 1979 that also proposed amending the Elections Act to limit campaign spending by candidates and political parties in Alberta elections.
The Alberta government needs to rethink its approach to overhauling safety laws on family farms and ranches. Since it was introduced in the Legislature on Nov. 17, confusion about Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has triggered a significant backlash from Albertans in rural communities across the province.
Nearly 400 angry farmers showed up to voice their concerns about Bill 6 at a government-organized town hall meeting in Grande Prairie last week. The event was hosted by public servants and consultants with no MLAs in attendance. Western Producer reporter Mary MacArthur reported this week that MLAs will be present at future town hall meetings planned for Red Deer, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Leduc, Vegreville, Olds and Athabasca.
Close to 200 people, along with 2 ponies, 1 border collie and 1 turkey (see above), staged an afternoon protest against Bill 6 outside the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015. To their credit, Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters at the Legislature to hear their concerns.
It is clear that there are some changes that do need to be made to farm safety laws in Alberta. As is the case in every other province in Canada, the government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments.
But this is where the New Democratic Party government may have put the cart before the horse. It is unfortunate that the government did not choose to hold these public consultation meetings before introducing the bill. It seems that the NDP could have saved themselves a lot of grief if Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, Premier Rachel Notley, Ms. Sigurdson and other NDP MLAs had started this process by travelling to the rural areas of the province to ask farmers and ranchers how changes could impact them.
Under current safety laws, provincial officers are not allowed to conduct investigations when a workplace fatality takes place on a farm or ranch. The WCB is a shield to protect employers from lawsuits in case of workplace injury and should probably be extended to cover all actual employees of farms and ranches. And farm workers should not be exempt from being given the choice to bargain collectively, a right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
But legal changes also need to reflect the uniqueness of family farms and ranches.
Unlike other worksites, farms rely heavily on incidental and seasonal help during spring and fall from family, friends and neighbours. And by definition, work on a family farm will include work done by family members, some who will not be paid a regular salary and some who will be under the age of 18. It has not been clearly communicated by the government how these changes would impact the day to day operations of these family farms or whether exceptions will be made for smaller farming operations.
While some of the criticism of Bill 6 is rooted in hyperbole and hysterics generated by opponents of the government, it is clear that there is much confusion around this bill, which is a communications failure on the part of the government.
Ms. Sigurdson released a statement following yesterday’s protest at the Legislature trying to clarify the government’s position. “A paid farmworker who is directed to do something dangerous can say no, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada. And if they are hurt or killed at work, they or their family can be compensated, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada,” Ms. Sigurdson said.
The debate around Bill 6 also highlights a political divide between rural and urban Alberta, neither of which are monolithic communities. It would be easy for us city dwellers to cast rural Albertans opposing these legislative changes as being backward or uncaring when we read media reports of workers or young children killed in farm accidents. And comments by MLAs like Liberal leader David Swann that the current legal framework would make “Charles Dickens blush” probably do not help foster a feeling of collaboration, even if there is a hint of truth to how far behind Alberta is in farm safety rules compared to other provinces.
Alberta is an increasingly urban province. According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift.
The recent provincial election marked a rare moment in our province’s history where MLAs from rural Alberta do not have a large voice in the government caucus. Twelve of the 53 NDP MLAs elected in May 2015 represent rural or partially rural constituencies. Most areas of rural Alberta are represented by Wildrose Party MLAs, who have taken every opportunity to attack the new government and advance the narrative that the NDP do not understand rural Alberta.
As most of their NDP MLAs were elected in urban centres, they should heed the advice that MLA Hugh Horner gave Progressive Conservative Party leader Peter Lougheed more than forty years ago.
David Wood observed in his biography of Mr. Lougheed, the Lougheed Legacy, that “Horner made one point that Lougheed and his colleagues have never forgotten: when you start believing that the people in rural Alberta are somehow different than the people in the bigger centres, you’re making a mistake. Rural Albertans come into the cities, go to concerts, shop in the malls: they’re as sophisticated and as aware of the rest of the world as any of their city cousins.”
Ms. Notley grew up in the northern Alberta town of Fairview. Her father, Grant Notley, was elected and re-elected as the MLA for Spirit River-Fairview four times between 1971 and 1984. Coming from rural Alberta, Ms. Notley should have an understanding of these changes could impact farmers and ranchers.
The government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments. It also has a responsibility to clearly communicate to Albertans why these changes are needed and how they would be implemented. The NDP would demonstrate good will to rural Albertans by slightly tapping the breaks on Bill 6 and restarting this process with a thorough and meaningful consultation about improving farm and ranch safety in Alberta.
Some Progressive Conservative Party supporters are privately expressing frustration with the decision by Premier Jim Prentice and his cabinet ministers to openly campaign and endorse incumbent PC MLAs and Wildrose floor crossers facing nomination challenges. One PC member who contacted this blogger described it as a missed opportunity to renew the PC government with new blood.
Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater: Colin Piquette, son of former New Democratic Party MLA Leo Piquette, is seeking the NDP nomination. Mr. Piquette was the 2001 NDP candidate in the former Athabasca-Wabasca constituency, where he placed third with 9.5% of the vote.
Banff-Cochrane: First-term PC MLA Ron Casey has been acclaimed as his party’s candidate. Registered Nurse Cameron Westhead has also been acclaimed as the NDP candidate in this constituency.
Calgary-Buffalo: Lawyer Kathleen Ganley is seeking the NDP nomination in this downtown Calgary constituency. Buffalo is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is leaving provincial politics to run for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Centre.
Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: Past city council candidate Richard Poon is seeking the PC nomination. Also challenging incumbent PC MLA Neil Brown are Ako Ufodike and Gary Milan.
Calgary-Mountain View: Christopher McMillan and instructional designer Mirical MacDonald are seeking the NDP nomination. Mr. McMillan was the NDP candidate in this constituency in the 2012 election, when he earned 5% of the vote.
Calgary-Shaw: Brad Leishman has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate in this south Calgary constituency.
Calgary-Varsity: Lawyer Susan Billington is seeking the PC nomination. Ms. Billington is a mediator and Municipal Councillor for the Kananaskis Improvement District. She is also the wife of Richard Billington, a well-known Calgary Tory who challenged Joan Crockatt for the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Centre in 2012. Her son Jim was a staffer on Mr. Prentice’s PC leadership campaign and now works as Chief of Staff to Minister of Culture and Tourism Maureen Kubinec.
Cypress-Medicine Hat: Bev Waege was acclaimed as the NDP candidate.
Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley: Marg McCuaig Boyd is seeking the NDP nomination in this northwest rural Alberta constituency. Ms. McCuaig Boyd served as Vice-President Fairview for Grande Prairie Regional College from 2009 until 2013 and was a teacher and administrator with the Peace River School Division for more than 20 years.
Most of the area included in this constituency was represented by NDP leader and MLA Grant Notley from 1971 until 1984. Mr. Notley is the father of current NDP leader Rachel Notley.
Edmonton-Castle Downs: Former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk has been acclaimed as the PC candidate in this north Edmonton constituency. Mr. Lukaszuk was first elected in 2001 and served in cabinet until he ran for the PC leadership in 2014.
Edmonton-Meadowlark: Jon Carson is seeking the NDP nomination in this west Edmonton constituency.
Edmonton-Mill Woods: Past city council candidate Roberto Maglalang is seeking the Liberal nomination. In 2013, Mr. Maglalang finished with 2.8% of the vote in southeast Edmonton’s Ward 11.
Grande Prairie-Smoky: Todd Loewen has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate. As his party’s candidate in 2012, Mr. Loewen earned 41% of the vote.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Kerry Towle defeated Red Deer County mayor Jim Wood for the PC nomination. In 2012, Mr. Wood had endorsed former MLA Luke Ouellette, who was defeated by Ms. Towle in that year’s election.
Leduc-Beaumont: Shayne Anderson has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate.
Lacombe-Ponoka: Doug Hart has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Mr. Hart earned 10% of the vote as the NDP candidate in this constituency in the 2012 election.
Lethbridge-East: Legal counsel Tammy Perlich defeated former Lethbridge County reeve Lorne Hickey. This was Mr. Hickey’s second attempt at securing the PC nomination in Lethbridge-East.
Livingstone-MacLeod: Aileen Burke was acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Ms. Burke was the NDP candidate in the 2014 federal by-election in Macleod, where she earned 4.2% of the vote.
Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills: Central Alberta rancher Glenn Norman has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Mr. Norman has been described as a “vocal member” of the Alberta Surface Rights Federation and in 2009 was a spokesman for the Pine Lake Surface Rights Action Group.
Peace River: Debbie Jabbour has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Sean Weatherall is seeking the NDP nomination.
Sherwood Park: Community Engagement consultant and social planner Annie McKitrick has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Ms. McKitrick is also nominated as the federal NDP candidate in the new Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan riding.
Strathmore-Brooks: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jason Hale announced he is retiring from provincial politics. Mr. Hale, show was first elected in 2012, faced a nomination challenge from County of Newell Reeve Molly Douglass.
I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.
While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.
At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.
No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.
While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.
The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.
Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.
While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.
Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.
A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.
Rachel Notley First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.
She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.
Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award
The August 30, 1971 election saw the Lougheed Tories edge out Premier Harry Strom‘s Social Credit by a narrow vote (296,934 votes to 262,953 votes) that was not reflected in the number of MLAs each party elected (49 PC MLAs and 25 Social Credit MLAs). The NDP also landed their first solid beachhead in the Assembly with the election of leader Grant Notley in the northern Spirit River-Fairview constituency. The only party leader to not win a seat in the Assembly was Liberal leader Bob Russell, who placed third in St. Albert.
The PCs have not survived as one of the most successful political organizations in Canada by being nice guys. While driven by a vague set of principles, Alberta’s natural governing entity is essentially an amorphous blob on the subject of policy, following trends and public opinion – straddling the ideological centre while appeasing the various corners of its very large political tent. This positioning has allowed the PC Party to appeal to a wide-range of Albertans, who already largely self-identify as “conservative.” Being the sure bet for an election win has also helped the PC Party recruit talented candidates from across the political spectrum and build strong (and well-funded) local organizations across the province.
The PC Party is also ruthless on the subject of keeping its hold on power. As PC members vote select a new leader on September 17, 2011 it may be smart for the leadership candidates to reflect on the historical fact that only one PC leader, Premier Lougheed, was allowed to leave gracefully on his own time. Each leader following Premier Lougheed – Don Getty, Ralph Klein, and Ed Stelmach – were in one way or another shown the door when they appeared to be a threat to the PC Party’s continued political success.
Tomorrow, August 30, 2011, is the fortieth anniversary of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Association’s first election victory. In that election the Alberta PCs, led by Peter Lougheed, defeated the 36-year governing Social Credit League led by Premier Harry Strom, and has been re-elected in each election since. Here is a look back at some of the campaign advertisements published in Alberta newspapers during that monumental election:
Even if someone were to offer me good odds, I would be hesitant to bet on who the real players will be in the next provincial election.
As David Climenhaga recently pointed out, although credible polls continue to show the Progressive Conservatives ahead in voter support, the media has continued to frame Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance as the heir’s to the Legislative throne. For the most part, the free ride has continued.
The focus of the weekend convention is policy, but the big news could be financial. The Alberta Liberal Party is expected to announce shortly that their outstanding debt, much of which was accumulated during their disastrous 2001 election campaign, will finally be paid off. This is a big step for the Liberals, but it is only one of the many challenges facing their organization.
I have been accused by both MLAs and some party loyalists of having an anti-Liberal bent on this blog (one MLA even accused me of conspiring with the NDP) and while I admit to being critical of the Liberal Party, I believe that my assessments have been fair. As someone who was involved with the Liberal Party for many years, including time as a constituency vice-president and a political staffer, I am aware of the political strengths and psychological weaknesses of that organization.
The Liberal Party is in an interesting situation. They might be a beneficiary of a PC-Wildrose vote split in some Edmonton and Calgary constituencies in the next election, but their membership has not exactly been flooded by progressives afraid of the two conservative parties. The departure of MLA Dave Taylor and Kent Hehr‘s decision to run in Calgary’s Mayoral election is not a ringing endorsement of the party’s current fortunes. Can the party attract back into their ranks the sizeable group of Liberals who joined disenchanted Red Tories, moderate New Democrats, and former central Albertan Greens under the new Alberta Party banner? They have been low key, but since March, the Alberta Party has held almost 100 Big Listen meetings across the province.
You do not have to spend too much time inside the Liberal Party to become aware of how iconized the 1993 election is in the minds of party activists. As many Albertans will remember, that election saw former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore lead the Liberals to their best showing in decades by winning 39% of the vote and forming official opposition by electing 32 MLAs.
Much of the traditional Liberal motto against large-scale change within their party – especially a name change – has centered around the 1993 vote. “We won 32 seats under Decore and we can do it again,” is something that I have heard countless times. There is no doubt that 17 years ago the Liberals launched an impressive campaign with a slate of candidates who were “ready to govern.” It would be difficult to argue that has been the case since. The Liberals have cultivated reliable support in a handful of constituencies in Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge, but they have had a very difficult time growing their base of support. In most rural areas, the Liberals have run paper candidates in the past three elections, ceding a growing number of constituencies to the PC hegemony.
The decision by the Liberal Party years ago to focus resources on urban areas has opened up the potential of rural success to the Wildrose Alliance, whose leader Ms. Smith has spent months traveling to rural communities and smaller cities meeting with any group that will have her. Her party is now reaping the benefits of gaining media attention from local weekly newspapers, organizing constituency associations, and attracting large crowds to their town hall meetings. Imagine what the political map would look like after the 2011/2012 election if Alberta had an opposition party that could elect candidates in both rural and urban constituencies.
Both the Liberals and NDP have been frustrated by their lack of traction in the polls (and in elections), but neither party appears prepared to change gears to face this reality. Liberal leader David Swann has held town hall meetings across Alberta, as has NDP leader Brian Mason, but there is little evidence that this will lead to an even mediocre rural breakthrough for either party. This is probably less the fault of the current leadership and more the fault of a tradition of political tactics focused on weekly issues and electoral strategies focused on urban enclaves (and the influence of their federal party cousins).
It is difficult to believe that these parties once had long-time MLAs who represented rural constituencies. NDP leader Grant Notley represented the sprawling Spirit River-Fairview from 1971 to 1984. Liberal leader Nick Taylor represented Westlock-Sturgeon and Redwater from 1986 to 1996. Premier Ed Stelmach defeated two-term Vegreville NDP MLA Derek Fox in 1993. The last time either of these two parties elected a candidate in rural Alberta was in 1997 when Liberal MLA Colleen Soetaert was re-elected in Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert.
If the Liberal Party is successful in building a policy platform that appeals beyond their traditional base of supporters, will they have an organization on the ground that can translate it into electoral results? Even if they have all the best policy ideas in the world, without feet on the ground it will be very difficult – even with a potential vote split on the right – to reach beyond their traditional base of supporters in this province.
(I will be attending parts of this weekend’s Liberal convention as a media observer, including federal Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella‘s keynote address. Look for updates on this blog and on twitter at @davecournoyer)