Tag Archives: Greg Melchin

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

When it comes to Sandra Jansen, it’s a grudge match for the UCP

It was supposed to be an event highlighting an effort to recruit more conservative women into politics in Alberta, but it was overshadowed by the news that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to personally campaign against New Democratic Party MLA Sandra Jansen in the next provincial election. 

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

Laureen Harper told a gathering at the launch of the She Leads group that she and her husband plan to campaign in the next election for whoever the United Conservative Party candidate is in their home Calgary-North West district. 

For UCP activists, and Jason Kenney in particular, the fight in Calgary-North West likely feels personal. Jansen was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and re-elected in 2015 before crossing the floor to the NDP in 2016. But Conservative anger was directed at Jansen before her floor-crossing.

Jansen’s support for her friend Nirmala Naidoo, who ran as a Liberal candidate in the 2015 federal election, drew the ire of the legions of federal Conservatives who were moving to take over the PC Party following its defeat in the 2015 election (Naidoo’s Conservative competitor, now Member of Parliament Pat Kelly, is endorsing UCP nomination candidate and pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage). 

Sonya Savage UCP Calgary North West

Sonya Savage

Jansen attempted a mount a campaign for the leadership after her party’s disastrous results in the last election but was all but drummed out of the party by social conservatives allied with Kenney.

Her moderate views on social issues like abortion and rights for sexual minorities, as well as her role as a former communications manager and key supporter of former premier Alison Redford contributed to the mounting tension from more hard-line conservatives.

Her comment to her former colleague and now Conservative MP Len Webber that he “should go back to being an electrician” smacked of Tory elitism.

Jansen accused Kenney of wanting to destroy the PC Party in his plans to merge with the Wildrose Party. And when push came to shove at the PC Party’s annual convention in 2016, Jansen was shoved hard by social conservative activists and soon after decided to leave the party.

She joined the NDP and was appointed Minister of Infrastructure in 2017.

For Conservative partisans, this was the biggest betrayal. 

Pat Kelly MP Calgary Rocky View

Pat Kelly

As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road and the Green Line C-Train route. 

Jansen plays a big role in Premier Rachel Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary, but her tendency to get involved in petty arguments with Conservative partisans on social media distracts from the NDP government’s narrative. As I have written in the past, she could probably spend less time arguing on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.

Uniting the Right meant CPC-UCP unity too

Regardless of whether Jansen wins or loses the next election, she should take it as a complement that a Conservative heavy hitter like Harper would personally campaign against her. She should wear it as a badge of honour.

Harper likely remains popular among Conservatives in particular and Calgarians in general, and his support for Kenney’s UCP is not surprising. Harper endorsed Kenney’s leadership bid last year and was rumoured to be one of the driving forces behind the scenes in the PC-Wildrose unity referendum last year.

Harper is now the chairman of the International Democratic Union, an international club of right-wing political parties from 63 countries. His congratulatory tweet to extreme right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in April 2018 raised eyebrows among political watchers. Orbán was re-elected after campaigning on a platform that included hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

But the federal Conservative connections to the UCP go deeper than Harper. Organizationally, the UCP has become an extension of the Conservative Party of Canada in Alberta, with most Conservative MPs actively involved or endorsing candidates in UCP nomination races. This is a significant change since the 1990s, when the provincial PC Party and the federal Reform Party were at each other throats.

Despite forming the opposition, the UCP are not the underdogs going into the next election. The next election campaign will represent the first time in more than 25-years that the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta will be marching in lock-step.

While this may give Conservatives a big boost in an election campaign, it is yet to be seen whether a UCP government would stand up for the interests of Albertans over partisan gain if faced by a Conservative government in Ottawa.

Not first time a Calgary-North West MLA targeted

Frank Bruseker MLA Calgary North West

Frank Bruseker

It is reminiscent of another election in Calgary-North West more than two decades ago. Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker had represented the district since 1989 and had become a major thorn in the side of Premier Ralph Klein going into the 1997 election.

Bruseker was described at the time as being a relentless and ferocious critic of Klein during the Multi-Corp Inc. share affair, in which the premier was accused of promoting a company his wife had shares in. 

It was reported during that campaign that PC Party campaign manager Rod Love had a poster hanging in his office of Bruseker framed by the crosshairs of a rifle scope.

The PCs poured significant resources into Calgary-North West and, when the dust settled in March 1997, Bruseker was unseated by Tory Greg Melchin by a margin of 1,964 votes.

The Redford legacy haunts Prentice Tories

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating the anniversary of the 2012 Tory victory: then-Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs Moe Amery, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu. (photo from May 2013).

Most people rely on TripAdvisor or call a travel agent to book hotels for overseas trips, but it is alleged by intrepid CBC investigative journalists that former Premier Alison Redford dispatched a staffer to visit hotels and restaurants in advance of her trips to India, China, Switzerland, Washington, and Toronto for a cost of nearly $330,000.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).

If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?

In response to the allegations, former top Redford loyalist Thomas Luksazuk has called on the former premier to resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, a move that is likely to occur after Jim Prentice wins the party leadership. Mr. Prentice is without a seat in the Assembly and the cash-flush Calgary-Elbow PC association could steer the new Premier through a potentially treacherous by-election.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

In a fundraising email sent to supporters today, Wildrose Party president David Yager wrote that his party “will fight the by-election with every ounce of firepower we have.”

Advance Cabinet Shuffle

Signalling that Jeff Johnson‘s troubling reign as Education Minister could come to an end in September, Mr. Prentice pledged to work “in a respectful way” with the powerful Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.

Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti

Wayne Drysdale

But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.

Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.

Klein-era finance and revenue ministers Stockwell Day, Steve West, Greg Melchin, Lloyd Snelgrove, Lyle Oberg, and Ted Morton penned a letter to the PC leadership candidates urging them to return to the pre-Horner consolidated annual budget. Mr. Horner adopted a confusing new structure shortly after he was appointed to the post by Ms. Redford in 2012.

Notably missing from the list of former finance ministers was Jim Dinning, who spoke out against Mr. Horner’s budget reporting in April 2014.

Alberta Economic Summit to be held in ten days.

Alberta Economic Summit

Leading thinkers, key industry, non-profit and academic leaders, MLAs, and passionate citizens prepare for the Alberta Economic Summit.

Bitumen bubbles and the unpredictable price of oil mentioned in last week’s televised address have led Premier Alison Redford‘s Tory government to hastily called a one-day “Alberta Economic Summit” to continue a “conservation” about our province’s current fiscal woes and potential fiscal future.

The summit will bring together ‘leading thinkers, key industry, non-profit and academic leaders, Members of the Legislative Assembly and passionate citizens” for a day of panel discussions at Mount Royal University on February 9, 2013 (yes, that is ten days from now).

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

Despite the talk of “continuing the conversation” with Albertans, it is easy to be suspicious that the conference is a public relations exercise and a tool for the Tories to direct the public debate towards a certain direction. It seems difficult to image that any meaningful discussion about such complex issues could occur in such a short-period of time.

The government says it just wants to look at its options, which was a reoccurring theme in a discussion I had with Premier Redford last week. One option already off the table are tax increases, which despite growing public debate, the Premier says will not be in this year’s budget.

“It has got to be about economic diversification and what we want our fiscal framework to look like,” said Premier Redford when I asked her about what she would like to see come from the summit. “We want to engage people who give a lot of thought about these issues but don’t always have a chance to spend time together,” she said.

I asked the Premier if the Alberta Economic Summit was just a way for the government to deflect the public discussion away from taxes and toward a pre-determined answer. “We are not looking to deflect anything,” she said.

“As we move ahead it would be folly to say that every decision we make without consulting with Albertans would be the right decision. We want to make sure we are talking to Albertans and making decisions that reflect Albertans values.” – Premier Redford, January 25, 2013

Premier Ralph Klein

Premier Ralph Klein

If all this talk of a big summit about Alberta’s economic future triggers hints of deja vu, you are probably not alone.

Eleven years ago almost to the day that the”Alberta Economic Summit” will be held, Premier Ralph Klein and Revenue Minister Greg Melchin held the “Alberta Future Summit” in Red Deer. The February 4, 2002 conference brought together 260 delegates to draft “strategic directions and ideas for action” for several areas identified as priorities – including the economy and fiscal responsibility.

The final report generated from the Future Summit included the following observation, which will sound familiar to anyone who tuned in to watch Premier Redford’s televised address last week:

Despite rapid growth in manufacturing and services exports over the past 10 years, Alberta continues to rely heavily on primary resource exports (such as oil, gas, grains and oil seeds) and intermediate commodities (such as lumber, pulp and petrochemicals). Alberta’s reliance on primary and intermediate resource exports makes the economy vulnerable. Economic and market diversification are key to future prosperity. – Alberta Future Summit 2002 final report

While I hope next month’s Alberta Economic Summit succeeds in generating a meaningful conversation between Albertans and their government, I cannot help but think this summit is a partially a result of the Tories failing to act on some of the advice they heard at their last big summit in 2002.

——

Today, the government launched a online build your own budget tool budgetchoice.ca, which allows Albertans to cut and raise taxes, and see a simplified version of how the provincial ledgers balance.

Curiously, participants are not given the option of raising royalties on natural resources and some Tory pet projects are not included in the tool or partially protected, including the controversial Carbon Capture and Storage Fund (CCS). The CCS Fund, intiated by Premier Ed Stelmach in 2010, directed $2 billion towards research with the private sector into the unproven technology that some large energy companies have abandoned. Of the more than $200 million expected to be budgeted for CCS in this year’s budget, only $60 million is available to be cut in the online budget scenario tool.