Tag Archives: Heather Forsyth

As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA
After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA
Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

Are the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus?

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

A short few months ago, it almost felt inevitable that the Wildrose Party would sweep into a majority government at the next election. Their support in the polls was skyrocketing and the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives looked corrupt, broken and battered. But over the past few weeks, it appears the Official Opposition is stumbling into disarray.

Leader Danielle Smith’s plans to reenergize her party after its four recent by-election loses were sabotaged by social conservative party activists who rallied to reject a motion in support of equality at the party’s recent annual meeting. The defeated motion would have pledged the Wildrose to defend the rights of all people, “regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.” The vote has cast a shadow over the party.

After spending two years trying to distance herself from the “Lake of Fire” comments that cost the Wildrose its chance of winning the last election, it appears that Ms. Smith is back to square one.

Chris Bataluk Wildrose Edmonton Decore
Chris Bataluk

The defeat of the motion led Terrence Lo, the party’s vice-president in Calgary-Glenmore, to publicly resign.

“This vote confirmed to me that the misguided angry beliefs of a minority of the rank and file holds actual sway in party policy,” Mr. Lo wrote on his blog.

Lawyer Chris Bataluk, who ran for the Wildrose in Edmonton-Decore in the 2012 election, posted a stinging critique of his now former party on Facebook today.

“At this point I feel that the Wildrose Party was a noble but failed experiment,” Mr. Bataluk wrote. “It is of little joy to participate in a party that allows itself to be branded as the party of backward homophobes.”

Mr. Bataluk also noted that he did not renewed his party membership when it expired in August 2014.

Ian Donovan Wildrose
Ian Donovan

Mr. Bataluk’s Facebook post was notably “liked” by Little Bow Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s colleague, Joe Anglin, recently left the Wildrose Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA, citing an internal civil war.

The opposition party’s sudden turn is an important reminder of how quickly a party, or a leader’s, political fortunes can turn from good to worse.

Ms. Smith still has time to turn her party’s fortunes around, but the Wildrose Party is increasingly beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The party has a dedicated base of supporters and has shown its ability to raise significant amounts of money, but it now struggles to find relevance in a post-Alison Redford political environment. Can the Wildrose Party be more than a protest party?

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

While PC Premier Jim Prentice is still surrounded by many of the MLAs and party activists who stood loyally with Ms. Redford until her spectacular end, he has skillfully distanced himself from his predecessor’s legacy. The PC Party is once again masterfully attempting to reinvent itself in the image of its new leader.

After 43 years in power, it seems that anytime an opposition party gets close to defeating the PCs, they soon get knocked out. Not long after Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party to near victory in 1993, infighting and floor crossing destroyed any opportunity of a second chance at unseating the PCs.

Perhaps a sign of the PC Party’s versatility are two key players from Mr. Decore’s 1993 surge who now sit comfortably in the government ranks. Former Liberal MLA Mike Percy is now Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff and Gene Zwozdesky, first elected as a Liberal MLA, is now a PC MLA and the Speaker of the Assembly.

While the Wildrose Party has proven itself to be a tough and aggressive opposition, it is very much a party of disgruntled former PC supporters. While the party’s roots can be traced back to Alberta Alliance formed by former Social Credit leader Randy Thorsteinson in 2002, the Wildrose Party did not begin to gain real support until it started attracting former PC members like Ms. Smith, Shayne Saskiw, Shannon Stubbs, Rob Anderson, Guy Boutilier, and Heather Forsyth.

Those disenchanted Tories took a big political risk when they stepped out of line with Alberta’s Natural Governing Party to help start the Wildrose. The dangerous question for Ms. Smith is whether they are beginning to regret making that choice?

What Civil War? After Joe Anglin quits, Wildrose MLAs rally behind Danielle Smith

Wildrose MLA Caucus Alberta Danielle Smith
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith surrounded by her caucus on March 19, 2014.

In a move designed to quash any further internal party dissent, Wildrose MLAs rallied around their leader yesterday by unanimously requesting their party’s executive committee cancel a leadership review that Danielle Smith requested last week.

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

The sign of caucus unity came shortly after Sundre-Rocky Mountain House-Rimbey MLA Joe Anglin announced he was leaving the Official Opposition Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Ms. Smith requested the review in response to the Wildrose Party’s poor showing in four by-elections held on October 27. Although the by-elections were held in traditionally safe Progressive Conservative voting constituencies, they were seen by many political watchers as a mid-term review for the 43-year governing PC Party, now led by Jim Prentice.

Will the sign of caucus support for Ms. Smith’s leadership put an end to the Wildrose “civil war” between pragmatic and ideological conservatives that Mr. Anglin referred to in a Facebook post yesterday?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

From the outside, it is difficult to tell whether an actual “civil war” is being waged. Mr. Anglin has always been more comfortable as a political lone-wolf and his departure was not unexpected. And despite the party’s sometimes uneasy coalition of libertarian and social conservatives, it is reasonable to believe Ms. Smith would still receive a strong endorsement from party members in a leadership review (she received 90% approval in a 2013 review).

But the entrance of Mr. Prentice onto the political stage may have slightly shifted the ground in Alberta’s conservative movement. As the by-election results suggest, there are many conservative voters comfortable with a PC Party led by Mr. Prentice and, at the very least, they willing to give him a chance.

Mr. Prentice does pose a serious challenge for the Wildrose Party, which made former Premier Alison Redford into political lightening rod. And while the sting of Ms. Redford’s legacy did not resonate in the by-elections, the recent announcement of an R.C.M.P investigation into her alleged misdeeds may reignite Albertans anger.

It is difficult to imagine who would replace the Wildrose Party’s high-profile leader. Although MLAs Kerry Towle, Bruce McAllister, Shayne Saskiw, Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson have some provincial profile, none are as recognizable as their current leader. I would guess that most Albertans would struggle to name a Wildrose MLA other than Ms. Smith.

Whether a “civil war” is actually underway, it is clear that the Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party is facing an identity crisis in a post-Redford political environment.

———

Meanwhile, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman have ruled out any talk of a merger by Alberta’s centre/centre-left political parties. Talk of a potential merger arose following significant vote-splitting in the Oct. 27 by-elections.

Wildrose to PC MLAs: It’s not your fault, your party left you. Come on over.

The Wildrose Caucus has released a flashy new YouTube video encouraging Progressive Conservative MLAs to join the Official Opposition.

The video begins with two former PC MLAs making the pitch to cross the floor. “I was nervous when I first did I, but I have to tell you, it is so much better over here,” Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth says in the video. “It’s not you, it’s them,” Rob Anderson testifies.

Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010.

The rest of the video includes short clips of testimonials and pleas from Wildrose MLAs to their PC MLA colleagues. “It’s not your fault, your party left you. Come on over,” a welcoming Ms. Smith says in the final clip.

It is yet to be seen if any PC MLAs will accept the opposition offer.

A Wildrose history of floor crossing

In 2010, less than two months after then-Premier Ed Stelmach received 77% in the PC Party’s leadership review, two backbench PC MLAs, Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, crossed the floor to join newly selected leader Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose opposition. Soon after, former PC MLA Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose caucus. It is not surprising that the Wildrose would make this pitch only one week after current PC Party leader, Premier Alison Redford, received an eerily similar 77% in her party’s 2013 leadership review.

The Alberta Alliance, the precursor to the Wildrose Party, gained its first MLA when Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk briefly ran under the party’s banner in the 2004 election in the new Edmonton-Decore constituency. Mr. Masyk was defeated in his bid for  re-election.

 

Tories versus Wildrose: Year One in Alberta’s new political game.

Alison Redford Campaign Bus
Premier Alison Redford hops of her campaign bus onto Edmonton’s 124 Street during the 2012 election.

On April 23, 2012, Alberta’s most hotly contested election in decades culminated with the re-election of the twelfth consecutive Progressive Conservative majority government since 1971. Despite holding the large majority elected MLAs, the popular vote showed Albertans were closely divided between Alison Redford‘s Tories who finished with 44% compared to an impressive 34% showing for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

The first year of Premier Redford’s mandate has been rough for her governing party. Scandals bubbling up from now-defunct health authorities, accusations of a personal conflict-of-interest, and allegations that her party accepted up to $400,000 in illegal campaign donations from billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz have dogged her government.

Despite being branded as a policy-wonk, Premier Redford’s cabinet has implemented a confused domestic agenda that has resulted in public spats with popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Stephen Mandel and unnecessary conflicts with teachers and doctors. Recent budget cuts, blamed on a deflating bitumen bubble, also threaten to unravel the coalition of moderate voters who carried her party to victory one year ago.

The mixed bag that is Premier Redford’s cabinet could help explain some of this confusion. Younger cabinet ministers, like Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Education Minister Jeff Johnson and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, constantly talk off the cuff and appear to sometimes be making government policy on the fly. Other ministers, like Finance Minister Doug Horner, Health Minister Fred Horne and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, have shown restraint and maturity that comes with years of cabinet experience.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

Premier Redford has been exceedingly strong on the national and international stage as she has travelled extensively over the past year lobbying for a Canadian Energy Strategy, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and to open new markets for Alberta’s oil sands. She appears to be less interested or willing to play the political game, which will become increasingly difficult in the face of an aggressive official opposition.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith could have been celebrating her first year as Premier had it not been for late election bozo-erruptions that exposed an offensive social conservative element in her party. Comments about caucasian advantages and a Lake of Fire drove many moderate conservatives, liberals, and even some New Democrats, to vote PC in last year’s election.

Despite the disappointment of not defeating Alberta’s long-governing PC dynasty, Ms. Smith has grown into her role as Leader of the Official Opposition. Borrowing aggressive tactics from the federal Conservatives in Ottawa, who are organizationally tied at the hip with the Wildrose, Ms. Smith’s party is leading the most aggressive and partisan official opposition in recent memory. Her party has groomed a front-bench that dominate the media and have, in many cases, driven the government agenda from across the aisle. Rarely a week goes by where Ms. Smith, Rob Anderson, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Bruce McAllister, or Heather Forsyth have not grabbed a headline or a prime time news story.

The Liberals, still led by former Tory MLA Raj Sherman, are still adjusting to their new role as the third-party in the Assembly after being bumped out of Official Opposition by the Wildrose. Accustomed to stealing the spotlight from the now-former Official Opposition Liberals, the four-MLA New Democrat caucus spent the past year figuring out how to play the same tricks on the Wildrose. Acclimatizing to the new political environment, Brian Mason’s NDP were overshadowed by Ms. Smith’s new team for most of last year. With some of the ‘progressive’ shine coming off Premier Redford’s Tories, the NDP are starting to find their footing again.

The Tories have broken more than a few election promises in the first year of this mandate, including pledges to balance the budget and provide stable funding for health, education, and municipalities. Despite the rough first year, Premier Redford’s Tories still have at least three years left until the next election to fulfill the promises made and mend fences with the bloc of moderate voters who saved their party from defeat one year ago today.

Disappointed Wildrosers sit outside as Redford Tories abandon Klein-era financing.

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Alberta’s opposition parties are traditionally notorious for being unforgiving towards leaders who fail to meet or beat electoral expectations.

Take for example former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore, who after leading his Liberal Party to its best showing in more than 70 years, was driven out by MLAs and members who were disappointed to be sitting in the opposition benches. Now in 2012, will Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith‘s leadership end with a similar fate? Not likely anytime soon.

As I said on election night, despite her party’s strong showing and newly acquired official opposition status, one of Ms. Smith’s biggest challenges will be to deal with many of her party’s supporters and MLAs who will be disappointed they did not form government. With 17 MLAs and a strong record of fundraising, I expect that Ms. Smith’s party and the powers that finance it will allow her to have a second chance, rather than destabilizing the delicate coalition of fiscal hawks and social conservatives they helped her build.

Last week, an anonymous online video emerged that made waves in the ranks of the Wildrose Party. Borrowing music from Michael Bay‘s Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon, the anonymous creators of the online video clumsily detailed the threat that certain individuals posed to the “grassroots” of the Wildrose Party and suggested the chance of a potential coup d’etat against leader Ms. Smith (the video is now removed from the Dailymotion site).

Like blogger David Climenhaga, I hesitate to read too much into the twisted innuendo of internal party politics that this online video delved into. And I would not be surprised if, at their upcoming AGM, Ms. Smith begins taking a more hard-line approach to party discipline, similar to the approach taken by Stephen Harper when he became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

For the first time in decades, conservative supporters of the Wildrose Party are sitting outside to the ruling coalition of which they had previously been a pillar constituency. As Premier Alison Redford builds a new moderate political coalition, she will not have to dwell on the every-want of the “Socred Retreads,” as she called them in her speech to last weekend’s PC AGM.

Despite Wildrose MLAs relentlessly criticizing Premier Redford in the media, it must be frustrating for many Wildrose Party supporters to now watch their former party, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, turn away from the anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics. Without the hype of personality politics behind it, the short-sighted policies of Premier Klein’s govermnent look and feel like they are from a by-gone era. Gone are the days when even a hint of long-term investment was sacrificed in favour of short-term balanced budgets or at-any-cost debt reduction.

Premier Redford, like Premier Ed Stelmach before her, is talking about taking an adult approach to long-term financing of capital projects and maintenance of public infrastructure. With the bulk of the hard-line fiscal conservative hawks sitting in the opposition benches, Premier Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner are afforded more fiscal flexibility.

Instead of waiting for “cash-in-pocket” to build and maintain important public infrastructure, the Tories are pushing forward with capital financing. Their newly discovered fiscal flexibility could give the Tories an opportunity to fix the problems created by their predecessors.

This of course does not mean they will not face opposition within their own caucus when charting this new fiscal course or creating a new narrative for their party. Like Premier Stelmach before them, neither Ms. Redford or Minister Horner had the support of the majority of their fellow MLAs during last year’s leadership selection.

Beyond Question Period: Debating Bill 1.

If you pay attention to political pundits or follow the #ableg hashtag on Twitter, you will have read about how nasty and partisan the fall sitting of the Legislative Assembly has been. But if you logout of Twitter for a bit and ignore the embarrassing theatrics of Question Period, you will find some substantial debate and even more interesting (and sometimes confusing) politics at work on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.

Rachel Notley MLA Edmonton-Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

Take last week’s debate around Bill 1 as an example.

Introduced during the six-day long spring sitting earlier this year, the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2012 (pdf) was the flagship legislation of the first term of Premier Alison Redford‘s elected government. Each year, a new Bill 1 is introduced and typically tends to be a feel-good piece of legislation tailored to the government’s immediate public relations program.

This year’s Bill 1 meant to extend “presumptive coverage” to first-responders – police, firefighters, peace officers, and emergency medical technicians – to access treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the Workers’ Compensation Board. As explained in the Edmonton Journal, presumptive coverage means that anyone working as a first responder who is diagnosed with PTSD is presumed to have developed that condition as a result of their job.

No government or opposition Members of the Legislative Assembly publicly voiced any opposition to the bill. The most interesting debate about Bill 1 occurred around two amendments introduced by Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley that proposed to include two other professions to be covered in the Bill – corrections officers and social workers.

The first amendment, to include corrections officers, received strong support from the opposition benches. Ms. Notley and ten other opposition MLAs – New Democrat David Eggen, Liberal David Swann, and Wildrose MLAs Jeff Wilson, Joe Anglin, Rob Anderson, Bruce Rowe, Ian Donovan, Kerry Towle, Blake Pedersen, and Heather Forsyth – rose to speak in favour of the first amendment.

Only Human Service Minister Dave Hancock and backbench Tory Rick Fraser rose to speak against.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

The two Tory MLAs speaking against the amendment praised the work done by corrections officers but spoke against including them in the bill, claiming that it would be unfair to pick and choose between professions (which is what the Bill did). At one point in the debate, Mr. Fraser presented the strange argument that they should not be included because police, firefighters, peace officers, and EMTs cannot “lock down” a city like some correctional institutions can be “locked down.” The two Tories made strong arguments why police, firefighters, peace officers, and EMTs should be included in Bill 1, but they struggled to explain why presumptive coverage should be limited to those four professions.

“The associate minister [Frank Oberle] talked about sort of the conflicting arguments that exist when you say, on one hand, that you shouldn’t be picking and choosing certain professions, and then, of course, he anticipated correctly that we are going to move forward with amendments to identify certain professions.” – Rachel Notley

The amendment to include corrections officers received the support of the NDP, Wildrose, and Liberal MLAs in the Assembly, but was defeated by the large Tory majority.

Ms. Notley’s second amendment, to include social workers, received strong support from NDP and Liberal caucuses. In a strange twist, most Wildrose MLAs spoke against the amendment with only Wildrose MLA Mr. Anglin breaking from his caucus and speaking in favour of including social workers in the Bill.

Presenting similar points as Tories had used only minutes before to argue against including corrections officers, Wildrose MLAs praised social workers while arguing against including them Bill, claiming that it would be unfair to pick and choose between professions.

So, it came as little surprise that Ms. Notley’s second amendment was defeated, with only the NDP, Liberals, and Mr. Anglin voting in favour.

Bill 1 passed third reading on November 1, with MLAs from all parties voting in favour.

(Read transcripts of debates in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly using Hansard)

assembly housekeeping: new staff, new speaker, & new public accounts committee chair.

As the Opposition Caucuses and Parties reorganize following electoral changes caused as a results of the April 23 election, there will be a number of staff and role changes in Assembly. The new Assembly will convene for the first time to elect a new Speaker on May 23, 2012 and listen to the Speech from the Throne on May 24, 2012.

New Speaker

Gene Zwozdesky
Gene Zwozdesky

As the result of the retirement of long-time Progressive Conservative MLA Ken Kowalski, the Speaker’s Office is vacant for the first time since 1997. Vying to become the new Assembly Speaker are former cabinet minister and Edmonton-Mill Creek PC MLA Gene Zwozdesky, Deputy Speaker and Calgary-Fort PC MLA Wayne Cao, former cabinet minister and Red Deer-North PC MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, and long-time Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman. (Both Mr. Cao and Ms. Jablonski have exited the race).

Before his appointed as Minister of Aboriginal Relations last week, West Yellowhead PC MLA Robin Campbell was seen by some political insiders as a front-runner in this race.

This new Speaker will be selected by sitting MLA’s through a secret ballot and because this election is traditionally not a whipped vote, it can sometimes lead to interesting and unexpected results. When Mr. Kowalski was selected as Speaker in 1997, many political observers believed it was the Liberal and NDP MLA’s who helped him defeat Premier Ralph Klein‘s preferred choice, then-Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

Opposition Staff Housekeeping

For the first time in 19 years, the Liberal Opposition Caucus will not be the Official Opposition in the Assembly. The Liberal Caucus, led by Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman, will undergo staff and research budget downsizing due to the number of Liberal MLAs shrinking from 8 to 5. The Liberal Caucus recently released its MLA critic and committee assignments.

Jonathan Huckabay Liberal candidate Edmonton-Manning
Jonathan Huckabay

A recent listing on the Government of Alberta website shows that Dr. Sherman’s long-time adviser Jonathan Huckabay will return to his role as Chief of Staff of the Liberal Caucus Office. Mr. Huckabay entered that role earlier this year when former MLA Rick Miller resigned to focus on his election campaign in Edmonton-Rutherford. When the election was called, Mr. Huckabay stood as a Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Manning, where he placed fourth with just over 1,000 votes.

Recently the party’s candidate in Cypress-Medicine Hat, Jon Mastel is Dr. Sherman’s new Executive Assistant.

Senior Communications Advisor Earl J Woods announced in a blog post last week that he would be leaving the Liberal Caucus, where he has worked for six and a half years (if you are looking to hire a great writer, contact Mr. Woods).

In the NDP Opposition Caucus, which doubled in size from 2 to 4 MLAs, Communications Officer Richard Liebrecht announced on Twitter last week that he was moving on from his role in the Legislature Annex. A former Reporter for Sun Media and the Hinton Parklander, Mr. Liebrecht started his job with the NDP in November 2010. He also previously worked for the Liberal Party of Canada.

The NDP are also hiring a number of constituency staff positions.

While the Wildrose Party‘s new role as Official Opposition will mean additional staff and research funding, a party position was made vacant following the election of Shayne Saskiw in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, the Wildrose Party is hiring a new Executive Director.

New Public Accounts Committee Chairperson

Hugh MacDonald MLA
Former MLA Hugh MacDonald

For the first time since 2001, someone other than Hugh MacDonald will serve as chair of the important Public Accounts Committee, which has ability to scrutinize government spending. Mr. MacDonald served as the MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 until the recent election when he chose to retire from the Assembly. While he sometimes appeared to be relentlessly focused on discovering scandal in the Tory government, Mr. MacDonald was easily one of the hardest working MLA’s under the Dome.

The role of Public Accounts Committee Chair traditionally falls to a MLA representing the Official Opposition Caucus, meaning that one of the 17 Wildrose Party MLA’s will fill this role when the new Assembly convenes next week. Second-term Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, who will also serve as Official Opposition Finance Critic, could be a powerful force in this important role. Calgary-Fish Creek Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth served as the Wildrose representative on the committee before the election.

Previous to Mr. MacDonald, former Liberal MLAs Lance White and Muriel Abdurahman filled the role as Chair.

who are they? meet alberta’s wildrose official opposition.

When Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reconvenes in the next few months, for the first time since 1982 the title of Official Opposition will given to a caucus of MLA’s representing a party other than the New Democrats or the Liberals. Following the April 23 general election, seventeen Wildrose Party MLA’s were elected, creating the largest Official Opposition caucus since 1997 (when eighteen Liberal MLA’s were elected).

Heather Forsyth Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Wildrose MLAs
Wildrose MLA's Heather Forsyth, leader Danielle Smith, and Rob Anderson in January 2010.

Aside from high-profile leader Danielle Smith, who was elected in Highwood, most Albertans would probably respond with blank stares if asked to name another Wildrose MLA. Over the past week, I have read biographies and scoured the internet for information about the MLA’s who, for at least the next four years, have been tasked with the responsibility of being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Alberta.

Only two of the four incumbent Wildrose Party MLA’s were re-elected last week. Paul Hinman, who was narrowly elected in a 2009 by-election was soundly defeated by PC candidate Linda Johnson in Calgary-Glenmore. In Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, four-term MLA Guy Boutilier, who crossed the floor to the Wildrose in 2010 after sitting for 12 years as a Progressive Conservative MLA, was unseated by municipal councillor Mike Allen. Both Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, who crossed the floor from the PCs to the Wildrose in January 2010, were re-elected.

The Rookies

Here is a look at the fourteen rookie MLA’s who will be joining Ms. Smith, Mr. Anderson, and Ms. Forsyth in the Wildrose Party caucus.

Joe Anglin Drew Barnes Gary Bikman Wildrose MLA
Wildrose MLA's Joe Anglin, Drew Barnes, and Gary Bikman.

Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre)
Unseated six-term PC MLA and former cabinet minister Ty Lund. Mr. Anglin is the former leader of the Green Party of Alberta and well-known Landowners’ rights advocate. In 2007, he and the Lavesta landowners’ group were the targets of the now infamous spying scandal carried out by the now defunct Alberta Energy and Utilities Board. Most recently the President and CEO of an oil and gas trading company, Mr. Anglin is an ex-United States Marine, former New Hampshire police officer, and former member of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary. He is married to Deborah Laing, a Minister at Rimbey United Church.

Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat)
Defeated two-term PC MLA Len Mitzel. Mr. Barnes is a real estate agent and co-owner of Belcore Homes, a construction company in Medicine Hat. He is the past-campaign chair and president of the Southeastern United Way. He completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Alberta in 1983.

Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Mr. Bikman is a business management consultant and co-founder of ChopStix International Franchising Inc, a fast food gourmet Chinese restaurant chain. He is the past-president of Speedy Heavy Hauling Ltd, an oilfield service company. Until recently he was a councillor and deputy mayor of the Village of Sterling. Mr. Bikman attended the first Reform Association of Canada (later the Reform Party of Canada) conference in Vancouver in 1987. His Facebook page lists him as having completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (1968) and Master of Business Administration (1972) at Brigham Young University.

Ian Donovan Rod Fox Jason Hale Wildrose MLA
Wildrose MLA's Ian Donovan, Rod Fox, and Jason Hale.

Ian Donovan (Little Bow)
Mr. Donovan farms near the hamlet of Mossleigh. He was elected to Vulcan County Council at the age of 19 and he has served for the past 16 years, including two years as Reeve. Perceived mishandling of the nomination process which selected him as the candidate led to the entire executive board of the Little Bow Wildrose Association to resign in January 2010.

Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Mr. Fox is a sales manager for an insurance company. From 2006 to 2007 he served as a director on the Lacombe Economic Development Board and ran unsuccessfully for Lacombe municipal council in 2007. He served as President of the Conservative Party of Canada Wetaskiwin Electoral District Association from 2007 to 2010 and was Communications Director for MP Blaine Calkins during the 2011 federal election.

Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Unseated first-term PC MLA Arno Doerksen. Mr. Hale operates a cattle farm with his family. He was a Professional Bullfighter for 10 years and is a member of the a member of the Bassano Rodeo committee and a Director on the Bassano Agricultural Society. He completed a diploma in Chemical Technology at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. He also coaches for hockey and baseball.

Bruce McAllister Blake Pedersen Bruce Rowe Wildrose MLA
Wildrose MLA's Bruce McAllister, Blake Pedersen, and Bruce Rowe.

Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rockyview)
Defeated senior cabinet minister and former PC leadership candidate Ted Morton. Originally from New Brunswick, Mr. McAllister is well-known for his time as the host of Global Television’s morning newscast in Calgary since 2004. Before moving to Calgary, Mr. McAllister was an anchor and reporter at CH Television in Victoria, BC. He also worked as a broadcaster in Winnipeg and Halifax.

Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Mr. Pedersen has been a co-owner in an oilfield, industrial supply company since 1999.

Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
An electrical contractor by trade, Mr. Rowe was first elected to Beiseker village council in 2001 and was Mayor. He served on the board of directors of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association representing villages and summer villages. Mr. Rowe was an AUMA representative to the Safety Codes Council.

Shayne Saskiw Pat Steir Rick Strankman Wildorse MLA
Wildorse MLA's Shayne Saskiw, Pat Steir, and Rick Strankman.

Shayne Saskiw (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills)
Unseated three-term MLA and cabinet minister Ray Danyluk. Mr. Saskiw studied Law at the University of Alberta with MLA Rob Anderson and practiced law in Vegreville. He was named one of “The Next 10” by Alberta Venture magazine in 2010. Mr. Saskiw served as Vice-President (Policy) of the PC Party from 2008 until January 2010, when he joined the Wildrose Party. He later served as executive director of the Wildrose Party.

Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod)
Unseated first-term MLA and cabinet minister Evan Berger. Mr. Stier lives on his family’s ranch near DeWinton and is the President of River Canyon Enterprises Inc., which provides planning services for land use and development applications to rural land owners. He served one term on the municipal council of the M.D. of Foothills from 2004 to 2007. He was a member of the PC Party Board of Directors in Highwood from 2006 to 2009 and in 2010 became the President of the Wildrose Alliance association in that constituency. Between 1988 and 1999 he served as President of the Dunbow Road Area Residents Association.

Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)
Unseated cabinet minister Jack Hayden. Mr. Strankman owns a cattle ranch and grain farm near Altario. He is the past Treasurer of the Western Barley Growers Association and is an anti-Canadian Wheat Board activist. In 1996, he was fined $1000 for taking his own wheat in his grain truck and driving it across the Canadian border into the United States. In 2000, Mr. Strankman was an unsuccessful candidate in the Canadian Wheat Board elections and in 2002 he was fined $7,500 and faced 180 days in jail after taking 756 bushels of wheat across the American border and sold it (he only served a week in jail with four other rebel farmers).

Kerry Towle Jeff Wilson Wildrose MLA
Wildrose MLA's Kerry Towle and Jeff Wilson.

Kerry Towle (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake)
Defeated three-term PC MLA and former cabinet minister Luke Ouellette. Ms. Towle is a real estate broker and was executive assistant with the now-dissolved David Thompson Health Region. She ran a turkey farming operation with her husband for five years. She attended Reeves Business College in 1992 and 1993.

Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)
Defeated appointed PC candidate Farouk Adatia. Mr. Wilson is an account executive at the audio-visual equipment company AVW-Telas. He studied business and broadcasting at Mount Royal College (now Mount Royal University).

the day after: alberta election analysis.

Alberta Election Results 2012
Alberta Election Results 2012

What was expected to be the most exciting provincial election in history of our province turned out to be a continuation of the 41-year old Progressive Conservative dynasty. The pollsters, the media, and the pundits (including this blogger) appear to have completely misjudged the electoral climate in the final days of the election.

Unofficial Results
PC: 61
Wildrose: 17
Liberal: 5
NDP: 4

It appears that the PC Party call to moderate voters to vote strategically to block the Wildrose Party from forming government was successful in Calgary, Edmonton, and northern Alberta. While the Tories ran a completely lacklustre campaign, Albertans’ unease with the thorny social conservative views of Wildrose candidates Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech undoubtedly drew moderates to cast their ballots for the PCs yesterday.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

At least for now, Premier Alison Redford is secure in her position as leader of the PC Party. The PCs have re-elected a number of veteran MLAs, including Dave Hancock in Edmonton-Whitemud, and a new cast of rookie MLAs who will amount to about 1/3 of the governing caucus.

The golden rule of Alberta elections remains truth: never bet against the incumbent.

The Tories have lost many of their former strongholds in rural Alberta and cabinet giants, including Ted Morton in Chestermere-Rockyview, Evan Berger in Livingstone-Macleod, Jack Hayden in Drumheller-Stettler, and Ray Danyluk in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills. Successful use of wedge issues like property rights likely played a significant role in the Wildrose winning these rural constituencies.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012
Danielle Smith

With 17 MLA’s, Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party will form the Official Opposition in the Assembly. Ms. Smith’s challenges are two-fold. First, she must manage the expectations of disappointed caucus members who expected to be sitting in the government benches. Second, she must form a cohesive opposition consisting of mostly rookie MLA’s (including herself). Two of the Wildrose Party’s four incumbent MLA’s were defeated last night. Only MLA Heather Forsyth in Calgary-Fish Creek and Rob Anderson in Airdrie were re-elected.

The Wildrose caucus is almost entirely made up of MLA’s from southern rural Alberta constituencies, which breaks from the almost three decade-long tradition of urban-based Liberal or NDP official oppositions. This will be the first time since the Social Credit Party formed official opposition in 1971 that a large caucus of rural MLAs are the official opposition. Despite signs of a wave early in the campaign, the Wildrose Party only elected two MLA’s in Calgary, including Ms. Forsyth and Jeff Wilson, who defeated PC appointee candidate Farouk Adatia in Calgary-Shaw.

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012
Raj Sherman

It was a miracle that we survived” was Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman‘s comment on CBC Radio this morning. The Liberal Party elected five MLA’s last night, losing official opposition status for the first time in nineteen years. The Liberal vote collapsed across the province to 10% and the party lost long-time Liberal voting constituencies Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Riverview, and Calgary-Varsity to the Tories.

Former Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas may have said it best on his blog this morning, “Liberals will now have to ask themselves what their place is in Alberta politics, or indeed if there is any place for them at all.

The NDP probably have mixed feelings this morning. NDP leader Brian Mason ran a smooth campaign and his party has gained official party status by adding former MLA David Eggen from Edmonton-Calder and Deron Bilous from Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview to their caucus, but they are still one MLA smaller than the Liberals, who many New Democrats had hoped to surpass.

There are some pretty disappointed people in the Alberta Party camp this morning. Their hopes for electing an MLA were dashed, but the party earned 17,144 across the province, which leaves them with something to build on for the next election.

More to come…