Tag Archives: Heather Forsyth

Kevin O'Leary is coming to Alberta but skipping the Conservative Party leadership debate.

O’Leary skips Conservative debate, federal NDP debate skips Alberta

The most high-profile candidate running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada will be skipping tomorrow’s leadership debate in Edmonton. As the thirteen other candidates for the leadership gather on stage at the Citadel Theatre, Boston-resident and American reality television personality Kevin O’Leary will instead be hosting a “fireside chat” in a fireplace-less conference room across the street at the Westin Hotel.

Jason Kenney Wildrose Conservative Alberta

Jason Kenney

O’Leary will be joined by former Conservative MP Tim Uppal who will moderate the chat. Uppal represented the Edmonton-Sherwood Park riding from 2006 until 2015 when he switched ridings and was defeated by Liberal candidate Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods in October 2015.

O’Leary was spotted chatting with former MP and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney at last weekend’s Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa. Kenney participated in a panel discussion at the conference with Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and conference namesake Preston Manning on the topic of uniting Conservatives in Alberta.

Manning, who has been involved in conservative politics in Alberta since the 1960s (his father, Ernest Manning was premier of Alberta from 1943 to 1968), played an instrumental role in convincing nearly the whole Wildrose caucus to cross the floor to join the PCs in 2014.

Back to the federal Conservative leadership, Fildebrandt has endorsed leadership candidate Maxime Bernier, the Quebec MP known for his libertarian views briefly served as Minister of Foreign Affairs before resigning in 2008 after he acknowledged leaving sensitive government documents out in the open, apparently at his former girlfriend’s home. Bernier has also been endorsed by Calgary MP Tom Kmiec and former Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth.

The largest group of Conservative MPs (ten) from Alberta are supporting Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer‘s bid for the leadership. Four are supporting Ontario MP Erin O’Toole and one, David Yurdiga, is supporting Kellie Leitch (watch her latest video here, if you can bear it). Bow Valley MP Martin Shields is supporting Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai‘s candidacy.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Wildrose MLA

Derek Fildebrandt

O’Leary does not have the support of any sitting MPs from Alberta but has gained support from Uppal and former PC MLA Ken Hughes. O’Leary was widely mocked online last year after writing an open letter to Premier Rachel Notley pledging to invest $1 million to Alberta economy if she would resign (it is not known if the letter was sent by O’Leary from his home in Massachusetts).

Federal NDP skip Alberta in leadership debate schedule

Meanwhile, the federal NDP released a schedule of debates for their leadership contest and have apparently skipped over Alberta, the only province in Canada with an NDP government.

It is an odd slight, but one that is probably welcomed by Notley’s pro-pipeline NDP government, whose Climate Leadership Plan helped gain approval for the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia. The divide between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts in Ottawa on the pipeline issue is stark and the federal party would not be doing Notley’s government any favours by rolling into the province trumpeting an anti-pipeline message.

Nomination candidates Jack Redekop, Khalis Ahmed, Haley Brown and Stephanie Kusie.

Calgary Midnapore and Heritage by-election updates

With federal by-elections expected to be called in the next few months in the ridings of Calgary-Heritage and Calgary-Midnapore, candidates are stepping up to seek party nominations.

In Calgary-Heritage, where a by-election must be called by February 25, 2017, three candidates ran for the Conservative nomination to succeed former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Party activist Bob Benzen defeated Paul Frank and Richard Billington to become his party’s candidate at a nomination meeting in late October.

The Liberals have yet to nominate a candidate in Calgary-Heritage but I am told that past candidate Brendan Miles is considering seeking his party’s nomination once again. Khalid Ahmed is seeking the New Democratic Party nomination. He ran for the NDP in Calgary-Signal Hill during the 2015 election where he earned 5 percent of the vote.

In Calgary-Midnapore, where a by-election must be called no later than March 22, 2017, Haley Brown announced her plans to run for the Liberal nomination. Ms. Brown won a contested nomination in July 2015 to become the party’s candidate in that year’s federal election. She placed second with 22.6 percent of the vote.

Former lobbyist Stephanie Kusie and party activist Jack Redekop are seeking the Conservative Party nomination o Calgary-Midnapore.

Ms. Kusie worked as a ministerial special advisor in Ottawa and served in the foreign service before running for Calgary City Council in 2013. After the municipal election she worked as executive director of the Manning Centre funded Common Sense Calgary group. She has the endorsement of Calgary-Shepard MP Tom Kmiec, former MLAs Cindy Ady, Jonathan Denis and Heather Forsyth, and public school trustee Amber Stewart. Her husband, James Kusie, is also a former Ottawa political staffer and is currently listed as the Government Relations and Issues Advisor for Imperial Oil Limited.

Mr. Redekop briefly ran as a candidate in the 2012 Senator Nominee election but appeared to have dropped out of the race before the filing deadline. He has the endorsement of Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried.

UPDATE: A third candidate, Myles McDougall, is running for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Midnapore.

If I missed any candidates running for party nominations in these two federal ridings, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

A look at who is backing Jason Kenney’s bid for the PC Party leadership

Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney is expected to announce his candidacy for the leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta tomorrow, July 6, in Calgary, deliver a speech in Grande Prairie that evening and then travel to Edmonton on July 7 for another speech. He was widely expected to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and only just recently began positioning himself as candidate to unite Alberta’s conservative partisans under one banner.

He would be the first candidate to officially enter the PC leadership contest, which is scheduled to be held on March 18, 2017.

  • As I explained in a column last month, Mr. Kenney could have a rough landing in Alberta politics.
  • A skilled organizer with more than 25 years of experience as a taxpayers federation lobbyist and Ottawa politician, Mr. Kenney should not be underestimated by his opponents.
  • Mr. Kenney follows in the footsteps of his former colleague, Jim Prentice, who led the PC Party from 2014 until its defeat by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in May 2015. That election ended forty-four uninterrupted years of PC majority governments in Alberta.
  • Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
  • Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
  • Mr. Kenney is not assured an easy victory in the PC leadership race. I spoke with CTV about some of the potential candidates who also might enter the race, including former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who Mr. Kenney once described as an “asshole,” Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who said she would consider leaving the PC Party if Mr. Kenney became the leader. Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry is also considering entering the contest and former MLA Doug Griffiths is rumoured to be interested.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.

Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.

Mr. Kenney appears to have the support of two unite-the-right groups. The Alberta Can’t Wait group, backed by former Reform Party stalwarts Preston Manning and Cliff Fryers, lobbyist Hal Danchilla and 1980s Tory cabinet minister Rick Orman, and the Alberta Prosperity Fund, backed by former right-wing talk radio host Dave Rutherford, former MLAs Heather Forsyth and Shiraz Shariff, and former PC Party president Jim McCormick. The Alberta Prosperity Fund issued a formal endorsement of Mr. Kenney on July 5, 2016.

The Alberta Can’t Wait group was reportedly planning to hijack the Alberta Party later this summer and Prosperity Fund founder and director Barry McNamar, formerly of the Fraser Institute and Manning Centre, is reportedly suing the Wildrose Party.

The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.

Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.

Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.

Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” former Premier Peter Lougheed once said.

Let’s Review Oil Royalties and Start Acting Like Owners Again.

Alberta’s new NDP government has taken steps to fulfill one of their key election promises by appointing a panel to ensure Albertans are receiving their fair share from their natural resource wealth through the royalty rates paid by the oil industry to the Alberta government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The choice of Alberta Treasury Branches President Dave Mowat, energy economist Peter Tertzakian, former Alberta deputy minister of finance Annette Trimbee, and Mayor of Beaverlodge Leona Hanson to review Albertans royalties should calm any anxiety industry leaders may have had with this process. These are sensible choices for this important review.

Like the panel reviewing Alberta’s climate change strategy, the royalty review panel is stacked with knowledgable appointees who cannot be accused being partisan New Democrats. And while some industry leaders are still uncomfortable with this year’s election results, Mr. Tertzakian has some advice for conservative-connected business leaders.

Peter Tertzakian

Peter Tertzakian

“The industry needs to have more than just an open mind — I think you have to go with forward thinking and that this is an opportunity to get away from business as usual,” Mr. Tertzakian told a business reporting website after Rachel Notley‘s NDP was elected with a majority government on May 2015.

The appointment of Mr. Tertzakian received immediate praise online from two prominent conservative voices –  former Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

The panel has an important task ahead of it and has a mandate to “optimize” returns to Albertans as owners of the resource, industry investment, diversification opportunities, such as value-added processing, and responsible development of Alberta’s resources.

Bill Hunter, who chaired the 2007 royalty review panel established by former Premier Ed Stelmach, wrote in his final report that “Albertans do not receive their fair share from energy development. Albertans own the resource. The onus is on their government to re-balance the royalty and tax system so that a fair share is collected.”

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Nearly a decade after Mr. Hunter penned those words, the responsibility once again falls on Alberta’s government to ensure that Albertans are receiving their fair share from energy development.

It is up to the current panel to consult with Albertans and industry to determine what that proper balance will be.

Part of that balance will be timing, as Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd told reporters today that any changes to royalties will not be implemented until 2017. And like any other panel review, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd and Ms. Notley have the leeway to ignore any recommendations that might appear to be politically unpalatable or carry too much risk. This is why government’s like to employ these types of panels to review potentially controversial policy changes.

Politicians from the opposition benches have been fiercely critical of NDP plans to review royalties. The WildroseAlberta PartyLiberal and the Progressive Conservative opposition have described the review as “job killing.” A September 3 by-election in Calgary-Foothills has escalated the partisan rhetoric from the opposition, who see a by-election win as a way to discredit the new government’s agenda.

Dave Mowatt

Dave Mowat

But others, like Alberta Oil Magazine editor Max Fawcett, argue that now is the perfect time for a royalty review. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Tim McMillan has said he does not want the government to delay the review, and even Mr. Stelmach has said the review should happen.

Comparisons can be made to a rookie PC government led by Peter Lougheed, which reviewed royalties during its first year in office, to the consternation of industry leaders who had grown accustomed to a comfortable relationship with the old Social Credit government.

“The oil companies, not unexpectedly, are howling – while the natural gas industry is quaking in its boots because the government also has made clear it is going to change its taxes in the fall,” the Ottawa Citizen reported on May 8, 1972.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” Mr. Lougheed once said while encouraging Albertans to think like owners.

As the owners of the resources, Albertans deserve to know whether we are getting our fair share. But the result of a royalty review is made more important if the government does something meaningful with the funds collected through the rent of our natural resources.

Alberta launched the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976. Under Mr. Lougheed’s leadership, the Heritage Fund initially received 30% of government resource revenues and was worth $12.7 billion in 1986, when the PCs began a 17 year freeze on new deposits into the fund. The Heritage Fund is now worth only $17.4 billion. Despite an embarrassment of riches during most of its 44-years in power, the old conservative government proved to be poor financial managers once Mr. Lougheed retired.

In their 2015 election platform, the NDP campaigned on the promise that “100% of incremental royalty revenue, above the sums earned by Alberta under the current regime, will be invested into Alberta’s Heritage Fund.

The current downturn in the price of oil will certainly change some of the new government’s short-term plans when the budget is tabled in October 2015, but significant investment in the Heritage Fund when oil prices do rise again will pay off for Albertans in the long-term. And ensuring that the owners – Albertans – are receiving their fair share from energy development, as Mr. Hunter wrote in 2007, will be key to this long-term planning.

Janet Keeping Rachel Notley Laurie Blakeman Women MLA Alberta

Candidate nomination update on International Women’s Day

In recognition of International Women’s Day, today’s candidate update focuses specifically on the total number of women nominated to run for Alberta’s political parties in the upcoming provincial election. Women make up the majority of our population, but they rarely come even close to being the majority in electoral politics.

Women in Alberta politics have accomplished a number of milestones in recent years, including the election of Alison Redford as our first female premier, but the total percentage of women elected to the Legislative Assembly has actually decreased since the late-1990s.

Alberta’s 2012 election was notable for many reasons, most notably because it marked the first time the two major parties were led by women – Progressive Conservative leader Ms. Redford and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. Three years later, only one major party will be led into the 2015 spring election by a women – the New Democratic Party’s Rachel Notley. Wildrose Party interim leader Heather Forsyth, who has served as MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek since 1993, is not seeking re-election. The Green Party, with no MLAs in the Assembly, is led by Janet Keeping, who is nominated to run in Calgary-Foothills.

The Liberal and NDP have had women lead them in past elections – Pam Barrett led the NDP during the 1997 election and Nancy MacBeth led the Liberals in 2001 – and former Edmonton school trustee Sue Huff led the Alberta Party until 2011. Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Bettie Hewes became the first woman to lead a major political party when she served as interim leader of the Official Opposition in 1994.

There are currently 22 women MLAs serving in the Alberta Legislature (25%), down from a high-mark of 23 women MLAs (27%) in 1998. This number decreased upon Ms. Redford’s resignation in 2014, the percentage was still lower than 1998 because the total number of MLAs increased from 83 to 87 in 2012.

Only four of the twenty members of Jim Prentice‘s current cabinet are women.

The longest serving woman in the Assembly is Lesser Slave Lake PC MLA Pearl Calahasen, who was first elected in 1989 and has been acclaimed as her party’s candidate in the next election. First elected in 1997, Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is the longest serving opposition MLA.

With the next election expected to be called in the next few weeks, Alberta’s political parties are still in the process of nominating candidates. Here is a look at how many women have been nominated so far by the five main parties.

The NDP, with a commitment to nominate a high percentage of women candidates, has so far chosen the most women candidates of the political parties contesting the 2015 election. By my count, the NDP has chosen 18 women out of 41 candidates (43%) already nominated or acclaimed. This is slightly less than the full NDP slate from the 2012 election, when that party nominated 40 women out of 87 candidates (45%).

The Progressive Conservatives have chosen 13 women out of the 58 candidates nominated to run in the next election (22%) as of today. In the last election, the PCs nominated 22 women in their slate of 87 candidates (25%), which was up slightly from 17 out of 83 candidates in the 2008 election (20%).

The Wildrose Party has nominated 33 candidates, 5 who are women (15%). In the last election, led by Ms. Smith, the Wildrose Party nominated 11 women in a slate of 87 candidates (12%).

The Liberal Party, with 12 candidates currently nominated, has nominated 2 women (16%). The Liberals saw a decrease of women candidates nominated in the 2012 election, down to 18 of 87 (20%) from 22 of 83 in 2008 (26%).

Five of the 17 candidates currently nominated by the Alberta Party are women (29%).

Number of women candidates by party

2015 election nominated/acclaimed (as of March 8, 2015)
NDP: 18 of 41 – 43%
Alberta Party: 5 of 17 – 29%
PC: 13 of 58 – 22%
Liberal: 2 of 12 – 16%
Wildrose: 5 of 33 – 15%

2012 election
NDP: 40 out of 87 – 45%
Alberta Party: 6 out of 21 – 28%
PC: 22 out of 87 – 25%
Liberal: 18 out of 87 – 20%
Wildrose: 11 out of 87 – 12%

2008 election
NDP: 38 out of 83 – 45%
Liberal: 22 out of 82 – 26%
PC: 17 out of 83 – 20%
Wildrose: 6 out of 61 – 9%

Monday morning candidate nomination updates in Alberta

Super-Saturday-PC-Nomination-Election-AlbertaThe Progressive Conservatives held their first “Super Saturday” on Feb. 21, 2015, during which contested nominations were held in seven constituencies. The handful of contested PC nominations have been overshadowed by the nearly forty acclamations by incumbent PC MLAs across the province.

The Liberal Party, still without a permanent leader after Raj Sherman‘s abrupt resignation in Jan. 2015, has opened candidate nominations in all 87 constituencies and have made notice on their website that all Liberal nominations must be complete by March 1, 2015. If the Liberals are actually able to nominate candidates in all 87 constituencies in the next seven days, it will be a busy week on this blog.

Here are the latest updates to the growing list of nomination candidates preparing to run in the expected Spring 2015 Alberta Election:

Craig Copeland Bonnyville Cold Lake MLA PC

Craig Copeland

Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland defeated former Wildrose nomination candidate Dixie Dahlstedt in the PC nomination. Some local party members complained about the lack of multiple voting locations in the rural constituency and the police were called to the voting station after an allegedly intoxicated man caused a disturbance. A Municipal District of Bonnyville councillor told the Cold Lake Sun that alleged he was the man removed by the RCMP and he was not intoxicated. Current PC MLA Genia Leskiw is not seeking re-election.

Calgary-Buffalo: Lawyer David Khan will seek the Liberal nomination in this downtown Calgary constituency. Buffalo is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Centre, and has elected Liberals in six of the eight elections held since 1986. Mr. Khan was his party’s candidate in the 2014 Calgary-West by-election where he earned 8.5% of the vote.

David Khan Liberal Calgary Buffalo Candidate

David Khan

Calgary-Bow: David Gamble is seeking the Liberal nomination. According to his Facebook Page, Mr. Gamble is the President and CEO of Dandly Writing and Communications.

Calgary-Cross: Seven candidates are seeking the PC nomination in this northeast Calgary constituency – Dan Singh SidhuMohamed El-Rafih, Jesse Minhas, Manjit Jaswal, Hardeep Rai, Hirde Paul, and Bill Kahlon. The constituency has been represented by PC MLA Yvonne Fritz since 1993. She is not seeking re-election.

Calgary-Currie: Pat Murray is seeking the Liberal nomination. Mr. Murray was the Liberal Party candidate in Calary-Currie in the 2001 election and Calgary-North Hill in 2004 and 2008 elections. He also ran as a federal PC candidate in Calgary-Nose Hill in the 1997 federal election.

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Calgary-Fish CreekRichard Gotfried defeated Myles McDougall to become the PC candidate. The constituency is currently represented by Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth, who is not seeking re-election.

Calgary-Foothills: Electrical engineer Ali Bin Zahid is seeking the Liberal nomination to run against Premier Jim Prentice in the next election.

Calgary-Glenmore: David Waddington is the nominated Liberal Party candidate.

Calgary-Hawkwood: Beth Barberee has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.

Calgary-McCall: Realtor Avinash Khangura is seeking the Liberal nomination. The constituency is currently represented by Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is now the federal Liberal candidate in the Calgary-Skyview constituency.

Stephanie McLean NDP Calgary Varsity

Stephanie McLean

Calgary-Mountain View: Former MLA Mark Hlady defeated Mr. Prentice’s former Chief of Staff Jean-Sebastien Rioux and Lynn Moen in the PC nomination. Mr. Hlady was the MLA from 1993 until 2004, when he was unseated by the current Liberal MLA, David Swann.

Calgary-North West: First-term PC MLA and former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen defeated past city council candidate Blair Houston in the PC nomination.

Calgary-Varsity: Stephanie McLean was nominated as the NDP candidate in this northwest Calgary constituency. Ms. McLean was the NDP candidate in the recent Calgary-Elbow by-election and is also her party’s federally nominated candidate in Calgary-Confederation. Paramedic Pete Helfrich is the nominated Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Helfrich ran for the Liberals in Banff-Cochrane in the 2012 election.

Jamie Lall PC Chestermere Rocky View

Jamie Lall

Chestermere-Rockyview: Jamie Lall is challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Bruce McAllister for the PC nomination. Mr. Lall was his party’s 2012 candidate in the Calgary-Buffalo constituency.

Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview: First-term NDP MLA Deron Bilous has been acclaimed as his party’s candidate in the next election.

Edmonton-Calder: Ministerial Chief of Staff Tom Bradley has been acclaimed as the PC candidate in this northeast Edmonton constituency current represented by NDP MLA David Eggen. Mr. Bradley is currently the Chief of Staff to Infrastructure Minister Manmeet Bhullar and also served as Base Commander for CFB Edmonton from 2009 to 2011 and Chief of Operations for Task Force Kandahar in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008.

Chris Labossiere Edmonton Rutherford PC MLA

Chris Labossiere

Edmonton-MeadowlarkSteve Benson is challenging former Globe & Mail reporter Katherine O’Neill for the PC nomination. Former Catholic School District Trustee Debbie Cavaliere is said to been collecting signatures to contest the Liberal nomination. In 2008, Ms. Cavaliere challenged Raj Sherman in the Meadowlark PC nomination contest before withdrawing, switching parties and unsuccessfully running against him in that year’s election as the Liberal candidate. Dr. Sherman, who joined the Liberals in 2011 after becoming leader, is not seeking re-election.

Edmonton-Rutherford: Businessman and Edmonton enthusiast Chris Labossiere will face management consultant Grant Mann for the PC nomination. Mr. Labossiere has earned the endorsements of City Councillor Michael Walters, public school trustee Michael Janz, former Premier Dave Hancock, Edmonton Economic Development Corp. CEO Brad Ferguson and Poppy Barley CEO Kendall Barber, among others.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

Edmonton-Strathcona: NDP leader Rachel Notley has been acclaimed as her party’s candidate in the next election. Former NDP MP Olivia Chow is scheduled to speak at Ms. Notley’s nomination meeting on March 1, 2015.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Tracy McKinnon, chairperson of the Fort McMurray Catholic School District, is challenging first-term PC MLA Mike Allen for that party’s nomination. Mr. Allen achieved national notoriety in 2013 when he was charged in a prostitution sting while on government-funded trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He pleaded guilty to the charge in December 2013 and paid a $500 fine and court costs. Following the incident, he sat as an Independent MLA until July 2014, when PC MLAs voted to allow him to rejoin the Government Caucus.

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

Highwood: Wildrose leader-turned-PC MLA Danielle Smith will face Okotoks town councillor Carrie Fischer in the PC nomination contest. Joel Windsor is running for the Alberta Party.

Medicine Hat: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Blake Pedersen defeated former city councillor John Hamill and realtor Jeff Lanigan. Mr. Pedersen faced harsh criticism form his opponents in a recent nomination debate. “I will die on my sword before I cross the floor… people who cross the floor have no honour,” Mr. Hamill said of Mr. Pedersen.

Dustin Nau and local radio personality Val Olson are running for Wildrose nomination in Medicine Hat. Mr. Nau was his party’s 2012 election candidate in Calgary-Foothills.

Peace River: Debbie Jabbour is seeking the NDP nomination.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Tammy Cote defeated former Lacombe County Reeve Terry Engan in the PC nomination contest. Ms. Cote is the grand-niece of former PC MLA and lieutenant-governor Helen Hunley.

Spruce Grove-St. Albert: Rus Matichuk defeated former St. Albert city councillor Neil Kortash and government spokesperson Kathleen Range to become the PC candidate. The constituency was formerly represented by former Finance Minister Doug Horner, who resigned as MLA on Jan. 31, 2015.

Seven more PC MLAs have been acclaimed, bringing the total number of acclaimed PC candidates to 39: Moe Amery in Calgary-East, Dave Rodney in Calgary-Lougheed, David Dorward in Edmonton-Gold Bar, Steve Young in Edmonton-Riverview, Jacquie Fenske in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Greg Weadick in Lethbridge-West and Richard Starke in Vermilion-Lloydminster.


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.

When is Alberta Election 2015? What We Know versus Speculation

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

What we know:

The last provincial General Election was held 2 years, 9 months and 3 days ago on April 23, 2012.

The Election Amendment Act introduced by Wetaskiwin-Camrose Progressive Conservative MLA Verlyn Olson and passed on December 6, 2011 legislated that a General Election would be held between March 1 and May 31, 2012, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, 2016.

In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Election Amendment Act also stated that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever he is asked to do so by Premier Jim Prentice. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.

Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.”

March 10 is when the Legislative Assembly is scheduled to reconvene for the spring sitting according to the sessional calendarMarch 15 is the PC Party deadline to have candidates nominated in all 87 constituencies. “…by the end of March” is when Justice Minister Jonathan Denis announced the 2015-2016 provincial budget would be tabled in the Assembly. The last four provincial budgets have been tabled on Thursdays. If this trend continues, the budget would be tabled on March 19 or 26, 2015. From March 30 to April 12 the Assembly pauses and MLAs return home for a “constituency break.” May 18 is Victoria Day, a statutory holiday.

Speculation:

The nomination of PC candidates in all 87 constituencies by March 15 suggests the governing PC Party is preparing for an election this spring. Elections Alberta financial disclosure reports show the PC Party raised more than $1.3 million in the final quarter of 2014, meaning the the party has a substantial more funds available than any of the opposition parties.

On January 16, 2015, the Calgary Herald reported that Mr. Prentice said he intends to seek “a clear mandate from the people” to deal with the provincial government’s revenue shortfall. It is hard to speculate this means anything but calling a spring election with the budget as the defacto PC Party platform.

In his media statement on January 15, Mr. Denis said that the “government will present a spring legislative agenda,” which would suggest the Assembly would be required the Assembly to sit for at least two or three weeks to pass new laws before dissolving for an election. Bill 10, the controversial Gay-Straight Alliance law, is the only piece of government legislation remaining from the fall session.

A big question is how soon the PCs will wait after tabling the budget to call an election. In 1997 and 2008, the PCs called an election soon after tabling the budget in the Assembly and used the provincial budget as a defacto campaign platform.

The constituency break from March 30 to April 12 would allow PC MLAs and cabinet ministers to travel the province on government business to test reaction to the budget. The extra few weeks would also allow PC candidates to get organized and allow cabinet ministers to join them at events in their constituencies.

An spring election would also take place before the Official Opposition Wildrose Party is able to choose their new leader. The Wildrose Party has scheduled their leadership vote for June 6, 2015. This means that the Official Opposition Party may not have a permanent leader during the next election (interim leader Heather Forsyth is retiring from politics).

If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 19, the election would be held on Thursday, April 16. If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 26, the election would be held on Thursday, April 23. And if the election is called after MLAs return from their “constituency week,” on Monday, April 13, then an election would be held on Monday, May 11.

But until we know for sure, it is all speculation.

Goodbye 4H Club – Horne, Horner, Hughes and Hancock now gone

4H Club Fred Horne Doug Horner Ken Hughes Dave Hancock

The ‘4H Club,’ Fred Horne, Doug Horner, Ken Hughes and Dave Hancock, as coined by blogger David Climenhaga.

The announcements this week by former Finance Minister Doug Horner and former Health Minister Fred Horne that they are leaving politics did not come as a surprise to anyone watching politics in Alberta.

Once powerful ministers in Premier Alison Redford’s cabinets, the two men were pushed into the backbenches when Jim Prentice ascended to the Premier’s Office in September 2014. They were also two members of the unofficial 4H Club who, along with former ministers Dave Hancock and Ken Hughes, epitomized the last generation of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party elite.

The scion of a genuine political family dynasty,  Mr. Horner is the son of former deputy premier Hugh Horner and grandson of Senator Ralph Horner. He was first elected in 2001 and quickly rose in the cabinets of Premier Ed Stelmach and Ms. Redford.

When he ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2011, many believed Mr. Horner to be the most competent choice for the job. But his close association with Mr. Stelmach made him an unpalatable choice. On the second ballot of the vote, of his supporters marked Ms. Redford as their second choice, leading to her victory over front-runner Gary Mar on the final ballot. His appointment as Finance Minister followed shortly after.

Their endorsements of Mr. Prentice’s bid were not enough to keep them in cabinet. After two years of arrogant, entitled and scandal-ridden Tory Government, their removal from cabinet was seen as necessary to distance the new premier from his unpopular predecessor.

The two departures follow the resignations of Mr. Hancock and Mr. Hughes in September 2014, which triggered by-elections in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-West.


Eight MLAs have now announced their plans to not seek re-election in the expected Spring 2015 election:

– Airdrie PC MLA Rob Anderson
– Calgary-Fish Creek Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth
– Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr
– Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne
– Spruce Grove-St. Albert PC MLA Doug Horner
– Calgary-McCall Liberal MLA Darshan Kang
– Bonnyville-Cold Lake PC MLA Genia Leskiw
– Lethbridge-East PC MLA Bridget Pastoor

 

 

Who will be the next leader of the Wildrose Party?

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

After 11 of the party’s 16 MLAs crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in November and December 2014, the conservative opposition Wildrose Party was thrown into chaos. Left without its most public faces, notably former leader Danielle Smith, the party will choose its next permanent leader sometime in the next year, likely between the months of March and September.

Soon-to-be-retired Member of Parliament Rob Anders said he will not run and Conservative Godfather Preston Manning would likely not be welcomed to join after he admitted to accidentally convincing the MLAs to abandon their party.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has been named as a natural choice for the leadership spot. Unknown to most Albertans, Mr. Barnes is the lone remaining Wildrose MLA, other than interim leader Heather Forsyth, to step into the spotlight in the weeks following the floor crossing. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw has also been mentioned as a potential leadership candidate.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

It is unclear whether the other remaining MLAs – Rick Strankman and Pat Stier – are interested in contesting the leadership.

Lawyer Richard Jones, the party’s nominated candidate in Calgary-Acadia, has been mentioned as a potential candidate, as has former lobby group spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt.

If the Wildrose Party waits too long to select a new leader, they could find themselves facing a provincial election without a permanent leader. On January 10, 2015, the PC Party Executive Board will meet and it is suspected they will discuss whether to keep the June 1st nomination timeline or whether to advance it in preparation for a Spring 2015 election.

Crossing the floor a last minute decision
Bruce McAllister MLA Wildrose PC

Bruce McAllister

The abruptness of the floor crossings shocked party supporters, political watchers and even some of the MLAs who crossed the floor.

“I too was shocked,” Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Bruce McAllister told the Rocky View Weekly. Mr. McAllister told the newspaper that he did not consult with his constituency prior to crossing the floor because the window of opportunity was quickly closing.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox told The Chautauqua that he “made an extremely difficult decision to join the governing PC Party of Alberta … a decision that was reached after many hours of agonizing and soul searching.”

“I finally made my decision moments before it was due,” Mr. Fox said.

Blake Pedersen MLA Medicine Hat

Blake Pedersen

In another bizarre addition to the floor crossing story, it appears that Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen was on vacation in Australia when he crossed the floor to the PC Party. On the day of the floor crossings, Mr. Pedersen sent his statement to reporters in the form of a text message from Down Under.

Despite previously embracing a mantra that leaned heavily on “consulting constituents,” it does not appear any consultation actually occurred before the MLAs quit their party.

But as Maclean’s writer Colby Cosh suggests, Albertans angry with the floor crossings are likely to move on and forget the former Wildrose MLAs transgressions.

Another Wildrose candidate drops out

The nominated Wildrose candidate in Strathcona-Sherwood Park has announced he is dropping out of the raceBrian Tiessen was nominated in a contested race in October 2014 against County Councillor Vic Bidzinski. He is one of a handful of nominated Wildrose candidates to forfeit their candidacies following the mass floor crossing on Dec. 17, 2014.

In a neighbouring constituency, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk tweeted that she will remain the nominated Wildrose candidate in Sherwood Park. Ms. Osinchuk will face PC MLA Cathy Olesen, a former mayor who Ms. Osinchuk defeated in the 2010 municipal elections.

Top 10 moments in Alberta Politics in 2014

In my nearly ten years writing about politics in Alberta on this blog, 2014 was easily the most exciting. The sheer number of scandals, controversies, fumbles and resignations made for new content on a daily basis. If I had the time and resources, I could have easily written three or four posts a day for most of the year. As this year comes to an end, I took a look through this year’s posts and compiled a list of the top ten political moments in Alberta of 2014. Thank you for reading and enjoy the list.

Rob Anders Bow River Conservative MP

Rob Anders

10. Take a hike, Rob Anders
After 17 years as one of the most hyper-conservative politicians in Ottawa, Member of Parliament Rob Anders was finally shown the door by Conservative Party members. In April 2014, Mr. Anders lost a hotly contested Conservative Party nomination race in Calgary-Signal Hill to former Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Liepert. His second attempt at a nomination was in the rural riding of Bow River outside Calgary, where Mr. Anders was defeated by Brooks Mayor Martin Shields.

Merwan Saher

Merwan Saher

9. Auditor General on Climate Change
A July 2014 report from Auditor General Merwan Saher found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy, which was first implemented in 2008. The report uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy. Mr. Saher’s report found that the total emissions reductions from the CCS program was expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated. The Auditor General also reported that Alberta was unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

8. Gay-Straight Alliances debate
What if politicians could stop school kids from starting clubs? A motion supporting Gay-Straight Alliances introduced by Liberal Party MLA Kent Hehr was defeated in April 2014 and a private members’ bill introduced by Liberal Laurie Blakeman in November 2014 derailed the PC agenda for the fall sitting. The debate showed rifts in the PC and Wildrose caucus and Jim Prentice’s ill conceived Bill 10 in response to Ms. Blakeman’s Bill 202 led to his first big fumble as Premier.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

7. Dave Hancock appointed Premier
Long-time PC cabinet minister Dave Hancock was appointed Premier and interim leader of the PC Party following the resignation of Alison Redford in March 2014. A self-described policy-wonk, Mr. Hancock may have flourished under more agreeable circumstances, but most of his short time as premier was focused on undoing the damage inflicted by his predecessor. During his six months in office, Mr. Hancock’s government oversaw major collective agreement settlements with the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and invited the R.C.M.P. to investigate Ms. Redford’s travel habits. A surprising amount of his time in office was overshadowed by a silly and politically motivated plan to remove the “Wild Rose Country” slogan from Alberta’s license plate.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

6. Ready for Rachel
After ten years as leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party, Edmonton MLA Brian Mason announced he would step down from the party’s top job. A leadership race ensued and MLA Rachel Notley won a decisive victory over fellow MLA David Eggen and labour activist Rod Loyola. Expectations are high for the new NDP leader, as polls show her party’s support has surged in Edmonton in recent months.

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta

Kyle Harrietha

5. Liberal near win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca
What should have been a sleepy federal by-election in the heart of Alberta’s Oil Belt turned into a race when Liberal Kyle Harrietha challenged Conservative David Yurdiga for the June 30, 2014 vote to replace retiring MP Brian Jean. Running an energetic campaign, Mr. Harrietha increased his party’s support from 10% in 2011 to 35.3%, placing less than 1,500 votes behind Mr. Yurdiga. The Liberal also defeated his Tory challenger in Fort McMurray, no small feat in the land of the oil sands. The two candidates will face off once again in the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding when the next federal election is held in 2015.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

4. The October mini-election
Four by-elections on October 27, 2014 provided Albertans with a mini-election less than two months after Mr. Prentice became premier. Triggered by the resignations of former premiers Ms. Redford and Mr. Hancock and PC MLAs Ken Hughes and Len Webber, the votes allowed Mr. Prentice to win a seat in the Assembly along with PC candidates Stephen Mandel, Gordon Dirks and Mike Ellis. The opposition Wildrose had hoped to win at least two of the by-elections, but were upstaged by the NDP in Edmonton-Whitemud and an insurgent Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

3. Jim Prentice becomes Premier
After a first-ballot victory in a lack-lustre and uninspiring leadership contest, Jim Prentice started his time in office with a bang. After being sworn-in, Mr. Prentice implemented a swift de-Redfordization agenda, with daily announcements undoing some of his predecessors more unpopular policies and decisions. Purging Redford era cabinet ministers, selling the government’s fleet of aircraft, keeping the Michener Centre open, backing down from controversial changes to public sector pension plans and cancelling the botched license plate redesign were all no-brainers, but they projected an image of the new premier as a competent chief executive in command. Arguably, Mr. Prentice’s only missteps in his first few months in office were his aborted Gay-Straight Alliances bill and the unease caused after he tactfully dismantled the Official Opposition (see #2 below). Despite his success in distancing himself from Ms. Redford, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same as hers.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA

Danielle Smith

2. Wildrose floor crossings
For four years, PCs told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. But in November and December 2014, Mr. Prentice’s PC Caucus accepted 11 Wildrose MLAs into their ranks, including Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. The caucus merger, which was either in negotiations for months or sparked by the Wildrose by-election loss (depending on which story you believe), was encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning (Mr. Manning later apologized for his role). The floor crossing gutted the Official Opposition, left with 5 MLAs and enraged Wildrose supporters, who started a “Recall Danielle” campaign in her Highwood constituency. Five-term Calgary MLA Heather Forsyth stepped in as interim leader until a permanent leader can be chosen in 2015.

Alison Redford Premier of Alberta resigns 1

Alison Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta on March 23, 2014.

1. The spectacular fall of Alison Redford
Mistakes were made” were some of the last public words Albertans heard from premier Alison Redford before she resigned as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in August 2014. Albertans have never seen a political career crash and burn this badly. A $45,000 flight to South Africa, use of the government plane to return from Palm Springs, alleged fake passenger bookings to ensure her and her staff had the planes to themselves, a secretly constructed private penthouse known as the Skypalace, and long trips to exotic destinations overseas are just some of the allegations of misuse of power she faced prior to her resignation. Months after her resignation, the Auditor General reported the existence of an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office.”

Alberta’s first woman premier started her time in office with great promise and many Albertans believed she signalled the beginning of a new, more progressive, era in our province. Ms. Redford quickly proved those believers wrong with deep funding cuts to colleges and universities and attacks on public sector workers and their collective bargaining rights.

In the end, plummeting fundraising returns, bad polling numbers, MLA defections, and a caucus and party on the verge of revolt forced Ms. Redford to step down as Premier of Alberta and Leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014.

Have I missed any of your top 10 moments in Alberta politics? Please share what made your list in the comment section.

A Dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015

12 Alberta MLAs to watch in 2015

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2015: Rob Anderson, Joe Anglin, Manmeet Bhullar, Laurie Blakeman, Robin Campbell, Gordon Dirks, Heather Forsyth, Kent Hehr, Thomas Lukaszuk, Stephen Mandel, Rachel Notley, Danielle Smith

As 2014 reminded us, politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choice of Premier Jim Prentice, here is a list of a dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015.

Rob Anderson Joe Anglin Manmeet Bhullar Laurie Blakeman MLA

Alberta MLAs Rob Anderson, Joe Anglin, Manmeet Bhullar and Laurie Blakeman

Rob Anderson (Airdrie): The outspoken rookie MLA left the PC Caucus in 2010 to join the upstart Wildrose Party. And in 2014, after two years as a loud and enthusiastic critic of the government, he was one of 9 Wildrose MLAs who crossed to the PC Caucus in December 2014. It is speculated that Mr. Anderson could end up with a cabinet post in early 2015, to the ire of his new caucus colleagues. He thrived in the limelight of the opposition benches but can he survive in the government benches?

Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre): Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus in November 2014 before his colleagues could vote him out. On his way out, he declared that “an internal civil war” was being waged inside the Wildrose Party. It was recently revealed that Mr. Anglin has been in discussions with the Liberals about forming a legislative coalition that could steal Official Opposition status away from the downsized Wildrose Caucus.

Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway): A rising star in the PC Party. Mr. Bhullar rose in the ranks under premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and became one of Mr. Prentice’s lieutenants during his party’s lacklustre 2014 PC leadership contest. In his current role as Infrastructure Minister, he has a big influence over which public projects get funding.

Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton-Centre): As the longest serving opposition MLA, Ms. Blakeman is a feisty voice in the Assembly. Her Bill 202 reignited the debate around student-led Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools and demonstrated how uncomfortable an issue gay rights remains for many PC MLAs. With the Liberal Party moribund under its current leadership, it is difficult to tell what her political future holds.

Robin Campbell Gordon Dirks Heather Forsyth Kent Hehr Alberta MLA

Alberta MLAs Robin Campbell, Gordon Dirks, Heather Forsyth and Kent Hehr.

Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead): As the price of oil declines, the soft-spoken Mr. Campbell finds himself in a situation where he must deal with his party’s poor long-term financial planning. Unfortunately, the PC Caucus is reluctant to entertain the idea of more stable funding sources like sales taxes, a progressive taxation system or an increase in natural resource royalties. Look to Mr. Campbell to provide a more diplomatic approach to public sector pension changes, an issue that hastened the demise of his predecessor, Doug Horner.

Gordon Dirks (Calgary-Elbow): Missing in Action during the contentious Gay-Straight Alliances debate, Mr. Dirks’ connections to socially conservative Christian evangelical groups is a liability for the PC Party among moderate and liberal voters. He brings experience from his time as a Saskatchewan cabinet minister and a Calgary school trustee, but his religious connections and the accusations about allegedly politically-driven school announcements make him a lightening rod for opposition criticism.

Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek): The interim leader of the Official Opposition is one of the longest serving MLAs in the Legislature. First elected as a PC MLA in 1993, Ms. Forsyth served in the cabinets of Ralph Klein before joining the Wildrose in 2010. Her big challenge is keep the Wildrose Remnant alive and relevant as her party chooses their next leader in early 2015.

Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo): This respected, hard-working MLA is aiming to become the first Liberal Member of Parliament in Calgary since the early 1970s. He is hoping to build on the support earned by Liberal Harvey Locke in the 2012 by-election. His departure from provincial politics will trigger a by-election that will test the popularity of the provincial Liberals in Alberta’s largest city.

Thomas Lukaszuk Stephen Mandel Rachel Notley Danielle Smith Alberta MLA

Alberta MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Stephen Mandel, Rachel Notley and Danielle Smith.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs): Cast to the backbenches after Mr. Prentice became premier, Mr. Lukaszuk has not gone quietly. His connection to deep funding cuts to universities and colleges earned him many political enemies, including then-mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel. Mr. Lukaszuk turned on Ms. Redford when her star was falling and ran in PC leadership contest as an outsider. He has been outspoken from his spot in the backbenches, leading some political watchers to believe he could be the next Ken Kowalski.

Stephen Mandel (Edmonton-Whitemud): After nine years as Edmonton’s mayor, Mr. Mandel declared he was done with politics in 2013. One year later, he found himself riding to the rescue of Alberta’s 43 year old Progressive Conservative dynasty. As Mr. Prentice’s capital city commodore, Mr. Mandel is responsible for the most politically dangerous government department, Health. He has promised to increase local decision making in health care and is faced with a growing list of aging hospitals and health care centres that have faced decades of neglect by the provincial government.

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Expectations are high that Ms. Notley will lead Alberta’s New Democratic Party to greatness. The second generation leader of Alberta’s social democratic party is smart, witty and well-positioned to boost her party’s standings in the opposition benches. Her challenge will be to present a viable alternative to the governing PCs while expanding her party’s support outside its traditional enclaves in Edmonton.

Danielle Smith (Highwood): After two years as the leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition, Ms. Smith shocked Albertans in December 2014 when she quit her job and join the Government. It is widely suspected that Ms. Smith will be appointed to cabinet in early 2015, possibly as Deputy Premier. She is a skilled politician but will continue to face heavy criticism in 2015 from her former colleagues for her betrayal.

(Last year’s post, A Dozen Alberta MLAs to Watch in 2014, was inspired by A dozen federal MPs worth watching in 2014, published by the Canadian Press)

Could the Wildrose collapse mean an early 2015 election?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her new boss, PC Party Premier Jim Prentice.

This week’s defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the Progressive Conservative Caucus has drastically impacted Alberta’s electoral map. The governing PCs now hold 72 of 87 electoral constituencies with the remaining opposition consisting of 5 Wildrose MLAs, 5 Liberal MLAs, 4 New Democrats and 1 Independent MLA.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

The mass-floor crossing, encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning, could increase the likelihood of an early 2015 general election. Now with 72 MLAs, the PCs are in a position to quickly nominate candidates across the province and take advantage of an opposition in disarray by calling a snap election early in the new year.

With Premier Jim Prentice increasingly warning of Alberta’s tough economic times, it is not far fetched to believe the PCs could seek a new mandate earlier than the 2016 fixed-election period. There is suspicion that Mr. Prentice wants to take advantage of the low price of oil in order to impose budget cuts before the price exits the “price trough” and begins to rise.

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

NDP MLA Brian Mason and blogger David Climenhaga suggest a snap election could be called in early January 2015, but it could be more likely the Tories would wait until February or March.

In their 43 years in government, it has been common for the PCs to table a provincial budget in February or March and then immediately drop the Writ of election in order to use the budget as their de-facto campaign platform. This timeline would also allow for an early 2015 cabinet shuffle to make room for floor-crossers Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, and allow the Tories time to build their message around a “tough economic times” budget/campaign platform.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

An early election would also allow Mr. Prentice to attract new candidates and force PC MLA’s too closely associated with former premier Alison Redford into early retirement (ie: Doug Horner, Fred Horne, Sandra JansenDoug Griffiths).

Mr. Prentice may also want to hold an election before more information is released by the R.C.M.P. regarding their investigation into Ms. Redford and her staff. The CBC reported on November 4, 2014 that a Justice Department internal review concluded Ms. Redford could face criminal charges if allegations about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The possibility of an early election should be a wake-up call for Alberta’s fractious non-conservative opposition parties, who are mostly contained within Alberta’s two largest cities. The lack of conservative vote split that the New Democrats, Liberals and Alberta Party had hoped to capitalize on may have vanished the moment Ms. Smith crossed the floor.

One potential speed bump to an early election could be dissent within the PC Caucus to the Wildrose MLA floor-crossing. I am told that more than a few PC MLAs are not pleased with their new colleagues of convenience, who have spent the past two years attacking and embarrassing them as the opposition. If Mr. Prentice suspects this internal dissent is potentially explosive, he may decide to hold off an election until tensions inside the PC Caucus cool down.

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

It is yet to be seen if the hostility to the PC-Wildrose Caucus merger – including the RecallDanielle campaign – will die down or whether it will manifest itself into a real backlash at the polls. This could have a big impact on whether an early election is held. The defection has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Albertans, but the political maneuver removes the most likely alternative that voters had to send a message to the Tories.

Despite having the luxury of a government-in-waiting for the past two years, it appears that the PC Party are once again are on a trajectory to form another massive majority and extend the their 43-year reign.

Wildrose candidates?
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Before the mass floor-crossing, Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party had nominated candidates in 28 constituencies. Following the leader-led defection, the number of nominated Wildrose candidates has dropped to 18.

Many of the party’s now-former MLAs were already nominated to run under the Wildrose banner in the next election. Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and Rick Strankman have been nominated to run in the next election.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, a former five-term PC MLA who crossed the floor to the Wildrose in 2010, has announced she will not seek re-election.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

And Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw‘s intentions remain unknown. It is suspected that Mr. Saskiw was waiting until after the Lakeland federal Conservative nomination to make a decision about staying in the Wildrose Caucus. His wife, past Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs, won the nomination late last week.

It is also likely that some of the already nominated Wildrose candidates will re-think their decision to run under that party’s banner in the next election. I am told that Edmonton Catholic School District Trustee Laura Thibert dropped out as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods earlier this month.

Jeff Wilson MLA Calgary-Shaw

Jeff Wilson

In Wetaskiwin-Camrose, nominated Wildrose candidate Gordon Hatch has dropped out of the race and endorsed incumbent PC MLA Verlyn Olson. And in Grande Prairie-Smoky, Wildrose nomination candidate Greg Tymchyna has dropped out in response of the ‘Wildrose-PC merger.’

But in Edmonton-McClung, Steve Thompson announced on his Facebook page that he would remain the Wildrose candidate and will challenge PC MLA David Xiao in the next election.

The NDP have nominated 10 candidates, not including their four MLAs and the Liberals have not yet started their candidate nomination process. Two Liberal MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, are leaving provincial politics to run as federal Liberal candidates in next year’s federal election.

Of the floor-crossers, none have publicly declared their plans to run for re-election as PC candidates, but many will try. And despite Mr. Prentice’s promised pledge of endorsement for their candidacies, the new PC MLAs could still face nomination challenges from their former opponents on the constituency level.

In Calgary-Shaw, arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler has already announced plans to seek the PC nomination, challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson.

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.

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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.