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Alberta Politics

NDP ride high as UCP fundraising plummets in second quarter of 2020

The opposition New Democratic Party has out-fundraised the United Conservative Party for the first time since 2017, according to political party financial disclosures released by Elections Alberta.

The NDP raised $1,032,796.85 between April and June 2020, almost twice as much as the governing UCP, which raised $642,677 in the second quarter of 2020.

This is almost the opposite of the first quarter of 2020, in which the UCP raised $1.2 million and the NDP trailed with $582,130.

The UCP raised $7.37 million in 2019 but has has been feeling financial strain after the conservative party racked up a $2.3 million deficit and was forced to apply for the federal wage subsidy program in order to keep its staff on payroll. The party also saw significant turnover in its staff leadership as it hired its third executive director in three years when Dustin van Vugt was hired to replaced Brad Tennant, who left earlier this year to join Nick Koolsbergen’s lobbyist company.

Alberta’s political parties largely stopped in-person fundraising events since the COVID-19 pandemic began but they all continued with their traditional aggressive email and social media appeals.

The NDP held a number of Zoom fundraisers featuring musical acts and guest speakers during the pandemic but it is the actions of the UCP that likely helped boost the NDP’s cash flow.

While the UCP would still likely be re-elected if an election were held tomorrow, public opinion polls show that Albertans do not approve of the government’s handling of health care, education and post-secondary education issues.

I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly look through the list of individual donors, but I would not be surprised if the very public fight between Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the Alberta Medical Association means there are less doctors showing up on the UCP’s list in this quarter.

The size of the donations received by the parties is also worth noting. More than half of the donations to the NDP were in amounts of $250 or less, while almost two-thirds of donations to the UCP were in denominations over $250.

One of the big successes of the UCP’s predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, was its ability to cultivate a large base of small donors, something that the UCP appears to have trended away from (the UCP received nearly 90 individual donations of $4,000 in the first quarter of 2020).

I am told that the NDP raised around $10,000 in small donations during an impromptu social media campaign encouraging supporters to donate to the NDP to celebrate Premier Jason Kenney‘s birthday on May 30.

While the UCP will likely recover their fundraising advantage or at least become more competitive with the NDP in future quarters, it does show that Kenney’s party faces some significant internal financial problems. And for the NDP, it shows that despite losing last year’s election the party under Rachel Notley‘s leadership has continued to maintain a strong base of donors during its first year as official opposition, and, presumably, as government-in-waiting.

Here is what the political parties raised during the second quarter of 2020:

The Pro-Life Alberta Political Association and Reform Party of Alberta reported no donations during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4,000 as of January 1, 2020.

Parties move to virtual conventions

The UCP and the Alberta Party have both announced plans to forgo their annual in-person conventions, opting to hold the meetings online this year.

The UCP’s virtual AGM will be held on October 16, 17 and 24 and will feature policy debates, board and executive elections and the traditional MLA bear-pit session.

The Alberta Party’s virtual annual general meeting is scheduled to be held on August 29 and will include board elections and likely discussion around the process to select a new leader.

Jacquie Fenske
Jacquie Fenske

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jacquie Fenske stepped up to become interim leader of the Alberta Party in February 2020, replacing former PC MLA Stephen Mandel who resigned after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election. Fenske previously served as MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2012 to 2015 and as a Councillor in Strathcona Country from 1995 to 1998 and 2004 to 2012.

Meanwhile, the UCP has scheduled its first major COVID-era in-person fundraiser on August 14, which will take the form of a horse race derby at a race track outside Lacombe.

Tickets to watch Kenney and UCP MLAs compete in a horse race, including a T-Rex race that will feature MLAs racing in “their t-rex dinosaur costumes,” start at $100 for the “MLA Cheer Team” and go as high as $3000 for the “Ralph Klein VIP Suite.”

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Alberta Politics

Paul Hinman is back, again, maybe! Former Wildrose leader to lead new Wildrose separatist party.

Alberta’s oldest newly rebranded separatist party has a new interim leader, maybe.

Paul Hinman leader of the Wildrose Independence Separatist Party
The tweet from the Wildrose Independence Party announcing Paul Hinman as its interim leader.

A now deleted tweet from the newly renamed Wildrose Independence Party announced that former Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman is the new interim leader of the party. Unless the party’s account was hacked, it would appear that Hinman is launching another attempt at a political comeback.

The press release included with the now deleted tweet said that Hinman would speak to his new role at this week’s Freedom Talk “Firewall Plus” conference, a pro-separatist event organized by former Wildrose candidate and right-wing online radio show host Danny Hozak that features speakers including former arch-Conservative MP Rob Anders, conservative lawyer John Carpay, Postmedia columnist John Robson, and federal Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan.

The newly renamed party is a merger of the separatist Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party, which since 1999 has been known at various times as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party, and the Western Freedom Party. The party’s most recent name was adopted when banished United Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt became leader shortly before the 2019 election.

The name change does not appear to have been approved by Elections Alberta, which still lists the party under its most recent previous name on its official website. But it was reported last week that former Wildrose activist and FCP candidate Rick Northey was the party’s new president. Former Social Credit leader James Albers is also on the party’s executive.

The oldest newest separatist party on Alberta’s right-wing fringe should not be confused with the also recently renamed Independence Party of Alberta (formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party and now led by past UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell), the Alberta Advantage Party (led by former Alberta Alliance Party president Marilyn Burns), and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance (led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise).

Edgar Hinman
Edgar Hinman

The United Independence Party name was also recently reserved with Elections Alberta, presumably by another former Wildrose candidate trying to start another new separatist party.

But back to the new interim leader of the new separatist Wildrose party…

The grandson of former Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman, Paul Hinman’s first foray into provincial electoral politics saw him elected in Cardston-Taber-Warner as the lone Alberta Alliance MLA in the 2004 election. Hinman inherited the leadership of the tiny right-wing party when Randy Thorsteinson (who had previously helped found the Alberta First Party) failed to win his election in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. He endorsed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton in 2006 and led the party through an eventual split and re-merger with a faction branding itself as the Wildrose Party – and thus the Wildrose Alliance was formed. 

Hinman lost his seat in the 2008 election in a rematch with former PC MLA Broyce Jacobs. He announced plans to step down as leader shortly afterward and then surprised political watchers when he won a 2009 by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore, pumping some momentum behind Danielle Smith when she won the party’s leadership race a few months later.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose
Danielle Smith with Wildrose MLA’s Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson in 2010.

In 2010, Hinman was joined by floor crossing PC MLAs Heather Forsyth, Guy Boutilier, and Rob Anderson (who four years later crossed the floor back to the PC Party and now hosts a Facebook video show where he promotes Alberta separatism), but, despite the party’s electoral breakthrough in 2012, Hinman was again unable to get re-elected.

Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman's side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.
Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman’s side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.

He endorsed Brian Jean for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 and announced his candidacy to seek the Wildrose nomination back in his old Cardston-Taber-Warner district in that year’s election but withdrew from the race a month later. Standing by Hinman’s side at this nomination launch was Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, now de facto leader of the UCP separatist caucus.

A year later he mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Conservative Party nomination in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner in 2016 but was defeated by now Member of Parliament Glen Motz.

More recently, Hinman launched a brief bid for the UCP leadership in 2017, announcing a campaign focused on parental rights and conscience rights, but when the Sept 2017 deadline to deposit the $57,500 candidate fee passed, he did not make the cut. Hinman later endorsed Jason Kenney‘s candidacy.

Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.
Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

Now he might be taking over the interim leadership of the fledgeling fringe separatist party at a time when public opinion polls show that Albertans’ appetite for leaving Canada is cooling as memory of the 2019 federal election fades. If historic trends hold, then the desire for separatism will drop if it looks like the next federal Conservative Party leader can form a government in Ottawa.

Separatism is ever-present on the fringes of Alberta politics and is more of a situational tendency than a real political movement with legs but a half-organized separatist party could syphon votes away from the UCP in the next provincial election.

And with next October’s Senate nominee election likely to be a showdown between candidates aligned with the federal Conservative Party led by whoever wins this summer’s leadership race and the federal Wexit Party led by former Conservative MP Jay Hill, expect the UCP to be paying a lot of attention to these fringe separatist groups sniping at its right-flank.

If he actually does become the leader of the oldest newest separatist party, Hinman will provide some profile and credibility in political circles where conservatives are perpetually disgruntled with New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and newly disgruntled with Premier Kenney, presumably for not pushing hard enough for Alberta’s separation from Canada.

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Alberta Politics

UCP raises $1.2 million in first quarter of 2020, UCP executive director joins Wellington Advocacy

The results of political party fundraising for the first four months of 2020 have been released by Elections Alberta.

The United Conservative Party started off 2020 with a strong fundraising result of $1.2 million in the first quarter. The party’s admission that it was feeling some financial strain following last year’s election, including a $2.3 million deficit, likely helped create a sense of urgency among its already vibrant donor base.

The New Democratic Party raised $582,130 in the first quarter of 2020, which is roughly half of what the party raised in the final quarter of 2019.

Here is what the political parties raised during the first four months of 2020:

The Communist Party, Freedom Conservative Party, Pro-Life Alberta Political Association, and Reform Party of Alberta reported no donations during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

UCP executive director joins lobbyist company

Brad Tennant UCP Alberta Wellington Advocacy
Brad Tennant (source: LinkedIn)

It appears as though the UCP will be searching for a new Executive Director. Brad Tennant recently left the position to become a vice-president with Wellington Advocacy, a government relations company co-founded by former UCP campaign manager and UCP caucus chief of staff Nick Koolsbergen shortly after the 2019 election.

Tennant replaced former UCP executive director Janice Harrington in May 2019. Harrington was later appointed as Alberta’s health advocate and mental health patient advocate by Health Minister Tyler Shandro in November 2019.

Political operations director Jeff Henwood is now acting executive director of the party.

Greens choose new leader

Jordan Wilkie was elected as leader of Alberta’s Green Party in an online vote on March 28, 2020. Wilkie earned 71.9 percent,  defeating his only challenger, Brian Deheer. Wilkie is a professional firefighter and holds a Masters degree in Disaster Emergency Management. He is the party’s sixth leader in three years and succeeds interim leader Will Carnegie, who stepped into the role following Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes resignation after the 2019 election.

Evelyn Tanaka, who ran in the 2019 federal election in Calgary-Sheperd, has been appointed deputy leader.

The Green Party nominated 32 candidates and earned 0.41 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.

News from Alberta’s separatist fringe

The tiny far-right Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party will be asking their membership to support a merger and rebrand as the Wildrose Independence Party, according to media reports. As the Wexit group is not a registered political party in Alberta, it is likely the arrangement would result in the FCP applying to Elections Alberta for a name change.

While the Chief Elections Officer has some legal discretion to approve political party names, the Wildrose moniker became available last year when the UCP amended the province’s election laws to allow the formal dissolution of both the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservative parties. Before the change, election laws in Alberta forbid the dissolution of political parties with outstanding debt, which the PC Party still held following the 2015 election.

This would mark the latest name change for the fringe separatist party, which was founded and known as the Alberta First Party from 1999 to 2004 and 2013 to 2018, the Separation Party of Alberta from 2004 to 2013, and the Western Freedom Party from April 2018 until it was renamed the Freedom Conservative Party in July 2018 when former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt became its leader.

The province’s other fringe separatist parties, the Independence Party of Alberta, the Alberta Advantage Party and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance, do not appear to have been invited to the merger.

The FCP nominated 24 candidates and earned 0.52 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.

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Alberta Politics

A look at political party fundraising in 2019 and the state of the parties in 2020

Political party fundraising totals from 2019 were released last month and show that Alberta’s two main provincial parties raised record amounts of money last year.

The United Conservative Party raised $7.37 million as the party continues to demonstrate its fundraising strength. The now official opposition New Democratic Party also raised an impressive $5.5 million.

The total amount of donations raised by the two main parties is significant, especially when you consider how much Alberta’s political parties were raising five years previous. In 2014, the formerly governing Progressive Conservative Party raised $3,387,585.83, and the then fourth place NDP marked a record fundraising year with $482,085.

Political Party Fundraising in Alberta from 2016 to 2019, following the ban on corporate and union donations. Click to enlarge.

Both the NDP and the UCP’s successor predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, spent years cultivating strong bases of individual donors, which meant they were well positioned when corporate and union donations were banned in 2015.

The disclosures suggest that despite losing the election, the NDP remained a financially viable political party in the second half of 2019. The annual fundraising totals for the NDP in 2020 will provide some evidence as to whether the now official opposition party can sustain its fundraising levels outside of government.

Likely to help the NDP’s fundraising efforts in 2020 is Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the party into the next provincial election.

Notley would become the first former Alberta premier to lead their party into an election after they lost government. With Alberta’s long history of political dynasties, there are only a few premiers who had led their parties to lose an election – Charles Stewart, Richard Reid, Harry Strom, and Jim Prentice all resigned following their party’s election defeats.

Not having led a dynastic party, and arguably remaining her party’s strongest asset, Notley is in a different position than some other former premiers. She remains personally popular, and some early polls would suggest her party could remain an electoral force if a vote were held today.

The NDP faces a number of significant challenges, one being its lack of organizational strength in much of rural Alberta and Calgary. The NDP elected 24 MLAs in 2019, but none from rural Alberta and the party lost considerable ground in Calgary, where it had a breakthrough in 2015.

A positive note for the provincial NDP is that attempts to connect Notley to the federal NDP, which has been demonized in Alberta for its opposition to oil pipeline projects, does not appear to have hurt its fundraising bottom line.

But while the lack of federal party presence in Alberta is a mixed blessing for the NDP, it is a strength of the UCP, which shares considerable resources with its federal cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada. The upcoming federal Conservative leadership campaign could also introduce an interesting dynamic into this relationship (more on this comings soon).

The Other Parties

Alberta’s smaller political parties raised considerably less that the big two parties in 2019, with the Alberta Party raising $317,470, the Liberal Party raising $130,519, the Green Party raising $27,999, and the Freedom Conservative Party raising $24,783.

The Alberta Party remains leaderless following Stephen Mandel’s resignation shortly after his defeat in the 2019 election. It is suspected that the party will open a leadership race in the spring, after the UCP government is expected to make significant amendments to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, including rules for leadership races.

Mandel and his predecessor Greg Clark have been appointed to positions by the UCP government. Mandel now serves on the board of directors of Alberta Health Services and Clark is now chair of the province’s balancing pool.

David Khan‘s leadership was “overwhelmingly endorsed” by delegates attending last year’s Liberal Party convention, despite 2019 marking the first time since before 1986 that the party failed to elect any MLAs to the Legislative Assembly.

Delegates to the convention heard from a party committee that was convened to offer recommendations for how the Liberals should move forward in Alberta. The report was not made public.

Green Party members will vote for a new leader on March 28, 2020, following the resignation of Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes in 2019. Brian Deheer and Jordan Wilkie have declared their candidacies. This will be the party’s third leadership race since 2017. 

The Green Party also announced plans to adopt a co-leader system in which two individuals will share leadership responsibilities. This is the first party in Alberta to use a system similar to Green parties in other countries and Quebec solidaire in Quebec.

Alberta’s separatist fringe gets fringier

And there continues to be a flurry of activity on the separatist fringe.

Former UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell has replaced former UCP nomination candidate Todd Beasley as President of the Independence Party of Alberta. The party currently does not have a leader.

Meanwhile, Kathy Flett, who is styled as the former interim leader of the Wexit Alberta separatist group, has joined the board of directors of the right-wing Freedom Conservative Party, which was founded in 1999 as the Alberta First Party and has at various times changed its name to the Separation Party of Alberta, the Western Freedom Party, and again to the Alberta First Party.

It could be that the Freedom Conservative Party is about to change its name once again, this time to the Wexit Alberta Party, or maybe the fringe separatists are continuing to fraction?

According to the Western Standard, a conservative website rebooted by former Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt after his defeat in the 2019 election, current federal Wexit leader Peter Downing claimed he fired Flett for attempting “to steal our trademark.”

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Alberta Politics

Alberta’s “Fair Deal” Panel hosts first Separatist Open Mic Night in Edmonton

Dozens of speakers stepped up to to the mic to share their two-minutes worth of opinions at the first “Fair Deal” Panel town hall meeting in Edmonton last night. The event in the large meeting room at the St. Michael’s Heritage Hall was well-attended, but not overflowing with crowds of angry Albertans demanding separation from Canada.

The panel was appointed last month to decide whether Alberta is receiving a fair deal from Ottawa.

Fair Deal Panel Edmonton Alberta Politics 1
Fair Deal Panelists: Oryssia Lennie, Preston Manning, Stephen Lougheed, Jason Goodstriker, Donna Kennedy-Glans, Drew Barnes, Moin Yahya, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao.

The first speaker up to the mic told the panel that he was a separatist from Quebec when he moved to Alberta in the 1980s and feels Alberta is not getting a fair deal from Ottawa. The second speaker used his two-minutes at the mic to boisterously declare that Canada was broken and that his personal Christmas wish was for Premier Jason Kenney to hold a referendum on separation.

A few speakers criticized the government for stirring up separatist sentiment, expressed hope that Alberta could collaborate with other provinces, and said they wouldn’t trust the United Conservative Party government to manage a provincial pension plan (a statement which got some enthusiastic cheers from sections of the room). But many of the speakers tended to share separatist, or at least anti-federal Liberal sentiments, venting frustrations about federal environmental laws, delivering detailed plot summaries of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and offering their expertise on constitutional issues.

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips
Chris Chang-Yen Phillips

In what was probably the most thoughtful two-minutes of the evening, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, Edmonton’s former historian laureate and host of the Let’s Find Out Podcast, urged the panel to focus less on what we believe we are owed and more on taking care of each other.

Chang-Yen Phillips went on to explain that a fair deal in Confederation for him would be where every province does its part to lower carbon emissions, or transition away from fossil fuels. His comments might fall on deaf ears on the panel but it was a refreshing break from the separatist rhetoric that dominated the evening.

Who stood up at the mic was also telling. While not all of the speakers were white men who appeared to be older than 60 years old, it certainly skewed toward that demographic from my view in the room.

The panel was created following the Liberal Party‘s victory in the October 21, 2019 federal election, despite the Conservative Party earning 70 percent of the vote in Alberta, and was prescribed nine policy proposals that would ostensibly make Alberta more autonomous from the federal government in Ottawa. The proposals, ranging from creating a provincial police force to withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan to barring municipal governments from making agreements with the federal government, are inspired by the Firewall Manifesto penned by a group of conservative luminaries in 2001.

Separatist Open Mic Night Edmonton Alberta
The panel hears from a speaker at the town hall

Politically, the panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent separatist sentiments while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s the plan.

The first town hall took place on the same day as the international credit rating agency Moody’s once again downgraded the provincial government’s credit rating.

During their time in opposition, the UCP was very eager to blame the credit downgrades on the New Democratic Party government’s “reckless” and “ideological” agenda, but it turns out that the credit rating downgrades have more to do with structural problems facing Alberta’s finances – like our unwavering over-dependence on oil and gas royalties to fund the day to day operations of the public service. That might have been a topic at a town hall interested in a fair deal for Albertans in Alberta, but this panel has a narrow political scope – and Kenney has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is square in its sights.

There are plenty of articulate arguments to be made in favour and against pursuing the nine autonomy policies presented by the panel but they weren’t heard last night. The two-minute open mic format is a good way to let people vent and a poor way to collect meaningful information. If this is the format that is going to be used for the rest of the panel’s town hall meetings, it is difficult to believe they will gather much substantial feedback for their report to the government.


Independence Party of Alberta fires its President

Overshadowed by the media-darling Wexit group, the Independence Party of Alberta appears to be in a bit of internal turmoil.

The IPA, which recently changed its name from the Alberta Independence Party to the Independence Party of Alberta, released a statement on Nov. 1, 2019 announcing that interim president S. Todd Beasley had been removed from the position and his membership had been rescinded. The party then released another statement accusing Beasley and a group of former candidates of breaking internal party rules and being in possession of books of party membership forms.

Beasley is a controversial conservative activist who was believed to be the frontrunner for the UCP nomination in Brooks-Medicine Hat before he withdrew from the contest after making derogatory remarks about Muslims.

The Alberta Independence Party fielded 63 candidates in the April 2019 provincial election and earned a total of 0.71 per cent of the province-wide vote. Party leader Dave Bjorkman resigned shortly after the election and Wexit leader Peter Downing had announced plans to seek the leadership but his supporters appear to be continuing to collect signatures to form a separate Wexit Party.

Meanwhile, another group of separatists led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise, appears to be continuing its effort to collect signatures to register the Alberta Freedom Alliance as an official party in Alberta.