Tag Archives: Jason Kenney

Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade.

No Thanks and So Long. Former PC MLA Rick Fraser leaves the UCP to sit as an Independent

Photo: Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade (Photo from Facebook). 

The recently formed United Conservative Party may be leading in the polls but the party is looking a lot less united. One of the party’s 28 MLAs, Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, announced on social media this morning that he was leaving the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Fraser, who was re-elected for a second term as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015, is the third politician to leave the ranks of the UCP since it was formed in July 2017. Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke declined to join the UCP and decided to continue sitting as a PC MLA in the Assembly shortly after he party was founded. Then, in August 2017, the party’s co-finance critic Derek Fildebrandt resigned from the caucus after an expenses controversy and a traffic-accident related court battle.

In his resignation letter, Fraser gave a number of reasons for his departure, ranging from social and economic issues to the party’s increasingly polarizing hyper-partisan tone. While the UCP does not yet have any official policies, or even a permanent leader, it is seems clear that Fraser is uncomfortable with the direction that the province’s largest conservative party is heading.

Social issues are the achilles heel for the UCP, just as they were for the party’s previous incarnation, the Wildrose Party.

The two main candidates for the leadership of the party,  Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, are openly appealing to the party’s social conservative and rural base of supporters and have been extremely reluctant to discuss any social issues. And as we saw in this week’s UCP leadership debate, only Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer was willing to come out in support of gay rights, taking Kenney to task for his silence.

Earlier this year, Wildrose MLAs were tying themselves in knots over student-organized Gay-Straight Alliances and whether school administrators should be required to inform parents if their children joined one of the anti-bullying clubs. The debate, which was triggered by comments Kenney made to the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary, was painful and acrimonious to watch.

And while the party’s interim governing board has issued a statement in support of LGBTQ rights, support for that position by some of UCP MLAs and party members is questionable.

The unanimous position among the UCP leadership candidates to repeal the carbon tax without proposing any alternatives to reform or replace it suggests that none of them see climate change as a serious issue.

Comments, tweets and Facebook posts promoting climate change denial and skepticism have been rampant among the former Wildrose MLAs in the UCP caucus. Earlier this year, Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes helped fund a film promoting climate science skepticism. And last year, Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman was  forced to apologize – twice – after penning an article comparing Alberta’s carbon tax to the Holodomor – the Ukrainian genocide of the 1930s.

An MLA’s first responsibility is to their constituents, and if Fraser does not feel he can effectively represent the people of Calgary-South East as a member of the UCP, he has every right to leave that caucus. He was elected under that banner of the Progressive Conservative Party and now that party is now essentially defunct.

Fraser writes in his letter that he will consult his constituents before making any future decisions, which means he might be open to joining another party sometime in the future. I am willing to bet that Greg Clark , leader of the upstart conservative-lite Alberta Party, is making some phone calls today.

United Conservative Party leadership candidates Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Tracking MLA endorsements in the UCP leadership race

Members of the United Conservative Party will be selecting the party’s first permanent leader on October 28, 2017. After of this week’s fee payment deadline, four candidates will be listed on the ballot: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Of the 28 UCP MLAs represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, nineteen have endorsed candidates in this leadership race (I am including Jean, the only sitting MLA in the contest, who has obviously endorsed himself). Here is a map showing which UCP MLAs have endorsed which leadership candidate as of September 14, 2017.Brian Jean: Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Rocky View), Wayne Anderson (Highwood), Dave Hanson (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills), Todd Loewen (Grande Prairie-Smoky), Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake), Angela Pitt (Airdrie), Ron Orr (Lacombe-Ponoka), Dave Schneider (Little Bow), Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), Glenn van Dijken (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock), Tany Yao (Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo)

Jason Kenney: Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays), Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre), Mark Smith (Drayton Valley-Devon), Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)

Doug Schweitzer: Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)

The big revenue problem facing Alberta that none of our politicians want to talk about

As the Alberta New Democratic Party passes the half way mark of their first four-year term in office and the United Conservative Party chooses its next leader, a big question that remains unanswered in Alberta politics today is how, in the long-term, the Alberta government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old Progressive Conservative government led by Ralph Klein used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but fiscally irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue that the PCs were depending on.

After their election in 2015, Rachel Notley‘s NDP took steps to diversify government revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes. Even after those increases, Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and those increases were nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

The positive news is that Alberta’s economy is recovering, but unless the international price of oil recovers, the government will remain in a deficit situation for the foreseeable future.

While I support Notley’s smart choice to continue investing in public services and capital infrastructure projects during the course of the economic recession, it is not clear that the NDP have a real plan to deal with Alberta’s revenue challenges in the long-term.

It is unlikely that the government will revisit Alberta’s comparatively low royalty rates anytime soon, and the NDP appear unwilling to start a discussion about introducing a provincial sales tax, at least until after the next election. A sales tax could help alleviate the government revenue problems and would be smart move for the province in the long-term.

It is an odd sight to read Finance Department documents that both lament a large budget deficit and boast about low taxes. The NDP inherited one big bad habit from the old PC government and have been unable to break from it.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede AlbertaBut if you think the candidates for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party are coming up with new, bright ideas for Alberta’s long-term future, think again. Political rhetoric about returning to the mythical “Alberta Advantage” and calls for drastic cuts to both government spending and revenue are mostly what Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer have proposed.

It is meat for the party base, but not exactly inspiring plans for Alberta’s future.

I get the impression that while they are playing from different sides of the political spectrum, both the NDP and the UCP’s prospective leaders are praying that oil prices recover enough to avoid having to raise taxes or slash the budget to shreds.

Alberta has a revenue problem. And the sooner someone is willing to “take the tax bull by the horns,” as my colleague David Climenhaga wrote, and begin planning for a more sustainable government revenue stream, the better off future generations of Albertans will be.


Schweitzer wants to lower the minimum wage

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

Doug Schweitzer says he would cut Alberta’s minimum wage from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour, because it is “right choice for Albertans whose livelihoods count on it the most.”

While he is likely referring to the livelihoods of business owners, it would be the wrong choice for the people impacted the most – the lowest wage working Albertans who would have their wages cut from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour.

It is safe to say that Schweitzer has earned much, much more than $12.20 per hour at his downtown Calgary job as a partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.

Alberta Politics Roundup: It rarely slows down, even in the summer

Photo: Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, and Little Bow MLA David Schneider. (credit: Brian Jean’s Facebook page)

It feels like politics rarely slow down in Alberta, even in the summer. Here is a quick look at some of what has been happening:

New UCP caucus has a spending problems

A day after the United Conservative Party lined up to criticize Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, it was revealed that the UCP caucus is facing a $337,000-deficit this year. The report triggered criticism of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (pictured in the photo above) from Bonnyville-Cold Lake UCP MLA Scott Cyr and party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer.

Cyr said Wildrose MLAs were stonewalled when they requested information about ballooning staff at the former official opposition caucus office.

Schweitzer said the new party will not be a credible voice for fiscal management if it cannot manage its own internal budget. Schweitzer has described Jean’s leadership platform as “big government” and is proposing deep cuts to the provincial budget if he becomes premier in 2019.

Bilous hosts town halls in Coal Communities

Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous will be spending much of the next week visiting communities impacted by the phase-out of coal fired power plants. Bilous will be hosting town hall meetings in Hanna on August 27 and 28, Forestburg on August 28 and 29, and Leduc, Warburg and Wabamun on August 31. Bilous admitted earlier this month that the New Democratic Party government needed to improve its communications with these communities (I wrote about this in Nov. 2016).

Kenney too busy to meet with kd lang

When Jason Kenney was asked why he was not attending any Calgary Pride Week events, he initially said it was because he did not get an invitation. When he received an invitation from Alberta-born internationally successful musician kd lang to meet in person to discuss LGBTQ issues, Kenney’s spokesperson said the UCP leadership candidate was too busy. It appears as though Kenney will go to far lengths not to do anything that would alienate the social conservative supporters he hopes will help make him leader of the UCP in October 2017.

Hehr on the move

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr is expected to be shuffled from his role as Minister of Veterans Affairs as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan is moved into the role. When Hehr was appointed to cabinet in 2015, he became the first Liberal cabinet minister from Calgary since the early 1970s. It is not yet known what his new role will be.

Kang expected to be booted from Liberal caucus

The Hill Times reports that Calgary MP Darshan Kang is expected to be removed from the Liberal Caucus this week “after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by a young staffer unearthed troubling findings.” Kang was elected as the MP for Calgary-Skyview in 2015 after serving two-terms as the Liberal MLA for Calgary-McCall.

Keller out of Sturgeon River-Parkland race

Gerry Keller, the former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, has decided not to enter the Conservative Party nomination to run in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election. Current candidates running for the nomination include local party organizer Jamie Mozeson, recently relocated BC-businessman Rick Peterson and political staffer Dane Lloyd.

 

Doug Schweitzer United Conservative Party

Rebel Media becomes a wedge issue in the United Conservative Party leadership race

This weekend’s violent march of Nazis and white supremacists through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia made international headlines and also had repercussions for the United Conservative Party leadership race in Alberta.

Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer who is trying to position himself as a social moderate in the contest, used this weekend’s dark events south of the border to call on Jason Kenney and Brian Jean to denounce Rebel Media. The fringe right-wing website is more of an opposition group than a media organization and is seen to be closely allied with “alt-right” organizers in Canada and the United States.

“Enough is enough. We have to be better than this in Canada. Stand up to them for a change. We all need to lead by example,” Schweitzer tweeted.

Founders of the website include Ezra Levant, who, along with Kenney was a member of the “snack pack” in the mid-1990s, and Hamish Marshall, who is Jean’s campaign manager and was campaign manager for Andrew Scheer‘s successful federal leadership bid.

Many Wildrose Party and federal Conservative politicians have supported Levant’s Rebel website on social media, through online interviews, and participation in rallies and events organized by Levant and his employees.

Schweitzer’s challenge to Jean and Kenney will undoubtedly result in nasty pushback from a legion of right-wing twitter users, which I am sure he is prepared to respond to. But drawing a line helps Schweitzer differentiate himself from the two major candidates in the race, who have both been seen to be sympathetic or supportive of Levant’s Rebel website, and signals what kind of conservatives might not be welcome in a United Conservative Party led by Doug Schweitzer.

Wildrose-PC merger a big deal, but not a silver bullet for 2019

Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.

For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.

There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.

A) If members from both parties vote to approve the agreement and amend their party constitutions, then a joint board of directors will be appointed to govern the business of the UCP and the two existing parties. The creation of a new party will need to be approved by Elections Alberta, which I expect will happen shortly after a successful vote.

An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.

A leadership race will be scheduled for October 28, 2017 and four candidates have already declared their candidacy or interest in running: Wildrose leader Brian Jean, PC Party leader Jason Kenney, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

B) If the vote fails, it is expected this would be because of opposition by Wildrose Party members. While I would be very surprised if the vote fails, it would not be the most outlandish event to occur in Alberta politics in the past decade. The Wildrose membership are known for being cantankerous and notoriously anti-establishment.

A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.

A Plan B could take the form of a non-compete agreement, where the two parties would not challenge each other in constituencies in the next election. This would be similar to what Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke proposed during the PC leadership race.

If technical issues hamper the vote and cause party members to question or challenge the validity of the results, it could damage the UCP before it is even officially formed.

What does this mean for the conservative movement in Alberta? 

With some prominent PC members jumping to the Alberta Party, a group of disgruntled Wildrose members threatening to start another new party and some conservatives even joining the NDP, Conservatives actually appear less united than they have been in years. While much of the Conservative establishment is backing the Wildrose-PC merger, there is a threat that it would lead to a further split into smaller conservative parties.

The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.

Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.

What does this mean for the NDP?

While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.

Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has stated that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.

What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?

Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.

Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.

Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet

Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.

And, as the past two elections have proven, Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.


I joined Brock Harrison and Shaye Ganam on July 21, 2017 to chat about Alberta politics and the July 22 vote on 630CHED. Here is the audio recording of our discussion.

Another Season of Stampede Politicking in Calgary

Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Politicians of all stripes descended on Alberta’s largest city this week for the annual Calgary Stampede festivities.

Though most of them have probably never ridden a horse or woke up at 5am (or earlier) to start their day on the farm, they were almost all brandishing big shiny belt buckles, wrangler-style shirts and cowboy hats of various sizes (and if they are lucky, they weren’t wearing them backwards).

Alberta’s NDP caucus held their annual summer caucus meeting in Calgary this week, which allowed most of the 54 NDP MLAs to scatter across the city to attend pancake breakfasts and BBQ lunches that could be found on almost every street corner this week.

The NDP had a particularly strong presence at Stampede events this year, signalling what many political watchers already believe – that Calgary will be a major battleground in the next provincial election. Calgarians elected fifteen NDP MLAs in the Orange Wave of 2015 but the party still remains organizationally weak in this city.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta

Brian Jean

Premier Rachel Notley and various cabinet ministers used the week in Calgary to make a series of funding announcements, including loosening restrictions on restaurant patios, construction industry tax credits, improvements to the Canada-Alberta Job Grant and business grants for Alberta’s food processing and booming craft beer industry.

Already campaigning for the leadership of the currently non-existent United Conservative Party, Brian Jean was spotted attending some events that a leader of the right-wing Wildrose Party would not expected to be seen at – such as the annual United Nurses of Alberta BBQ and LGBTQ events. This is likely an attempt to differentiate himself from his social conservative leadership rival Jason Kenney.

Kenney, who is earning a reputation as the potshot king of Alberta politics, offered to pay for Notley to take a course in economics this week. Notley, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Alberta and a Law Degree from Osgoode Hall, rightfully pointed out the arrogance of Kenney’s comments.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

Meanwhile, Alberta Together, a political action committee for the Alberta Party, attracted a sizeable group of disgruntled former PC Party members unhappy with Kenney’s leadership to an event this week in Calgary.

By the end of Sunday, most of the politicians visiting Calgary will have hung up their cowboy hats and packed away their boots and denim until next year. But while the Calgary Stampede may be the biggest political event of the season, it is only the beginning of what will be a summer full of political campaigns and maneuvering.

Wildrose MLA blames “hack job” for anti-Trudeau tweet

Speaking to a radio station in his Drumheller-Stettler constituency, Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman claimed the “electronic sphere” and a “hack job” were responsible for a tweet posted by his MLA twitter account last week accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being a “gutless puke.”

The tweet appeared to have been sent in response to Trudeau’s initial plans not to attend this year’s Stampede, which he later changed (Trudeau was attending the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany earlier this week).

The tweet, which was deleted moments after it was posted, was first reported on this blog last week.

Two weeks until decision day for Conservatives in Alberta

On July 6, 2016, Jason Kenney officially launched his campaign to capture the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives and lead them into a merger with the right-wing Wildrose Party. After 19-years as an Ottawa politician, Kenney was easily able to stage a hostile take-over the broken and battered former governing party.

One year later, Kenney is campaigning to convince PC and Wildrose members to approve the creation of a new party in a July 22 vote, while also campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be created United Conservative Party (whether Conservatives are actually more united now is a completely different question).

A vote of 50 percent plus one is needed from PC Party members to approve the deal, but a steeper 75 percent support vote is needed from Wildrose Party members to fulfill their end of the agreement.

As has been pointed out before, it is expected that many conservative activists will purchase memberships in both the PC and Wildrose parties in order to vote twice on July 22.

Some Wildrosers are nervous that the three-quarters support could be hard to achieve.

On most days it can be hard to get 75 percent of Wildrose members to agree what day of the week it is,” one former Wildrose Party member told me, referring to the raucous reputation and anti-establishment tendencies of the party’s membership. But with the political careers of so many prominent Conservative politicians tied to the success of the July 22 vote, it is hard to believe it would be allowed to fail.

But just in case, a Plan B might be needed.

Rona Ambrose

Rona Ambrose

Four candidates have officially declared their interest in running for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party, when and if it is actually formed: Kenney, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer and Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Both Jean and Kenney have essentially been using their parties as vehicles to promote their leadership campaigns while also setting up separate political action committees. Fildebrandt has created United Liberty PAC and his leadership bid appears to be at least partly inspired by the strong showing by Maxime Bernier in Alberta during the recent federal Conservative leadership race.

It may just be wishful thinking by some conservatives, but speculation continues that former federal Official Opposition leader Rona Ambrose could enter the race. Ambrose recently resigned her seat in Parliament and is expected to begin a new role in Washington D.C. She, along with a crowd of Conservatives MPs, also endorsed Kenney after he announced his bid for the PC leadership a year ago.

Another Wildrose Bozo-Eruption

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Hamburg, Germany to meet with world leaders at the G20 summit, some conservatives are angry he is not instead attending the Calgary Stampede.

Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, who has represented Drumheller-Stettler since 2012, posted a tweet on July 4, 2017 which appeared to accuse Trudeau of being a “Gutless puke” for not attending the Stampede (see the screenshot).

The tweet was deleted moments after it was posted.

All roads lead to Red Deer and the Alberta Party for homeless politicos

Red Deer and the Alberta Party are frequent destinations for disaffected politicos in search of a new political home.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

Led by former Progressive Conservative Party president Katherine O’Neill and backed for former cabinet minister Stephen Mandel, disaffected Tories are booking their flights to the central Alberta city this weekend to discuss bringing centrists “together,” presumably under the banner of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Together political action committee, led by O’Neill, has been created to search for a new home for centrists unhappy with the rightward direction of the established Conservative parties in the province.

The Alberta Party has been home to some very different stripes of politicos since it was founded in the early 1980s. The party had little success as a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party during its first two decades of existence and made minor headlines when it was involved in unsuccessful merger negotiations with the Alberta Alliance (the predecessor of the Wildrose Party) in the mid-2000s.

It was only a only a few short years ago that another group of disaffected political activists, mostly Liberals and Greens, with a few PCs and New Democrats tossed in the mix (including myself), also met in Red Deer to discuss the creation of a new political… something. Those meetings back in 2010, following the landslide victory that Premier Ed Stelmach led the PCs to in 2008, led to the creation of what has become the current version of the Alberta Party.

Dave Taylor MLA

Dave Taylor

The party, which was nothing more than a great name at the time, was inherited by former Green Party supporters in 2009 (the Green Party of Alberta was disbanded in 2009) and soon after Hinton mayor and past NDP candidate Glenn Taylor became the party’s leader. Two-term Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor became the party’s first MLA in 2011 after he left the then-Official Opposition Liberals.

The reinvention of the Alberta Party in 2010 dramatically shifted the tiny party into the limelight for a short period in the early 2010s, when it was seen as a potential successor to the failing Liberal Party brand in Alberta. But Stelmach’s decision to retire and Alison Redford’s ascendancyto what at the time looked like a reinvigorated ProgressiveConservative Party stole the wind from the Alberta Party’s sails.

The Alberta Party bandied around merger discussions with the Liberal Party before the 2012and 2015 elections, but nothing came of it. Rather than merging or accepting a floor crossing, the Alberta Party decided to endorse Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s re-election bid in Edmonton-Centre in 2015 (the five-term MLA was defeated by New Democrat David Shepherd in the orange tidal wave that swept the capital city).

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in the mid-1990s, was elected as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015. And since then, Clark has tried to position his party as a new home (and a safe refuge) for PCs who are uncomfortable with Jason Kenney’s social conservative leadership and the planned merger with the Wildrose Party to create the United Conservative Party.

Like those disaffected Liberals, Greens and New Democrats who gathered under the Alberta Party banner in the early 2010s to create a new alternative to the PCs, this group of disaffected PCs are gravitating toward the Alberta Party to create a new alternative. Some of the big names associated with the weekend gathering were involved in the PC Party’s epic defeat to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election.

The Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, and a home for disaffected politicos without a home. Whether or not this latest group to wander over will make themselves at home in the Alberta Party is yet to be determined.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Looking past pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement looks pretty good for BC

“Mark my words, that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made.” – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Alberta politicians, media and pundits are unsurprisingly focused on what the governing agreement between British Columbia New Democratic Party leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver will mean for the future of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

The agreement would have the province’s three Green Party MLAs support the 41 NDP MLAs on confidence motions and money bills in the Legislative Assembly, allowing the NDP to form a minority government. Christy Clark‘s Liberals have 43 MLAs, one MLA short of a majority.

Aside from oil pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement commits to holding a referendum  on proportional representation in fall 2018 (though it is not clear what form of proportional representation will be proposed) and reforming BC’s wild-west election finance laws (banning corporate and union donations, placing limits on individual donations, and limiting party loans to banks and financial institutions).

The agreement also commits to appointing a commission to create a plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage, preserving public health care and education, and improving funding for public transit. While some of the points are intentionally vague, overall it reads like a fairly positive guide for the next BC government.

Andrew Weaver Green Party British Columbia

Andrew Weaver

But back to that pipeline from Alberta, the agreement states: “Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”

The pipeline expansion has already been approved by the federal government, but faces opposition from the public and the courts in BC. In an article earlier this month, James Wilt outlined three ways the BC government could stop or slow down the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

Political opposition to the pipeline from an Green-supported NDP government in BC could create a lot of political trouble for Rachel Notley‘s NDP government in Alberta. There is no shortage of irony that the NDP-Green agreement could create a world of political problems for the most progressive and environmentally-friendly government Alberta has ever had.

Despite the Notley government’s Climate Leadership Plan, disagreement over oil pipelines has lead to a significant split between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts outside the province.

John Horgan BC NDP Leader Premier

John Horgan

Notley has been steadfast in her support for the pipeline, and as far as Alberta politicians go, she is probably in the best position to negotiate some sort of political compromise with a future Premier Horgan. The two politicians know each other and many NDP political staffers in Edmonton have deep connections to the BC NDP. Alberta’s Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips even worked in the BC NDP campaign war-room in 2013.

In many ways, it would be easier for the BC NDP, and probably the federal NDP, if Alberta was governed by climate change denying conservatives. At least then they would be able to oppose these oil pipelines without the kind of complications that having an NDP government in Alberta has caused for them.

It is not clear when, or if, Horgan and Weaver will be able to enact their agreement. Clark has said she will remain in office for the time-being, likely until her Liberal Party loses a confidence vote in the Legislative Assembly. When that takes place could determine the political future of the pipeline, and who will be representing BC when the Council of the Federation meets in Edmonton from  July 17 to 19, 2017.

Schweitzer is back, again, probably

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is not running in the PC leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who pulled the plug on his bid to leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party last September and backed Jason Kenney instead, has announced his plans to run for the currently non-existent United Conservative Party. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was involved in Jim Prentice‘s campaign for the Alberta PC Party leadership in 2014. He served as Kenney’s scrutineer when the ballots were counted in the 2017 PC leadership race.

Schweitzer’s candidacy is entirely dependent on whether members of the Wildrose and PC parties vote to form a new party on July 22, which I expect will happen.

A screenshot of a Keep Alberta Working campaign video.

No, reforming Alberta’s Labour Laws will not kill democracy.

It won’t come as a surprise to many political watchers in Alberta that the most vocal critics of the NDP government’s yet to be announced reforms to Alberta’s outdated labour laws have strong ties to the province’s Conservative establishment.

Keep Alberta Working” is a campaign of the “Alberta Growth Initiative,” which is a coalition of the  Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association, the Canadian Meat Council, Restaurants Canada and the Alberta Enterprise Group. Unsurprisingly, the campaign has ties to Conservative lobbyists connected with United Conservative Party leadership candidate Jason Kenney.

According to publicly available information on the province’s Lobbyist Registry, New West Public Affairs, a company run by former Conservative Member of Parliament Monte Solberg, is the registered lobbyist for the Alberta Growth Initiative group. Solberg served alongside Kenney as a Reform and Canadian Alliance MP, and later in Prime Minster Stephen Harper‘s cabinet.

The media contact person listed on the press release announcing the “Keep Alberta Working” campaign is New West employee Sonia Kont, who is also president of the Progressive Conservative youth-wing and an ardent Kenney supporter. Also thrown into the mix is prolific tweeter Blaise Boehmer, who worked for Solberg’s company as a senior associate until leaving in 2016 to become Communications Director on Kenney’s leadership campaign.

The Keep Alberta Working campaign has been harshly critical of the NDP government’s plans to reform Alberta’s labour laws, some of which have remained untouched since the 1970s. The group was fair to criticize the relatively short consultation period the NDP government allowed for when preparing the reforms, but its claims that the NDP could destroy democracy by introducing a card-check system for union organizing are totally preposterous.

We won’t know what is included in the reforms until Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, is introduced into the Legislative Assembly by Labour Minister Christina Gray tomorrow. Depending on how it could be structured, a card-check system could make it harder for anti-union employers to block their employees from joining a union.

Looking to the debate ahead, the card-check issue could cause more political trouble for the NDP than they expect. As the NDP know from past experience as a tiny scrappy opposition party, it is much easier for the opposition to cast a government as heavy-handed and undemocratic than it is for a government to explain detailed public policy in a 15 second soundbite.

But there is little evidence that any reforms to Alberta’s labour laws will lead employees of the companies represented by these groups to stampede into the closest union recruitment office.

It’s not really surprising that key Conservative politicos are at, or close to, the centre of a campaign to oppose reforms to Alberta’s outdated labour laws, but the connections to Kenney and his leadership bid are worth noting.

So, when you hear this group’s criticism of the NDP’s labour law reforms tomorrow, consider the source. Also remember that while the changes might be described as catastrophic or disastrous by corporate-funded lobby groups, the changes included in Bill 17 might not be dramatic enough for some traditional NDP supporters on the political left.

The U-C-P: Jean and Kenney launch the United Conservative Party

Today’s announcement from Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney that they plan to create a new conservative political party has been expected for weeks. The press conference was filled with fairly nauseating partisan rhetoric about how awful and catastrophic the NDP are, but most importantly, we found out what is included in the agreement that was negotiated by a committee of party insiders and signed by the two party leaders.

– It is not really a merger. Under the Jean-Kenney agreement released today, a new legal entity will be created under the Societies Act. It is not clear what will happen to the two currently existing parties and whether they will eventually be dissolved or will continue to exist in name only.

– The new party will be called the United Conservative Party, or U-C-P, for short (the acronym was widely mocked on social media today). This name might not have been the first choice of the two leaders. A failed plot was supposedly hatched by the Kenney-support group Alberta Can’t Wait, to take control of the Alberta Party board of directors at their 2016 annual general meeting. The Alberta Partiers thwarted the takeover and preserved their control over their party’s coveted name.

– The two parties will hold a vote of their memberships on July 22, asking whether the membership would like to create a new party. Approval would require the support of 50 percent plus one of the PC Party membership and 75 percent of the Wildrose Party membership. It is fairly well known that many of Kenney’s supporters in the PC Party leadership race also hold memberships in the Wildrose Party, so it is unclear whether those individuals will be able to cast their ballots twice.

– If members of the two parties vote in favour of creating a new party, the two leaders will step down from their current position and a newly merged caucus of Wildrose and PC MLAs will elect an interim leader. The UCP, Wildrose and PC parties will then be governed by the same leader and executive officers.

– A leadership vote would be held on October 28, 2017. Jean and Kenney have said they will run for the leadership. Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt is said to be preparing a leadership bid. Interim federal Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose, who announced her retirement from federal politics this week, was rumoured to be considering a run, has instead taken a position with the Washington DC-based Wilson Centre.

– There are still outstanding questions about what will happen to the finances of the two parties, in particular the PC Party’s outstanding debt from the 2015 election. According to financial documents published by Elections Alberta, as of December 31, 2016, the PC Party had drawn $754,475 from their $850,000 line of credit. The line of credit is guaranteed by a former director of the party.

The next five months could be fascinating to watch.

Jason Kenney emerges from hiding at Conservative fundraising dinner in Vancouver

As Premier Rachel Notley returns from leading a ten-day economic trade mission to China and Japan, political watchers have been wondering where the recently elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has been? Jason Kenney appeared to go into hiding around a month ago after he sparked controversy with his comments about Gay-Straight Alliances and outing gay kids in Alberta schools during an interview with the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary.

Vancouver-based website TheBreaker reported this week that Kenney was recently spotted in British Columbia speaking at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative Party fundraising event at Hy’s Steakhouse in downtown Vancouver. Kenney tweeted that he was in Vancouver for a conference, but did not mention any other political activities the PC Party leader has been engaged in on the west coast.

The website author, journalist Bob Mackin, alleged that Kenney urged guests at the fundraising dinner to support the BC Liberal Party of Christy Clark in the province’s May 9 general election and that a new conservative  party could be formed in Alberta as soon as this weekend.

Readers will remember that a question first asked on this blog on December 5, 2016 about whether the Alberta New Democratic Party would lend a hand to their BC cousins led to a decree by Notley banning any west coast election-related travel by her government’s political staffers. The BC NDP under the leadership of John Horgan oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, a project that the Notley NDP are firmly in favour of.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted on April 22, 2017, Horgan’s NDP leads Clark’s Liberals 44 percent to 34 percent, with an insurgent Green Party led by Andrew Weaver polling at 22 percent support.

Meanwhile, as the unite-the-right discussions continue, a new poll released by Mainstreet Research asking Albertans who they would prefer as leader of a merged Wildrose-PC party showed Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean leading Kenney with 29 percent to 24 percent support. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose “Someone Else” and 23 percent were unsure, suggesting that there could be appetite for a third or fourth candidate to enter the contest (some Conservative activists have suggested outgoing interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose could fill this void).

Jean has been criss-crossing the province holding town hall meetings ostensibly to collect feedback on the party merger, but in reality he is campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be-named and yet-to-be-merged Wildrose-PC party.

I am told that one of the significant issues of debate between the leadership of the two conservative parties is the timeline for a leadership vote. Jean has firmly said the leader of a new party should be chosen before October 15, 2017 while Kenney has been saying since last year that he wants a founding convention to be held in late 2017 before a leadership vote takes place in early 2018.

Jean’s preferred timeline appears to be more sensible, as it would allow a leader to hold court over a founding convention that could be unruly and filled with bozo-erruptions if a leader is not in place to keep the rowdy membership base in line. Kenney’s preference would buy him more time to compete with Jean in a leadership vote, which he might need now that he has decided to lend himself out to conservative fundraising efforts in British Columbia.

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.