Tag Archives: Jeff Johnson

Rejection of Gay-Straight Alliances motion shows some Alberta MLAs need a reality check

Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo

Kent Hehr

Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.

Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.

Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.

Alberta MLA Vote Gay Straight Alliances Vote Motion 503

A map showing the constituencies represented by MLAs who voted in favour (blue) and against (red) Motion 503. White indicates MLAs who were not present for the vote. (Click to enlarge)

Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.

Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen voted in favour but Education minister Jeff Johnson voted against it.

Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.

The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire.  And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.

In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).

Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)

Alberta politics 2013: Redford abandons her progressive coalition

“Not your father’s PC Party” was a key message the Progressive Conservatives directed at urban liberal and progressive voters in the 2012 election. The message was received and helped drive many non-traditional PC voters into becoming part the new electoral coalition that re-elected Ms. Redford’s party, and, in turn, blocked the more conservative Wildrose from taking office.

Alison Redford Not Your Father's PC Party

Not your father’s PC Party

I can’t expect many voters believed that when they heard the message ”not your father’s PC Party,” they were voting for something closer to their ‘grandfather’s Social Credit Party.’

The transformation of Alison Redford from moderate progressive conservative into something different (than what many voters cast their ballots for) started early in 2013.

Starting in January 2013, with the emergence of a new buzzword, “bitumen bubble,” Ms. Redford set course toward deep budget cuts that targeted areas close to the hearts and pay checks of many voters who supporter her party in the last election.

Deep budget cuts were forced on the province’s colleges and universities by Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who serves as Ms. Redford’s “heavy-hand.” Vulnerable Albertans suffered after Ms. Redford’s budget slashed funding for programs supporting persons with developmental disabilities.

Education Minister Jeff Johnson threatened to legislate a contract for teachers and he eventually forced the contract on school boards through legislation. Finance Minister Doug Horner has proposed changes to pension plans that could jeopardize the retirement security of many public sector workers employed by the provincial and municipal governments in Alberta.

The hastily introduced Bill 45 and Bill 46 stripped away collective bargaining rights of public sector workers and attacked free speech rights of ordinary Albertans. Ms. Redford’s credentials as a progressive politician and a human rights advocate were put in doubt by these Orwellian moves.

But if Ms. Redford’s sleight towards her moderate supporters was a ploy to win-back the hearts and minds of former rural PC voters who cast their votes for the Wildrose, she might be disappointed. Despite the PC shift to the right, the Wildrose Party continues to expand their large individual donor base. Many, if not most, of those Wildrose voters do not appear likely to return to the PC Party fold in the near future.

Aside from her admirable performance during and in response to the southern Alberta floods, Ms. Redford typically gives the appearance of disinterest with the day-to-day domestic affairs of governing.

It has been clear for some time that Ms. Redford is more comfortable speaking to industry groups in New York or boardrooms in Hong Kong than she is debating her opponents on the floor of the provincial assembly.  She spent a significant amount of time in 2013 traveling across Canada promoting pipelines and her Canadian Energy Strategy, and voyages to China, India, and the United States to promote Alberta in international markets.

After forty-three consecutive years as government in energy-rich Alberta, the PCs remain the safe bet to win the next election. But as Ms. Redford continues to stray from the people who voted for her party in 2012, it is difficult to predict who will comprise her party’s next winning coalition.

Redford Government shows bad faith by rushing labour law changes

Alberta Legislature Protest #BuildingAlberta

Hundreds of Albertans gathered outside of the Legislative Assembly today to protest new labour laws.

Providing a timely distraction for a government facing criticism over the sobering news stories of unreported deaths of children in the foster care system, Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives today suddenly introduced two pieces of legislation that could have a significant impact on labour relations in Alberta.

The first piece of legislation, Bill 46: Public Service Salary Restraint Act, introduced by Finance Minister Doug Horner, would impose a two-year wage-freeze on more than 22,000 government employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. AUPE is currently in negotiations with the government for a new collective agreement and this bill would allow the government to bypass a law requiring it to settle the negotiations with AUPE through arbitration, which had been scheduled for February 2014.  Bill 46 would take effect on January 31, 2014 if the two parties cannot reach a settlement before that date.

This bill is reminiscent of threats made by Education Minister Jeff Johnson to the Alberta Teachers’ Association earlier this year. During those negotiations, Mr. Johnson threatened to cut salaries and impose a new contract on Alberta’s teachers if an agreement was not reached by an arbitrary deadline. Once a deal was finally reached between the government and the teachers’ union, Mr. Johnson then legislated the agreement after a number of elected school boards voted to reject the deal on financial grounds.

The introduction of this legislation raises a real question about the state of collective bargaining in Alberta. Can this government, as an employer, be trusted to bargain in good faith with its employees? And what incentive is there for employers bargain fairly with their employees if the government will just impose an agreement?

The second piece of legislation, Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act, introduced by Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, significantly increases the penalties for illegal strikes by workers who are determined to provide essential services. Mr. Hancock introduced this bill as a response to the wildcat strike by corrections officers that began at the Edmonton Remand Centre earlier this year. The government proposes to introduce harsh fines of up to $1,000,000 per day on a union in the case of an illegal strike or even the threat of a illegal strike.

As David Climenhaga wrote on his blog, the real reason the government is rushing these changes through the legislature is not the possibility of illegal strikes, but the compromise currently enshrined in the current labour relations system:

“While former premier Peter Lougheed deprived public employees of the right to strike in the event of an impasse in bargaining, in return they got access to a compulsory arbitration process. In other words, an arbitrator who looks at the facts, the laws and private-sector comparisons, and who then has the right to impose a settlement on both parties.”

That these new laws threaten to damage the electoral coalition that helped elect Ms. Redford in the 2012 election doesn’t appear to have been considered by the long-governing PCs. Nor did the PC government blink when it proposed changes that will negatively impact public sector pensions or when it imposed deep budget cuts on Alberta’s post-secondary education system, attacking another key community that was part of Ms. Redford’s coalition.

With Ms. Redford turning on her supporters in the public service, Alberta’s public sector employees could find themselves with allies in untraditional places.

“A Wildrose government would never act in this way. Just because your negotiation isn’t going well, you don’t take away people’s arbitration rights that are in the contract that was signed. That’s not how you govern. That’s not good faith,” Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson told the Edmonton Sun.

For reasons that are unclear, Ms. Redford’s government is moving quickly to pass this legislation. At Mr. Hancock’s urging, MLAs have made an unordinary exception to meet for a special sitting on Friday, November 29 in order to ensure that Bill 45 passes through the Legislature in the next 48 hours and becomes law before the weekend.

Hope and Debt

Alison Redford Debt Alberta

“Debt” we can believe in?

The political battle between the Wildrose opposition and long-governing Progressive Conservatives continued today as the Legislative Assembly resumed for the fall sitting. Debt was the biggest issue of the day. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith jumped at the opportunity to make light of comments Premier Alison Redford made that compared the government’s decision to accept debt financing as “hope.”

“Let’s take some of the premier’s other quotes and sub in ‘hope’ for ‘debt’ and see if that makes sense. Alberta does not have hope, and we will not incur hope. We cannot come out the current fiscal situation with hope.”
“So to the premier, if debt is hope, when can we expect to once again be hope free?”
- Danielle Smith

After a decade of worshiping an anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics, the natural governing party changed their tune. Abandoning the culture of “no debt” that they created has undoubtably been difficult for the PCs as they embraced a new faith in capital financing. It makes fiscal sense if you want to plan for the long-term, but in the Alberta context, it symbolizes an awkward culture shift for a political party that defined itself by this rally cry.

Cabinet shuffle rumours

If there is any truth to the cabinet shuffle rumours that have been circulating in political circles, it would not be unexpected for Ms. Redford to hit the reset button after she faces a mandatory leadership review in November (I anticipate PC activists will approve of her leadership). It may surprise Albertans to discover that twenty-seven of fifty-nine PC MLAs currently serve in some ministerial or associate ministerial role (that’s 45% of the government caucus).

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

Three cabinet ministers who have caused particular difficulty for the government  and should be candidates to be shuffled are Education minister Jeff Johnson, Municipal Affairs minister Doug Griffiths, and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Mr. Johnson has earned the distain of teachers and schools boards officials for his clumsy handling of the last year’s Alberta Teachers’ Association contract negotiations and the ensuing financial havoc wreaked on the education employers.

Mr. Griffiths has locked horns with Calgary’s popular mayor Naheed Nenshi too many times to be seen as an effective minister. The election of Don Iveson as mayor of Edmonton could help convince the Premier that perhaps she needs a more effective communicators in the increasingly important municipal affairs role.

Ramming through the Redford government’s cuts to post-secondary education, the powerful Mr. Lukaszuk frequently speaks as if he leads the government, leading some conservatives to suggest he has leadership ambitions of his own. Some conservatives have begun noticing similarities between Mr. Lukaszuk and former Deputy Premier Ken Kowalski.

In the first few years of Mr. Klein’s administration, Mr. Kowalski served in a powerhouse role as Deputy Premier and the unofficial “Minister of Everything.” At the time, some Tories suggested that Mr. Kowalski was actually running the government, which raised the ire of Mr. Klein. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Kowalski was unceremoniously booted from the halls of power by Mr. Klein mid-way through his government’s first-term.

The curious case of Doug Elniski

Former Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber isn’t the only former Edmonton-Calder PC MLA to go rogue. Former PC MLA Doug Elniski announced days ago that he had joined the Wildrose Party and was attending that party’s policy convention last weekend. Mr. Elniski was the second PC MLAs to endorse Ms. Redford in her bid for the PC leadership and stood at her side when she spoke to the media following her win in that race. He did not seek re-election in 2012.

Showing a surprising lack of class, Ms. Redford’s communications director Stefan Baranski took to Twitter to attack the former PC MLA for controversial comments he made years ago. It appears that many of Ms. Redford’s staff spent their weekend posting juvenile and sarcastic tweets about the opposition party’s gathering. Apparently this is how senior government staff spend their weekends these days.

 

Wildrose can grow from Tory seeds of doubt

Do you drain a Lake of Fire or do you dam it?

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

Whatever it takes, Wildrose Party activists are expected to moderate the tone of their policies at their weekend policy convention in the booming central Alberta city of Red Deer. A delicate and sometimes shaky coalition of libertarians and social conservatives (among other groups), Alberta’s official opposition party will learn from the mistakes they made in the 2012 election. On the cusp of victory, offensive remarks made by social conservative candidates in Calgary and Edmonton scared many moderate Albertans to support the long-governing Progressive Conservatives at the ballot box.

Since forming the official opposition with 17 MLAs, Ms. Smith has led a disciplined front-bench that has in many cases driven the government’s agenda, or at the least frustrated government ministers unaccustomed to their aggressive style. Implementing tactics used by the Ottawa Conservatives, the Wildrose have been relentless in their opposition to the forty-two year old governing PC Party.

Fighting back against the Wildrose, or at least trying to, Tory environment minister Diana McQueen emerged from her legislature office yesterday to attack Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s position on climate change. While Ms. Smith’s party is undoubtably weak on environmental issues, especially on the important climate change file, the Tory government’s environmental record is not much better. While the Alberta government is doing more on this file than it has in a decade, its plan appears to be propped up by snippets of truth and focus group tested sound bites.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

The Wildrose are looking for second chances and there is opportunity for them. With drastic cuts to education and post-secondary education, constant political meddling in the health care system and fears that public sector pension changes may negatively impact the retirement prospects of hundreds of thousands of Albertans, Alison Redford’s Tories threaten to alienate the electoral coalition of moderate voters (including many former Liberal voters) who helped them narrowly win re-election. Shooting from their hips (and frequently missing their targets), cabinet ministers Thomas Lukaszuk, Jeff Johnson, Fred Horne, and Doug Griffiths often confuse their own confidence with arrogance. The Tories do not give any impression that they were humbled by their near-defeat in last year’s election.

Some Tories may point to the electoral success of Premier Ralph Klein following his drastic budget cuts in the early 1990s, but this is a very different political environment, and I am sure that most Albertans would agree that Ms. Redford is no Mr. Klein.

A recent poll from Leger Marketing, for what it’s worth three years before the next election, shows Ms. Redford’s and Ms. Smith’s parties competing with mid-30 percent range support. The poll also shows that more than half of Albertans disagree with the government’s performance, but the Wildrose’s support in the polls suggests voters have not settled on an alternative.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

This weekend and over the next three years, the Wildrose Party could look to Saskatchewan for inspiration. Stalled for years in the opposition benches, the conservative Saskatchewan Party undertook a move to modernize its image and policies when Brad Wall became the party leader in 2004. The unruly coalition of Tories and Liberals led by a former Reform Party MP had been unable to defeat the institutionalized New Democrats, who dominated in that province’s major cities. Under the smart and savvy Mr. Wall, the Sask Party modernized, and slowly began to encroach into NDP held urban constituencies.

After his party finally defeated in NDP in 2007, the conservative Mr. Wall has become one of Canada’s most popular provincial leaders. Like the NDP did to the Sask Party, and the Tories did to the Wildrose in 2012, Albertans can expect to be berated by rounds of “ooga booga, the Wildrose is scary” ads in the next election. The part that will be missing from those ads is that many, if not most, current Wildrose supporters were sitting comfortably in the Tory camp until about three years ago.

Wildrose success is not entirely about policy. Planting the seeds of doubt in Ms. Redford’s ability to run an honest government will also be key to the Wildrose Party’s success in the next election. Ms. Redford’s tendency to avoid controversy by hiding the truth or bending the facts is something that many political watchers have noted. Her office’s decision to block requests to release details of more than $2 million in severance packages given to former premier’s office staffers planted one seed of doubt. Her actions, her words, and people she surrounds herself have planted others. Two bad seeds that might not go away, controversial former PC MLAs Mike Allen and Peter Sandhu, are expected to apply for re-entry into the Government Caucus.

And the Wildrose do not just need Tory voters to vote for them, they also need former New Democrat and Liberal voters to return to their prior allegiances (a key reason behind Ms. Smith’s province-wide debate tour with NDP leader Brian Mason).

So, it’s clear the Wildrose needs to moderate the tone of their policies to attract new voters, but they can also benefit greatly from the seeds of doubt that the Redford Tories appear to be planting each week.

Redford shines in flood aftermath, but political problems not washed away

Premier Alison Redford shakes the hand of a Canadian Forces member providing relief for flooding in southern Alberta.

Premier Alison Redford shakes the hand of a Canadian Forces member providing relief for flooding in southern Alberta (photo from @Premier_Redford on Twitter)

The day to day melee of provincial politics in Alberta was thrown out the window two weeks ago as rising rivers flooded communities in southern Alberta and forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 Albertans from low-lying Calgary neighbourhoods and surrounding communities.

Caring, compassionate, and pro-active, Premier Alison Redford has been front and centre since the flooding began, quickly flying back from a trip to New York two weeks ago, where she was speaking at a conference and meeting with oil industry investors. Only Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the calm and confident voice of his city, has been more front and centre in the media during this natural disaster.

Abandoning the government’s austerity agenda, Premier Redford announced $1 billion in recovery funding and the appointment of three new cabinet ministers to lead the recovery: Lethbridge-West MLA Greg Weadick for south east regions, Calgary-Klein MLA Kyle Fawcett for south west regions, and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser for High River.

Creating a more purposeful version of ‘Ralph Bucks,’ the government provided pre-paid debit cards to residents affected by the flooding.

 Almost immediately after the government announced the appointment of new cabinet ministers, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle took to Twitter to ask why Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, whose Highwood constituency includes High River, was not approached to fill one of these positions (although Wildrose MLAs represent all but three southern Alberta constituencies outside of Calgary, it still would be highly irregular for an opposition leader to be appointed to cabinet).

Despite some initial skepticism, the Wildrose leader quickly began to cooperate with the new minister.

As the flooding started, Ms. Smith was on the ground as a volunteer in High River and, after residents were evacuated from the town, she butted heads with Mayor Emile Blokland about when residents should be allowed back into the town.

With $1 billion in support promised for the flood ravaged communities, it will be difficult for the opposition Wildrose to criticize the Premier’s decision to abandon her promise to balance the provincial budget by 2014, especially as Ms. Smith’s constituency includes one of the hardest hit areas.

Overall, the Premier has assumed a pro-active position, a contrast to a 2010 in Medicine Hat, when then-Premier Ed Stelmach was criticized for not visiting the city in the aftermath.

Former MLA George Groeneveld, who represented  Highwood until last year’s election, told CBC last week that allowing development in flood zones has been a mistake. Mr. Groeneveld is the author of a shelved 2006 report that had the potential to cause major political problems for Premier Redford as the flood waters raged. ”The one-in-100-year flood seems to be coming every two years, even more, especially in southern Alberta,” Mr. Groeneveld told the Calgary Herald in 2006.

While the blame for the shelved 2006 report can not personally be placed on Premier Redford, who was not even an MLA at the time, her government  furiously spun its support for the report and flood relief with Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths and Environment Minister Diana McQueen  aggressively promoting the government’s support for recommendations.

Despite these pro-active stances, the flood has not washed away Premier Redford’s political problems. The Premier has been known to keep her distance from domestic issues in Alberta, allowing cabinet ministers to take the lead on local issues while she focuses on Alberta’s international agenda.

A handful of senior cabinet ministers appear to have caused all sorts of problems and turmoil that may require the personal attention of the Premier, or new cabinet appointments, to resolve. Questions loom about the Alberta Health Services $100-million surplus in the midst of nurse layoffs and whether Health Minister Fred Horne approved the agency’s controversial bonuses for its senior executives before he fired the entire board of directors. Confusion also continues about the future of home care services.

On the education front, post-secondary staff layoffs continue and the University of Alberta remains defiant of Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk‘s attempts to control their institutional agenda. Under the watch of Education Minister Jeff Johnson, school boards, like Edmonton Public Schools, have been forced to eliminate hundreds of full-time staff. Meanwhile, Alberta’s booming population is set to exceed 4-million.

Premier Redford has shined during the flood, but still faces plenty of problems once the reality of politics returns.