Tag Archives: Jeff Wilson

United Conservative Party Caucus Gay-Straight Alliances

Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill

Photo: Jason Kenney with UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Leela Aheer, Ric McIver and Prab Gill on October 30, 2017.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced on November 7, 2017 that his party’s MLAs will vote against Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances.

David Eggen

Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.

The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

The bill has the support of Premier Rachel Notley‘s 54 New Democratic Party MLAs, 2 Alberta Party MLAs and Liberal MLA David Swann, making its passage into law almost certain. Numerous public school board trustees have voiced their support for the bill.

Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”

Fort McMurray Catholic School District board chair Paula Galenzoski told Fort McMurray Today that “Our board has always been supportive of our LGBT community and LGBT students, and the health and inclusion of all students. If a person isn’t able to stay safe in their environment, then we’re failing big.”

Even former MLA Jeff Wilson, who served as a Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Shaw from 2012 to 2015, is urging UCP MLAs to vote in favour of Bill 24.

The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.

The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.

As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.

Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.

The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.

Alberta Election candidates: Shelley Wark-Martyn (Liberal Calgary-Currie), David Xiao (PC Edmonton-McClung), Glenn van Dijken (Wildrose Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock), and Christina Gray (NDP Edmonton-Mill Woods).

Alberta Pre-Election 2015: Monday candidate nomination updates

With a provincial election expected to be called in the coming weeks, Alberta’s political parties are pushing to nominate their slates of candidates. Not surprisingly, the governing Progressive Conservatives are close to choosing candidates in all 87 constituencies. At fifty-one, the NDP have the second largest number of candidates nominated for the next election.

Here are some of the latest additions to my growing list of nominated candidates:

Map of nominated and acclaimed PC candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Map of nominated and acclaimed PC candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Progressive Conservatives

The PC Party has nominated 77 76 candidates, leaving only 10 remaining constituencies to choose candidates.

Driving school owner Gurcharan Garcha defeated two-term MLA Peter Sandhu to win the PC nomination in Edmonton-Manning. Mr. Sandhu, who was briefly removed from the government caucus after facing allegations of conflict of interest, is the first incumbent PC MLA to lose a nomination in 2015. Another candidate, Manpreet Gill, was originally contesting the nomination but does not appear to have been named in the final vote.

Controversial MLA David Xiao survived a strong challenge from party activist Amanda Nielson to win the PC nomination in Edmonton-McClung.

Other recently nominated PC candidates include Blake Prior in Battle River-Wainwright, Jeff Wilson in Calgary-Shaw, former MLA Jack Hayden in Drumheller-Stettler, Rhonda Clarke-Gauthier in Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley, Harman Kandola in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Gene Zwozdesky in Edmonton-Mill Creek, Shelley Wegner in Edmonton-Strathcona, Darrell Younghans in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Wade Bearchell in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, Christine Moore in Red Deer-North, Darcy Mykytyshyn in Red Deer-South, Cathy Olesen in Sherwood Park, and Ken Lemke in Stony Plain, Molly Douglass in Strathmore-Brooks.

UPDATE: Former cabinet minister Naresh Bhardwaj has withdrawn his candidacy in Edmonton-Ellerslie. The second-term PC MLA  resigned as Associate Minister for Persons with Disabilities this month pending an investigation by the PC Party into allegations of bribery in his constituency’s nomination contest. Metro Edmonton first reported that a party member publicly accused Mr. Bhardwaj of offering him, through another person, a $10,000 bribe in return for recanting his support for candidate Balraj Manhas.

Map of nominated and acclaimed NDP candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Map of nominated and acclaimed NDP candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

New Democratic Party

The NDP have nominated candidates in fifty-two constituencies, the most of any opposition party. Recent nominations and acclamations include Chris Noble in Airdrie, Tristan Turner in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, Kathleen Ganley in Calgary-Buffalo, Catherine Wellburn in Calgary-Elbow, Anam Kazim in Calgary-Glenmore, Chris McMillan in Calgary-Mountain View, Aaron Haugen in Cardston-Taber-Warner, and Erin Babcock in Stony Plain.

Candidates who have recently announced their intentions to seek nominations are: Gordon Naylor in Battle River Wainwright, Josalyne Head in Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Christina Gray in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Leslie Mahoney in Highwood, and Hannah Schlamp in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.

The following candidates are seeking the NDP nominations at a five-constituency joint nomination meeting on March 31, 2015: Jill Moreton in Calgary-Fish Creek, Don Monroe in Calgary-Greenway, Danielle Nadeau McMillian in Calgary-Hawkwood, Ryan Wick in Calgary-MacKay-Nose Hill, and Karen Mills in Calgary-North West.

Map of nominated and acclaimed Wildrose candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Map of nominated and acclaimed Wildrose candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Wildrose Party

The Wildrose Party have at least forty candidates nominated and appear to have opened nominations in all remaining 47 constituencies.

Recently nominated candidates include Glenn van Dijken in Barrhead-Moriville-Westlock, Wes Taylor in Battle River-Wainwright, Trevor Grover in Calgary-Bow, Mark Smith in Drayton Valley-Devon, Donald MacIntyre in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Val Olson in Medicine Hat and Norman Wiebe in Red Deer-North.

Map of nominated and acclaimed Alberta Party candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Map of nominated and acclaimed Alberta Party candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Alberta Party

The Alberta Party has nominated 28 candidates across Alberta (including MLA Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre).

Some of the more recently no mated candidates include: Alison Wemyss in Calgary-Fish Creek, Owais Siddiqui in Edmonton Beverly-Clareview, Derek Christensen in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, John Stewart in Leduc-Beaumont, Trevor Love in St. Albert, Krystal Kromm in Red Deer North, Serge Gingras in Red Deer South and Rob Fox in Bonnyville-Cold Lake.

Map of nominated and acclaimed Liberal candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Map of nominated and acclaimed Liberal candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Liberal Party

The Liberals have nominated candidates in at least nineteen constituencies.

Former Liberal Party President and Ontario NDP MPP Shelley Wark-Martyn was chosen to represent the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-Currie. Also recently nominated are Ronald Brochu in Edmonton-Gold Bar, Adam Mounzer in Edmonton-Manning, Michael Dawe in Red Deer-North, and Mike Hanlon in Stony Plain. Following the lead of Ms. Blakeman, Mr. Dawe plans to seek the Green Party nomination in Red Deer-North.

Map of nominated and acclaimed Green Party candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Map of nominated and acclaimed Green Party candidates (as of March 23, 2015).

Green Party

The Greens have nominated candidates in ten constituencies across Alberta (including MLA Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre).

Nominated Green candidates are David Reid in Calgary-Bow, Janet Keeping in Calgary-Foothills, Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Hawkwood, Noel Keough in Calgary-Klein, Sandy Aberdeen in Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, Carl Svoboda in Calgary-Varsity, David Parker in Edmonton-Gold Bar and Alison Anderson in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.


I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

PC Party accidentally circulates email disqualifying two candidates hours before nomination vote

Wildrose floor-crosser MLA Jeff Wilson defeated four other candidates to win the Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary-Shaw on March 21, 2015.

Jeff Wilson Calgary Shaw

Jeff Wilson

At 9:25 a.m. on March 21, only hours before the nomination vote took place, the PC Party circulated an email notice announcing that “PC Alberta has disallowed Trudy Hauser and Mark Dyrholm from the Calgary-Shaw Candidate Nomination.”

Almost two hours later, at 11:19 a.m., party communications manager Bryce Forbes sent out another email stating the first email was a mistake. “As part of the vetting process, we lay out multiple different scenarios,” Mr. Forbes wrote in the email. It is not known what other scenario draft statements have been sitting in Mr. Forbes email waiting to be released or why this draft was even written. Were the PCs planning to disqualify these two candidates?

Although they were running for the PC nomination in this election, Mr. Dyrholm was a 2009 Wildrose Party leadership candidate and Ms. Hauser was briefly nominated as a Wildrose candidate in Banff-Cochrane before the 2012 election.

It is not clear whether the originally circulated disqualification email caused any PC Party members in Calgary-Shaw to change their vote or to stay home.

Party interference and controversy in other constituency nomination contests across Alberta has triggered frustration among some long-time PC Party members.

Alberta PC Jim Prentice MLA

PC MLAs follow Prentice command to cut Auditor General budget

Progressive Conservative MLAs sitting on the Standing Committee for Legislative Offices voted last week to deny a request from Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff to reinstate more than $200,000 in funding cut in Dec. 2014. At the same committee meeting, MLAs voted to reinstated more than $500,000 in funding previously cut from the Office of the Auditor General.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Sending a strong message that he just might not trust his party’s MLAs to act unsupervised, Premier Jim Prentice held a press conference shortly after the vote and publicly ordered his PC MLAs to backtrack on their decision to reinstate the Auditor General funding. This move served to redirect the public focus from cuts to the Child and Youth Advocate and on the cuts to the Auditor General.

Mr. Prentice’s directive removes the thin veneer of “committee independence.” It was always assumed that PC MLAs received their marching orders from the Premier’s Office, but typically those types of dispatches are sent from the 3rd floor before the committee meetings, not after the votes have already been counted.

Matt Jeneroux MLA Edmonton South West

Matt Jeneroux

Responding to his new orders, committee chairman Matt Jeneroux hastily scheduled a meeting for this week, allowing the PC MLAs to change their minds and vote how Mr. Prentice directed them to.

Not one of the Progressive Conservative MLAs on the committee, including former Wildrose MLAs Gary Bikman and Jeff Wilson, had the fortitude to defend the decision they made last week. Only NDP MLA David Eggen and Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman voted against the funding cut.

And now, because of Mr. Prentice’s orders, both the Auditor General and Child and Youth Advocate will face budget cuts this year.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

Looking past the thick-rhetoric of “tough economic times,” the Office of the Auditor General is probably the last office of the Legislature that should have its funding cut. As Mr. Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell plan to impose a 9% across the board budget cut, the Auditor General should have the funding available to audit the financial statements and the systems of government.

Last year, Auditor General Merwan Saher released a damning report into former Premier Alison Redford‘s misuse of government aircraft. The public outrage generated by that report forced former Premier Dave Hancock to request an R.C.M.P. investigation into Ms. Redford’s activities.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

With an election expected within weeks, the 43-year long governing PCs are likely cautious of any further scandals or critiques that a fully-funded Auditor General could uncover.

This is not the first time the PCs have cut funding to the Auditor General.

In 2009, then-Auditor General Fred Dunn announced the delay or cancellation of 27 out of 80 planned system and financial audits due to lack of financial resources. At the time, backbench PC MLA Jonathan Denis (now Justice Minister) was quoted as justifying the lack of funding to the Auditor General by defending that year’s one-year MLA pay freeze. [editor’s note: Alberta is always in tough economic times]

The 2009 funding cut came soon after Mr. Dunn’s office reported the PC Government kept quiet for 3 years about reports showing the province could bring in more than $1 billion in additional royalties each year without harming industry, that a former PC cabinet minister and his top aide charged nearly $50,000 in personal expenses to their government credit cards, and that the PC government’s poor planning left it with a maintenance backlog of roughly $6.1 billion.


Raj Sherman MLA

Raj Sherman

Raj Sherman is back

Only weeks after resigning as Liberal leader and announcing his retirement as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, Raj Sherman has been hired by the Liberal Party the campaign manager for the 2015 election campaign. It is unclear why interim leader David Swann has hired his predecessor, or what real campaign management experience the retiring politician brings to the table. Truly bizarre.

Can Wildrose survive Rob Anders? Can floor crossers survive PC Party?

Melissa Mathieson Rob Anders Macleod Conservative Guns

Calgary-West MP Rob Anders with former Conservative nomination candidate Melissa Mathieson in Feb. 2014.

Initially turned away by Wildrose Party officials, controversial Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders has asked the Wildrose Party for a “waiver” to run for the party’s leadership. Having lost bids for federal Conservative nominations in Calgary-Signal Hill and Bow River last year, the controversial Mr. Anders, 42, is scrambling to salvage his 18 year long political career.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

Before crossing the floor to the PC Party, former leader Danielle Smith publicly told Mr. Anders that he was not welcome to run for the Wildrose Party. But now with the party weakened and without a leader, Mr. Anders may be in a position to mobilize his legions of social conservatives to win the leadership.

Also said to be considering a run for the Wildrose leadership are former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk (a nominated candidate in Sherwood Park), former lobbyist Derek Fildebrandt (running for a nomination in Strathmore-Brooks) and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.

Can the PC-Wildrose MLAs survive?
Kerry Towle

Kerry Towle

It appears that all or most former Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in the final months of 2014 will face strong competitions to win their new party’s nominations to run in the next election.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox is facing former Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkleman and businessman Peter DewitInnisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle is facing Red Deer County Mayor Jim WoodCardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman is being challenged by Taber Reeve Brian Brewin, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Jeff Wilson is being challenged by arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler.

If Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe decides to seek re-election, he will face a challenge from Olds Town Councillor Wade Bearchell, who is already campaigning for the PC nomination. Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen is also expected to face a strong challenge and Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson has already announced he will not run for re-election.

Immediately following the floor-crossings, Mr. Pedersen told the Medicine Hat News be believed their PC nominations were guaranteed, but that appears to be a key bargaining position the 9 Wildrose MLAs asked for and were denied before they joined the PCs.

Now the question is how many of the Wildrose-turned-PC MLAs can survive to run in the next election? Could a potential cabinet shuffle save their political careers?

What are PC-Wildrose MLAs are saying about being in government?

Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe (Olds Albertan):

“You know, it’s a shame to have to say this, but it’s amazing to me the doors that are open since I crossed the floor. I get into ministers’ office(s) and get things done. It’s just – it’s amazing. It’s really not the way it should be, but it is the way it is.”

What are PC MLAs saying about the PC-Wildrose MLAs?

Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner (Spruce Grove Examimer):

“This shows that was all politics. That’s unfortunate, and we will have to let that go. But I think everybody should understand that when they make accusations like that and then (cross the floor), it’s obvious there was a lot of political motivation there and not a lot of fact,” Mr. Horner said.

“I’d like to see us stop with the unfounded character assassination — and I think that will stop from them.”

Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk (Calgary Herald): 

“It’s sort of like that neighbour that screams at you all the time and calls the cops on you once in a while now moves into your house,” Mr. Lukaszuk said. “You sort of work around it and make it work. At the end of the day you have to focus on the prize — and that’s representing your constituents and making good decisions as a government.”


I will be taking a short break from blogging for the next week. In my absence, take a look at David Climenhaga‘s excellent blog at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

 

Sunday Night candidate nomination updates in Alberta

Sarah Hoffman Edmonton Rachel Notley NDP

Sarah Hoffman endorsed Rachel Notley when she entered the NDP leadership contest on June 16, 2014.

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sarah Hoffman is expected to make an announcement on Monday, January 19 that could signal a jump into provincial politics. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Hoffman could be announcing plans to seek the New Democratic Party nomination in the Edmonton-Glenora constituency. The NDP have never elected a MLA in Glenora, but the party saw its support in the constituency increase from 15% in 2008 to 25% in 2012.

Ms. Hoffman was first elected as a trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board in 2010 and currently serves as chairperson. In 2014, she endorsed Rachel Notley for the leadership of the NDP.

With the Progressive Conservatives planning to complete candidate nominations in all 87 constituencies by March 15, 2015, there have been plenty of announcements since my previous update:

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater: Athabasca 94.1 The River broadcaster Victor Mario Kaisar tweeted that Jeff Johnson has announced intentions to run for re-election. Mr. Johnson was first elected in 2008 and is currently serving as Minister of Seniors.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Dixie Dahlstedt posted an announcement on her Facebook page that she has withdrawn from the Wildrose nomination contest.

Calgary-Northern Hills: Mortgage broker Aryan Sadat has launched his campaign for the PC nomination in Calgary-Northern Hills. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Teresa Woo-Paw, who has yet to announce whether she will seek the nomination.

Calgary-Nose Hill-MackayNeil Brown announced on Twitter that he plans to seek the PC nomination. Mr. Brown was first elected in 2004.

Calgary-Shaw: Arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler continues his campaign to become the PC candidate in the next election. Mr. Chandler is expected to face Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson for the PC nomination.

In 2007, Mr. Chandler won the PC nomination in the former Calgary-Egmont but was later removed as a candidate after publicly commenting that Albertans who did not like conservative culture or politics should move back to where they came from.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills: Local PC Party Association President Darrell Younghans and Jeff Dechaine have declared intentions to seek the PC nomination in this constituency. The area is currently represented by Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw.

Lacombe-Ponoka: Lacombe area resident Peter Dewit announced in December 2014 that he plans to seek the PC nomination. Mr. Dewit might face off against Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Rod Fox, who has yet to publicly announce whether he plans to seek re-election.

Sherwood Park: PC MLA Cathy Olesen announced on Twitter that she plans to seek her party’s nomination for the next election. Ms. Olesen tweeted that PC Party regional vice president Sue Timanson is challenging her for the nomination.

Spruce Grove-St. Albert:  Incumbent PC Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner told the St. Albert Gazette that he would make his intentions about running again known by this week. The former Finance Minister was first elected in 2001.

West Yellowhead: Finance Minister Robin Campbell announced on Twitter that he will seek the PC Party nomination for re-election. Mr. Campbell was first elected in 2008.


 

I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

Could the Wildrose collapse mean an early 2015 election?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

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

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

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

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

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

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

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

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

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

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

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

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

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

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

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

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

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

Wildrose candidates?
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

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

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

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

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

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

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

Jeff Wilson MLA Calgary-Shaw

Jeff Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase

Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA

Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections:

Wildrose wilts as Danielle Smith joins the PC Party

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith introduces candidate Tim Grover during the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

For four years, Progressive Conservatives told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. Today, it now appears that the leaders of the two parties have now put the past four years behind them and are joining forces.

Following a Tuesday, Dec. 16 caucus meeting, it is being reported that six of the Wildrose Official Opposition’s 14 MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, have decided to leave their party to join the 43-year governing PC. Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell reported yesterday that PC leader Jim Prentice offered a “Reunification Agreement” as incentive to his opposition colleagues.

CBC is reporting that the six MLAs include:
Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Blake Pederson (Medicine Hat)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)

The governing PC Caucus will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 17 and are expected to discuss the acceptance of the six MLAs into their ranks. The addition of the six would bring the total number of Tories to 69 of 87 MLAs in the Assembly. The remaining eight Wildrose MLAs would remain Official Opposition.

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson reports that a cabinet shuffle could happen as early as Thursday to make room for the new MLAs.

Some sources say that Ms. Smith could become Mr. Prentice’s Deputy Premier and Mr. Anderson, a former PC MLA who joined the Wildrose in 2010, could be appointed to a senior ministry. Another potential cabinet appointment could be former Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, who crossed the floor earlier this month.

Once source speculated that current PC ministers like Kyle Fawcett or Maureen Kubinec could be shuffled out of cabinet to make room for their new caucus-mates.

The phenomonally rapid collapse of the Wildrose Party raises questions about the unstable foundation of the party. Splits in the party became public after the loss of four by-elections and as Ms. Smith battled with party’s activists over an equality motion and her position in the Gay-Straight Alliances debate.

Just six months ago, the Wildrose Party was out-fundraising and outpolling the 43-year governing PCs. Only three months since becoming PC leader, Mr. Prentice has been able to demoralize, destabilize and now co-opt his main opposition.

The departure of the six could damage the Wildrose Party beyond repair and remove it as a viable political force in Alberta, at least in the short-term. Whatever your opinion of the party, the floor crossings are certainly a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast a ballot for Wildrose candidates in order to send the PCs a message.

Wildrose Party activists are pledging to fight any formal merger between the two parties, but the loss of high-profile leader Ms. Smith is a death-blow to the party.

The loss of Ms. Smith to the government benches and the crippling of her soon to be former party is also a blow to democracy in Alberta. After coming very close to winning the 2012 election, the Wildrose have been the most effective and aggressive opposition parties in recent memory. Their work exposed corruption and cronyism in the government and ended the careers of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

It is unclear who will replace Ms. Smith as leader of the Official Opposition, but candidates could include Shayne Saskiw or Drew Barnes. Neither have the provincial profile of their predecessor.

While the blow to the Wildrose could rob the non-conservative opposition parties of a conservative vote split in the next election, the decline of the Wildrose creates opportunities for other opposition leaders. This is especially true for new NDP leader Rachel Notley and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who now have an opportunity to present an alternative vision to Mr. Prentice’s (and Ms. Smith’s) 43-year governing PC Party.


2014CWA-secondAwards…
I was pleased to discover that daveberta.ca earned second place in the 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards in the Politics category.

Congratulations to Gender Focus for their first place finish and John Ibbitson for placing third. Thank you to everyone who continues reading, commenting, contributing and sharing this blog.

Politics gets NIMBY in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 3

Edmonton-Whitemud Wildrose candidate Tim Grover, with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, MLAs Kerry Towle, Jeff Wilson, Bruce Rowe and other nominated Wildrose candidates.

The phrase “all politics is local” has been used many times to describe voters who might shy away from trying to restructure health care or environmental policy but are passionate about potholes or saving the park down their street.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

This phrase appears to be particularily reflective of the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, where former Edmonton mayor and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is campaigning for election to the Legislative Assembly as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

While his opponents from the New Democrat and Liberal parties – Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson – have made health care issues the focus of their campaigns – including the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital –  Mr. Mandel’s Wildrose opponent is looking to other local wedge issues to attack the former mayor.

As volunteers canvass door-to-door in the constituency, the campaign of Wildrose candidate Tim Grover is circulating a letter from a local resident who opposed a controversial Terwilligar Housing First development.

[Read the letter here]

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election

Dr. Bob Turner

The letter alleges that at an August 2013 town-hall meeting about the proposed housing development, then-mayor Mr. Mandel loudly shouted at a group of residents about the project. While the tensions were high at the meeting, community members I have spoken with who attended the town hall meeting dispute the allegation that Mr. Mandel actually shouted at anyone at the meeting.

As part of the City of Edmonton’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the development would have provided permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless Edmontonians. And because of the outcry of a small and vocal group of community members, the development was cancelled.

While the proposal was not perfect, the debate around the Terwilligar Housing First development had all the hallmark characteristics of NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”).

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

When he launched his campaign, Mr. Mandel said that he would run on his nine-year record as Mayor of Edmonton. And while he has a lot to be proud of, after three terms in office Mr. Mandel did collect a certain amount of political baggage. Because of this, it is not surprising that his political opponents would try to exploit these wedge issues during an election campaign.

Last week, two articulate members from the Haddow neighbourhood spoke to the CBC about their opposition to the development of a surplus school site that Mr. Mandel supported. I am told that “Save Haddow Park” signs have now been spotted in Mr. Grover’s campaign office.

NDP army campaigns for Dr. Bob

Fresh from her victory in the NDP leadership contest, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley led an army of volunteers on to the streets of Edmonton-Whitemud. The NDP took a break from their weekend leadership convention to bus as many volunteers as possible from downtown’s Sutton Place Hotel to the southwest to help candidate Dr. Bob Turner.

Voters in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-West will vote on October 27, 2014. Advance Polls are: being held on October 22, 23, 24 and, 25, 2014.

Secrecy of foster care deaths a sobering story

The normally hyper-partisan atmosphere in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly was sobered today with news of a tragic and startling story.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

A six-month investigation by Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald reporters based on death records unsealed after a four-year legal battle revealed a startling number of unreported deaths of children in care of the province between 1999 and 2009. The investigation found 145 foster children have died since 1999, nearly three times more than the 56 deaths revealed in government annual reports during that time.  According to the report, at least 74 of these 145 children who died while in foster care were Aboriginal or Métis.

While this story raises serious questions about transparency and why the government would keep these numbers from the public, there are still unanswered questions about how this number compares to other provinces and how it compares to children not in foster care.

Opposition parties in the Assembly united in support for a motion introduced Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson this afternoon to hold an emergency debate and a public inquiry into these deaths.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

Human Services Minister Dave Hancock argued against holding an emergency debate, claiming that the  government had acted to protect the privacy of the children and their families by not releasing the full number of children who died in foster care. Mr. Hancock also claimed that recent legislative changes made by the government, including the creation of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, would ensure these numbers would not be kept secret in the future.

After a brief legislative wrangle over whether to hold an emergency debate, Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky ruled against the idea.

Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith: “These truly disturbing revelations not only mean that something is seriously wrong with how vulnerable children are cared for in this province, but that there are major gaps in how incidents are being reported. We must get to the bottom of what it is and begin the long process of fixing the system. If we aren’t reviewing these deaths and doing everything we can to learn from them, we are failing Albertans and risking the lives of vulnerable children.”

Gene Zwozdesky

Gene Zwozdesky

New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley: “This government is more concerned with protecting themselves from their own record on kids in care than in actually protecting those kids. But these kids deserve better—and so do Albertans. With this government’s cuts to the services that families living in poverty depend on, more children will likely end up in government care. We need to ensure that the system isn’t failing these kids.”

Liberal opposition leader Raj Sherman: “If the number of deaths of children in care was underreported, then the number of children seriously injured while in government care was very likely underreported as well. What is very clear now is that this Conservative government has failed in its most basic duty to protect some of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society, children at risk. Only a fraction of the 145 deaths were deemed worthy of an investigation. In cases where reviews were completed, recommendations were not followed.”

As leader of the party that has formed government in Alberta since 1971, Premier Alison Redford cannot take any position less than one that directly addresses this issue. Anything less will raise serious questions about the competency of the current government.

Regardless of the original reasons why these deaths were unreported, it is important that the government come forward and provide a clear explanation as to why these cases were kept secret. As Albertans, we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens, particularly those in care and especially children.

Dave Hancocok’s latest consultation leads to Social Policy Framework.

Most media and political watchers are focused on today’s release of the provincial budget, but last week Human Services Minister Dave Hancock focused on the human-side of government with the release of the much anticipated ‘Social Policy Framework.’

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

“It’s part of taking an intelligent look at the social policy agenda,” Human Services Minister Hancock told this blogger in a recent interview. Minister Hancock described the framework’s contents as guiding principles for government decision-makers to use when making decisions that could have an impact on social policy in Alberta.

The government undertook extensive consultations before publishing the Social Policy Framework, engaging Albertans through discussions in-person and online.

“The discussion is often part of the solution,” said Minister Hancock. “We are bringing together people who haven’t necessarily been in the same room or had the chance to discuss these challenges together. The process has done that in many different ways.”

“It validates some of the other things we’ve been doing, like the Homelessness initiatives.” he said, while speaking about collaboration with already existing not-for-profit groups to effectively delivering services on the ground. Across Alberta, municipalities are working with local organizations and social agencies to accomplish the provincial government’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Critics like Calgary-Shaw Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson and Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley criticized the framework for its lack of specifics and vague wording. Ms. Notley honed in on some specific wording that she found troubling:

“The most specific elements of this document talk about the government moving away from being a service provider, moving away from being a funder, moving away from being a regulator. That says to me we’re going to see a fractured system and an increase in patchwork service delivery.” – NDP MLA Rachel Notley (Edmonton Journal, February 28, 2013)

Rachel Notley MLA Edmonton-Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

Not surprisingly, Minister Hancock disagreed with claims that the  provincial government intends to use the framework to download responsibilities. “It is not downloading or offloading but taking an intelligent look across the social agenda and saying how to we do this well together,” said Minister Hancock.

The resident policy-wonk

A self-described “policy-wonk,” Minister Hancock has become known for holding these types of broad consultation and visioning processes since he first entered cabinet in 1997. Similar broad consultations were held while he served as Minister of Advanced Education from 2004 to 2006 and Minister of Education from 2008 to 2011.

Government media releases tout that more than 31,000 Albertans participated in the Social Policy Framework consultations through in-person meetings and extensive online discussions.

Minister Hancock deserves some credit for taking some big steps in the government’s online consultation for this framework, which included online surveys, stakeholder blogs, and wikis where Albertans could provide feedback and upload their own response documents for public viewing. These types of online tools allow government’s to engage with citizens in ways that were not possible, or very difficult, only a decade ago.

—————

Hancock on the hyper-partisan Legislature

Asked about the aggressive tone of Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Official Opposition, Minister Hancock described last fall’s Legislative session “not a shining point for the democratic process.” Minister Hancock, who also serves as Government House Leader, said that he hopes the tone will improve in the spring sitting that began this week.

“I think the opposition will come out of it fairly quickly when they realize that the Alberta public does not connect with it,” said Minister Hancock. “I think it will get better, because I don’t think there is an inhernent value in that kind of partisanship, on either side.”

Who are Alberta’s top MLAs of 2012?

It has become tradition on this blog that near the end of each year I publish a list of Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly who have been the best, worst, or most notable of the past year. Each year’s list has taken a different form and focus (see 2010 and 2011), and the addition of dozens of rookie MLAs after the spring election has left me with little more than seven months to base this list upon. There are sure to be talented and not-so-talented MLAs that have not made list this, so if you feel inspired, please feel free to make additions to the list in the comment section below.

Rookie of the Year - Jeff Wilson, MLA for Calgary-Shaw.

Rookie of the Year – Jeff Wilson, MLA for Calgary-Shaw.

Jeff Wilson (Wildrose – Calgary-Shaw) Rookie of the Year. Perhaps the most unexpected addition to this year’s list is the newly elected Wildrose Party MLA for Calgary-Shaw. Mr. Wilson was a virtual unknown to political watchers when he defeated well-funded Tory star candidate Farouk Adatia (who is now Premier Alison Redford‘s Chief of Staff), but he seems to be fitting into his new role quite comfortably. During the fall sitting, Mr. Wilson stood out from his colleagues when asking tough in question period and launching into spirited and thoughtful debates over legislation. He may have also asked one of the more light-hearted question of this year’s session.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford (PC – Calgary-Elbow) A better Premier than she is a politician. In her first year, Premier Redford excels at the duties of her job, whether it be advocating for the province at international conferences or in interprovincial relations or debating shifts in government policy. The Premier appears to be less interested or willing to play the political game, which will become increasingly difficult in the face of an aggressive official opposition and a growing list of government scandals and missteps. A recent change in her communications staff may be a sign that the Premier hopes to react more swiftly to the Wildrose attacks in the new year.

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith (Wildrose – Highwood) – A better politician than she probably would be a Premier. She was unable to lead her party into government in the April 2012 election, but with 17 MLAs and 34% of the province-wide vote, the Wildrose Party secured the Official Opposition benches. Borrowing aggressive tactics from the federal Conservatives in Ottawa, who are organizationally tied at the hip with the Wildrose, Ms. Smith’s party is leading the most aggressive and partisan official opposition in recent memory. Whether or not you like her tactics, it is nice to see the Tories sweat for a change.

Kent Hehr

Kent Hehr

Kent Hehr (Liberal – Calgary-Buffalo) The two-term MLA from downtown Calgary is easily one of the most effective and reasonable voices in the tiny Liberal caucus. Mr. Hehr has picked up the mantle left by recently retired Liberal MLA Kevin Taft and challenged the governing Tories about the serious revenue problems facing our province. More recently, his comments about uniting progressive voters drew the ire of Liberal Party archetypes. While his party plays with gimmicky name changes, Mr. Hehr is trying to figure out how to get the Liberal-minded Albertans back in the game after the party fell to third place in the 2012 election.

Doug Horner (PC – Spruce Grove-St. Albert) Trying to change the political culture around debt and budget financing in Alberta is a the tough job faced by Finance Minister Doug Horner. Taking advantage of low inflation and avoiding boom-time construction costs, Mr. Horner is leading the government to using financing to make some much needed investments in public infrastructure. While initially the clear second in command to Premier Redford, he appears to have taken a slight step back from the spotlight. If the next three years do not go well for the current Premier, Mr. Horner could find himself in a position to take his party’s reins.

Thomas Lukaszuk (PC – Edmonton-Castle Downs) The Tory attack dog has been both Minister of Nothing and Everything at the same time. Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk has been the Tory government’s main defender against aggressive attacks launched by the Wildrose Party during Question Period. Whether or not his sometimes aloof style is effective, I expect we have yet to witness just how tough this political minister is.

Kerry Towle (Wildrose – Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Ian Donovan (Wildrose – Little Bow) The two first-term Wildrose MLAs were thrown into the media spotlight this summer over issues related to seniors care in Alberta. As Seniors critic, Ms. Towle has been relentless in attacking the government over the quality of food in long-term care centres (an issue raised by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees) and the “one-bath a week” policy. Mr. Donovan was thrown into the media spotlight when the Tory government closed the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in his Little Bow constituency. As rookies finding their political footing on this issue, it was not an uncommon sight this summer to see the two Wildrose MLAs awkwardly sharing the podium (or megaphone) with NDP MLA David Eggen and leaders of Alberta’s public sector unions.

This year’s honourable mentions go to two candidates who were not elected in April, but contributed a considerable amount to the results on election day. Edmonton-South West Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger‘s “Lake of Fire” comments and Calgary-Greenway Wildrose candidate Ron Leech‘s “caucasian advantage” comments were a last minute reminder to Albertans about the extreme conservative elements that exist within the Wildrose Party’s coalition. It indisputable that these two men helped convince many thousands of Albertans to vote for a party led by political moderate Premier Redford, rather than Wildrose leader Ms. Smith.

On this blog, the post that attracted the highest readership and most comments in 2012 was Thorny candidates could be the Wildrose Party’s Biggest Liability. The April 4, 2012 post was shared 603 times on Twitter and Liked by 4,724 Facebook users (Thank you).

Beyond Question Period: Debating Bill 1.

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

Rachel Notley MLA Edmonton-Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

big money spent in alberta’s 2012 election.

 

Canadian Money

Money, money, money.

Elections Alberta has released the financial disclosure forms submitted by candidates who ran in the April 2012 provincial election and some of the disclosure forms reveal some interesting information about how much money was fundraised and spent during the campaign. The money spent by candidates and political parties in Alberta elections are nowhere near the truckloads being spent south of the border in advance of November’s presidential and senate elections, but some of these numbers demonstrate how pitched some electoral battles were in the recent provincial election. Although money cannot replace hard-working candidates and dedicated volunteers, it makes available resources that can, in many cases, make a big difference in pushing a candidate to electoral success.

Premier Alison Redford Alberta

Premier Alison Redford

It appears that the most expensive race between two candidates was in Calgary-Elbow, where Premier Alison Redford faced Wildrose Party challenger James Cole. While Premier Redford’s campaign spent a massive $154,345.53, Mr. Cole’s campaign was not far behind, spending $123,647 during the election period.

South of Calgary in the Highwood constituency, the campaign of Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith (named Marlaina Danielle Smith by Elections Alberta) spent only $55,010.97 compared to the $90,706.19 spent by the campaign of Tory challenger John Barlow.

In the hotly-contested constituency of Calgary-Acadia, Wildrose challenger Richard Jones spent 69,335.39 on his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, whose campaign spent $71,246.45. Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson, who crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010, saw his campaign spend $77,295.20, which dwarfed the $32,411 spent by the campaign of his main challenger Kelly Hegg.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012

Danielle Smith

In the long-time Liberal-held Edmonton-Gold Bar constituency, Tory David Dorward‘s campaign spent $77,732.39, NDP Marlin Schmidt‘s spent $38,400.73, and Liberal Josipa Petrunic‘s spent $33,079.39. The contest was won by Mr. Dorward, who was elected with 33% of the vote. In Calgary-McCall, Liberal MLA Darshan Kang‘s campaign spent $82,629.80 to ward off challengers Tory Muhammad Rasheed and Wildroser Grant Galpin, whose campaigns spent $87,327.25 and $27,695.12.

In Edmonton-Rutherford, Tory Health Minister Fred Horne‘s $108,327.30 campaign easily outspent a wide field of challengers. Former Liberal MLA Rick Miller‘s campaign spent $41,117.36, the campaign of Alberta Party candidate Michael Walters spent $30,085.18, and Wildrose challenger Kyle Mcleod‘s campaign spent $23,477.51.

In many cases, the Tory MLA’s vastly outspent their main challengers (which in most cases, was the local Wildrose candidate). In Calgary-Greenway, Tory Manmeet Bhullar‘s campaign spent $133,294 against challenger Ron Leech‘s $14,078.05 campaign. In Fort McMurray-Conklin, the campaign of first-time Tory candidate Don Scott spent $110,955.44 to Wildroser Doug Faulkner‘s $21,011.41. In Edmonton-Whitemud, Tory cabinet minister Dave Hancock‘s campaign spent $121,233.35 to Wildrose challenger Ian Crawford‘s $11,598.73. In Calgary-West, Tory candidate Ken Hughes‘ campaign spent $111,796.33 compared to $31,781.49 from Wildrose challenger Andrew Constantinidis.

Ted Morton MLA

Ted Morton: the $159,618.90 man.

In some cases, outspending a challenge made little difference for incumbent Tory MLAs. In Chestermere-Rockyview, Energy Minister Ted Morton‘s campaign spent $159,618.90 compared to Wildrose challenger Bruce McAllister‘s $48,062.69. Mr. McAllister defeated Minister Morton on election night.

There were some other surprising finds as well. In Lethbridge-West, the campaign of NDP candidate Shannon Phillips spent $48,852.88 compared to PC MLA Greg Weadick‘s $39,394.54. This was also the NDP’s best showing outside of Edmonton.

The ‘Maurice Tougas Award for Electoral Victory on a Shoestring Budget’ goes to Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson, who was elected in Calgary-Shaw for the first time in April 2012. Mr. Wilson was one of the last Wildrose Party candidates to be nominated and defeated Tory star candidate Farouk Adatia, who outspent the Wildrose challenger $78,347 to $15,358. Less extreme cases took place across central and southern Alberta, where Wildrose candidates were elected in long-time Tory voting constituencies.

The award is named after writer Maurice Tougas, who served as the Liberal MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark from 2004 to 2008. Mr. Tougas’ campaign spent $5,366.55 in his last minute campaign against Tory MLA Bob Maskell, whose campaign spent $46,957.00. Mr. Tougas unseated Mr. Maskell on election night.

Note: I had hoped that I would be able to provide a more comprehensive list of numbers from the financial disclosure. Unfortunately, the unfriendly interfaced used by Elections Alberta on their website did not allow me the time to complete this. Rather than transferring the data into easily searchable and useable formats on their website, Elections Alberta provides PDFs of scanned paper forms which were completed in handwriting by the candidate’s Chief Financial Officers (the writing ranges from chicken-scratch to cursive). It is my hope that in the near future, Elections Alberta is able to build a more user-friendly website that allows Albertans to more easily access these important records.