Tag Archives: Jessica Littlewood

Alberta Nomination candidates: Nicole Williams (UCP-Edmonton-West Henday), Sarah Hoffman (NDP- Edmonton Glenora), Maryann Chichak (UCP-West Yellowhead), and Lisa Wardley (UCP-Peace River).

Friday Night Nomination Candidate Update

Photo: Nicole Williams, Sarah Hoffman, Maryann Chichak, and Lisa Wardley.

Here are some of the latest updates to the list of candidates running for party nominations ahead of Alberta’s expected 2019 provincial general election:

Calgary-North EastNate Pike is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Pike is a paramedic who works for Alberta Health Services.

Calgary-North West: Lesley Doell is seeking the United Conservative Party nomination. Doell is a French Immersion facilitator and instructional coach with the Foothills School Division and the former executive director of the French Language Resource Centre in Grande Prairie. She had been considered a potential candidate for the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Centre in 2019.

Calgary-ShawMark Mantei is seeking the UCP nomination. He is an executive with a computer software and consulting company and previously served as the President of the Wildrose Party constituency association in this district. This district is currently represented by New Democratic Party MLA Graham Sucha.

Edmonton-GlenoraSarah Hoffman is seeking the NDP nomination in this west-central Edmonton district. Hoffman was first elected as MLA for this district in 2015 with 68 percent of the vote, She previously served two terms on Edmonton’s Public School Board including as chair from 2012 to 2015. She has served as Minster of Health and Deputy Premier since 2015.

Edmonton-West Henday – Two candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in this new west Edmonton district. Nicole Williams is a senior associate with Canadian Strategy Group and previously worked as an assistant to various MLAs and cabinet ministers in the old Progressive Conservative government. Lance Coulter is a former assistant to Edmonton-Griesbach Member of Parliament Kerry Diotte and previously served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville – Conservative partisan activist Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk is seeking the UCP nomination. Armstrong-Homeniuk currently serves on the local UCP association and previously served as the Regional Director for Central Northeast Alberta on the PC Party board of directors. This district is currently represented by NDP MLA Jessica Littlewood.

Lac Ste. Anne-ParklandJerry Molnar is seeking the UCP nomination in this newly redrawn district northwest of Edmonton.

Peace River – There is a packed race for the UCP nomination in Peace River. The nomination candidates include former Town of Peace River chief administrative officer Kelly Bunn, Peace River music teacher Donald Lee, Mackenzie County deputy reeve Lisa Wardley, and former assistant to Jason Kenney in Ottawa Daniel Williams. This district is currently represented by NDP MLA Debbie Jabbour.

St. AlbertJeff Wedman is seeking the UCP nomination. Wedman is an officer with the Edmonton Police Service and is a retired Canadian Armed Forces pilot. He ran for the PC Party nomination in St. Albert ahead of the 2012 election. This district is currently represented by NDP MLA Marie Renaud, who is running for re-election.

Spruce Grove-Stony PlainDan Corbett is seeking the UCP nomination. He was briefly a candidate for the City of Spruce Grove mayoral election in 2017 but withdrew from the race before the election.

West Yellowhead – Town of Whitecourt mayor Maryann Chichak is seeking the UCP nomination in the newly redrawn West Yellowhead district, which now includes Whitecourt. Chichak was first elected as mayor in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017. She was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Whitecourt-Ste. Anne district in 2012, where she finished only 370 votes short of unseating PC MLA George VanderBurg. The West Yellowhead district is currently represented by NDP MLA Eric Rosendahl.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018: Leela Aheer, Shaye Anderson, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci, Rick Fraser, Sandra Jansen, Brian Jean, Danielle Larivee, Jessica Littlewood, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd and Richard Starke.

12 Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018

Photo: Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018: Leela Aheer, Shaye Anderson, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci, Rick Fraser, Sandra Jansen, Brian Jean, Danielle Larivee, Jessica Littlewood, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd and Richard Starke.

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past twelve years. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits.

As is tradition on this blog, each year I publish a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here are the MLAs I will be watching in 2018:

Leela Aheer (UCP – Chestermere-Rockyview): Aheer was a staunch supporter of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean during the 2017 UCP leadership race, but when the dust settled, a victorious Kenney appointed her as Deputy Leader of the UCP caucus. Her private members’ bill, Bill 206: the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement (Adoption Advertising) Amendment Act, which aimed to bring the process of adoption into the digital age by allowing prospective adoptive parents to go online through licensed adoption agencies, was passed after a remarkably civil debate in 2017.

Shaye Anderson (NDP – Leduc-Beaumont): Anderson is charming and has just the kind of average working-man appeal that the NDP government needs. Appointed to cabinet in 2017, the Municipal Affairs Minister will oversee the implementation of the new City Charters and a reformed Municipal Government Act in 2018. With talk of the AUMA and AAMDC merging and increasing pressure on the NDP to reform municipal election finance laws, Anderson’s role at the cabinet table could become more important in 2018.

Deron Bilous (NDP – Edmonton-Beverly Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Bilous has led successful trade missions to China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. With the province’s economy growing but unemployment rates remaining unchanged, he faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan is working as the provincial economy recovers from the sharp decline of international oil prices.

Joe Ceci (NDP – Calgary-Fort): With Alberta’s economy projected to have grown between 3.9 percent and 6.7 percent in 2017, the Finance Minister will implement what Notley describes as “compassionate belt-tightening.” The NDP need to present a more defined budget plan, but it should not just focus on spending. Alberta has a revenue problem and if we should have learned anything since the international price of oil collapsed in 2014, it is that we should not depend on royalty revenues from oil and gas to fund the day to day operations of our public services. And did I mention he is a champion of Alberta’s booming craft brewing industry?

Rick Fraser (Independent – Calgary-South East): The former PC MLA left the UCP caucus in September 2017, citing concerns about the party’s position on climate change and social issues. There were strong rumours that Fraser would join the Alberta Party caucus in 2017, but the resignation of Greg Clark as party leader may have put any floor-crossing plans on hold.

Sandra Jansen (NDP – Calgary-North West): Appointed to cabinet in 2017, the former PC MLA plays a big role in Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary. As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road. She should spend less time arguing with Conservative partisans on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.

Brian Jean (UCP – Fort McMurray-Conklin): The former leader of the Wildrose Party disappeared from public sight after losing the UCP leadership to Kenney. As the only Official Opposition MLA without a critic role, there were questions raised about whether Jean will stick around until the 2019 election or whether Albertans can expect a by-election to be held in Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018. But in a year-end interview with Fort McMurray Today, Jean says he is not planning on leaving politics in 2018.

Danielle Larivee (NDP – Lesser Slave Lake): A rising star in the Alberta cabinet, Larivee was shuffled from Municipal Affairs to Children’s Services in 2017 to quell a political scandal, which she appears to have successfully done. She launched and expanded Alberta’s $25 per day child care program, which will have a real positive impact on a lot of Alberta families.

Jessica Littlewood (NDP – Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): Appointed as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade with responsibilities for small business, Littlewood is another rising star in the NDP caucus. With a potential cabinet shuffle ahead in 2018, I would not be surprised if she is appointed to a full cabinet position.

Shannon Phillips (NDP – Lethbridge-West): The Environment and Parks Minister continues to champion the Alberta government’s high-profile Climate Leadership Plan. The plan has led to the creation of Canada’s lowest renewable electricity rates, but a focused opposition campaign by its Conservative critics has led to mass confusion about the goal of the carbon levy. Phillips will have a big challenge ahead of her in 2018 to explain how the NDP’s plan to combat climate change will have a positive impact on individual Albertans ahead of the 2019 election.

David Shepherd (NDP – Edmonton-Centre): With 1,200 votes counted, Shepherd was chosen as the Up and Comer to Watch in 2018 in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey. He is a hard-working, well-spoken and passionate MLA who has excelled at communicating online, in-person and on the floor of the Assembly.

Richard Starke (Progressive Conservative – Vermilion-Lloydminster): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and leadership candidate opted not to join his fellow PC MLAs when they joined the Wildrose-heavy UCP caucus in July 2017. He instead decided to remain a PC MLA in the Assembly. Like his former PC colleague Rick Fraser, there were strong rumours in 2017 that Starke could join the Alberta Party caucus.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 201720162015 and 2014.

Winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey: David Eggen, David Shepherd, Rachel Notley and Greg Clark.

Episode 3: Best of Alberta Politics 2017

In the latest episode of The Daveberta Podcast, Ryan and I discuss Kara Levis‘ entry into the Alberta Party leadership race, the results of the Calgary-Lougheed by-election, Conservative MPs being challenged for their nominations, and we reveal the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey.

With more than 1,200 votes cast in two rounds of voting, we were proud to announce and discuss the results of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey on this episode:

  • Biggest Issue of 2017: The economy and jobs
  • Best political play of 2017: The formation of the United Conservative Party
  • Best Opposition MLA of 2017: Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • Best Cabinet Minister of 2017: David Eggen, Minister of Education
  • Up and comer to watch in 2018: David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre
  • Best Alberta MLA of 2017: Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta and NDP MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and wherever you find podcasts online.

We’d love to hear what you think of the podcast, so feel free to leave a positive review and share the podcast with your friends and family. Also feel free to leave a comment on this blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We’d also like to send a big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for his help in making this podcast a reality.

We will be back in January 2018!

Merry Christmas!

Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey Photo: Jessica Littlewood, Greg Clark, Shannon Phillips, Nathan Cooper, and Sarah Hoffman.

Vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey (Round 2!)

In our most recent episode of The Daveberta Podcast, Ryan and I asked you to help us shape our final episode of 2017 by voting in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey.

More than 300 of you responded to the survey last week with your choices for the biggest political players and defining political issues of 2017. We tallied all the responses from that survey and we are now asking you to vote on the top 3 choices in each category.

Voting will be open until 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 21, 2017 and we will reveal and discuss the results in the final podcast episode of 2017, which we will be recording on the same day.

Here are the top 3 contenders who you can vote for in Round 2 of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2017? – Vote

  • Premier Rachel Notley, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre

An honourable mention to Sandra Jansen, the NDP MLA for Calgary-North West, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting.

What was the biggest political issue in 2017 in Alberta politics? – Vote

  • Gay-Straight Alliances
  • The Economy and Jobs
  • Oil Pipelines

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2017? – Vote

  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Seniors
  • David Eggen, Minister of Education
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Danielle Larivee, Minister of Children’s Services, and Deron Bilous, Minister of Trade and Economic Development, who placed a strong fourth and fifth in the first round of voting.

Who was the Best Opposition MLA for 2017? – Vote

  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • Nathan Cooper, UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • David Swann, Liberal MLA for Calgary-Mountain View

Honourable mentions to Richard Starke, the Independent PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, and Brian Jean, the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, who placed a strong fourth and fifth in the first round of voting.

Who is the up and comer for 2018? – Vote

  • Jessica Littlewood, NDP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville
  • Jason Kenney, UPC MLA for Calgary-Lougheed and Leader of the Official Opposition
  • David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre

An honourable mention to Brian Malkinson, the NDP MLA for Calgary-Currie, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting.

What was the biggest political play of 2017 in Alberta politics? – Voting Closed

In the first round of voting, 59 percent of you chose the creation of the United Conservative Party as the biggest political play of 2017. Because of this was the choice of a clear majority, we have declared this result as the winner in this category. Congrats, UCP.

Other notable choices in his category were Premier Rachel Notley’s pipeline tour, Greg Clark’s being forced out of the Alberta Party leadership and the NDP government’s Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools.

Photo: Jessica Littlewood, Greg Clark, Shannon Phillips, Nathan Cooper, and Sarah Hoffman.

Rural Alberta Advantage

AAMDC wants a Rural Alberta Electoral Advantage

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties approved a resolution opposing the recommendations included in the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission this week at their annual meeting in Edmonton. The organization representing municipal districts and counties opposes the dissolution of three rural districts and is calling for an amendment to Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

A press release issued by the AAMDC states the organization has no issue with the creation of new urban seats to support the significant growth in the urban centres, but feels strongly these seats should not be created at the expense of rural Alberta.

“To suggest that effective representation will be achieved by decreasing the number of long-standing rural seats will disservice rural Alberta greatly,” AAMDC president Al Kemmere said in the news release. “Rural communities are an intrinsic part of Alberta and as such, deserve to have a voice in our democratic institutions.”

Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act limits the number of districts represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly to 87. Presumably, the AAMDC would like to see an increase to the total number of MLAs in order to offset the loss of rural representation in the Assembly.

In 2010, then-Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced Bill 28: Electoral Division Act, which increased the total number of electoral districts represented in the Legislature from 83 to 87. It was widely believed that this increase was an attempt to quell political opposition to any decrease in rural representation by the large caucus of rural Progressive Conservative MLAs.

The Commission’s final report recommends the creation of three new urban districts to reflect significant population growth in urban municipalities such as Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, Edmonton and Spruce Grove. The report’s recommendations also reflect the considerable growth of suburban and acreage communities in counties surrounding these urban areas.

While most areas of the province have experienced some level of population growth since the last time electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2011, some rural areas east of Red Deer and in east central Alberta have experience a decline in population.

The elimination of rural districts will result in geographically larger rural districts. This will pose increased challenges to MLAs who will need to represent more sprawling and geographically diverse constituencies, but the elimination of rural districts is inevitable unless their populations increase at a rate larger than the growing urban areas.

Rural Alberta has experienced a significant decline in electoral representation over the past fifty years, partly due to population growth in the urban centres but mostly due to the gradual elimination of intentional political gerrymandering of electoral districts, which created a lopsided over-representation of rural MLAs in the Assembly.

In the 1967 election, rural Albertans were 31 percent of the population but rural areas represented 44 of 63 electoral districts in the province. That rural overrepresentation declined only slightly in the 1971 election, when rural Albertans represented 27 percent of the population and 42 of 75 electoral districts.

The blatant overrepresentation of rural areas over the province’s growing urban areas continued under the old PC government until at least the mid-1990s. Rural gerrymandering was once a hallmark of Alberta’s political history, but recent Electoral Boundary Commissions worked to equalize representation of rural and urban areas in the Assembly.

Politics and Rural Representation

When the Commission’s final report is introduced for debate in the Assembly, which could happen in the coming weeks, we can expect the United Conservative Party caucus to oppose many of the recommended changes. While there are legitimate concerns with some of the boundary changes impacting rural areas, the UCP will use the report’s recommendations to attack the urban-based New Democratic Party, which is already unpopular in rural Alberta.

Unlike the PC caucus in 2010 and the UCP caucus in 2017, the governing NDP caucus is largely composed of MLAs representing urban districts in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The relatively small rural NDP caucus, which includes Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Economic Development Associate Minister Jessica Littlewood, does not have the numerical leverage over their colleagues that rural caucuses have had in the past.

The decreasing influence of rural MLAs in Alberta governments since 2012, when the Wildrose Party swept into opposition, led the AAMDC to find itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

For many years, the AAMDC was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many rural politicians had used the organization as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former county reeves Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk and Ed Stelmach).

The PCs under Redford’s leadership struggled to communicate rural interests in government and it is unclear if the current NDP government even has much of a rural agenda.

This week’s announcement from Shaye Anderson that the government will provide a tax credit for uncollectible education property taxes on defunct oil and gas properties, known as orphan wells, should be popular among rural municipal leaders. But previous transgressions, like the fumbled passage of Bill 6 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants early in the NDP’s term in government created significant resentment in rural areas. These issues will pose a major challenge for NDP MLAs seeking re-election in rural districts in the 2019 election.

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Former Tory Sandra Jansen appointed to Notley NDP cabinet

Photo: Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016. (Photo from Premier Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page)

It was widely expected to happen in 2017, and today NDP MLA Sandra Jansen was sworn-in to the provincial cabinet as Minister of Infrastructure. She takes over the portfolio from veteran MLA Brian Mason, who had served as both Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation since the NDP formed government in 2015.

First elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2008, Jansen was one of ten PCs to survive the NDP orange wave of 2015. After being driven out of the PC leadership race by social conservative supporters of Jason Kenney, she crossed the floor to the NDP.

Bringing Jansen into cabinet bolsters the number of NDP cabinet ministers in Calgary, which is expected to be a critical electoral battleground in the next election. Infrastructure issues, like the construction of a new cancer centre, were key issues for voters in the last election.

The NDP swept Calgary in the last election, but they will face a very steep uphill battle to re-elected many of those MLAs in the next election.

Jansen’s appointment to the provincial cabinet means the majority of Alberta’s cabinet ministers – eleven out of twenty-one – are women.

Other recent changes to the provincial leadership include the appointment of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jessica Littlewood as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade for Small Business and Sherwood Park MLA Annie McKitrick as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education.

Under the old PC government, appointments of Parliamentary Secretaries, or Parliamentary Assistants, were used in some cases to provide training for backbench MLA’s identified as being future cabinet minister material. In other cases, when the PCs were burdened with large caucuses, some MLAs were given with Parliamentary Secretary appointments as a way of generating busy-work for backbenchers who might otherwise cause trouble for the government leadership.

Littlewood and McKitrick are the first two Parliamentary Secretaries appointed since the NDP formed government in 2015, so it is unclear what their actual role in the government will be.

Other notable appointments include:

  • Calgary-Currie MLA Brian Malkinson was recently appointed to the provincial Treasury Board.
  • Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas was recently sworn in as a member of the Legislative Review Committee.
Photo: Former PC MLAs Jacquie Fenske, Don Scott, Linda Johnson and Ron Casey

Former PC MLAs running for municipal office in 2017

Alberta’s 2015 provincial election resulted in the election of 75 new MLAs in the 87 seat Legislative Assembly. More than two years after that historic election, a group of former Progressive Conservative MLAs have put forward their names to stand in the October 16, 2017 municipal elections. Here is a quick look at some of the former PC MLAs jumping into municipal politics:

  • Jacquie Fenske is running for Mayor of Strathcona County. Fenske served as the PC MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2012 until 2015 and previous to that as a Strathcona County councillor. Fenske was unseated by New Democrat Jessica Littlewood in the 2015 election.
  • Former Fort McMurray-Conklin PC MLA Don Scott is running to become the next mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Scott served on council from 2010 to 2012 and as MLA from 2012 until he was unseated by Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean in 2015. He served as Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation from 2012 to 2014 and Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education from 2014 until 2015.
  • Linda Johnson announced she is running for Calgary City Council in Ward 11. Johnson was the PC MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2012 until 2015, when she was defeated by 6 votes by New Democrat Anam Kazim. Current Ward 11 councillor Brian Pincott, who is not seeking re-election this year, is considering a run for the NDP in Calgary-Mountain View in the next provincial election.
  • Former Banff-Cochrane PC MLA Ron Casey is running for Mayor of Canmore, an office he held from 1998 to 2001 and 2004 until entering provincial politics in 2012. Casey will challenge John Borrowman, who was elected mayor in the by-election following the 2012 provincial election. Casey was unseated in the 2015 election by New Democrat Cameron Westhead.
  • Former PC MLA David Xiao is running for city council in Ward 5. Xiao was the MLA for Edmonton-McClung from 2008 to 2012 and served as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Employment and Immigration. ‘Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao’s claimed travel expenses of nearly $35,000 last year, more than any of his Edmonton colleagues,’ the CBC reported on Jan. 22, 2013. In 2014, he was disqualified from running for the federal Conservative nomination in the Edmonton-West riding. He was defeated in the 2015 election by New Democrat Lorne Dach.
  • Former PC MLA Art Johnston is running for Calgary City Council in Ward 13. Johnston was MLA for Calgary-Hays from 2004 to 2012. Johnston has the distinction of being the only MLA to endorse Alison Redford in the first round of voting in the 2011 PC leadership race and he served as parliamentary assistant to premier Redford from 2011 until 2012. He lost two bids to win his party’s nominations in advance of the 2012 election – to Rick Fraser in Calgary-South East and Ric McIver in Calgary-Hays.
  • Dave Quest had initially announced plans to run for Strathcona County council but has since withdrawn his name from the race. He served as the PC MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park from 2004 to 2015 until he was unseated by New Democrat Estefania Cortes-Vargas.

If I have missed any former MLAs running in this year’s municipal election, please let me know and I will mention them in future updates. Thanks!

Former PC MLA now organizing for the Alberta Party

Blake Pedersen MLA Medicine Hat

Blake Pedersen

Speaking of former PC MLAs… Blake Pedersen is listed as the contact person for upcoming annual general meetings for Alberta Party associations in the Medicine Hat and Cypress-Medicine Hat constituencies.

Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PCs in 2014. During his time as MLA he served as the Official Opposition critic for Culture and Innovation and Advanced Education.

He was unseated by New Democrat Bob Wanner in the 2015 election.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017: Shannon Phillips, Sarah Hoffman, Sandra Jansen, Derek Fildebrandt, Brian Jean, RIchard Starke, Thomas Dang, Christina Gray, Jessica Littlewood, and David Swann.

Ten Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past decade. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits. As is tradition on this blog, each December I sit down by the open fire and pen a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or Finance Minister Joe Ceci, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here is my list of MLAs to watch in 2017:

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): The implementation of Alberta’s much lauded and much derided Climate Leadership Plan will be central to the government’s agenda in 2017. Navigating attacks against the incoming carbon tax, which led to the approval of two oil pipelines, will be critical to the success of the plan. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will also have to navigate the politics of replacing Alberta’s dirty coal fired power plants with renewable electricity generation, which could include potentially controversial hydro electric dam projects in northern Alberta.

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Now as Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Sarah Hoffman continues to prove that she is one of the toughest MLAs in the government benches. She has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Ms. Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I noted in last year’s list, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016 could find herself with a cabinet post in 2017. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Notley could shuffle the cabinet early next year. Appointing Ms. Jansen as Minister of Energy could help shore up NDP support in Calgary, especially with the recent approval of two oil pipelines. Or perhaps she could replace embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir?

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): The outspoken attack dog of the Official Opposition is unleashed, as was demonstrated by his rant against “political correctness” at a recent event organized by Ezra Levant’s fringe advocacy group. After being muzzled by Wildrose leader Brian Jean in early 2016, Mr. Fildebrandt is already feeling empowered in 2017 by the rise of Jason Kenney in Alberta’s Conservative movement. Like Mr. Kenney, he is a former Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a rigid conservative ideologue. Expect Mr. Fildebrandt to be one of Mr. Kenney’s chief lieutenants in his bid to merge the PC Party with the Wildrose Party in 2017.

Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Conklin): What lies ahead for the leader of the Wildrose Party? After Mr. Kenney succeeds in his hostile takeover of the PC Party leadership in May 2017, Mr. Jean might be the only obstacle standing in the way of the two parties merging. He saved his party from the electoral abyss in 2015, but the well-meaning Fort McMurray politician will face significant pressure from his party and the federal Conservatives to step aside to let Mr. Kenney take over. It seems unlikely that his leadership will survive 2017.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): If PC Party members want to preserve their party, rallying behind the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster might be their only, and last, chance. Standing in opposition to Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover, Mr. Starke appears to understand that his party’s success over the past four decades was not based in rigid ideology but in the ability to build a big tent that invited conservatives, moderates and liberals to the table. If he cannot win, then 2017 will be the final year for the PC Party in Alberta.

Thomas Dang (Edmonton-South West): Alberta’s youngest MLA could become known as the Daylight Saving Time Slayer in 2017. He announced this week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill in the spring session of Assembly that would abolish the unpopular annual time-shift.

Christina Gray (Edmonton-Mill Woods): Labour Minister Christina Gray is not the most high profile cabinet minister but she is charged with steering some of the NDP government’s important policy changes. This fall she introduced reforms to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, and next year she will face the government’s much-needed review of the Workers’ Compensation Board, expected changes to the Labour Relations Code and implementation of Occupational Health & Safety rules under the controversial Bill 6 farm safety law.

Jessica Littlewood (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): She had a rough time while serving as chair of the Special Select Committee on Ethics and Accountability, but the trial by fire was more than most of her rookie MLA colleagues have experienced. Despite the committee fumble, Ms. Littlewood stands out as a well-spoken and articulate member of the NDP caucus. A junior cabinet position could be in her future.

David Swann (Calgary-Mountain View): The ernest and hardworking interim leader of the Liberal Party will step down from that role in June 2017. It is not clear who will succeed Dr. Swann, who is currently Alberta’s only Liberal MLA (he is serving his fourth-term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View), which makes it difficult to predict what his role will be in a Liberal Party led by someone from outside the Legislature.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 20162015 and 2014.

NDP leader Rachel Notley, surrounded by her party's Calgary candidates in the 2015 election.

1 year later – has the NDP kept their election promises to improve ethics in government?

Days after the Alberta New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government in 2015, I wrote a column outlining the promises made in the party’s election platform to improve ethics in government. One year later, here is a look at those six platform points and whether the NDP have kept their promises to implement them.

(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.

This was the first law passed by the NDP after they formed government. Introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta banned corporate and union donations to provincial political parties in Alberta. The received unanimous support in the Legislature and retroactively came into effect on June 15, 2015.

It is banned provincially and federally but it is still legal for corporations and unions to make financial contributions to municipal election candidates in Alberta. There is still time for the NDP to amend the Local Authorities Elections Act to ban these donations before the October 2017 municipal elections.

(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.

A promise made by Premier Rachel Notley at a campaign stop in Calgary on April 17, 2015. An NDP press release at the time said that “[t]he list will indicate how projects are prioritized, including the standards used to make the decisions, and will identify when and how changes are made to those priorities.”

Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason said in July 2015 that a list would be released soon but by November 2015 he told reporters that an “artificial order” of priority might create too much animosity between municipalities. The NDP still have until 2019 to implement this promise but I suspect they have decided the political blowback from municipal governments and school boards would cause more trouble than it is worth for the provincial government.

(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

The Select Special Committee on Ethics and Accountability was created in 2015 to review the Conflicts of Interest Act, the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

The committee is chaired by Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville NDP MLA Jessica Littlewood and is composed of 10 NDP MLAs, 5 Wildrose MLAs, and one Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Alberta Party MLA. The committee is expected to submit its recommendations for amendments to the Acts in September 2016. A motion introduced by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark to extend the committee’s mandate until March 2017 failed last week.

(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.

This could be included in the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability recommendations expected to be completed in September 2016. A private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman in 2016 that would ban government advertising during election periods was referred to this committee.

(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act was introduced by Ms. Ganley on November 5, 2015 and came into effect on December 11, 2015. This bill extended the sunshine list to require compensation disclosure for certain employees who work for agencies, boards and commissions, public post-secondary institutions, Offices of the Legislature and provincial health authorities.

(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.

This is a perennial pledge made by opposition politicians that in practice is difficult to prove when the party forms government. When the NDP won a majority government on May 5, 2015, they also won  a majority majorities on the all-party committees of the Legislature. Like all majority governments, they are using their majority to push forward their agenda at the committee level.

As long as our legislative system is dominated by the government leadership it is unlikely that MLAs committees will actually be independent of influence from the Premier’s Office. There is little evidence to suggest that MLA committees are now controlled any more or any less than they were under the previous PC Party government.

Funding for the eight Offices of the Legislature has decreased by $26,300,000 from $152,407,000 in 2015-2016 to $126,107,000 in 2016-2017, largely due to a decrease in funding for the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (because the next election is not expected to be held until 2019).

Ethics Commissioner Complaints

Responding to a request by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler investigated allegations that two fundraisers attended by Ms. Notley were in violation of the Conflicts of Interest Act. Ms. Trussler’s report concluded that Ms. Notley was not in breach of the act with respect to either of Mr. Nixon’s complaints.

Questions have been raised about the results of another investigation made by Ms. Trussler into allegations that former PC Finance Minister Robin Campbell had violated the Conflicts of Interest Act through his activities as President of the Coal Association of Canada. Political strategist Corey Hogan penned a letter to Ms. Trussler asking for clarification of how she interpreted the Act in this investigation.