Tag Archives: Jim Prentice

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

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

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

Jim Prentice speaks at the podium of his campaign rally on April 14, 2015.

Very sad news today

Very sad news today. My condolences to the families and friends of former premier Jim Prentice and the three other passengers killed in the plane crash on this very difficult and tragic day.

Mr. Prentice served as Premier of Alberta from September 2014 until May 2015. He was elected as the MLA for Calgary-Foothills from October 2015 to May 2015 and as the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre North from June 2004 to November 2010.

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

Notley searches for her Lougheed moment by demanding pipelines for Trudeau’s carbon tax

Demanding the federal government help “break the landlock” and support the construction of oil pipelines from Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips drew a line for Alberta’s support of the Justin Trudeau government’s proposed national carbon pricing plan. In a statement released today, Ms. Notley stated that the Alberta government would not support the federal carbon pricing plan without federal support for increased “energy infrastructure” (a.k.a. oil pipelines).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

There is nothing more Albertan than a good old fashioned political battle between the provincial government and Ottawa over energy issues. Premier Notley may be hoping this standoff could be reminiscent of the heated political disputes that took place between the governments of Premier Peter Lougheed and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Mr. Lougheed, an iconic figure in Alberta politics, political fights with Ottawa can help boost a politician’s popularity at home.

When Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice began casting the New Democratic Party as “extremists” during the 2015 election, Ms. Notley frequently turned to quotes by Mr. Lougheed to support her party’s positions on issues like raising corporate taxes.

Ms. Notley’s NDP have been vocal supporters of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline since she became party leader in 2014. Now, as government, the Alberta NDP’s support for oil pipeline expansion has contributed to an increasingly deep divide between the national and provincial NDP in this province. The national NDP, with strong support in anti-pipeline constituencies in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, has played a much less supportive role in advocating for Alberta’s oil industry.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

The Alberta government’s criticism of the federal government puts Ms. Notley in the company of conservative Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a constant critic of Ottawa. But unlike Mr. Wall’s government, which has dragged its feet on tackling climate change, Ms. Notley’s government cannot be accused of doing nothing to address climate change. Alberta’s NDP government has led the charge with its flagship ‘Climate Leadership Plan‘ which includes its own carbon tax and an aggressive phasing out of dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Alberta NDP plan enjoys the support of environmental groups and oil and gas industry heavyweights like Cenovus, Suncor, CNRL and Shell.

Meanwhile, opposition groups like the Wildrose Party are literally hoping to rehash the political battles of the 1980s. The official opposition Wildrose Party circulated a meme online today comparing the national carbon tax announcement to the unpopular National Energy Program of the 1980s. The Wildrose Party continues to be fierce critics of the federal Liberals and NDP but party leader Brian Jean has yet to offer any alternative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Ironically, the Wildrose Party’s 2015 election platform proposes to “Ensure Alberta’s standards for CO2 emissions and pollutants are in line with national and international standards.” This statement was written during a time when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister and a national climate change plan was nowhere on the agenda. It is amazing how quickly politics can change in a short seventeen months.

Breaking the landlock,’ which I predict will become the latest political buzzword, is analogous to the “bitumen bubble” that former premier Alison Redford warned Albertans of in a televised address in 2014. Both buzzwords are part of a public campaign to build pipelines that would presumably allow for easier export of Alberta’s oil, and allow the private companies exporting the oil to sell Western Canadian Select at a lower discount rate than in previous years. This probably would not make a significant difference to Alberta until the international price of oil rebounds.

Over the past year, Ms. Notley has shown her willingness to work with Mr. Trudeau on a wide-range of issues. This may have led the Prime Minister to expect he would find an ally in Ms. Notley in his bid to implement a national carbon pricing plan. But by attaching strings to Alberta’s support for a national carbon pricing plan, Ms. Notley is playing a political game that could pay out political dividends at home. In a fight between the Alberta government and Ottawa, as Mr. Lougheed discovered, you can bet that nine times out of ten, Albertans will side with Edmonton.


Here is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in the House of Commons today announcing the national carbon pricing plan:

Should the Ethics and Accountability Committee be given a second chance?

Partisan wrangling, maneuvering and infighting appears to have derailed much of the work assigned to the Special Select Ethics and Accountability Committee by the time MLAs on the all-party committee passed a motion last week asking the Legislative Assembly to extend the committee’s mandate into spring 2017.

The committee was struck last year 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. Albertans had just elected their first new government in 44 years and provincial politics felt euphoric, unfamiliar and exciting. It was not long before negativity and hyper-partisan politics took grip, smothering much of the collegiality between New Democratic Party and opposition MLAs on the committee.

Government House leader Brian Mason mused to reporters that the New Democratic Party government was considering scrapping the committee when its deadline to make submissions is reached this week. Although the committee was tasked with reviewing four Acts, it only met fifteen times over the past year.

Regardless of the future of this committee, changes need to be made to Alberta’s elections and elections finance laws. Even if the committee is scrapped, the government could introduce changes to Alberta’s elections laws in the spring legislative sitting.

The NDP should lower the maximum annual amount that individuals can donate to provincial political parties. The current maximum annual donation limits in Alberta is $30,000 during election periods and $15,000 outside of election periods. The current maximum annual donation for federal political parties in Canada is $1,525.

The NDP should also implement maximum limits to how much candidates, political parties and third-party groups can spend during the election period, as already exist for candidates in federal elections. The limits should be reasonable and could easily be tied to the number of eligible voters in each constituency, as is the case in federal elections.

One potential change that has not been discussed, at least not much in public, is the possibility that the government could scrap Alberta’s fake fixed-election law. Introduced in 2011, the law states that an election be called every four years between March 1 and May 31. Alberta is the only Canadian province with a fixed-election law that does not actually include a fixed-election day.

As Albertans will remember, there is nothing to stop a government from calling an election early, like Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives did in 2015. Scrapping this law would allow for the NDP to govern beyond the four year period, up to five years as stated in Section 4 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, meaning the next election could be held in 2020, not 2019.

The Legislative Assembly should grant the committee the time extension it has requested when MLAs reconvene on October 31, 2016. But it is difficult to imagine that both the NDP and opposition MLAs on the committee, especially Wildrose MLAs eager to embarrass the government, will conduct themselves any differently than they have in the past year since the Ethics and Accountability Committee was formed.

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

Doug Schweitzer is out of the PC leadership race

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer announced in an email to his supporters today that he will not seek the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Schweitzer is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was involved in Jim Prentice‘s campaign for the Alberta PC Party leadership in 2014. He was widely seen as a potential flag bearer for centrist conservatives in the party and rumours of his candidacy had generated excitement among some party activists.

Here’s the text of the email, in which he also takes a swing at the PC Party and its leadership selection process:

Dear team,

This is a note that will disappoint some of my friends and supporters. I have made the decision not to pursue the Leadership of PC Alberta at this time.

My desire to be part of a significant political change in Alberta started a year ago in a coffee shop in Calgary – I just didn’t know it at the time.

At first, I was just meeting with friends to talk about how we could improve our province. Then I travelled across Alberta and met with people and listened to their concerns. People were frustrated and worried. Some had lost their jobs, others their homes and some had even lost hope. What was also very clear from these conversations was a deep sense of pride in the resilience of Albertans. Even in frustration, there was still a strong belief that Alberta could get back on its feet.

I gathered a group to talk about the future of Alberta. It led to some exciting meetings where we brought together hundreds of people to talk constructively about what our future could be. It was in these conversations that I was encouraged by many to seek the leadership of PC Alberta. I was humbled and flattered.

In exploring whether to run, the question that comes up across Alberta is, “How do we defeat the NDP?” The easy answer is to fuel anger and fear by spreading half-truths and representing them as facts for partisan benefit.

Our generation is tired of excessive partisanship. We want leaders that unite and empower us. We need to create the most competitive business environment in North America without sacrificing the environment. We want equality of opportunity, fairness and inclusion.

We need an Alberta for tomorrow, today.

The big question is can we do this through PC Alberta? I believe the Party needs to re-establish trust with voters, bring forward new ideas, a new plan and a new team. I was hopeful this could happen now.

In exploring this campaign, we have hosted hundreds of meetings across Alberta, attracted a talented team, and developed campaign infrastructure that is unrivalled. We are ready to launch what we believe is a winning campaign.

However, I am concerned about the Party’s commitment to a fair leadership process. In particular, the rules that have been established have raised some serious concerns that go to the legitimacy of the process.

This process has made me realize that if we stay focused on the past and established parties, we will lose the real opportunity that lies before us. That is the chance to define what it means to be a conservative for the next generation. We need a “New Blue”.

My team and I believe this opportunity cannot be realized while defending the status quo – we have to reach higher.

What I am interested in is participating in a larger debate that includes all Albertans who are seeking a strong alternative to the NDP. This is the inclusive debate Albertans deserve and one I will work to make happen.

To the volunteers that have been working with us, I’ll do my best to reach out to each of you over the coming weeks. It took me months to meet all of you, so please be patient. I truly appreciate everything you’ve done. I hope many of you choose to join us as we discuss next steps.

Yours truly,

Doug Schweitzer

The PC Party will select a new leader in March 2017. Federal politician Jason Kenney and former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans have officially announced their plans to run. Political strategist Stephen Carter announced this week that he will be supporting Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen‘s bid for the leadership, which has yet to be officially announced.

PC Party Superdelegates could block Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover

There are thirty-four days remaining until the Progressive Conservative leadership officially begins on October 1, 2016. The race is already unofficially underway with one candidate in the contest Jason Kenney – the Member of Parliament who launched a hostile takeover campaign earlier in the summer in a bid to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party with the backing of lobbyists with Wildrose Party ties.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

I keep hearing from my friends involved in the PC Party that a social conservative like Mr. Kenney cannot be allowed to win this race.

The third-place PC Party, which formed government in Alberta from 1971 until 2015, have abandoned its former one-member one-vote system that threw open the doors to any Albertan who wanted to participate. The party’s next leader will be chosen by locally elected delegates – 15 from each of the province’s 87 constituencies.

The PC Party committee drawing up the rules for the leadership race has decided that of each group of 15 elected delegates, ten which will be open to any local party member wishing to become a delegate and five reserved for local party officials. This is somewhat similar to the Superdelegate system used by the Democratic Party in the United States.

Doug Schweitzer

Doug Schweitzer

The adoption of this Superdelegate system means the thousands of Wildrose Party supporters who may purchase PC Party memberships to support Mr. Kenney may have a smaller impact than if all 15 delegate spots were wide open. It will likely make it more difficult for Mr. Kenney to succeed in his hostile take over the Alberta’s PC Party.

But stopping Mr. Kenney would mean someone would actually have to run against him.

We have heard rumours of that Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is aiming to run, with the support from the party’s monied Calgary establishment. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was connected to Jim Prentice‘s 2014 leadership campaign. Also said be considering a run is Byron Nelson, another Calgary lawyer and a past PC election candidate.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

I am told that more than a few moderate Tories are warming up to the idea of supporting soft-spoken veterinarian Richard Starke, one of two remaining rural PC MLAs. Sandra Jansen has also been talked about as a voice of the party’s ‘progressive’ wing. She is despised by federal Conservative activists for throwing her support behind two Calgary Liberal Party candidates in the last federal election.

Will there be a candidate from Edmonton? The NDP remain popular and ahead in the polls in the capital city, which elected New Democrats in every constituency in the 2015 election.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

Former Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk has been rumoured but his support of funding cuts to the University of Alberta, his close association with former premier Alison Redford and his strange $20,000 cell phone bill are significant political impediments. According to a recent ThinkHQ poll, his disapproval rating in Edmonton sits around 50 percent.

City Councillor Michael Oshry has mused about running but his real goal might actually be to secure his spot as a PC candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the next election, a seat that the PCs might be able to pick up. Lawyer Harman Kandola, who was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2015 is also said to be testing the waters for a run.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

I have heard some PC Party members wish party president Katherine O’Neill would join the leadership race. The former Globe & Mail reporter and past PC candidate has been criss-crossing the province at the same speed as Mr. Kenney and his big blue truck, though it is probably too late for the party president to shift gears into a leadership vote this close to the official start of the campaign.

Mr. Kenney has spent the summer travelling around the province preaching his gospel of merging the PCs and Wildrose Party to defeat the risky, dangerous and scary socialists in Edmonton. But it might not necessarily a bad thing that Mr. Kenney has sucked up all the PC leadership oxygen this summer. In doing so he has defined the narrative of this part of the campaign – merging the PCs with the Wildrose – an idea that 1,000 PC Party members, including many who will now vote as Superdelegates, loudly rejected at their annual general meeting earlier this spring.

The origin and real meaning of the “Alberta Advantage”


August 31, 1993 marked the first time the words “Alberta Advantage” were uttered on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.

Unlike some others, my government will not try to buy prosperity through higher taxes. Instead, it will build on Alberta’s existing advantage of low taxes and its free enterprise spirit to develop the most competitive economy in North America. The government will strengthen the Alberta Advantage and sell it aggressively around the globe.” – Speech from the Throne, August 31, 1993.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

“Promoting the Alberta Advantage” was the theme of the Speech from the Throne read by Lieutenant Governor Gordon Towers following Ralph Klein’s victory in the 1993 provincial election, dubbed by Tories as the ‘miracle on the Prairies.’ The Progressive Conservatives had narrowly defeated an insurgent Liberal campaign led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore. Both party leaders campaigned on deep funding cuts and deficit reduction.

The one element, probably the most important element, of the Alberta Advantage that was not mentioned in that year’s throne speech was that the reality of the provincial advantage was based almost entirely on the government receiving royalties from high-priced natural resources, mainly natural gas and oil.

Gordon Towers Alberta

Gordon Towers

For two decades, PC governments were able to subsidize their tax cuts with royalty revenues from natural gas, and then oil. This unfortunately led to government then using those undependable royalties to fund the province’s operations budget. What this meant was that large portions of royalty revenues that should have been saved for future generations, or for a rainy day – like now – were spent on day-to-day operations.

The PC government was once so flush with cash that it sent out $1.4 billion worth of Prosperity Bonuses – known as Ralph Bucks – to every Albertan. It was an embarrassment of riches and a hallmark of PC financial mismanagement.

The Alberta Advantage of low taxes and quality public services stopped being so easy when the international price of natural gas, and later of oil, dropped through the floor. When the PCs began running deficit budgets in the mid-2000s due in part to the drop in natural gas prices, they refused to restore the modest levels of personal income and corporate taxation that had existed before the ‘Alberta Advantage’ became their motto.

The most recent economic decline had many Albertans asking themselves “where did all the money go?” In an off the cuff moment, former premier Jim Prentice told Albertans to “look in the mirror.” But Mr. Prentice’s ‘Hail Mary’ budget of early 2015, which raised some taxes, was not enough to persuade Albertans that the Tories had learned a lesson.

Instead, having despaired of changing the Tories, they opted to change the government and elected the New Democratic Party led by Rachel Notley.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

A look at who is backing Jason Kenney’s bid for the PC Party leadership

Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney is expected to announce his candidacy for the leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta tomorrow, July 6, in Calgary, deliver a speech in Grande Prairie that evening and then travel to Edmonton on July 7 for another speech. He was widely expected to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and only just recently began positioning himself as candidate to unite Alberta’s conservative partisans under one banner.

He would be the first candidate to officially enter the PC leadership contest, which is scheduled to be held on March 18, 2017.

  • As I explained in a column last month, Mr. Kenney could have a rough landing in Alberta politics.
  • A skilled organizer with more than 25 years of experience as a taxpayers federation lobbyist and Ottawa politician, Mr. Kenney should not be underestimated by his opponents.
  • Mr. Kenney follows in the footsteps of his former colleague, Jim Prentice, who led the PC Party from 2014 until its defeat by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in May 2015. That election ended forty-four uninterrupted years of PC majority governments in Alberta.
  • Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
  • Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
  • Mr. Kenney is not assured an easy victory in the PC leadership race. I spoke with CTV about some of the potential candidates who also might enter the race, including former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who Mr. Kenney once described as an “asshole,” Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who said she would consider leaving the PC Party if Mr. Kenney became the leader. Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry is also considering entering the contest and former MLA Doug Griffiths is rumoured to be interested.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.

Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.

Mr. Kenney appears to have the support of two unite-the-right groups. The Alberta Can’t Wait group, backed by former Reform Party stalwarts Preston Manning and Cliff Fryers, lobbyist Hal Danchilla and 1980s Tory cabinet minister Rick Orman, and the Alberta Prosperity Fund, backed by former right-wing talk radio host Dave Rutherford, former MLAs Heather Forsyth and Shiraz Shariff, and former PC Party president Jim McCormick. The Alberta Prosperity Fund issued a formal endorsement of Mr. Kenney on July 5, 2016.

The Alberta Can’t Wait group was reportedly planning to hijack the Alberta Party later this summer and Prosperity Fund founder and director Barry McNamar, formerly of the Fraser Institute and Manning Centre, is reportedly suing the Wildrose Party.

The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.

Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.

Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.

Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.

Perhaps hoping to capitalize on Hillary Clintons candidacy, the Reform Party of Alberta logo, shown above, is remarkably similar to the American Democratic Party's logo. 

Reform Party of Alberta now officially registered as a political party

In the midst the latest round of unite-the-right chatter, conservative voters in Alberta now have another party to cast their ballots for.

Randy Thorsteinson

Randy Thorsteinson

The Reform Party of Alberta is now officially registered as a political party with Elections Alberta. The party describes itself as “Alberta’s principled, compassionate, socially and fiscally conservative political party.

The drive to register the party was launched in mid-2014 by conservative activist Randy Thorsteinson, who pledged in March 2015 to run a full-slate of candidates in the upcoming election. Unfortunately for Mr. Thorsteinson and his followers, Jim Prentice called the provincial election one year earlier than expected and his party was unable to register with Elections Alberta before the vote.

The party again tried to gain registered status with Elections Alberta in advance of the March 22, 2016 by-election in Calgary-Greenway but they were unable to meet the deadline required to have a candidate listed on the ballot.

I am told the party definitely plans on running a full-slate of candidates in the next provincial election, expected to be held in early 2019.

A party with the same name previously existed from 1989 until 2004 as a place-holder vehicle for the Reform Party of Canada to contest Alberta’s Senator-in-Waiting elections in 1989 and 1998. Although federal party leader Preston Manning is said to have pondered expanding the provincial-wing to challenge the Progressive Conservatives, Reform partisans alternatively found willing supporters in the conservative-wings of the PC and Liberal parties in advance of the 1993 election.

That party should also not be confused with the Alberta Reform Movement, which was founded in 1981 by former PC MLA Tom Sindlinger.

Party leader Mr. Thorsteinson led the Social Credit Party from 1992 to 1999 and the Alberta Alliance Party from 2003 until 2005. He stood as a candidate in the 1993, 1997 elections in Red Deer-South and in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake in 2004.

He participated in the televised leaders debate in 1997 and led the Socreds to earn 6.8 percent of the province-wide vote, the strongest showing by that party since 1979. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Party, earned 8.7 percent of the vote in 2004 while campaigning on the slogan “Blame Ralph,” in reference to then-premier Ralph Klein (his legacy is now lauded by conservatives, but many Albertans forget how unpopular Mr. Klein was starting to become during his final years in office).

In February 2016, Mr. Thorsteinson explained his reasons for forming a new party and not joining the Wildrose Party:

“The challenge I have with the Wildrose is that I am also a Social Conservative. I believe in the traditional Albertan family values, the Wildrose does not. Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose, just after his victory as Wildrose leader called Social Conservatives “wingnuts” and “nutbars” in newspapers. I obviously can’t support him.

Additionally, the Wildrose Caucus MLAs also joined with all other parties in the Alberta legislature on Dec. 7, 2015 to unanimously vote in favour of Bill 7 the “Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, 2015”. This is the law that allowed the NDP government to have the legal authority to pronounce the outrageous “Guidelines of Best Practices” that mandates that boys and men have the right to use women’s public washrooms and showers if they “self identify” as a girl or woman. My wife and I have six daughters, we are very concerned there will be a lot of teenage boys who “self identify” as a girl to go into the girls showers. It recently happened at the University of Toronto where male students were videoing female students taking showers in “gender neutral showers” on campus. Progressive/Liberals will call it fear mongering, parents call it outrageous. The guidelines also undermine parents and wants schools to stop using the words mother and father; him and her for something “gender neutral”. For the record for progressive/liberals I am a husband and father, Kathleen is my wife and mother of our children. We are not gender neutral.

All of the Wildrose MLAs unanimously voted for it. As a Social Conservative I can’t support them. It’s not the party I founded, it’s Progressive Conservative lite.”

So there you have it. If you are a conservative who does not believe the other five conservative parties in Alberta are conservative enough, then the Reform Party of Alberta could be a good fit for you.

Note: As noted in the photo caption above, the Reform Party of Alberta logo, shown above, is remarkably similar to the logo used by the American Democratic Party.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

In or Out? Jason Kenney could have a rough landing into Alberta politics

CBC reports that after 19 years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 48, is considering entering provincial politics in Alberta. Postmedia’s Jen Gerson writes that he will not confirm whether this is true.

It was a prediction first made by Postmedia’s Graham Thomson in January 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].

So, Mr. Kenney, who just this week was appointed to the parliamentary committee studying electoral reform, could be abandoning plans to replace Rona Ambrose as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and setting his sights on uniting-the-right and challenging Rachel Notley‘s moderate New Democratic Party government in 2019. If Mr. Kenney is going to enter Alberta politics, he will need to decide quick because the Progressive Conservative Party will be choosing its new leader before April 30, 2017.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.

New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.

Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A bid for the PC Party or the Alberta Party leadership might seem odd for Mr. Kenney, who is likely more comfortable in the social conservative wing of the Wildrose Party and with his former colleagues at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The historical success of the PC Party in Alberta between 1971 and 2015 was not based on adherence to conservative ideology but on the ability of its leaders to build a big blue tent of conservative, moderate and liberal voters.

Despite strong support for sending federal Conservatives to Ottawa, Alberta is now a much more progressive and moderate province than it was 20 years ago, when a young Mr. Kenney was roaming the halls of the Legislature as the spokesperson for the taxpayers federation.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

Mr. Kenney is not well-known for his conciliatory approach to Alberta politics. In 2015, he argued that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were to blame for the politicization of the niqab ban instituted by the federal Conservative government. In 2014, he engaged in a  public spat with Ron Liepert when the former finance minister defeated long-time MP Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. And in 2012, Mr. Kenney’s true feelings about then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk were made known in a leaked reply-all email.

There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.

It should be noted that the last time an attempt was made to unite-the-right in Alberta, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (pictured above with Mr. Kenney) was forced to apologize for his role in nudging 9 Wildrose MLAs across the floor to the PCs. That was in December 2014.

There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly undermined by internal party disputes and self-inflicted embarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.

The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

Partying like it’s 2016! A look ahead at next weekend’s Alberta NDP convention in Calgary

In the past, the media and political watchers would pay little attention to a provincial convention held by Alberta’s New Democratic Party. It is expected that all media and political watchers will be paying close attention to the debate at the NDP’s convention in Calgary next weekend.

Back in 2009, during a stint as a freelance writer, I covered the NDP convention for the now-defunct alt-weekly known as SEE Magazine. I may have been the only media representative actually in attendance at the convention.

That weekend in 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project. The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.

The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates. Seven years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral agreements. They are holding their first convention as Alberta’s governing party after their win in the 2015 provincial election.

Instead of a dingy hotel in downtown Edmonton, this year’s convention will be held on June 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at the swanky Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Along with 54 NDP MLAs in attendance, the convention will feature keynote speeches from the Edmonton Oilers‘ Andrew Ference on Jobs and Diversification, Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham on Climate Leadership, Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh on Diversity and Reducing Inequality, and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Labour issues.

This will be the first NDP convention in recent memory that the mainstream media will pay much attention to and with that in mind, the party’s leadership will do their best to turn the weekend into a celebration of the NDP’s 2015 election win and accomplishments in its first year of government. The weekend includes a $200 a plate banquet and a party at the Glenbow Museum featuring Scenic Route to Alaska, The Northwest Passage and Los Moreno’s.

It feels far from the dim-lit windowless hotel ballroom in downtown Edmonton but that does not mean it will be without its acrimonious moments.

A group of party activists unhappy with NDP MLA’s support of a Wildrose Party motion calling on the federal government to scrap a planned moratorium on tankers on Canada’s Pacific coastal waters are expected to spearhead a debate on whether the motion goes against against a party policy opposing the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passed at a previous convention.

There may also be debate about changing the role of organizational affiliates in the NDP. Unlike other provincial political parties, the NDP allows organizations to affiliate with their party in order to have a greater say in their leadership votes and at conventions.

These affiliates are almost always labour unions but as unions are no longer allowed to donate to political parties or pay for delegates to attend conventions, the previous existing advantages for the party and affiliate no longer exists. I am told that before the NDP banned corporate and union donations in the first law they passed in 2015, affiliated unions donated 15-cents per member per-month to the party.

Delegates will also be voting in elections for the party’s provincial executive. For some reason that is unknown and puzzling, the NDP is the only provincial political party in Alberta that does not list the names of its executive or board of directors on its website. Perhaps this will change now that the NDP is the province’s governing party.

Here is a list of who is running for the party’s four table officer positions:

President: Teacher and president of the party’s Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview constituency association Peggy Wright is the only candidate to have entered the presidential election. The position was made vacant when former president Chris O’Halloran, who had served as president since 2013, stepped down to start a job in the Premier’s Southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

First Vice-President: Two candidates are running for this position: labour activist and United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Officer Jason Rockwell and lawyer and past candidate Anne Wilson. Mr. Rockwell ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding. Ms. Wilson ran as a provincial NDP candidate in 2008 in Banff-Cochrane and 2015 in Calgary-Foothills (against Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice). In July 2015 she ran for the NDP nomination for the Calgary-Foothills by-election but was defeated by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth.

[Note: I work with Jason Rockwell in my day job as Communications Advisor with United Nurses of Alberta. I am not an NDP member, but if I were he would certainly get my vote at this convention.]

Second Vice-President: It appears that Lou Arab may be acclaimed in his bid for re-election. Mr. Arab is a near-legendary campaign manager in NDP circles for his role in the election campaigns of Marlin Schmidt in 2012 and 2015 and Sarah Hoffman in 2010. He is a Communications Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Alberta and also happens to be the husband of Premier Rachel Notley.

Treasurer: Siobhan Vipond, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, is running for re-election and does not appear to be facing any challengers at this time.

I am told that more than 500 delegates have registered to attend the Calgary convention.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley NDP

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.


The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver and 7 of his party's MLAs at their post-election leader's dinner.

Alberta PCs to debate leadership changes, including delegated conventions

Activists from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party will be electing executive officers and debating amendments to their organization’s constitution at an annual general meeting on May 7, 2016 in Red Deer. After 44 years as government, the PC Party was defeated in the 2015 election. But after a year in the doldrums, the party showed some signs of life when it was able to hold its ground in the Calgary-Greenway by-election.

With former Jim Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre stepping down as party president, there appears to be a heated race for leader between former Globe & Mail reporter and past candidate Katherine O’Neill and Calgary lawyer Tyler Shandro [note: you may recognize Mr. Shandro from “govern yourself accordingly” fame]. The choice of president may determine if the PC Party moves closer or distances itself from the burgeoning ‘unite the right’ industry.

Among the amendments that will be debated are proposals to change the rules governing how the party chooses its next leader.

According to my reading of the current PC Party constitution, a leadership vote to replace former premier Jim Prentice should have happened between 4 and 6 months after he resigned on the night of the May 5, 2015 election. [note: the Liberal Party also violated their own constitution when they postponed their leadership vote until 2017]

There are various proposed constitutional amendments to change the timelines after the party leadership becomes vacant, including one changing the window to between 3 and 12 months. Another proposal would bar an acting leader from seeking the permanent leadership, which would push current Acting Leader Ric McIver out of the race.

Most of the amendments would keep a variation of the current open one-member one-vote system in tact, but one proposal that will be debated would have the PC Party adopt a delegated convention system to select a new leader.

Once the standard, delegated leadership conventions have fallen out of favour with most mainstream political parties in recent years. The Alberta Party, Liberal Party and Wildrose Party use a similar one-member one-vote system and the New Democratic Party uses a hybrid system that divides votes between members and affiliate organizations.

The return of a system where local members elect delegates to attend a convention and vote for a leader could bring an aura of excitement back to what can become a fairly dull leadership process.

Under the current open one-member one-vote system, any Albertan can purchase a party membership and vote for the next PC Party leader. This led to a wave of excitement before the leadership vote in 2006, when more than 144,000 Albertans cast ballots in the vote that selected Ed Stelmach as leader. But the open system also exposed a giant weakness when only just more than 23,000 Albertans participated in the PC Party’s 2014 vote.

Five CEOs hold a press conference in a penthouse boardroom

It was a case of political friendly fire.

With only days left before Election Day, the anti-NDP fear campaign was in full-gear but this shot might have been the final nail in the coffin for Alberta’s 44-year old Progressive Conservative Party government.

On May 1, 2015, five prominent Edmonton business leaders and PC Party donors, including then-University of Alberta Board of Governors Chairman Doug Goss, held a press conference in the penthouse boardroom of a downtown office building to warn Albertans against rejecting the Progressive Conservatives in the May 5 election.

The press conference was held the morning after PC leader Jim Prentice spoke to 1,500 guests at a $5,000 per table fundraising dinner at the Shaw Conference Centre. Even as the international price of oil had already started a sharp decline, he warned the dinner guests that a New Democratic Party government would be a blow for the corporations in Alberta.

The businessmen sat united in their opposition to NDP leader Rachel Notley‘s promise to raise taxes on corporations from 10 percent to 12 percent. Before the election was called, the PCs had proposed increases to personal income taxes and the introduction of a health care levy, but refused to touch corporate taxes. [note: Albertans overall still pay the lowest taxes in Canada, even after the NDP implemented increases following their election win].

A public letter released by the businessmen and their prepared statements at the press conference were fairly reasonable from a conservative business perspective, but the moment the men began answering questions from the media the event went off the rails.

One of the men questioned why he was being asked to pay more. “I have someone telling me that I need to pay more tax. Why is it me? Why the corporation?

Another claimed that corporate donations to children’s hospitals and charities would halt if the corporate tax rate was increased.

While I am sure this group of philanthropists and community leaders sincerely believed they were helping their friend, Mr. Prentice, these were very rich statements coming from a group of men who were sitting around a boardroom table that might have been worth as much as my house.

Sometimes your best friends can be your worst enemies. In this case, these PC donors (and soon after, the Postmedia-owned newspapers in Alberta) inflicted a considerable amount of damage on the PC Party campaign during the final week of the election. It was an incredibly tone deaf message to send to an electorate tired of years of Progressive Conservative mismanagement, infighting and scandals.

The penthouse press conference solidified the narrative that as the economy was slowing the PCs were putting the needs of the wealthy and their corporations before the needs of ordinary Albertans. It appeared as though the conservatives had forgotten how to be populists.


This post is the third in a series remembering some key moments from Alberta’s historic 2015 election. May 5, 2016 marks one year since that election. Read the first and second instalments. 

Jim Prentice is dwarfed by a giant photo of himself on the PC campaign bus at a stop in Edmonton this week.

The election rally that convinced me the Tories were running on fumes

I will be reminiscing on this blog over the next few days about some of the key moments from Alberta’s May 5, 2015 election campaign that stand out in my memory. The one year anniversary of that historic election, which saw the defeat of the 44-year old Progressive Conservative government and the election of Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party, is fast approaching.

One key moment was an April 14, 2015 rally held for Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice at a community hall in the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency, where PC MLA Stephen Mandel was running for re-election. The area had been a Tory stronghold since the 1997 election, when Dave Hancock was first elected, and voters in the area had chosen former mayor Mr. Mandel in a by-election only five months earlier.

The mid-afternoon event was well-organized and attracted a respectable crowd of about 250 supporters, candidates and party stalwarts into a hall in an affluent southwest Edmonton neighbourhood. It was a fairly typical political event, but it was an exchange at the tail-end of the rally convince me that the PC Party’s once-mighty campaign machine was running on fumes.

After a fairly unremarkable speech about his party’s commitment to fixing the problems it created in the health care system, Mr. Prentice remained on stage to take questions from the media. There had already been big signs of trouble on the campaign trail but his answer and the crowd’s response to the final media question convinced me that the PC campaign machine was running on fumes.

Over the course of the campaign Mr. Prentice had been harshly critical of the NDP election promise to review Alberta’s natural resource royalty structure and raise corporate taxes from 10 percent to 12 percent.

When asked if he would ever review royalties [note: the question was about either royalty rates or the corporate tax structure, I can’t remember for sure], Mr. Prentice delivered the most politically-mushy and non-commital answer I have ever heard: [paraphrased] ‘perhaps maybe sometime in the future my government might consider reviewing the structure.’

As soon as he delivered his response a forced cheer erupted from the party staffers in the back of the room and spread through the crowd of supporters, drowning out any further media questions and signalling an end to the official event program.

The crowd’s cheer was completely unenthusiastic. It was not the kind of answer that anyone would actually cheer. And it was undoubtably the wrong note on which to end a political rally.

If the PCs were unable to rally enthusiasm into a crowd of supporters in Edmonton-Whitemud, arguably the most loyal conservative area of the capital city, it was clear that Mr. Prentice’s party was in deep trouble in Edmonton.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP swept the Edmonton region, and Bob Turner defeated Mr. Mandel with 12,805 votes to 7,177 votes.

Jim Prentice speaks at the podium of his campaign rally on April 14, 2015.

Jim Prentice speaks at the podium of his campaign rally on April 14, 2015.