Tag Archives: Jim Rutkowski

Brian Topp NDP leadership candidate

Off the Topp: Notley shuffles her senior staff

As the fall Legislative session ends and MLAs prepare to return home to their constituencies for the holiday season, Premier Rachel Notley announced big changes in the senior ranks of her political office.

John Heaney

John Heaney

Gone is Brian Topp, the veteran political operative who became Ms. Notley’s Chief of Staff after the NDP formed government in 2015. He is reportedly becoming a fellow with the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum.

Mr. Topp is replaced by John Heaney, a former British Columbia NDP political operative who served as Chief of Staff to John Horgan until moving east to Alberta last year. He was filling the role as Alberta’s policy czar as Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office.

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

Former federal NDP campaign manager Anne McGrath, who was hired as Ms. Notley’s Principal Secretary after the 2015 federal election, moves south to run the Premier’s Calgary office at the McDougall Centre.

Ms. McGrath, who lived in the city and studied at the University of Calgary, replaces former alderman and MLA Bob Hawkesworth as Executive Director. It is hard to interpret this move as anything but a demotion. But the addition of Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen to the government caucus, placing a campaign manager in the role could signal that the NDP are beginning to realize the need to shore up support in Alberta’s largest city before the next election.

Anne McGrath NDP

Anne McGrath

Back in Edmonton, Ms. McGrath will be replaced by ministerial chief of staff and former BC NDP advisor Jim Rutkowski, who rounds up the group of recently imported BC NDP operatives now filling the two most powerful political jobs in Alberta.

Alberta’s NDP government has pursued an aggressive policy and legislative agenda since defeating the 44-year old Progressive Conservative regime in May 2015. And while the economic recession caused by the decline in the international price of oil has created significant challenges, it has not slowed down the political agenda.

The recent approval of two oil pipelines suggests the NDP government flagship Climate Leadership Plan is already achieving political results for the province but the political battle over the carbon tax and phase of dirty coal fired power plants will continue into 2017.

It is too soon to tell what today’s staff changes will mean or how they will impact how the NDP government operates. The NDP focused on introducing policy and legislative changes during its first year in office, and now the government will need to shift political gears as it moves to implement its ambitious Alberta-changing policy goals.

Construction of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline is expected to start in 2017.

Will the Alberta NDP lend their support to the anti-pipeline BC NDP in the next election?

Pipeline politics creates strange bedfellows in Alberta and BC

Fresh from winning the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is off to British Columbia to pitch the benefits of the pipeline.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

On pipelines and climate change, Alberta’s New Democratic Party appears to be more in sync with the federal Liberals than with their NDP cousins in Ottawa and Victoria.

The federal party’s flirtation with the controversial LEAP Manifesto at last year’s federal convention in Edmonton created serious strains between the two wings of the party. BC NDP leader John Horgan’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline has further divided the party and created strange political bedfellows.

Ms. Notley was in Ottawa last week as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. At the press conference, Mr. Trudeau heaped praise on Alberta’s flagship climate change policy, which includes a price on carbon.

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark

Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark, leader of the conservative BC Liberals, is now touting Ms. Notley’s pipeline boosterism.

I would certainly say that Rachel Notley is very different from the leader of the NDP in B.C.,” Ms. Clark told the Vancouver Sun. “They are deeply split on the issue of Kinder Morgan and whether or not it should go ahead.”

The NDP-schism over pipelines could further complicate the inner-politics of the party.

Senior political staffers at the Alberta Legislature, including Brian Topp, the premier’s Chief of Staff, John Heaney, Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office, and ministerial chiefs of staff Jim Rutkowski and Steve Stringfellow have strong ties to the BC NDP. Mr. Topp was the BC NDP campaign manager in 2013 and Mr. Heaney served as Mr. Horgan’s Chief of Staff until he joined Ms. Notley’s office in 2015.

Brian Topp Alberta Premier Chief of Staff

Brian Topp

It is well-known that the NDP operates a national network of political organizers who travel the country to work on election campaigns. This was an asset during Alberta’s 2015 election when experienced NDP campaigners from across Canada descended on our province. Some of those organizers now occupy political jobs in the Alberta government, which is now the only NDP government in Canada.

A few Alberta NDP staffers, including at least one current cabinet minister, traveled to BC to work for the NDP in the last election campaign.

John Horgan

John Horgan

But now that Mr. Horgan opposes the pipeline that Ms. Notley has staked her political future on, will the Alberta NDP lend their political staff to the BC NDP during next year’s election?

They shouldn’t.

The attack ads write themselves.

The NDP promises pipelines in Alberta but campaigns against them in BC. Whose side are they on?” an ad from Jason Kenney‘s Wildrose-PC Party might ask.

There are many New Democrats and progressive Albertans who would like to see Mr. Horgan’s NDP win the next election for reasons that go beyond pipelines (when I met Mr. Horgan in Victoria last year I found him to be quite engaging and likeable). But it would be foolish for the Alberta NDP government to allow its political staffers to campaign to elect a BC NDP government that will oppose Ms. Notley’s pipeline agenda and undermine all the work she is doing in BC this week.

Obviously Ms. Notley cannot stop individuals from campaigning on their own time, but if political staffers from Alberta are going to work against the pipelines in BC, they should not expect to have political jobs waiting for them back in Edmonton.

Alberta NDP draft outsiders from Manitoba, BC and Ottawa for Transition Team

Despite this current historic period in Alberta politics as a new party transitions into government for the first time in 44 years, almost no public focus has been directed at the team who are managing the Alberta NDP move into government.

We have heard that former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow was consulted and that other top New Democratic Party officials, including National Director Anne McGrath and party insider Kathleen Monk, have been involved in the transition process. We know that Premier-designate Rachel Notley’s Chief of Staff Brian Topp is chairing the transition team and we can expect that Deputy Chief of Staff Adrienne King is also heavily involved.

The other individuals involved in this important transition of power, by providing advice, support and research to Ms. Notley and her team of MLAs, have barely been mentioned in the mainstream media. It is no surprise that many of these individuals would come from other provinces in Canada where the NDP have experience governing. And it was probably a smart move by Ms. Notley and her team to have included experienced outsiders in the transition process, as this is the first time the Alberta NDP have formed government.

But who is on the “transition team” that is helping Alberta’s new government into office? It seems like something Albertans should know.

Here is a look at some of the individuals who are playing a role as members or support staff for the Alberta NDP ‘Transition Team’ :

Jen Anthony, Former Director of Caucus Services for the Manitoba NDP Caucus

Alissa Brandt, Former Director of the Premier’s Secretariat in Manitoba

Matt Hannah, British Columbia NDP organizer

John Heaney, Chief of Staff at the B.C. NDP Caucus

Brad Lafortune, Director of Political Action at the Alberta Federation of Labour, former Alberta NDP Caucus Communications Officer

John Michael McColl, Issue Coordinator in the Office of the Leader of the NDP Official Opposition in Ottawa

Emily-Anne Paul, Regional Press Secretary for B.C. and Northern Ontario in the Office of the Leader of the NDP Official Opposition in Ottawa

Anna Rothney, Former Secretary to Cabinet for Priorities and Planning in Manitoba

Michael Roy, Digital Director for the federal NDP

Jim Rutkowski, a senior account director for Hill + Knowlton in Victoria, B.C. An advisor to Brian Topp during the 2012 federal NDP leadership campaign.

Brian Stokes, Executive Director of the Alberta NDP

Kate Van Meer-Mass, BC NDP organizer, campaign manager for NDP MLA David Eby, who defeated Premier Christy Clark in Vancouver-Point Grey in 2013.

It will not be surprising if some of these individuals, with their experience working in other NDP governments across Canada, are hired to fill roles in Ministerial Offices or the Government Caucus Offices.

The NDP will officially take the reins of government on Sunday, May 24, when Ms. Notley and her 11-member cabinet are sworn-in at a public event at the Legislature Building. MLAs elected on May 5 will be sworn-in to office on June 1.