Tag Archives: Joe Ceci

Not many surprises in Alberta’s stay the course budget

There were few surprises when Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood to table the New Democratic Party’s third budget since forming government in 2015.

What I expect were strategic leaks over the past week revealed some popular highlights included in the budget, giving the government some positive media in the days before the budget was released. The construction, revitalization and renovation of schools and funding for a new hospital in south Edmonton were two of the most notable tidbits to be released in advance of yesterday’s budget speech.

If the leaks were indeed intentional, it was not a bad communications strategy considering the government’s current financial situation. It created a positive distraction from two big numbers that the conservative opposition parties want to focus on – total budget spending and the budget deficit.

But when the budget was tabled yesterday, neither of these numbers were really a surprise. We knew the NDP was not planning to make deep cuts to provincial program spending in this budget. And we knew from Ceci’s third-quarter update from the last fiscal year that the deficit would likely remain over $10 billion – it is projected to be $10.3 billion, down around $500 million from $10.8 billion last year.

The conservative opposition attacked the budget, which was also something we knew would happen. A Wildrose opposition press released called the budget a “a debt-fueled disaster” and the Progressive Conservatives claimed it took Alberta over a “fiscal cliff.” A press release from Alberta Party leader Greg Clark claimed the budget was “uninspired, irresponsible and focused only on the short term.”

Also not surprising was the response from Liberal leader David Swann, who took a more reasoned approach by applauding the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, and then pointing out where the budget failed.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga writes in detail, Rachel Notley‘s NDP government rejected the kinds of conservative fiscal policies that created the infrastructure deficit Alberta has today.

The government continues to make significant investment in public infrastructure, which is long overdue in Alberta. Along with a new hospital in Edmonton, the budget includes funding for renovations at the Misericordia Hospital and new construction at the Royal Alexandra and Glenrose hospitals (which was not previously announced, so that was a surprise).

One question that remains unanswered is how, in the long-term, the government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil. For many years, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old PC government used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but financial irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue.

The NDP took some steps to diversify revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes after they were first elected 2015 but it was nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall (Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada). The positive news is that Alberta still has the advantage of having a low debt-to-GDP ratio, which means at least in the short-term our province should be able to deal with being in a deficit situation.

Overall, I am not surprised about what is and is not included in the 2017 provincial budget. I am encouraged that the NDP is not heeding the calls of the conservative opposition parties to make deep funding cuts to public services and infrastructure investments, which would be detrimental to Albertans’ quality of life during this economic downturn.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Looking ahead to the Throne Speech and Spring Session

Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.

To give you an idea of what recent throne speeches have included, here is what the NDP government’s throne speech from March 8, 2016 promised to:

  • diversify energy markets.
  • pursue a coherent and effective economic development strategy.
  • invest in a greener, more sustainable economy.
  • pursue a responsible approach to public finance.
  • pursue ongoing democratic reform to ensure public accountability in all of this work.

The spring session will start just as Premier Rachel Notley returns from Washington D.C. and will mark the half-way mark in the New Democratic Party government’s first term in office.

We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.

We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.

Predictions that the Alberta economy is beginning to recover bodes well for the NDP as they prepare to present their next provincial budget. If the economy does recover and the unemployment rate decreases, they should be praised for not making the massive cuts to critical public services advocated for by, Jason Kenney, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party.

(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).

The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.

I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.

Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.

The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:

“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”

The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.

But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.

Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?

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.

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

A look at some of the new laws passed in Alberta in Spring 2016

The Spring session of the Alberta Legislature ended yesterday after forty-days of debate.

The evacuation of more than 88,000 Albertans sparked by the wildfires in Fort McMurray dominated the attention of our political leaders during this session. In response to the wildfire crisis, Premier Rachel Notley and Wildrose leader Brian Jean briefly put aside politics and demonstrated their strengths as political leaders. It was a refreshing break from the negative rhetoric and hyperbole that has come to dominate Alberta politics.

The legislative session produced ejections, MLA suspensions and other intrigue but amidst the budget debates and political drama the New Democratic Party government pursued a fairly ambitious legislative agenda.

Twenty-one government bill and one two private members’ bills were passed during this session.

Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, a private members’ bill introduced by Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Ellis received unanimous support from MLAs when it was passed in the Legislature. The bill restricts ownership of pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis.

Bill 1: Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act introduced by Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous gave the minister new powers to create programs focused on broadening the province’s industries and businesses. “Jobs” and “diversification” were key buzzwords used by NDP cabinet ministers this spring as they face an increase in unemployment and decrease in industry investment caused by the decline of the international price of oil.

Bill 4: An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services introduced by Labour Minister Christina Gray lifted the ban on strikes by all public sector employees in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015.

Bill 7: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley pushed forward the timelines to redraw the electoral boundaries before the provincial election in 2019, which could have an impact on the results of that election. The timelines as they were previously legislated were askew after the Progressive Conservatives called an election one year earlier than Alberta’s fixed-election date law in 2015.

The NDP missed an opportunity to improve the composition of the commissions, which will include five appointees (two appointed by the Government Caucus, two by the Official Opposition and one “neutral” chairperson chosen by the government). The NDP should have amended the legislation to create a non-partisan judicial commission similar to the ones appointed to redraw federal electoral boundaries.

Introduced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Bill 10: Fiscal Statutes Amendment Act removed the 15 per cent debt-to-nominal-GDP cap implemented by the NDP in the fall session of 2015. This was a classic example of a government walking back on a law which they probably should not have passed in the first place. The Alberta government’s net-debt levels remain low enough that Albertans should not immediately be worried. But as our provincial credit ratings have been downgraded, it will be important for the current and future governments to implement policies that will actually address the government’s significant revenue shortfall and growing budget deficit.

Bill 11: Alberta Research and Innovation Amendment Act reorganized Alberta’s four “Innovates” branded research and development agencies into one agency governed by a single board and CEO. Bill 18: An Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring dissolved the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Agency and brought its responsibilities into the Department of Environment and Parks. Bill 11 also established the position of Chief Scientist.

Bill 15: An Act to End Predatory Lending introduced by Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean targeted the payday loan industry, bringing down the amounts paid on payday loans from $23 per $100 borrowed down to $15 per $100. Ms. McLean announced that the government is working with credit unions to offer short-term loans as an alternative to predatory loans.

Bill 19: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act injected transparency into Alberta’s byzantine system of appointed agencies, boards and commissions that had become a safe-haven for PC Party loyalists, patrons and retired MLAs during the previous government’s 44 years in power.

A long-time coming, Bill 21: Modernized Municipal Government Act, was in the works for years, but even so it was surprising that the NDP has been able to introduce it so early in their mandate. Bill 21 overhauls and updates sections of the province’s second largest piece of legislation. Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a rising-star in the NDP, will travel across the province this summer to consult with municipal leaders about the changes proposed in this bill, which only passed first reading during this session.

Bill 21 sets the ground for the creation of Big City Charters in the Act’s regulations, as advocated for by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The Charters are expected to be drafted by Spring 2017 and enacted by Summer 2017.

The NDP government’s flag ship piece of legislation of spring 2016 was Bill 20: Climate Leadership Implementation ActPart of the much-lauded Climate Leadership Plan, Bill 20 implements the Carbon levy and rebate program. In what is becoming a signature move of the NDP government, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips assembled an impressive coalition of municipal, industry and environmental leaders in support of the new law.

While there are legitimate criticism of the bill, including whether the carbon levy is actually “revenue neutral,” the Wildrose Opposition failed to offer any alternative plan. The Official Opposition was knee-capped by a serious self-inflicted wound when an article signed by nine Wildrose MLAs compared carbon pricing to Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Dave Hanson apologized for the comment but the nine MLAs avoided answering questions about the genocide comparison when asked by the media.

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is expected to reconvene on October 31, 2016 and sit until December 1, 2016.

[Note: This was just a brief description of some of the bills debated and passed during the spring session. A full list of bills debated in this session can be found here]

Michael Phair and Mayor Don Iveson at the unveiling of Michael Phair Park (photo from @doniveson on Twitter)

Honouring a great Edmontonian with Michael Phair Park

It was a sunny day and there was a great turnout to honour a great Edmontonian at the dedication ceremony for the new Michael Phair Park on 104 Street north of Jasper Avenue in downtown Edmonton.

A strong advocate of urban renewal, Michael Phair was elected to Edmonton City Councillor from 1992 until 2007 and was the first openly gay elected politician in Alberta. He now serves as Chair of the University of Alberta Board of Governors.

The dedication ceremony was also attended by some notable politicians, including Mayor Don Iveson, Councillor Scott McKeen, and Alberta’s Finance Minister Joe Ceci.

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.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016: Sarah Hoffman, Nathan Cooper, Deborah Drever, Greg Clark, Sandra Jansen, Deron Bilous, Danielle Larivee, Richard Starke, Shannon Phillips, and Prasad Panda.

A Rookie Crew: Eleven Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016

The past few years in Alberta politics have reminded us that politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a very tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choices of Premier Rachel Notley, Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Wildrose leader Brian Jean, here is a list of eleven Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2016.

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Deron Bilous faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan can work as the provincial economy faces declining international oil prices.

Greg Clark (Calgary-Elbow): As leader of the one MLA Alberta Party opposition, Greg Clark is punching above his weight in getting media attention and working hard to position himself as a moderate conservative alternative to the NDP and Wildrose Parties. He was also the only opposition MLA to propose an alternative budget and climate change plan in 2015.

Nathan Cooper (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): With a detailed knowledge of Assembly rules and procedure, Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper will prove to be a valuable asset to the rookie Wildrose Caucus.

Deborah Drever (Calgary-Bow): Elected as a New Democrat and sent into legislative exile as an Independent after embarrassing social media posts were reported, she has been the target of relentless personal attacks by Wildrose MLAs and anonymous internet trolls. She has redeemed herself as a well-spoken representative and shepherded her first private members’ bill – Bill 204 – to unanimous approval in the Legislature. Expect Ms. Drever to be invited to rejoin the NDP caucus in 2016.

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): Probably the most high profile Wildrose MLA, Derek Fildebrandt is the loudest critic of the NDP government. But his hyper-partisan outbursts, including an embarassing fight with a Globe & Mail reporter and an angry tweet directed at the Assembly Speaker, are not necessarily the kind of attention his MLA colleagues are pleased to receive. Can he tone down the rhetoric and offer reasonable solutions and alternatives in 2016?

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): As Health and Seniors Minister, Sarah Hoffman is well-spoken and smart as a fox. She can explain complex issues and spar with the opposition with ease. She is a contender for strongest member of Rachel Notley’s cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): Sandra Jansen is the voice of the moderate wing of the Progressive Conservative Party. She has publicly clashed with interim leader Ric McIver over his decision to endorse the federal Conservatives, and with Wildrose supporters over her decision to endorse Liberal candidates in the 2015 federal election. Her record as a vocal opponent of a merger with the Wildrose would make her a candidate to watch in her party’s next leadership race.

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake): Appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta in a fall shuffle, Danielle Larivee has proven herself as a tough and well-spoken advocate. As one of the government’s point-people for the fumbled Bill 6 Farm Safety Bill, she demonstrated her toughness. A Registered Nurse, she is also co-chair of the government’s review of mental health services, which is expected to be released early in 2016.

Prasad Panda (Calgary-Foothills): When he won a Sept. 2015 by-election in Jim Prentice’s former constituency, he became the Wildrose Party’s only MLA from Calgary. He has been quite quiet since his win, but Mr. Panda’s performance as MLA over the coming years could determine how far his rural-based party might expand its presence in Alberta’s largest city.

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge West): Smart, passionate and a fierce partisan, Shannon Phillips impressed many with her calm and cool delivery of Alberta’s climate change plan ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference in Nov. 2015. As Environment and Parks Minister, she helped bring together oil industry leaders and environmental groups to endorse the province’s plan. Selling the plan and its carbon tax to Albertans over the next year will be a serious test of Ms. Phillips’ political skills.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): As a critic of Bill 6, Richard Starke took a more reasoned approach to criticizing the farm safety law and avoided the hysterical and negative reactions characteristic of his counterparts in the Official Opposition caucus. One of two remaining rural PC MLAs, he is said to be interested in making a bid for his party’s leadership.

Young Alberta MLA Under 30 Politics 2016

The Under 30s: Jon Carson, Michael Connolly, Estefania Cortes-Vargas, Thomas Dang, Trevor Horne, Anam Kazim, Stephanie McLean, and Graham Sucha.

The Under 30s: Another result of the massive turnover in the legislature last year was a significant drop in the average age of Alberta’s MLAs, from 53 to 40 years old. Among the newly elected younger MLAs are a handful who are under thirty-years old (including Ms. Drever, who is noted above).

While it is not uncommon to have one to two under-30s elected to the Assembly from time to time, I cannot remember a time when so many were elected at once. It is a refreshing change, as younger Albertans bring a very different perspective than the typical older, greyer elected representative.

There could be future cabinet ministers or party leaders in this group, so in 2016, I will be keeping an eye on Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Jon CarsonCalgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly, Sherwood Park-Strathcona MLA Estefania Cortes-VargasEdmonton-Southwest MLA Thomas Dang, Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Trevor HorneCalgary-Glenmore MLA Anam KazimCalgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.


Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 2015 and 2014.

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

What new laws did Alberta’s NDP Government pass in 2015?

The fall session of the Alberta Legislature ended last week and MLAs will now spend the next few weeks working in their constituencies until the Assembly returns in early 2016. The Assembly passed nine pieces of legislation introduced by Alberta’s New Democratic Party government in its first full session of the Legislature since it formed government.

The first four bills introduced by the government reflected key promises made by Rachel Notley‘s NDP during the 2015 election. One private members bill, introduced by Independent Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever, was passed by the Assembly (a rare feat for opposition MLAs).

Here is a quick look at the ten bills that were passed by MLAs since the NDP formed government in 2015:

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta

Introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, Bill 1 banned corporate and union donations to provincial political parties in Alberta. The bill received royal assent on June 29, 2015, but was made retroactive on June 15, 2015. This new law was a major blow to the Progressive Conservative Party, which had become accustomed to relying heavily on corporate donations to fund their campaigns and operations. The ban was not extended to municipal elections.

Bill 2: An Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue

Introduced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Bill 2 eliminated Alberta’s 10 percent flat tax and introduced a progressive taxation system with five rates of personal income tax up to 15 percent for income above $300,000. Bill 2 also increased Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent, bringing our province in line with Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Despite the increase, tax rates in Alberta still remain lower than what existed during much of the time Ralph Klein served as Premier.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Bill 3: Appropriation (Interim Supply) Act, 2015

Introduced by Mr. Ceci, Bill 3 reversed funding cuts made to education, health care, and human services by the PC government before the May 5, 2015 election.

Bill 4: An Act to Implement Various Tax Measures and to Enact the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act

Introduced by Mr. Ceci, Bill 4 repealed and replaced the Fiscal Management Act and introduced requirements in a Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act, which include presenting government finances in a three-year fiscal plan and the establishment of a new debt cap based on a debt-to-GDP ratio of 15 percent.

Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act 

Introduced by Ms. Ganley, Bill 5 expanded the “sunshine list” to include employees of public agencies, boards, commissions, post-secondary institutions and health service entities whose earnings are more than $125,000 annually. This is a continuation of work already done by the previous PC government and has been criticized by supporters of the NDP as “bad policy.”

Lori Sigurdson NDP

Lori Sigurdson

Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act

Introduced by Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson, Bill 6 introduced occupational health and safety and mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for employees of farming operations. Alberta is currently the only province in Canada without OH&S laws and employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers. Amid protests by farmers and ranchers, the government introduced amendments to exempt farm and ranch owners and their families from the bill. This was undoubtably the most controversial legislation passed by the NDP government in 2015.

Bill 7: Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, 2015

Introduced by Ms. Ganley, Bill 7 amended the Alberta Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression as expressly prohibited grounds of discrimination.

David Eggen

David Eggen

Bill 8: Public Education Collective Bargaining Act

Introduced by Education Minister David Eggen, Bill 8 restructures collective bargaining between teachers, school boards and the government. The bill initially would have had the government be the sole party negotiating with the Alberta Teachers’ Association on matters that should be bargained centrally versus locally but an amendment to the bill allowed a new employer bargaining association to negotiate with the ATA to decide.

Bill 9: Appropriation Act, 2015

Introduced by Mr. Ceci, Bill 9 provides budget funding authority to the Government of Alberta and the Legislative Assembly for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Deborah Drever MLA Calgary Bow

Deborah Drever

Bill 204: Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act, 2015

Introduced by Ms. Drever, Bill 204 amended the Residential Tenancies Act to allow victims of domestic violence to end their housing leases early and without penalty in order to leave unsafe home environments. Lethbridge-East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick bravely stood in the legislature to share a powerful story about her personal experiences with domestic violence.

Putting protection of LGBTQ students and staff back on the agenda at Alberta school boards meeting

Amid allegations of financial misspending and a lack of transparency, representatives from sixty-one elected Public, Catholic, and Francophone school boards from across Alberta will gather at the fall general meeting of the Alberta School Boards Association on November 15, 16 and 17 in Edmonton.

Michael Janz Edmonton

Michael Janz

School board representatives could face another round of debate about protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and staff. The Edmonton Public School Board will introduce a motion at the meeting for the ASBA to create a policy that protects all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities.

I think tone at the top is very important, and it is important for the Alberta School Boards Association to take an active stance against the bullying and marginalization of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students. I think this will send a very important signal across school boards that we do support inclusion, we do want to support our students,” EPSB chairperson Michael Janz told the Edmonton Sun.

The motion has been proposed as emergent by EPSB and will be introduced on the first full day of the meeting. Delegates will be asked whether it should be added to agenda and debated at the meeting.

Debate at the ASBA’s general meeting in 2012 attracted national attention when 62 percent of the delegates voted down a proposal to protect gay students and staff from discrimination, similar to a policy passed by EPSB in 2011.

David Eggen

David Eggen

One trustee at the 2012 meeting from the Pembina Hills School Division suggested if “children with a gay tendency” could hide their gayness it would be “for their own benefit.” The trustee later apologized but not before his comment became national news.

The debate around legislating the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools became a major political issue in the final months of 2014 and created major rifts between social conservatives and moderate conservatives in the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties.

Recent debates at the Edmonton Catholic School District about creating safe environments for transgender students have degenerated into public scenes of crying and shouting. “I expect a higher standard from all elected officials here, generally in Alberta, and specifically with Edmonton Catholic,” Education Minister David Eggen said following the debates.

Mr. Eggen has directed all Alberta school boards to have a policy supporting LGBTQ students in place by March 31, 2016.  It has been reported that only 13 out of 61 school boards currently have stand alone policies protecting rights of LGBTQ students and staff.

The result of the debate about whether to adopt a policy protecting all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities will likely set the tone for an important breakfast event being held for trustees and MLAs on the final day of the meeting. Twenty-eight NDP, Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs are scheduled to attend the breakfast, including cabinet ministers Brian Mason, Joe Ceci, and Oneil Carlier. Mr. Eggen scheduled to deliver an address at the breakfast.

What the Education Minister has to say in his address will likely depend on if Alberta’s elected school trustees choose to rise above the closed mindedness and ignorance that has dominated these debates in past years. Protecting students and staff is not optional.


Here is the motion that the EPSB plans to introduce:

That the Alberta School Boards Association support its members school boards in establishing and maintaining welcoming, inclusive, safe and healthy learning and working environments for all members of the school community, including sexual orientation and genders minority students, staff and families. This includes provision of support with policy development and related resources.

EPSB rationale for the motion:

  • Issues with regard to publicly funded education and supporting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity students, staff and families have been in the news this year. The ASBA has been silent on these issues, both in policy and presence. It is proposed by the Committee that we take a second attempt at moving forward the 2012 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy to the ASBA.
  • The Committee believes it is important for the ASBA to clearly take a policy position in support of students, staff, and families in alignment with provincial legislation and our Strategic Plan outcome to provide welcoming, inclusive, safe caring and healthy learning and work environments. Research has shown that sexual minority youth experience more bullying, harassment, alienation, and suicide ideation than do their heterosexual peers and; therefore, boards are encouraged to counter pervasive cultural biases against sexual minorities through proactive and specific policy and regulation to ensure that all sexual orientation and gender identity minority individuals are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in all of their schools.

Previous ASBA fall general meetings have been webcast. I will post a link to the website once I have confirmed this meeting will be live streamed online.

Bob Hawkesworth with Premier Rachel Notley during the by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

What about Bob? Hawkesworth swoops into top political job.

Former Calgary alderman Bob Hawkesworth has been appointed Executive Director of Premier Rachel Notley’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary. A press release sent out on Nov. 7 states that Mr. Hawkesworth will be responsible for “the day-to-day operation of McDougall Centre, including stakeholder relations, communications and outreach services.

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Mr. Hawkesworth is a familiar name in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.

But his long career in municipal politics ended with a flame out. When faced with dwindling support in his bid for mayor in 2010, the respected alderman known for his ‘nice guy’ image launched a blistering negative attack on Naheed Nenshi before dropping out and endorsing Barb Higgins (his name still appeared on the ballot – he earned 1,513 votes). The negativity and surprised endorsements had many Calgarians scratching their heads in confusion.

He attempted a return to provincial politics in a September 2015 by-election but was defeated by Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda.

Reaction from the opposition parties to his appointment this weekend was surprisingly mixed.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose

Prasad Panda

Calgary-Fish Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Gotfried tweeted a congratulatory note, describing Mr. Hawkesworth as “A good man and an able representative of the @albertaNDP in #YYC.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon attacked the announcement as “a patronage appointment while Albertans across the province are hurting.” It seemed odd that the Wildrose caucus did not choose their only MLA from Calgary, Mr. Panda, to respond to the appointment. Maybe they are still preparing themselves for the rigours of a 9:00 a.m. start time?

Was this appointment based on political connections? It is hard to argue it is not. We can expect Ms. Notley to hire who she knows and who she trusts to these top positions. Mr. Hawkesworth might be the most well-connected and well-known partisan New Democrat in Calgary (Finance Minister Joe Ceci, another former alderman, might be the only other Calgary New Democrat as well connected). And he did earn endorsements from a number of conservatives during his by-election bid, including Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake and former mayor Rod Sykes.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Jason Nixon

This appointment of a long-time party loyaltist also signals that the NDP don’t have a broadly developed network of fresh talent to draw from in Calgary and southern Alberta, which may explain the large number of out-of-province hires. Many Calgary progressives I speak with regularily, some who are affiliated with Mr. Nenshi’s mayoral campaigns, are completely unfamiliar with the NDP’s political networks in their city, mostly because these networks are just now being built.

Despite electing 15 MLAs in Calgary, the NDP only earned 35 percent of the city-wide vote in the May 2015 election. It will largely depend on these 15 MLAs in Calgary and their colleagues in Banff-Cochrane, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to develop those networks through the work they do on the ground in their constituencies over the next four years.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC

Rob Merrifield

The appointment of Mr. Hawkesworth does raise the question about Ms. Notley’s pledge to operate differently than the old PC government. In fact, only a few months ago, the NDP government publicly fired and criticized former Alberta representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield for being a political appointee.

Mr. Merrifield was a partisan political appointee, hired by former Premier Jim Prentice, because he knew him and believed he could trust him to do a good job. Just as I am sure Ms. Notley knows and believes she can trust Mr. Hawkesworth to do a good job running the Premier’s office in at the McDougall Centre.

This Week in Alberta Politics

Here are a few items to watch out for in Alberta politics this week:

  • Which of the four Liberal Members of Parliament will be appointed to the federal cabinet on Nov. 4, 2015? Most speculation points toward newly elected Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr being given a cabinet spot. Mr. Hehr, along with Calgary-Skyview MP Darshan Kang, were the first federal Liberals to be elected in Calgary since 1968. But will one of the two Liberal MPs from Edmonton – Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault – get a cabinet spot? If not, it would mark the first time since before Jim Edwards was appointed as President of the Treasury Board in 1993 that Edmonton has not had representation in the federal cabinet.
  • Two Conservative MPs from Alberta – Edmonton-Wetaskiwin MP Mike Lake and Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Rona Ambrose – have joined four other Conservative MPs with bids to become the interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. That party has only had one permanent leader, Calgary MP Stephen Harper, since the party was formed in 2003 and is expected to choose a new permanent leader next year.
  • Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci will continue their sales pitch for the Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget this week. The NDP budget received some sensible and encouraging reviews when it was released from Calgary Economic Development and the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.
  • Overshadowing debate about the Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget last week was the Wildrose Party Finance critic Derek Fildebrant‘s war with a Globe & Mail reporter and House leader Nathan Cooper‘s war against a 9:00 a.m. start time for the Legislative sitting. Will the Wildrose Official Opposition be able to move on to actual issues of substance in the second week of the fall session?
  • It was always expected that uniting the Wildrose and PC parties will be tough. Richard Starke, the PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, had some choice words for his Wildrose counterparts in the Legislature last week: “…the Official Opposition rather reminds me of the chippy hockey player that hacks and slashes in the corner and then, as soon as something similar happens back to them, goes running to the referee.”

I will be taking a short break from blogging this week. In my absence, check out David Climenhaga‘s informative and entertaining AlbertaPolitics.ca blog.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Sky does not fall as Alberta NDP presents its first budget

When Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood in the Legislature on Oct. 27 to deliver the Alberta NDP’s first budget, it marked the first time since 1972 that the budget was not tabled by a Progressive Conservative finance minister.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The first budget of Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP government includes a 15 percent increase in capital spending over the next five years, with a goal to create jobs and tackle the province’s aging and neglected hospitals, schools, roads and other public infrastructure.

The NDP budget includes modest increases and projected stable funding for health care, education, advanced education and human services – core services that Albertans depend on. This was a key component of the election platform that helped propel the NDP into government on May 5. The job creation and economic stimulus elements of the budget followed last week’s creation of an Economic Development and Trade portfolio, led by Edmonton MLA Deron Bilous.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

A projected $6.1 billion deficit in the NDP budget is larger than the $5 billion deficit presented in the Tory spring budget, which was tabled but never passed. But the Alberta government’s eighth consecutive deficit budget is “…hardly sky is falling territory,” wrote University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe in Maclean’s Magazine this week.

While not trivial, obviously, it is completely manageable. Alberta is fully able to handle it and no one need panic. It represents 1.8 per cent of the province’s GDP, which is fairly small, as far as some deficits go,” Dr. Tombe wrote.

The NDP government will borrow to pay for parts of its operations budget starting next year, which will hopefully be a short-term move. Decades of bad financial management and poor long-term planning by the previous conservative government has exacerbated the provincial government’s current fiscal situation. The PCs simply became too comfortable and dependent on unreliable revenue from natural resource royalties to fund the province’s operations budget.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Mr. Ceci also announced that the government would legislate a debt ceiling of 15 percent debt-to-GDP in order to hold off a risk of credit downgrades and higher debt service costs.

Former premier Jim Prentice was correct last year when he warned about getting “off the royalty roller coaster.” The Alberta government faces serious revenue problems and moving Alberta away from its over dependence on resource revenue will be a significant test of Ms. Notley’s first term in government.

Any plan to deal with the revenue problem will likely come after the government receives a much anticipated report from the royalty review panel chaired by ATB President and CEO Dave Mowat. The panel is expected to finalize its recommendations by the end of the year. But it will not be enough to simply wait for the international price of oil to rise again. Albertans need to have a serious conversation about revenue and taxation, including the potential introduction of a provincial sales tax.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

To no ones surprise, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and finance critic Derek Fildebrandt responded to the NDP budget with outrage and a message filled with apocalyptic rhetoric.

Mr. Jean’s post-budget press conference was somewhat overshadowed by Mr. Fildebrandt’s bizarre decision to refuse to answer a question from Globe & Mail reporter Carrie Tait (see the ~8:50 mark in this video). Mr. Fildebrandt is sour from a recent interview Ms. Tait published in which she quotes him as claiming the NDP duped Alberta voters by actually implementing promises made during the election (and he later referred to Ms. Tait as a b-list reporter and accused her of auditioning for a job in the Premier’s Office – a comment he later retracted).

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A joint opinion-editorial written by Wildrose MLAs Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), and Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Dave Schneider (Little Bow) and circulated to rural weekly newspapers in September 2015 provides some sense of how that party would approach provincial budgeting if elected to government:

“When governments borrow and spend, there’s no marketable asset. There’s only debt. It’s like using a credit card to buy pizza. Even when governments borrow to spend on bridges and highways rather than programs, the debt is still not connected to a marketable asset. It’s a liability. Mortgages can be liquidated. Houses can be sold. Who buys used government bridges and worn-out highways?”

This is a crude ideological approach to public governance. Using capital financing to pay for the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, bridges and roads is nothing like using a credit card to buy a pizza.

The Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget is sensible and reflects the thoughtful approach that has defined the first six months of Ms. Notley’s tenure as Alberta’s Premier. Rather than follow a disastrous road taken by some of her predecessors, and slash funding to government services while the price of oil is low, the NDP government is taking an opportunity to invest in much needed public infrastructure when the economy is slow and the price is right. It’s not a brand new approach in Alberta politics, but it is refreshing to see a government focus on building rather than tearing down.

Danielle Larivee Rachel Notley Deron Bilous

Notley creates Economic Development ministry, appoints rural Municipal Affairs minister

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew from twelve to thirteen today with the appointment of Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee to the posts of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta.

Ms. Larivee takes over those roles from Deron Bilous. Mr. Bilous, one of the four NDP MLAs elected before this year’s orange chinook swept across Alberta, is now the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, a new department created from elements of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation and International and Intergovernmental Affairs.

With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table the provincial budget in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 27, the creation of this new ministry is meant to send a message about the importance of job creation and economic diversification. It was announced today that the budget will also include an “economic development plan” that will help provide some direction for this initiative.

The provincial budget is expected to include significant investment in public infrastructure and job creation projects to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by the drop in the international price of oil.

Calgary No Longer the Centre of Alberta’s Political Universe

The appointment of a rural northern Alberta MLA to cabinet has already generated complaints from some Calgary-based pundits. Only four of thirteen cabinet ministers represent constituencies south of Edmonton, including Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.

Over the course of its 44 years in power, the old Progressive Conservative government was led by Calgarians for more than three decades – Premiers Peter Lougheed (1971 to 1985), Ralph Klein (1992 to 2006), Alison Redford (2011-2014) and Jim Prentice (2014-2015).

It is suspected that former Alderman Bob Hawkesworth would have been appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs if he had won a September by-election in the Calgary-Foothills riding. If this is true, Calgarians can rightfully ask why one of the other eleven NDP MLAs in Calgary wasn’t appointed to cabinet. But they would be mistaken to believe they are the only group the provincial government is trying to represent.

As an MLA representing a large rural constituency, Ms. Larivee’s appointment to the Municipal Affairs post is more likely a tip of the hat to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties. An incredibly well-connected lobby group during the PC Party’s time in power, the AAMDC has found itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

The group was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many of its officials have used the group as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former cabinet minister Jack Hayden).

As a registered nurse who worked in a community health care setting, Ms. Larivee will understand some of the challenges facing the rural and remote communities represented by the AAMDC. It just so happens that Ms. Larivee’s new job starts a month before her first large event as minister – the AAMDC’s annual general meeting on November 17 and 18.


Alberta’s New Cabinet

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona) – Premier

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) – Economic Development and Trade

Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne) – Agriculture and Forestry

Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort) – Finance and Treasury Board President

David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) — Education and Culture and Tourism

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo) Justice and Aboriginal Affairs

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton Glenora)— Health and Seniors

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake) – Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta

Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) –  Infrastructure and Transportation

Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley) – Energy

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West) – Environment and Parks and Status of Women

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall) – Human Services.

Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview) – Advanced Education, and Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (right) and Education Minister David Eggen (second right) campaign with NDP candidate Janis Irwin (second from the left) in the Edmonton-Griesbach riding.

Mulcair and Trudeau show Alberta some love in the final days of Election 2015. Where’s Harper?

There is no longer any doubt that Alberta is an important battleground in this federal election campaign. While Conservatives will dominate in the provincial seat count, the Liberals and NDP believe they are positioned to win competitive races in Edmonton and Calgary. Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau will make appearances at campaign events in Alberta during the final days of Canada’s eleven week long federal election.

Aaron Paquette Edmonton Manning

Aaron Paquette

New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair and Premier Rachel Notley will share the stage tomorrow evening at a rally at downtown Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre.

The NDP are hoping that Ms. Notley’s popularity in the provincial capital can help boost the re-election effort of Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona and the election bids of Janis Irwin in Edmonton-GriesbachGil McGowan in Edmonton-Centre and Aaron Paquette in Edmonton-Manning. With 64 percent of Edmontonians having marked their ballots for the NDP in the recent provincial election, the NDP are hoping to extend some of that support to the federal level.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will spend the final Sunday of the election campaign swinging through Alberta to headline rallies for Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods and Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview.

Amarjeet Sohi Edmonton

Amarjeet Sohi

Both Mr. Sohi and Mr. Kang are candidates the Liberals believe have a real chance at being elected on October 19. A Mainstreet Research poll released last week shows Mr. Sohi, a popular three-term city councillor, in a close two-way race with Conservative Tim UppalThe Liberals are also hoping that strong campaigns can propel Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre, former Liberal MLA Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre and Matt Grant in Calgary-Confederation to victory.

It is has not been announced whether Conservative leader Stephen Harper will give Albertans any of his time in the final days before the election. He is running for re-election in the Calgary-Heritage riding.

Notley critics choking on Pretzel Logic
Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigns for Conservative Joan Crockatt in Calgary-Centre.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigns for Conservative Joan Crockatt in Calgary-Centre.

When they aren’t busy criticizing the NDP for implementing campaign promises, critics of Ms. Notley have tied themselves in knots criticizing her for either not being involved enough or for being too involved in the federal election campaign.

Alberta’s newly elected NDP government was a frequent target of Mr. Harper’s during this campaign. Ms. Notley succeeded in avoiding getting dragged into a war of words with the federal Conservative leader. Instead, Finance Minister Joe Ceci, a former Calgary alderman, was the NDP’s designated hitter to respond to the federal Conservative leader’s barbs.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, a former Conservative MP, was spotted campaigning for Conservative Joan Crockatt in Calgary this week. Mr. Jean claimed in an email to his party’s supporters that Ms. Notley was “throwing all the powers of the Alberta government behind Mulcair and the federal NDP.” The claim is plainly ridiculous.

By “all the powers,” what Mr. Jean meant was a single YouTube video of Ms. Notley’s speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce circulated with a government press release. The 42-minute long video of Ms. Notley’s speech included her brief remarks expressing support for Mr. Mulcair. Inappropriate? Yes. All the powers of the Alberta government? Not even close.

Dion campaigns in Edmonton
Stephane Dion spoke to Liberal supporters in Edmonton today.

Stephane Dion spoke to Liberal supporters in Edmonton today.

Former federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion was campaigning in Edmonton today. The likeable former cabinet minister and university professor from Montreal delivered an engaging speech to about 100 party supporters at a town hall meeting in the Sutton Place Hotel. Perhaps one of the most capable Prime Ministers Canada never had, Mr. Dion is sure to be appointed to cabinet if the Liberal Party forms government in Ottawa on Oct. 19.

Still not sure who to vote for?

Elections Canada reports that 358,830 Albertans cast their ballots at the advance polls on October 9, 10, 11 and 12, 2015. If you are still not sure which candidate you will be voting for on Oct. 19, take a look through my list of candidates running in Alberta’s 34 ridings.

Notley’s NDP can’t afford to ignore Wildrose attacks

‘Risky,’ ‘ideological,’ ‘experimental,’ and ‘uncertain’ are all words that the conservative Wildrose Party opposition is using to describe Alberta’s New Democratic Party government.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

Responding to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman‘s decision to cancel a $3 billion laboratory services contract with the Australian-based Sonic corporation, the Wildrose claimed the New Democratic Party government was imposing an “ideological” agenda.

The Wildrose appear to have succeeded in turning the tables on the NDP, who, while in opposition criticized the old conservative government of an ideological obsession with privatization of laboratory services. All of a sudden, the government is being accused of being too ideological for protecting Alberta’s public health care system.

Like the old Progressive Conservative government, I am sure the Wildrose would like to increase privatization of the health care system. The NDP could have framed this debate as one of protecting Alberta jobs and an Alberta-based company, rather than just about cancelling a contract with a giant Australian company (it was later announced that an appeal panel determined that Alberta Health Services breached its duty of procedural fairness in the RFP process in a substantive manner).

Vitor Marciano Wildrose

Vitor Marciano

Premier Rachel Notley‘s three-month old NDP government need to understand that the Wildrose Party is running a permanent negative campaign, and their track record as an attack-based opposition is impressive. The Wildrose Party can lay claim to playing a central role in ending the careers of PC Party premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice.

And while the Wildrose Party’s purpose for existence was momentarily questioned during the infamous MLA floor crossings, the demise of the PC government and rise of the Alberta NDP has given the party a new lease on life and a new target to attack. And the conservative opposition has many right-wing allies in its fight against the new government spanning from the editorial pages of the Financial Post to the far corners of the internet.

While Brian Jean is party leader, one of the real brains behind the operation is the venerable press secretary Vitor Marciano. Perhaps the largest mistake that Mr. Prentice and Danielle Smith made during the floor crossings was not to secure Mr. Marciano in a government job where the PCs could keep a close eye on him.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

After retreating into political exile for a few months, the veteran political operator returned with a vengeance to lead the Wildrose election campaign that brought the party from the depths of the abyss to 21 MLAs, more than they won in 2012.

But despite the Wildrose’s part in destroying the PC dynasty, they lost 81,814 votes in the recent election, while the NDP gained an astonishing 477,441 and formed government.

The Wildrose is attempting to tie the new government to economic conditions caused by the decline of the international price of oil, but the Alberta NDP was elected on a moderate progressive platform and have moved swiftly to implement it. Funding was returned to health care, education and human services, two panels studying climate change and natural resource royalties were struck, corporate taxes were increased, a 3-year minimum wage increase was implemented, and a provincial budget is expected to be tabled in the fall.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

There is no doubt the new government faces challenging economic and revenue challenges but after a summer of reading briefing binders and moving into new offices, the NDP need to reengage in the political debate.

The recent verbal skirmish between federal Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Joe Ceci shows the new government does have cabinet ministers who can articulately respond to the partisan barbs of critics. Along with Ms. Notley and Mr. Ceci, I would also add Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley , Education Minister David Eggen and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason in this category.

When the legislature returns on October 26, the twenty-one Wildrose MLAs will have a daily platform in Question Period to target government ministers. The NDP can learn from some of the major communications mistakes made by the PC Party and respond promptly to the Wildrose attacks, otherwise the opposition and its conservative allies will set the agenda.

Here are a few examples of Wildrose attacks in recent press releases:

  • August 20, 2015 “Bad economic policies from the NDP continue to harm Alberta’s economy…”
  • August 19, 2015: “…the NDP government must move away from their risky, ideological experiments that will drive jobs out of Alberta…
  • August 18, 2015: “…Ms. Hoffman wants Albertans to believe she made the decision based on a lack of information, but it’s clear she made it based on ideology.
  • August 14, 2015: “…the actions this government decides to take cannot keep kicking our economy while it is down.”
  • August 13, 2015: “While Albertans are losing jobs by the thousands with the NDP piling on with damaging economic policies…”
  • August 13, 2015: “…driven by ideology and not evidence-based decision making…”
  • August 13, 2015: “…NDP government has contributed directly to uncertainty and job losses…“
  • August 13, 2015: “…more ideologically driven experiments from the NDP and career politicians…”
Social Credit was risky and ideological
William Aberhart

William Aberhart

August 22, 2015 marks eighty years since the Social Credit League formed government in Alberta. In the 1935 election, the party went from zero to fifty-six MLAs and did not even have a leader during the election campaign (William Aberhart was chosen as Premier on September 3, 1935).

During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, tried to nationalize the banking system and banned alcohol sales.