Tag Archives: Joe Ceci

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.

Notley should avoid getting dragged into oilsands election trap

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

When Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper claimed on the campaign trail last week that Alberta’s new government was “a disaster,” Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci calmly and cautiously responded.

But when Mr. Harper again criticized Alberta’s new government during a brief stop in Edmonton this week, Mr. Ceci delivered a sharply worded response criticizing the federal Conservatives eight consecutive years of budget deficits.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

The decision to stay out of the personal fight was typical of Ms. Notley, who already demonstrated her ability to fly above the political fray when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall attempted to goad her into a political war of words last month.

Mr. Harper’s bluster is a sign of larger problems for the Ottawa Conservatives across Canada. Nationally, they are in a three-way race with the NDP and Liberals. Provincially, the political environment in Alberta has undergone a seismic shift and the Conservatives no longer have natural allies sitting in government in Edmonton.

Should Notley respond to McQuaig?
Linda McQuaig Oilsands Alberta

Linda McQuaig

Acting as if the topic of natural resource policy should be taboo in election campaigns, Conservative politicians and columnists have wasted no time pilling on Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig and other NDP and Liberal candidates for comments made about Canada’s oil sands .

Ms. McQuaig is known for her strong opinions about Canada’s natural resources, she should not be demonized for staking a position in the public debate (well-known public deviants such as former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and former Premier Peter Lougheed also questioned the speed of growth and environmental impact of oil development).

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

While support for the oilsands and pipeline construction is high in Alberta and Saskatchewan, there is significant public opposition in other parts of Canada.

A lax approach to environmental concerns has cost Alberta in political currency and a visceral reaction to these criticisms will not help build a successful public case for oilsands expansion and pipeline construction across Canada.

Having already described the oilsands as a “tremendous public asset,” Ms. Notley should not get caught in the trap of rebutting every political candidate or commenter who criticizes the province’s natural resource track record. The appointment of an expert panel to recommend a new approach to climate change has the potential to have a more positive impact on public opinion.

But what Ms. McQuaig’s comments do suggest is that a future divide between elements of the federal NDP and Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP over the future of natural resource development is almost inevitable. And when it comes to national debates about energy, Albertans will rally behind their Premier, regardless of who sits in office in Ottawa.

Calgary Foothills Election By Results

What’s at stake for who in the Calgary-Foothills by-election

The Calgary-Foothills by-election to replace former Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, who resigned on the evening he was re-elected as MLA on May 5, will take place on September 3, 2015.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Like most constituencies in Calgary before this year’s election, Foothills has been a traditionally conservative voting area that elected PC MLAs since the party began its 44-year run as government in 1971. But unlike most constituencies in Calgary in the recent election, enough voters in Calgary-Foothills supported Mr. Prentice to avoid Rachel Notley‘s orange wave.

This by-election is the first electoral test for Ms. Notley’s new government since it was voted into office on May 5.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The NDP have nominated former alderman Bob Hawkesworth, who also served as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.

With a comfortable majority of 53 MLAs in the Legislature, the NDP do not need to win this by-election, but a win would demonstrate that the NDP sweep in May can be expanded into new areas of the province. A very poor showing would be seen as a rebuke of Ms. Notley’s policies.

Showing how serious the party is taking the by-election opportunity, one of the Premier’s top communications staffers, former CBC reporter John Archer, tweeted last week that he would be taking a leave of absence from his job at the Legislature to work on Mr. Hawkesworth’s campaign.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Expect Calgary NDP MLAs and cabinet ministers Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir to be flooding through this constituency many times over the next month.

Although the by-election will take place in the depths of summer, it also falls in the midst of a federal election campaign, which could create some fascinating political scenarios.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

Federal Conservatives united behind Stephen Harper‘s federal party may be forced to choose sides between the old Progressive Conservatives now led by former Calgary alderman Ric McIver and the opposition Wildrose Party led by former Fort McMurray Conservative MP Brian Jean.

It is well known that many federal Conservative MPs, including Rob Anders and Jason Kenney, support the Wildrose but recent polls show the PCs remain popular in Calgary while the Wildrose opposition caucus is almost entirely based in rural Alberta. But in 2015, three former PC MLAs are running as federal Conservative candidates – Ron Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill, Matt Jeneroux in Edmonton-Riverbend and former Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber in Calgary-Confederation.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

The by-election will be an important indicator showing if the PC still have a political pulse.The party remains in shock after their stunning electoral defeat and has yet to nominate a candidate to run in the by-election.

Update: AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga reports that past city council candidate Blair Houston is expected to be nominated as the PC candidate.

Stakes are also high for the Wildrose Party and Mr. Jean. The Wildrose was unable to elect any candidates in Alberta’s two largest urban centres in the recent election, despite having elected two MLAs in Calgary in 2012. A Wildrose win in Foothills could torpedo activities by conservative operatives to merge the two conservative parties.

Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party

Greg Clark

Originally scheduled for August 15, the Wildrose has moved up their nomination vote to August 11, 2015 (John Huang, Kathy Macdonald, and Prasad Panda are contesting the nomination).

The by-election could also be an important test for the Alberta Party, whose leader Greg Clark was elected in Calgary-Elbow and has earned a reputation as a vocal critic of the NDP over the past three months. While still new to the Legislature, Mr. Clark has an opportunity to turn his party into the moderate conservative alternative to the PC Party and Liberal Party. The Alberta Party has yet to nominate a candidate.

The Liberals have nominated electrical engineer and past candidate Ali Bin Zahid, and Green Party leader Janet Keeping, who ran against Mr. Prentice in May, is running again.

First NDP Throne Speech on message. McIver Tories totally tone deaf in opposition.

The NDP throne speech was predictable and on message

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

The first Speech from the Throne of Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley‘s administration included many of the key promises made during the recent provincial election.

The 604,515 Albertans who voted NDP should be pleased that the new government is following through with its promises to end corporate and union donations, increase corporate taxes from 10% to 12%, create a more progressive income tax system, and temporarily restore funding to health care, education and human services that was cut by the previous Progressive Conservative government.

The speech also signalled that the NDP will not rush haphazardly into a review of Alberta’s natural resource royalties, which was a key promise during the election. Despite the increasingly bizarre arguments being published in conservative newspapers, Ms. Notley is smart to take a careful and calm approach to ensuring that Albertans are receiving the best value for their natural resources.

One of the NDP’s largest challenges during this spring sitting of the Legislature falls upon Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who will be responsible for shepherding the Interim Supply Bill that will allow the government to continue operating until a new budget is introduced later in 2015.

Tories tone deaf on corporate donations

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

From their new home in the opposition benches, the message from PC interim leader Ric McIver against banning corporate donations was incredibly tone deaf. Mr. McIver’s opposition to the ban is not ideological (the Wildrose Party supports the ban) but purely practical. The PC Party relies heavily upon corporate donors for the large majority of its donations, unlike the NDP and Wildrose parties which have cultivated a large individual donor base.

A report released by the Parkland Institute last week showed that the PC Party received more than $630,000 from corporate donors during the first three-months of 2015, compared to $151,000 in individual donations of $251 or over.

During the recent election, PC leader Jim Prentice faced harsh criticism for refusing to raise corporate tax in the provincial budget while personal income taxes and many fees were increased. Culminating with a disastrous press conference held by four CEOs supporting the PCs, the corporate taxes issue led many Albertans to believe that the PCs were protecting their major donors rather than the best interests of the province.

Canadian Energy Strategy

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

Perhaps signalling that Alberta will once again seek an important role on the national stage, the throne speech alluded to plans to  “forge a much stronger partnership with our fellow provinces and with the federal government, in order to build a Canadian Energy Strategy.”

A new approach to energy cooperation on the national stage, which could include increased support for the proposed TransCanada Energy East Pipeline, along with a new climate change strategy promised by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, could lead to Alberta being a more involved player at the July 15-17, 2015 Council of the Federation meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Reaching out to opposition parties, setting a new tone

Marking a clear break from the previous PC government, Ms. Notley reached out to the opposition parties in the first day of the new legislative session, announcing the formation of two new multi-party committees.

Lesser Slave Lake NDP MLA Danielle Larivee, a Registered Nurse, and Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann, a physician, will co-chair a mental health review committee. And Ms. Notley announced that she and Wildrose leader Brian Jean will cooperate in the creation of a special legislative committee composed of nine government MLAs and eight opposition MLAs that will “review Alberta’s elections, whisteblower and conflict of interest legislation” (they should look at banning corporate and union donations in municipal elections as well).

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

Notley’s Crew: Alberta’s First NDP Cabinet

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds for the swearing-in ceremony of Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta’s first NDP Cabinet. This marked the first time in 44 years that a party other than the Progressive Conservatives were sworn-in to office and the event felt more like an outdoor festival than a protocol-ruled government ceremony. The hot weather, live music, free ice cream, food trucks and wading pools helped contribute to this atmosphere, but there was an unmistakable feeling of excitement and optimism in the sea of onlookers. It was really unlike anything I have experienced in my ten years writing about politics in this province. This crowd was cheering for Alberta.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Along with serving as Premier, Ms. Notley is also responsible for the Ministry of International and Intergovernmental Relations, a double role that her predecessors Ralph Klein and Jim Prentice also took responsibility for. The three other incumbent NDP MLAs, Brian Mason, Deron Bilous and David Eggen, were appointed to senior roles and first-term Edmonton MLAs Sarah Hoffman and Lori Sigurdson were also named to cabinet.

The new 12-member cabinet has an equal number of women and men, and while half of its MLAs represent Edmonton constituencies, ministers from rural Alberta, Lethbridge and Calgary have been given important responsibilities.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Former Calgary Alderman Joe Ceci is Finance Minister and Treasury Board President, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kathleen Ganley is Justice Minister, Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips is Environment Minister, Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley MLA Marg McCuaig-Boyd is Energy Minister, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA Oneil Carlier is Agriculture and Forestry Minister, and Calgary-McCall MLA Irfan Sabir is Minister of Human Services.

The new cabinet will hold its first meetings in Calgary on May 27 and 28.

It was reported on social media this weekend that the NDP Caucus will nominate Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker of the Assembly when MLAs convene to replace Speaker Gene Zwozdesky on June 11. Mr. Wanner is the former commissioner of public services at the City of Medicine Hat and worked as a professional mediator before he was elected. The Speech from the Throne will be read by recently appointed Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell on June 15.

Here is a list of the new cabinet ministers:

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Premier of Alberta and Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations

Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood): Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Government House Leader

David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder): Minister of Education, Minister of Culture and Tourism

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Service Alberta, Deputy Government House Leader

Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort): President of Treasury Board, Minister of Finance

Marg McCuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley): Minister of Energy

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Minister of Health, Minister of Seniors

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo): Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Minister of Aboriginal Relations

Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview): Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education, Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour

Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne): Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Minister of Parks and Recreation, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Deputy Government House Leader

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall): Minister of Human Services

Tory requests Judicial Recount in Glenmore

The last outstanding race of the May 5 provincial election will face a judicial recount. The election in Calgary-Glenmore was tied on election night and the official count showed NDP candidate Anam Kazim six votes ahead of Progressive Conservative candidate Linda Johnson. Ms. Johnson, who served one-term as an MLA after her election in 2012, has requested a judicial recount.