Tag Archives: Jon Havelock

Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

MLA Robyn Luff removed from NDP Caucus after speaking out “about culture of fear and intimidation”

Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”

Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.

Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.

Robyn Luff MLA Calgary East NDP Press Release

MLA Robyn Luff’s letter on November 5, 2018

Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.

“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”

A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”

Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.

There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.

Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.

Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.

In the mid-1990s, rookie backbench Progressive Conservative MLAs Jon Havelock, Mark Hlady, Lyle Oberg, Murray Smith, Ed Stelmach, and Lorne Taylor formed “the Deep Six” by attempting to drive an agenda of cuts to spending and government services, or at least that is the political narrative that was created.

The short-lived sequel to the Deep Six, the Fiscal Four, was formed by Doug Griffiths, Jonathan Denis, Rob Anderson, and Kyle Fawcett after the 2008 election. The group of PC backbenchers soon expanded to include three or four other MLAs, but it did not last long after Anderson crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 (and the “Fiscal Seven” did not have the same ring to it).

Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.

It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.

Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.

Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.

RJ Sigurdson defeats MLA Wayne Anderson in Highwood UCP nomination, and a preview of this week’s nomination votes

Former local party local president RJ Sigurdson defeated incumbent MLA Wayne Anderson and two other challengers to secure the United Conseravative Party nomination in Highwood on October 16, 2018. Sigurdson previously served as the local constituency president for the UCP and PC Party in the district south of Calgary.

Wayne Anderson MLA Highwood UCP

Wayne Anderson

Anderson faced a nomination challenge from Sigurdson, Carrie Fischer, a former Okotoks town councillor and mayoral candidate who ran for the PC Party against Anderson in 2015, and former Wildrose and PC Party activist Dean Leask.

Sigurdson had been endorsed by from former Highwood PC MLA George Groeneveld, former Okotoks mayor Bill McAlpine, and former PC MP Doug Fee.

Anderson had been endorsed by fellow UCP MLAs Leila Aheer, Nathan Cooper, Ric McIver, Jason Nixon, Dave Schneider, Pat Stier, Glenn van Dijken, and Tany Yao, as well as former PC cabinet minister Jon Havelock and Okotoks mayor Bill Robertson. And Leask had been endorsed by former cabinet minister Ted Morton and former area MP Grant Hill.

Anderson was first elected in 2015 as Wildrose Party candidate and currently serves as the UCP Advanced Education critic. He is the second UCP MLA to lose the party’s nomination to run in the next election. Rancher and political party scion Nate Horner defeated two-term MLA Rick Strankman in Drumheller-Stettler UCP nomination contest earlier this month.

Here are the other nomination meetings taking place this week:

October 17, 2018 – Edmonton-Mill Woods AP

Anju Sharma is expected to be acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate after two other candidates, James Moore and Walter Espinoza, withdrew from the contest.  Abdi Bakal is also expected to be acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate in this district on October 17, 2018. The district is currently represented by New Democratic Party MLA Christina Gray.

October 18, 2018 – Calgary-Elbow NDP

Janet Eremenko is expected to be acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Eremenko was a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 11 in the October 2017 election where she finished third with 20 percent of the vote. The district is currently represented by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark.

October 18 & 20, 2018 – Airdrie-Cochrane UCP

Five candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in this district northwest of Calgary: Ian Chitwood, Peter Guthrie, Morgan Nagel, Mauri Stiff, and Laura Talsma.

Chitwood is director of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. Guthrie is a former owner of a Mr. Lube franchise in north east Calgary and a former co-owner of a ranch near Castor. Nagel is a Cochrane town councillor and previously worked as a organizer for Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign and the Manning Centre. Talsma is a Registered Nurse at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and Bethany Cochrane Long Term Care facility in Calgary.

Peter Guthrie is endorsed by former sportscaster and recent Airdrie-East UCP nomination candidate Roger Millions and former Rocky View County councillor and Calgary-Centre MP Eric Lowther. Nagel has the endorsements of Cochrane town councillors Alex Reed and Patrick Wilson. Stiff has been endorsed by Airdrie UCP MLA Angela Pitt, who is running for re-election in the neighbouring Airdrie-East district. Talsma is endorsed by UCP MLA Jason Nixon and brief UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway.

October 20, 2018 – Calgary-Shaw UCP

Five candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in this southwest Calgary district: past Wildrose Party candidates Brad Leishman and Mark Mantei, party activist and past federal Conservative nomination candidate Jack Redekop, communications professional Rebecca Schulz, and Daniel McLean.

Leisheman and Redekop have endorsed the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, and Mantei appears to have the support of the right-wing Progressive Group for Independent Business through the group’s president Sid Helischauer and PGIB-backed Calgary-Peigan candidate Tanya Fir, and UCP MLA Tany Yao. Rebecca Schultz is endorsed by Member of Parliament Stephanie Kusie, UCP MLAs Nathan Cooper and Jason Nixon and former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Calgary-Shaw is currently represented by NDP MLA Graham Sucha and was previously represented by Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson from 2012 to 2015.

October 20, 2018 – Calgary-Varsity NDP

NDP stalwart Anne McGrath is expected to be acclaimed as her party’s candidate in this redrawn district. McGrath returned to Alberta from Ottawa in 2015 to serve as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office in Edmonton and then moved to Calgary to serve as Executive Director of the Premier’s Southern Alberta Office at the McDougall Centre.

Two current MLAs, Stephanie McLean and Michael Connolly, and one other candidate, Julia Hayter, have withdrawn from the contest in this district. Hayter is now running for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Edgemont.