The Alberta Party will soon be seeking applications for a new leader.
The party announced through a press release today that on June 30, 2019 Stephen Mandel will step down as leader 15-months after he was elected into the role. The former three-term Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister ran for the leadership in 2018 after MLA Greg Clark was ousted in a successful bid by former PC Party members to take over the Alberta Party.
This was Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback.
Prominent Progressive Conservatives like Mandel, Katherine O’Neill, Dave Quest, Sue Timanson, and Stephen Khan hoped to turn the Alberta Party into a home for former PC supporters disenchanted by what became the United Conservative Party.
Policy direction under Mandel shifted further to the economic-right but the party steadfastly refused to describe itself as conservative, sticking instead to the ambiguous “centrist” label. In a province where many eligible voters self-identify as conservatives, it remains puzzling why a political party run by conservatives and presenting a moderate conservative program would actively distance itself from the description.
The Alberta Party under Mandel increased the party’s vote from 2.2% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019, but failed to win any seats in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike 2015, when the party focused all of its resources to successfully elect Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2019 the Alberta Party spread thin its resources by running a province-wide campaign and a full-slate of candidates.
But the Alberta Party campaign stumbled out of the starting gate early in the campaign, with Mandel and a handful of candidates and chief financial officers being banned from running in the election by Election Alberta after missing their financial disclosure deadlines. The bans were lifted after court challenges by Mandel and the other candidates but it damaged the party’s chances of being seen as a serious contender in an election dominated by the UCP and NDP.
The party earned significant media coverage but struggled to gain traction and hit a ceiling of 12 percent in polling during the campaign. Mandel’s significant of name recognition in Edmonton was not able to help the Alberta Party break the dominance of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the provincial capital city. The NDP won 19 of 20 seats in Edmonton.
Mandel finished third behind NDP MLA Lorne Dach and UCP challenger Laurie Mozeson in Edmonton-McClung, which includes parts of the area he represented on city council before his time as mayor. The party’s two incumbent MLAs, Clark and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. The party’s third MLA, former NDPer Karen McPherson, declined to run for re-election.
From the very beginning, Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback was a strange endeavour. And despite Mandel’s nine-years as a popular big city mayor with a significant list of accomplishments, his final appearance on the political scene will largely be a footnote in Alberta’s history (unless, of course, this was not his final comeback…).
Alberta Party finances…
The Alberta Party’s financial disclosures from the 2019 election have not yet been released, but the 2018 annual financial disclosures paint a picture of a party in financial disarray. The Alberta Party raised $525,430 in 2018 while running a $137,964 deficit.
In a May 25, 2019 email sent to members explaining the financial situation, the party explained that it had cycled through three CFOs in 2018 and that larger than expected expenses related to the creation of the party’s proprietary Customer Relationship Management database and “too large of an AGM” put the party in a deficit position.
The email told members that “[t]he Party is not broke but will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future.”
United Conservative Party executive director Janice Harrington released a statement this evening announcing that Randy Kerr has been removed as the party’s candidate in the new Calgary-Beddington district. Here is an excerpt from Harrington’s statement:
“Effective immediately, Mr. Randy Kerr has been removed as the UCP’s candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Beddington.
“In the last 48-hours, new information has come to our attention indicating Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
“To be clear, the Party is not making any allegations against Mr. Kerr regarding the legitimacy of his contribution to the Callaway Leadership, not against Mr. Callaway or his Campaign. This is not the Party’s rule to judge, and the Party does not in any way oversee financial contributions to leadership campaigns.
“However, it is our conclusion that Mr. Kerr was not sufficiently forthcoming with the Party’s earlier inquiries, and for that, he has been removed as a candidate.
“The Party has also proactively provided this new information to the appropriate office – that of the Elections Commissioner. Given that the matter is now with the Commissioner, it is inappropriate for us to comment further.
According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, Kerr donated $4,000 to Callaway’s leadership campaign in 2017. The disclosure was released months ago, so it is unclear what Harrington meant when she wrote that “Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
Earlier this week, UCP staffer posted a creepy video online of Gill meeting with an NDP staffer in an apparent attempt to discredit him. Kenney later accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP.
The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.
Harrington also announced that the UCP has appointed Josephine Pon as their candidate in this district. Pon had been defeated by Kerr in the August 2018 nomination contest.
Meanwhile, Karen McPherson, one of three Alberta Party MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, announced on social media today that she has decided against running for re-election when the provincial election is called.
McPherson had already been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Beddington, which replaces much of her the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill district she currently represents. She was first elected as an New Democratic Party MLA in 2015 in, unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Neil Brown, and left the NDP in 2017 to sit as an Independent and later joined the Alberta Party caucus.
The NDP have nominated Amanda Chapman as its candidate in Calgary-Beddington.
Non-Beddington related news
The Alberta Party has announced two new nominated candidates: Wayne Rufiange in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock and Jason Beekman in Taber-Warner. Rufiange recently sought the Alberta Party nomination in Morinville-St. Albert, but was defeated by Neil Korotash. Rufiange is principal of R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock.
The Liberals have nominated a handful of new candidates: Robin Macintosh in Calgary-Elbow, Michael Macdonald in Calgary-Klein, and Wilson McCutchan in Calgary-Lougheed. McCutchan was the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-West in the 2012 election, where he earned 7.4 per cent of the vote. And Shirley Ksienski has replaced previously nominated candidate Rork Hilford in Calgary-Glenmore.
The Green Party has announced Brian Deheer will be that party’s candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district. Deheer was a candidate for the leadership of the party in 2017 and 2018, and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.
Four more candidates affiliated with the Alberta Independence Party have filed their papers to run as Independent candidates: John Morton in Edmonton-City Centre, Kenneth Morrice in Calgary-Hays, Todd Wayne in Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ben Maddison in Lethbridge-West.
Currently operating as an unregistered political party, Alberta Independence Party will need 44 candidates approved by Elections Alberta in order to gain official party status in the upcoming election.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
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.
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.
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.
Voting for the UCP nomination will take place on October 25 and 26, 2018, only days before the fall session of the Legislative Assembly begins on October 29, 2018.This will mark first time Goodridge, and fellow rookie MLA Devin Dreeshen of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, will sit in the Assembly as MLAs.
The electoral boundary changes in northeast Alberta are significant. When the election is called, Fort McMurray-Conklin will be dissolved and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will be created, increasing the population of the district from around 26,000 to 44,166.
Richard Starke is considering running for re-election, but it is not clear whether the Independent MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster would run as an Independent candidate or join a political party before the election was called. Starke was elected as a Progressive Conservative in the 2012 and 2015, and would be expected to run for re-election in the new Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright district.
“I have not decided yet whether I will seek a third term as MLA,” Starke wrote when contacted. “If I run, it could be as an independent or I may seek a nomination for one of the parties. That decision will be made in due course; I have no timeline for any announcement.”
Starke is recognized by Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner as a Progressive Conservative MLA, but that recognition does not mean much outside the Legislative Grounds in Edmonton. He declined to join the UCP Caucus when the remaining PC Party MLAs joined the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus to form the new party in July 2017.
The remnant of the PC Party, which governed Alberta from 1971 to 2015, is now legally controlled by the UCP board of directors. This means, if he does decide to run for re-election, there is little to no chance Starke will be listed as a PC Party candidate on the ballot in the next election.
Starke would face at least seven challengers for the UCP nomination in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, including his Wildrose Party challenger from the previous two elections, the wife of a retiring UCP MLA, and another past PC Party candidate. It seems unlikely that he would cross to the NDP, but stranger things have happened.
One of Starke’s former colleagues, Doug Grittiths, will be delivering the keynote speech at the Alberta Party annual general meeting, being held on October 19 and 20, 2018 at the Edmonton Expo Centre.
Griffiths served as PC MLA for Wainwight from 2002 to 2004 and Battle River-Wainwright from 2004 to 2015, and served in cabinet with Starke as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Service Alberta. Griffiths endorsed Starke in the March 2017 PC Party leadership contest, as did former PC cabinet minister and current Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel.
The Alberta Party has seen its legislative caucus expand from 1 to 3 MLAs over the past year with the addition of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser, but the party has struggled to generate excitement among voters. Four public opinion polls released since April 2018 show support for the Alberta Party ranging from 5.1 percent to 11 percent province-wide.
Mandel has had a bit of a rough few weeks ahead of this annual meeting, first scrambling to explain to his party’s membership why he agreed to meet with the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, disqualifying Yash Sharma as the party’s nominated candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie, and defending a poorly delivered and tone-deaf comment about women in politics.
kd lang named to the Alberta Order of Excellence
Singer and song-writer kd lang has finally received the recognition she deserved this week as she was awarded to the Alberta Order of Excellence. The honour granted to to lang was praised by Premier Rachel Notley, who tweeted that she is “a trailblazer, opening doors and bravely championing many causes, including LGBTQ2S+ rights.” Notley’s congratulatory comments are a far cry from the backwards attitudes and actions of some Alberta MLAs twenty-five years ago.
In January 1993, Alberta PC MLAs blocked a motion to congratulate lang on her musical awards and achievements. Some rural PC MLAs were said to be annoyed at anti-beef comments she had made a few years before, but that was not the only reason. The Globe & Mail reported in January 1993 that some backbench PC MLAs said they did not support sending a message of congratulations to the singer because she had openly declared she is a lesbian.
“Frankly, it makes them look very bad,” said William Roberts, the Edmonton-Centre NDP MLA who introduced the motion to congratulate lang. “I think people would say there are a lot of narrow-minded people in Alberta.”
lang had only a short, cryptic message for her detractors at the time: “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”
In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss the latest news in Alberta politics, including Premier Rachel Notley’s response to the quashing of approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, how rumours of an early federal election could impact Alberta’s 2019 election, and Ryan’s favourite topic, the Alberta Party.
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
Calgary-Edgemont/Calgary-Varsity – Beth Barberree has withdrawn from the Alberta Party nomination contest in this district and is instead seeking her party’s nomination in Calgary-Varsity. Barberee was the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Hawkwood in the 2015 election.
Calgary-Hays – Patrick Meckelborg has withdrawn from the United Conservative Party nomination contest in this district, meaning that incumbent UCP MLA Ric McIver will be acclaimed as his party’s candidate at a nomination meeting tonight.
Calgary-Shaw – Bronson Ha is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Central Peace-Notley – Marg McCuaig Boyd is seeking the NDP nomination. McCuaig Boyd was first elected to represent the Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley district in 2015, earning 38 percent of the vote in a close three way contest. She currently serves as Alberta’s Minister of Energy. A nomination meeting will be held on June 28, 2018 to choose the party’s candidate for the next election.
Edmonton-Castle Downs – Arthur Hagen is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-City Centre – David Shepherd is seeking the NDP nomination in this newly redrawn district. Shepherd was first elected in 2015 after unseating five-term Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman. In 2017, readers of this blog and listeners of the Daveberta Podcast voted Shepherd as the “Up and Comer in 2018.”
Edmonton-Riverview – Lori Sigurdson is seeking the NDP nomination. Sigurdson has recently taken leave from her positions as Minister of Housing and Minister of Seniors in order to undergo treatment for leukaemia. Sigurdson was first elected in 2015, earning 62 percent of the vote. She was the NDP candidate in this district in the 2012 election, placing third with 21 percent of the vote.
Following former leader Greg Clark’s resignation in Nov. 2017, the race flew largely under the radar of most Alberta politics watchers until former PC cabinet minister and three-term Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel threw his name into the contest. Calgary lawyer and federal Liberal official Kara Levis was the first candidate to join the race in late 2017.
By all accounts the race has been civil and the interactions between the three leadership campaigns have been friendly and cordial.
Membership sales for the leadership vote were cut off yesterday at noon. Voting will take place online from Feb. 25 to 27, 2018.
Photo: Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel when he announced his plans to retire from municipal politics in 2013.
The rumours have been circulating for weeks, and they now appear to be confirmed.
Stephen Mandel is jumping back into provincial politics by launching a campaign for the leadership of the Alberta Party. The 72-year old former Edmonton mayor and provincial cabinet minister is expected to officially join the race on Jan. 10, 2018 at an “announcement about Alberta’s future” at the Boyle Street Community Hall.
Mandel was a popular mayor from 2004 to 2013 and briefly served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and Minister of Health from 2014 to 2015. Despite his largely successful three-terms as mayor, his short and unremarkable time in the provincial cabinet was ended when New Democratic Party candidate and Cross Cancer Institute oncologist Bob Turner unseated Mandel in the 2015 election.
He was rumoured to have considered a run for the PC Party leadership in 2017, but instead made a last-minute endorsement of Richard Starke. Since then, Mandel has been seen as a driving force behind Alberta Together, the political action committee led by former PC Party president Katherine O’Neill. AT is believed to have been influential in pushing former leader Greg Clark to step down as leader ahead of the party’s annual general meeting in November 2017.
Both Mandel and O’Neill were seen as star candidates for the PC Party in the 2015 election and were featured in online and television ads produced for the campaign.
He served as Associate Minister of Recovery and Reconstruction of High River following the floods that devastated southern Alberta in 2013. And he is the former president of CUPE Local 3421, which until April 2009 represented two-thirds of the province’s paramedics.
Kara Levis was the first candidate in the race
The two men joined the contest almost one month after Kara Levis, a Calgary-based commercial lawyer and President of the National Women’s Liberal Commission, became the first candidate to enter the leadership race. Levis is a co-founder of Ask Her, an organization dedicated to encouraging more women candidates to run in the 2017 Calgary Municipal Election.
Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.
In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.
With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.
Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.
As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.
According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.
With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.
Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.
McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.
Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.
Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).
As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:
Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
The NDP want to define Kenney and the UCP early in his mandate and are eager to respond to the vicious attacks targeted at them by the Wildrose Party, Kenney’s supporters, and now the UCP since the 2015 election. But this week’s opening shots were over-kill.
We cannot expect political parties to avoid playing politics, especially as we approach the next provincial election. The NDP have every right to challenge Kenney on his controversial statements but the government should carry itself with a little more dignity than it did this week with it’s staged criticisms of the new UCP leader in the Assembly.
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley tabled Bill 23: Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, which adds “age” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in cases of tenancy, goods, services and accommodation. The bill puts an end to adults-only apartment buildings as of Jan. 1, 2018 and gives condo owners a 15-year grace period to implement the new rules. Seniors-only housing is exempt.
Following Kenney’s victory in last weekend’s UCP leadership race, more than 20 UCP Caucus staffers, mostly former Wildrose Caucus staff, lost their jobs at the Legislative Assembly.
According to AlbertaPolitics.ca writer David Climenhaga, Kenney has hired a handful of his close advisors, many from his years in Ottawa, to run the UCP Caucus: Chief of Staff Nick Koolsbergen, Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf, Calgary Office Manager Blaise Boehmer, Communications Director Annie Dormuth, Director of Operations Jamie Mozeson, Daniel Williams, Peter Bissonnette and Andrew Griffin.
Now with two MLAs in the Alberta Party Caucus, the third largest caucus in the Assembly wants to be granted official party status, which would give Greg Clark and Karen McPherson increased resources and a more prominent role in daily Question Period.
Section 42 of the Legislative Assembly Act states that “recognized party status” shall be granted to a caucus with at least 4 MLAs and a party that received at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent election.
Clark has pointed out that the NDP were granted official party status when only two of the party’s MLAs were elected in 1997, 2001 and 2008. But in each of those elections, the NDP met the second criteria of earning more than 5 percent of the vote. The Alberta Party currently meets neither of these criteria, having only earned 2.8 percent of the province-wide vote in 2015.
New Democrats who might oppose granting the Alberta Party official status should be reminded of their own party’s situation 35 years ago, when first-term Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin introduced a private members bill that would have lowered the threshold of recognized party status to one MLA. At the time, huge Progressive Conservative majorities were the norm, and in the 1982 election the only elected opposition consisted of two New Democrats and two Independent MLAs (both former Social Credit MLAs who would later form the Representative Party of Alberta).
The four-MLA threshold is arbitrary and the vote results from the previous election should be irrelevant in recognizing the creation of new caucuses. The Alberta Party should be granted recognized party status, provided with additional resources and given a more prominent role in Question Period now that their caucus has doubled.
The exact timing of the by-election will be determined by Premier Rachel Notley but the smart money is on it being called soon. Every day that Kenney is not tied up with Legislative duties in Edmonton, he will be campaigning across the province.
Despite being a close race in the 2015 election, with Rodney finishing 502 votes ahead of New Democrat Mihai Ion, the Orange Wave is now at low tide in Calgary. It seems likely that Kenney should have an easy time being elected in this constituency, which has elected conservative MLAs since it was first created in 1993 (but as well all know, by-elections can sometimes produce unexpected results…).
There is some irony that Kenney, who is in the midst of an ongoing feud with the Lougheed family, would become the MLA for a constituency named after Peter Lougheed. As a Member of Parliament, Kenney was quoted in 1999 describing the “neo-Stalinist make-work projects of the Lougheed and Getty years.“
Presented with the chance to directly challenge Kenney, will Liberal Party leader David Khan carry his party’s banner in the by-election? His chance of victory are slim to none, but it would give him an opportunity to campaign and potentially face Kenney in any local all-candidates debates (if Kenney participates).
The by-election also provides an opportunity for the Alberta Party to run a candidate. The party did not participate in the last Calgary by-election in Calgary-Greenway, but the recent floor-crossing of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and potential future floor-crossings by former PC MLAs could provide some momentum for the upstart party.
The Calgary-Lougheed constituency was first created in 1993 and was represented by Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning until 1997. PC MLA Marlene Graham then represented the constituency until 2004, when Rodney was first elected.
This would be the second time in recent history that a sitting MLA resigned in order to allow a party leader to run in a by-election. Len Webber resigned as MLA for Calgary-Foothills in 2014 to trigger a by-election for PC Party leader Jim Prentice. And in 1998, former Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell stepped down as MLA for Edmonton-McClung to allow new party leader Nancy MacBeth to run in a by-election.
I have created a dedicated webpage to track party nominations and the candidates running in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election.
Here is a look at election results from Calgary-Lougheed for the General Elections from 1993 to 2015:
Jean told reporters that he declined to accept any critic role, and despite the ill will generated towards each other in the leadership race, it seems hard to believe Kenney would completely shut-out the former party leader.
But this move, or lack thereof, will undoubtably fuel rumours that Jean is considering leaving politics. His resignation would trigger a by-election in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, which he has represented since May 2015.
Kenney does not have a seat in the Assembly and indicated today that Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney will resign on November 1, 2017 in order to create a by-election for his party’s new leader. Rodney was first elected in 2004.
As the new leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney will face some immediate issues as the Assembly reconvenes. He will need to reorganize his caucus office staff, reassign his party’s MLAs to new critic roles, and set an opposition agenda for the next 16 months. Kenney will do his best to avoid the bozo–eruptions that plagued the former Wildrose MLAs in his UCP caucus and pivot to issues that will solidify his party’s conservative base.
Eggen has said most schools have been working with the province to establish codes of conduct against discrimination and adopt policies to protect LGBTQ youth, but a small group of mostly publicly-subsidized private schools are resisting. This bill could reignite the debate over the existence of publicly-subsidized private schools, some of which charge tens of thousands of tuition per student in order to attend.
Despite calls from their political allies, Notley’s NDP government has avoided overhauling the structure of Alberta’s school system. But open resistance by private schools over GSAs, and by publicly-funded Catholic Superintendents wanting to dumb-down the Sexual Education curriculum, could force a debate over accountability of public funds being provided to these religious schools.
Of course, Notley is not telling publicly-funded Catholic schools not to teach Catholicism, she is telling them that they must teach consent and acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (welcome to the 21st century).
Alberta is one of a few remaining provinces that provides full public funding to Catholic schools. Former PC MLA David King, who served as education minister from 1979 to 1986, has collected close to 1,000 signatures in an online petitiondemanding a referendum on the future of publicly funded Catholic schools in Alberta.
On the flip-side, as Kenney enters his role as UCP leader, he will hope that Albertans forgive his more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.
We can expect Kenney to spend a lot of time criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has developed a relatively friendly working relationship with Notley’s government on issues ranging from oil pipeline construction to climate change. With deep connections to the Conservatives in Ottawa, expect a Kenney-led UCP to march in lockstep with their federal cousins on these issues.
Notley’s NDP subtly shifted their messaging last year, focusing on launching new programs and projects they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the Kenney-led UCP, who they will argue would attack public services and hurt Alberta families.
Kenney has said that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.
Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre and the Green Line in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Would Kenney close schools and hospitals, like his political role model Ralph Klein did in the 1990s? Expect the NDP start asking these questions when MLAs meet in Edmonton tomorrow.
This weekend’s UCP leadership vote and the resumption of the Legislative session tomorrow marks a huge change in Alberta’s political landscape. Alberta politics has changed drastically over the past two years, and even the past decade. The next few weeks, and the next 16 months, in Alberta politics will be fascinating to watch.
Photo: Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson (right) and Calgary-Northern Hills MLA Jamie Kleinsteuber (left). Source: Facebook
There have been a lot of changes on the opposition side of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly this year, but today marked the first time since 2015 that we saw a decline in the number of MLAs on the government side.
In a statement that in parts sounded somewhat similar to what former UCP MLA Rick Fraser wrote last month when he announced he was sitting as an Independent MLA, McPherson wrote:
“Alberta, in fact the world, is changing quickly and I believe our political processes need to reflect these shifts. Continuing to do politics the way it’s being done will lead to further polarization. We are missing the middle where we have more in common with each other than we are different. Albertans need political choices that inspire them, not scare them.”
McPherson’s letter was short on details but included statements about the need to transform the health care and education system and the role of technology in the economy, including expanding high speed internet to all rural communities (she also mentioned this in a promotional video produced by the NDP caucus in July 2016).
As a backbench MLA, McPherson’s departure is not likely to have any significant impact on the functions of the government. But it does mark the most significant breach of party discipline the NDP has experienced during their first term in government. To their credit, Rachel Notley‘s NDP have done an impressive job enforcing MLA discipline in the government caucus, avoiding the kind of embarrassingbozo-eruptions that have plagued the Conservative opposition benches over the past two years.
Despite her low-profile and her insistence that the decision was made without malice, McPherson’s departure does add fuel to the narrative that the NDP is weak in Calgary, which is expected to be a key electoral battleground in the next election.