Tag Archives: Ken Boessenkool

As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA

After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA

Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle

Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool

Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

Where are the ideas? PC leadership race lacking meaningful policy debate

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel endorsed Jim Prentice for PC leader last week.

The race is still in its early stages, but Albertans hoping the Progressive Conservatives leadership contest would spark a great policy debate about the future of our province are so far disappointed. The most notable news so far from this race has been the growing number of endorsements collected by front-runner Jim Prentice.

While 45 of 58 PC MLAs lending their names to his campaign, Mr. Prentice has only released five priority statements. Although few will doubt his competence or intelligence, it remains unclear where Mr. Prentice stands on many important issues facing Albertans.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

What is Mr. Prentice’s position on the increasing privatization of seniors care in Alberta? What does he think about proper funding for our fast-growing municipalities? What are his thoughts on the impact oil sands pipelines will have on northern Alberta’s caribou herds? What about poverty? Does he believe locally elected school boards have a meaningful future? What about the future of Alberta Health Services?

Without policy or ideas to discuss, Mr. Prentice’s past has become one of the issues of the campaign.

Friends of Medicare raised concerns about Mr. Prentice’s recent role on the board of a company that owns an exclusive private boutique health clinic in Calgary. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a conservative lobby group which keeps its own financial backers secret, took a cheap shot at Mr. Prentice because the federal government has no copies of expense claims he filed before he left his job as a minister in Ottawa four years ago.

PC leadership candidate and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk is attempting to downplay his high-profile role in Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet. In an interview with the University of Calgary’s student newspaper, the Gauntlet, Mr. Lukaszuk claims he is not responsible for deep budget cuts to Alberta’s colleges and universities, because he was only appointed to the position in early 2013.

Ric McIver Alberta PC leadership candidate Calgary MLA

Ric McIver

While it is true that Mr. Lukaszuk was only appointed into that role shortly before the provincial budget cuts were announced, he accepted the job to become the public face of the PC Government’s cuts to post-secondary education. Mr. Lukaszuk is a political bulldog and his attempts to dress himself as a political lamb are unconvincing.

Meanwhile, former Tory campaign manager Susan Elliott does not want anyone to underestimate candidate Ric McIver’s in this contest.

As most Tories are struggling to pretend this is a competitive race, I tend agree with Ms. Elliott. Serving his first-term as an MLA, former Calgary Alderman Mr. McIver is the only candidate of the three who can convincingly argue he is an outsider to PC establishment politics (Mr. Lukaszuk has been an MLA for 13 years and Mr. Prentice has been involved in PC Party politics since the 1980s).

And while Mr. Prentice’s polished-style and well-tailored suits give him the resemblance of a “full bodied, oak aged Chardonnay, grilled veal chops with mushrooms, red peppers and butternut squash conservative,” Mr. McIver’s presents the image of a less sophisticated “meat and potatoes conservative.” Because of this, I have no doubt that Mr. McIver will appeal to many PC supporters looking for a more populist and less polished candidate for leader.

Mr. McIver’s campaign has drawn the support of long-time conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool and Hill & Knowlton consultant Kristen Lawson.

The opposition parties are taking advantage of the lack of  meaningful policy discussion in the PC leadership race. Last week,  Wildrose leader Danielle Smith released the first section of her party’s platform for the next provincial election, promising more funding for light-rail transit and public transit in Calgary and Edmonton, and loosened rules around water supply in smaller communities.

When (or if) PC leadership candidates finally choose to have a meaningful policy debate during this contest, they will not only be competing  with each other for attention, but also with the opposition parties they will be competing with in the next general election.

The All-Calgarian PC Party leadership race

Ric McIver Alberta PC Leadership Race

Ric McIver

Another Calgarian has entered what has been, at least so far, an all-Calgarian Progressive Conservative leadership race.

Announcing his candidacy in the contest to become the next PC Party leader and premier, former Infrastructure minister Ric McIver declared he would bring a “common-sense new approach to replace insider, establishment thinking, with new common-sense thinking.”

The first-term MLA and former three-term Calgary Alderman brandishes a rhetorical brand of meat and potatoes conservative populism not seen in a PC Party leadership race for some time. Mr. McIver’s style may be reminiscent of former Premier Ralph Klein, but can the dated “common-sense conservative” message resonate with PC Party members in 2014?

Ken Boessenkool

Ken Boessenkool

Despite serving as a senior cabinet minister in Premier Alison Redford’s government for two years, he appears to be running against the controversial record of the previous premier. This is probably not a bad strategy for a party with a track record of denying victories to candidates seen as too close to the “party establishment.”

Mr. McIver has tapped Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool as his campaign manager. Mr. Boessenkool is the former chief of staff to British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark and briefly served as the spokesperson for the “Alberta Blue Committee.”

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership

Jim Prentice

Unanswered questions remain about Mr. McIver’s role in the Skypalace – a penthouse suite that was secretly being constructed for Ms. Redford in the Federal Building. Mr. McIver claims he cancelled the construction project, but the same claim was made by his predecessor, Wayne Drysdale.

Meanwhile, front-runner Jim Prentice has yet to officially announce he will be entering the race and is already gaining support among PC MLAs. Mr. Prentice has the endorsements of Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar, Education minister Jeff Johnson, Flood Recovery minister Kyle Fawcett, Municipal Affairs minister Greg Weadick and backbench MLA Neil Brown. It is rumoured that he could soon receive the endorsement of Finance minister Doug Horner, who will make clear his own political intentions on Friday.

Former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes was the first Calgarian to enter the race. Non-Calgarians, including Labour minister Thomas Luksazuk (from Edmonton) and Energy minister Diana McQueen (from Drayton Valley) are also rumoured to considering their entry into the contest.

While rivalries between regions in Alberta are less relevant than they were twenty or thirty years ago, a leadership race gives a political party an opportunity to demonstrate its strength and support across the entire province. After losing ground in its traditional rural strongholds in the last election, a lack of regional diversity among the candidates would present a challenge to a PC Party struggling with internal strife and Alberta’s growing population.

Who is driving the conservative agenda in Canada?

In America’s Forbes Magazine this weekAlejandro Chafuen praised the leadership of the conservative policy think-tanks that helped set the stage for the election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government in 2011 and the success of conservative politicians across the country.

This apparatus of conservative special interest groups, think-tanks and news media has contributed to shifting Canada’s political narrative toward the political right. Who are these groups? It only takes a quick look to discover how connected and small this network actually is.

If you even pay casual attention to political news in Canada, you will undoubtedly hear clips from spokespeople representing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens Coalition, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business or the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. These are just a few of the groups that are pushing the conservative agenda in this country.

Together, these groups have been very adept at advancing an anti-public services, anti-taxation, anti-labour union, and pro free-market agenda nationally and provincially. For many of them, these goals are the sole purposes for existing.

While most of these groups will frequently call for increased transparency in government, some refuse to make public their own financial backers. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which refuses to release the names of his own financial bankrollers, was found to actually have a only handful of members. Not much of a “federation,” though this revelation does not seem to have hurt the group’s ability to earn the attention of the mainstream media. It is hard not to give points to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation operatives for their relentless and entertaining media stunts.

These groups even have their own media platform – the Sun News Network – which is applying to the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission to charge Canadians a mandatory  fee for a spot as regular cable and satellite channel. Launched in 2011, Sun News Network describes itself as “unapologetically patriotic” and “less politically correct” than other TV networks. Fox News North’s distinctly Tea Party flavour has led to no shortage of controversy since it launched.

Another group that refuses to release the names of its financial donors is the National Citizens Coalition. Drawing connections between this group and Fox News North, a former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, Gerry Nichollsquestioned why his former organization has focused on “shilling” for Sun News Network.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that the NCC has dramatically changed since my time. It’s the nature of any organization to evolve. And the NCC has clearly evolved into a kind of organizational zombie,” Mr. Nicholls wrote on iPolitics.ca. “It still staggers along from issue to issue and reacts from time to time, but it no longer has a soul.”

The National Citizens Coalition is directed by former Conservative nomination candidate and prolific tweeter Stephen Taylor. While the organization’s president its denies ties to the Conservative Party, the lines are blurred.

These organizations have also served as a training ground for career political operatives who later jump into political office. The connections between these organizations and today’s conservative political establishment run deep and demonstrate a significant record of success in helping raise conservative politicians.

Prime Minister  Harper was the President of the National Citizens Coalition before returning to parliament in 2002. Senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney was the president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation before he was elected to parliament in 1997. New Brunswick  Southwest Conservative MP John Williamson was a national director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Looking at the provincial level, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was the Alberta director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business and an intern with the Fraser Institute. Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Director for Canadian Taxpayers Federation worked for the Fraser Institute and in the Prime Ministers Office. Even Sun News caricature Ezra Levant once attempted to run for political office.

Founded by a godfather of Canada’s conservative movement, Preston Manning, the Manning Centre for Building Democracy is training a new generation of conservative candidates and activists how to win elections.

Last year, a leaked video revealed that wealthy Calgary developers – the “sprawl cabal” – were shovelling money into the Manning Centre’s municipal governance initiative with plans to block uber-popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s plans to implement smarter urban planning rules in the city. The project is run by Dimitri Pantazopoulos, who has worked as a Conservative Party pollster and strategist.

Looking toward the future, the Manning Centre is also fostering creative ideas that could help forward their movement. Mr. Manning’s group has awarded $10,000 annually to a project that will advance the conservative movement in Canada. Last year, BlueCrowd.ca, a crowd-funding project received the award.

It is somewhat ironic that one of the strongest roots of the modern conservative movement in Canada stems from a small group of tenured professors teaching at a publicly funded post-secondary institution. Conservative academics Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Ranier Knopff, David Bercuson, and former Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton at the “Calgary School” in the University of Calgary Political Science department long ago made it their mission to drive the Conservative agenda in Canada. They have done this through academic research, their own political activity and commentary, and involvement in election campaign strategy.

Notable students of the conservative Calgary School have included Prime Minister Harper, Mr. Levant, Ms. Smith, Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre, conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool, Fraser Institute senior fellow and former Taxpayers Federation director Mark Milke, and former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Ian Brodie among others.

While their are different brands of conservatism emanating from the school, from social to economic, one observer of the Calgary School reflected on its almost cultish following of libertarian economists Ludwig Von Mises and Milton Friedman.

According to Forbes Magazine, “the history of Canadian free-market think tanks and their contribution to Canadian reforms continues to be written. The leaders, supporters, and staff of the groups mentioned above deserve much credit for changing the economic face of Canada and of North America.”

Whether or not these groups accept credit for all the consequences of “changing the economic face of Canada” their opponents on the political left and centre can learn many lessons from how effective the political right machine has become in Canada.

Christy Clark is coming to Calgary. Is she looking for common ground on the Northern Gateway Pipeline or is it a pre-election ploy?

Alison Redford Christy Clark

Alberta Premier Alison Redford and BC Premier Christy Clark in October, 2011. Photo: PremierofAlberta via Flickr.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark sent Alberta Premier Alison Redford an email yesterday asking if they could meet in Calgary next weekend. While they appear to be cut from similar ideological cloth, the two conservative Premiers have clashed in the media over the construction of the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. If built, the pipeline would ship raw bitumen from Alberta to the BC port of Kitimat where it would be shipped to China for processing.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix

Adrian Dix (photo from @terminator on Flickr)

Under past Premiers Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, and Gordon Campbell, the conservative governments of Canada’s two western-most provinces enjoyed very friendly relationships. Vocal opposition to the pipeline, largely based around concerns about environmental impact and the transit of large oil tankers through the narrow Douglas Straight, has pushed the normally free-market loving BC Liberals away from the project. Premier Clark is also facing a strong NDP opposition. According to the latest poll, Adrian Dix‘s NDP sits 17% ahead of the BC Liberals.

As some political observers have mentioned, Premier Clark may use her time shaking some fundraising money from corporate Calgary in advance of next year’s provincial election.

With the next BC provincial election set for May 14, 2013, Premier Redford may want to start outreaching to Mr. Dix in hopes that his party might take a pragmatic approach and soften its stance on the Northern Gateway Pipeline if it forms government.

Or perhaps the re-election of President Barack Obama in November’s American elections will once again shift focus to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Alberta to Texas? Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith might have some insight to share on this topic. Ms. Smith is currently in the middle of a three-week trip of the United States to meet with political and policy leaders.

Stranger things have happened.

Ken Boessenkool

Ken Boessenkool

Meanwhile, expatriate Albertan Ken Boessenkool was dismissed this week from his role as Premier Clark’s Chief of Staff after he was involved in an incident where he acted inappropriately.

Mr. Boessenkool, who has strong-ties to Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s office and was a signatory of the infamous “Alberta Firewall” letter, briefly managed Premier Clark’s leadership campaign in 2011 before a decree from the Conservative Party of Canada forbid its officials from participating in the contest.

Earlier this year, Mr. Boessenkool left his job at the public relations and lobbyist company Hill & Knowlton and his position with the newly formed ‘Alberta Blue Committee‘ to run the Premier’s Office in Victoria.

[updated] did jason kenney deepen the conservative divide in calgary-centre?

In light of yesterday’s embarrassing missive by federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney about Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, the race to become the Conservative Party candidate in the yet to be called Calgary-Centre by-election may get more interesting. Suggestions that the by-election could be defined by the deep schism between federal Conservatives (many of whom support the Wildrose Party) and the long-governing provincial Progressive Conservatives may soon become a reality in the lead up to the Conservative Party nomination.

Three in. The Conservative nomination contest.

John Mar Calgary-Centre Conservative

Alderman John Mar

Conservative political pundit and former Calgary Herald editor Joan Crockatt and former Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation board member Andy Crooks were the first two candidates to announce their intentions to seek the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Centre. Mr. Crooks has already been endorsed by Calgary-West MP Rob Anders, a supporter of the Wildrose Party who is known for his far-right conservative politics.

Mr. Crooks was a signatory to the now famous “Alberta Firewall Letter” in 2001, which was also signed by Conservative luminaries Stephen Harper, Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, and Ken Boessenkool.

Two-term Calgary Alderman John Mar, recently in the news for his tough on potato farmers stances, entered the contest last week. With ties to the PCs, Alderman Mar could represent the voice of moderate Conservatives in the nomination contest.

Tory victory inevitable? Almost certainly, but…

Joe Clark Calgary-Centre MP

Joe Clark

Unless something cataclysmic occurs in the next six months, it is highly unlikely that the by-election in this riding will result in anything but the election of another Conservative MP. The type of Conservative candidate could effect how strong that outcome is.

Previous elections suggest that Calgary-Centre has a more moderate conservative streak than some other Calgary ridings. In the 2000 federal election, Progressive Conservative leader and former Prime Minister Joe Clark, a Red Tory, returned to the House of Commons by defeating Canadian Alliance MP Eric Lowther in what was one of the closely watched racesin the country. Another moderate Tory, Lee Richardson, continued this trend until his recent resignation.

The Liberal long-shot.

Beena Ashar Liberal Calgary-Centre

Beena Ashar

While it may not translate to votes on the federal level, voters in this riding have a streak of electing non-Conservative representatives on the provincial level, including Liberal MLA’s Kent Hehr and Dave Taylor (Mr. Taylor later joined the Alberta Party).

Fresh off the provincial election trail, Beena Ashar has announced her intentions to seek the Liberal Party nomination. As the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Elbow, Ms. Ashar placed a distant third behind Premier Alison Redford. She also placed third when challenging Ward 5 Alderman Ray Jones in the 2010 municipal election.

Past Liberal candidate and former school board chair Jennifer Pollock announced on Twitter last week that she would not be running in the by-election.

Update: William Hamilton, the 2011 Green Party candidate, has announced that he will seek the Green Party nomination when the election is called. Mr. Hamilton was also the EverGreen Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow in the recent provincial election.

Update (July 24, 2012): Andy Crooks has dropped out of the Conservative nomination.

blue man group plans to unite the right in alberta.

 

    The original blue man group united the right in Ottawa: Ted Morton, Stephen Harper, and Ken Boessenkool.

The original blue man group united the right in Ottawa: Ted Morton, Stephen Harper, and Ken Boessenkool.

Aiming to ‘unite the right’ in Alberta by mending fences in Alberta’s conservative political camps, a new “Alberta Blue Committee” has been formed by long-time conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool.

From the Edmonton Journal:

He has promised its members will reveal themselves next week and that Albertans will see them as “politically active, smart, young people,” mostly between the ages of 35 and 45, whom either the Tories or Wildrose Party would see as attractive candidates for cabinet posts depending on which party wins the next provincial election.

Despite claims by Journal columnist Lorne Gunter that the forty-year governing Progressive Conservatives sit in the “centre-left” or by Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party that leadership candidates Doug Horner, Gary Mar, and Alison Redford are too “progressive” for the average Alberta, anyone with basic understanding of these concepts will see that the labels do not fit. (See Robert Remington’s recent column in the Calgary Herald for more on this topic).

Mr. Boessenkool’s new initiative appears to be based on a perceived threat of a vote split between the two main conservative parties in the next provincial general election.

The province’s only traditional “left” political party, the New Democrats, are vocal, but their support has been electorally limited to a handful of urban pockets across the province (mostly in Edmonton). The Alberta Party, a new centrist alternative led by Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, are slowly organizing and still need to prove that they can elect an MLA.

Even the official opposition Alberta Liberals, now led by former Conservative MLA Raj Sherman, need to figure out what they stand for before they can be seen as challenging the two dominant conservative parties (and decide if they want to be the third).