Premier Dave Hancock, who is serving as the PC Party’s interim leader, has said he will not endorse any candidate as a condition of his temporary position in the Premier’s Office. Former Premier Alison Redford, whose scandal-filled departure triggered the leadership race, is not expected to endorse a candidate (it is unlikely that any of the leadership candidates would accept her endorsement). Ms. Redford remains the MLA for Calgary-Elbow.
Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and PC Caucus Whip George VanderBurg are expected to stay neutral in the contest because of their positions in the Assembly. Although these are legitimate reasons, it is not a requirement. Former Speaker Ken Kowalski set a precedent by endorsing candidates in the 2006 and 2011 PC leadership races.
It is suspected that Mr. Fraser’s decision to not join his colleagues in endorsing the front-runner is a reflection of the support Mr. McIver has in south east Calgary. It is expected that Mr. McIver’s campaign has sold a significant amount of PC memberships in south east Calgary’s sprawling suburbs, the area he represented on City Council and dominated in the 2010 Mayoral election.
Coincidentally, the previous MLA for Mr. Fraser’s south east Calgary riding, Art Johnston, was the only candidate to endorse Ms. Redford in the PC Party’s 2011 leadership race.
Update: MLA Ms. Johnson has endorsed Mr. Prentice’s candidacy, raising his total MLA endorsements to 50 out of 59 PC MLAs.
The political battle between the Wildrose opposition and long-governing Progressive Conservatives continued today as the Legislative Assembly resumed for the fall sitting. Debt was the biggest issue of the day. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith jumped at the opportunity to make light of comments Premier Alison Redford made that compared the government’s decision to accept debt financing as “hope.”
“Let’s take some of the premier’s other quotes and sub in ‘hope’ for ‘debt’ and see if that makes sense. Alberta does not have hope, and we will not incur hope. We cannot come out the current fiscal situation with hope.”
“So to the premier, if debt is hope, when can we expect to once again be hope free?”
- Danielle Smith
After a decade of worshiping an anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics, the natural governing party changed their tune. Abandoning the culture of “no debt” that they created has undoubtably been difficult for the PCs as they embraced a new faith in capital financing. It makes fiscal sense if you want to plan for the long-term, but in the Alberta context, it symbolizes an awkward culture shift for a political party that defined itself by this rally cry.
Cabinet shuffle rumours
If there is any truth to the cabinet shuffle rumours that have been circulating in political circles, it would not be unexpected for Ms. Redford to hit the reset button after she faces a mandatory leadership review in November (I anticipate PC activists will approve of her leadership). It may surprise Albertans to discover that twenty-seven of fifty-nine PC MLAs currently serve in some ministerial or associate ministerial role (that’s 45% of the government caucus).
Three cabinet ministers who have caused particular difficulty for the government and should be candidates to be shuffled are Education minister Jeff Johnson, Municipal Affairs minister Doug Griffiths, and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
Mr. Johnson has earned the distain of teachers and schools boards officials for his clumsy handling of the last year’s Alberta Teachers’ Association contract negotiations and the ensuing financial havoc wreaked on the education employers.
Mr. Griffiths has locked horns with Calgary’s popular mayor Naheed Nenshi too many times to be seen as an effective minister. The election of Don Iveson as mayor of Edmonton could help convince the Premier that perhaps she needs a more effective communicators in the increasingly important municipal affairs role.
Ramming through the Redford government’s cuts to post-secondary education, the powerful Mr. Lukaszuk frequently speaks as if he leads the government, leading some conservatives to suggest he has leadership ambitions of his own. Some conservatives have begun noticing similarities between Mr. Lukaszuk and former Deputy Premier Ken Kowalski.
In the first few years of Mr. Klein’s administration, Mr. Kowalski served in a powerhouse role as Deputy Premier and the unofficial “Minister of Everything.” At the time, some Tories suggested that Mr. Kowalski was actually running the government, which raised the ire of Mr. Klein. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Kowalski was unceremoniously booted from the halls of power by Mr. Klein mid-way through his government’s first-term.
Showing a surprising lack of class, Ms. Redford’s communications director Stefan Baranski took to Twitter to attack the former PC MLA for controversial comments he made years ago. It appears that many of Ms. Redford’s staff spent their weekend posting juvenile and sarcastic tweets about the opposition party’s gathering. Apparently this is how senior government staff spend their weekends these days.
The fall sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly begins on October 23 and indications suggest that it will be a different than recent sittings. Aside from the brief sitting held in the spring with the almost sole purpose of ejecting retired MLA Ken Kowalski from his long-held spot in Speaker’s Chair, the newly elected Wildrose Official Opposition has had little opportunity to spar with government ministers in a formal setting.
The Wildrose Party’s gains in the April 23, 2012 election marked the first time since before the 1975 election that Alberta’s official opposition composed of mostly MLAs representing rural Alberta constituencies. Between 1986 and 2008, most opposition MLAs were elected to represent constituencies within Edmonton city limits. Due to floor crossings and a by-election, more opposition MLAs resided in Calgary between the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Over the course of the summer, Premier Alison Redford‘s PCs stumbled over issues in rural Alberta which in previous years would have been solved in a closed-door Tory caucus meeting. The closure of the fully-functional Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in Carmangay made the Tories look vengeful towards voters who abandoned their party and the cancellation of funding for the Fort Macleod police training centre made the Tories look foolish for ever approving the porkbarrel project in the first place.
Due to a lack of traditional organized conservative political opposition outside the PC Party, it has been an odd and sometimes humorous sight to watch rookie Wildrose MLA’s stand side-by-side with New Democratic Party MLAs at protest rallies over the course of the summer. While some of Wildrose MLAs first appeared awkward and uncomfortable gripping a megaphone, some of them looked like they were getting the hang of it by summer’s end. In the past, the Liberal and NDP opposition have leaned on groups like the Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta to rally supporters outside the Assembly, but the main conservative voices, like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, have tended to rely on press conferences and media releases rather than rallies on the steps of the Legislature Building.
The legislative agenda presented by the government during this fall sitting will also give Premier Redford an opportunity to shape her defining narrative, which has been absent since she was elected Premier earlier this year. The government will return to its only bill introduced in the short spring sitting, the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, to provide additional support to police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and peace officers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths is expected to introduce amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act, which would extend terms for municipal elected officials from three years to four years. Eduction Minister Jeff Johnson could introduce an Education Act, which would mark the third time the Tories have attempted to introduce a consolidated piece of education legislation in the past few years.
The decision to not release detailed documents could signal a desire for the government to shift away from the public quarterly budget updates, which are meaningless in terms of fiscal planning due to the province’s dependence on fluctuating natural resource commodity prices and have become little more than public relations exercises for the government over the past two decades.
While his party has not had much to celebrate over the past year, Liberal leader Raj Sherman earned a small victory this week. Health Minister Fred Horne announced that the anti-smoking bill introduced by Dr. Sherman and passed before the last election will be proclaimed into law by the Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Dr. Sherman’s bill would ban adults from smoking in vehicles where children under the age of 18 are present.
As the Opposition Caucuses and Parties reorganize following electoral changes caused as a results of the April 23 election, there will be a number of staff and role changes in Assembly. The new Assembly will convene for the first time to elect a new Speaker on May 23, 2012 and listen to the Speech from the Throne on May 24, 2012.
This new Speaker will be selected by sitting MLA’s through a secret ballot and because this election is traditionally not a whipped vote, it can sometimes lead to interesting and unexpected results. When Mr. Kowalski was selected as Speaker in 1997, many political observers believed it was the Liberal and NDP MLA’s who helped him defeat Premier Ralph Klein‘s preferred choice, then-Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
A recent listing on the Government of Alberta website shows that Dr. Sherman’s long-time adviser Jonathan Huckabay will return to his role as Chief of Staff of the Liberal Caucus Office. Mr. Huckabay entered that role earlier this year when former MLA Rick Miller resigned to focus on his election campaign in Edmonton-Rutherford. When the election was called, Mr. Huckabay stood as a Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Manning, where he placed fourth with just over 1,000 votes.
Recently the party’s candidate in Cypress-Medicine Hat, Jon Mastel is Dr. Sherman’s new Executive Assistant.
Senior Communications Advisor Earl J Woods announced in a blog post last week that he would be leaving the Liberal Caucus, where he has worked for six and a half years (if you are looking to hire a great writer, contact Mr. Woods).
For the first time since 2001, someone other than Hugh MacDonald will serve as chair of the important Public Accounts Committee, which has ability to scrutinize government spending. Mr. MacDonald served as the MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 until the recent election when he chose to retire from the Assembly. While he sometimes appeared to be relentlessly focused on discovering scandal in the Tory government, Mr. MacDonald was easily one of the hardest working MLA’s under the Dome.
The role of Public Accounts Committee Chair traditionally falls to a MLA representing the Official Opposition Caucus, meaning that one of the 17 Wildrose Party MLA’s will fill this role when the new Assembly convenes next week. Second-term Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, who will also serve as Official Opposition Finance Critic, could be a powerful force in this important role. Calgary-Fish Creek Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth served as the Wildrose representative on the committee before the election.
Rumours abound about who might end up in Premier Redford’s new cabinet, which is expected to be appointed next week. While Tory stalwarts such as Dave Hancock, Doug Horner, Thomas Lukaszuk, and Doug Griffiths are almost certainly in line to keep a spot at the cabinet table, the retirement and defeat of a number of Tory MLAs and cabinet minister may have opened spots for new faces at the table.
We ask (nay, demand) our public office holders to do their very best 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. A $134,000 base salary does not seem unreasonable to me.
Electing a new Speaker
The first order of business when the Assembly convenes this Spring will be the election of a new Speaker for the first time since 1997. Candidates in the running include Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman and Tory MLA’s Gene Zwozdesky, Wayne Cao, and Mary Anne Jablonski.
Premier’s new Chief of Staff
Premier Alison Redford appointed Calgary lawyer Farouk Adatia as her Chief of Staff. Mr. Adatia replaces Stephen Carter, who was temporarily replaced by Elan McDonald in March 2012 (Mr. Carter took a leave of absence to work on the PC Party campaign). Mr. Adatia was the unsuccessful PC candidate in Calgary-Shaw in the recent election and had previously attempted to win the PC nomination in Calgary-Hawkwood.
Mandel to Smith: Pick up the Phone
In the most bizarre story of the week, Ms. Smith told the media that she had asked Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to “broker a peace summit” between herself and Mayor Stephen Mandel. Over the past three years, the Calgary-based Ms. Smith has publicly opposed some high-profile decisions made by Edmonton City Council.
Mayor Mandel quite correctly responded to Ms. Smith’s “peace summit” comment by saying if she wanted to talk with him she could pick up the phone. One can only imagine how this relationship would have started if Ms. Smith had actually been elected Premier last week.
Edmonton-Centre: Young lawyerAkash Khokhar defeated Nicole Martel to win the PC nomination. In the next election, Mr. Khokhar will face Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who has represented the constituency since 1997.
Edmonton-Gold Bar: Past Mayoral candidate David Dorward defeated past City Council candidate Lori Jeffrey-Heany to become the PC candidate. This is Mr. Dorward’s second attempt at becoming MLA in Gold Bar. In 2008, he placed second to Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald, who will be retiring at the next election.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: Strathcona County Councillor Jacquie Fenske defeated Tofield Mayor Nabil Chehayeb, former Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Jim Sheasgreen, Gene Hrabec, and Adam Kozakiewicz to become the PC candidate. Former Premier Ed Stelmach has represented this region since 1993.
UPCOMING NOMINATION MEETINGS
The PCs will be holding a packed week of nomination meetings that will see Alberta’s 40 year governing party nearly fill its entire slate of 87 candidates. Two final nomination meetings are scheduled to be held in February to replace MLAs who recently announced their retirements.
I will be away from my blog for the next week, so to earn forgiveness for my absence, here is a look at the PC nomination meetings that will be happening in the final week of January. I will provide updates when I return.
Lethbridge-East (January 26, 2012): Former Liberal MLA Bridget Pastoor is facing Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey for the PC nomination. Ms. Pastoor has represented the constituency since 2004 and cross the floor to join the PC caucus in late 2011. Lethbridge Alderman Jeff Carlson and Lethbridge Senior Citizens Origanization executive director Rob Miyashiro announced this week that they will seek the Liberal nomination (date not scheduled). The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLAs since 1993.
Edmonton-Riverview (January 27, 2012): Edmonton police office Steve Young and businessman Tom Choucair are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Kevin Taft, who is not seeking re-election.
Edmonton-Strathcona (January 27, 2012): No candidate stepped forward to claim the nomination, though the date is still listed on the PC Party website.
Airdrie (January 28, 2012): Former Airdrie Mayor Linda Bruce, Councillor Kelly Hegg, and Michael Crawford are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency is represented by MLA Rob Anderson, who left the PC Party in 2010 to join the Wildrose Alliance.
Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock (January 28, 2012): The retirement of Speaker Ken Kowalski, who has represented this region since 1979, has attracted five candidates including Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi, Westlock Town Councillor David Truckey, ministerial executive assistant Tim Schultz, and Westlock County Councillors Maureen Kubinec and Bert Seatter.
Calgary-Varsity (January 28, 2012): Former Nexen Vice-President Donna Kennedy-Glans is facing Ph.D. business student Rhiannon MacDonnell. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Harry Chase since 2004. Mr. Chase is retiring at the next election.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo (January 28, 2012): Four candidates have lined up to earn the right to face PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Guy Boutiler as the PC candidate. Candidates include Councillor Mike Allen, teacher Andrew Highfield, Nick Sanders, and School Trustee Jeff Thompson.
Grande Prairie-Smoky (January 28, 2012): The retirement of former cabinet minister Mel Knight has sparked a three-way nomination contest that has drawn Grande Prairie County Reeve Everett McDonald,Tab Pollock, and Tom Burton.
Highwood (January 28, 2012): Associate publisher at the Okotoks Western Wheel John Barlow, John Hankins, and Okotoks Town Councillor Ed Sands are seeking the PC nomination. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is also seeking election in this constituency.
Little Bow (January 28, 2012): Deputy Reeve of the County of Lethbridge Henry Doeve and former County Councillor John Kolk are seeking the PC nomination.
Medicine Hat (January 28, 2012): Former Alderman Darren Hirsch, retired school district superintendent Linda Rossler, and Investment Advisor Dan Hein are seeking the PC nomination to replace long-time MLA Rob Renner. Mr. Hein is the former campaign manager for Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (January 30, 2012): Past City Council candidate Cris Basualdo and Emerson Mayers are the two candidates I have heard are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency has been represented by NDP MLA Brian Mason since 2000.
Edmonton-South West (January 30, 2012): This new constituency has drawn the candidacy of four PC nominees Charles Balenga, Tofael Chowdhury, Matt Jeneroux, and Eva Mah-Borsato.
Calgary-Buffalo (January 30, 2012): Donna Haslam is the only candidate that I am aware of who is seeking the PC nomination. The constituency has been represented by popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr since 2008.
With an election expected to be held in the next few months and a new Premier setting a new tone, many long-time and not-so-long-time Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly have decided that now is time to retire or look for greener pastures.
Some of the retiring politicians have spent a decade or more in office, so before the writ is dropped I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of them looked like in their younger years in office.
Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock: Westlock Town Councillor David Truckey is the first candidate to enter the Progressive Conservative nomination contest in the constituency being vacated by long-time MLA Ken Kowalski. The PCs have held this constituency since 1967.
Calgary-Currie: Lawyer Norm Kelly has announced his intention to seek the Alberta Party nomination in this south central Calgary constituency. Currie is currently represented by Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor, who will be retiring when the next election is called.
Calgary-Fish Creek – Wendelin Fraser, former Dean of the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University, has declared her intention to seek the PC nomination. This constituency is currently represented by PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth.
Calgary-HawkwoodFarouk Aditia and Chris Roberts have entered the PC nomination contest in this new constituency. Mr. Adatia was the Chief Financial Officer in Premier Alison Redford‘s recent leadership campaign.
Calgary-West: Calgary Police Sergeant Mike Ellis is seeking the PC nomination. Incumbent MLA and current Finance Minister Ron Liepert recently announced that he would be retiring when the next election was called. Chestermere-Rockyview: Nathan Salmon is seeking the yet to be scheduled NDP nomination.
Edmonton-Meadowlark: Former MLA Bob Maskell is seeking the PC nomination in this west Edmonton constituency. Mr. Maskell represented this constituency from 2001 to 2004. Also seeking the nomination is Richard Guyon, who was the Wildrose candidate in this constituency in the 2008 election. Meadowlark is currently represented by PC MLA turned Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman.
Edmonton-Mill Woods: Sohail Qadri is one of two people challenging incumbent MLA Carl Benito for the PC nomination.
Edmonton-Whitemud: Jim Graves defeated Muriel Stanley Venne to win the NDP nomination.
Leduc-Beaumont: Locomotive engineer and saskatoon berry farmer William Munsey is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in this constituency south of Edmonton. Mr. Munsey was the Green Party candidate in the Vegreville-Wainwright riding in the 2011 federal election.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: School Principal Jimmy Clark is challenging incumbent MLA Ty Lund for the PC nomination. The 73-year old Mr. Lund has represented the constituency since 1989.
Sherwood Park: Former Strathcona County Mayor Cathy Oleson and County Councillor Brian Botterill are seeking the PC nomination.
First reported on this blog last week, Mike Shaikhhas confirmed his entrance into the PC Senate candidate nomination contest. Also entering the PC Senate nomination contest is former NAIT President Sam Shaw, who announced his candidacy at the 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron Christmas Dinner last weekend.
Speaker Kowalski is the longest serving MLA in the Assembly and was first elected in a 1979 by-election in the Barrhead constituency. His absence will undoubtably lead to a hotly contested PC nomination in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Hoping to capture the seat from the Tories is Wildrose candidate and former Alberta Report publisher Link Byfield, who has been on the hustings for more than a year.
Upon his retirement, Speaker Kowalski is expected to collect $1,271,600 in transition allowance, and it is suspected that he may also collect $54,000 per year from the now-defunct MLA pension that was dissolved in 1992. His retirement announcement takes place before a review of MLA salaries and benefits, led by retired Justice John Major, can take place.
Part two of the Fall sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly begins today for a short two-weeks of business. Aside from the two-day speech driven sitting held last month, this will be the first time that new Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford and her cabinet will gather in the Assembly to present a legislative agenda and field questions from Opposition MLAs.
When the Assembly reconvenes today, the Government is expected to introduce a series of new pieces of legislation when the Assembly returns today. Here is a look at a few laws that are expected to be debated:
Fixed elections: Rather than setting an actual fixed election date, the Government is expected to introduce legislation setting a series of fixed election months when elections would expected to be held. As the federal Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper taught Canadians earlier this year, fixed election date laws are merely a suggestion. Our parliamentary system of government allows an election to be called whenever the Assembly is dissolved or if the government loses the confidence of the Assembly. Meanwhile, with an election expected in early 2012 (regardless of fixed election months), Elections Alberta is warning that at least 300,000 Albertans are still missing from the official voters list.
Drunk Driving Legislation – The Government is expected to introduce legislation lowering the allowed blood alcohol level for drivers and increasing penalties for drunk drivers.
Judicial Inquiry: The once promised judicial inquiry into the intimidation of health care professionals will not happen. Instead, the Government is expected to expand the quasi-judicial investigative powers of Health Quality Council of Alberta. Some political watchers have suggested that instead of holding an actual judicial inquiry, the PCs may appoint a prominent retired judge, such as former Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Allan Wachowich. Mr. Wachowich’s strong family connections to the Liberal Party would make the process difficult for Liberal leader Raj Sherman to criticize. Dr. Sherman has made calls for a judicial inquiry his central issue since being kicked out of the PC caucus late last year.
Paying politicians: The un-dying issue of how the salaries of our elected officials continues. This time, the job may be handed to Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski. Allowing an independent body of the Assembly to decide salaries may be a good way to handle this sensitive issue, but I could not help but remember a comment made by Speaker Kowalski in June 2008. When asked about the expected $1,000,000 severance he could collect for having served as an MLA and cabinet minister since 1979, Speaker Kowalski told the media not to worry, because “I’ll never collect it,” “I’ll die in office.”
While they are unlikely to receive much attention during the short fall sitting, four pieces of legislation introduced earlier this year by Opposition MLAs have yet to reach third reading: