Tag Archives: Kent Hehr

Photo: Kent Hehr with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. (Photo from Kent Hehr's Facebook Page)

Mid-week Alberta Politics Roundup

Photo: Kent Hehr with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. (Photo from Kent Hehr’s Facebook Page)

It has been a busy week for me, so without the time to write a full column-type post, here is a quick summary of what I have been watching in Alberta politics over the past few days.

Calgary MP moved in Trudeau cabinet shuffle

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr was appointed Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities this week as part of a fairly significant shuffle in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Hehr had previously served as Minister of Veterans Affairs, a post he had held since his election in 2015. Though the move is viewed as a demotion at worst or a lateral move at best, there is no indication that the shuffle was a reflection on Hehr’s performance as minister, which appeared to fulfill competently.

As a former amateur athlete and leader in the Canadian Paraplegic Association, Hehr appears to be a good fit for this role.

While the Minister of Sports is traditionally seen as a junior level position in cabinet, the prospect of Calgary bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Canada joining with the United States and Mexico in a bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup could increase its political importance.

Meanwhile, Calgary-Skyview Liberal MP Darshan Kang announced he would take a medical leave of absence due to stress caused by allegations of sexual harassment that have dogged the federal politician over the past few weeks.

Alberta MPs in Ottawa Shadow Cabinet

Following this week’s federal cabinet shuffle, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer announced a new roster of Official Opposition critics. Alberta Conservative MPs in the shadow cabinet include: International Development critic Ziad Aboultaif, Agriculture and Agri-Food critic John Barlow, Status of Women critic Rachael Harder, Science critic Matt Jeneroux, National Revenue critic Pat Kelly, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship critic Michelle Rempel, and Natural Resources critic Shannon Stubbs.

NDP Minister continues his Coal Tour

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous continues his town hall tour of Alberta’s coal communities this week. In the Town of Hanna, Bilous and mayor Chris Warwick announced $450,000 in funding create Community Action Teams led by the Cactus Corridor Economic Development Corporation to focus on initiatives identified in a report by the Hanna Climate Change Strategy Task Force.

While Bilous left Hanna with more questions than answers, he deserves some credit for traveling to these communities holding these town halls – something the NDP government should have done two years ago.

UCP candidate calls on Alberta to national Manitoba port

Jeff Callaway was looking to generate headlines for his United Conservative Party leadership campaign, and he succeeded with his proposal for the Alberta government to nationalize and build a pipeline to access Manitoba’s Port of Churchill. Federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton, who is the MP for  Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, called on the federal government to nationalize the port of Churchill in Dec. 2016.

Low federal NDP membership numbers in Alberta

Speaking of the federal NDP, the party released the breakdown of membership numbers by province ahead of its September leadership vote. Despite having one of only two NDP governments in the country, the federal NDP only recorded having 10,188 members in Alberta, compared to 52,200 in Ontario and 31,974 in British Columbia.

The low participation rate may have a lot to do with the deep political divide between the Alberta NDP and its federal and provincial counterparts over the expansion and construction of oil pipelines, which is a priority for Rachel Notley’s government. To my knowledge, no Alberta NDP MLAs have released public endorsements for any of the federal NDP leadership candidates.

Garry Keller joins the UCP caucus

Until recently he was rumoured to be eyeing the federal Conservative nomination in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election, but it was announced today that Garry Keller, a former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, would join the United Conservative caucus as a special advisor.

Alberta Politics Roundup: It rarely slows down, even in the summer

Photo: Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, and Little Bow MLA David Schneider. (credit: Brian Jean’s Facebook page)

It feels like politics rarely slow down in Alberta, even in the summer. Here is a quick look at some of what has been happening:

New UCP caucus has a spending problems

A day after the United Conservative Party lined up to criticize Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, it was revealed that the UCP caucus is facing a $337,000-deficit this year. The report triggered criticism of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (pictured in the photo above) from Bonnyville-Cold Lake UCP MLA Scott Cyr and party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer.

Cyr said Wildrose MLAs were stonewalled when they requested information about ballooning staff at the former official opposition caucus office.

Schweitzer said the new party will not be a credible voice for fiscal management if it cannot manage its own internal budget. Schweitzer has described Jean’s leadership platform as “big government” and is proposing deep cuts to the provincial budget if he becomes premier in 2019.

Bilous hosts town halls in Coal Communities

Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous will be spending much of the next week visiting communities impacted by the phase-out of coal fired power plants. Bilous will be hosting town hall meetings in Hanna on August 27 and 28, Forestburg on August 28 and 29, and Leduc, Warburg and Wabamun on August 31. Bilous admitted earlier this month that the New Democratic Party government needed to improve its communications with these communities (I wrote about this in Nov. 2016).

Kenney too busy to meet with kd lang

When Jason Kenney was asked why he was not attending any Calgary Pride Week events, he initially said it was because he did not get an invitation. When he received an invitation from Alberta-born internationally successful musician kd lang to meet in person to discuss LGBTQ issues, Kenney’s spokesperson said the UCP leadership candidate was too busy. It appears as though Kenney will go to far lengths not to do anything that would alienate the social conservative supporters he hopes will help make him leader of the UCP in October 2017.

Hehr on the move

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr is expected to be shuffled from his role as Minister of Veterans Affairs as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan is moved into the role. When Hehr was appointed to cabinet in 2015, he became the first Liberal cabinet minister from Calgary since the early 1970s. It is not yet known what his new role will be.

Kang expected to be booted from Liberal caucus

The Hill Times reports that Calgary MP Darshan Kang is expected to be removed from the Liberal Caucus this week “after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by a young staffer unearthed troubling findings.” Kang was elected as the MP for Calgary-Skyview in 2015 after serving two-terms as the Liberal MLA for Calgary-McCall.

Keller out of Sturgeon River-Parkland race

Gerry Keller, the former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, has decided not to enter the Conservative Party nomination to run in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election. Current candidates running for the nomination include local party organizer Jamie Mozeson, recently relocated BC-businessman Rick Peterson and political staffer Dane Lloyd.

 

Coming Soon: By-elections in Calgary-Heritage and Calgary-Midnapore

UPDATE: By-elections in Calgary-Heritage and Calgary-Midnapore will be held on April 3, 2017.

Two by-elections could be called in the federal ridings of Calgary-Heritage and Calgary-Midnapore in a matter of days. The by-elections must be called in Calgary-Heritage by February 25, 2017 and in Calgary-Midnapore no later than March 22, 2017 but it is expected that they could be called at the same time as a required by-election in Ottawa-Vanier, which must be called by February 19, 2017.

Voters in both of these Calgary ridings have voted overwhelmingly in support of Conservative candidates in recent elections (63 percent in Calgary-Heritage and 66 percent in Calgary-Midnapore in 2015), so the Conservatives are definitely the favourites to win. But as all political watchers know, sometimes by-elections can produce unpredictable results. In a 2012 by-election in Calgary-Centre, the Conservatives saw their 19,770 vote margin of victory from the 2011 general election evaporate when Joan Crockatt was narrowly elected by 1,158 votes (she was unseated by Liberal candidate Kent Hehr in 2015).

Here are a list of candidates nominated to run in the by-elections:

Calgary-Heritage
Christian Heritage – Jeff Willerton
Conservative – Bob Benzen [FacebookTwitter]
Green – Taryn Knorren
Liberal – Scott Forsyth [Twitter]
Libertarian – Darcy Gerow [Facebook]
NDP – Khalis Ahmed [FacebookTwitter]

Calgary-Midnapore
Christian Heritage – Larry Heather
Conservative – Stephanie Kusie [FacebookTwitter]
Green – Ryan Zedic
Liberal – Haley Brown [FacebookTwitter]
NDP – Holly Heffernan

In photo: Bob Benzen, Khalis Ahmed, Haley Brown and Stephanie Kusie.

Alberta Party first out of the gate for 2019 election

Chemical Engineer Omar Masood is the first candidate nominated to run in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be held in early 2019. Members of the Alberta Party association in the Calgary-Buffalo constituency acclaimed Mr. Masood as their candidate at a meeting on November 29, 2016.

Mr. Masood serves on the board of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association.

He recorded a video endorsement of former Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr during his federal election bid in 2015, in which Mr. Hehr was ultimately elected.

Calgary-Buffalo is represented by NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley, who serves as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Before the NDP sweep in the 2015 election, voters in this downtown constituency had a track record of electing Liberal MLAs (Mr. Hehr from 2008 to 2015, Gary Dickson from 1992 to 2000, and Sheldon Chumir from 1986 to 1992).

The Alberta Party did not run a candidate in this constituency in 2015.

Alberta Party-PC Party merger?

After years of wrangling over a merger with the Liberal Party, some Alberta Party members are reportedly now pondering a merger with the Progressive Conservatives. This merger feels unlikely, considering the conservative forces pushing for the PCs to merge with the Wildrose Party. But it does raise to the question of where moderate conservative voters and political activists will find a new home if Alberta’s Conservative parties shift further to the political right.

During the 2015 election, a local Alberta Party association formally endorsed and did not run a candidate against Liberal Party candidate Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre.

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Floor Crossing! What to make of Tory MLA Sandra Jansen joining the NDP?

Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.

It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.

“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”

“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”

There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.

In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.

Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.

With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.

While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.

Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.

Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.

A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.

With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.

Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

Two Tories step up to run in Calgary-Heritage by-election after Harper resigns

Following former prime minister Stephen Harper’s resignation last week, a by-election must be called in the Calgary-Heritage riding by February 25, 2017. Two candidates have already entered the Conservative nomination race to succeed Mr. Harper in Calgary-Heritage.

The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)

The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)

Local Conservative Party activist Bob Benzen was the first to announce his candidacy for the nomination. His website states that he is the co-founder of the Decade of Excellence Committee, which paid for large billboards thanking Mr. Harper for his service in office after the Liberal Party’s victory in the October 2015 election.

Calgary lawyer Paul Frank is the second candidate to join the nomination contest. He previously ran in the 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election and as a candidate for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in 2014.

Bob Benzen

Bob Benzen

Also mentioned as potential candidates are Richard Billington, who ran for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Centre before the 2012 by-election (his wife, Susan Billington, was the 2015 Progressive Conservative candidate in Calgary-Varsity) and former Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt, who was elected in the 2012 by-election and unseated by Liberal Kent Hehr in the 2015 general election.

Local Liberals have been actively campaigning in Calgary-Heritage in anticipation of Mr. Harper’s resignation (and the neighbouring Calgary-Midnapore in anticipation of Jason Kenney’s resignation on October 1, 2016).

Brendan Miles Liberal Calgary-Heritage by-election

Brendan Miles

Rumoured potential candidates for the Liberal nomination include lawyer and past Calgary-Confederation candidate Matt Grant, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, and past candidate Brendan Miles. Mr. Nenshi quashed rumours of his candidacy when he told Metro Calgary in May 2016 that he would not run in the by-election.

Mr. Harper was re-elected in October 2015 with 63 percent of the vote, ahead of Liberal Dr. Miles with 25 percent, New Democrat Matt Masters with 8 percent and Green Kelly Christie with 2 percent.

Before the 2015 election, the riding was known as Calgary-Southwest and had been represented by Mr. Harper since 2002. The riding was previously represented by Reform Party leader Preston Manning from 1993 to 2002.


19 Days Left! South east of Calgary, there are 19 days left until a federal by-election must be called in the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding.

Election Reform Town Halls in Alberta

As a committee of Members of Parliament study, discuss and debate potential changes to Canada’s federal electoral system, three Alberta MPs are scheduled to hold town hall meetings in their ridings to discuss electoral reform with their constituents. The MP committee membership includes Banff-Airdrie Conservative MP Blake Richards and briefly included Calgary-Midnapore MP Jason Kenney (who later decided to focus on his provincial leadership ambitions).

The Alberta town hall meetings listed on the federal government website are:

September 8, 2016: Electoral Reform town hall with Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan, 7:00 p.m. at the Westbury Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns at 10330 84 Ave NW in Edmonton.

September 8, 2016: Electoral Reform town hall with Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr, 6:00 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. at the Knox United Church – Theatre on 506 – 4th Street SW in Calgary.

September 9, 2016: Electoral Reform town hall with Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan MP Garnett Genuis at Suite 214, 2018 Sherwood Drive in Sherwood Park (the notice asks that interested participants contact his office to register to attend the meeting
).

The Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, will be hosting a town hall forum in Edmonton on September 10 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Sutton Place Hotel at 10235-101 Street.

Edmonton-Centre MP Randy Boissonnault hosted a town hall on electoral reform on August 18, 2016.

 

Ottawa MP Anita Vandenbeld (left), Calgary MP Darshan Kang (second from the left) and Liberal candidate Khalil Karbani (third from the left) campaigning in the Calgary-Greenway by-election

Alberta Liberals cash in on Trudeau’s popularity in Calgary-Greenway by-election

There was a time in the not too distant past when the Alberta Liberal Party went out of their way to distance themselves from the Liberal Party of Canada. The provincial party even formally separated from the federal party back in the 1970s in a move to distance itself from their Central Canadian-based federal cousins.

Those days are over. The election of Calgary-Skyview Member of Parliament Darshan Kang and Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr in October 2015 marked the first time since 1968 that Calgarians elected federal Liberal representatives in Ottawa. The provincial Liberals are eager to take advantage of any bump in support they can get from the popularity of the federal party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

There has not been much for provincial Liberals to be excited about recently. The party lost Official Opposition status in 2012 and dropped to one MLA in the Legislative Assembly in 2015. Now without a permanent leader, the party delayed its next leadership vote until 2017. But the recent electoral success of the federal Liberals may have given the party some hope.

The provincial Liberals have adopted a nearly identical logo on their election signs as the federal Liberals and embraced the federal Liberal slogan ‘Vote for Real Change‘ for its campaign in the Calgary-Greenway provincial by-election. Federal Liberal MPs have even been spotted on campaigning for the local candidate.

Ottawa-area Liberal Member of Parliament Anita Vandenbeld, who was born in Calgary and studied at the University of Calgary, joined Mr. Kang this past weekend to canvass with Calgary-Greenway candidate Khalil Karbani (who ran for a Wildrose Party nomination in 2012).

A poll released by Mainstreet Research on March 12 showed the Liberals at 21 percent support in a competitive in a four-way contest in the Greenway by-election. The poll showed the Progressive Conservatives at 31 percent, the New Democrats at 24 percent and the Wildrose Party at 22 percent of leaning and decided voters. (The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.26%, 19 times out of 20.

The results of the March 22 by-election will give some indication as to whether the provincial Liberal strategy to embrace their federal counterparts is a success. A provincial Liberal win, or even a strong showing, in the Calgary-Greenway by-election would be an unexpected surprise and much needed boost for a party that has been on a downward trend for the past eight years.


 

Remember Liberalberta Green?

In a move that was believed to be an attempt to distance the two parties, the provincial Liberals undertook a brief rebranding in 2012, ditching the colour red for green and calling themselves ‘Liberalberta’ but not long after the party moved to improve ties with the federal party. They later ditched Liberalberta green in favour of traditionally Liberal red.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

2015 was a great year for Progressive Politics in Alberta

It was an exciting year to be a progressive in Alberta.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

May 5, 2015 marked the first time since the 1930s that a conservative party did not win a provincial election in Alberta. The defeat of the Progressive Conservative government, which had been in power since 1971, by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party represented a significant shift in Alberta’s political environment.

October 19, 2015 marked the first time Calgarians elected Members of Parliament other than conservatives since 1968. Newly elected Calgary Liberal MPs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang were joined by fellow Liberals Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault from Edmonton to represent Alberta in a federal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Thomas Dang MLA

Thomas Dang

As someone who has been writing about Alberta politics for ten years and advocating for more progressive politics in our province, this year’s provincial and federal elections produced strange and exciting results.

A year ago, I never would have predicted a real progressive political party would win a provincial election in Alberta in 2015. Actually, on June 1, 2014, I wrote that it was probably impossible. On January 28, 2015, I predicted the PCs would win another majority.

In this case, I am very pleased to have been wrong.

Albertans rejected a conservative political establishment that had become stagnant and entitled after years of controversy, scandals and resignations. But instead of turning to the right-wing Wildrose Party, which was a few embarrassing comments away from winning the 2012 election, Alberta voters embraced a moderate progressive platform put forward by Ms. Notley’s NDP.

Ms. Notley proved to be a smart, likeable and charismatic leader on the campaign trail. I would argue that she was then and remains now her party’s greatest asset.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Voters opted for wholesale change by choosing 75 new MLAs, a huge turnover, to serve in Alberta’s 87 seat Legislative Assembly. The NDP started the election with 4 seats and ended it with 54 seats, including every seat in Edmonton, 15 seats in Calgary, seats in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer, and a handful in rural Alberta.

The PCs lost a total of 60 seats and were relegated to third place with 10 MLAs (9 after leader Jim Prentice resigned on election night) and the official opposition Wildrose won 21 seats, four more than the party won in 2012.

A record number of women were elected to the Legislature, including 26 in the 54 MLA NDP caucus and 7 of 13 cabinet ministers.

Thomas Dang, age 20, became the youngest MLA in Alberta history.

Three openly gay MLAs were elected, believed to be a first in Alberta politics.

Stephanie McLean NDP Calgary Varsity

Stephanie McLean

Stephanie McLean made headlines when she became the first MLA in Alberta history to be pregnant while in office.

Optimism was in the air as thousands of Albertans showed up to the Legislature Grounds to watch the new Premier and cabinet be sworn-in to office.

In their first session as government, the NDP banned corporate and union donations, restored $1 billion in health care, education and human services funding cuts made by the PCs, increased Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent and announced a phased in $15 per hour minimum wage by 2018.

Ms. Notley demonstrated an ability to reach outside NDP circles for expert advice by appointing Alberta Treasury Branches President & CEO Dave Mowat to lead a Royalty Review Panel, respected economics professor Andrew Leach to lead a Climate Change Panel, and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge to provide advice on infrastructure investment. Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann was asked to co-chair a review of the province’s mental health services and Joseph Doucet, Dean of the University of Alberta’s School of Business, was tapped to chair the Premier’s Advisory Committee on the Economy.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

The PC Party patronage machine ground to a halt. University and college boards of governors are still dominated with well-connected conservatives, but some high-profile appointees have been replaced. For example, Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield, a former Conservative MP, was replaced by Gitane De Silva, a former Deputy Minister of International and Intergovernmental Affairs and Canadian Consul General to Chicago.

On the financial front, the NDP government faces serious problems inherited from the old PC government.

After years of poor long-term planning and over-reliance on royalty revenues to fund the province’s operations budget, the sharp decline in the international price of oil had a huge impact on the government’s coffers. The drop in the price of oil has also led to significant job losses in Calgary and northern Alberta, which have impacted tens of thousands of Albertans.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC

Rob Merrifield

Instead of dealing with the drop in revenue by cutting budget funding and slashing public sector jobs, like the Wildrose and PC parties proposed, the NDP have decided to invest in public infrastructure, such as highway, school and hospital construction.

As well as keeping many Albertans in the construction industry employed during the economic downturn, investing in building public infrastructure now means the government will spend less time playing catch up when the next oil boom arrives. Ironically, this is similar to what Wildrose leader Brian Jean argued in favour of when he resigned as Fort McMurray’s MP in January 2014.

Not unexpected for a new government, especially for the first new government in 44 years, mistakes have been made. The NDP brought in a few too many out-of-province operatives to fill top political jobs, softened their position on carbon capture, and seriously fumbled Bill 6, the agri-industry and farm safety law. And rookie cabinet ministers planted their feet in their mouths on a few occasions, something they will need to learn to do less of in the new year.

Brian Jean Wildrose LeaderDespite a constant barrage of criticism from conservative critics, who claim the NDP election win was simply a fluke, a recent poll showed the NDP with a narrow lead in Calgary and a wide lead in Edmonton. The poll was not fantastic news for the governing party, but it undermines the argument that the NDP were elected by accident. The NDP appear to be developing a solid base of support among moderate and progressive voters in urban Alberta.

This election was a reminder that Alberta has defied its stodgy political stereotype and has rapidly become a young and urban province.

As Calgary political strategist Corey Hogan noted last week, “Alberta is the only province where baby boomers are outnumbered by their children.” The median age in our province is 36 years old, a number that is now more accurately reflected in the age of the government caucus.

The city of Calgary, long known for its conservative political roots, has now elected progressive politicians in the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, something that would have been unheard of in past years.

According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift that has and will continue to impact our political map for decades to come.

The year’s election was a rejection of establishment politics and a reminder that Albertans are largely politically moderate and more populist than conservative, which is an important distinction that the ruling PCs forgot after 44 years in power. It was also a reminder of how dramatically voters can abandon their traditional patterns of voting and embrace change.

This year was filled with many exciting firsts for progressive politics in Alberta. And while it is impossible to tell what the next year will bring in Alberta politics it is clear that our province changed in a significant way in 2015.


 

I had the pleasure of joining Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED on Dec. 16, 2015 to talk about the past year in Alberta politics. Take a listen and let me know what you think about what happened in 2015.

This Week in Alberta Politics

Here are a few items to watch out for in Alberta politics this week:

  • Which of the four Liberal Members of Parliament will be appointed to the federal cabinet on Nov. 4, 2015? Most speculation points toward newly elected Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr being given a cabinet spot. Mr. Hehr, along with Calgary-Skyview MP Darshan Kang, were the first federal Liberals to be elected in Calgary since 1968. But will one of the two Liberal MPs from Edmonton – Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault – get a cabinet spot? If not, it would mark the first time since before Jim Edwards was appointed as President of the Treasury Board in 1993 that Edmonton has not had representation in the federal cabinet.
  • Two Conservative MPs from Alberta – Edmonton-Wetaskiwin MP Mike Lake and Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Rona Ambrose – have joined four other Conservative MPs with bids to become the interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. That party has only had one permanent leader, Calgary MP Stephen Harper, since the party was formed in 2003 and is expected to choose a new permanent leader next year.
  • Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci will continue their sales pitch for the Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget this week. The NDP budget received some sensible and encouraging reviews when it was released from Calgary Economic Development and the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.
  • Overshadowing debate about the Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget last week was the Wildrose Party Finance critic Derek Fildebrant‘s war with a Globe & Mail reporter and House leader Nathan Cooper‘s war against a 9:00 a.m. start time for the Legislative sitting. Will the Wildrose Official Opposition be able to move on to actual issues of substance in the second week of the fall session?
  • It was always expected that uniting the Wildrose and PC parties will be tough. Richard Starke, the PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, had some choice words for his Wildrose counterparts in the Legislature last week: “…the Official Opposition rather reminds me of the chippy hockey player that hacks and slashes in the corner and then, as soon as something similar happens back to them, goes running to the referee.”

I will be taking a short break from blogging this week. In my absence, check out David Climenhaga‘s informative and entertaining AlbertaPolitics.ca blog.

Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a rally in Edmonton in the summer of 2014.

What do the federal election results mean for Edmonton and Alberta?

With the excitement of the 2015 federal election one week behind us, now is a good time to take a look at how the results of the election could impact Edmonton and Alberta. The reality of a majority Liberal government in Ottawa will make Conservative Albertans uneasy, but there is little reason to believe this new government will lead to doom and gloom for our province.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion about the election results with Edmonton Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand and University of Alberta professor Steve Patten at a Institute of Public Administration of Canada event at Government House. With this discussion still fresh in my mind, here is a look at some of the ways last week’s federal election results could impact Edmonton and Alberta.

Liberal growth in Conservative Alberta
Conservative Party candidates earned 59 percent of the vote and elected candidates in 29 of Alberta’s 34 federal ridings. The Liberals broke a nearly five decade long drought in Calgary with the election of Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre and Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview. In Edmonton, two Liberals were elected in bellwether ridings – Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre and Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods. Since 1984, these two Edmonton ridings have elected MPs belonging to the party in government. (Note: the election results in Edmonton-Mill Woods will face a judicial recount).

The “Class of 2015”
There was a significant turnover in Alberta’s representation in Ottawa, with 18 of 34 Members of Parliament from our province being elected for the first time, including seven first-time MPs representing Edmonton ridings. This ‘class of 2015’ includes four Liberals and fourteen Conservatives.

Alberta in Cabinet
It is expected that Alberta will have representation in the federal cabinet but it is not clear how large that representation will be. In my opinion, it would be a grave mistake for incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to not appoint a cabinet minister from both Edmonton and Calgary. The third and fifth largest municipalities in Canada should have representation at the highest levels in Ottawa. These large urban centres also represent an area of future electoral growth for the federal Liberal Party. In Calgary, the Liberals earned a surprising 30 percent of the vote and in Edmonton they earned 23 percent. The new cabinet will be sworn-in on Nov. 4, 2015.

Federal-Provincial Relations
We have already witnessed a change in tone that could signal a significant improvement in the federal government’s relationship with the provinces. In the first week after the election, Mr. Trudeau invited provincial premiers to join Canada’s delegation to the important COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris in November. Mr. Trudeau has also indicated his intention to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces.

Alberta-Ottawa Relations
The relationship between Ottawa and Edmonton would have been sour had Stephen Harper’s Conservatives been re-elected. After attacking Alberta’s NDP government numerous times during the campaign, it is unlikely that Mr. Harper and Premier Rachel Notley would have been able to develop the kind of productive working relationship that would benefit Albertans.

Even though she appeared on stage with NDP leader Tom Mulcair in the final days of the election campaign, Ms. Notley has indicated that she was willing to work with whoever became the next Prime Minister. If she and Mr. Trudeau can develop a good working relationship, Canadians may see progress on issues like pipeline expansion in the next four years. Although Mr. Harper was a vocal supporter of Canada’s oil and gas industry, he failed to secure the construction of new pipeline projects during his decade as Prime Minister.

A Municipal Agenda
The Liberals promised increased investment in public infrastructure and increased funding for municipal public transit projects. During his three-terms on city council, Mr. Sohi has been an vocal advocate for expanded Light-Rail Transit funding in southeast Edmonton. Mayor Don Iveson has been critical of the Conservative government’s lack of commitment to LRT funding in the past.

Commitment to defence funding
The Liberal platform committed to “maintain current National Defence spending levels, including current planned increases” which should at least be positive news for Edmontonians who work at CFB Edmonton.

The last First-Past-the-Post election
Mr. Trudeau promised that this federal election would be Canada’s last using the antiquated ‘first past the post’ electoral system. This would likely mean an end to Conservative overrepresentation of Alberta in Ottawa. Any system, whether it be proportional representation, single transferable vote or mixed member proportional representation, could allow voters choices to be better reflected in their representation in Ottawa. This would likely mean an end the system which allows 59 percent of voters to be represented by 81 percent of the Members of Parliament from Alberta.

Conservative Leadership
With Mr. Harper’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, that party will be thrust into a contest to select a new leader. While that party may seek to choose a new leader from another region of Canada, it is expected that Conservative MPs from Alberta will be candidates in that race. Already, there is speculation that Calgary-Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel and Calgary-Midnapore MP Jason Kenney are interested in seeking the leadership.

Liberals and NDP in the West
Western Canada is no longer a monolith of the Conservative Party support. With British Columbia and Manitoba electing more Liberal MPs than Conservative MPs, Alberta and Saskatchewan are now the only provinces where Conservatives outnumber other parties. While the Conservatives remain strong in the rural west, that party has lost ground to the Liberals and NDP in the western urban centres of Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. Twenty of the NDP’s 44 MPs and 29 of the 184 Liberal MPs were elected in ridings west of Ontario.

Trudeau wave bad news for Notley?
Conservative critics have already predicted that the rise of the federal Liberals in Alberta spells bad news for Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP. I suspect that the results of this federal election will have little impact on the level of NDP support in the next provincial election. It has been clear for some time that Mr. Mulcair is unpopular in Alberta. His noticeable absence from the province during the spring election campaign and low support for the federal NDP in four by-elections since 2011 suggests that Mr. Mulcair’s unpopularity has little impact on Ms. Notley’s political fortunes.

More than 300 people packed into the Metro Cinema at the Garneau Theatre to watch the election night results on a 30 foot screen.

Trudeau Liberals crack Conservative “Fortress Alberta” in nationwide sweep

The dust has yet to finally settle on tonight’s election night results but we know that the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau will form a majority government with more than 180 seats in the next parliament. Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who has led his party’s government since 2006, conceded to defeat and resigned as party leader. The New Democratic Party led by Tom Mulcair, who rocketed from fourth place to Official Opposition under Jack Layton‘s leadership in 2011, was cut back to third place.

In Alberta, the Liberals appear to have cracked the Conservative fortress with wins in Edmonton and Calgary.

In Calgary-Skyview, former Liberal MLA Darshan Kang has become the first Liberal Member of Parliament elected in Calgary since 1968. Another former Liberal MLA, Kent Hehr, is currently leading Conservative MP Joan Crockatt in Calgary-Centre with more polls yet to be counted. In Edmonton-Mill Woods, popular city councillor Amarjeet Sohi, running for the Liberals, is in a tight race with Conservative cabinet minister Tim Uppal. In Edmonton-Centre, Liberal Randy Boissonnault is leading Conservative candidate James Cumming and NDP hopeful Gil McGowan.

While Canadians rejected a Conservative government led by a Calgary MP, Alberta will not be left without representation in government. It will be expected that at least one Liberal MP from each of Alberta’s two largest cities will be appointed to Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet.

For the NDP, it appears that only incumbent Linda Duncan was re-elected to a third-term as the MP for Edmonton-Strathcona.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

There will be plenty of times in the coming days to discuss what happened on election night and over the past eleven weeks, and what it means for the future of Canada. But tonight’s results make it clear that Canadians have rejected the politics of negativity, fear and division that Mr. Harper’s Conservative believed would help them secure re-election.

Tomorrow morning, Albertans will wake up in a new Canada  – with an incoming progressive Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a progressive New Democrat Premier Rachel Notley, and progressive mayors Don Iveson in Edmonton and Naheed Nenshi in Calgary.

Justin Trudeau speaks to a large crowd of Liberal supporters at an 8am rally in Edmonton on Oct. 18, 2015.

Justin Trudeau rallies Alberta Liberals just like Notley did five months ago

While Canadians could be on track to elect the country’s first Liberal Party government since 2004, it looks like Albertans could remain firmly in the Conservative Party camp, even after Stephen Harper‘s decade-long reign in Ottawa. But while most of Alberta’s federal ridings are expected to produce large victories for Tory candidates when the votes are counted tomorrow night, a handful of ridings in Alberta’s two major cities could produce some interesting results.

Attracting crowds of 2,000 in Edmonton and 4,000 in Calgary today, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau spent the final day of the 11-week election campaign in western Canada. The excitement in the crowd was undeniable. It has been a long time since Alberta Liberals have had something to be excited about.

I don’t know what Trudeaumania felt like in 1968, but the energy at today’s rally in Edmonton rivalled the energy at Rachel Notley‘s 2,000 person rally in the final week of this year’s provincial election. And I bet if you polled the people at that Trudeau rally, I would expect that most will have enthusiastically voted for Ms. Notley’s New Democratic Party on May 5, 2015. It was that ability to unite moderate and progressive voters under her party’s banner that led to the NDP’s election victory earlier this year.

While many of those moderate voters may help re-elect the Alberta NDP in 2019, they were excited about the federal Liberals today. And with moderate and progressive voters still divided between the federal Liberals and NDP in Alberta, it remains likely that any gains in the province could be marginal.

But while hopes for an NDP government led by Tom Mulcair in Ottawa may have been dashed, for now, the NDP remain well-positioned to elect two Members of Parliament in Edmonton, the epicentre of Ms. Notley’s orange wave. Two-term NDP MP Linda Duncan is expected to be re-elected in Edmonton-Strathcona. The NDP have also poured plenty of energy and resources in the campaign in Edmonton-Griesbach, where a two-way race has pitted NDP candidate Janis Irwin against former one-term city councillor Kerry Diotte.

Back at the rally, where the crowd of Liberals cheered enthusiastically for the Edmonton area Liberal candidates on stage, the largest cheers were for Trudeau and Amarjeet Sohi, the popular city councillor running for election in Edmonton-Mill Woods (where the rally was held). During his speech, Mr. Trudeau focused on some of the issues that Mr. Sohi has fought hard for on city council – like the much needed expansion of the LRT line to south east Edmonton.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson briefly entered the federal election fray earlier in the campaign when he criticized the federal Conservatives for not proposing new funding for Edmonton’s LRT system, while promising similar funding for projects in other cities. While his criticisms ruffled the delicate feathers of some local Conservatives, Mr. Iveson may find a more cooperative partner in a new federal government willing to invest in urban transportation infrastructure. And that kind of change is exciting.


Here is a list of some other Alberta ridings to watch on Election Night:

Calgary-Centre: Former Liberal MLA Kent Hehr is facing Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt, who was narrowly elected in a 2012 by-election.

Calgary-Confederation: Lawyer Matt Grant, running for the Liberals, faces former Progressive Conservative MLA Len Webber. Well-known former journalist Kirk Heuser is running for the NDP.

Calgary-Skyview: Former Liberal MLA Darshan Kang faces Conservative MP Devinder Shory.

Edmonton-Centre: A three-way race between Liberal Randy Boissonnault, New Democrat Gil McGowan and Conservative James Cumming.

Fort McMurray-Cold Lake: Liberal Kyle Harrietha and Conservative David Yurdiga face each other in a rematch from a closely fought 2014 by-election.


If you find yourself without an election night party tomorrow night, feel free to come down to the Metro Cinema (Garneau Theatre) and watch the coverage on a 30 foot theatre screen. While you watch the results, I will be talking politics on stage with Wab Kinew, Samantha Power, Drew Hayden Taylor and Mike Hudema. The event, part of Litfest, begins at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (right) and Education Minister David Eggen (second right) campaign with NDP candidate Janis Irwin (second from the left) in the Edmonton-Griesbach riding.

Mulcair and Trudeau show Alberta some love in the final days of Election 2015. Where’s Harper?

There is no longer any doubt that Alberta is an important battleground in this federal election campaign. While Conservatives will dominate in the provincial seat count, the Liberals and NDP believe they are positioned to win competitive races in Edmonton and Calgary. Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau will make appearances at campaign events in Alberta during the final days of Canada’s eleven week long federal election.

Aaron Paquette Edmonton Manning

Aaron Paquette

New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair and Premier Rachel Notley will share the stage tomorrow evening at a rally at downtown Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre.

The NDP are hoping that Ms. Notley’s popularity in the provincial capital can help boost the re-election effort of Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona and the election bids of Janis Irwin in Edmonton-GriesbachGil McGowan in Edmonton-Centre and Aaron Paquette in Edmonton-Manning. With 64 percent of Edmontonians having marked their ballots for the NDP in the recent provincial election, the NDP are hoping to extend some of that support to the federal level.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will spend the final Sunday of the election campaign swinging through Alberta to headline rallies for Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods and Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview.

Amarjeet Sohi Edmonton

Amarjeet Sohi

Both Mr. Sohi and Mr. Kang are candidates the Liberals believe have a real chance at being elected on October 19. A Mainstreet Research poll released last week shows Mr. Sohi, a popular three-term city councillor, in a close two-way race with Conservative Tim UppalThe Liberals are also hoping that strong campaigns can propel Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre, former Liberal MLA Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre and Matt Grant in Calgary-Confederation to victory.

It is has not been announced whether Conservative leader Stephen Harper will give Albertans any of his time in the final days before the election. He is running for re-election in the Calgary-Heritage riding.

Notley critics choking on Pretzel Logic
Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigns for Conservative Joan Crockatt in Calgary-Centre.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigns for Conservative Joan Crockatt in Calgary-Centre.

When they aren’t busy criticizing the NDP for implementing campaign promises, critics of Ms. Notley have tied themselves in knots criticizing her for either not being involved enough or for being too involved in the federal election campaign.

Alberta’s newly elected NDP government was a frequent target of Mr. Harper’s during this campaign. Ms. Notley succeeded in avoiding getting dragged into a war of words with the federal Conservative leader. Instead, Finance Minister Joe Ceci, a former Calgary alderman, was the NDP’s designated hitter to respond to the federal Conservative leader’s barbs.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, a former Conservative MP, was spotted campaigning for Conservative Joan Crockatt in Calgary this week. Mr. Jean claimed in an email to his party’s supporters that Ms. Notley was “throwing all the powers of the Alberta government behind Mulcair and the federal NDP.” The claim is plainly ridiculous.

By “all the powers,” what Mr. Jean meant was a single YouTube video of Ms. Notley’s speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce circulated with a government press release. The 42-minute long video of Ms. Notley’s speech included her brief remarks expressing support for Mr. Mulcair. Inappropriate? Yes. All the powers of the Alberta government? Not even close.

Dion campaigns in Edmonton
Stephane Dion spoke to Liberal supporters in Edmonton today.

Stephane Dion spoke to Liberal supporters in Edmonton today.

Former federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion was campaigning in Edmonton today. The likeable former cabinet minister and university professor from Montreal delivered an engaging speech to about 100 party supporters at a town hall meeting in the Sutton Place Hotel. Perhaps one of the most capable Prime Ministers Canada never had, Mr. Dion is sure to be appointed to cabinet if the Liberal Party forms government in Ottawa on Oct. 19.

Still not sure who to vote for?

Elections Canada reports that 358,830 Albertans cast their ballots at the advance polls on October 9, 10, 11 and 12, 2015. If you are still not sure which candidate you will be voting for on Oct. 19, take a look through my list of candidates running in Alberta’s 34 ridings.

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton MP

Federal Election Digest | Alberta Edition

While most Albertans are enjoying the last few weeks of summer, here are some of the more interesting and bizarre news stories from the federal election campaign trail in our province:

Independent Rathgeber: Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s “only ethical barometer is not getting caught,” according to Independent Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber. The former Conservative MP and Progressive Conservative MLA tweeted his criticism of Mr. Harper, who is campaigning in the midst of the trial of former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy. In another blog post, Mr. Rathgeber explains why he is running as an Independent candidate in the new St. Albert-Edmonton riding.

Two new riding-level polls: The Lead Now group commissioned Environics to conduct polls in a handful of swing ridings across Canada, including two in Alberta. The poll shows NDP candidate Janis Irwin with 16 point lead over Conservative Kerry Diotte in Edmonton-Griesbach and Conservative Joan Crockatt with a 12 point lead over Liberal Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre.

Crockatt Drops Out of Pride Parade: Ms. Crockatt will not participate in this year’s Calgary Pride Parade after an online campaign highlighted her opposition to a parliamentary bill that would have protected the rights of transgender Canadians.

NDP Protest: Syed Hyder Ali and his supporters wore “Justice for Syed” stickers to protest his exclusion from the Edmonton-Wetaskiwin NDP nomination contest. Ali’s non-inclusion on the ballot was due to his Facebook posts accusing the State of Israel of committing war crimes, reports the Leduc Representative. He told the Representative that the posts and characterization of Israel’s actions were based on an Amnesty International report about the 2014 invasion of Gaza.

Strong Opinions: An Edmonton activist is protesting the decision by an R.C.M.P officer to issue a traffic fine for having a giant “Fuck Harper” sign in the back window of his vehicle.

Toronto Star columnist comes to Alberta: Toronto Star national affairs columnist Tim Harper wrote a column on NDP chances and the political climate in Alberta.

Social Media claims another victim: Liberal Ala Buzreba withdrew her candidacy in Calgary-Nose Hill after the media reported on controversial tweets published when she was a teenager. Ms. Buzreba’s sister stepped up and explained what no media reported did, the context of these tweets. In other news, it seems that political candidates in Alberta did we not learn much from the media storm around Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever‘s youthful social media indiscretions.