Tag Archives: Laurence Decore

Jim Prentice tells Albertans to strap on their seat belts

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech on September 6, 2014.

“After two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” – Jim Prentice speaking with Roger Kingkade and Rob Breakenridge on September 9, 2014 on News Talk 770.

Wearing your seat belt while driving in a motor vehicle is always a good idea, but in this context, it may not cure the political whiplash endured by Albertans over the past two years.

The interview was a rough start to a mixed week for Jim Prentice, who is in the midst of transitioning into the Premier’s office and is expected to be sworn-in next week. He had positive first meetings with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. And his rounds of media interviews early in the week were an introduction to many Albertans who are unfamiliar with Mr. Prentice and a departure from his predecessor, who became notorious for avoiding the legislature press gallery.

If his first week of transitioning into the Premier’s Office is going smoothly, the same might not be the case for his first week as leader of the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Prentice is already having to deal with allegations about PC MLA Sohail Quadri’s role in accessing voting PIN numbers in last week’s leadership vote and PC MLA David Xiao’s ties to the government-grant funded yet allegedly non-existent “McClung Family Association.”

Cabinet Shuffle next week

Much of the mainstream media coverage this week focused on speculation that Mr. Prentice could appoint individuals from outside the legislature to what is expected to be a smaller provincial cabinet.

As the rumours fly, three names have been widely speculated as prospective outside appointments – AIMco CEO Leo DeBeaver, Conservative MP James Rajotte and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel is currently serving on Mr. Prentice’s transition team and endorsed his candidacy in the PC leadership race earlier this summer.

Alberta Progressive Conservative Party Politics
Progressive Conservative MLAs leaving a morning caucus meeting at Government House in March 2014.

It is expected that any cabinet ministers appointed from outside the Assembly would be required to run in by-elections alongside Mr. Prentice, who currently does not hold a seat in the Alberta Legislature.

As I wrote last week, appointing cabinet ministers from outside the Legislature is not entirely unheard of in Canadian politics but it does come with some risks. Take for example Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who appointed David Levine as a junior health minister in 2002 only to see him lose a by-election shortly afterward. The defeated candidate resigned from cabinet the next day.

While he may choose to include new talent from outside the PC Caucus, Mr. Prentice will still need to choose the bulk of his cabinet ministers from inside the current PC caucus. And his picks became slimmer yesterday as former Energy minister Ken Hughes announced that he will not seek re-election as MLA for Calgary-West.

New Senior Staff

Mr. Prentice announced that former Liberal MLA Mike Percy will be his Chief of Staff and Patricia Misutka will be his Principal Secretary. Both could bring a stronger Edmonton-perspective to Calgarian Mr. Prentice’s inner circle and appear to be competent choices for the roles.

Dr. Percy is the former Dean of Business at the University of Alberta and served as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from 1993 to 1997 (defeating rookie PC candidate Dave Hancock in 1993). He served as the Official Opposition Finance Critic for much of his time in the Legislature. It is suspected that Dr. Percy would have been appointed as Finance Minister if the Liberals, led by Laurence Decore, had won the 1993 election.

Ms. Misutka is the former Chief of Staff to Mr. Mandel and was one of four co-chairs of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign. After Mr. Mandel’s retirement, she worked as a Senior Advisor with the Canadian Strategy Group, a government relations company run by long-time PC Party insiders Hal Danchilla and Michael Lohner.

Redford staffer lands pipeline job

It appears that Alison Redford’s former communications director, Stefan Baranski, has landed a new job as Regional Director for Ontario at with TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.

Tories hope for a Hancockian era of stability

Alison Redford Dave Hancock Alberta Premier
Outgoing Premier Alison Redford with incoming Premier Dave Hancock.

On March 20, 1989, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with a majority government but Premier Don Getty was defeated by voters in his Edmonton-Whitemud constituency. It was a stunning embarrassment for the then 18-year governing PC Party.

Alberta Premier Don Getty
Don Getty

Twenty-five years later, on March 20, 2014, Alberta’s still-governing PCs selected Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock to serve as Premier of Alberta until a replacement could be chosen for the embattled departing Premier Alison Redford.

Mr. Hancock was president of PC Party during the dying days of Mr. Getty’s premiership, when it appeared as though the Tories would be defeated by the Liberals led popular former mayor Laurence Decore.

Mr. Getty’s resigned in 1992 after being dragged down by low public approval ratings and a disgruntled caucus. A divisive leadership race chose his successor, Ralph Klein, who soon after led the Tories to win a majority government in the 1993 election. Tory partisans of a certain age fondly refer to this period as “the miracle on the prairies.”

Mr. Hancock’s experience as party president during the early 1990s and his 43 years of involvement in the province’s natural governing party could help him calm the dissent in the unwieldy PC caucus.

Facing increased pressure from the opposition Wildrose Party, the next four to six months will be an incredibly important time for the Tories, as the upcoming leadership race will define the PC Party in advance of a fast approaching 2016 election.

The parallels between the early 1990s and today are not perfect, and perhaps not even fair, but they serve as a reminder about the ability of the PC Party to reinvent itself. Even at its most damaged and divided, as it appeared to be this week, the PC Party remains a political force to be reckoned with.

Neala Barton Redford Press Secretary
Neala Barton

Redford press secretary returns to Toronto

Ms. Redford’s resignation has  resulted in the departure of many of her senior staff from the Legislature. The now-former press secretary to the premier, Neala Barton, appears to have already landed a new communications job in Toronto with the scandal plagued Pan Am Games Committee. Before joining Ms. Redford’s staff last year, Ms. Barton had previously served as press secretary for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

News from parties not named PC or Wildrose

With Alberta’s daily political scene dominated by the loud and partisan voices of the governing Progressive Conservatives and the official opposition Wildrose, it has become easy to miss what is happening in Alberta’s other political parties. Here is a quick look at some news from the other parties represented in the Legislative Assembly – the Liberals and NDP – and the parties sitting outside the dome – the Alberta Party,  Green Party, and Social Credit Party.

Alberta Liberals

Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman (right), Justin Trudeau (centre), and Sherman's partner Sharon (left) at the Calgary Stampede.
Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman (right), Justin Trudeau (centre), and Sherman’s partner Sharon (left) at the Calgary Stampede. (Photo from Raj Sherman’s Facebook Page).

At a recent annual meeting, the Alberta Liberals abandoned their controversial “supporter” category of party involvement. Described by some Liberals as groundbreaking, gargantuanreal renewal, and politics re-imagined when the party first adopted the new category in May 2011, the idea remained controversial among party loyalists. Some long-time Liberals believed the creation of a “free” category opening leadership selections to non-members gave former Tory MLA Raj Sherman an advantage over loyalist favourite Hugh MacDonald  in the party’s 2011 vote.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the Liberal Party current has about 1,200 registered members, compared to about 3,500 members in August 2011. While the party signed up 27,000 members and supporters in the 2011 leadership race, only 8,900 voted.

A surprise win by past candidate Mike Butler in the party’s vice-president (communications) contest surprised many Liberals at the annual meeting. Mr. Butler is a supporter of cooperation with other parties like the NDP, Alberta Party and Greens, and has helped organize ‘soapbox’ events in Edmonton to promote cross-party dialogue.

The cooperation debate has been heated among Liberals. Last year, party president Todd Van Vliet publicly rebuked Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr for a guest post published on this blog promoting the idea of cooperation.

Alberta NDP

Alberta NDP MLAs Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Rachel Notley (photo from Rachel Notley's Facebook page).
Alberta NDP MLAs Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Rachel Notley (photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook page).

The Alberta NDP will  hold their annual conference in Lethbridge in November, hoping to build on recent gains in the southern Alberta city. The NDP have seen significant growth in Lethbridge, with both federal candidate Mark Sandilands and provincial candidate Shannon Phillips significantly increasing their party’s support in recent elections.

NDP executive member Chris O’Halloran was chosen to serve as the interim president following Nancy Furlong‘s departure to accept a new job in Ontario. A new president will be selected at the November annual meeting.

Alberta Party

Following the resignation of leader Glenn Taylor after the last election, the Alberta Party  set September 21, 2013 as the date it will choose their next leader. Calgary businessman Greg Clark is so far the only candidate to step into the race to lead the party.

Not unfamiliar with Alberta politics, Mr. Clark worked as a spokesperson for the Liberal Caucus in the mid-1990s after that party first formed official opposition under Laurence Decore. He ran against Premier Alison Redford in Calgary-Elbow during last year’s election, placing 6th 5th with 518 votes.

Green Party

Reformed after a divisive internal party split and poor party financial audits led to the dissolution of the former Alberta Greens and the creation of the Evergreen Party, the newly renamed Green Party of Alberta is now led by Calgary-based civil liberties advocate Janet Keeping.

Social Credit

In April, the Social Credit Party held a policy convention in Innisfail where members of the small party affirmed policies that support human rights of the preborn, disallowing casino gambling and no sales tax. The Socreds also pledge to make the Alberta Treasury Branch the “economic engine of Alberta.”

Leader Len Skowronski ran in Calgary-Hawkwood in the last election, placing 7th out of 8 candidates with 105 votes. The Social Credit Party ran 3 candidates in the 2012 election.

Twenty years since Alberta’s epic 1993 election.

Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)
Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Alberta’s 1993 election, known in Tory political circles as “the miracle on the Prairies” and to others as the election that interrupted the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals (in which the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings). This election was Alberta’s most competitive in decades and saw the 22 year governing Progressive Conservatives led by former Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein face-off against the reenergized Liberals led by former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore.

The Tories emerged as the victors of the closely fought election, successfully distancing themselves from the unpopular former Premier Don Getty, who Premier Klein had only replaced the year before the election. Significant retirements of long-time Tory MLAs brought a new batch of candidates on “Ralph’s Team” to compete with an impressive and well-funded slate of Liberal candidates.

Hoping to ride the wave of electoral discontent that the Reform Party would ride in the federal election later that year, the Liberals challenged the Tories on many traditional conservative issues and attracted some social conservative candidates who might not find a natural home in the Liberal Party. A few of these successful social conservative Liberal candidates, including Edmonton’s Julius Yankowsky, would later cross the floor to the Tories.

With both the PCs and Liberals campaigning on fiscal conservative platforms geared toward eliminating budget deficits and paying down debts, there may have been less policy difference between the two parties than could normally be expected.

Laurence Decore (screenshot from CBC news archive)
Laurence Decore (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Similar to last year’s provincial election, where a “Lake of Fire” helped cost Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party more than a few votes in  closely fought campaign, a controversial social issue played a defining role in the 1993 election. Political scientist Peter McCormick wrote in the Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs, 1995, “…it was generally agreed the Liberal leader Laurence Decore’s causal raising of the abortion issue was one of the reasons his party lost the 1993 provincial election.”

On June 15, 1993, Premier Klein’s PC Party was re-elected with 51 seats out of 83 and 44% of the provincial vote. Premier Klein would lead his party through three more election victories before he retired in 2006. Winning every seat in Edmonton and a handful in rural Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge, the Liberals elected 32 MLAs and earned 39% of the provincial vote.

A number of Tory stalwarts, including Bonnyville‘s Ernie Isley, Leduc‘s Donald Sparrow and St. Albert’s Dick Fowler were unseated by Liberal candidates. A Liberal candidate was even successful in capturing Calgary-West, the coveted constituency represented by Premier Peter Lougheed from 1967 to 1986. The Liberals have never again come this close to forming government in Alberta.

Ray Martin (screenshot from CBC news archive)
Ray Martin (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin, the official opposition New Democrats lost the 16 seats they had won in the previous election. Electoral boundary redistribution, retiring incumbents, and the defection of Stony Plain NDP MLA Stan Woloshyn to the Tories did not help. With a rise of support for the Liberals in Edmonton and the Tory’s new popular leader Premier Klein, the NDP were abandoned by many of their traditional supporters in this election.

Watch this archived CBC news report on the 1993 election (points to anyone who can name the journalist narrating the CBC report).

Mandel’s retirement kicks-off Edmonton’s first open mayoral race in 45 years.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s announcement yesterday that he will not seek re-election in the October 21, 2013 election has made way for our city’s first real open mayoral contest in 45 years.

Over those 45 years, Mandel is only the second Edmonton Mayor to leave on his own terms. In 1988, Mayor Laurence Decore stepped down to become leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party. Mayor William Hawrelak died in office in 1975. All other Mayors or interim Mayors were defeated in an election.

Here’s a short history lesson about Edmonton’s mayoral elections:

When Mayor Vincent Dantzer retired from municipal politics in 1968, he was succeeded by Mayor Ivor Dent. Dent was defeated by former Mayor Hawrelak in the 1974 election. When Mayor Hawrelak died in office in 1975, Alderman Terry Cavanagh became interim Mayor. Interim Mayor Cavanaugh contested the 1977 election and was defeated by Cec Purves. Mayor Purves was then defeated by Mr. Decore in 1983. When Mayor Decore resigned in 1988, Alderman Cavanaugh once again filled the role of interim Mayor and was defeated in the 1989 election by Councillor Jan Reimer. Mayor Reimer was later defeated by businessman Bill Smith in the 1995 election. Councillor Mandel unseated Mayor Smith in 2004.

Who can Edmontonians expect to run in our first real open mayoral election in a generation?

Councillor Kerry Diotte launched his campaign last week and Councillors Don IvesonKaren Leibovici, and Amarjeet Sohi are suspected to be interested in running. The absence of an incumbent candidate might also draw candidates from outside City Council or traditional political circles.

More on this soon.

Disappointed Wildrosers sit outside as Redford Tories abandon Klein-era financing.

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

Alberta’s opposition parties are traditionally notorious for being unforgiving towards leaders who fail to meet or beat electoral expectations.

Take for example former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore, who after leading his Liberal Party to its best showing in more than 70 years, was driven out by MLAs and members who were disappointed to be sitting in the opposition benches. Now in 2012, will Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith‘s leadership end with a similar fate? Not likely anytime soon.

As I said on election night, despite her party’s strong showing and newly acquired official opposition status, one of Ms. Smith’s biggest challenges will be to deal with many of her party’s supporters and MLAs who will be disappointed they did not form government. With 17 MLAs and a strong record of fundraising, I expect that Ms. Smith’s party and the powers that finance it will allow her to have a second chance, rather than destabilizing the delicate coalition of fiscal hawks and social conservatives they helped her build.

Last week, an anonymous online video emerged that made waves in the ranks of the Wildrose Party. Borrowing music from Michael Bay‘s Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon, the anonymous creators of the online video clumsily detailed the threat that certain individuals posed to the “grassroots” of the Wildrose Party and suggested the chance of a potential coup d’etat against leader Ms. Smith (the video is now removed from the Dailymotion site).

Like blogger David Climenhaga, I hesitate to read too much into the twisted innuendo of internal party politics that this online video delved into. And I would not be surprised if, at their upcoming AGM, Ms. Smith begins taking a more hard-line approach to party discipline, similar to the approach taken by Stephen Harper when he became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

For the first time in decades, conservative supporters of the Wildrose Party are sitting outside to the ruling coalition of which they had previously been a pillar constituency. As Premier Alison Redford builds a new moderate political coalition, she will not have to dwell on the every-want of the “Socred Retreads,” as she called them in her speech to last weekend’s PC AGM.

Despite Wildrose MLAs relentlessly criticizing Premier Redford in the media, it must be frustrating for many Wildrose Party supporters to now watch their former party, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, turn away from the anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics. Without the hype of personality politics behind it, the short-sighted policies of Premier Klein’s govermnent look and feel like they are from a by-gone era. Gone are the days when even a hint of long-term investment was sacrificed in favour of short-term balanced budgets or at-any-cost debt reduction.

Premier Redford, like Premier Ed Stelmach before her, is talking about taking an adult approach to long-term financing of capital projects and maintenance of public infrastructure. With the bulk of the hard-line fiscal conservative hawks sitting in the opposition benches, Premier Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner are afforded more fiscal flexibility.

Instead of waiting for “cash-in-pocket” to build and maintain important public infrastructure, the Tories are pushing forward with capital financing. Their newly discovered fiscal flexibility could give the Tories an opportunity to fix the problems created by their predecessors.

This of course does not mean they will not face opposition within their own caucus when charting this new fiscal course or creating a new narrative for their party. Like Premier Stelmach before them, neither Ms. Redford or Minister Horner had the support of the majority of their fellow MLAs during last year’s leadership selection.

alberta election candidates update – march 2012.

With a provincial election expected to be called early next week, three of Alberta’s main political parties – the Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats, and Wildrose Party – have nominated full-slates of 87 candidates. The official opposition Liberal Party, with 60 candidates nominated, is rushing to fill  their remaining 27 candidacies. Expected to nominate more than 30 candidates in this election, the Alberta Party has already nominated 27 candidates. The Evergreen Party, which has risen from the financial ashes of the defunct Green Party, has sixteen candidates nominated across the province. [Last week, I spoke on CBC Calgary's The Eyeopener how different political parties are progressing in candidate nominations].

Alberta Liberal Party nominated election candidates (March 22, 2012)
Alberta Liberal Party nominated election candidates (March 22, 2012)
Alberta Party nominated election candidates (March 22, 2012)
Alberta Party nominated election candidates (March 22, 2012)
Evergreen Party nominated election candidates (March 22, 2012)
Evergreen Party nominated election candidates (March 22, 2012)

Here are a few of the recent updates that I have made to the growing list of candidates running in the election:

Lacombe-Ponoka: Replacing MLA Ray Prins, who announced a last minute withdrawal as the Progressive Conservative candidate earlier this week, will be replaced by City of Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie. Mayor Christie was first elected in October 2010. Meanwhile, Pauline Prins, wife of Mr. Prins, wrote a letter defending her husband to the Lacombe Globe. The local paper has been filled with letters criticizing Mr. Prins over the past few weeks.

Calgary-Bow: Ellen Phillips has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.

Calgary-Buffalo: Comedian and writer Cory Mack has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in this downtown Calgary constituency.

Calgary-East: Ali Abdulbaki has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate.

Jason Webster Alberta Party candidate Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill
Jason Webster

Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: The Alberta Party has nominated Jason Webster and the Liberals have nominated Don Thompson.

Drayton Valley-Calmar: The Liberals have nominated Chantel Lillycrop as their candidate.

Edmonton-Castle Downs: Kim Cassady has been chosen as the Liberal Party candidate in this north Edmonton constituency. Mr. Cassady ran in the 2010 City Council election and was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Highlands in the 2001 provincial election. Previous to his first provincial run, he worked for Edmonton-Glenora Liberal MLA Howard Sapers.

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood: The Liberal Party has nominated University of Alberta student Keegan Wynychuk as their candidate. The Alberta Party has announced Cameron McCormick will be their candidate.

Jonathan Huckabay Liberal candidate Edmonton-Manning
Jonathan Huckabay

Edmonton-Manning: Official Opposition Chief of Staff Jonathan Huckabay was chosen as the Liberal Party candidate in this north east Edmonton constituency. Mr. Huckabay worked as legislative assistant to PC MLA’s until Raj Sherman was suspended from the governing caucus. The Alberta Party has nominated Mark Wall, professor of Church History and Theology and Dean of Students at Vanguard College.

Edmonton-Strathcona: University of Alberta student Ed Ramsden has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate.

Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: Matthew Levicki has been nominated as the Evergreen Party candidate.

Livingstone-Macleod: The Liberals have appointed Alex Macdonald as their candidate in this south west Alberta constituency. Mr. Macdonald works as a strategic advisor to Liberal leader Dr. Sherman at the Assembly and played a key role in former Liberal leader Laurence Decore‘s campaigns in the early 1990s.

Sherwood Park: Teacher Chris Kuchmak has been chosen as the Alberta Party candidate.

Whitecourt-Ste. Anne: Vern Hardman has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate. In 2011, Mr. Hardmand was an unsuccessful candidate for the PC nomination in the neighbouring Stony Plain constituency.

surveys show big-tent tories and ideologically polarized opposition.

A new survey released in the National Post by Forum Research Inc. shows Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives with 38% province-wide support and the opposition Wildrose Party sitting at 29%. This survey shows the Liberals at 14%, New Democratic Party at 13%, and the Alberta Party with 3% province-wide support.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta leader
Danielle Smith

Surveys conducted by Environics, Angus Reid, and Lethbridge College in the final months of 2011 tell a different story, showing the Tories with a commanding lead placing more than 20% ahead of the opposition parties. Finding different results, the Forum survey shows the PCs up one-percent from a previous survey conducted by the same firm in December 2011 and the Wildrose up six points in the same period of time. I will wait to see whether other surveys begin to show similar results before I begin to believe that the PCs and Wildrose are this close in electoral support.

It is important to remember that surveys and polls are snapshots of where a population is at an exact moment in time. They are helpful at detecting trends, but as all political watchers should remember – campaigns matter – and Albertans will have an opportunity to see their political parties in full electoral action in the coming months.

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

Without Premier Ed Stelmach as their lightening-rod in Calgary perpetually unhappy oil company community, the Wildrose Party appears to have lost the steam from the high point they sat at in mid-2010. In response, they are trying their best to cast Premier Alison Redford as a flip-flopper and have come out strong with negative advertising aimed at the Tories. There is plenty to criticize in the Tory record book, but the relentless angry and outrageous attacks lend little suggestion that the Wildrose Party would be a very pleasant crew if they ever form government.

As I said in the National Post, there are not many people talking about the Wildrose Party forming government these days – except Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith appears to be doing very little to manage the expectations of her party’s core activists, many whom are still wearing the [wild]rose coloured glasses they donned when the their party hit the peak of its meteoric rise in 2010.

Alison Redford
Alison Redford

Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake. While the political environment was different, the most appropriate example may be the Alberta Liberal experience following the infamous 1993 election. With early polls showing a meteoric rise in the polls for the long-outcast Liberal Party, leader Laurence Decore had pumped expectations of forming government so-high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories. The Liberals have not come close to this high-point since.

I also point to the quick rise and fall of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day or Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who both filled their supporters minds with great expectations of electoral glory, only to disappoint when the votes were counted.

What results of the Forum survey and other surveys suggest to me is that the PCs remain Alberta’s big-tent political party – one that both blue conservatives and moderate liberals are comfortable joining – and that the opposition is increasingly polarizing to the political left and right.

The rise of the conservative Wildrose Party to what may become the default opposition and the increase in support for the social democratic NDP may leave a difficult space for the moderate opposition parties that want to occupy the political centre – the Liberal and the Alberta Party.

in alberta politics, what once was old is new again.

Premier Alison Redford is expected to introduce new fixed-election date legislation in the postponed fall sitting of the Assembly, expected to sit in late November. In 2009, I wrote:

“In April 2008, St. Albert PC MLA Ken Allred introduced a Private Member’s Bill, Bill 203: Election Statutes (Fixed Election Dates), in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta that would have created fixed-election dates in our province. The Bill received very little public debate in the Legislature and was opposed by MLAs in the PC caucus, including Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Richard Marz, who argued to the media that fixed-election dates would allow public sector unions to strike in conjunction with elections.

In May 2008, Marz introduced a motion that “Bill 203, the Election Statutes (Fixed Election Dates) Amendment Act, 2008, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.” Marz’s motion was passed when 36 PC MLAs (including Allred) out-voted 5 opposition MLAs.”

Now it is November 2011, the Progressive Conservatives are still in office, Premier Ed Stelmach is gone, Premier Redford is in, Mr. Marz is retiring, Mr. Allred is being challenged for the PC nomination (and may retire), and Alberta might get fixed-election dates.

The Alberta Liberals announced with a gleeful media release this week that Alex MacDonald would be joining their caucus staff as a part-time strategist. Political watchers may remember Mr. MacDonald as the Chief of Staff to former Edmonton Mayor and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore in the 1980s and early 1990s.

A seasoned strategist, Mr. MacDonald is said to be the man behind Mr. Decore’s infamous ‘debt clock’ that helped launch the Liberals into Official Opposition status in the 1993 election (and their best showing since the 1917 election). While the addition of Mr. MacDonald may boost their roster, it eats into the narrative that Tory MLA-turned-Liberal leader Dr. Raj Sherman is promoting about the birth (or re-birth) of the “new Liberals.”

Also biting into Dr. Sherman’s “new Liberals” narrative is the nomination of five former one-term MLAs as his party’s candidates in five potentially winnable constituencies – Mo Elsalhy in Edmonton-McClung, Bharat Agnihotri in Edmonton-Ellerslie, Weslyn Mather in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Rick Miller in Edmonton-Rutherford, and Bruce Miller in Edmonton-Glenora. Some of these are good candidates, but certainly not new.

A new face in the next election, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has floated in conservative political circles since the 1990s and two of her party’s four MLAs have been in the Assembly for more than a decade. The “nascent” or “rookie” Alberta Party has existed in various forms since the 1980s and their leader Glenn Taylor ran for the NDP in the 1997 election.

Refusing to believe that new will ever be old or old will ever be new, the New Democrats have put a fresh face on an veteran politician. NDP leader Brian Mason has a fresh face – at least for the short-term – as he has shaved his mustache for Movember to raise awareness about prostate cancer. Mr. Mason has told the media that his trademark cookie-duster will return, meaning that once again, old will be new again.

NDP leader Brian Mason sans mustache
The new face of Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason (sans mustache).

forty years of political hegemony over alberta.

Calgary Herald August 31, 1971 Peter Lougheed Alberta Election Now
The cover of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.

Forty years ago today, Albertans voted to end the 36 year rule of the Social Credit League and let the light shine as Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives scored their first majority election victory and Albertans voted to adopt Daylight Savings Time.

The August 30, 1971 election saw the Lougheed Tories edge out Premier Harry Strom‘s Social Credit by a narrow vote (296,934 votes to 262,953 votes) that was not reflected in the number of MLAs each party elected (49 PC MLAs and 25 Social Credit MLAs). The NDP also landed their first solid beachhead in the Assembly with the election of leader Grant Notley in the northern Spirit River-Fairview constituency. The only party leader to not win a seat in the Assembly was Liberal leader Bob Russell, who placed third in St. Albert.

Since that day forty years ago, the PC Party has won nearly every general election with ease. With the exception of the 1993 election, where the Liberals led by former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against rookie Premier Ralph Klein, the PCs have thrown every opposition leader into a meat grinder.

The PCs have not survived as one of the most successful political organizations in Canada by being nice guys. While driven by a vague set of principles, Alberta’s natural governing entity is essentially an amorphous blob on the subject of policy, following trends and public opinion – straddling the ideological centre while appeasing the various corners of its very large political tent. This positioning has allowed the PC Party to appeal to a wide-range of Albertans, who already largely self-identify as “conservative.” Being the sure bet for an election win has also helped the PC Party recruit talented candidates from across the political spectrum and build strong (and well-funded) local organizations across the province.

The PC Party is also ruthless on the subject of keeping its hold on power. As PC members vote select a new leader on September 17, 2011 it may be smart for the leadership candidates to reflect on the historical fact that only one PC leader, Premier Lougheed, was allowed to leave gracefully on his own time. Each leader following Premier Lougheed – Don Getty, Ralph Klein, and Ed Stelmach – were in one way or another shown the door when they appeared to be a threat to the PC Party’s continued political success.