Tag Archives: Leela Aheer

United Conservative Party Caucus Gay-Straight Alliances

Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill

Photo: Jason Kenney with UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Leela Aheer, Ric McIver and Prab Gill on October 30, 2017.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced on November 7, 2017 that his party’s MLAs will vote against Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances.

David Eggen

Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.

The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

The bill has the support of Premier Rachel Notley‘s 54 New Democratic Party MLAs, 2 Alberta Party MLAs and Liberal MLA David Swann, making its passage into law almost certain. Numerous public school board trustees have voiced their support for the bill.

Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”

Fort McMurray Catholic School District board chair Paula Galenzoski told Fort McMurray Today that “Our board has always been supportive of our LGBT community and LGBT students, and the health and inclusion of all students. If a person isn’t able to stay safe in their environment, then we’re failing big.”

Even former MLA Jeff Wilson, who served as a Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Shaw from 2012 to 2015, is urging UCP MLAs to vote in favour of Bill 24.

The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.

The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.

As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.

Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.

The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.

United Conservative Party leadership candidates Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Tracking MLA endorsements in the UCP leadership race

Members of the United Conservative Party will be selecting the party’s first permanent leader on October 28, 2017. After of this week’s fee payment deadline, four candidates will be listed on the ballot: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Of the 28 UCP MLAs represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, nineteen have endorsed candidates in this leadership race (I am including Jean, the only sitting MLA in the contest, who has obviously endorsed himself). Here is a map showing which UCP MLAs have endorsed which leadership candidate as of September 14, 2017.Brian Jean: Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Rocky View), Wayne Anderson (Highwood), Dave Hanson (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills), Todd Loewen (Grande Prairie-Smoky), Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake), Angela Pitt (Airdrie), Ron Orr (Lacombe-Ponoka), Dave Schneider (Little Bow), Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), Glenn van Dijken (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock), Tany Yao (Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo)

Jason Kenney: Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays), Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre), Mark Smith (Drayton Valley-Devon), Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)

Doug Schweitzer: Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)

Alberta taxpayers are subsidizing Calgary’s elite and exclusive private schools

Alberta taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund posh private schools for Calgary’s elites.

According to data released by Progress Alberta, 15 private schools which charge more than $10,000 in annual tuition fees received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies in 2015-2016.

One of those private schools, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, charges $21,660 in annual tuition fees per student, the highest of any private school in Alberta. The school has received $20.5 million in government funding since 2010 and in 2016 it raised $25 million through fundraising. At the end of 2016 the school’s two charitable foundations had $4.7 million remaining, according to Progress Alberta.

Public funding for private schools has become a hot political topic in recent weeks, with some groups calling for the Alberta government to stop public funding of private schools. I remain undecided about whether funds should be available for some private education, but I was shocked to learn that some of Alberta’s most elite and exclusive private schools are receiving public subsidies.

Conservatives politicians have stepped up to defend private schools. Wildrose education critic Leela Aheer and Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney argued that private schools provide Albertans with choice in education. Aheer said in a written statement that the private system saves Albertans money because they receive 70 per cent of the per-student funding of public schools.

Both those arguments are flimsy to begin with and completely fall apart when we start focusing on private schools that charge significantly high tuition fees while also being able to fundraise large amounts of money. Most Albertans can’t afford the “choice” of enrolling their children in exclusive schools, and private schools which can generate large amounts of funding on their own can probably survive without government subsidies.

Funding exclusive private schools with admission fees that are out of reach of most Albertans only perpetuates a system of education based on economic class. Equality of opportunity should be the driving force behind public funding for education, whether it be public or private.

The speed at which Education Minister David Eggen swiftly denied any allegations that the NDP government would be defunding private schools was surprising considering the criticism his party levelled toward the old PC government on the same issue. The NDP should do what should have been done a long time ago – let Alberta taxpayers off the hook for funding these expensive, exclusive and elite private schools.

Will the PC Party finally disqualify Jason Kenney?

He’s not running to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party. He’s running to destroy the party so that he can then form a new party that he’s going to run and become leader of,” Progressive Conservative Party member Jeffrey Rath told CBC Calgary.

The Priddis-based lawyer has filed a complaint with his party alleging that leadership candidate Jason Kenney’s vision runs counter to the party’s constitution and that he should be disqualified.

Kenney is running to dissolve the PC Party, not to merge or unite it with the Wildrose Party.

Despite running under the slogan “Unite Alberta,” Kenney’s goal is to win the leadership and then dissolve the party. If that does not run counter to the party’s constitution, I am not sure what else would.

The PC Party was foolish for allowing Kenney to run in the first place. Facing a lethargic and uninspiring group of “renewal” candidates, Kenney appears to have easily locked up the support of enough delegates to secure a victory at the upcoming convention.

Rath’s complaint is a Hail Mary pass but it could work. It could be difficult for the PC Party executive to disqualify him now but they should if they want their party to exist in a year from now.

The Kenney campaign’s record of flouting the rules has given the PC Party’s executive plenty of reasons to consider disqualification. One of his chief strategists was even suspended from the party for a one-year period. Some moderate conservatives in the PC Party, including former leadership candidate Stephen Khan, believe Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party will lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who had previously endorsed plans for a new party, recently announced that his plans would have conservatives rally behind the current Wildrose Party structure. That’s rebranded Wildrose Party.

Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, who was recently acclaimed as the Wildrose Party candidate in Chestermere-Rocky View, even announced on a Facebook video that she was proud to be running for the Wildrose Party in the 2019 election, with no mention of a new party.

This goes back to my long-held belief that the Wildrose Party needs the PC Party more than the PCs need the Wildrose. In two consecutive elections the Wildrose Party has struggled to break out of its rural Alberta base and might only be able to win an election if the PC Party is completely removed from the picture.

In 2015, the PCs were arrogant, out of touch and deserved to lose the election. But unlike the Wildrose Party, the PCs have a record of 44 years of straight election victories and a brand that many Albertans still respect.

It would not be unimaginable to see the PCs bounce back to win another election. But they won’t be able to win any future elections if they allow Kenney lead them to extinction, as he plans to do.

Candidate nominations begin for Alberta’s next election but the rules have changed

The next election may be more than two years away but that is not stopping eager potential candidates from wanting a head start on the hustings. Both the Alberta Party and Wildrose Party now beginning the process of nominating candidates for the next election.

It may feel like it is too early to start nominating candidates because Albertans are now two years, one month away from when the next provincial election is expected to be called, but we are not far away from the same time parties began nominating candidates before the last election.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview

Leela Aheer

The next election is expected to be called between March 1, 2019 and May 31, 2019, as Alberta’s fixed election legislation suggests.

The Wildrose Party will be holding its first nomination meeting on Feb. 25, 2017 in the Chestermere-Rocky View constituency. It is expected that incumbent MLA Leela Aheer will be nominated but I have heard rumours that she could face a challenge from a former municipal politician. The Alberta Party was the first to nominate a candidate for the next election when Omar Masood was chosen to represent the party in Calgary-Buffalo at a Nov. 2016 meeting.

As I have done in previous elections, I will do my best to keep track of nomination contests as they heat up.

Omar Masood ALberta Party Calgary Buffalo

Omar Masood

Expected changes to the electoral boundaries for the next election could force the parties to hold new nomination meetings, but there is a real advantage in having a candidate campaigning, fundraising and organizing early.

Amendments to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act passed in the fall 2016 sitting of the Alberta Legislative Assembly introduced rules around the business of nominating candidates, something that did not previously exist in our province. Here are a few of the new rules:

  • Candidates running for party nominations must register with Elections Alberta. Within 10 days of the conclusion of a nomination contest, the party or constituency association is required to submit to the Chief Electoral Officer a statement including the full names of the nomination contestants.
  • Section 17(1) of the Act states that a maximum annual donation to a nomination candidate is $4,000.
  • Section 9.3 (1) states that the chief financial officer of the party or constituency association must file a statement informing Elections Alberta of the date of the official call of the nomination contest, the date of the nomination meeting, and any fee or deposit required to be paid by a person as a condition of entering the nomination contest, and the estimated cost for holding the nomination contest.
  • Section 32 (4.2) (a) states that all donors who have contributed more than $250 to a nomination campaign will have their names made public, similar to regular donations to candidates and political parties.
  • Section 41.4(1) states that nomination campaign expenses are limited to 20 percent of a registered candidate’s spending limit for an election in that constituency.
  • Section 43.01 (1) states that within 4 months after the conclusion of a nomination contest, the chief financial officer of a nomination contestant is required to file financial return with Elections Alberta.

 

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

Wildrose Shuffles Critics, Fildebrandt no longer Public Accounts Committee Chairman

Outspoken Wildrose Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who finds himself frequently at odds with leader Brian Jean, remains in his high-profile role as Official Opposition Finance & Treasury critic after a shuffle of critic portfolios in the Wildrose caucus this week.

Brian Jean

But according to the MLA committee membership list released on Dec. 13, 2016, Fildebrandt is no longer Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, a role he has filled since June 2015. The chair of the financial oversight committee is traditionally filled by an MLA from the Official Opposition. Fildebrandt has been replaced by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.

While relinquishing the chair role could be seen as a demotion caused by conflict with his party’s leadership, it likely means that Fildebrandt, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and aggressive critic of the NDP, can now play a more active and vocal role on the committee.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

The Wildrose shuffle included new assignments for Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes as Energy critic, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao as Health critic, Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer as Education Critic, Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt as Justice & Solicitor General critic, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken as Jobs & Labour critic, and Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider as Agriculture critic. The capable and quick on his feet Nathan Cooper remains House Leader. (See a full list here)

The Wildrose caucus also shuffled their MLA committee membership:

  • Prasad Panda replaces Grant Hunter as a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
  • Glenn van Dijken replaces Dave Schneider as Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future.
  • Leela Aheer replaces Ron Orr as a member of the Standing Committee on Families and Communities
  • Angela Pitt replaces Nathan Cooper as a member of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices
  • Nathan Cooper replaces Derek Fildebrandt as a member of the Standing Committee on Members’ Services
  • Todd Loewen replaces Leela Aheer as a member of the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship
  • Angela Pitt and Glenn van Dijken become members of the Select Special Ombudsman and Public Interest Commissioner Search Committee.

For the first time, Women are running the show in Alberta politics

Today is International Women’s Day.

Almost one hundred years ago, on April 19, 1916, women in Alberta were granted the legal right to vote through the passage of the Act to provide for Equal Suffrage (Short title: The Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act).

The 1916 Act amended fifteen laws, city charters, and ordinances to enshrine in law that “…women shall be upon an absolute equality with and have the same rights and privileges and be subject to the same penalties and disabilities as men…” It was not until the 1960s that all women were granted the right to vote. Until those years, Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous women, were required to give up their treaty rights in order to qualify for the vote.

One year later, in 1917, two women were elected to serve in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Louise McKinney was elected as MLA for Claresholm and Roberta MacAdams was elected to represent members of the Canadian Armed Forces serving overseas during the First World War. Hannah Gale was elected to serve as an Alderman on Calgary City Council in December 1917.

Cora Taylor Casselman, the first woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons from Alberta, represented the riding of Edmonton-East from 1941 to 1945. In 1985, Helen Hunley became the first woman to be appointed as Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor, and she was followed years later by two other women – Lois Hole and current Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell.

It was not until 2011 that Albertans had their first woman premier, Alison Redford, who served until 2014. Just over a year later, Rachel Notley became Premier after leading her New Democratic Party to form a majority government.

Gender Balance in Alberta Government Caucus 2006 2016Because of the 2015 election, Albertans witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of women represented in the highest offices of our province. Nearly half, twenty-six of the fifty-four NDP MLAs are women, the highest percentage in Alberta’s history. Ten of Alberta’s nineteen cabinet ministers, including our premier, are women. Two cabinet ministers, Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean and Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne, were pregnant when they were appointed, which represents another first in Alberta politics.

The shift that occurred during the last election is more dramatic when you remember that only ten years ago, there were only two women in cabinet and 10 women in the government caucus.

Women are still overall underrepresented in the Alberta Legislature, at thirty-three percent, and only three women occupy seats in the thirty-two MLA opposition – Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen and Wildrose MLAs Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt.

Unfortunately, the prominence of women in the new government has come with a dark side. In the months after becoming Premier, Ms. Notley faced a barrage of online threats of death and violence that her male predecessors appear to have been spared. Hopefully, these types of cowardly online threats will not dissuade more women from seeking office in future elections.

The election of more women to the Alberta Legislature in the governing caucus brought many new voices and perspectives into our stodgy provincial institutions. The NDP moved quickly to commit to take action to eliminate domestic violence, increase access to childcare in public buildings, change Legislative Assembly sitting hours to better accommodate MLA’s with families, raise the minimum wage and increase funding for women’s shelters. The government will also introduce new rules allowing for maternity leave for MLAs, which do not currently exist in Alberta.

Nearly one hundred years after women were granted the right to vote, there area no shortage of areas in politics and society where women are still underrepresented. But at least in Alberta, there is no shortage of strong female role models in the Alberta Legislature for young women who might aspire to become future MLAs, premiers and cabinet ministers.

Alberta’s Tories Navigate through unfamiliar waters

As most Albertans head to work tomorrow morning, the Tory-connected public relations firm Navigator will host an invite-only session for clients in downtown Edmonton titled “Alberta’s New Government: What to Expect.” The session is being hosted by former Ottawa television host Don Newman and will feature main speaker Kathleen Monk (Ottawa NDP insider and former executive director of the Broadbent Institute) and Tory-connected panelists Jason Hatcher (managing principal at Navigator) and Jaime Watt (Toronto-based Navigator executive chairman). In a normal election year, it would not be surprising that this company would organize a session like this for their clients, but this has not been a normal election year.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

One of Navigator’s managing principals, Randy Dawson, was the campaign manager for the Progressive Conservative Party‘s disastrous losing re-election campaign (despite the company’s slogan “When you can’t afford to lose”). After the firm became part of a controversy that damaged the Tories during the election campaign and one of its high profile employees led the campaign that ended the PC Party’s uninterrupted 44-year reign, it is surprising that Navigator is raising its flag in Alberta so soon after election day.

On Thursday night, interim PC Party leader Ric McIver will take the stage in what is sure to be a sombre event. Before Rachel Notley‘s NDP were swept to office on May 5, Premier Jim Prentice had been scheduled to speak at his party’s Calgary leader’s dinner on May 14. At the time tickets were so sought after that they sold out. Everyone in corporate Calgary wanted to be there to congratulate Mr. Prentice on his big win but voters had different plans. And while the fundraising dinner remains sold out, it is expected that a smaller and less powerful crowd will be in attendance.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

It has been astonishing to watch the breakneck speed in which some longtime PC supporters have abandoned any belief their party can someday return to power. Former justice minister Jonathan Denis called for a merger of the Wildrose and PC Party only days after his personal defeat in Calgary-Acadia.

Former MLA Greg Stevens, who served in Peter Lougheed’s cabinets, wrote in the Calgary Herald that the PC Party would “will cough and spit and be no more” after its election loss. And former Premier Ed Stelmach said shifting too far to the political right was a mistake made by the PC Party.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean responded to Mr. Denis by saying he was not interested in merging his party with the recently defeated Tories.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

In December 2014, the Wildrose Party was moribund after former leader Danielle Smith led most of the party’s MLAs into the PC Caucus. Today, none of the floor crossers are MLAs and Mr. Jean’s Wildrose Party has formed Official Opposition with 21 MLAs (4 more than Ms. Smith led the party to win in 2012).

In response to Ms. Smith’s attempts to restore her public image, former Wildrose Communications Director Brock Harrison wrote an op-ed in the National Post aimed at debunking her “revisionist history.

Notley Senior Staff
Brian Topp Alberta Premier Chief of Staff

Brian Topp

Ms. Notley announced three senior roles in the Premier’s Office. Brian Topp will be Chief of Staff and Adrienne King will be Deputy Chief of Staff. Mr. Topp is the former federal NDP leadership candidate and deputy Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow and Ms. King is the former Chief of Staff at the Alberta’s NDP Caucus. Richard Dicerni will continue as Deputy Minister for Executive Council. Mr. Dicerni was appointed to the role by Mr. Prentice in September 2014.

Official Opposition Critics
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

The Wildrose Official Opposition unveiled its front bench critics for the upcoming Legislative session: Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes as Shadow Minister for Health, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman as Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier as Shadow Minister for Municipal Affairs, Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt as Shadow Minister for Finance & Treasury Board, Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith as Shadow Minister for Education, Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer as Shadow Minister for Energy.