Alberta Politics

green trip taking baby steps.

Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette is scheduled to announce details and funding for the provincial Green Trip Fund at 10am this morning at Government House in Edmonton. Minister Ouellette is expected to be joined by Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier and Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.

This announcement will come days after Airdrie Mayor Linda Bruce told the Calgary Herald that “[n]obody has heard anything” about when or if the funds would be distributed. The fund was originally announced two years ago and was meant to support local, regional and intermunicipal public transit, but the criteria for municipalities to apply for funding was never announced. It is expect that Minister Ouellette may announce the criteria today.

Update: Here is a link to the media release. The fund will provide a one-time capital expenditure of $800 million in funding will be available to the Capital region; $800 million to Calgary and surrounding area; and $400 million to other municipalities throughout Alberta.

The program is available to owner/operators of public transit services, which may include municipalities, regional entities, non-profit organizations, Metis settlements and the private sector. Submissions for GreenTRIP funding must include a business case that describes the sustainability of the project. GreenTRIP will provide only capital funding assistance for public transit infrastructure and technology, not operating funding for transit service.

Alberta Politics

dinosaur politics in alberta.

If a week in politics is an eternity, then Alberta's Progressive Conservatives have been in office since the Jurassic Era.

The Alberta PCs are struggling to shake off the emerging political narrative that they are next Social Credit dynasty. After 36 years in office, Social Credit collapsed under the weight of its own Byzantine-antiquity when its era came to an end in 1971. The apparent rise of the Wildrose Alliance since last Fall has become a dominant theme in the media and there has been continuous speculation that the current political establishment may be facing its strongest challenge in decades.

It will take more than just a change of characters to change politics in Alberta. Supporters of the current political establishment will praise the government for holding traveling consultation meetings and online surveys, but a top-down style of governance is engrained in the current political culture.

Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette told Alberta’s municipalities two years ago that a $2 billion Green Trip fund would be created to support urban public transportation projects. Two years later, Minister Ouellette told the municipalities that they will still not get access to the Green Trip funds until they come up with something “innovative.” City of Airdrie Mayor Linda Bruce told the Calgary Herald that “[n]obody has heard anything” about when or if the funds will be distributed. Alberta’s cities need build the kind of transportation infrastructure necessary to deal with the realities of urban growth.

In June 2008, then-Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden announced the construction of a 650-car parkade near the Alberta Legislature (along with around $200 million to renovate the long-empty federal building). Instead of encouraging more single-occupant vehicle traffic into the already congested downtown core, it would have been much more “innovative” for the province to have worked closer with the City of Edmonton to develop of better strategy in fitting the Government Centre buildings into the city-wide public transportation plans.

Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne has spent the past few weeks traveling across Alberta promoting the proposed Alberta Health Act. The value of these “stakeholder consultations meetings” is being questioned by participants, including Town of Redwater Mayor Mel Smith:

He came away confused, saying the workshop heard from such differing points of view that the discussion became meaningless, suffering from such a “lack of substance” that it didn’t address anything. “To be honest, I’m just not sure how much I did get out of it,” said Smith who considers himself a Progressive Conservative supporter but who for a moment sounded a tad skeptical if not downright cynical: “I’m not sure this wasn’t one of their steps to say that we’ve had consultations and then they’ll do what they like.”

As the Tory ‘Political Minister for Edmonton‘, Education Minister Dave Hancock is playing defence on teacher layoffs in Calgary and Edmonton. In a recent blog post, Minister Hancock called on the Public School Boards in the province’s two largest cities to stop the layoffs, claiming that they do not need to happen. This is a symptom of the dysfunctional relationship that has evolved between the Provincial Government and the elected School Boards. Every three years, School Board Trustees are elected under a more specific mandate than a provincial government, which has its own political agenda (and controls the purse-strings). Crying “tough economic times,” as Minister Hancock did in his blog post, is a tired argument for a Cabinet that can afford to easily drop $200,000 on an oilsands public relations campaign.

It is one thing to send Cabinet Ministers across the province to meet with pre-selected groups, but it is something completely different to change the culture of politics and prove that these meetings were more than just political lip-service. It is likely not intentional or malicious. It just might not be reasonable to expect actual open governance from political leaders who have become accustomed to wielding their large majority in the Assembly like a giant stick.

At the New Kids on the Politics Block event earlier this month, I had the chance to speak with Danielle Smith for about half-an-hour. I am not sure if she has what it takes to change Alberta’s political culture, but I was thoroughly impressed with how engaged and interested she was during our conversation. In a political discussion she can speak confidently and in full sentences.

It is impossible to predict the results of the next election or when Albertans will elect a new party to office. It is becoming more evident that a growing number of Albertans are becoming cynical of the same old-style political culture. It might be in 2011, or maybe in 2015, but it is only a matter of time before a big meteor smashes through. Who knows what will survive when the dust settles?

The theme of this post was inspired by Jurassic Forest, which is currently under construction near Gibbons, Alberta.

Brian Mason Dave Taylor David Swann Don Iveson Ed Stelmach Gary Mar Gene Zwozdesky Hugh MacDonald Kent Hehr Luke Ouellette Naheed Nenshi Ric McIver Stephen Duckett

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

– Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren’t literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
– Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city’s transportation infrastructure.
– The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
– AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on “pay for performance” and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
– With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor’s Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIverNaheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 – Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor’s organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
– A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party’s nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 – Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 – I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald – who accused to the group’s participants of being “elitist.” Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean‘s suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

Dave Hancock. Jonathan Denis Ed Stelmach Fred Lindsay Gene Zwozdesky George Groenveld Iris Evans Janis Tarchuk Lloyd Snelgrove Luke Ouellette Mel Knight Ray Danyluk Ron Liepert Ted Morton

alberta cabinet shuffle: a lot of hype.

I am not going to write a lot about today’s cabinet shuffle, as there really is not much substance to write about. While three new MLAs have been appointed to the cabinet, the problems facing Premier Ed Stelmach are much larger than anything a minor cabinet shuffle can solve. Today’s cabinet change was hardly the dramatic change that it was hyped to be.

Going political and trying to head off the insurgent Wildrose Alliance at the hard-conservative pass was one goal of today’s shuffle. This explains the appointment of Ted Morton as Finance Minister. If he can survive in Finance, Premier Stelmach may have just anointed Morton as his unofficial successor. Minister Morton will have a high-profile new role, but much of the Government’s financial levers will remain held by Stelmach-loyalist and Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove.

Newly appointed Housing and Urban Affairs & Housing Minister Jonathan Denis is known as nice guy, but also as a pretty comfortable hyper-partisan. Some people I have spoken with expect him to fulfil a political role similar to his former business partner, Pierre Poilievre.

Loyalty was big. Stelmach confidants Luke Ouellette, Ray Danyluk, Iris Evans, and Mel Knight all remain in cabinet. George Groeneveld, Janis Tarchuk, and Fred Lindsay were rightfully bumped out of the cabinet. Not surprisingly, Ron Liepert‘s departed Health & Wellness to Energy. Where, as Paula Simons suggested that “he’ll use his unique brand of charm to win new friends and influence more people.” His successor, Gene Zwozdesky will likely bring a more easy going face to one of the more heavy-lifting portfolios in government.

Look for more substantive content in the Ministerial Mandate Letters later this week and the February 9 Provincial Budget.