Tag Archives: Lyle Oberg

Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

MLA Robyn Luff removed from NDP Caucus after speaking out “about culture of fear and intimidation”

Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”

Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.

Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.

Robyn Luff MLA Calgary East NDP Press Release

MLA Robyn Luff’s letter on November 5, 2018

Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.

“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”

A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”

Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.

There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.

Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.

Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.

In the mid-1990s, rookie backbench Progressive Conservative MLAs Jon Havelock, Mark Hlady, Lyle Oberg, Murray Smith, Ed Stelmach, and Lorne Taylor formed “the Deep Six” by attempting to drive an agenda of cuts to spending and government services, or at least that is the political narrative that was created.

The short-lived sequel to the Deep Six, the Fiscal Four, was formed by Doug Griffiths, Jonathan Denis, Rob Anderson, and Kyle Fawcett after the 2008 election. The group of PC backbenchers soon expanded to include three or four other MLAs, but it did not last long after Anderson crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 (and the “Fiscal Seven” did not have the same ring to it).

Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.

It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.

Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.

Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.

The Redford legacy haunts Prentice Tories

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating the anniversary of the 2012 Tory victory: then-Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs Moe Amery, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu. (photo from May 2013).

Most people rely on TripAdvisor or call a travel agent to book hotels for overseas trips, but it is alleged by intrepid CBC investigative journalists that former Premier Alison Redford dispatched a staffer to visit hotels and restaurants in advance of her trips to India, China, Switzerland, Washington, and Toronto for a cost of nearly $330,000.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).

If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?

In response to the allegations, former top Redford loyalist Thomas Luksazuk has called on the former premier to resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, a move that is likely to occur after Jim Prentice wins the party leadership. Mr. Prentice is without a seat in the Assembly and the cash-flush Calgary-Elbow PC association could steer the new Premier through a potentially treacherous by-election.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

In a fundraising email sent to supporters today, Wildrose Party president David Yager wrote that his party “will fight the by-election with every ounce of firepower we have.”

Advance Cabinet Shuffle

Signalling that Jeff Johnson‘s troubling reign as Education Minister could come to an end in September, Mr. Prentice pledged to work “in a respectful way” with the powerful Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.

Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti

Wayne Drysdale

But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.

Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.

Klein-era finance and revenue ministers Stockwell Day, Steve West, Greg Melchin, Lloyd Snelgrove, Lyle Oberg, and Ted Morton penned a letter to the PC leadership candidates urging them to return to the pre-Horner consolidated annual budget. Mr. Horner adopted a confusing new structure shortly after he was appointed to the post by Ms. Redford in 2012.

Notably missing from the list of former finance ministers was Jim Dinning, who spoke out against Mr. Horner’s budget reporting in April 2014.

colourful political trio behind private resort hospital in vietnam.

Q: What do you get when you send Lyle Oberg, Hung Pham, and David Aftergood to Vietnam?
A: North American Healthcare International Inc.

The unlikely trio of former Alberta cabinet minister Lyle Oberg, former Calgary Progressive Conservative MLA Hung Pham, and Calgary businessman David Aftergood recently formed North American Healthcare International Inc. and plan to open a private-for-profit “five-star” resort hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam. As the Socialist Republic of Vietnam opens its markets to outside investors, it is not surprising that westerners are moving in to make a profit on this new market. It is a bizarre trio of Alberta politicos who have implanted themselves in Vietnam’s new boutique health care hotelier industry.

Architectural rendering of the proposed hospital resort. Credit Card or Cash?

It makes one wonder what kind of advice Dr. Oberg is giving Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, to whom he has recently started to offer political advice. Before earning a reputation for thumbing his nose at his party’s establishment, Learning Minister Dr. Oberg travelled to Vietnam a number of times, including once in 2003 with Mr. Pham to an education conference hosted by the World Bank.

Known in political circles as the “MIA MLA” for his lacklustre attendance record in the Assembly, Mr. Pham served in the PC backbenches as the MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1993 until 2008. He resigned in 2008, after a prolonged legal fight between his constituency volunteers and the PC Party. On his way out, he blasted his party for being “dishonorable.”

Calgarians may remember Mr. Pham and Mr. Aftergood named in connection to the 2004 Ward 10 election dispute when Margot Aftergood was elected as a City of Calgary Alderman under suspicious circumstances. Mr Pham was not charged as a result of the investigation,though his house was raided by police during the 2005 investigation and his brothers Anh Pham and Thanh Pham were charged. Mr. Aftergood was convicted of violating the Local Authorities Election Act though charges against him were later dropped by Alberta Justice.

Mr. Aftergood is a well-known figure in Calgary political circles. He was a candidate for the PCs in the 1993 federal election and was President of the Montrose PC association from 1996 to 1997 (the constituency represented by MLA Mr. Pham). It was uncovered in 1997 that Calgary-McCall MLA Shiraz Shariff owned stocks in Applied Gaming Solutions, a company that was offering offering Video Lottery Terminals to the Government of Alberta. Mr. Aftergood was the company President, presenting the suggestion of a conflict of interest.

The CFO of North American Healthcare International Inc. David Jones is also the former CEO and CFO of Pacific Lottery Corporation (PLC), a company founded by Mr. Aftergood. On August 24, 2010, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada halted trading on PLC stocks, which held contracts with the Vietnamese government, leaving many investors wondering what happened (a number of them contacted me when I tweeted about this topic earlier this week).

With this colourful Alberta political trio on the job, this blogger will certainly be paying close attention to their nouveau ventures in the Far East.

alberta politics notes 3/04/2011

Three years later.
What a change three years can make. On March 3, 2008, Premier Ed Stelmach led the PCs to a massive majority, winning 72 of 83 seats in the Assembly. The sweep saw the Kevin Taft led Liberals halved from 16 MLAs to 9 MLAs and that party’s stronghold in Edmonton wither to three seats, Brian Mason‘s NDP were reduced from 4 to 2 MLAs, and the Wildrose Alliance‘s leader and only MLA Paul Hinman was defeated in Cardston-Taber-Warner (he would later be elected in the 2009 Calgary-Glenmore by-election). The election also marked the lowest voter-turnout in Alberta’s history as almost 60% of Albertans did not exercise the vote.

Alberta MPs caught in campaign scandal
A staffer in Calgary-Southeast Conservative MP and Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney‘s office in Ottawa has resigned after being caught using ministerial letterhead to solicit donations for the Conservative Party.

The letter was discovered when it was accidentally delivered to Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan‘s Ottawa office. Unfortunately for Ms. Duncan, her office does not have much moral authority on this issue. In February 2010, a conservative blogger discovered that Ms. Duncan’s Constituency Assistant and Campaign Manager Erica Bullwinkle had used her Parliamentary email account for campaign purposes.

More Tories join Wildrose
Former Finance Minister Lyle Oberg is not the only former Tory member to join the Wildrose Alliance. Perennial Edmonton PC nomination candidate Ian Crawford has also signed up for a Wildrose membership. Mr. Crawford, who last ran unsuccessfully for the PC nomination in Edmonton-Meadowlark against Raj Sherman and (now-Liberal Party executive) Debbie Cavaliere in 2007, is the son of former PC cabinet minister Neil Crawford.

Liberals tackle health care
The Liberals are without a long-term leader, but that has not stopped them from focusing on health care – an issue I believe could be their ticket back to relevance before the next election, especially while the Wildrose continues to push for increased privatization inside the health care system.

Gary Mar
Alberta’s representative in Washington DC, former cabinet minister Gary Mar, has been expected to announce his entry into the PC leadership contest for the past few weeks. Mr. Mar’s website domain name was registered by a supporter in January and he recently popped up on Facebook with a brand new profile page (I have sent in a friend request).

 

Gary Mar has joined Facebook (and Ted Morton ads).

AHS Chair joining PC contest?
Alberta Health Services Chairman Ken Hughes‘ name has been bandied around as a potential candidate for the PC leadership contest. The former PC MP and insurance industry executive has reportedly been testing the waters through phone polls over the past few weeks.

Immunity challenge
Raj Sherman, serious allegations, wants immunity.

Deputy Pastoor
Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor replaced Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman as Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition this week. Ms. Blakeman, who is seeking the Liberal leadership, will continue in her other critic roles.

Nominations
I have updated the list of nominated and declared election candidates to include two PC MLAs who were nominated this week, PC leadership candidate and former Justice Minister Allison Redford was chosen as her party’s candidate in Calgary-Elbow at a nomination meeting this week. Ms. Redford was first elected in 2008, unseating Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins in a close-fought campaign. Elbow was represented by Ralph Klein from 1989 until his resignation in 2007, when Mr. Cheffins was elected in a by-election.

Red Deer-South PC MLA Cal Dallas won his party’s nomination in the constituency he was first elected to represent in 2008.

YouTube
The Calgary Herald has been posting a number of YouTube video interviews on their website. In this one, pollster Janet Brown offers some thoughts on the PC leadership contest:

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.

lyle oberg’s wildrose jump: connecting the dots.

Danielle Smith and Lyle Oberg at last night's Wildrose fundraising dinner in Edmonton. Photo via @wmcbeath.

Twelve years after he fired Trustee Danielle Smith by dissolving the Calgary Board of Education, former PC cabinet minister Lyle Oberg announced yesterday that he was joining the Wildrose Alliance and would be introducing Ms. Smith at her party’s fundraising dinner last night in Edmonton.

Attracting a high-profile Tory like Mr. Oberg is a public relations coup for the Wildrose, but it is not impossible to connect the dots that led to his decision. Mr. Oberg’s wife, Evelyn, works for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier and, in 2006, Mr. Boutilier was one of two PC MLAs who supported Mr. Oberg in his failed PC leadership bid (the other was Lesser Slave Lake PC MLA Pearl Calahasen).

Mr. Oberg served as Minister of various portfolios while Ralph Klein was Premier and was Finance Minister in Premier Ed Stelmach‘s first government from 2006 to 2008. After discovering that the real financial power rested not with the Finance Minister, but with Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove, Mr. Oberg went out of his way to publicly contradict the Premier’s message on energy royalty review and a national securities regulator before announcing that he would not seek re-election in 2008.

Another former PC cabinet minister, Doug Main, was the Master of Ceremonies for last night’s fundraiser.

I thought that Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement would have stemmed the flow of high-profile former PCs joining the Wildrose. I wonder who could be next?