Tag Archives: MacEwan University

Jason Kenney ramps up the old Tory patronage machine, begins purging NDP appointees from public agencies, boards and commissions

If you’re a conservative lawyer or energy company CEO in Alberta, you should check your email. There’s a good chance you might have been appointed to a public agency, board or commission last week.

A large number of political appointments made last Friday morning included new board chairpersons and directors at eleven post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University and Mount Royal University, as well as Alberta Health Services, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis commission. The UCP appointees replaced a number of high-profile NDP-appointees, including U of A board chairperson Michael Phair, NAIT board chairperson Ray Martin, AHS board chairperson Linda Hughes, and WCB chairperson Grace Thostenson.

The list of appointees is flush with business insiders, corporate executives, and United Conservative Party donors. While partisan and political appointments are expected after any change in government (an occurrence we are just starting to become familiar with in Alberta – and hopefully will continue to be familiar with), this list might even make the old Progressive Conservative establishment blush.

As reported by David Climenhaga at AlbertaPolitics.ca, “At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws.” Progress Alberta is expected to publish a more detailed report soon, but a scan of financing disclosures by executive director Duncan Kinney showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were among the appointees.

Included in the flurry of appointments are a handful of former conservative politicians, activists, and officials with ties to the UCP, the federal Conservative Party, and right-wing lobby groups and think-tanks:

  • The AGLC will now be chaired by defeated UCP star candidate Len Rhodes. Rhodes was parachuted into Edmonton-Meadows following his retirement as president and CEO of the Edmonton Eskimos, but was defeated by NDP MLA Jasvir Deol in the provincial election.
  • Also appointed to the AGLC are Elan Harper, the chief financial officer for the Calgary-Varsity UCP association, and Gerard Curran, the owner of the James Joyce Pub in Calgary and former chairman of Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (now known as the UCP-friendly Restaurants Canada).
  • Former Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of MacEwan University, former MLA and associate cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans was appointed to the board of the Banff Centre, and former Member of Parliament James Rajotte is now on the University of Alberta Board of Governors.
  • Former APPEGA president Kim Farwell, appointed to the board of governors of Keyano College in Fort McMurray, was campaign manager to Conservative MP David Yurdiga and president of the local Conservative Party association.
  • Lydell Torgerson, appointed as a public member of the Board of Directors of Grande Prairie Regional College has acted as the official agent for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin‘s election campaign.
  • Andy Crooks, the former chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson, is now a member of the Municipal Government Board, and Moin Yahya, a U of A law professor and senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, is now a member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
  • Grafton Asset Management, the company run by newly appointed University of Calgary board chairperson Geeta Sankappanavar, donated $25,000 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future political action committee which purchased front-page pro-UCP ads in Alberta’s Postmedia newspapers.
  • Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy and newly appointed chairman of the Mount Royal University board of directors, donated $4,000 to the UCP in 2019.

The biggest outlier when it comes to political donations might be new AHS board chairman David Weyant, the outgoing chairman of the Banff Centre of the Arts, who has donated $1,775 to the Alberta NDP since 2016, including a $550 donation in 2019.

Overall, the appointments send two messages:

  1. The Tory patronage machine is back, and it’s a deep well. While the NDP embraced the oil and gas sector and appointed corporate executives to public boards during their five years in government, Premier Rachel Notley‘s party never had a large political establishment to draw upon for appointees. The NDP also attempted to to professionalize the selection process but holding interviews and expanding the application process to allow a broader cross-section of Albertans to serve on some public boards. The long list of UCP appointees employed as corporate executives and lawyers, as well as the lack of representation from civil society groups, signals a return to something more similar to the old PC Party regime. It also serves as a reminder of the deep well of patronage appointees from the conservative establishment in this province that have made themselves available to the UCP.
  2. Resistance is futile (at least that’s what they want you to think). Serious political resistance at the board level to what are expected to be significant funding cuts to post-secondary education and public agencies like Alberta Health Services is now less likely to be successful. With significant budget cuts expected to be recommended in the “Blue Ribbon” panel report prepared by history professor and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Janice McKinnon, it is likely that the UCP government wanted to install appointees who would be eager to enact the government’s austerity and privatization agenda when the provincial budget is tabled in the fall.

While it is difficult to criticize the qualifications of some of the appointees, some who are highly qualified for the positions they have been appointed to, it is expected that their experience was weighed closely with how compliant they will be with Kenney’s political agenda.

Construction of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline is expected to start in 2017.

The Great Constitutional Pipeline War of the Rockies

Fresh from the Alberta NDP’s victory over Saskatchewan in the Fake Trade War on the Prairies, the ongoing political fight over the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby is heating up.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

In the British Columbia NDP government’s most recent move to block the oil pipeline, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman announced new rules today that would limit “the increase of diluted bitumen transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.”

A key section of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and 3-MLA Green caucus that props up BC Premier John Horgan‘s minority government states: Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.

“Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the Government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley read in a statement.

While the pipeline was always going to be politically challenging, with unflinching support in Alberta and unwavering opposition in British Columbia, the Notley government has poured a considerable amount of political capital into the success of pipelines. In a gamble, they even used their much lauded Climate Leadership Plan and carbon levy program as a key part of their sales pitch for oil pipeline expansion.

George Heyman BC Environment Minister Pipelines

George Heyman

But opposition in BC remains strong.

“The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens,” Notley said. “It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless.”

I am not a constitutional expert, so I cannot speak to Notley’s claims, but by questioning the BC government’s decision on constitutional grounds, she is pressuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon his delicate balancing act of trying to appease his pro-pipeline ally (Notley), anti-pipeline ally (Horgan), and the 18 Liberal Members of Parliament who call BC home.

Trudeau will be hosting a town hall meeting at MacEwan University in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 1. Maybe someone can ask him a question about this?

The route of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.

The route of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.

Royalty Review panel chairperson Dave Mowat addresses a crowd of about 120 at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

Can Alberta’s Royalty Review get us off the “Royalty Roller Coaster?”

Alberta’s Royalty Review panel stopped in Edmonton on Oct. 6, 2015 for the fourth and final scheduled community consultation meeting. Compared to reports from a tense meeting the previous evening in Calgary, the crowd of about 120 Edmontonians was generally polite and quite tame.

A review of Alberta’s natural resource royalty rates was a key plank in the New Democratic Party‘s election platform and a panel was appointed shortly after Rachel Notley was sworn-in as Premier earlier this year. The panel is chaired by Alberta Treasury Branches President and CEO Dave Mowat and includes Town of Beaverlodge Mayor Leona Hanson, former deputy finance minister Annette Trimbee, and respected energy economist Peter Tertzakian.

The difference in tone at the two consultation meetings is likely explained in the job losses caused by the decline in the international price of oil, which has impacted Calgary and communities in northern Alberta in larger numbers than Edmonton, which has been somewhat sheltered by a boom of large construction projects and a large public sector workforce.

Unlike other parts of the province where the new government’s policies may be met with varying levels of hostility or cynicism (and where NDP MLAs were elected with thin margins), support for Ms. Notley’s party is deep in Edmonton where 64 percent of voters cast ballots for NDP candidates.

As Mr. Mowat described it, it is critical to separate overlying vision (which is inherently emotional) and the complex technical structure (which is very complex) of Alberta’s natural resource royalties when trying to have a public discussion about the issue. And to Mr. Mowat’s credit he presented the panel’s goals and answered questions from the crowd using layman’s terms with ease.

Of course, what is actually implemented when the panel submits its report to the government will be a decision left to the politicians.

An advantage of appointing an arms-length panel like the one Mr. Mowat is chairing is that the government can pick and choose what recommendations it deems viable, both politically and economically.

Last month, Ms. Notley echoed comments made by former Premier Jim Prentice when she said it was time to get Alberta “off the royalty roller coaster.”

The drop in the international price of oil exposed a large cleavage in the government’s finances as past governments became too comfortable and over reliant on these unstable resource revenues to fund the province’s operations budget.

Like her predecessor, Ms. Notley says she plans to fix this, albeit without significant cuts to public services as Mr. Prentice and the opposition Wildrose Party proposed.

But before Alberta’s government is in a position to decide whether the royalties we collect in exchange for allowing private corporations to extract our natural resources should be lowered, kept the same, or increased, the panel is continuing to collect feedback and submissions from Albertans.

These natural resources belong to all Albertans, so do your part and let the panel know what you believe the future of our natural resource royalties should be.