In party leadership races, endorsements by sitting MLAs can be a double-edged sword. Endorsements can lend credibility to candidates and individual MLAs own local political networks to the campaign. Large numbers of endorsements can also signal to rank and file party members where their party’s establishment is lining up.
But MLA endorsements are not always a solid indicator of who will win a party leadership vote. In 2006, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning had the support of the majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Ed Stelmach. In 2011, Gary Mar had the support of a majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Alison Redford.
In this year’s Alberta PC Party leadership race, bank vice-president Jim Prentice has the overwhelming lead in MLA endorsements. As of today, I count at least 15 PC MLAs who have lent their names to support his campaign to become their leader. More are expected to endorse Mr. Prentice:
MLA’s endorsing Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC leadership are Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway), Neil Brown (Calgary-Nose Hill), Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead), Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar), Kyle Fawcett (Calgary-Klein), Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright), Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) Ken Hughes (Calgary-West), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater), Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon), Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed), George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont), Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West).
The only other candidate to enter the leadership race, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, has no declared support from inside the PC caucus. Thomas Lukaszuk, who is expected to enter the contest, also has yet to receive any MLA endorsements.
Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan and Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey endorsed the short-lived leadership campaign of Ken Hughes, who is now endorsing Mr. Prentice.
He is a leadership candidate backed by long-governing party establishment. He has chased away his potential rivals. He has experience in both the federal cabinet and the corporate sector. He is a respected party insider. He has a track record as a moderate conservative and can raise significant amounts of money for his party. The establishment sees him as the only person who can lead them to electoral victory against their aggressive opposition challengers.
It has become inreasingly easy to draw parallels between the ill-fated Dauphin of the federal Liberal Party and expected coronation of Jim Prentice in September’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote.
Like Mr. Martin, expectations for Mr. Prentice among the PC establishment are very high. And without having even officially entered the contest or releasing any policy positions or vision for Alberta, his strange shadow campaign has succeeded in chasing away some of his strongest potential rivals by giving the impression that he too strong to fail.
Pressure from Mr. Prentice’s campaign, the steep $50,000 entry fee and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to run a leadership campaign have likely scared away potential serious candidates.
Curse of the front-runner An advantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. A disadvantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. As PC MLAs trip over themselves in their rush to endorse Mr. Prentice, it will become increasingly difficult for the new leader to weed out the incompetent or redundant members of his caucus in the next election.
If he becomes leader, one of Mr. Prentice’s biggest challenges will be to increase the PC caucus bench strength by recruiting competent and credible candidates to run. This will require significant retirements, resignations, or nomination battles before the next election.
Prentice Money Like Mr. Martin, Mr. Prentice has proven he can raise a lot of money and fill a hall with people whose companies are willing to spend $500 a ticket to influence government, but can he resonate among regular voters? Raising money has never been a serious long-term problem for the PC Party. Their problem has become the existence of another party who can raise the same or more money than they can.
It was announced this week that former British Columbia Member of Parliament Jay Hill, Edmonton campaign strategist Patricia Mitsuka, and Calgary-Greenway MLA Manmeet Bhullar will serve as Mr. Prentice’s three campaign co-chairs. A fourth co-chair is expected to be announced at a later date.
If this is true, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Prentice’s campaign would make such a move. While his supporters see him as a White Knight, he will be inheriting a long-governing political party that is mired in controversy. Perhaps this move is a glimpse of how concerned the PC establishment is about the very real threat of defeat by the Wildrose in the next election?
Nominations open today Starting today, PC Party leadership candidates can pick up their nomination forms and pay the $20,000 of their $50,000 entry fee. The candidates will need to submit their completed nomination forms on May 30 along with the remaining $30,000 entry fee. The approved candidates will be showcased at a $75 per ticket PC Party fundraiser on June 2 in Edmonton.
Another Calgarian has entered what has been, at least so far, an all-Calgarian Progressive Conservative leadership race.
Announcing his candidacy in the contest to become the next PC Party leader and premier, former Infrastructure minister Ric McIver declared he would bring a “common-sense new approach to replace insider, establishment thinking, with new common-sense thinking.”
The first-term MLA and former three-term Calgary Alderman brandishes a rhetorical brand of meat and potatoes conservative populism not seen in a PC Party leadership race for some time. Mr. McIver’s style may be reminiscent of former Premier Ralph Klein, but can the dated “common-sense conservative” message resonate with PC Party members in 2014?
Despite serving as a senior cabinet minister in Premier Alison Redford’s government for two years, he appears to be running against the controversial record of the previous premier. This is probably not a bad strategy for a party with a track record of denying victories to candidates seen as too close to the “party establishment.”
Mr. McIver has tapped Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool as his campaign manager. Mr. Boessenkool is the former chief of staff to British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark and briefly served as the spokesperson for the “Alberta Blue Committee.”
Unanswered questions remain about Mr. McIver’s role in the Skypalace – a penthouse suite that was secretly being constructed for Ms. Redford in the Federal Building. Mr. McIver claims he cancelled the construction project, but the same claim was made by his predecessor, Wayne Drysdale.
Former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes was the first Calgarian to enter the race. Non-Calgarians, including Labour minister Thomas Luksazuk (from Edmonton) and Energy minister Diana McQueen (from Drayton Valley) are also rumoured to considering their entry into the contest.
While rivalries between regions in Alberta are less relevant than they were twenty or thirty years ago, a leadership race gives a political party an opportunity to demonstrate its strength and support across the entire province. After losing ground in its traditional rural strongholds in the last election, a lack of regional diversity among the candidates would present a challenge to a PC Party struggling with internal strife and Alberta’s growing population.
Necessitated by the resignation of Premier Alison Redfordon March 19, the race to choose the next leader of Alberta’s 43-year long governing PC Party has so far drawn little interest from serious candidates and yawns from political watchers.
While other would-be contenders, like Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, are kicking-tires and positioning themselves for a run, the popular wisdom of the day suggests that Mr. Prentice would be an unstoppable front-runner. Even the sole candidate to have entered the contest so far, former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, has publicly suggested he would consider withdrawing his candidacy if Mr. Prentice runs. [see comment section below for clarification]
Some Tories I have spoken with talk about Mr. Prentice as their only hope of stopping Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party in the next election. They talk about Mr. Prentice as the only person who can shake off the damaging baggage left after Ms. Redford’s tenure as PC leader. And they talk about the large amount of corporate money they expect he could attract to fill their party’s coffers.
As an outsider, it appears the Tories risk being blinded by star power, as all these hopes and dreams are built on a complete lack of information about what Mr. Prentice would stand for as a party leader and premier.
Sure, Mr. Prentice has built a respectable career as a cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a senior executive of a major Canadian bank, but no one really knows what kind of Premier or Party leader he would be. Does he support Finance minister Doug Horner‘s plans to impose drastic changes on public sector pension plans? How would he approach the province’s choppy relationships with Alberta’s fast-growing cities? Where does he stand on public health care? Education curriculum? Agriculture? Public infrastructure? Climate change?
A coronation would also present a missed opportunity for the PC Party to reconnect with its supporters and discover who its base of support is in 2014. This would be important because it is not entirely clear what the PC Party stands for today and is very unclear what it will stand for after their new leader is selected in September.
With Ms. Redford appearing uninterested in continuing her duties as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, it is possible that a by-election could be held to provide an opportunity for a new party leader who is not an MLA to earn a seat in the Assembly. This would be the second by-election in that riding in eight years. Liberal Craig Cheffins won the seat in the by-election held to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.
Other opportunities for by-elections may open up if the three MLAs seeking federal party nominations – Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang, Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, and Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao – decide to resign their seats in advance of the next federal election.
Another Progressive Conservative MLA is about to jump into the federal arena. Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao will announce this week that he will seek the Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-West.
An email circulated to Conservative supporters in Edmonton says that Mr. Xiao will make the announcement at 10 a.m on Tuesday March 4th, 2014 at the Edmonton Glenora Club. The email included a pamphlet with endorsements from former premier Ed Stelmach, former mayor Stephen Mandel, former cabinet minister Ted Morton and current cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.
After failing to secure the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Centre in advance of the 2004 election, Mr. Xiao unseated Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy in 2008. He defeated Mr. Elsalhy in a rematch in the 2012 election. Mr. Xiao has been criticized for claiming extravegant travel expenses, which were $35,000 in 2012.
Mr. Xiao is the third MLA to jump into federal politics.
Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber is seeking the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation.
Because politics are unpredictable, forecasting the future can be a tricky business for pundits, but here is a list of a dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2014.
Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway): An up and comer in the PC ranks, Mr. Bhullar was rewarded for his time as the competent Service Alberta minister with an appointment as the minister of the downsized Human Services department. Tasked with the difficult challenge of spinning hundreds of foster care deaths into a positive story for the government, Mr. Bhuller is already on his way to becoming a media darling.
Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): A rising star in the 4 member NDP caucus, the 38 year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken addition to the opposition benches. Entering his second year in the Assembly, Mr. Bilous could become a more prominent public face for his party. It is no surprise that he is continually named by New Democrats as a future leader of Alberta’s tiny and scrappy social democratic party.
Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo): Serving his second-term as the MLA representing downtown Calgary, the talented Mr. Hehr is faced with a difficult question: are his political talents best served by sticking with the stuck-in-the-mud Liberal Party? His 2012 guest post on this blog supporting cooperation by centre-left parties caused a stir but was quickly shot down by his party’s leadership. With Alberta’s five Liberal MLAs acting more like a group of independents who share office space than representatives of a unified political movement, I wouldn’t be shocked if Mr. Hehr considers his alternatives in 2014.
Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert): As Alberta’s Finance minister, Mr. Horner is tasked to deliver the Redford Government’s 2014 budget. An already expected budget deficit will be intensified as the government directs billions of dollars towards fixing the damage caused by last summer’s floods in southern Alberta. His future leadership aspirations could be at risk as he tries to balance funding for public programs with pressure from the conservative right to cut spending in Canada’s wealthiest province.
Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford): As Health minister, Mr. Horne has imposed drastic administrative changes in Alberta Health Services, including firing the entire AHS board of directors and overseeing the departure of two consecutive AHS CEOs. Confusion inside the health care system has intensified as he continues to assert more political control over the province-wide health authority. It remains unclear what Mr. Horne’s new political control means for AHS. Maybe Albertans will find out in 2014?
Ken Hughes (Calgary-West): A close confident of Alison Redford, the former Energy minister was shuffled to Municipal Affairs to quell conflict created by the previous minister with rural leaders and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. Having returned to electoral politics in 2012 after a 19 year hiatus (he served as the PC MP for Macleod from 1988 to 1993), he faces the challenge of fulfilling the province’s promise to create special big city charters for Calgary and Edmonton.
Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs): As deputy premier and Advanced Education minister during last year’s budget cuts, Mr. Lukaszuk became the Redford government’s most recognizable face in the media. Now as Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, he occupies a role that will see him undoubtably clash with the province’s public service unions. Two unions have already launched court challenges against the province’s new anti-labour laws. This likely will not stop the rumours that Mr. Lukaszuk hopes to one day become his party’s next leader and the next Premier of Alberta.
Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon): After serving as Alberta’s Environment minister (also known as the junior Energy minister), Ms. McQueen should be well versed in the portfolio she was appointed to in December’s cabinet shuffle. Some political watchers are skeptical of her ability to handle the all-important energy file and face upcoming debates on climate change and oilsands pipelines. Can she handle the pressure?
Shayne Saskiw (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills): Rising star in the Wildrose official opposition and a potential future leader if Danielle Smith does not lead her party to victory in 2016. The young lawyer from rural Alberta is articulate and partisan, which I anticipate will lead him to play an even more prominent role in the opposition over the next year.
Kerry Towle (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake): A tough and outspoken critic of the government, Ms. Towle has become a familiar face of the Wildrose official opposition. As human services critic, she will face-off against Mr. Bhullar in the next session of the Assembly, which could be an entertaining pairing to watch. A good spokesperson and only one of three women in her party’s 17 MLA caucus, she could play a key role in softening her party’s hard-edged conservative reputation.
Len Webber (Calgary-Foothills): The former cabinet minister was shuffled to the backbenches after Ms. Redford became leader of the PC Party. With half of his PC MLA colleagues now sitting in some type of cabinet seat, you have to wonder what Mr. Webber did to deserve his permanent banishment. The government praised his private members bill to create an agency to coordinate organ and tissue donations, but will that be enough to keep him in the PC fold? Rumour has it that he is eyeing a federal Conservative nomination for the 2015 election. Steve Young (Edmonton-Riverview): Wronged by the premier and cast to the backbenches before he could officially enter a cabinet position he had been promised, Mr. Young’s future role in the PC caucus could be interesting. As a member of the conservative wing of the PC Party, he could cause trouble for the PC establishment in the backbenches. Elected to represent a traditionally Liberal-voting constituency that has been hit hard by university budget cuts, he could be vulnerable in the next election, which is why I don’t expect him to sit quietly for the next two years.
Alberta’s Progressive Conservative MLAs are kicking off another year of international travel as Premier Alison Redford, cabinet ministers and backbenchers check their luggage and rack up the air mile points with flights touching down at all points across the globe.
Departing on January 9, Ms. Redford will circle the globe on a sixteen day trip that will see her visit New Dehli, Mumbai and Bangalore, India and then to Davos, Switzerland to promote Alberta’s oil. She will be joined at the beginning of her trip by Intergovernmental Affairs minister Cal Dallas, Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj at the Petrotech 2014 conference.
Mr. Bhullar and Mr. Bhardwaj will join Ms. Redford for her trip to India (Update: No public itinerary has been released for Mr. Bhullar and Mr. Bhardwaj’s trip to India, so it is unclear how long they will be travelling through that country), but Mr. Dallas will split off the from the premier with a visit to Singapore. In May 2012, the Alberta government announced plans to open new trade offices in India and Singapore, as well as in Brazil and the United States.
Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk will visit Harbin, Shanghai and Hangzhou, China from January 3 to 10, where he will sign memorandums of understanding with Chinese government science departments and attend the opening ceremony of the Harbin Ice Festival. It is unclear whether he will learn about the People’s Republic approach to workplace safety and workers rights to fit with his new role as Labour minister.
This will be the fourth visit to Harbin by an Alberta cabinet minister since 2012.
Fourth-term PC backbencher Alana DeLong is headed on two trips this month. The Calgary-Bow MLA will attend Pacific North West Economic Region legislative visits in Olympia, Washington and Boise, Idaho from January 13 to 16 and in Juneau, Alaska from January 21 to 23.
The estimated cost for these international trips, including travel, accommodation and meals for politicians and staff in January 2014 is estimated at $218,160.
Map: MLA travel from November 2011 to December 2013
Since my last update in September 2013, government cabinet ministers and MLAs made trips to Istanbul, San Antonio, Washington DC, Shanghai, Harbin, Seoul, Daegu, Beijing, Tokyo, Chicago, Warsaw and London. Since November 2011, Alberta’s cabinet ministers and MLAs have travelled to 24 countries on official government business. By the end of January 2014, it will be 26.
As reported yesterday on this blog, rumours that Ms. Redford would shuffle her cabinet before the Christmas break began to intensify this week. Today, those rumours proved to be true.
Built around the government’s “Building Alberta” slogan, today’s Government of Alberta press release boasts a new cabinet that will focus on “innovation and economic growth.” And it signals a growth in numbers of Ms. Redford’s cabinet as well. The size of the cabinet will now be 30 MLAs, up from 27 MLAs in the previous cabinet. There are a total of 59 MLAs in the Progressive Conservative caucus.
Here is a description of some major changes in Alberta’s provincial cabinet:
Dave Hancock: Appointed Deputy Premier and moved from Human Services to Innovation and Advanced Education. Moving Mr. Hancock back to the Advanced Education portfolio he filled from 2004 to 2006 likely signals that Ms. Redford recognizes the need to repair the damage done to Alberta’s colleges and universities under its previous minister. The deep budget cuts imposed by Ms. Redford’s government in 2012 damaged both the post-secondary education system and the government’s relationship the leaders in that system. A well-known policy wonk and party loyalist, Mr. Hancock will be tasked with smoothing over those hard feelings.
Thomas Lukaszuk: The bull-dog of the Progressive Conservative caucus lost his Deputy Premier title and is moved from Enterprise & Advanced Education to a new Jobs, Skills, Training, and Labour portfolio. As Ms. Redford’s ‘heavy-hand’ in cabinet, it is likely that Mr. Lukaszuk will be tasked with imposing controversial new laws on Alberta’s public sector unions.
Manmeet Bhullar: Moved from Service Alberta to Human Services. This is a big promotion, as Human Services is a large ministry that represents a multitude of components of government services. Mr. Bhullar performed well as Minister of Service Alberta, but this portfolio will present a significant challenge to the new minister.
Diana McQueen: Moved from Environment & Sustainable Resource Development to Energy. With an increased focus on the government’s agenda to support the Keystone XL, Enbridge Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, the capable Ms. McQueen is well-armed with arguments to use in advocating for these projects in Canada and the United States.
Robin Campbell: Moved from Aboriginal Relations to Environment & Sustainable Resource Development, a high-profile position which is closely linked with the Energy portfolio. He is also now the Government House leader, a role that has been filled by Mr. Hancock for quite some time.
Doug Griffiths: Demoted from Municipal Affairs to Service Alberta. As Municipal Affairs Minister, Mr. Griffiths stumbled through the high profile items in his portfolio, making his demotion almost inevitable. As minister of the tiny Service Alberta department, Mr. Griffiths will have less chance to embarrass the government and an opportunity to redeem himself in cabinet.
Ken Hughes: Moved from Energy to Municipal Affairs. While this move could easily be seen as a demotion, Mr. Hughes, a trusted confident of Ms. Redford’s, will have an important role in repairing the provincial government’s strained relationship with its municipal leaders – both in the large cities and rural municipalities.
Frank Oberle: Promoted from Associate Minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities to a full-cabinet position as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Mr. Oberle previously served as Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security and Minister of Sustainable Resource Development.
Wayne Drysdale: Moved from Infrastructure to Transportation, replacing Ric McIver.
Ric McIver: Moved from Transportation to Infrastructure, replacing Wayne Drysdale.
Steve Young: Left his position as Government Whip to become Associate Minister of Public Safety, a new position.
Donna Kennedy-Glans: Departed the backbenchers to become Associate Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy, a new position.
George VanderBurg: Appointed the Government Whip. Lost his position as Associate Minister of Seniors. Mr. VanderBurg had previously served as Minister of Government Services, Minister of Seniors, and Acting Minister of Innovation and Science.
A curious addition to the list of cabinet positions in the press release included the Progressive Conservative Caucus Chair, Maureen Kubinec. This appears to be a new addition to the cabinet, though the release was unclear what role this MLA will have at the cabinet table, as there now only remain 29 PC MLAs not included in the list of cabinet positions.
As the National Post’s Jen Gerson wrote, “[o]ne can hardly fault Alberta’s besieged Progressive Conservatives for trying to squeeze the ruling for all it’s worth.” After three years of being harassed from scandal to scandal by the Wildrose, the Tories see an opportunity to strike-back against their relentlessly aggressive opponents. And this is becoming a trend.
Online, ministerial press secretaries have become partisan mini-celebrities by spending their days locked in heated political arguments with Wildrose Caucus staffers on Twitter. Long-gone are the days when ministerial spokespeople at least pretended to be non-partisan.
The robocall accusations against the Wildrose remain thin, even the Tories use robocalls – because it is an effective campaign tool. But this is payback and we should not expect the Tories to be nice about it.
Unofficial political donation records published by Elections Alberta yesterday show that Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservative Association is not in the robust financial situation its leaders are accustomed to over the past four-decades in office.
Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party smashed political fundraising records in 2012, raising an incredible $5,916,565 over the course of the year. Contributing to the $5 million figure was $3,122,670 of revenue reported from the 2012 election and $2,793,895 raised outside the campaign period. In their non-campaign period, the Wildrose Party recorded a $175,133 deficit and $405,361 in net assets.
While the Wildrose Party attracted large donations from medium-sized oil and pipeline equipment companies, the large majority of that party’s donations came from individual donors. This trend suggests the Wildrose has harnessed a fundraising machine similar to the Conservative Party of Canada. With close ties to the federal party, it is no surprise that the Wildrose has chosen to mimic this successful fundraising goal.
The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper were the first federal political party in recent history to succeed in effectively cultivating a large base of individual donors to fund their political operations. This energized base of individual donors helped free the Tories from having to depend on the large corporate donations that for decades fuelled the Liberal Party of Canada.
The test for the Wildrose Party will be whether they can sustain this level of fundraising in the years between election periods.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s PC Party reported a $3,055,621 deficit after last year’s election that had been whittled down to $794,767 in liabilities at the end of 2012. Relying heavily on corporate donations, the Tories raised $1,607,581 during the 2012 election and $2,331,592 in the non-campaign period.
Despite the old saying that Alberta’s PCs strived to always have enough money in their coffers to run two back-to-back election campaigns, the party is struggling with a smaller donor base and growing debt wracked up in last year’s election.
Brian Mason‘s New Democrats reported impressive revenue of $1,380,659 outside the campaign period in 2012, but remain strapped with a $554,883 debt from previous election campaigns. Raj Sherman‘s Liberals reported $478,795 in revenue in the non-election period and a $30,015 surplus in funds at the end of 2012.