Tag Archives: Manmeet Bhullar

Jim Prentice tells Albertans to strap on their seat belts

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech on September 6, 2014.

“After two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” – Jim Prentice speaking with Roger Kingkade and Rob Breakenridge on September 9, 2014 on News Talk 770.

Wearing your seat belt while driving in a motor vehicle is always a good idea, but in this context, it may not cure the political whiplash endured by Albertans over the past two years.

The interview was a rough start to a mixed week for Jim Prentice, who is in the midst of transitioning into the Premier’s office and is expected to be sworn-in next week. He had positive first meetings with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. And his rounds of media interviews early in the week were an introduction to many Albertans who are unfamiliar with Mr. Prentice and a departure from his predecessor, who became notorious for avoiding the legislature press gallery.

If his first week of transitioning into the Premier’s Office is going smoothly, the same might not be the case for his first week as leader of the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Prentice is already having to deal with allegations about PC MLA Sohail Quadri’s role in accessing voting PIN numbers in last week’s leadership vote and PC MLA David Xiao’s ties to the government-grant funded yet allegedly non-existent “McClung Family Association.”

Cabinet Shuffle next week

Much of the mainstream media coverage this week focused on speculation that Mr. Prentice could appoint individuals from outside the legislature to what is expected to be a smaller provincial cabinet.

As the rumours fly, three names have been widely speculated as prospective outside appointments – AIMco CEO Leo DeBeaver, Conservative MP James Rajotte and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel is currently serving on Mr. Prentice’s transition team and endorsed his candidacy in the PC leadership race earlier this summer.

Alberta Progressive Conservative Party Politics
Progressive Conservative MLAs leaving a morning caucus meeting at Government House in March 2014.

It is expected that any cabinet ministers appointed from outside the Assembly would be required to run in by-elections alongside Mr. Prentice, who currently does not hold a seat in the Alberta Legislature.

As I wrote last week, appointing cabinet ministers from outside the Legislature is not entirely unheard of in Canadian politics but it does come with some risks. Take for example Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who appointed David Levine as a junior health minister in 2002 only to see him lose a by-election shortly afterward. The defeated candidate resigned from cabinet the next day.

While he may choose to include new talent from outside the PC Caucus, Mr. Prentice will still need to choose the bulk of his cabinet ministers from inside the current PC caucus. And his picks became slimmer yesterday as former Energy minister Ken Hughes announced that he will not seek re-election as MLA for Calgary-West.

New Senior Staff

Mr. Prentice announced that former Liberal MLA Mike Percy will be his Chief of Staff and Patricia Misutka will be his Principal Secretary. Both could bring a stronger Edmonton-perspective to Calgarian Mr. Prentice’s inner circle and appear to be competent choices for the roles.

Dr. Percy is the former Dean of Business at the University of Alberta and served as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from 1993 to 1997 (defeating rookie PC candidate Dave Hancock in 1993). He served as the Official Opposition Finance Critic for much of his time in the Legislature. It is suspected that Dr. Percy would have been appointed as Finance Minister if the Liberals, led by Laurence Decore, had won the 1993 election.

Ms. Misutka is the former Chief of Staff to Mr. Mandel and was one of four co-chairs of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign. After Mr. Mandel’s retirement, she worked as a Senior Advisor with the Canadian Strategy Group, a government relations company run by long-time PC Party insiders Hal Danchilla and Michael Lohner.

Redford staffer lands pipeline job

It appears that Alison Redford’s former communications director, Stefan Baranski, has landed a new job as Regional Director for Ontario at with TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.

As lacklustre PC leadership race winds down, by-elections are on the horizon

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver
Alberta PC Party leadership candidates Thomas Luksazuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

With one day left before the vote, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver’s campaign took to the radio airwaves, attacking frontrunner Jim Prentice for being “an insider.” It was an strange move for Mr. McIver, as the general public appears largely disinterested in the contest and the deadline to purchase memberships has already passed.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

While Mr. McIver said he remains committed to the PC Party and this government, whether he wins or loses, it was not the kind of move made by someone who wants to impress the new boss.

Although he is not an MLA, Mr. Prentice does have the support of 50 PC MLAs and a vast network of party insiders. He has also been active in the PC Party at the federal and provincial levels since the 1980s, including as a candidate in the 1986 election. Despite his large network of supporters inside the PC Party, membership sales are said to be significantly lower than in previous leadership races – some insiders say turnout could be as low as 25,000 votes (compared to more than 144,000 in 2006).

So, as the PC Party leadership race draws to a close, I may not be the only Albertan to ask “What was that all about?

The after-effects of Alison Redford’s resignation and two years of scandal plagued government have overshadowed the summer-time leadership race to chose Albertas next premier. Anti-Gay parades, term-limits, free memberships, misuse of government airplanes, the Skypalace Penthouse and a $20,000 cell phone bill were the most interesting features of this campaign.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

The leadership candidates spoke in platitudes and took little opportunity to actually debate their ideas for Alberta’s future. Comfortable in Alberta’s oil wealth, we did not witness the PC Party have any real debate the future of Alberta’s natural resources, environment, schools, health care system or cities.

Even the short premiership of Edmonton MLA Dave Hancock was overshadowed by the record of his predecessor. Under other circumstances, Mr. Hancock could have excelled as Premier, but he spent most of his short time as premier attempting to provide stability to a damaged government.

The once unstoppable PC Party is still powerful but now aged and antiquated. And while the long-governing PCs deserve to be defeated, it would be foolish to underestimate them. The PC Party may have long forgotten how to win an election but they do know not to lose.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

On Saturday, September 6, if his opponents, Mr. McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, are able to deny Mr. Prentice a first ballot win, a second vote will be held on September 20. While this scenario is not impossible, it feels unlikely. The PC establishment appears to have done everything in its power to ensure Mr. Prentice’s smooth victory.

Soon after Mr. Prentice becomes PC Party leader, he will need to build a new cabinet. It is widely expected that he will promote loyal supporters – like PC MLAs Manmeet Bhullar and former leadership candidate Ken Hughes – into prominent promotions. It is also suspected that current ministers, like Finance minister Doug Horner, Health minister Fred Horne, and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen – all closely associated with Ms. Redford – may find themselves sitting out of cabinet.

Overall, with 25 MLAs now in cabinet, it will be challenging for Mr. Prentice to create a new cabinet seating plan from the current PC caucus.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Rumours have begin to circulate that Mr. Prentice could appoint a group of cabinet ministers from outside the Assembly, and ask them to run in a series of by-elections in the fall. Mr. Prentice will need to become an MLA, and an impressive slate of by-election candidates could help bring some much-needed new talent into the PC caucus.

The idea is not unprecedented. Following the near-disasterous 1995 Quebec Referendum vote, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Stéphane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew to the federal cabinet in advance of two Montreal by-elections.

Calgary MLA Neil Brown already said he would vacate his Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency for Mr. Prentice to run in a by-election. PC MLA David Xiao and Independent MLA Len Webber are seeking federal Conservative Party nominations and may be interested in having the support of the new premier. And Calgary-Elbow, the constituency vacated by Ms. Redford, is in need of a by-election.

Neil Brown MLA Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay
Neil Brown

Retired Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel suggested this week that he would consider running as a PC candidate if Mr. Prentice were premier. It may be stretch to believe that the 69 year old Mr. Mandel would jump back into politics (or be a breath of fresh air), but he would bring name recognition to the PC caucus.

Holding a series of by-elections would be a high-risk and high-reward strategy, because any loses could wound the new premier just as he leaves the starting gate. But if it paid off, it could help breath some new life into a 43-year old PC government that appears intent on defeating itself, or at least give Mr. Prentice a fighting chance before facing the Wildrose Party in the next election.


Calgary-Elbow By-Election

With an impending by-election expected to be called before the end of the year, politics in Calgary-Elbow are heating up.

Days before the PC Party chooses a new leader, Calgary-Elbow PC constituency association president Marina Mason announced her resignation.

Long-time partisan activist Pat Walsh has announced his plans to seek the PC Party nomination in that constituency. On his website, Mr. Walsh declares that he is willing to represent the constituency as a Government MLA “in the interim until the 2016 election is called,” when which he states he “will then step down.” I am not sure what to make of this strategy.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark announced today that he will once again put his name on the ballot in this constituency. He ran there in the 2012 provincial election.

Retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose Party nomination. And, as noted in a previous post, the Liberals are expected to nominate lawyer Susan Wright at a September 18, 2014 nomination meeting.

Alberta Politics Catch Up: Pipelines, Planes, Cities and Rob Anders

Stop the Pipelines Alberta Oilsands 1Spending a few days in another province can sometimes give you a different perspective on important national issues. Spending the last week in British Columbia served as a good reminder to this political watcher about how emotional the debate around pipelines and the Oilsands are in Alberta’s neighbouring province.

Stop the Pipelines Alberta OilsandsWhile I am sure opinion is divided in B.C., I lost count of how many times I spotted “Stop the Pipelines” spray painted across concrete walls or embankments in Vancouver. And it was not just graffiti, the neighbours in the respectable neighbourhood I called home for the weekend even had anti-pipeline signs planted on their front lawns.

Former bank executive Jim Prentice, who will likely become Alberta’s next premier after this weekend’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote, has pledged to get the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline built. But it will be a more difficult job than most Albertans would imagine, and we better become familiar with this reality.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

There are many legitimate environmental concerns surrounding the construction of oil pipelines (and the Alberta government’s failure to implement a climate change strategy), but at its base, all sides of this great Canadian debate appear to be basing their positions on emotion, rather than facts and solid arguments.

Back to Alberta politics, Mr. Prentice announced that his leadership campaign raised $1.8 million, which should not be too surprising. As favourite son of downtown Calgary and the front-runner in this contest, Mr. Prentice was expected to bring in the corporate dollars.

Earlier this year, Mr. Prentice warmed up his campaign as the committee chair for the PC Party’s Calgary fundraising dinner in May 2014. The PC Party has never really had trouble raising money, their biggest challenge is that the opposition Wildrose Party is raising just as much (and mostly in small donations from individuals, rather than large corporate donations).

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier and PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk has had a rough week. First, he changed his tune on a $20,000 cell phone bill racked up while he was on vacation in Poland and Israel, now saying that he was taking an emergency call from a cabinet minister, who was in the midst of family dispute. Then, it was revealed that Mr. Lukaszuk had quietly reimbursed the government for $1,400 worth of flights on the government planes in which he brought his daughter.

Mr. Lukaszuk was a harsh critic of former Premier Alison Redford when it was revealed she had misused government planes, including taking her daughter on flights.

Manmeet Bhullar
Manmeet Bhullar

Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar denied allegations that he offered “dirt” on Mr. Lukaszuk to the opposition parties and that he was the source of the leak. Mr. Bhullar is co-chairing Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign and is expected to earn a big cabinet promotion if his candidate wins the leadership race on September 6.

The CBC also uncovered that finance minister Doug Horner had taken his wife on 23 separate flights dating back to 2007. Mr. Horner is responsible for the fleet of government planes.

Meanwhile, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says that time is long overdue for the big cities and the provincial government to have a “grown-up conversation” about funding how we build our cities. In Calgary, popular mayor Naheed Nenshi has given Mr. Prentice, Mr. Lukaszuk and Ric McIver low grades on municipal issues, saying that none of the PC leadership candidate have outlined any significant vision for Alberta’s cities.

The Wildrose Party is trying to distance itself from offensive Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders. The party is denying it issued an endorsement after a robocall broadcast to Conservative supporters in the Bow River riding included an endorsement from former Wildrose leader and MLA Paul Hinman.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Jason Hale issued statements late last week denying any connections to Mr. Anders’ campaign. Here is Ms. Smith’s statement:

“While individual Wildrose members may choose to support individual nomination contestants for federal Conservative nominations, Wildrose as a party is neither endorsing nor assisting any nomination contestant in the Bow River electoral district.

No nomination contestant in Bow River can claim the official or unofficial endorsement of the Wildrose Party.

We encourage Albertans who are interested in politics to inform themselves about party nominations and participate in democracy and we wish all the nomination contestants the best of luck.”

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding
MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

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.

I will be tracking the list of PC MLA endorsements on the 2014 Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest page.

Is the Jim Prentice Juggernaut unstoppable?

Jim Prentice Alberta Juggernaut
Is Jim Prentice’s campaign for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives unstoppable?

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.

His name is Paul Martin and it’s 2003.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

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.

Cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Diana McQueen, Jonathan Denis and retired Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel have all decided against running. And Ken Hughes, who only entered the race a short time ago, has already dropped out and endorsed the front-runner.

Paul Martin Jim Prentice Alberta
Paul Martin

Challenger Ric McIver claims that Mr. Prentice’s supporters have urged him to drop out of the race, but insists he will remain the fray. Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as Alison Redford’s deputy premier and budget slashing minister of Advanced Education, remains rumoured to be mulling a run for the leadership.

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.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

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.

Prentice Co-Chairs
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.

Prentice stumbles to “unite the right” fight
Strange moves to unite the right, as Wildrose leader Danielle Smith claims she or one of her staffers were contacted by someone from Mr. Prentice’s campaign to discuss a merger. A spokesperson for Mr. Prentice’s not yet official campaign denies Ms. Smith’s claims, but it is difficult to believe the Wildrose leader is simply making this up.

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.

The All-Calgarian PC Party leadership race

Ric McIver Alberta PC Leadership Race
Ric McIver

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?

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

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.”

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

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.

Meanwhile, front-runner Jim Prentice has yet to officially announce he will be entering the race and is already gaining support among PC MLAs. Mr. Prentice has the endorsements of Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar, Education minister Jeff Johnson, Flood Recovery minister Kyle Fawcett, Municipal Affairs minister Greg Weadick and backbench MLA Neil Brown. It is rumoured that he could soon receive the endorsement of Finance minister Doug Horner, who will make clear his own political intentions on Friday.

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.

Alberta Tories waiting for a Jim Prentice coronation

Jim Prentice: The Great Tory Hope
Jim Prentice: The Great Tory Hope

Could the snoozer that has become Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership race risk becoming a coronation if former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice jumps into the race?

Necessitated by the resignation of Premier Alison Redford on 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]

This popular wisdom is based on the assumption that he will actually be a candidate, which may not be a forgone conclusion.

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.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Mr. Prentice has already received the endorsement of Calgary cabinet minister Manmeet Bhullar and is said to be convening a team largely made up of  supporters of past PC Party leadership front-runners Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

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?

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia
Jonathan Denis

Two years ago, many Albertans looked at Ms. Redford’s resume and assumed that she hailed from the Lougheedian progressive side of the her party. Many of those same Albertans were bitterly disappointed when she forced deep funding cuts on universities and colleges, and attacked the public sector workers whose votes saved her party from defeat on election day in 2012.

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.

Provincial By-Elections?
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 PC MLA abandons Redford for the Harper Tories

David Xiao - Edmonton-West Conservative
A pamphlet for MLA David Xiao’s campaign for the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-West.

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.

Liberal MLA Darshan Kang announced he will seek the Liberal Party nomination in the new Calgary-Skyview riding. One of five Liberals in the Assembly, Mr. Kang is currently serving his second term representing Calgary-McCall.

A dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2014

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2014: Manmeet Bhullar, Deron Bilous, Kent Hehr, Fred Horne, Doug Horner, Ken Hughes, Thomas Lukaszuk, Diana McQueen, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Len Webber, Steve Youg.
Alberta MLAs to watch in 2014: Manmeet Bhullar, Deron Bilous, Kent Hehr, Fred Horne, Doug Horner, Ken Hughes, Thomas Lukaszuk, Diana McQueen, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Len Webber, Steve Young.

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.

(This post was inspired by A dozen federal MPs worth watching in 2014, published by the Canadian Press)

Redford Tories big international travellers in January 2014

Alberta MLA Travel
Since November 2011, Alberta’s cabinet ministers and government MLAs have travelled to 24 countries on official government business. By the end of January 2014, it will be 26.

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.

Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson leaves for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma today to attend the Minister at the Legislative Agriculture Chairs Summit. Mr. Olson will be accompanied by Stony Plain MLA Ken Lemke. They are scheduled to return to Alberta on January 6.

Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Dave Quest and Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA David Dorward are heading to sunny San Antonio, Texas to attend a Ports-to-Plains Alliance meeting from January 5 to 8.

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


View Alberta Cabinet Minister and MLA Travel November 2011-December 2013 in a larger map

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.