Tag Archives: Marie Laing

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background.

Former Speaker Gene Zwozdesky has died at age 70. The “Wizard of Zwoz” started as a Liberal and became the PC Party’s charm machine.

Gene Zwozdesky, the former Speaker of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, has died of cancer at the age of 70.

Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.

Gene Zwozdesky Alberta MLA

Gene Zwozdesky’s official MLA portrait photo in 1997.

A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.

Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes castLed by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.

He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.

Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.

In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed to cabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.

As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive. 

Only three weeks into the job he’s the Wizard of Zwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.

In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.

He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.

While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision. 

He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.

Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.

Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.

Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)

Don Getty Ray Martin Laurence Decore Alberta Family Day Debate

Alberta’s Great Family Day Debate of 1989

[This post was originally published on Feb. 16, 2010]

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take the holiday on the third Monday of February for granted may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day generated some controversy when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal: Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC: Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989
Don Tannas (PC: Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP: Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC: Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie Hewes (Liberal: Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek Fox (NDP: Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Premier Don Getty (PC: Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie Laing (NDP: Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP: Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Premier Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [daveberta note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

alberta’s great family day debate of 1989.

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take the holiday on the third Monday of February for granted may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day generated some controversy when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal: Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC: Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989
Don Tannas (PC: Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP: Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC: Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie Hewes (Liberal: Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek Fox (NDP: Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Premier Don Getty (PC: Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie Laing (NDP: Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP: Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Premier Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [daveberta note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”