Tag Archives: Melissa Blake

Underdog Liberal has a shot in Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election

Kyle Harrietha Fort McMurray Athabasca By Election Liberal

Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha stands with his first sign of the Vote Harrietha campaign in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. (Photo from Kyle Harrietha’s Facebook Page)

Four federal by-elections will be held across Canada on June 30, 2014, including in Alberta’s Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca ridings made vacant by the retirements of Conservative Members of Parliament Ted Menzies and Brian Jean months ago.

While most general elections in Alberta can be counted on to result in broad Conservative sweeps, Albertans have shown themselves to be a more unpredictable when an uncommon by-election is held.

Last year’s by-election in Calgary-Centre, a riding represented by Conservatives for nearly fifty years came within a sliver of being won by Liberal Harvey Locke. And in 1989, the spark that led to a Reform Party sweep of the West four years later was lit when Deborah Grey won a by-election in Beaver River.

This year’s by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca is expected to be particularly interesting. Home of Canada’s Oil Sands, this riding is Ground Zero for the international debate about climate change, pipelines and the future of the energy industry. This riding is also demographically different than southern Alberta’s Macleod or most other rural Alberta ridings.

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Federal Election Results 2006 2008 2011 by-election 2014

Home to a young and transient population that includes Aboriginals, New Canadians and Canadians from across the country (and many temporary foreign workers), the industrial nature of employment in the riding means it also has a higher percentage of labour union membership than most rural Alberta ridings. Low levels of voter turnout in recent general elections (40% turnout in 2011) could contribute to an unpredictable by-election result.

While much of the northern half of the riding benefits from an industrial boom, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo faces the incredible challenge of keeping up with the pressures that accompany this type of fast growth – transportation infrastructure (and Highway 63), housing, public services, etc.

Some local Fort McMurray-ites I have spoken with feel that federal government has not contributed its fair share in helping their community deal with these pressures – something that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga is likely to hear about at the doorsteps.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week. (Photo from Ms. Leitch’s Twitter page @KellieLeitch)

Mr. Yurdiga hails from the vote-rich southern portion of the riding, where he is a councillor in the County of Athabasca (the area he represents on County Council will not be part of the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding, which will be created at the next federal election).

The regional divide between the northern and southern parts of this riding are relevant and the large geographic distances can present a significant challenge in organizing an effective campaign.

Mr. Yurdiga will face a strong challenge from well-organized Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha, who has been bolstered by Justin Trudeau, who has become a frequent visitor to the community over the past year.

Mr. Harrietha also draws on the support of an extensive network that includes provincial Progressive Conservatives, community organizers (he was a campaign manager for Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake) and the Metis community, who he works for as executive director of General Manager of Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935. 

While Mr. Harrietha is certainly the underdog in this race, resentment toward the former MP and a lacklustre Conservative nomination race could help him make gains in this by-election (and now would be a good time for Mr. Trudeau to make sure Ottawa-South MP David McGuinty does not stray off message).

NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan (Photo from Lori McDaniel's Facebook Page).

NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan (Photo from Lori McDaniel’s Facebook Page).

The New Democrats have nominated Suncor employee and Unifor Local 707A health and safety representative Lori McDaniel as their candidate. This by-election will be an important test for the official opposition NDP, who have been criticized by Conservatives for leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments last year.

In a gesture of pan-Canadianism, it perhaps would not be a bad idea for Mr. Mulcair to fly his party’s large contingent of first-term MPs from Quebec to campaign alongside Ms. McDaniel in the by-election in our nation’s new industrial capital. It would probably help her campaign and expand the horizons of opposition MPs who are sometimes too eager to criticize those who work in Canada’s energy industry.

Federal by-elections in Alberta have proven to be unpredictable events and if the trend continues, as I sense it might, the results of the Fort McMurray-Athabasca vote could be very interesting on June 30.

Next post… a by-election in Cowboy Country (aka Macleod)… yah hoo.

Don Iveson’s win a vote for optimism and smart planning in Edmonton

Don Iveson Karen Leibovici Kerry Diotte Edmonton Election 2013

Mayor-elect Don Iveson, and mayoral candidates Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte.

There will be plenty of analysis about what last night’s election means for the city of Edmonton. With 132,162 votes – 62% of the vote – Don Iveson earned a commanding victory in the mayoral election over his two main opponents, Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte.

This is a win for the positive campaign and a stunning rebuke of the traditional negative campaign. While his main opponents strayed into negative tactics, Mr. Iveson’s campaign avoided the taunts by focusing on remaining positive and optimistic. And it worked. This should send a strong message to voters and politicians across the land that you do not need to go negative to win.

This is a vote for the future. I spoke with many people over the past month who weren’t sure what this election was about. While “the future” and “long-term planning” aren’t sexy wedge issues like the closure of an airport or the construction of a new hockey arena, they are so much more important. Campaigns can be delivered in full-sentences. Mr. Iveson’s comprehensive platform and its focus on long-term planning differentiated him from the other candidates.

Edmontonians have given Mr. Iveson a clear mandate to move forward with an agenda to renew public infrastructure, kickstart innovation, expand LRT, and change the way we fund our city.

There are challenges ahead. As mayor, Mr. Iveson will have to build a team on a city council with six new faces. Any successful mayor understands that they are only one vote of thirteen on council. Balancing progressive voices like re-elected councillors Ben Henderson and Amarjeet Sohi and newly-elected Michael Walters and Scott McKeen, along with moderate conservatives like Michael Oshry and fiscal hawks like Mike Nickel could be a challenge.

Building a strong region will be critical to moving Edmonton forward and new opportunities exist for the Capital Region Board with new mayors Tom Flynn in Sturgeon County, Lisa Holmes in Morinville, and Roxanne Carr in Strathcona County. Regional cooperation on planning and development, as well as service delivery, are areas where the capital region could see progress over the next four years.

Solving the fiscal challenges facing Alberta’s cities will also be difficult. The provincial government needs to be convinced that Alberta’s cities require additional resources and responsibilities to address the tremendous pressures associated with fast growing populations. The introduction of City Charters could be a significant step to helping cities deal with this issue.

With the province’s most dynamic political leaders now leading our large urban municipalities, Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, Don Iveson in Edmonton, Melissa Blake in Wood Buffalo, Bill Given in Grande Prairie, and newly elected Tara Veer in Red Deer have an opportunity to pursue a strong urban agenda that the provincial government cannot ignore.

(Note: I have been happy to volunteer my personal time during the election campaign to help Don Iveson become the next mayor of Edmonton. I am ecstatic that Edmontonians have entrusted him with their votes)

Who would win a Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo by-election?

Mike Allen MLA

Mike Allen MLA

After being arrested in a prostitution sting in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus. For the time-being, Mr. Allen will remain an Independent MLA, as police in St. Paul have yet to place charges against him. Barring charges and a conviction, Mr. Allen could reasonably be expected to complete his term in Legislative Assembly, albeit sitting outside the PC caucus.

The opposition, including Airdrie Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, have been calling on Mr. Allen to resign as MLA. If, by chance, Mr. Allen did resign as MLA, voters in the northern Alberta constituency would choose a new representative in a by-election.

A key battlefield in the 2012 provincial election, how would Alberta’s political parties fare in a Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo by-election?

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo (image from wikipedia)

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo (image from wikipedia)

In 2012, Mr. Allen was elected with 3,609 votes (49%), defeating Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier, who earned 3,164 votes (42.9%). A unique election, Mr. Boutilier served as a PC MLA since his first election in 1997 until he left the Tory caucus in 2009 and joined the Wildrose in 2010. According to Elections Alberta financial reports, Mr. Allen’s campaign spent $72,825 in the campaign, compared to Mr. Boutilier’s $65,457.

In the 2012 Elections Alberta financial disclosures, the PC constituency association in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo reported net assets of $11,438.40. The Wildrose constituency association listed $549.58 in net assets at the end of 2012.

Low voter turnout, 34%, in the 2012 general election suggests that many voters in the constituency are undeclared or unidentified by the parties.

Despite electing candidates in both Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo and neighbouring Fort McMurray-Conklin (where Tory Don Scott defeated Wildrose candidate Doug Faulkner), the Wildrose candidates earned strong second place finishes in the 2012 election.

Fort McMurray Today reports Mr. Boutilier remains silent on a possible comeback, but a by-election triggered by a Tory sex scandal would be the ideal scenario an opposition politician could hope for.

Guy Boutilier

Guy Boutilier

A Liberal base in Fort McMurray, which elected MLA Adam Germain in the 1993 election, has near completely eroded with that party earning 3% of the vote in both constituencies. The NDP saw a spike of support in constituency in the the 2001 election, but have not had much success in the three elections held since.

Who would the Tories look to for a by-election candidate? Would any of Mr. Allen’s challengers in last year’s PC nomination step up? Candidates in last year’s PC nomination race included Andrew Highfield, Nick Sanders, and school trustee Jeff Thompson. Popular Wood Buffalo mayor Melissa Blake, who is seeking re-election in this year’s municipal vote, would be seen as a star candidate for any party and could easily fill a top cabinet position if elected into government.

A rash of automobile accidents caused deaths on the busy highway 63 put heavy pressure on the governing Tories last year. The heavy pressures of a being boom-town have created many unique growth and social challenges in this northern Alberta community that could easily become an issue in a locally-focused by-election.

But Premier Alison Redford‘s Tories may want to avoid an embarrassing by-election defeat. Two of the three most recent provincial by-elections held in Alberta have resulted in opposition parties electing candidates in formerly government-held constituencies.

alison redford attends the bilderberg. thomas mulcair visits the oilsands.

Bilderberg Redford

Premier Alison Redford is attending the 2012 Bilderberg Group conference.

There are no shortage of internet conspiracy theories about the mysterious Bilderberg Group conference, but now Alberta Premier Alison Redford will know the truth about the invite-only private annual meeting of the world’s top neo-liberal financial, business, and political elites.

Premier Redford has been invited the the event, which is being held in Virginia from May 31 to June 3. Only a small group of Canadian political leaders have been invited to attend, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, and former premiers Mike Harris and Gordon Campbell, to name a few.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012

Danielle Smith: Outraged.

As the emperors of industry behind the Bilderberg Group continue to push failed neo-liberal economic policies that have helped create crumbling markets across the globe, the unbounded potential of Alberta’s natural resource wealth will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion.

Premier Redford’s decision to attend this meeting earned immediate denunciation from Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith criticized the Premier for not staying in Alberta to confront NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who was in the province yesterday to visit Fort McMurray and tour an oilsands operation. Reaction to Mr. Mulcair’s visit drew a supportive comment from Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake, who told the Edmonton Journal:

“It seems like his interests are not necessarily out of alignment with what most Canadians would be interested in – a healthy sustainable environment.”

Breaking from the cries of outrage displayed by many of her Conservative counterparts, Premier Redford has taken a nuanced approach to responding to Mr. Mulcair’s comments that Alberta’s natural resource wealth has contributed to a high Canadian dollar and the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing industry.

Thomas Mulcair NDP Leader

Thomas Mulcair: It's a trap!

Rather than playing into Mr. Mulcair’s strategy to leverage a wedge issue among many voters outside of Alberta (especially in the economically depressed and voter rich southern Ontario) who are uncomfortable with the West’s economic growth and resulting environmental issues, Premier Redford has largely played it cool when responding to criticisms of the oilsands.

For all the criticism of Mr. Mulcair’s strategic play, it provides further evidence that the NDP Official Opposition under his leadership are prepared to use the same type of wedge politics that Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives have successfully used over the past eight years. It should be noted that Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party attempted to emulate the same type of wedge politics in the recent provincial election.

Premier Redford’s calm response is a break in style from recent political leaders like former Premier Ralph Klein, who expressed little interest in taking a leading role on the national stage.

As well as a change in tone, Premier Redford has made a number of political moves that suggest a shift toward Alberta’s provincial government becoming a serious player on the national stage, including beginning discussions with other provincial leaders about a [still vaguely defined] National Energy Strategy.

Earlier this month, Premier Redford announced the opening of an Alberta Office in Ottawa. Ms. Smith criticized the announcement, suggesting that the 27 Conservative Party Members of Parliament were doing a good enough job advocating for Albertans in the national capital. As both Ms. Smith and Premier Redford know, many of those Conservative MPs showed various levels of support for the Wildrose Party in the recent election. As a former lobbyist herself, Ms. Smith will undoubtedly be aware that successful lobbying includes more than meeting with politicians.

One person rumoured to be in line for the appointment as the Alberta government’s lobbyist in Ottawa is former Finance Minister Ted Morton, who is a former colleague of now-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In Ottawa yesterday, Calgary-Centre Conservative MP Lee Richardson announced he had been hired as Premier Redford’s Principal Secretary and senior strategist. Before first heading to Ottawa in the 1980s, Mr. Richardson was the Chief of Staff to Premier Peter Lougheed, who may have been Alberta’s last provincial leader who was also a significant player on the national stage.

the battle begins on alberta’s energy beach: don scott seeks pc nomination in fort mcmurray-conklin.

One might think that the battle to build Oil Sands pipelines or the struggle to fight climate change would be the hottest conflicts on Alberta’s energy beach, but with a provincial election approaching the local political scene is heating up.

Enjoying a laugh: Don Scott and Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake.

Everybody loves trees: Don Scott and Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake.

First-term Wood Buffalo regional municipal Councillor Don Scott has launched a website announcing his entry into the contest for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the newly created Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency. Mr. Scott is a lawyer and owner of the McMurray Law Office.

Branding himself as ‘A Strong Voice‘ for the Wood Buffalo region, Mr. Scott faces the task of winning Alberta’s energy beach back for his party. Until 2009, the Progressive Conservatives had represented this area since the retirement of Liberal MLA Adam Germain in 1997.

When the next provincial election is called, the south and east half of the current Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo constituency will be carved-off to form Fort McMurray-Conklin. The 2008 municipal census estimated that there were over 100,000 people living in the booming Wood Buffalo region.

Pensive Boutilier Stelmach

Pensive face: Guy Boutilier with former Premier Ed Stelmach in 2008.

Incumbent MLA Guy Boutilier was booted from the PC caucus in 2009 and joined the Wildrose Party in 2010. Mr. Boutilier was first elected in 1997 and served as a cabinet minister in the government of Premier Ralph Klein.

Mr. Boutilier was ejected from the PC caucus in 2009 after accusing then-Health Minister Ron Liepert of “talking gibberish” about the construction of a permanent long-term care facility for seniors in Fort McMurray and then criticizing Premier Ed Stelmach for not wanting a cabinet minister “who graduated from Harvard with Barack Obama” (Boutilier later admitted that he never met Obama while at Harvard).

Mr. Boutilier has yet to announce which of the new Fort McMurray constituencies he will seek re-election in. Perhaps he will run in both.

While testifying to the Alberta Energy Utilities Board in 2006, then-Environment Minister Boutilier told Mikisew Cree First Nation lawyer Don Mallon that at the time, he was not speaking as the Minister of the Environment, but as an MLA. When asked how he could do this, Boutilier testified that he could actually turn off the part of his brain where he was the Minister of Environment. An impressive feat for any elected official.

While Mr. Boutilier’s changing political allegiances will likely be a defining topic in the next campaign, he may not be alone. According to the Elections Alberta financial disclosures, the Donald Scott Professional Corporation donated $1,000 to the local Wildrose Party constituency association in 2010.

Fort McMurray political watchers have suggested that former Councillor and two-time Liberal Party candidate John Vyboh may seek the Wildrose Party nomination in whichever of the twin Fort McMurray constituencies that Mr. Boutilier is not running in. The other opposition parties have yet to nominate candidates in either of the soon to be created Fort McMurray twin constituencies.

alberta politics notes 7/09/2010

– The Government of Alberta has purchased +$50,000 newspaper advertisements in Washington DC and written a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The pipeline is facing opposition from Democratic Representative Henry Waxman, who currently Chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The provincial government also employs former cabinet minister Gary Mar as a permanent envoy in the American capital and frequently sends cabinet ministers and MLAs to conferences and trade meetings in the United States.
– Members of the United Nurses of Alberta have voted to ratify a new collective agreement that includes a 6%-pay increase over three years. Both the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald editorial boards have praised the agreement.
– At the age of 40-years, two-term Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake is a hot political commodity.
– The Alberta PC Party has hired Brent Harding as their Director of Communications.
– The Liberals purchased newspaper ads calling for cooperation with other parties and received cool responses from the NDP and Alberta Party.
– Former MLA Dan Backs is gearing up to run for City Council against Councillor Ed Gibbons. Both men are former MLAs for Edmonton-Manning. Mr. Gibbons sat as a Liberal MLA from 1997 to 2001, and Mr. Backs sat as a Liberal from 2004 until he was ejected from the Opposition caucus in 2006. After being defeated by Peter Sandhu when seeking the PC nomination in 2007, he placed third in his bid for re-election as an Independent in 2008.
Jim Hillyer has been nominated as the Conservative candidate in Lethbridge for the next federal election. The federal Liberals held their candidate nomination in Edmonton-St. Albert last night.
Jim Silye has been appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as chair of the board of the Museum of Science and Nature in Ottawa. Mr. Silye served as the Reform Party MP for Calgary-Centre from 1993 until 1997. Mr. Silye was defeated by Wayne Cao in the Calgary-Fort Progressive Conservative candidate nomination in 1997. In 2000, he ran as the PC candidate in Calgary-West against Canadian Alliance MP Rob Anders and Liberal candidate Frank Bruseker.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.

alberta politics notes 6/10/2010

– The Edmonton Journal’s Sheila Pratt attended and wrote an article about an Alberta Party Big Listen meeting that she attended.
– Liberal leader David Swann had an op-ed published in the Calgary Herald outlining his party’s ‘12-step plan to clean up government.’ Dr. Swann may need a plan to mend some fences mended inside his party as some long-time Liberal organizers in Edmonton are very unhappy about a motion passed at their recent policy convention.
– Alberta’s two NDP MLAs have been spending a lot of time in northwestern Alberta. Brian Mason recently spoke to the Hinton Chamber of Commerce and joined his colleague Rachel Notley in touring the Peace Country.
Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is drawing the crowds. Ms. Smith had over 150 people welcome her at a recent visit to Lacombe, a big increase from eight months ago when another event only drew 25 people.
– The Federal Conservatives will nominate their candidate in Lethbridge on June 19. Nomination candidates include Mark Switzer, Jim Hillyer, Kent Prestage, and Lorna Peacock.
– Long-time municipal councillor and two-time Liberal candidate John Vyboh is running for Mayor of Wood Buffalo. Mr. Vyboh ran against Fort McMurray MLA Guy Boutilier in 1997 and 2001 (Mr. Boutilier was booted from the PC caucus in 2009 and now sits as an Independent MLA). Current Mayor Melissa Blake has not announced whether she will seek a third-term in office.
– Environment Minister Rob Renner and Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Broyce Jacobs are being dispatched to trade and energy meetings in the United States.
Boycotts in Bellingham. Nude protesters at Lush. Slate Magazine critics. Even the 2010 Marxism conference featured a seminar titled “Tar sands: the case against the world’s most destructive development.”
– The Alberta Chambers of Commerce has released a swath of new advocacy policies.
– After public pressure to open up their invite-only meetings, consultation meetings for the new Alberta Health Act are now open to the public.
– The Public Safety and Services committee met to discuss the issue of transparency in leadership races and have decided that most Albertans are not interested in such matters. PC MLAs on the committee decided to compile a list of groups to invite to consult and not to publicly advertise the meeting. The PCs ran into trouble earlier this year when backbench MLAs supported Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson‘s motion to remove powers of the Public Accounts Committee Chairman (who is Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald). Mr. Olson later withdrew his motion after significant public pressure.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.