Tag Archives: MLA Travel Expenses

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.”

False Passengers and Fake Promises: Could the PC Party be choosing the next opposition leader?

Alison Redford Jim Prentice Thomas Lukaszuk Ric McIver Alberta Premier PC Leadership Race

Alison Redford, Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice

Here’s a question that isn’t often asked in Alberta: Which of the three Progressive Conservative leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

An insane trail of scandal continues to leak out of the 43-year-long governing PC Party as it lurches towards a leadership vote on September 6.

A CBC exclusive story alleged today that Auditor General has uncovered “false passengers” were booked to ensure that Premier Alison Redford and her political staff would be the only passengers on government planes during certain flights.

The leak was a draft copy of a report Auditor General Merwan Saher is expected to release in August 2014 and will also include a review of the former premier’s flights to South Africa and Palm Springs.

Along with Ms. Redford’s secret plans for a private penthouse residence, this week’s secret cancellation of a three-year pay-freeze for senior government executives (which was only implemented 17 months ago), and the Auditor General’s discovery last month that the province has failed implement its much vaunted Climate Change plan, the PC government does not look like the well-polished machine it once was.

Two years ago, PC candidates led by Ms. Redford promised a new era of open and transparent government. It appears that the fake passengers were not the only fabrication.

Is it possible that the three men vying to lead the PC Party did not know about the false flyers?

Both insiders, Thomas Lukaszuk served as Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and Ric McIver was Transportation Minister from May 2012 to December 2013. While they have denied knowledge of the flights, it is strange that at the very least these two senior cabinet minister had not even heard rumours about the Premier’s alleged fictional bookings and questionable travel habits.

And Jim Prentice? He is not an MLA and was busy working for a big Bay Street bank during Ms. Redford’s reign.

But what of Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose department is responsible for the Alberta government’s fleet of airplanes? Surely someone within the Finance Department would have been aware of these alleged ghost travellers? Mr. Horner, along with 50 other PC MLAs and nearly every PC Party insider, is supporting Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC Party leadership.

Mr. Prentice, who appears to only speak in generalizations and avoids details in all his public announcements, issued a statement on his Facebook Page in response to the allegations. “Albertans do not need excuses from those who were at the table when these decisions were made,” Mr. Prentice’s Facebook statement said.

Nearly everyone who would have been sitting around the cabinet table when these phantom flyers were on the books are now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

His opponent, Mr. Lukaszuk, was much more harsh on Ms. Redford, who remains the PC MLA for Calgary-Elbow. The former Deputy Premier said he would have his former boss thrown out of the PC Caucus and would ask a retired judge to investigate the allegations (Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, also supporting Mr. Prentice, today asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to decide whether there should be an investigation).

This leads me back to my initial question: Which of the three leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

For the past four decades, this would have been a nonsensical question. But in 2014, the Tories face a relentlessly aggressive Wildrose opposition flush with cash and preparing for an election. There is an increasingly real possibility that the PC Party could be in opposition after the next election.

Mr. Prentice served in the Conservative Official Opposition benches in Ottawa for two years during the dying days of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, a time which may oddly familiar similar to the current politics in Alberta. An ambitious politician, Mr. Prentice does not strike me as someone who would be interested in remaining in the opposition benches if the PC Party were to lose the next election.

Mr. Lukaszuk is well-known for his partisan attack dog-style in Question Period, and might thrive in the opposition benches. Mr. McIver served as the unofficial opposition to Mayor Dave Bronconnier on Calgary City Council, but, like Mr. Lukaszuk, he has no support from his PC MLA colleagues.

In light of recent revelations, perhaps some time spent in the opposition benches could inject a much needed dose of humility into Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, who have become very comfortable with the trappings of political power. Despite coming within a hair of losing the last election, the Tories act as if they are an invincible force. This recent string of scandals may help prove that the PCs are not invincible.

Opposition hoping for a sequel to Air Redford… Air Prentice

Air-Alison-Redford-Jim-Prentice

Alberta’s Opposition Parties are giddy at the thought of a sequel to the Air Redford scandals… Air Prentice. Can they make it fly in the minds of Albertans?

The long-summer of 2014 has begun in Alberta politics. With little substantial policy ideas to dispute or debate, Alberta’s opposition parties have set their sights on Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Jim Prentice (if this continues, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are going to start feeling left out).

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP

Deron Bilous

Hoping to tie Mr. Prentice to frequent-flying former Premier Alison Redford and her controversial $45,000 flight to South Africa and flights to Palm Springs and Jasper, the NDP Opposition released detailed flight manifests outlining the former federal cabinet minister’s travel expenses during his time in Ottawa.

Describing Mr. Prentice as “a Bay Street lawyer and a millionaire,” Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous said in a news release that the Tory leader-to-be “used them repeatedly as a cabinet minister, costing the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The NDP claim the manifests show Mr. Prentice’s flights cost the federal government in excess of $400,000. NDP researchers must have been giddy when they discovered flights in 2009 that cost $29,169 (Mr. Prentice had the government plane fly from Ottawa to Calgary to drop him and his constituency director off in Washington DC, and then the plane flew back to Ottawa empty) and in 2010 that cost $41,522 (Mr. Prentice flew to Norway from Ottawa with his Communications Director and Chief of Staff).

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

Following the NDP’s lead, the Wildrose Party quickly released an info graphic highlighting Mr. Prentice’s recent quote that politicians should not be riding on government airplanes, but should fly commercial with everybody else. Putting aside the $400,000 sticker-shock, it is not clear that Mr. Prentice did not frequently travel on commercial airlines. Members of Parliament are allowed a certain number of expensed commercial flights each year to between Ottawa and the riding they are elected to represent.

The question is whether Albertans will see this as more confirmation of Tory excess (which Mr. Prentice has pledged to crack-down on, even though short-term Premier Dave Hancock refuses to acknowledge it exists) or as the price of doing government business in a geographically large country like Canada. I imagine it will be a mix of both.

Recent polling from ThinkHQ shows the Wildrose Party far in the lead among decided Alberta voters, even after Mr. Prentice entered the PC leadership race. The polls also show the NDP leading in support in Edmonton. While this is one single poll, it is a snapshot that will surely contribute to the growing narrative that the PC Party remains in trouble even after jettisoning Ms. Redford.

With the smell of opportunity in the air, Alberta’s opposition parties are expected to continue taking every opportunity to remind Albertans of the out-of-touch attitudes of the previous premier and hope it sticks to Mr. Prentice and the 45 PC MLAs who eagerly endorsed his candidacy.

Insiders will pretend to be outsiders in the PC leadership race

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is not running for the PC Party leadership

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel announced yesterday that he will not run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. Mr. Mandel was seen as a great hope by many Edmonton Tories, who believed him to be the outsider who could breath some fresh air into the stuffy corridors of the Alberta Legislature. Mr. Mandel would have been 70-years old by the time the next election would be called.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership

Jim Prentice

Former cabinet minister Gary Mar has ruled himself out as a candidate, as has former Finance minister Jim Dinning. Conservative MP James Rajotte is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but it seems unlikely. Senator Scott Tannas briefly expressed interest, but has since declined.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice is frequently mention as a contender, but is he willing to abandon his high-paying job on Bay Street, and a chance at becoming Prime Minister? Why would Mr. Prentice want lead a provincial political party that is scandal-ridden and behind the times on fundamental social policy issues?

With the obvious outsiders sitting out, this leadership race could end up being a contest defined by insiders pretending they are outsiders.

Announcing his bid last week, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes is the first candidate to enter the contest. He launched his campaign by positioning himself as a political outsider, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

The former MP and chairman of Alberta Health Services served on Premier Alison Redford‘s transition team before he jumped back into electoral politics in 2011. Running for the PC nomination in Calgary-West, Mr. Hughes lost and then won a subsequent vote against former MLA Shiraz Shariff. Upon his election, he was immediately appointed Minister of Energy, one of the most coveted positions in cabinet.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

If Finance minister Doug Horner is going to run for the leadership, which may not a certainty, he is expected to wait until after the provincial budget is passed before resigning from cabinet. Mr. Horner’s support for controversial changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plan, which could negatively impact the retirement security of more than 300,000 Albertans, will certainly dog him during the campaign.

Currently scheduled to break on June 5, Premier Dave Hancock suggested this week the spring session of the Assembly might be cut short before May 15. That also happens to be the first day that candidates for the PC Party leadership can pick up their nomination packages and pay $20,000 of the $50,000 entry fee. Nominations close on May 30 and accepted nominees will be announced at a party event on June 2.

Ending the session early would also save the Tories from an embarrassing two weeks of having to dodge tough questions from the Wildrose Party about Ms. Redford’s travel expenses and Alberta Health Services’ $1 billion in untendered sole source contracts. Other than Mr. Horner’s provincial budget and two pension bills, the PCs have brought almost no substance to this session.

Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be preparing a run for the leadership include Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Energy minister Diana McQueen, and Infrastructure minister Ric McIver. Of this group, perhaps only Mr. McIver, a first-term MLA and former Calgary alderman, could realistically argue he is an outsider.

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Union donations in Alberta
Labour unions traditionally make up a small percentage of donors to Alberta’s political parties, and when they donate, it is typically to one party in particular.

According to financial disclosures from Elections Alberta, the large majority of political donations made by trade unions in the first quarter of 2014 were made to the Progressive Conservatives, with more than $18,000. The province’s social democratic NDP, the traditional party of organized labour, collected slightly more $6,100 in union donations in the same period.