Tag Archives: Naheed Nenshi

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.

Edmonton Election Results – A big Iveson landslide and few City Council surprises

Photo: Don Iveson celebrates his re-election victory with his family (photo: Twitter)

As expected, Don Iveson was re-elected Mayor of Edmonton in a huge landslide with 141,182 votes – 72 percent of the total votes cast in that race – increasing his total vote count from the 2013 election. Placing a very, very distant second was perennial candidate and pro-smoker advocate Don Koziak, who earned 6.7 percent.

Jon Dziadyk Edmonton City Council Ward 3

Jon Dziadyk

Of the City Council races, the most notable ended up being the surprise defeat of incumbent councillor Dave Loken in Ward 3, who was unseated by Jon Dziadyk by 464 votes. Karen Principe placed a strong third-place in this race. Loken, who was running for his third-term on council, becomes the first incumbent councillor to lose re-election since Don Iveson defeated Mike Nickel in 2007.

In neighbouring Ward 7, Kris Andreychuk ran an incredible first-time campaign placing 165 votes behind three-term councillor Tony Caterina. Caterina saw his share of the vote drop from 42 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in this year’s election.

Three new councillors were elected in Wards without incumbents. In Ward 4, Aaron Paquette finished first in a twelve-person race with 23 percent of the vote. Sarah Hamilton earned 35 percent of the vote in a nine-person race in Ward 5 to succeed retiring one-term councillor Michael Oshry. And in Ward 9, Tim Cartmell was elected with 41 percent of the vote over four challengers.

Sarah Hamilton Ward 5 Edmonton

Sarah Hamilton

Running what appeared to be a stealth re-election campaign in Ward 8, three-term Councillor Ben Henderson was re-elected with 36 percent of the vote. This is a 38 percent drop in support from 2013, when he was re-elected with 74 percent of the vote. Challengers Kirsten Goa placed second with 22 percent, James Kosowan with 19 percent and Eli Schrader with 11 percent.

In the Public School Board races, Michael Janz was re-elected in a landslide in Ward F. With 15,671 votes and 71.4 percent of the total vote, Janz earned the most votes of any trustee and council candidate and the highest percentage of any candidate in this election except Don Iveson.

In Ward C, Shelagh Dunn earned 45 percent of the vote, unseating incumbent Orville Chubb, who earned 18 percent of the vote. In Ward D, former CBC broadcaster Trisha Estabrooks was elected with 44 percent.

In Ward G, Bridget Stirling appeared to be in a tough race for re-election, but she defeated conservative activist Tyler Duce by a 33 percent margin. Duce’s campaign had broadcast a robocall endorsement from former Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA David Dorward in the final weekend of the campaign.

And in Calgary, Naheed Nenshi appears to have been re-elected as mayor, despite recent polls that showed him 13-points behind challenger Bill Smith.

I will have more analysis of the results and what they could mean for the next four years tomorrow (after I get some sleep).

Photo: Diana McQueen, Don Iveson, Jim Prentice and Naheed Nenshi sign the Framework Agreement that paved the way for the development of city charters on Oct. 7, 2014 (Photo source: Government of Alberta on Flickr)

Nenshi in a tight race while Iveson coasts to victory

Photo: Diana McQueen, Don Iveson, Jim Prentice and Naheed Nenshi sign the Framework Agreement that paved the way for the development of city charters on Oct. 7, 2014 (Photo source: Government of Alberta on Flickr)

With six days left until municipal election day in Alberta, the mayors in the province’s two largest cities are facing very different election campaigns.

In Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson is expected to coast to victory, with none of his twelve challenger mounting the kind of campaign needed to unseat a popular incumbent mayor.

As I told Global News, “the two most high-profile competitors have been one candidate who talked about bringing back smoking in public places and another candidate who became notable for simply not showing up to election forums.”

The lack of challengers is not a surprise when considering Iveson’s high approval ratings through most of his first term as mayor. Not taking the lack of competition for granted, Iveson has kept up a healthy pace of campaigning and policy announcements, and has been spotted lending his support to a handful of incumbent City Councillors running for re-election – Andrew Knack in Ward 1, Dave Loken in Ward 3, Michael Walters in Ward 10 and Moe Banga in Ward 12.

Meanwhile, looking south to Alberta’s largest city, incumbent Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi appears to be in the fight of his political life. The campaign began with a showdown between Nenshi and Calgary Flames President and CEO Ken King over funding for a new hockey arena (sound familiar, Edmonton?), but the narrative shifted into a referendum on Nenshi himself.

Nenshi, who took pride in winning two previous elections by campaigning “in full sentences,” now faces a conservative establishment candidate who has forgone any deep policy proposals. Bill Smith appears to be running almost purely on an “I’m not Nenshi” platform, which appears to be satisfactory for a significant portion of the electorate unhappy with the current Mayor.

He can sometimes be brash and over-confiendent, but Nenshi has done a lot over the past seven years to help reshape more than a few preconceived notions about Calgary and Alberta into a more modern, progressive and urban place.

While I am told by Calgarians that the race is expected be close, I am very skeptical of a recent poll showing Smith with a huge lead over Nenshi. Recent news that bailiffs were recently poised to seize the property of Smith’s law firm over a defaulted loan worth nearly $25,000 could dampen the challenger’s momentum in the final week of the campaign.

Unlike Iveson, who is expected to coast to victory on October 16, Nenshi and his team will need to work overtime for the next six days to secure his third term in office.


Nenshi and Iveson shared the stage to deliver the 10th Annual Hurtig Lecture on the Future of Canada held at the University of Alberta in 2015.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

Two Tories step up to run in Calgary-Heritage by-election after Harper resigns

Following former prime minister Stephen Harper’s resignation last week, a by-election must be called in the Calgary-Heritage riding by February 25, 2017. Two candidates have already entered the Conservative nomination race to succeed Mr. Harper in Calgary-Heritage.

The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)

The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)

Local Conservative Party activist Bob Benzen was the first to announce his candidacy for the nomination. His website states that he is the co-founder of the Decade of Excellence Committee, which paid for large billboards thanking Mr. Harper for his service in office after the Liberal Party’s victory in the October 2015 election.

Calgary lawyer Paul Frank is the second candidate to join the nomination contest. He previously ran in the 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election and as a candidate for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in 2014.

Bob Benzen

Bob Benzen

Also mentioned as potential candidates are Richard Billington, who ran for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Centre before the 2012 by-election (his wife, Susan Billington, was the 2015 Progressive Conservative candidate in Calgary-Varsity) and former Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt, who was elected in the 2012 by-election and unseated by Liberal Kent Hehr in the 2015 general election.

Local Liberals have been actively campaigning in Calgary-Heritage in anticipation of Mr. Harper’s resignation (and the neighbouring Calgary-Midnapore in anticipation of Jason Kenney’s resignation on October 1, 2016).

Brendan Miles Liberal Calgary-Heritage by-election

Brendan Miles

Rumoured potential candidates for the Liberal nomination include lawyer and past Calgary-Confederation candidate Matt Grant, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, and past candidate Brendan Miles. Mr. Nenshi quashed rumours of his candidacy when he told Metro Calgary in May 2016 that he would not run in the by-election.

Mr. Harper was re-elected in October 2015 with 63 percent of the vote, ahead of Liberal Dr. Miles with 25 percent, New Democrat Matt Masters with 8 percent and Green Kelly Christie with 2 percent.

Before the 2015 election, the riding was known as Calgary-Southwest and had been represented by Mr. Harper since 2002. The riding was previously represented by Reform Party leader Preston Manning from 1993 to 2002.


19 Days Left! South east of Calgary, there are 19 days left until a federal by-election must be called in the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

In or Out? Jason Kenney could have a rough landing into Alberta politics

CBC reports that after 19 years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 48, is considering entering provincial politics in Alberta. Postmedia’s Jen Gerson writes that he will not confirm whether this is true.

It was a prediction first made by Postmedia’s Graham Thomson in January 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].

So, Mr. Kenney, who just this week was appointed to the parliamentary committee studying electoral reform, could be abandoning plans to replace Rona Ambrose as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and setting his sights on uniting-the-right and challenging Rachel Notley‘s moderate New Democratic Party government in 2019. If Mr. Kenney is going to enter Alberta politics, he will need to decide quick because the Progressive Conservative Party will be choosing its new leader before April 30, 2017.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.

New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.

Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A bid for the PC Party or the Alberta Party leadership might seem odd for Mr. Kenney, who is likely more comfortable in the social conservative wing of the Wildrose Party and with his former colleagues at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The historical success of the PC Party in Alberta between 1971 and 2015 was not based on adherence to conservative ideology but on the ability of its leaders to build a big blue tent of conservative, moderate and liberal voters.

Despite strong support for sending federal Conservatives to Ottawa, Alberta is now a much more progressive and moderate province than it was 20 years ago, when a young Mr. Kenney was roaming the halls of the Legislature as the spokesperson for the taxpayers federation.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

Mr. Kenney is not well-known for his conciliatory approach to Alberta politics. In 2015, he argued that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were to blame for the politicization of the niqab ban instituted by the federal Conservative government. In 2014, he engaged in a  public spat with Ron Liepert when the former finance minister defeated long-time MP Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. And in 2012, Mr. Kenney’s true feelings about then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk were made known in a leaked reply-all email.

There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.

It should be noted that the last time an attempt was made to unite-the-right in Alberta, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (pictured above with Mr. Kenney) was forced to apologize for his role in nudging 9 Wildrose MLAs across the floor to the PCs. That was in December 2014.

There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly undermined by internal party disputes and self-inflicted embarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.

The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

A look at some of the new laws passed in Alberta in Spring 2016

The Spring session of the Alberta Legislature ended yesterday after forty-days of debate.

The evacuation of more than 88,000 Albertans sparked by the wildfires in Fort McMurray dominated the attention of our political leaders during this session. In response to the wildfire crisis, Premier Rachel Notley and Wildrose leader Brian Jean briefly put aside politics and demonstrated their strengths as political leaders. It was a refreshing break from the negative rhetoric and hyperbole that has come to dominate Alberta politics.

The legislative session produced ejections, MLA suspensions and other intrigue but amidst the budget debates and political drama the New Democratic Party government pursued a fairly ambitious legislative agenda.

Twenty-one government bill and one two private members’ bills were passed during this session.

Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, a private members’ bill introduced by Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Ellis received unanimous support from MLAs when it was passed in the Legislature. The bill restricts ownership of pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis.

Bill 1: Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act introduced by Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous gave the minister new powers to create programs focused on broadening the province’s industries and businesses. “Jobs” and “diversification” were key buzzwords used by NDP cabinet ministers this spring as they face an increase in unemployment and decrease in industry investment caused by the decline of the international price of oil.

Bill 4: An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services introduced by Labour Minister Christina Gray lifted the ban on strikes by all public sector employees in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015.

Bill 7: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley pushed forward the timelines to redraw the electoral boundaries before the provincial election in 2019, which could have an impact on the results of that election. The timelines as they were previously legislated were askew after the Progressive Conservatives called an election one year earlier than Alberta’s fixed-election date law in 2015.

The NDP missed an opportunity to improve the composition of the commissions, which will include five appointees (two appointed by the Government Caucus, two by the Official Opposition and one “neutral” chairperson chosen by the government). The NDP should have amended the legislation to create a non-partisan judicial commission similar to the ones appointed to redraw federal electoral boundaries.

Introduced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Bill 10: Fiscal Statutes Amendment Act removed the 15 per cent debt-to-nominal-GDP cap implemented by the NDP in the fall session of 2015. This was a classic example of a government walking back on a law which they probably should not have passed in the first place. The Alberta government’s net-debt levels remain low enough that Albertans should not immediately be worried. But as our provincial credit ratings have been downgraded, it will be important for the current and future governments to implement policies that will actually address the government’s significant revenue shortfall and growing budget deficit.

Bill 11: Alberta Research and Innovation Amendment Act reorganized Alberta’s four “Innovates” branded research and development agencies into one agency governed by a single board and CEO. Bill 18: An Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring dissolved the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Agency and brought its responsibilities into the Department of Environment and Parks. Bill 11 also established the position of Chief Scientist.

Bill 15: An Act to End Predatory Lending introduced by Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean targeted the payday loan industry, bringing down the amounts paid on payday loans from $23 per $100 borrowed down to $15 per $100. Ms. McLean announced that the government is working with credit unions to offer short-term loans as an alternative to predatory loans.

Bill 19: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act injected transparency into Alberta’s byzantine system of appointed agencies, boards and commissions that had become a safe-haven for PC Party loyalists, patrons and retired MLAs during the previous government’s 44 years in power.

A long-time coming, Bill 21: Modernized Municipal Government Act, was in the works for years, but even so it was surprising that the NDP has been able to introduce it so early in their mandate. Bill 21 overhauls and updates sections of the province’s second largest piece of legislation. Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a rising-star in the NDP, will travel across the province this summer to consult with municipal leaders about the changes proposed in this bill, which only passed first reading during this session.

Bill 21 sets the ground for the creation of Big City Charters in the Act’s regulations, as advocated for by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The Charters are expected to be drafted by Spring 2017 and enacted by Summer 2017.

The NDP government’s flag ship piece of legislation of spring 2016 was Bill 20: Climate Leadership Implementation ActPart of the much-lauded Climate Leadership Plan, Bill 20 implements the Carbon levy and rebate program. In what is becoming a signature move of the NDP government, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips assembled an impressive coalition of municipal, industry and environmental leaders in support of the new law.

While there are legitimate criticism of the bill, including whether the carbon levy is actually “revenue neutral,” the Wildrose Opposition failed to offer any alternative plan. The Official Opposition was knee-capped by a serious self-inflicted wound when an article signed by nine Wildrose MLAs compared carbon pricing to Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Dave Hanson apologized for the comment but the nine MLAs avoided answering questions about the genocide comparison when asked by the media.

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is expected to reconvene on October 31, 2016 and sit until December 1, 2016.

[Note: This was just a brief description of some of the bills debated and passed during the spring session. A full list of bills debated in this session can be found here]

Manmeet Bhullar MLA Calgary Greenway

Alberta loses a big voice with the passing of MLA Manmeet Bhullar

Terribly sad news in Alberta politics today. CBC is reporting that 35-year old MLA Manmeet Bhullar has been killed in a car crash on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway while driving from Calgary to Edmonton.

Mr. Bhullar’s performance during his eight years the Alberta Legislature earned him a reputation as a skilled parliamentarian and a powerful voice for his constituents in northeast Calgary.

A star in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party, Mr. Bhullar rose in the ranks under premiers Ed StelmachAlison Redford, and Jim Prentice, first as a parliamentary assistant and then as Minister of Service Alberta, Minister of Human Services and Minister of Infrastructure. He most recently served as PC opposition critic for Finance and Treasury Board, and Infrastructure.

As Human Services minister, he was tasked with the difficult challenge of overhauling Alberta’s laws so more information could be released about the deaths of children in foster care. He became one of Mr. Prentice’s campaign co-chairs during his party’s 2014 PC leadership contest and was rewarded with an appointment as Minister of Infrastructure, a position he held until the 2015 re-election.

Mr. Bhullar was first elected as the PC MLA for Calgary-Montrose in 2008 at the age of 27 and was re-elected as MLA for Calgary-Greenway in 2012 and 2015. He was one of ten PC MLAs re-elected in the 2015 election.

News of his passing generated an outpouring of condolences from his colleagues in elected office:

His passion and dedication will live on in our hearts and we will greatly miss him. To Manmeet’s family: many of our colleagues are dear friends of Manmeet and his family, and it breaks our hearts to know we have lost such a great soul. Manmeet accomplished more in his brief time than most people accomplish in their lifetimes.” – Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver (full statement)

Manmeet’s accomplishments are well-known. He was a powerful community advocate from a young age and first elected to the Alberta legislature at 28. He was brave and unrelenting in his role, particularly when it came to forcefully advocating for children in care – the least powerful people in our society.” – Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (full statement)

Mr. Bhullar worked tirelessly in service of this province. First elected in 2008, he proudly served as Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Human Services, and Minister of Service Alberta. All Albertans should be proud of his significant contributions to public life.” – Premier Rachel Notley (full statement)

Words cannot express the incredible sadness we all feel over the sudden and tragic loss of our dear colleague. The absence of our friend Manmeet will be felt across the great province that he loved. To his friends, our hearts weep with you. For all his constituents, we express our sympathy and support. To the PC party, to his caucus, to all MLAs who have served with him, and for all staff who came into contact with Manmeet during his incredible time as a public servant, we mourn together.” – Wildrose leader Brian Jean (full statement)

Manmeet was a big man and his stature got attention. But more than that, much more than that, I remember his words. His words were powerful. Passionate. Intelligent. Meaningful. He is exactly the sort of person we need in public office. I am devastated. I cannot begin to imagine what his family is going through, nor his community, nor his colleagues in the PC caucus. All will miss him. Our world is a lesser place without Manmeet Bhullar. Rest in peace my friend.” – Alberta Party leader Greg Clark (full statement)


Here is video of Mr. Bhullar’s maiden speech in the Legislative Assembly, delivered on Wednesday, April 16, 2008.

Bob Hawkesworth with Premier Rachel Notley during the by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

What about Bob? Hawkesworth swoops into top political job.

Former Calgary alderman Bob Hawkesworth has been appointed Executive Director of Premier Rachel Notley’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary. A press release sent out on Nov. 7 states that Mr. Hawkesworth will be responsible for “the day-to-day operation of McDougall Centre, including stakeholder relations, communications and outreach services.

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Mr. Hawkesworth is a familiar name in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.

But his long career in municipal politics ended with a flame out. When faced with dwindling support in his bid for mayor in 2010, the respected alderman known for his ‘nice guy’ image launched a blistering negative attack on Naheed Nenshi before dropping out and endorsing Barb Higgins (his name still appeared on the ballot – he earned 1,513 votes). The negativity and surprised endorsements had many Calgarians scratching their heads in confusion.

He attempted a return to provincial politics in a September 2015 by-election but was defeated by Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda.

Reaction from the opposition parties to his appointment this weekend was surprisingly mixed.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose

Prasad Panda

Calgary-Fish Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Gotfried tweeted a congratulatory note, describing Mr. Hawkesworth as “A good man and an able representative of the @albertaNDP in #YYC.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon attacked the announcement as “a patronage appointment while Albertans across the province are hurting.” It seemed odd that the Wildrose caucus did not choose their only MLA from Calgary, Mr. Panda, to respond to the appointment. Maybe they are still preparing themselves for the rigours of a 9:00 a.m. start time?

Was this appointment based on political connections? It is hard to argue it is not. We can expect Ms. Notley to hire who she knows and who she trusts to these top positions. Mr. Hawkesworth might be the most well-connected and well-known partisan New Democrat in Calgary (Finance Minister Joe Ceci, another former alderman, might be the only other Calgary New Democrat as well connected). And he did earn endorsements from a number of conservatives during his by-election bid, including Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake and former mayor Rod Sykes.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Jason Nixon

This appointment of a long-time party loyaltist also signals that the NDP don’t have a broadly developed network of fresh talent to draw from in Calgary and southern Alberta, which may explain the large number of out-of-province hires. Many Calgary progressives I speak with regularily, some who are affiliated with Mr. Nenshi’s mayoral campaigns, are completely unfamiliar with the NDP’s political networks in their city, mostly because these networks are just now being built.

Despite electing 15 MLAs in Calgary, the NDP only earned 35 percent of the city-wide vote in the May 2015 election. It will largely depend on these 15 MLAs in Calgary and their colleagues in Banff-Cochrane, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to develop those networks through the work they do on the ground in their constituencies over the next four years.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC

Rob Merrifield

The appointment of Mr. Hawkesworth does raise the question about Ms. Notley’s pledge to operate differently than the old PC government. In fact, only a few months ago, the NDP government publicly fired and criticized former Alberta representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield for being a political appointee.

Mr. Merrifield was a partisan political appointee, hired by former Premier Jim Prentice, because he knew him and believed he could trust him to do a good job. Just as I am sure Ms. Notley knows and believes she can trust Mr. Hawkesworth to do a good job running the Premier’s office in at the McDougall Centre.

Worth Watching: Iveson and Nenshi discuss Cities and the Future of Canada

At the 10th annual Hurtig Lecture hosted by the University of Alberta Faculty of Arts, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi share their ideas about the future of cities and Canada in the days following the Oct. 19, 2015 federal election.

If you have an hour to spare this weekend, I recommend watching this joint lecture from two of Alberta’s more dynamic leaders.

More than 300 people packed into the Metro Cinema at the Garneau Theatre to watch the election night results on a 30 foot screen.

Trudeau Liberals crack Conservative “Fortress Alberta” in nationwide sweep

The dust has yet to finally settle on tonight’s election night results but we know that the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau will form a majority government with more than 180 seats in the next parliament. Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who has led his party’s government since 2006, conceded to defeat and resigned as party leader. The New Democratic Party led by Tom Mulcair, who rocketed from fourth place to Official Opposition under Jack Layton‘s leadership in 2011, was cut back to third place.

In Alberta, the Liberals appear to have cracked the Conservative fortress with wins in Edmonton and Calgary.

In Calgary-Skyview, former Liberal MLA Darshan Kang has become the first Liberal Member of Parliament elected in Calgary since 1968. Another former Liberal MLA, Kent Hehr, is currently leading Conservative MP Joan Crockatt in Calgary-Centre with more polls yet to be counted. In Edmonton-Mill Woods, popular city councillor Amarjeet Sohi, running for the Liberals, is in a tight race with Conservative cabinet minister Tim Uppal. In Edmonton-Centre, Liberal Randy Boissonnault is leading Conservative candidate James Cumming and NDP hopeful Gil McGowan.

While Canadians rejected a Conservative government led by a Calgary MP, Alberta will not be left without representation in government. It will be expected that at least one Liberal MP from each of Alberta’s two largest cities will be appointed to Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet.

For the NDP, it appears that only incumbent Linda Duncan was re-elected to a third-term as the MP for Edmonton-Strathcona.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

There will be plenty of times in the coming days to discuss what happened on election night and over the past eleven weeks, and what it means for the future of Canada. But tonight’s results make it clear that Canadians have rejected the politics of negativity, fear and division that Mr. Harper’s Conservative believed would help them secure re-election.

Tomorrow morning, Albertans will wake up in a new Canada  – with an incoming progressive Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a progressive New Democrat Premier Rachel Notley, and progressive mayors Don Iveson in Edmonton and Naheed Nenshi in Calgary.

Pressure builds for Alberta to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections

On June 22, 2015, Alberta’s new NDP Government passed Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta, imposing a retroactive ban on corporate and union donations to provincial political parties starting on June 15.

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election

Don Iveson

Since that law passed, pressure has been building for the provincial government to extend that ban to municipal elections. The level of spending by some candidates in the last municipal election was described as “insane” by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, after some Calgary city council candidates raised more than $270,000 largely through corporate donations.

During the debate about the provincial law, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called for the ban to be extended to municipal elections. Last week, Edmonton City Council voted in favour of a motion introduced by Councillor Andrew Knack to ask the provincial government to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections.

Edmonton Public School Board trustees endorsed a similar motion introduced by trustee Michael Janz on June 23, 2015.

Andrew Knack Edmonton Ward 1

Andrew Knack

A special select Ethics and Accountability Committee chaired by Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray is set to review the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

While the committee is not specifically reviewing the Local Authorities Elections Act, the law that governs municipal elections, the MLAs on that committee should be encouraged to ask Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous to extend the changes municipal elections before the 2017 municipal elections.

Christine Gray MLA Edmonton Mill Woods

Christina Gray

Any move to ban on corporate and union donations in municipal elections must also include resources to enforce the law, which has been lacking under the current legislation. Some municipalities have even refused to enforce the existing legislation.

Here is the motion approved by Edmonton City Council:

That the Mayor write a letter and/or advocate to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Premier:

1. Requesting that the city be given be the ability to independently establish campaign finance and disclosure rules in advance of the 2017 Municipal Election, either via the City Charter or other means.

2. Notwithstanding desiring the autonomy for municipalities to set the other campaign finance and disclosure rules, Edmonton calls for amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act to eliminate corporate and union donations for all local election candidates.

3. Requesting that should the legislature move to limit corporate and union contributions for all local elections, that the province level the playing field by introducing tax credit eligibility for local election donations.

4. That restrictions on contributions and related disclosure requirements be the same for third party advocacy groups/individuals as they are for municipal candidates.

Premier Rachel Notley (centre) and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason (right) announce that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge (left) will advise the new government. (Photo Credit to premierofalberta on Flickr)

Notley NDP waste no time implementing popular progressive agenda in former conservative heartland

Banning corporate and union donations: Check.
Restoring funding to health, education and human services: Check.
Increasing corporate taxes: Check.
Introducing a new climate change strategy: Coming soon.
Phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage: Coming soon.
Reviewing Alberta’s natural resource royalty framework: Coming soon.

Progress is the order of business in Canada’s so-called Conservative heartland as Premier Rachel Notley’s newly elected Alberta NDP government begins implementing the main promises from their winning election platform. Leaders of the previous PC regime, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, styled themselves as Progressive Conservatives, their actions rarely matched their words. The NDP proposed a fairly moderate progressive agenda and it is refreshing to see it take action so quickly after the election.

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Revenue and tax reform was a big issue before and during the recent election, with Mr. Prentice and the opposition argued over how best to remove Alberta from the oil revenue roller coaster. It remains clear that Alberta cannot continue to rely on revenues generated from oil and gas royalties to fund the provincial operating budget. Both the PCs and NDP proposed tax increases in the recent election, but Mr. Prentice’s refusal to increase corporate taxes, even symbolically, was a huge miscalculation.

While conservatives preach doom and gloom, our province still has corporate and personal tax rates lower than when Ralph Klein was premier, no provincial sales tax, and huge reserves of oil and gas. Alberta will now have the same corporate tax rate as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous

But there is still plenty more for the new government to do. Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier should extend protections to farmworkers injured on the job. Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous should follow calls from Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton’s Don Iveson and Michael Janz to reform municipal election finance laws. And the province can do much more to clean up provincial election laws, something that a new all-party committee will be tasked to do soon (and they should consider adopting some of the amendments made by Wildrose MLAs during recent debates in the Legislature).

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

Apologizing for previous governments lack of action to stop residential schools and calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women was absolutely the right step to take but action needs to follow. Justice and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley needs to show through government policy that this apology is more than just political posturing.

The government also announced it will soon take action to improve Alberta’s record of poor environmental management and lack of action of climate change, which has helped fuel international opposition to pipeline expansion and the oil sands. On climate change, the PCs lost the public relations battle years ago. Now the challenge will fall to Ms. Notley, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd to win the policy war on climate change.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

I do not have enough room in this post to even begun to discuss the challenges facing Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Education Minister David Eggen (which will be included in a series of future posts).

As the new government moves forward with what in most other provinces would be considered a moderate progressive agenda, Canada’s conservative outrage industry is gearing up its attacks on the Alberta’s new government.

Talking heads like Ezra Levant are fuelling the paranoia of right-wing fringe conservatives afraid we are witnessing a Red Dawn-style communistic coup (federal Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte and Wildrose MLAs Drew Barnes and Rick Strankman were among the registered spectators at one of Mr. Levant’s travelling circus shows). And recent opinion editorials by critics like conservative economist Jack Mintz, who suggested Alberta could be the next Greece, have verged on the bizarre.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Ms. Notley and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason moved quickly to quell criticism of their fiscal plan by announcing last week that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge will be advising the Premier on infrastructure investment issues. Hiring Mr. Dodge is a smart move and shows a willingness to bring in talent from outside traditional NDP circles.

Aside from the angry conservatives, the new government appears to still enjoy popular support from Albertans, who tossed out the scandal-ridden and tone deaf Tories on May 5. Recent polling shows Ms. Notley, still in her honeymoon period, enjoying the approval of 53% of Albertans, making her the second most popular premier in Canada next to Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.

The NDP need to be careful not to cut short their honeymoon by making small mistakes. They have already faced criticism for hiring too many provincial outsiders and the media is poking around the perceived influence of Ms. Notley’s husband. These are minor issues that I am sure most Albertans will look past today but the small mistakes can pile up quickly if the new government is not careful.

If the NDP can continue to limit their missteps, focus on implementing their popular platform, and remember why Albertans endorsed Ms. Notley’s charismatic leadership, they will enjoy a warm welcome on the summer political barbecue and parade circuit.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was a guest on the #abvote Google Hangout on April 9, 2015.

Notley’s NDP should ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections

One of the main promises made by the NDP before their win in the May 2015 provincial election was a commitment to ban corporate and union donations in provincial politics.

Current campaign finance laws allow individuals, corporations and labour unions to donate a maximum of $15,000 per year to a provincial political party in a non-election period and a maximum of $30,000 during an election period. The previous governing party, the Progressive Conservatives, relied heavily on corporate donations to fill their coffers but the new governing New Democratic Party and official opposition Wildrose Party have cultivated large individual donor bases that contribute smaller donations so they do not rely on larger donations.

The NDP should not limit the ban on corporate and union donations to the provincial level, they should also ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections. The provincial legislature approves the law that governs municipal election financing, which allows corporate, union and individual donations up to $5,000 during an election year. The provincial law also allows for an odd exemption that individual municipal candidates can contribute a maximum of $10,000 to their own campaign.

Research compiled by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues in June 2014 found that in Edmonton’s recent municipal elections: (1) the most successful fundraiser was the victorious candidate in 100% of ward races; (2) successful candidates raised an average of three times more money than the second place candidate in their respective race, and four times more than all other candidates combined; and (3) on average, successful candidates received more than five times the number of donations be- tween $101 and $4,999 than other candidates, and close to triple the number of $5,000 donations (the maximum contribution).

‘The EFCL is concerned that some of our most dedicated and qualified potential public servants are getting priced out of office. It is also concerned about council members being placed in difficult situations, when the majority of the donations are coming from companies and unions that have a direct interest in decisions made by city council.’ – EFCL

Along with eliminating corporate and union donations, the NDP should also impose a cap on the total amount a candidate or campaign can spend during a campaign. While there are currently no rules, in 2010, Calgary mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi pledged to cap his campaign’s spending at $0.65 per resident.

The EFCL also wrote in their report that municipal candidates elected to Edmonton’s 12 councillor positions raised more than $80,000 on average in 2013, including three who raised more than $100,000 and two who raised less than $50,000. The most successful fundraiser was the victorious candidate in 100% of the ward races and successful candidates generally raised three times more money than the second place candidate. Many of these donations came from corporations and unions, including building developers who have a special interest in currying good relationships with municipal councillors.

In a recent op-ed in the Edmonton Journal, Public Interest Alberta‘s Larry Booi called on the new NDP government to institute campaign spending limits, lower contribution limits to $1,200 per year, impose much stronger rules on disclosure of contributions and spending and extend the rules on contributions and spending to cover party leadership and constituency contests. While Mr. Booi’s column focused on provincial campaign finance changes, there is no reason why they also cannot be extended to municipal election campaigns.

While the rules governing third-party campaigns in provincial elections are problematic, the provincial government needs to lay out fair rules governing financial disclosures and amounts that third-party campaigns and lobby groups can spend influencing voters in municipal elections. There are already plenty of examples of wealthy individuals attempting to advance their political agendas by supporting unaccountable lobby groups, as was the case with Calgary’s infamous Sprawl Cabal‘s plans to throw more than $1 million behind Preston Manning‘s “Municipal Governance Initiative,” and the anonymous donors behind the shady ‘St. Albert Think Tank.’

The province needs to create a formal enforcement and investigation mechanism to respond to complaints about potential breeches of the municipal campaign donation laws. In one case, both the City of St. Albert and the provincial government refused to verify the candidate financial disclosures or enforce them after complaints were made by members of the public.

“My role as returning officer is to receive the submissions that candidates provide … and to make them publicly available and that’s really the extent of our role in this process,” a St. Albert’s returning officer told the St. Albert Gazette in 2014. If the municipalities will not enforce the provincially-imposed laws, then the provincial government should create an organization that will.

Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta’s new NDP government have pledged to ban corporate and union donations in provincial politics, and they now have what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to clean up election finance laws in Alberta’s municipal elections as well.

Parkland report calls for political finance reform

The University of Alberta-based Parkland Institute released a new report this morning, Ending Pay to Play: The Need for Political Finance Reform in Alberta: “Given the consensus that exists between the government and official opposition to ban corporate and union donations, it should act immediately to do so. While this in itself would be a major victory for democracy, it is crucial that the government does not stop there, but rather works to fundamentally reform Alberta’s political culture in the public interest.”

Are Albertans afraid of changing their government?

Four days before Election Day, Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice stood on a stage in front of hall of supporters who paid $500 per plate to attend the evening fundraiser in downtown Edmonton. Mr. Prentice warned his audience of the dire consequences of voting for Rachel Notley’s NDP, which has been his key message since the televised leaders’ debate.

Five polls released on April 29, 2015 show the NDP leading the PC and Wildrose parties across Alberta, and with a massive lead in Edmonton. Most political watchers expected the Mr. Prentice to use the massive PC campaign war-chest to launch a massive negative advertising campaign against the NDP, but it has not materialized.

The PC Party has released some radio ads and its supporters in corporate Calgary, like oil company CEO Brian Ferguson, have spoken out against the NDP proposal to review natural resource royalties. But aside from Mr. Ferguson (and the supporters who paid $500 to hear Mr. Prentice speak last night), I am not sure most voters believe the government should not regularly review royalties to ensure Albertans are getting the best value for their resources.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

[The Globe & Mail reported on September 5, 2014 that Mr. Ferguson was among 39 donors who gave Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign between $10,001 and $30,000]

The attacks do not seem to have weakened Ms. Notley, who is an articulate and likeable politician. Her party has presented a moderate platform focused on reinvesting in health care and education, raising corporate tax rates from 10% to 12%, and carefully reviewing royalties collected for the province’s natural resources.

As Mr. Prentice tries to scare conservatives into re-electing his party to a 13th term in government, one poll conducted by ThinkHQ shows most Albertans surveyed said they were more afraid of a re-elected PC government than a Wildrose or NDP government.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

“…68% of those interviewed said they would be very or somewhat concerned about Alberta’s future if the PCs were re-elected as government. Meanwhile, 58% would have concerns about a Wildrose government, and only 47% say they would have reservations if the NDP win the election.”

In the 2012 election, conservative voters in rural Alberta abandoned the PCs in favour of the opposition Wildrose Party. The PCs were re-elected with the support of moderate voters, many former Liberal voters, who were both scared of the Wildrose and excited by Alison Redford’s promise of a progressive government.

Fast forward through three years of scandals, controversy and broken promises, and now many of the same voters who saved Ms. Redford’s PC Party in 2012 are now leaning toward voting for Ms. Notley’s NDP.

With trust and accountability having become the defining issues of the election campaign, Mr. Prentice has not presented a compelling reason for Albertans to trust that the PC Party will be any different in the next three years (especially after he called the election one year earlier than the PC Government’s fixed election date).

There is also a feeling among many Albertans that the PCs have mismanaged our province’s vast resource wealth, especially following the drop in oil prices earlier this year.

Despite years of economic prosperity, the PCs have run deficit budgets since 2008 and do not appear to have planned for any economic downturns (even though the price of oil has always been cyclical in nature).

Unlike previous elections that were dominated by the PCs, there is an increasing permissive environment among Alberta voters that it is okay not to support the governing party in this election.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has predicted the election of a PC minority government but said that Albertans should not be afraid of voting for the other parties. Mr. Nenshi has met with all five main party leaders and said any of them would do a “pretty decent job” for Calgary.

We’re a place of entrepreneurs. We’re a place of risk-takers, yet we don’t take risks in government except in 2010. And I think that one worked out OK for Calgary,” Mr. Nenshi told the Calgary Herald.

In a recent blog post, former Edmonton PC MLA and cabinet minister David King asked “Should Albertans vote for a P.C. candidate, in any constituency, and elect a cog in a machine that is running amuck?”

With NDP support concentrated in urban areas of the province, the PCs also face a major challenge from Brian Jean‘s Wildrose Party in rural Alberta. For the first time in their 44 years in power, the PCs are facing a two front campaign. It is never a safe bet to count the PCs out, but they may be facing their toughest challenge since forming government in 1971.

And with four days left until Election Day, it is still not clear which party will form government on May 5, 2015, but a minority government could be a likely result.

A minority government would breathe new life into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, which has largely become a rubber-stamp for decisions made behind closed doors by PC cabinet ministers and MLAs. A minority government would also, for the first time in Alberta’s history, force the governing party to meaningfully work with the other parties when passing legislation.

Changing our government is not something Albertans should be afraid of. It is something we should probably do on a regular basis.

What a year 2015 has been in Alberta politics!

Alberta Legislature Building Edmonton Canada

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly (photo credit Timorose, CC BY-SA 3.0)

December 29, 2015

Column by: Dirk Pranter, Provincial Affairs columnist, Edmonton Journal-Sun

Tories re-elected for 14th time

A snap mid-Summer election returned Jim Prentice’s renamed “Conservative Party of Alberta” to its fourteenth term as government. In an unexpected twist of fate, Finance Minister Danielle Smith was defeated in her home riding by Wildrose Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

But don’t feel sorry for Smith. She was appointed to the Senate in one of Stephen Harper’s last acts as Prime Minister before the Conservatives lost the October federal election. Harper’s applecart was upset when the beautiful, unseasonably warm October weather caused Canadian voters to turn out in droves.

Back on the provincial scene, NDP leader Rachel Notley led her party to a breakthrough in Edmonton to form the Official Opposition with 21 MLAs. Notley’s party won its first seat in Calgary since the 1980s and its first ever seat in Lethbridge.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the re-election of Wildrose-turned-Liberal MLA Joe Anglin, who won by 3,000 votes in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. As the only Liberal to survive the election, Anglin is now the leader of the party.

“Unlike the 2012 election, 2015 gave Albertans two clear choices in the PCs and NDP,” said Rick Dunderland, a professor of political science at University of Red Deer. “Even though the PCs still won, there is now a difference between the government and official opposition and that will be a good thing for democracy.”

Tough Economic Times behind us

With a return to $120/barrel oil, Premier Prentice praised good economic times ahead for Albertans in the 2016.

“Back to budgeting as usual,” a senior government official said. “Now we don’t have to worry about saving money for the future, because the price of oil is never going to go down again.”

The Prentice Government is facing international criticism for his government’s continued lack of climate change plan. “Alberta’s climate change framework is important and will be a continued focus of our government in 2016,” Energy Environment Minister Rob Anderson said. “Under new management, we are continuing to take the time to ensure the decisions we make are right.”

And big city mayors have a lot to celebrate. The recently negotiated City Charters granting the municipalities new powers are expected to be unveiled in early 2016. A newly released poll showed Mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi with 95% approval among voters.

Redford tell-all

Palm Springs resident Alison Redford is set to launch a new tell-all book about her time as Premier of Alberta. Driven out by scandal in 2014, Redford has dedicated her time to charity work and has announced all proceeds from the book will go to charity. Not surprisingly, Tory insiders are expecting the wurst about what might be included in the book.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline over a bottle of champagne with President Barack Obama during his first visit to the White House last month. Conservative opposition leader Jason Kenney complained that Canadians should thank former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the pipeline’s success.

In an unexpected gesture, Prime Minister Trudeau named Harper the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine where, unfortunately, the Canadian Ambassador’s residence was burned down last week by a pro-Russian mob.

Read Dirk Pranter’s December 20, 2014 column: What a year 2014 has been in Alberta politics!