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)
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.
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).
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.
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].”
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.
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.
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.
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 underminedby internal party disputes and self-inflictedembarrassment, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hansonapologized 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.
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 Stelmach, Alison Redford, andJim 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)
Saddened to hear of the tragic loss of AB PC Manmeet Bhullar tonight. We have all lost a friend. Thoughts and prayers with his family #ableg
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.”
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.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixonattacked 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 andformer mayor Rod Sykes.
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.
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.
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.
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 Kanghas 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 Boissonnaultis 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.
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 DonIveson in Edmonton and Naheed Nenshi in Calgary.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Nenshipledged 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.”
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.
[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.
“…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.
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.
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.
Western Canada’s Big City Mayors at the 2014 Grey Cup in Vancouver. From left to right: Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Photo credit: @misssarahchan
As the collapse of the Wildrose Party and speculation about Alberta’s next provincial budget dominate political discussions, one of the most politically important discussions impacting governance in our province next year could be about the creation of City Charters.
In his first month as Premier, Jim Prentice met with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to restart discussions around the creation of City Charters for Alberta’s two largest cities.
A recent survey conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. and provided to daveberta.ca shows Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi with 74% and 70% approval ratings. For Mr. Iveson, this is an impressive increase from a survey in March 2014 in which respondents gave him 70% approval rating.
“The two mayors of the big cities are the second and third most powerful politicians in the province,” ThinkHQ President Marc Henry told this blogger. “The mayors are obviously the two people in the province Premier Prentice has to take into consideration,” Mr. Henry said.
The popular mayors have made City Charters a priority. The adoption of charters would be a long overdue change that could recognize the crucial roles and responsibilities that our largest municipal governments have in the lives of millions of Albertans.
“Most Albertans like the idea of a charter but don’t understand it,” Mr. Henry explained. “The challenge with the city charter is defining it,” he said.
Civic charters are different in every city, but a “charter city” (a city with a civic charter) has its own stand-alone legislation, rather than following the general municipal government acts of the province. It is a special agreement between a province and city designed to meet the demands of city governance, usually by giving a city more tax-raising powers, along with more autonomy to set policy that will allow it to meet its individual needs.
The cities of Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto have City Charters passed by their provincial governments granting those municipalities increased levels of responsibility and access to additional revenue.
In an October 2014 blog post, Mr. Iveson explained why City Charters are important and why they can also be an abstract concept to explain:
The City Charter process can be an abstract concept; talking about roles and responsibilities with another order of government probably isn’t the sexiest thing for many people. But – I would argue – delivering on this is one of the most important factors in Edmonton’s future success. Correcting the imbalance in responsibility and authority with the Province is one of the most critical city building things we can do because it enables the ‘real work’ like building LRT lines and keeping our cities safe to actually happen.
Rather than a broad increase in taxation powers, City Charters in Alberta could include a more serious commitment to revenue sharing by the province as recognition that our big cities are no longer tiny localized organizations. They are important levels of government that provide services and infrastructure that also benefit millions of Albertans living outside the city boundaries.
Discussions about City Charters began in 2012 while Premier Alison Redford was in office but slowed down as political scandals engulfed the Progressive Conservative government. A Memorandum of Understanding signed by Mr. Iveson, Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Prentice on October 7, 2014 laid out the following timeframe for City Charters:
Phase one will address matters specific to the two cities and Municipal Affairs (MA) by Spring 2015;
Phase two will address matters between the two cities, MA and any other Government of Alberta ministries by Fall 2015; and
Phase three will address the development of a new fiscal framework for the two cities by Spring 2016.
The ThinkHQ online research panel had a sample size of 1656 people and was conducted between November 26 to December 1, 2014.
The Yards Podcast
In episode one of The Yards podcast, host Omar Mouallem talks with Mayor Iveson about downtown memories, bike culture and whether downtown development can survive another oil crash.
With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?
In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.
My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.
From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.
The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.
The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.
As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.
The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.
Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.
Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.
New Democratic Party
An NDP pamphlet used in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.
Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.
A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.
A Greg Clark self with his supporters on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow.
With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.
Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.
Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.
The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.
Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.
These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.
The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.
Where to vote?
Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech on September 6, 2014.
“After two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” – Jim Prentice speaking with Roger Kingkade and Rob Breakenridge on September 9, 2014 on News Talk 770.
Wearing your seat belt while driving in a motor vehicle is always a good idea, but in this context, it may not cure the political whiplash endured by Albertans over the past two years.
The interview was a rough start to a mixed week for Jim Prentice, who is in the midst of transitioning into the Premier’s office and is expected to be sworn-in next week. He had positive first meetings with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. And his rounds of media interviews early in the week were an introduction to many Albertans who are unfamiliar with Mr. Prentice and a departure from his predecessor, who became notorious for avoiding the legislature press gallery.
If his first week of transitioning into the Premier’s Office is going smoothly, the same might not be the case for his first week as leader of the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Prentice is already having to deal with allegations about PC MLA Sohail Quadri’s role in accessing voting PIN numbers in last week’s leadership vote and PC MLA David Xiao’s ties to the government-grant funded yet allegedly non-existent “McClung Family Association.”
Cabinet Shuffle next week
Much of the mainstream media coverage this week focused on speculation that Mr. Prentice could appoint individuals from outside the legislature to what is expected to be a smaller provincial cabinet.
As the rumours fly, three names have been widely speculated as prospective outside appointments – AIMco CEO Leo DeBeaver, Conservative MP James Rajotte and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel is currently serving on Mr. Prentice’s transition team and endorsed his candidacy in the PC leadership race earlier this summer.
Progressive Conservative MLAs leaving a morning caucus meeting at Government House in March 2014.
It is expected that any cabinet ministers appointed from outside the Assembly would be required to run in by-elections alongside Mr. Prentice, who currently does not hold a seat in the Alberta Legislature.
As I wrote last week, appointing cabinet ministers from outside the Legislature is not entirely unheard of in Canadian politics but it does come with some risks. Take for example Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who appointed David Levine as a junior health minister in 2002 only to see him lose a by-election shortly afterward. The defeated candidate resigned from cabinet the next day.
While he may choose to include new talent from outside the PC Caucus, Mr. Prentice will still need to choose the bulk of his cabinet ministers from inside the current PC caucus. And his picks became slimmer yesterday as former Energy minister Ken Hughes announced that he will not seek re-election as MLA for Calgary-West.
New Senior Staff
Mr. Prentice announced that former Liberal MLA Mike Percy will be his Chief of Staff and Patricia Misutkawill be his Principal Secretary. Both could bring a stronger Edmonton-perspective to Calgarian Mr. Prentice’s inner circle and appear to be competent choices for the roles.
Dr. Percy is the former Dean of Business at the University of Alberta and served as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from 1993 to 1997 (defeating rookie PC candidate Dave Hancock in 1993). He served as the Official Opposition Finance Critic for much of his time in the Legislature. It is suspected that Dr. Percy would have been appointed as Finance Minister if the Liberals, led by Laurence Decore, had won the 1993 election.
Ms. Misutka is the former Chief of Staff to Mr. Mandel and was one of four co-chairs of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign. After Mr. Mandel’s retirement, she worked as a Senior Advisor with the Canadian Strategy Group, a government relations company run by long-time PC Party insiders Hal Danchilla and Michael Lohner.