Former Liberal Communications Director Neil Mackie has accused leadership candidate and Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman of being part of a secret conspiracy to merge the Liberal Party with the Alberta Party.
Commenting on a recent post on this blog, Mr. Mackie, who is also Campaign Director to leadership candidate Bruce Payne, accused Ms. Blakeman of being part of a “super secret [sic] cabel” of Liberals who want to merge their party with the Alberta Party. Mr. Mackie then accused Ms. Blakeman, who has served as an MLA since 1997, of being a “stealth merger candidate.”
Responding to the accusations via email, Ms. Blakeman wrote that, “This cabal is so super secret that I have never heard of it.”
“I have no secret strategy to merge the two parties. I have said publicly that I believe the two parties will be the same within 10 years. I think that’s pretty obvious that one or the other will prevail. I just couldn’t tell you which one, my crystal ball is in for repairs,” wrote Ms. Blakeman.
She continued, “I am being very clear that I am the candidate who believes changing public policy is about building and participating in coalitions.”
“If Neil Mackie thinks being willing to work with others, cooperate on issue strategies, and bring in outsiders to affect change is a big bad thing…well I don’t. I’m here to change the world and I have some experience in doing that so I’m sticking with what I know!”
Alberta Party responds
When contacted via email, Alberta Party Vice-President Brian Thiessen wrote that, “it would have to be a super secret cabal, as the Alberta Party certainly doesn’t know anything about it.”
Mr. Thiessen then wrote that perhaps Mr. Mackie’s “super secret cabel” was “a sub-committee of the “ALP Committee of Awesome“. Or is it the “Awesomeness Committee”? Or maybe Laurie’s Secret Cabal and the Awesome Liberals have now merged to form the “Secret Cabal of Awesomeness” which will at some future date attempt to discuss further merger with the Alberta Party?”
“ALP members and certain MLA’s like Laurie have made no secret of their wish to join the Alberta Party, and many others may be attracted to some or all of the Alberta Party’s moderate, yet fiscally conservative message, as may many moderate PC’s. But the Alberta Party has no interest in merging with the Alberta Liberal Party,” wrote Mr. Thiessen.
The Liberals are scheduled to choose a new leader on September 10, 2011.
You might be forgiven if you have not paid much attention to the Alberta Liberal Party leadership contest, which is currently under way. The Liberal contest is not as exciting as the Progressive Conservative’s leadership contest, as flashy as the Wildrose (now minus the Alliance), or intriguing as the new Alberta Party, but it is important enough not to ignore. The Liberal Party is still the Official Opposition and while it has taken a beating in the polls and public image over the past few years, its next leader will play a role in the next provincial election.
Here is a look at the candidates for their leadership:
Laurie Blakeman Slogan: Laurie4Leader Elected Experience: MLA for Edmonton-Centre from 1997 to the present. Background: Laurie Blakeman is known as a vocal and unrelenting critic of the governing Tories. As Deputy Leader under party leaders Kevin Taft and David Swann, she also served as critic for Finance, the Environment, and Culture.
Her strong views as an unapologetic feminist representing Edmonton’s densest urban constituency have made her an enemy to many conservatives, but her skills as Opposition House Leader have gained her respect from some Tory MLAs across the floor. She is also one half of Edmonton’s political power couple, her husband is Ward 8 City Councillor Ben Henderson.
In 1998, Ms. Blakeman supported then-MLA Linda Sloan‘s leadership bid. She declined to run for her party’s leadership in 2004, telling the Globe & Mail that “she doesn’t have the fire in her belly to run” and again in 2008 admitting that fundraising was not her strength. Earlier this year she publicly mused about joining the Alberta Party, but instead decided to seek the Liberal Party leadership.
(Disclaimer: I like Laurie Blakeman have volunteered for her election campaigns in 2004 and 2008).
Bill Harvey Slogan: Returning to responsible government Elected Experience: Liberal candidate in Calgary-East in 2004 and 2008. Background: Calgary financial advisor Bill Harveyentered the leadership contest this week with a message that Liberals need to return to their past roots to succeed in the future. The main message on his website reminds Liberals of their 1990’s glory days under former leader Laurence Decore and is peppered with fiscal conservative language.
Hugh MacDonald Slogan: None Elected experience: MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 to present Background: Since stepping into his role as the opposition labour critic during his first-term and making headlines over the government’s shaky handling of rotting pine shakes roofing and lack of whistle-blower protection, Hugh MacDonald earned a reputation as a dogged critic of the Tories. As Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, his focus on uncovering Tory scandals sometimes makes him appear on the verge of paranoia, but he is relentless and hardworking. It is not uncommon to see Mr. MacDonald buried in books, doing his own research in the Legislature Library.
Mr. MacDonald is a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal partisan. Even if the Liberal Party is wiped off the political map in the next election, Hugh MacDonald will fight to the end (clasping a battle-axe in one hand while caped in blood-soaked battle armour under a Liberal Party flag). Inside the Liberal Party, Mr. MacDonald appeals to the stalwart crowd who believe that it is not the Liberal brand that has damaged their party, but that party members who have not adhered enough loyalty to the Liberal brand are responsible for the party’s 80 years of electoral defeat.
Bruce Payne Slogan: 87 Strong Elected experience: Nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Varsity Background: An unknown outside some Calgary political circles, it is difficult to know whether Bruce Payne is actually a serious candidate in this contest.
His 87 Strong slogan is in reference to the 87 constituencies that will be created when the next election is called. His campaign also takes a shot at the current Liberal MLAs and their tendency to attack the Tories for every “scandals, faux-pas, screw-ups, miscues and arrogant decisions” without a long-term strategy.
His campaign manager is the former Liberal Caucus communications director Neil Mackie, who departed from his job at the Assembly earlier this year.
Raj Sherman Slogan: None Elected experience: MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark from 2008 to present Background: Former Tory MLA Raj Sherman could be both the wildcard and the front-runner in this contest. Six months ago he wanted nothing to do with the Liberal Party as he sat in the PC caucus as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health & Wellness. Since writing the bluntly-worded email that led to hm being kicked out of the PC caucus, Dr. Sherman has attained a folk hero status among many Albertans.
After opening up their leadership vote to any Albertan without having to purchase a membership, I have a difficult time seeing Dr. Sherman as anything but the front-runner in this contest.
Although his opponents will criticize him for switching parties, it is hard to believe that Dr. Sherman has ever actually “belonged” to any political party. On February 13, 2008 PC candidate Dr. Sherman told the Edmonton Journal, “Ideas belong to society, they don’t belong to a party. For me, it wasn’t so much about parties as about getting the idea to the people who make decisions.”
Dr. Sherman has the support of former MLA Bharat Agnihotri, and I have been told that Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang are lending their support to his campaign.
Not yet entered the contest:
There may be a sixth candidate to enter this contest. Word on the street is that the executive of a medium-sized Calgary-based energy company may announce his candidacy next week.
New Environics Poll A new Environics Poll shows the PCs with 38% support of decided voters province-wide, compared to 26% for the Wildrose party, 22% for the Liberals, and 10% for the NDP. In Edmonton, the PCs are at 36%, with the Liberals at 27%, Wildrose Alliance at 18%, and NDP at 15%. In Calgary, the PCs are at 34%, the Wildrose Alliance at 31%, the Liberals at 24%, and the NDP at 6%. The poll is also reported to show the PCs sitting at 43% outside of Edmonton and Calgary, compared to 29% for the Wildrose Alliance, 15% for the Liberals, and 9% for the NDP. While these are interesting numbers, I have a difficult time putting to much weight in this poll now that Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader David Swann have announced their resignation.
Will Alison Redford run?
Probably, but not yet. Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson is calling on Justice Minister Alison Redford to meet the requirements set by Premier Stelmach and resign from cabinet if she is planning to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. Despite hiring campaign strategist Stephen Carter last week, a number of Tory sources have told me that Minister Redford continues to be indecisive about whether or not to run.
Mr. Mar leaving Washington? Former cabinet minister and Alberta’s current Washington D.C. representative Gary Mar is said to be preparing a run for his party’s leadership. Earlier this week I tweeted that GaryMar.ca was registered on January 27, 2011, the day that Premier Stelmach announced his resignation. The domain name was registered by Todd Herron, a former Chief Information Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister of Health. Mr. Mar faces the challenge of either returning to Alberta to enter the contest or potentially being replaced as Alberta’s representative when a new party leader is selected in eight months.
A candidate from Coronation?
The online campaign to lure Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths into his party’s leadership contest continues. With Housing Minister Jonathan Denis declaring today via Twitter that he will not enter the contest, the well-spoken and idea-focused Mr. Griffiths could be the only candidate under the age of 45 to enter the contest.
Other Alberta Party candidates? Lisa Fox, stepped down as the federal Green Party candidate in Wild Rose this week telling the Cochrane Eagle that she is considering a run for the Alberta Party leadership. Another candidate based out of Calgary is expected to enter the race in the next few weeks.
Friends of Medicare tour
Touring with the Friends of Medicare, Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has been drawing crowds across the province. At a recent town hall meeting in Red Deer, Dr. Sherman told a packed crowd that solutions to the current crisis in emergency rooms starts with enhancing home care and long-term care for seniors, particularly those in the low and middle income groups. The next town hall meeting will be held in Medicine Hat on February 19, 2011.
Liberals hire new Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has been hired as the new Communications Director for the Official Opposition Liberals. Mr. Leadbetter will fill a vacancy that was created when former Director Neil Mackie had his contract terminated in January. Mr. Leadbetter was the Director of Government & Community Relations for Northlands from 2007 to 2010 and a Senior Communications Director for the City of Edmonton previous to that.
Social Credit policy renewal Acknowledging that there is room for improvement, the Social Credit Party is inviting Albertans to participate in their policy development process. According to the party website, reasonable, innovative suggestions will be formulated into policy proposals to be presented at the Party Policy Convention on March 26, 2011 in Innisfail.
More candidates step up I have updated the list of nominated and declared candidates for the next provincial election (please note the new link) to include Marc Power, who is seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-North Hill, which will be known as Calgary-Klein when the election is called. Mr. Power, a software trainer and former co-chair of the NDP LGBT committee, was that party’s 2008 candidate in Calgary-Currie. North Hill is currently represented by PC MLA Kyle Fawcett, who was first elected in 2008.
Federal Edmonton-StrathconaNDP PresidentMarlin Schmidt is seeking his party’s nomination in Edmonton-Gold Bar at a February 24 selection meeting. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald since 1997.
UPDATE via Insight into Government Leduc Alderman Dominic Mishio has declared his intentions to seek the PC nomination against two term MLA George Rogers in the new Leduc-Beaumont constituency.
In Edmonton-Riverview, Arif Khan is the first candidate to declare interest in seeking the Liberal nomination to replace retiring MLA Kevin Taft. Mr. Khan is the western Vice-President of the Condo Store Inc. As noted in last week’s Alberta Politics Notes, the NDP are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson in Riverview.
The sudden Tuesday morning announcement by Premier Ed Stelmach that he will resign before the next election caught many people by surprise, but beyond the broad statement there was little detail about when he would actually resign and when he would be replaced. At a press conference in Calgary yesterday, Premier Stelmach gave a little more detail saying that he would continue in his role until at least the end of the Spring Session of the Legislature.
Morton’s savvy move
Yesterday’s departure of Finance Minister Ted Moron from the provincial cabinet is an unsurprising move by the conservative former University professor. Dr. Morton’s resignation as Finance Minister will allow him to concentrate on his leadership bid and more importantly distances himself from a 2011 budget which is expected to include a substantial deficit, which would hurt his credibility among his conservative supporters.
Not having to stand up on the Legislative Assembly floor and present a deficit budget in 2011 will not give the Wildrose Alliance the pleasure of attacking his credentials as a fiscal hawk (or fiscal mallard). The battle over whether to accept a deficit or balance the budget (resulting in serious budget cuts) was a fight that is suspected to have contributed heavily on Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement earlier this week.
Lloyd from Lloydminster
Mr. Morton’s departure from cabinet made way for Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove‘s appointment as Minister of Finance. Minister Snelgrove was first elected as the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster in 2001, replacing former Finance Minister Steve West (who was known as Dr. Death for the part he played in the government cuts of the 1990). Minister Snelgrove was one of the nine MLAs who supported Premier Stelmach’s bid for the PC leadership in 2006 and has been a key member of the Premier’s inner circle since.
Video interviews with Danielle Smith and Jonathan Denis
The Economist published a review of Alberta’s current political situation titled “Prairie fire” that gives a good synopsis of the PC leadership strife, the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, and the growth of the new Alberta Party with its first MLA Dave Taylor.
Another Liberal departure
Media Coordinator Tanara McLean is leaving the Liberal Caucus to take a position with SunTV reporter starting next month. This will be the second departure from the Liberal Communications Office in 2011. Communications Director Neil Mackie left in early January.
Raj Sherman Media Conference
Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman held a media conference yesterday to announce that he will be entering the Spring Session of the Legislature as an Independent MLA. He also reminded the media of his upcoming townhall tour with the Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen.
Word from the Legislature Annex is that Liberal Caucus Communications Director Neil Mackie‘s contract was terminated this afternoon. Sources say that Mr. Mackie was informed about the termination of his contract around 1:30pm and Liberal MLAs were notified of the decision at 2:00pm.
Liberal leader David Swann hired Mr. Mackie in March 2009 to replace former journalist Larry Johnsrude who had served in that job since 2007.
The Liberals had difficulty communicating their messages as they fell in the polls behind the Wildrose Alliance and their media savvy leader Danielle Smith in 2010, leaving Mr. Mackie with what may have been one of the most challenging jobs in the Official Opposition staff. It is likely that this staff shake-up is a result of the communications challenges of the past year.
UPDATE: When contacted by this blogger, Liberal Caucus Chief of Staff Rick Miller acknowledged that the Official Opposition caucus faced communications challenges of 2010 and commented that “the change is an opportunity to put a new face on our communications efforts.” An interim Communications Director is expected to be appointed soon and a search for a permanent replacement will begin soon after that.
On The Rutherford Show this morning, AHS Board Chairman Ken Hughes said that “we did receive very clear directions from the Minister,” which suggests that the AHS Board’s autonomy disappeared once Dr. Duckett became a political liability for the PC Government. Speaking on CBC Radio this morning, AlbertaScan editor Paul McLoughlin said that the AHS Board had initially decided to suspend Duckett for two weeks until Minister Gene Zwozdesky ordered them to revisit their decision and terminate Dr. Duckett.
In what can only be described as bizarre day, the AHS press conference announcing Mr. Duckett’s future was rescheduled at least four times yesterday. Originally scheduled for 1:00pm, the conference was first rescheduled for 10:30am, then 3:30pm, and finally 4:45pm when the announcement was finally made.
A similar incident occurred later that evening, when a media conference scheduled for Premier Ed Stelmach and Minister Zwozdesky was moved from 5:15pm to 6:30pm. Unfortunately, the media room at the Legislative Assembly was half packed with reporters by the time Liberal caucus Communications Director Neil Mackie waltzed in to let the media know that the conference had been rescheduled.
There has to be some irony in that for everything he did during his time as CEO, it was the now infamous “I’m eating my cookie” video on YouTube video that was the catalyst for his dismissal. It used to be said that you should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. This experience lends some credibility to a new saying, never pick a fight with anybody who has a free YouTube account.
For all his faults as the chief administrator of Alberta’s health services, removing Dr. Duckett from his position will not solve the challenges facing the system. Although Dr. Duckett was not even close to universally loved in the health care system, he did not create many of the large problems in health care. The sole responsibility for many of the problems facing our health care system fall to a government that has become accustomed to constantly restructuring, and even creating near-chaos, within a public health care system that all Albertans depend on.
Meanwhile, MLAs were in the Assembly for an extended all-nighter until early this morning to debate an amendment to Bill 17: The Alberta Health Act (the amendment was introduced by now Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman). Dr. Sherman’s amendment would introduce legislated wait-times for emergency room visits.