Tag Archives: Nick Koolsbergen

Working under the Dome: A look at some political staffers hired to work for Alberta’s new UCP government

One of the results of a change in government is a mass turnover in the political staffers who occupy the offices of the premier, cabinet ministers and caucuses. As a new government enters office in Alberta, there are many dozens of political jobs that need to be filled. Here is a quick glance at some of the political staffers who have been hired to fill key roles since the United Conservative Party formed government in Alberta:

  • As has already been widely reported, former UCP Caucus Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay is now Chief of Staff in Premier Jason Kenney’s office. Joining him in Kenney’s office are Howard Anglin as Principal Secretary, Katy Merrifield as executive director of communications and planning, and Christine Myatt as press secretary and deputy director of communications. Anglin previously served as executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, deputy chief of staff in the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Chief of Staff to Kenney while he was the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Merrifield was communications director to former B.C. premier Christy Clark and senior advisor to the BC Liberal Party.
  • Paul Bunner has been hired as a Speechwriter in the Premier’s Office. Bunner served as a speechwriter and communications advisor in the office of Prime Minster Harper and as editor of the right-wing C2C Journal website, which is part of the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education.
  • Former UCP Caucus communications advisor Harrison Fleming is a special communications advisor in Executive Council.
  • Former Daveberta Podcast co-host Ryan Hastman is Chief of Staff to Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney. Natasha Kornak is Sawhney’s press secretary. She is the co-founder of the Story of a Tory blog with Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo. 
  • Recent Daveberta Podcast guest co-host Lianne Bell is now Chief of Staff to Speaker Nathan Cooper. Bell previously worked for the Wildrose and UCP Caucus as director of stakeholder relations.
  • Jamie Mozeson is Chief of Staff to Minister for Service Alberta Nate Glubish. Mozeson was the director of operations at the UCP Caucus and ran for the federal Conservative nomination in the Sturgeon River-Parkland district in 2016. Glubish’s press secretary is Tricia Velthuizen, a former Wildrose and UCP Caucus staffer and candidate for Edmonton City Council in 2017.
  • Jonah Mozeson, who is married to Jamie Mozeson, is the press secretary in the Office of the Minister Justice and Attorney General Doug Schweitzer. His mother, Laurie Mozeson, was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the 2019 election.
  • Craig Bellfontaine is Schweitzer’s Chief of Staff. Until recently he was a Toronto-based lawyer at the firm Farken and is a former federal Conservative ministerial staffer. Schweitzer’s Ministerial Assistant Kalyna Kardash is a former Outreach Coordinator for the UCP Caucus and Party during the election campaign.
  • Andrea Smotra is Chief of Staff to Minister of Energy Sonya Savage. Smotra was the director of election readiness for the UCP and previously worked as Regional Affairs Advisor in the office of Prime Minister Harper and deputy director of issues management for Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
  • Nicole Williams is Chief of Staff to Education Minster Adriana LaGrange. Williams is a former lobbyist and ministerial assistant who was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-West Henday in the recent election. Colin Aitchison is LaGrange’s press secretary. Until recently he was the Issues Manager for Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa McLeod.
  • Warren Singh is Chief of Staff to Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Singh previously served as director of government relations with NAIT and vice-president policy and outreach with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Before that he served in various chief of staff roles in the old PC government. Steve Buick is Shandro’s press secretary. Buick served as press secretary to former health minister Stephen Mandel and as a policy advisor to health minsters Gene Zwozdesky and Fred Horne. Previous to that he served as Director of Media Relations and Issues Management for Capital Health.
  • Kris Barker recently resigned from the UCP board of directors to start his new job as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir. Barker was elected at the party’s annual general meeting as the Edmonton Regional Director. He is married to Kara Barker, who ran as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Riverview. Fir’s press secretary Justin Brattinga is a former BC Liberal Caucus staffer.
  • Mark Jacka is Chief of Staff to Transportation Minister Ric McIver. Jacka previously served as UCP Constituency Development Coordinator, as an assistant to Edmonton-West MP Kelly McCauley and as Director of Political Operations for the Wildrose Party. Brooklyn Elhard is McIver’s press secretary. She previously served as Scheduling and Tour Coordinator for the UCP leader. 
  • Tim Schultz is Chief of Staff to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen. Schultz previously served as chief of staff to the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education and the Minister of Finance in Progressive Conservative governments from 2008 to 2012. 
  • Mandi Johnson is Chief of Staff to Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer. She previously worked for the PC, Wildrose and UCP Caucus. She is married to James Johnson, the Director of Research at the UCP Caucus. Payman Parseyan is Aheer’s press secretary. He ran for Edmonton City Council in 2017 and was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Whitemud. 
  • TJ Keil is chief of staff to Minster of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter. Keil previously worked as a Senior Stakeholder Relations Consultant with Alberta Real Estate Association and ran for the PC Party in Edmonton-Strathcona against first-time NDP candidate Rachel Notley in 2008. 
  • Steven Puhallo is chief of staff to Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz. He previously as chief of staff to various BC cabinet ministers from 2001 to 2008 and more recently was President and CEO of Cowboy Gaming (Canada), a country and western themed free online bingo and casino. Lauren Armstrong is Schulz’s press secretary. Armstrong worked as Kenney’s press secretary while he served as Minister of National Defence in Ottawa and until recently was chief of staff to Calgary city councillor Jeromy Farkas.
  • Former Wildrose Caucus staffer and Alberta Counsel communications lead Tim Gerwing is the press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu.
  • Former Hill & Knowlton senior consultant Jessica Goodwin is press secretary to Minister of Finance Travis Toews.
  • Ted Bauer is press secretary to Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Wilson. Bauer is the former Communications and Media Coordinator for Homeward Trust Edmonton and editor for Global News and CityTV.

And looking at the legislative branch:

  • Robyn Henwood is executive director of the UCP Caucus. Henwood will be known by political watchers as the chair of the party’s leadership election committee and as campaign manager for Len Rhodes’ election campaign in Edmonton-Meadows.
  • Brianna Morris is deputy director of the UCP caucus. She previously served as Senior Advisor to the UCP House Leader and as a Legislative and Outreach Assistant in the Wildrose Caucus.
  • Author and one-time Daveberta Podcast guest Jamil Jivani is a Stakeholders Relations Manager for the UCP Caucus. 
  • Tim Uppal is also a Stakeholders Relations Manager for the UCP Caucus. Uppal served as the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Sherwood Park from 2008 to 2015 and is currently the nominated federal Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

As has already been noted in a previous post, former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen is now the CEO of the Wellington Advocacy lobbyist company. Matt Wolf, who served as Kenney’s Deputy Chief of Staff and director of the UCP campaign war room, is now a vice-president with public affairs giant Hill & Knowlton. Also with new jobs outside of government are UCP President Erika Barootes and former UCP Caucus director of issues management Peter Csillag have been hired by the Toronto-based public affairs company Enterprise. 

Postmedia gives Albertans one more reason to drink on this May Long

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announced through press release and a video on YouTube that the “war on fun” being waged by the “nanny state” was coming to an end as the government relaxes alcohol restrictions at festivals and in parks, including lifting the annual ban on liquor in provincial campgrounds over the May long weekend.

Kenney referenced prohibition-era laws in the video, but the May long weekend ban at some provincial campgrounds was only first imposed in 2004, when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. Klein had supposedly sworn-off alcohol by that point in his political career but he could hardly be described as a prohibitionist.

We are confident that this proactive approach will aid in making some of Alberta’s most popular provincial parks safer and more enjoyable places for families to camp on long weekends,” said then-Minister of Community Development Gene Zwozdesky in the press release announcing the temporary liquor ban.

The 2004 government press release reinforced the reason for the ban: “During the 2003 May long weekend, there were a total of 239 recorded liquor-related enforcement action occurrences in Alberta’s 68 provincial parks, including written warnings, charges, arrests and evictions.”

Campers in parks across Alberta will find out quickly whether this or future May long weekends result in a return to the alcohol-fuel chaos that led to the ban in the first place. 

Giving Albertans another reason to drink this weekend is Postmedia Network Inc.

The company that owns the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Journal and dozens of other daily and local newspapers in Alberta and across Canada has hired a lobbyist to “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

The registered lobbyist hired by Postmedia is Wellington Advocacy CEO Nick Koolsbergen, who served as United Conservative caucus chief of staff and the party’s campaign director in the April 2019 election. Koolsbergen announced on Twitter days after the election that was leaving the UCP to “to spend some time in the private sector.” He soon after announced he was starting a new lobbyist company with former federal Conservative staffer Rachel Curran.

During the election campaign, Kenney pledged to fund a $30-million “war room” to respond to critics of the oil and gas industry, including environmental groups and Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The energy war room is essentially a $30-million public relations subsidy for some of the wealthiest corporations operating in Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage is reported to have said more information about the war room will be released soon. Criticism of the new UCP government is expected to increase as Nixon moves to repeal the entire Climate Leadership Plan implemented by the previous New Democratic Party government led by Rachel Notley.

It would appear that Postmedia is fishing for a cut of the war room advertising money, likely for its “Content Works” division, which creates advertisements in the style of an editorial or news article. Literal fake news funded by taxpayers. The whole thing stinks.

Postmedia’s conservative editorial bias is well-known. Despite attempts by some local editors-in-chief to maintain local autonomy, the Toronto-based company has in required its newspapers to publish prescribed election endorsements of Conservative parties across the country.

This is not the first time Canada’s largest media company has become involved with oil and gas industry advocacy. In 2014, it was revealed that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers made a pitch to Postmedia Network’s board of directors to create an “Energy Channel Sponsorship” for Postmedia newspapers to “amplify” CAPP’s “energy mandate.”

Some of the largest energy companies have been accused of spending $1 billion to undermine efforts to combat climate change over the past decade.

And as Postmedia is positioning itself for a role in the war room, its CEO Paul Godfrey is one of the key players agitating for funding from a new $595 million federal government media fund.

So this weekend as you relax in your lawn chair in one of Alberta’s beautiful provincial parks, forget about toasting a monarch who has been dead for 118-years, as Kenney and Nixon did in their video. Instead, raise a responsible drink or two for efforts to combat climate change, the freedom of the press, and for those poor reporters working for Postmedia who are just trying to do good journalism despite the best attempts of their bosses in Toronto.

David Shepherd accepts the NDP nomination in Edmonton-City Centre (source: David Shepherd on Twitter)

David Shepherd secures NDP candidacy in Edmonton-City Centre, Laurie Mozeson beats Steve Thompson in Edmonton-McClung UCP contest

Photo: David Shepherd accepts the NDP nomination in Edmonton-City Centre (source: David Shepherd on Twitter)

Edmonton-Centre MLA David Shepherd secured the New Democratic Party nomination in the newly redrawn and slightly renamed Edmonton-City Centre district at a packed nomination meeting last night in downtown Edmonton. Shepherd was first elected in 2015 after unseating five-term Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, and in 2017 he was voted “MLA to watch in 2018” in the Best of Alberta Politics survey.

Laurie Mozeson UCP Edmonton McClung Alberta Election 2019

Laurie Mozeson

Laurie Mozeson defeated past-Wildrose Party candidate Steve Thompson to win the United Conservative Party nomination in the southwest district of Edmonton-McClung yesterday. Mozeson is a long-time prosecutor with the federal and provincial governments and was appointed as a citizenship judge in 2012 by then federal immigration minister Jason Kenney.

A November 2012 report by the Hill Times noted Mozeson’s daughter, Marlee, had worked in Kenney’s office as an intern and special assistant, and later worked as assistant to Chungsen Leung, Kenney’s parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism. Her son, Jonah, had previously worked as communications director for Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.

Her daughter-in-law, Jamie Mozeson, is now the director of operations at the UCP caucus and ran for the federal Conservative nomination in the Sturgeon River-Parkland district in 2016.

Mozeson will face Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel in the next election. Mandel is his party’s nominated candidate, lives in the district, and represented it as City Councillor from 2001 to 2004, and then as Mayor of Edmonton from 2004 to 2013. Incumbent NDP MLA Lorne Dach has not yet announced he plans for re-election.

UCP vote in Calgary-Fish Creek today

UCP members living in Calgary-Fish Creek will choose their next candidate today. Incumbent MLA Richard Gotfried is facing a challenge from Cindy Ross. Gotfried was first elected in 2015 as a Progressive Conservative, stealing the seat away from the Wildrose Party. This race has been contentious to say the least.

Richard Gotfried MLA UCP Calgary Fish Creek Alberta Election 2019

Richard Gotfried

Lawyer Cyndy Morin withdrew from the contest in mid-August and endorsed Ross over Gotfried. Morin accused Gotfried of attacking her on social media and stated on her Facebook page that “Mr. Gotfried is not the kind of leader that I would want to continue to represent the party or Albertans.”

The NDP released a screenshot of a Facebook Post showing Ross making derogatory statements against Muslims in regards to the construction of a new Mosque in Fort McMurray. What a better place to have a mosque. Right in the middle of our greatest asset,” the screenshot showed Ross saying in 2015. “This is a bit of like jailing the bank robber in the bank vault.”

Ross has since apologized for the statement.

Meanwhile, Gotfried is the kind of MLA who stands on the floor of the Alberta Legislature and attacks the NDP by comparing people leaving Alberta to refugees fleeing Bolshevik Russia and Moaist China. As I wrote in May 2017, it takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.

So, good luck with this, Calgary-Fish Creek Conservatives.

Wilson wins UCP nod in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin

Richard Wilson Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin UCP Alberta Election 2019

Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson defeated business owner Sandra Kim and former Wetaskiwin City Councillor Donna Andres to secure the UCP nomination in the newly redrawn Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin district in central Alberta. Wilson served as a Wetaskiwin County Councillor from 1992 to 2007, a Trustee with the Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools from 1993 to 1998, and as chairman of Crossroads Regional Health Authority from 1996 to 2003.

According to a CBC report, Wilson earned 335 votes, Andres earned 267 votes, and Kim earned 191 votes. Kim found herself in the centre of controversy when it was revealed she had shared Facebook posts denouncing same-sex marriage.

Leduc-Beaumont UCP vote set for September 8

UCP members in Leduc-Beaumont will choose from three candidates at a nomination vote being held on Saturday, September 8, 2018. Sharon Smith, Brad Rutherford and Scott Wickland. Smith ran for the Wildrose Party in this district in the 2015 election, placing second with 29 percent of the vote. Rutherford is a former Edmonton police officer and previously ran for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-West ahead of the 2015 election. He was president of the Leduc-Beaumont UCP and the federal Edmonton-Wetaskiwin Conservative association.

Incumbent MLA Shaye Anderson was nominated as the NDP candidate in his district on July 18, 2018. Anderson was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Municipal Affairs.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!


Former UCP Chief of Staff now working for the Alberta Party Caucus

Kevin Weidlich Alberta Party UCP Chief of Staff

Kevin Weidlich

It appears that Kevin Weidlich is now serving as Chief of Staff to the Alberta Party Caucus. From 2015 to 2017, Weidlich worked as Chief of Staff at the Progressive Conservative Caucus and then the consolidated UCP Caucus.

Weidlich was replaced by Garry Keller as CoS of the UCP Caucus on an interim basis in August 2017, but then appeared to be replaced permanently by Nick Koolsbergen when Kenney imported a group of political staffers from Ottawa in January 2018.

Weidlich served as campaign manager in Doug Horner‘s bid for the PC Party leadership in 2011Weidlich is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forced Reserves and served as commander of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment for three years until 2017.

Premier Rachel Notley rallies her NDP Caucus MLAs before the start of the fall legislative sitting on Oct. 30, 2017. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta Flickr)

A wild first week back at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley rallies her NDP Caucus MLAs before the start of the fall legislative sitting on Oct. 30, 2017. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta Flickr)

NDP focus their attacks on Kenney

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

A first-time visitor to the Assembly this week could have confused Premier Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats with the Official Opposition as backbencher after backbencher asked government ministers to explain the damage that new UCP leader Jason Kenney would do to Alberta. The NDP even released a handful of attack ads on Facebook, targeting Kenney’s comments about outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances.

The NDP want to define Kenney and the UCP early in his mandate and are eager to respond to the vicious attacks targeted at them by the Wildrose Party, Kenney’s supporters, and now the UCP since the 2015 election. But this week’s opening shots were over-kill.

We cannot expect political parties to avoid playing politics, especially as we approach the next provincial election. The NDP have every right to challenge Kenney on his controversial statements but the government should carry itself with a little more dignity than it did this week with it’s staged criticisms of the new UCP leader in the Assembly.

New GSA and anti-age discrimination laws

Kathleen Ganley Alberta MLA

Kathleen Ganley

Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, which provides legal protections for students wanting to form anti-bullying clubs in Alberta schools and prevents administrators from outing students to their parents.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley tabled Bill 23: Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, which adds “age” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in cases of tenancy, goods, services and accommodation. The bill puts an end to adults-only apartment buildings as of Jan. 1, 2018 and gives condo owners a 15-year grace period to implement the new rules. Seniors-only housing is exempt.

UCP trying to tie Notley to Trudeau

United Conservative Party leader in the Legislature Jason Nixon started Question Period each day this week with a question to the Premier about oil pipelines and the relationship between Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As I wrote earlier this week, the UCP clearly sees a political advantage in trying to tie the Notley government to the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa.

The National Post’s Stuart Thomson has written an exceedingly good article that focuses on Kenney’s political views and the influence of the Calgary School on his version of Conservative ideology.

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader

David Khan

Ottawa comes to the UCP Caucus

Following Kenney’s victory in last weekend’s UCP leadership race, more than 20 UCP Caucus staffers, mostly former Wildrose Caucus staff, lost their jobs at the Legislative Assembly.

According to AlbertaPolitics.ca writer David Climenhaga, Kenney has hired a handful of his close advisors, many from his years in Ottawa, to run the UCP Caucus: Chief of Staff Nick Koolsbergen, Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf, Calgary Office Manager Blaise Boehmer, Communications Director Annie Dormuth, Director of Operations Jamie Mozeson, Daniel Williams, Peter Bissonnette and Andrew Griffin.

Liberals get traction on PAC Attack

Constant criticism from Liberal Party leader David Khan and David Swann, his party’s lone MLA, appears to be generating results in their crusade against Political Action Committees. Khan made PACs a big issue following his win in the party’s leadership race earlier this year. Notley has said new laws governing PACs will be introduced soon, most likely in the Spring of 2018.

Alberta Party should get Official Status

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Now with two MLAs in the Alberta Party Caucus, the third largest caucus in the Assembly wants to be granted official party status, which would give Greg Clark and Karen McPherson increased resources and a more prominent role in daily Question Period.

Section 42 of the Legislative Assembly Act states that “recognized party status” shall be granted to a caucus with at least 4 MLAs and a party that received at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent election.

Clark has pointed out that the NDP were granted official party status when only two of the party’s MLAs were elected in 1997, 2001 and 2008. But in each of those elections, the NDP met the second criteria of earning more than 5 percent of the vote. The Alberta Party currently meets neither of these criteria, having only earned 2.8 percent of the province-wide vote in 2015.

New Democrats who might oppose granting the Alberta Party official status should be reminded of their own party’s situation 35 years ago, when first-term Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin introduced a private members bill that would have lowered the threshold of recognized party status to one MLA. At the time, huge Progressive Conservative majorities were the norm, and in the 1982 election the only elected opposition consisted of two New Democrats and two Independent MLAs (both former Social Credit MLAs who would later form the Representative Party of Alberta).

The four-MLA threshold is arbitrary and the vote results from the previous election should be irrelevant in recognizing the creation of new caucuses. The Alberta Party should be granted recognized party status, provided with additional resources and given a more prominent role in Question Period now that their caucus has doubled.