Tag Archives: Oneil Carlier

Rural Alberta Advantage

AAMDC wants a Rural Alberta Electoral Advantage

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties approved a resolution opposing the recommendations included in the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission this week at their annual meeting in Edmonton. The organization representing municipal districts and counties opposes the dissolution of three rural districts and is calling for an amendment to Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

A press release issued by the AAMDC states the organization has no issue with the creation of new urban seats to support the significant growth in the urban centres, but feels strongly these seats should not be created at the expense of rural Alberta.

“To suggest that effective representation will be achieved by decreasing the number of long-standing rural seats will disservice rural Alberta greatly,” AAMDC president Al Kemmere said in the news release. “Rural communities are an intrinsic part of Alberta and as such, deserve to have a voice in our democratic institutions.”

Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act limits the number of districts represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly to 87. Presumably, the AAMDC would like to see an increase to the total number of MLAs in order to offset the loss of rural representation in the Assembly.

In 2010, then-Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced Bill 28: Electoral Division Act, which increased the total number of electoral districts represented in the Legislature from 83 to 87. It was widely believed that this increase was an attempt to quell political opposition to any decrease in rural representation by the large caucus of rural Progressive Conservative MLAs.

The Commission’s final report recommends the creation of three new urban districts to reflect significant population growth in urban municipalities such as Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, Edmonton and Spruce Grove. The report’s recommendations also reflect the considerable growth of suburban and acreage communities in counties surrounding these urban areas.

While most areas of the province have experienced some level of population growth since the last time electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2011, some rural areas east of Red Deer and in east central Alberta have experience a decline in population.

The elimination of rural districts will result in geographically larger rural districts. This will pose increased challenges to MLAs who will need to represent more sprawling and geographically diverse constituencies, but the elimination of rural districts is inevitable unless their populations increase at a rate larger than the growing urban areas.

Rural Alberta has experienced a significant decline in electoral representation over the past fifty years, partly due to population growth in the urban centres but mostly due to the gradual elimination of intentional political gerrymandering of electoral districts, which created a lopsided over-representation of rural MLAs in the Assembly.

In the 1967 election, rural Albertans were 31 percent of the population but rural areas represented 44 of 63 electoral districts in the province. That rural overrepresentation declined only slightly in the 1971 election, when rural Albertans represented 27 percent of the population and 42 of 75 electoral districts.

The blatant overrepresentation of rural areas over the province’s growing urban areas continued under the old PC government until at least the mid-1990s. Rural gerrymandering was once a hallmark of Alberta’s political history, but recent Electoral Boundary Commissions worked to equalize representation of rural and urban areas in the Assembly.

Politics and Rural Representation

When the Commission’s final report is introduced for debate in the Assembly, which could happen in the coming weeks, we can expect the United Conservative Party caucus to oppose many of the recommended changes. While there are legitimate concerns with some of the boundary changes impacting rural areas, the UCP will use the report’s recommendations to attack the urban-based New Democratic Party, which is already unpopular in rural Alberta.

Unlike the PC caucus in 2010 and the UCP caucus in 2017, the governing NDP caucus is largely composed of MLAs representing urban districts in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The relatively small rural NDP caucus, which includes Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Economic Development Associate Minister Jessica Littlewood, does not have the numerical leverage over their colleagues that rural caucuses have had in the past.

The decreasing influence of rural MLAs in Alberta governments since 2012, when the Wildrose Party swept into opposition, led the AAMDC to find itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

For many years, the AAMDC was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many rural politicians had used the organization as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former county reeves Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk and Ed Stelmach).

The PCs under Redford’s leadership struggled to communicate rural interests in government and it is unclear if the current NDP government even has much of a rural agenda.

This week’s announcement from Shaye Anderson that the government will provide a tax credit for uncollectible education property taxes on defunct oil and gas properties, known as orphan wells, should be popular among rural municipal leaders. But previous transgressions, like the fumbled passage of Bill 6 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants early in the NDP’s term in government created significant resentment in rural areas. These issues will pose a major challenge for NDP MLAs seeking re-election in rural districts in the 2019 election.

Justice Myra Bielby is chairing Alberta's Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Alberta’s Boundary Commission recommends new Electoral Map for 2019

Photo: Justice Myra Bielby chaired Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission.

The final report of the Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission was released today with recommendations to redraw the province’s electoral map for the 2019, and presumably the 2023, elections.

The challenge facing the five-person commission was to redraw Alberta’s electoral boundaries to reflect growth and declining population in regions across the province. Without the ability to increase or decrease the number of constituencies from the current 87, the commission’s work was no easy task.

I was pleased to see the final report recommends new boundaries that will increase representation in the Legislature from growing communities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Airdrie, Grande Prairie, Spruce Grove, Cochrane and Chestermere.

I was pleased to see the final report incorporate a number of changes that I recommended in my initial submission in February 2017 and response to the interim report in July 2017.

In my response to the interim report, I recommend that the Commission attempt to keep districts within ten percent, and ideally within five percent, above or below the provincial average population per electoral district. The commission improved this average in the final report, with 73 of 87 districts now falling with ten percent above or below the provincial average.

The creation of the Morinville-St. Albert district north of Edmonton is an improvement from both the current boundaries and those included in the interim report. Rather than splitting the Sturgeon Valley communities like spokes in a bicycle wheel-like districts like the current Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock and Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater, drawing these communities into a common district north of Edmonton is a sensible choice.

The final report renames some of the odd district naming choices including in the interim report, such as Calgary-Airport, Edmonton-Mill Woods-East and Edmonton-Mill Woods-West.

The final report eliminates the problems with the shelter belt-like Fort Saskatchewan-St. Paul, Vermilion-Lloydminster and Stettler-Wainwright districts proposed in the interim report.

Eliminating the non-contiguous district of Wetaskiwin-Camrose and recommending the creation of a Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin district will bring together a large community of interest that was previously split into two districts. This is positive.

While the final report eliminates some troubling rural district changes that were included in the interim report, it does include some of its own odd boundary changes. Most notable is the hour-glass shaped Cardston-Siksika district that would include two large sprawling rural areas that connect through a narrow gap near Lethbridge.

The final report also recommends the elimination of the single urban Medicine Hat district in favour of creating two rurban districts, Brooks-Medicine Hat and Cypress-Medicine Hat. This may face criticism in Medicine Hat, which has had its own urban district since at least the 1960s.

Having to balance regional population growth and decline without having the ability to increase the number of districts makes the task of redrawing districts very challenging. The lines must be drawn somewhere. And while this final report will not please everyone, the commission should be commended for their hard work.

The final report will be presented to the Legislative Assembly in the fall session, which begins at the end of October, and will require the support of a majority of MLAs to be approved.

What does this mean for incumbent MLAs?

The boundary changes propose in the interim report could led to incumbent MLAs facing each other in next election.

In northwest Alberta, Grande Prairie-Smoky United Conservative Party MLA Todd Loewen could face Dunvegan-Central-Peace Notley New Democratic Party MLA Marg McCuaig-Boyd in the new Dunvegan-Notley district.

North of Edmonton, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock UCP MLA Glenn Van Dijken could face Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater NDP MLA Colin Piquette in the new Athabasca-Barrhead district. And in northeast Alberta, three UCP MLAs – Brian Jean, Dave Hanson and Scott Cyr – will need to face the reality that only two districts will exist in their region in 2019.

NDP MLA Trevor Horne will see his current Spruce Grove-St. Albert district absorbed into a redrawn St. Albert district and the new Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland and Spruce Grove-Stony Plain districts. Much of the areas included in these proposed districts are currently represented by NDP MLAs Marie Renaud, Erin Babcock and Oneil Carlier.

 

Premier Rachel Notley and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee survey the wildfire damage in Fort McMurray.

Fort McMurray provides a humanizing break from hyper-partisan politics in Alberta

One year ago, the Edmonton Journal published a letter written by Greg Stevens, in which the former cabinet minister sent Alberta’s newly elected New Democratic Party best wishes at the start of its term as government. Mr. Stevens, who served in the Assembly  from 1979 to 1989 wrote that “Albertans have weathered storms before and they will rise to this change and continue to lead Canadians ahead.”

The learning curve has been steep for the new government over the past year, but Rachel Notley has faced the largest storm of her premiership this past week.

Ms. Notley has been a calm and commanding presence as the wildfires damaged the community of Fort McMurray. The Premier, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a registered nurse from Slave Lake who has served as a key communicator during this crisis, have been factual and compassionate in their communications with Albertans.

Clear communication has been key to the success of Ms. Notley’s daily press conferences with fire and safety officials. Ms. Notley is doing what she needs to be doing as premier: being a strong and compassionate leader for Albertans through this disaster.

Facing the wildfires that have devastated his community, including the loss of his own home, Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean has abandoned his normally adversarial tone and has been reasonable in his support of the government’s response to the wildfire. Faced with these losses, I cannot begin to imagine what he must be going through on a personal level. Not many of us can fathom what it feels like to lose our home and much of our community to a natural disaster.

Whatever his plans for the future as leader of the opposition, Mr. Jean would be smart to recognize that the collaborative and less confrontational tone looks good on him.

Similar reflections on leadership can be made about the strengths of other elected leaders who have stepped up to help during these wildfires, including Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, whose city has opened its doors as a refuge for tens of thousands of Fort McMurray evacuees. We continue to witness a refreshing dose of humanity in our country as people from all walks of life have stepped up to help those who have fled the wildfires.

The break in hyperpartisanship is, unfortunately, not universal. Nasty Internet memes and conspiracy theories have been promoted on social media spinning wild untrue accusations against the NDP, environmentalists and ISIL.

Not unlike other natural disasters, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have put aside their partisan differences for a moment in order to rally for Fort McMurray. It has taken a tragic event to provide a humanizing break from the increasingly hyper-partisan and polarized daily politics in Alberta.

As we move past the disaster and closer toward cleaning up and rebuilding the community, it is inevitable that the cordial feelings will break and partisanship will return, but our leaders have an opportunity to define what tone post-wildfire politics will look and feel like.

Premier Rachel Notley's expanded 17-member Alberta NDP cabinet.

Notley spreads out the workload in new expanded NDP cabinet

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew by six today as Premier Rachel Notley announced an early 2016 cabinet shuffle. These appointments bring the size of Alberta’s cabinet up to 19, which is larger than the initial 12 cabinet ministers appointed after the NDP won the 2015 election but is still the smallest Alberta cabinet in more than a decade.

It became clear in the NDP government’s first half year in office that it would be unrealistic to have such a small group be responsible for so many large government ministries. Because of this, it was widely suspected that the new government would wait until 2016 before deciding which backbench NDP MLAs were cabinet material.

Here are some of the changes made as a result of today’s cabinet shuffle.

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman retains her position as Minster of Health while also taking on the role of Deputy Premier. Ms. Hoffman has proven herself to be one of the strongest members of the provincial cabinet, so this promotion is not a surprise.

Calgary-Acadia MLA Brandy Payne will assist Ms. Hoffman as Associate Minister of Health, a position that has existed in the past.

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson took a political beating during the Bill 6 farm safety law debates has been demoted from her role as Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of Jobs, Skills and Labour. She is now Minister of Seniors and Housing.

Replacing Ms. Sigurdson are Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt as Minister of Advanced Education and Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray as Minister of Labour (no longer the Ministry of Jobs, Skills and Labour).

Ms. Gray is also Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, a role that coincides with her position as chairperson of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, which is reviewing the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan has been appointed Minister of Indigenous Relations, which has been renamed from Aboriginal Relations.

Calgary-Cross MLA Ricardo Miranda, is now Minister of Culture and Tourism. He is also Alberta’s first openly gay cabinet minister.

Two new cabinet ministers, Ms. Payne and Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, who is Minister of Service Alberta and Status of Women, are pregnant and expecting to add new additions to their families in 2016.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier is now Deputy Government House Leader, a role he shares with Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous.

It is unclear whether Mr. Schmidt and Ms. McLean will continue in their roles from the previous Legislative session as Government Whip and Deputy Government Whip. It is expected that MLAs will choose a new Deputy Chair of Committees to replace Mr. Feehan as he moves into his new ministerial role when the Legislature returns on March 8, 2016.

A full list of the new cabinet can be found here.

New Climate Change Office

The cabinet shuffle also included the announcement that a new Climate Change Office has been created to help implement the government’s Climate Leadership Plan. The new office will report to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips.

Alberta NDP should tap the brakes on Bill 6, its new Farm and Ranch Safety law

The Alberta government needs to rethink its approach to overhauling safety laws on family farms and ranches. Since it was introduced in the Legislature on Nov. 17, confusion about Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has triggered a significant backlash from Albertans in rural communities across the province.

Bill 6 would expand sections of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code to apply to farm worksites. If Bill 6 is approved by the Legislature, WCB coverage will be mandatory and farms and ranches in Alberta will no longer be exempt from OHS laws. Alberta is currently the only province without employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Nearly 400 angry farmers showed up to voice their concerns about Bill 6 at a government-organized town hall meeting in Grande Prairie last week. The event was hosted by public servants and consultants with no MLAs in attendance. Western Producer reporter Mary MacArthur reported this week that MLAs will be present at future town hall meetings planned for Red Deer, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Leduc, Vegreville, Olds and Athabasca.

Close to 200 people, along with 2 ponies, 1 border collie and 1 turkey (see above), staged an afternoon protest against Bill 6 outside the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015. To their credit, Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters at the Legislature to hear their concerns.

Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

It is clear that there are some changes that do need to be made to farm safety laws in Alberta. As is the case in every other province in Canada, the government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments.

But this is where the New Democratic Party government may have put the cart before the horse. It is unfortunate that the government did not choose to hold these public consultation meetings before introducing the bill. It seems that the NDP could have saved themselves a lot of grief if Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, Premier Rachel Notley, Ms. Sigurdson and other NDP MLAs had started this process by travelling to the rural areas of the province to ask farmers and ranchers how changes could impact them.

Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Under current safety laws, provincial officers are not allowed to conduct investigations when a workplace fatality takes place on a farm or ranch. The WCB is a shield to protect employers from lawsuits in case of workplace injury and should probably be extended to cover all actual employees of farms and ranches. And farm workers should not be exempt from being given the choice to bargain collectively, a right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

But legal changes also need to reflect the uniqueness of family farms and ranches.

Unlike other worksites, farms rely heavily on incidental and seasonal help during spring and fall from family, friends and neighbours. And by definition, work on a family farm will include work done by family members, some who will not be paid a regular salary and some who will be under the age of 18. It has not been clearly communicated by the government how these changes would impact the day to day operations of these family farms or whether exceptions will be made for smaller farming operations.

While some of the criticism of Bill 6 is rooted in hyperbole and hysterics generated by opponents of the government, it is clear that there is much confusion around this bill, which is a communications failure on the part of the government.

Ms. Sigurdson released a statement following yesterday’s protest at the Legislature trying to clarify the government’s position. “A paid farmworker who is directed to do something dangerous can say no, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada. And if they are hurt or killed at work, they or their family can be compensated, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada,” Ms. Sigurdson said.

The debate around Bill 6 also highlights a political divide between rural and urban Alberta, neither of which are monolithic communities. It would be easy for us city dwellers to cast rural Albertans opposing these legislative changes as being backward or uncaring when we read media reports of workers or young children killed in farm accidents. And comments by MLAs like Liberal leader David Swann that the current legal framework would make “Charles Dickens blush” probably do not help foster a feeling of collaboration, even if there is a hint of truth to how far behind Alberta is in farm safety rules compared to other provinces.

Alberta is an increasingly urban province. According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift.

The recent provincial election marked a rare moment in our province’s history where MLAs from rural Alberta do not have a large voice in the government caucus. Twelve of the 53 NDP MLAs elected in May 2015 represent rural or partially rural constituencies. Most areas of rural Alberta are represented by Wildrose Party MLAs, who have taken every opportunity to attack the new government and advance the narrative that the NDP do not understand rural Alberta.

As most of their NDP MLAs were elected in urban centres, they should heed the advice that MLA Hugh Horner gave Progressive Conservative Party leader Peter Lougheed more than forty years ago.

David Wood observed in his biography of Mr. Lougheed, the Lougheed Legacy, that “Horner made one point that Lougheed and his colleagues have never forgotten: when you start believing that the people in rural Alberta are somehow different than the people in the bigger centres, you’re making a mistake. Rural Albertans come into the cities, go to concerts, shop in the malls: they’re as sophisticated and as aware of the rest of the world as any of their city cousins.”

Ms. Notley grew up in the northern Alberta town of Fairview. Her father, Grant Notley, was elected and re-elected as the MLA for Spirit River-Fairview four times between 1971 and 1984. Coming from rural Alberta, Ms. Notley should have an understanding of these changes could impact farmers and ranchers.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments. It also has a responsibility to clearly communicate to Albertans why these changes are needed and how they would be implemented. The NDP would demonstrate good will to rural Albertans by slightly tapping the breaks on Bill 6 and restarting this process with a thorough and meaningful consultation about improving farm and ranch safety in Alberta.

Update (Dec 1, 2015): The government announced it is proposing amendments to Bill 6 that would:

  • make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends;
  • make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year.

Putting protection of LGBTQ students and staff back on the agenda at Alberta school boards meeting

Amid allegations of financial misspending and a lack of transparency, representatives from sixty-one elected Public, Catholic, and Francophone school boards from across Alberta will gather at the fall general meeting of the Alberta School Boards Association on November 15, 16 and 17 in Edmonton.

Michael Janz Edmonton

Michael Janz

School board representatives could face another round of debate about protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and staff. The Edmonton Public School Board will introduce a motion at the meeting for the ASBA to create a policy that protects all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities.

I think tone at the top is very important, and it is important for the Alberta School Boards Association to take an active stance against the bullying and marginalization of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students. I think this will send a very important signal across school boards that we do support inclusion, we do want to support our students,” EPSB chairperson Michael Janz told the Edmonton Sun.

The motion has been proposed as emergent by EPSB and will be introduced on the first full day of the meeting. Delegates will be asked whether it should be added to agenda and debated at the meeting.

Debate at the ASBA’s general meeting in 2012 attracted national attention when 62 percent of the delegates voted down a proposal to protect gay students and staff from discrimination, similar to a policy passed by EPSB in 2011.

David Eggen

David Eggen

One trustee at the 2012 meeting from the Pembina Hills School Division suggested if “children with a gay tendency” could hide their gayness it would be “for their own benefit.” The trustee later apologized but not before his comment became national news.

The debate around legislating the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools became a major political issue in the final months of 2014 and created major rifts between social conservatives and moderate conservatives in the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties.

Recent debates at the Edmonton Catholic School District about creating safe environments for transgender students have degenerated into public scenes of crying and shouting. “I expect a higher standard from all elected officials here, generally in Alberta, and specifically with Edmonton Catholic,” Education Minister David Eggen said following the debates.

Mr. Eggen has directed all Alberta school boards to have a policy supporting LGBTQ students in place by March 31, 2016.  It has been reported that only 13 out of 61 school boards currently have stand alone policies protecting rights of LGBTQ students and staff.

The result of the debate about whether to adopt a policy protecting all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities will likely set the tone for an important breakfast event being held for trustees and MLAs on the final day of the meeting. Twenty-eight NDP, Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs are scheduled to attend the breakfast, including cabinet ministers Brian Mason, Joe Ceci, and Oneil Carlier. Mr. Eggen scheduled to deliver an address at the breakfast.

What the Education Minister has to say in his address will likely depend on if Alberta’s elected school trustees choose to rise above the closed mindedness and ignorance that has dominated these debates in past years. Protecting students and staff is not optional.


Here is the motion that the EPSB plans to introduce:

That the Alberta School Boards Association support its members school boards in establishing and maintaining welcoming, inclusive, safe and healthy learning and working environments for all members of the school community, including sexual orientation and genders minority students, staff and families. This includes provision of support with policy development and related resources.

EPSB rationale for the motion:

  • Issues with regard to publicly funded education and supporting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity students, staff and families have been in the news this year. The ASBA has been silent on these issues, both in policy and presence. It is proposed by the Committee that we take a second attempt at moving forward the 2012 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy to the ASBA.
  • The Committee believes it is important for the ASBA to clearly take a policy position in support of students, staff, and families in alignment with provincial legislation and our Strategic Plan outcome to provide welcoming, inclusive, safe caring and healthy learning and work environments. Research has shown that sexual minority youth experience more bullying, harassment, alienation, and suicide ideation than do their heterosexual peers and; therefore, boards are encouraged to counter pervasive cultural biases against sexual minorities through proactive and specific policy and regulation to ensure that all sexual orientation and gender identity minority individuals are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in all of their schools.

Previous ASBA fall general meetings have been webcast. I will post a link to the website once I have confirmed this meeting will be live streamed online.

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

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

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

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

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Marg McCuaig Boyd

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

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

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous

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

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

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

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

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

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

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

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

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

Notley’s Crew: Alberta’s First NDP Cabinet

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds for the swearing-in ceremony of Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta’s first NDP Cabinet. This marked the first time in 44 years that a party other than the Progressive Conservatives were sworn-in to office and the event felt more like an outdoor festival than a protocol-ruled government ceremony. The hot weather, live music, free ice cream, food trucks and wading pools helped contribute to this atmosphere, but there was an unmistakable feeling of excitement and optimism in the sea of onlookers. It was really unlike anything I have experienced in my ten years writing about politics in this province. This crowd was cheering for Alberta.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Along with serving as Premier, Ms. Notley is also responsible for the Ministry of International and Intergovernmental Relations, a double role that her predecessors Ralph Klein and Jim Prentice also took responsibility for. The three other incumbent NDP MLAs, Brian Mason, Deron Bilous and David Eggen, were appointed to senior roles and first-term Edmonton MLAs Sarah Hoffman and Lori Sigurdson were also named to cabinet.

The new 12-member cabinet has an equal number of women and men, and while half of its MLAs represent Edmonton constituencies, ministers from rural Alberta, Lethbridge and Calgary have been given important responsibilities.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Former Calgary Alderman Joe Ceci is Finance Minister and Treasury Board President, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kathleen Ganley is Justice Minister, Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips is Environment Minister, Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley MLA Marg McCuaig-Boyd is Energy Minister, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA Oneil Carlier is Agriculture and Forestry Minister, and Calgary-McCall MLA Irfan Sabir is Minister of Human Services.

The new cabinet will hold its first meetings in Calgary on May 27 and 28.

It was reported on social media this weekend that the NDP Caucus will nominate Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker of the Assembly when MLAs convene to replace Speaker Gene Zwozdesky on June 11. Mr. Wanner is the former commissioner of public services at the City of Medicine Hat and worked as a professional mediator before he was elected. The Speech from the Throne will be read by recently appointed Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell on June 15.

Here is a list of the new cabinet ministers:

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Premier of Alberta and Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations

Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood): Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Government House Leader

David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder): Minister of Education, Minister of Culture and Tourism

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Service Alberta, Deputy Government House Leader

Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort): President of Treasury Board, Minister of Finance

Marg McCuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley): Minister of Energy

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Minister of Health, Minister of Seniors

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo): Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Minister of Aboriginal Relations

Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview): Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education, Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour

Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne): Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Minister of Parks and Recreation, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Deputy Government House Leader

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall): Minister of Human Services

Tory requests Judicial Recount in Glenmore

The last outstanding race of the May 5 provincial election will face a judicial recount. The election in Calgary-Glenmore was tied on election night and the official count showed NDP candidate Anam Kazim six votes ahead of Progressive Conservative candidate Linda Johnson. Ms. Johnson, who served one-term as an MLA after her election in 2012, has requested a judicial recount.