Tag Archives: Paula Simons

Jason Kenney’s appeal to social conservatives targets Gay-Straight Alliances

Perhaps not completely understanding how much acrimony the Gay-Straight Alliance issue caused his party back in 2014, recently selected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney brought the issue back to the forefront this week.

According to reports from Postmedia, when asked about Gay-Straight Alliances, Kenney told the editorial board of the Calgary Herald and Sun that he would allow schools to inform parents if their students join a Gay-Straight Alliance.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students – which is why having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

As Postmedia columnist Paula Simons wrote today, ”…why should publicly-funded schools treat GSAs differently than they’d treat any other student-led club? Why, that is, unless deep deep down, we still do believe that it is, in fact, a shameful, dangerous thing to be gay — or to associate with gay friends.”

Now that Kenney has secured the leadership of the PC Party, he is now effectively running for the leadership of the Wildrose Party – which he wants to merge his party into.

Kenney is known for his social conservative views and he shied away from publicly commenting on social issues during the PC leadership race. But now that he is running against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean for the leadership of a new conservative party, we are beginning to see his open appeal to the party’s social conservative base.

While Kenney’s comments are directed toward social conservative voters he will need to win the leadership of a new conservative party, they are reckless. Allowing schools to “out” students to their parents would undermine the ability of Alberta students to create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.

Crouse drops out of Liberal leadership race, Lukaszuk in?

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

The only candidate running for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party has dropped out two days before the nomination deadline.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse announced on his website that he was withdrawing from the race for personal reasons. Crouse’s candidacy would have been a big catch for the Liberal Party, which currently only has one MLA in the Alberta Legislature.

Rumours are swirling that Crouse’s departure could make way for former Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk to potentially enter the Liberal Party leadership race before the March 31 deadline. The former deputy premier and 2014 PC leadership candidate publicly trashed his PC Party membership card after Kenney won the party leadership on March 18.

The race is being held to choose a replacement for past leader Raj Sherman, another former Tory MLA who crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2011. He resigned as leader in January 2015.

Setting the stage for Wildrose 2.0: Moderates need not apply

“We must also ensure that a new, united party will be built on a solid foundation of conservative principles and policy. The left-liberal clique that managed to slowly highjack the PC Party must never again be allowed to seize control of Alberta’s conservative movement.”

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

This call for ideological purity came from Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt in an opinion-editorial published by Postmedia earlier this week. Fildebrandt, who sounds as if he is preparing his own leadership bid, has been a vocal supporter of Jason Kenney’s bid to “unite” the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party to form a new consertvative party before the next election.

Fildebrandt’s manifesto reads like a call to create a rebranded Wildrose Party without the moderates, centrists and liberals who once found a home in the old PC Party. Driving this ideological agenda, Fildebrandt would undoubtably be a prominent leader in the new Conservative Party, one that a province-builder like Peter Lougheed might not even recognize.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party appears unstoppable at this time. Along with support from former prime minister Stephen Harper, the Manning Centre, and Wildrose Party members, he appears to have secured a majority in the leadership delegate count.

Kenney’s supporters have succeeded in driving out a number of high profile political moderates from the party.

Former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen quit the leadership race after being harassed and threatened with violence. She later joined the NDP and is expected to be appointed to cabinet sometime this year.

Former MLA Stephen Khan told Postmedia columnist Paula Simons last week that he quit the PC leadership race last week after an ugly race where he was the target of racist and Islamaphobic emails from new party members supporting Kenney.

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

When AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga, well-known for his progressive views, asked him about his political future, Khan replied “I have as much interest in joining the Wildrose 2.0 Party as you do.

Party president Katherine O’Neill has done an admirable and thankless job trying to lead the PCs through the turbulent period. Under siege from conservative hard-liners and Kenney supporters, O’Neill represents urban, centrist and moderate views that could lead to a PC Party revival. Too bad she is not a candidate for the leadership.

One year and eight months after losing the election, the big blue tent that led the PC Party to 44 years of electoral success has collapsed but not folded. The party was ripe for Kenney’s hostile takeover but any plans to dissolve the party will have to address  vendor contracts, party constitutional issues, local and provincial board approvals, legalities around fundraising and bank accounts, and fairly strict legal parameters. Despite his campaign to “unite” the two political parties, it is legally impossible to merge political parties in Alberta.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

All this is occurring at the same time as Rachel Notley’s NDP government looks more moderate and centrist by the day. And with pipeline approvals and some projections of a recovering economy, the NDP might be the sensible option on Albertans’ ballots in 2019. But attacks on the NDP, and on Notley personally, will be harsh.

Last week marked six years since Ed Stelmach announced he would step down as Premier of Alberta. Faced with a revolt by right-wing cabinet ministers and the rise of an insurgent Wildrose Party, Stelmach surprised the province at a Jan. 2011 press conference, where he issued a stern warning about the direction and tone of politics in our province, which is shockingly relevant to today:

“There is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and US style negative, attack politics that is directed at me personally.

The danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focussing on personality – on me personally.

This type of U.S. style wedge politics is coming into Canada, and it comes at our peril.”

Stelmach was a few years early, but he was right.

A Wildrose Party sign spotted outside of Hinton last week.

Today’s Edition of The Fight on the Right

Starke vs. Kenney: the lightweight match

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

Starting the day off, Richard Starke, the soft-spoken veternarian from Lloydminster entered the ring with his “Common Sense Plan” to save the Progressive Conservative Party from Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover plans to merge it right-wing Wildrose Party.

The PC leadership race has largely been devoid of any other real issues or policy discussions and focused almost entirely on Kenney’s takeover bid. Starke’s plan was extremely light on details but here’s what we know: he is open to a coalition between the two parties but he would keep the PC and Wildrose parties separate.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

It is unclear if this means the two parties would not run candidates against each other, but that might be one way of salvaging the estimated $1.5 million currently sitting in the bank accounts of PC constituency associations that would be forfeit if the party was dissolved into the Wildrose Party.

Today’s announcement was likely aimed at dislodging the significant lead Kenney has secured in the delegate selection meetings, but it feels like a desperate last grasp by Starke.

Jean vs. Kenney: The bare-knuckle round

Overshadowing Starke’s plan is Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean‘s shot at Kenney. Jean announced today that he is prepared to step down as leader of his party to contest the leadership of a new conservative party, if one is created before the next election.

Brian Jean

There had been speculation for months that Jean could avoid a messy leadership challenge by running for Mayor of Wood Buffalo in October 2017 instead of fending off a challenge from Kenney, but this appears to settle it. As leader of the Wildrose Party, Jean has been unofficially campaigning for months to bolster his bid to leader the conservative movement in this province by holding town hall meetings with supporters.

Jean took the reigns of his party from the edge of the political abyss after most Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party in 2014. He led the rural-based party to a swift recovery in the 2015 election but has faced challenges within his caucus and party ever since. His party has also been stuck in the mid-30 percent range in public opinion polls over the past year.

It is unclear whether Jean and Kenney would be the only two candidates to run for the leadership of a new Wildrose-dominated conservative party, or whether a third or fourth contender would enter the contest to lead this currently non-existent party.


Khan throws in the towel

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

Former St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan has dropped out of the PC leadership race. The former one-term MLA gave columnist Paula Simons a fairly damning description of the state of conservative politics in Alberta: “I wouldn’t call it a dumpster fire. But I’d call it a destructive circus.”

Here is an excerpt from his statement:

I was confident that this race would be one of ideas and hope for Alberta’s future and I expected it to be a well-run and principled campaign. Instead, it has devolved into vitriol, anger and division. As such, I can no longer participate in this race in good conscience, nor ask my family, volunteers and supporters to do the same on my behalf.

We have seen the reputation of the PC Party damaged so badly over the course of this campaign that our credibility may be beyond repair. More concerning, we have seen volunteers, organizers, leadership candidates, members of the Board of Directors, our party President and even some PC caucus members harassed and threatened. It is clear that there is no room in this race for competing ideas and we have seen more anger and division in the last 3 months than in the half-century legacy of this party.

As I step down, I know other candidates in this leadership race will carry on the fight. I will remain a proud member and volunteer with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Going forward, I will put my support behind Richard Starke and I would ask my supporters to do the same. 

Recommended Listening: A list of my favourite podcasts

I had the pleasure of chatting with the talented Karen Unland on her excellent Seen and Heard in Edmonton podcast last week about my experiences while blogging about Alberta politics and some of the changes that have happened in online media since I started writing this blog a decade ago.

One of the things that has changed over the past ten years is the proliferation of podcasts available on almost any topic. On Karen’s podcast, I recommended a handful of podcasts that I listen to on a weekly basis. Here is an expanded list of podcasts that I would give my seal of approval:

Candidate’s past opposition to LGBTQ anti-bullying policy concerns education advocates

The Board is committed to establishing and maintaining a safe, inclusive, equitable, and welcoming learning and teaching environment for all members of the school community. This includes those students, staff, and families who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The Board expects all members of this diverse community to be welcomed, respected, accepted, and supported in every school. – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy, Edmonton Public School Board

Some education advocates are concerned that past comments made by a candidate for public school board in Edmonton could set the stage for a battle over the board’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy.

Orville Chubb Edmonton School Board

Orville Chubb

Speaking as the executive director of the Meadowlark Christian School Foundation in 2011, Ward C candidate Orville Chubb told Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons “it’s not that we are anti-gay in any way, shape or form… We just need to be able to articulate the moral element to all Christianity … and our Christian community is not able to accept that homosexual acts are not immoral. If you don’t feel comfortable with your children in that kind of milieu, don’t send your students here.”

The Meadowlark Christian School offers an alternative program within Edmonton Public Schools for “families who wish their children to be educated in the evangelical Christian tradition.”

Responding via email, Mr. Chubb wrote that his comments about being “able to articulate the moral element to all Christianity” was either a misquote or he had misspoken.

“I believe I was speaking to the issue of freedom of speech and Christianity’s view that everything has a moral overlay,” wrote Mr. Chubb. “The balance of the quote was the opinion of the majority of the parents of the school.”

“My position now, as it was then, is that you cannot legislate belief. I am a firm advocate for freedom of speech and conscience,” wrote Mr. Chubb. “I staunchly defend those who are discriminated against in any way.” Mr Chubb also noted that he participated in the committee which implemented the policy.

Sarah Hoffman Edmonton Public Schools

Sarah Hoffman

The current chair of the public school board says she’s proud of the work that the board has done to ensure that all students, staff and families are safe, welcome and respected in every Edmonton Public School.

“We made the decision to move forward with a policy because there is nothing more important to us than ensuring that every school is a place were students feel accepted,” said Ward G trustee Sarah Hoffman. “We have received positive feedback from the community and our accountability pillars show that students are feeling safer in our schools.”

The outgoing trustee for Ward C, Christopher Spencer, was quick to respond to Mr. Chubb’s comment. “On a factual matter, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada supports gay marriage and welcomes gay clergy, so it is incorrect to say that all Christians think that homosexuality is wrong,” said Mr. Spencer.

Mr. Spencer said more ministers and pastors contacted him in support of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy than those who were opposed to the policy.

“As for the notion of some sort of gay-free school, segregation in education based on sexual orientation or gender identity seems as awful to me as segregation based on race, and it must not be allowed to happen in a public institution committed to the needs of all children,” said Mr. Spencer.

Mr. Chubb said he will support the current stand-alone policy and regulations but would include the right for a parent to express moral perspectives on any issue, including those informed by a religious perspective.

Funding Edmonton’s Downtown Arena, the strange comedy of errors continues.

The strange comedy of errors that has become Edmonton’s Downtown Arena project continued this week as City Council scrambled to fill a $100 million gap in a funding plan they approved months ago.

Stephen Mandel

Stephen Mandel

Despite repeated claims by Mayor Stephen Mandel that provincial government money would fill the $100 million gap, anyone who has paid any attention over the past year will know the province had no plans to provide funding for Edmonton’s Downtown Arena project. Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths have been consistent in their public comments on the topic: “no.”

In response to the lack of never-promised funding in last month’s provincial budget, the Mayor and seven Councillors voted to withdraw a $45 million loan to be paid back through future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding that the city could receive over the next twenty-years. In response to the decision, Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons reminded her readers this week, “[t]he clear intent of the original council resolution was that no deal would go ahead without $100 million in new provincial money.”

Daryl-Katz

Daryl Katz

In a display of common sense against what has become Mayor Mandel’s increasingly embarrassing obsession, five Councillors – Don IvesonBen HendersonLinda SloanKerry Diotte, and Tony Caterina – voted against the motion to dedicate future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds to the proposed Arena.

Problematic for many reasons, this decision still leaves a $55 million gap in funding and Daryl Katz – the billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers – said he is not interested in renegotiating the financial arrangement agreed to months ago. Mayor Mandel claims this loan will convince the provincial to fill a smaller $55 million funding gap – something the province has said it has no interest in doing.

The Municipal Sustainability Initiative was created by Premier Ed Stelmach’s government in 2007 to provide funding to municipalities for public infrastructure projects. Municipalities have discretion over how this provincial money is spent and they have typically been used to fund public transit, libraries, community halls and utility infrastructure. Using these funds to build a new hockey arena to house a privately-owned business like the Edmonton Oilers would use funds that could be used for other much-needed community infrastructure projects.

A concern for City Councillors should be that, like all funding transfers from other levels of government, there is no assurance that the Municipal Sustainability Initiative will exist over the next twenty-years. Its continued existence is based on three factors the City of Edmonton has no control over: population growth, provincial revenue, and the continued desire of provincial politicians to continue the program.

Will the provincial government change its tune and provide $55 million in direct funding? Not very likely. Mayor Mandel’s warpath against post-secondary funding cuts will have left many already unsympathetic provincial politicians now even less-willing to contribute to the project.

Also problematic for the provincial government is the ongoing is the investigation by Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer into allegations that Mr. Katz violated the Elections Finances Act by donating more than $400,000 to the Progressive Conservative Party in the 2012 provincial election (the individual donation limit is $30,000).

pity the billionaire. katz group asks city council for more.

Daryl Katz Edmonton Downtown Arena Oilers

Pity the Billionaire. Oilers owner Daryl Katz asks Edmonton City Council to make more financial concessions in his sweat-heart deal to build a new downtown arena.

One week after Edmonton’s Chamber of Commerce warned of dramatic consequences if construction of the new downtown arena did not begin soon, the Katz Group, owned by billionaire Daryl Katz, has demanded further financial concessions to the already rich deal that City Councillors agreed to last year. Despite weak-kneed support by most Councillors who voted to build a downtown arena for the Katz Group-owned Edmonton Oilers last year, a pre-election year backbone appeared in Council Chambers today.

From the Edmonton Journal‘s Paula Simons:

In a last-minute addition to the agenda, councillors were given a top-secret briefing by city administration on negotiations with the Katz Group over a new downtown arena.

When councillors finally emerged from their closed-door meeting, they were grim. Without revealing any details of their private discussions, Bryan Anderson and Kim Krushell, two of the most passionate supporters of the arena project, moved and seconded a motion, written in the sort of code that could only be deciphered by longtime arenaologists.

Here’s the exact wording: “That in response to the Katz Group’s recent request for additional public funding, administration is directed to respond to the Katz Group that City Council remains committed to the negotiated framework approved by City Council on October 26, 2011.”

Simple translation?

No.

No more concessions for Daryl Katz and the Oilers. Councillors were united in their new-found resolve. Only Kerry Diotte and Linda Sloan voted against the motion — and that’s only because they thought last October’s deal was too rich. Read more…

According to a letter from Katz Group General Counsel John Karvellas, the current $450 million project, which includes $125 million from the City of Edmonton, $100 million from the Katz Group, and $125 million from a ticket tax. An additional $100 million is still missing from the funding formula. Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel told reporters today he is confident that money will become available from the provincial government (which may be unlikely following Finance Minister Doug Horner‘s projections of a potential $3 billion provincial budget deficit).

Meanwhile, Mr. Katz’s employees, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, are signed up to earn $42-million and $36-million over the next seven and six years playing for the last-place Edmonton Oilers. Mr. Katz’s hockey company may operate in an alternate bizarro universe when signing paycheques, but these types of sky-high salaries make it difficult to feel sympathetic to his company’s plea for more financial concessions by Edmontonians.

Additional reading: Alex Abboud’s Edmonton’s Arena Will Likely Happen, But Would it be Bad Thing If It Didn’t?

why would the government of alberta help fund the proposed Katz group arena?

This week Edmonton’s City Council is holding hearings and holding a vote to purchase the lands underneath the proposed Katz Group Arena on 104th Avenue north of downtown Edmonton. This vote will take place despite the $100 million which is still missing from the funding formula that has been negotiated by Mayor Stephen Mandel, the City Administration, and billionaire Daryl Katz‘s Katz Group. The current funding formula would have the City of Edmonton fund an approximate $450 million towards the mega-project.

Some advocates of the proposed Katz Group Arena will tell you not to pay too much attention to the details, because the proposed Katz Group Arena will cure all of Edmonton’s civic ills, but reasonable voices are pointing out the raw deal that the City of Edmonton has negotiated. Paula Simons wrote an excellent column about this last week, and Edmonton Journal business reporter Gary Lamphier waded in to the discussion today, highlighting the point that Mr. Katz is no longer willing to pay the $100 million he has previously committed towards the project:

“It’s a terrible deal,” says U of A sports economist Brad Humphreys. “They’re still short $100 million and I don’t see it going very far until they come up with the remainder of the funding.”

What’s more, by allowing Katz to forgo the $100 million upfront funding commitment in return for a 30-year lease at $5.5 million per annum, Humphreys says the city has further softened the financial burden on the Oilers owner.

“I notice in the reporting to date, people are saying Katz is paying $165 million, which is $5.5 million over 30 years. But that’s not right. That calculation ignores the time value of money, which believe me, is coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.”

The federal government has given no indication that it is interested in entering this kind of financial venture, which has led some arena advocates to look to the provincial government to fill the gap. It is a risky venture for the provincial government to become involved with.

During the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign, now Premier Alison Redford said in a media release that she opposed any government funding for the Edmonton arena, direct or through a dedicated tax.

It has been speculated that provincial funding already allocated through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative could be allocated to the Katz Group Arena, but such a move could come at the cost of much needed public transit and community infrastructure.

Provincial involvement in the proposed Katz Group Arena could also create expectations by other municipalities that the provincial government should fund other professional arena mega-projects. This could be the case especially in the City of Calgary where the aging Scotiabank Saddledome could need be replaced or undergo major renovations in coming years.

Premier Redford has said that she wants the provincial government to deliver a balanced budget by 2013-2014. Diverting $100 million toward the proposed Katz Group Arena to fill a funding gap that was a result of poor negotiations on the part of the City of Edmonton does not exactly send a clear message of fiscal responsibility to Albertans. This would open the Progressive Conservatives to increased attacks by the NDP and Wildrose, who have already taken hardline positions against public dollars supporting the proposed Katz Group Arena.

In a September 29 media release, NDP leader Brian Mason (who was elected to City Council during the Peter Pockington-era of Edmonton Oilers ownership) said:

“I’d rather see that $100 million used to reverse this year’s education cuts, or used for publicly accessible infrastructure like LRT. I’ll put kids before a billionaire team owner any day.”

There is also the possibility that provincial funding for an expensive mega-project like the proposed Katz Group Arena could hurt Edmonton’s chances of securing future funding from the province for legitimate public works projects, such as future LRT expansions. The provincial government is already funding the construction of the Anthony Henday ringroad and is currently undertaking the restoration of the Federal Building, the creation of a new Centennial Plaza at 99 Avenue and 108 Street, and providing funding to expand the LRT.

With the provincial government already pouring funds into these large infrastructure projects in Edmonton, there is the very real possibility that the province will have no interest in becoming financially involved in a mega-project like the proposed Katz Group Arena. 

That no other level of government wants to become involved in funding the proposed Katz Group Arena should be a hint to Edmontonians and their City Councillors that they should take a closer look at the “deal” that their Mayor and Administration have negotiated.

recommended reading: how the katz group did an end run around the best interests of edmontonians.

If you read one article today, please read Paula Simons well written column on how billionaire Daryl Katz and the Katz Group were able to score major concessions from the City of Edmonton during their campaign to secure public funds to build their new downtown arena.

Simons: Katz Group power play scores major concessions from city

Call it the art of the deal — raised to the level, not of a Donald Trump, but of a Leonardo da Vinci.

Back in April, Edmonton city council agreed that it would only support Daryl Katz’s proposal for a new downtown arena under a long list of very strict circumstances. Among them? The motion required the Katz Group to put up at least $100 million toward the capital cost of the arena. It put a strict $125-million ceiling on the city’s direct cost for building the facility. And it specified that no deal would go ahead until another level or levels of government had somehow made up the remaining $100 million funding shortfall.

There is still no public hint of that magical $100 million, from either the Alison Redford Tories or the Stephen Harper Conservatives.

Yet at a hastily called meeting this past Friday, with three councillors out of town and one on a medical leave, city council voted to buy the land that Katz has optioned for a new arena. (Bryan Anderson, who’s recovering from surgery, missed the vote. So did Ben Henderson, who was stuck on a plane. Karen Leibovici and Linda Sloan were out of the country on holiday, but voted over the phone.) Of those councillors who did vote, only Sloan, Tony Caterina, and Kerry Diotte opposed the purchase.

Read the rest and if your stomach is feeling queasy when you reach the end of the column, phone or email the Mayor and your City Councillor, and tell them how you feel about the decisions they are making by rushing the decision to provide public funds to pay for a downtown arena for Mr. Katz and his company.

tories to celebrate 40 years as government with new leader.

A late evening tweet from Progressive Conservative Party President Bill Smith was the first official announcement that Premier Ed Stelmach would formally resign as leader of his party in September 2011. The Premier announced his intentions to resign last week, but did not specify an exact date.

September 2011 is a milestone year for the PCs. On September 10, 1971, Peter Lougheed was sworn in as his party’s first Premier in Alberta and the PC has kept that line partisan-pure ever since. I imagine that party members has mixed feelings about the date. On one hand, forty years of majority governments is an impressive achievement for any political party. On the other hand, it is also risky to draw too much attention to this kind of longevity when a thirst for political change is in the air.

I am sure that many PCs wish their fortieth anniversary as government to be an occasion to celebrate a fresh new face as the leader. Some PC members have started an online campaign to recruit the outspoken 30-something MLA Doug Griffiths, but so far the only candidate to officially announce he is running for that party’s leadership is 61-year old former Finance Minister Ted Morton. Current Deputy Premier Doug Horner, son of Premier Lougheed’s Deputy Premier Hugh Horner, is expected to enter the PC leadership contest in the next few days.

The Tories are not the only party seeking a new leader. With both the Alberta Party and Liberal Party also looking for new leaders in 2011, there is a lot of opportunity for the PCs fortieth anniversary to be much more interesting than anyone could have imagined.

UPDATE: The Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons is reporting that Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman is weighing her options at running for either the Alberta Party or Liberal Party leadership.

understanding the katz arena district debate: community revitalization levy, opportunity costs, and the arena poll.

Edmonton City Council voted yesterday to enter formal negotiations with the Katz Group to develop a downtown arena though framework documents developed by the City Administration. These documents are problematic for many reasons, but mostly significantly because they present a $100 million gap in the funding framework.

Mayor Stephen Mandel remains a steadfast supporter of this mega-project and a few Councillors expressed their discomfort at entering this stage of the process with a surprising lack of important information available to them. Councillors passed a 12-part motion requesting reports on the community benefits, the potential to raise money from licensing or selling seats, the impact on businesses near the area, and the status of negotiations with Northlands. The lack of important information still unavailable makes yesterday’s motion very much a tentative move towards negotiations between City Council and the Katz Group.

After a heated day of questions and debate, Councillors Don Iveson and Linda Sloan were the only two Council members to vote against the motion to enter negotiations, which was voted upon separately from the rest of the 12-point motion. Councillor Iveson wrote a blog post last night expanding on why he did not support the motion and raised the important point that perhaps: “we should just call this a subsidy and be transparent about it.” This point raises another important question that I asked in a previous post: should municipal governments be responsible for subsidizing professional sports in Canada?

Public hearing on the Katz Group’s zoning proposal are scheduled for today and more public hearings are expected to be held in mid-March.

As City Council awaits a response to its motions, it is important that all Edmontonians understand the wider issues surrounding this development, so that they can fully participate in the debate and ensure that our elected officials are making the most responsible decisions for the future of our City. Here are three of those wider issues:

Understanding the Community Revitalization Levy
An important thing to remember when trying to understand the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) is that despite its name, it is essentially a tax (in other jurisdictions it is known as Tax Increment Financing).

There is a good explanation of CRL on the WhyDowntown? blog. Mack Male has also written a helpful three part series explaining some of the basics about CRLs, how they are already being used in Calgary’s Rivers District, in Edmonton’s Fort Road, and is in the process of being implemented in Edmonton’s The Quarters District, and how a CRL could work in a Katz Arena District.

Understanding Opportunity Costs
The Charette’s Scott Lilwall has taken a look at some of the opportunity costs facing the City of Edmonton if public funds are used to subsidize the Katz Group Arena. Are the opportunity costs of subsidizing a new downtown arena good for Edmontonians?

Given that it’s never a sure thing, we need to ask ourselves – what is the opportunity cost? If downtown revitalization is our goal, is a new arena the best thing we could spend $250 million on? It seems to be a high price to pay for bringing people to the downtown for a few hours at time. Even if the new arena was booked every night, most people are going to be in and out: come downtown for the event and then go home. Some of them will stick around for a few hours beforehand. Do some shopping. Do some eating. Spend some time downtown.

That’s good. But it can’t be all that we aim for. What we need is to get more people living around downtown, people who will be eating and shopping and walking and doing what people int he neighborhoods they live in. And they’ll be doing it at all hours of the day. That should be our goal, and the arena is only one way of getting closer to it. But are there better things that we can do with that big pile of money?

Understanding the Arena District Poll
Last week’s news stories in the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun were filled with praise for a poll showing that a majority of Edmontonians not only supported the construction of a downtown arena and public funding of the project.

Luckily for Edmontonians, the Journal’s Paula Simons took a more critical look at the poll results and the questions asked in the poll. Ms. Simons’ closer look confirms the old adage that you can always formulate polls to give you the results you are looking for.

In her column today, Ms. Simons reminds Edmontonians that many questions still need to be answered before this arena deal spins out of control. Hit the books and get learning, Edmontonians. The future of your City deserves a good debate.

alberta politics notes 9/27/2010

James Cameron & the Avatarsands.
Premier Ed Stelmach is facing criticism for acting like a “starstruck teenager” after receiving an invitation to take film director James Cameron on a tour of Alberta’s oil sands. While I doubt that the Ed “Hollywood” Stelmach label will stick, the Premier’s response does show how eager the PCs have become in taking any opportunity to challenge the international criticism of Alberta’s energy beach. (Will fish be on the lunch menu?)

Brian Mason’s “Just trust me” tour.
NDP MLA Brian Mason made two announcements this week in his and MLA Rachel Notley‘s “Earning your trust” tour across Alberta. In Calgary Edmonton last week, the NDP leader announced a fiscal plan, pledging that an NDP government would balance Alberta’s budget in one year. The NDP leader also announced support for the construction of a post-secondary institution in the Town of Hinton. The NDP are not going to form government or gain wide-spread support in Alberta anytime soon but I have to give that party’s two MLAs credit for being the only party on their side of the political spectrum to be making policy announcements.

Envision Bonnyville/Edson/etc.
Ethical questions have been raised since it was made public that the lobby group opposing the redevelopment of Edmonton’s City Centre Airport lands were asking for financial contributions from northern Alberta municipalities to help fund its campaign. According to news reports, Envision Edmonton asked a number of municipalities for funds, including the Town of Edson, which turned down their request for $10,000 in public funds. The Town of Bonnyville initially said yes, but needs to ratify the decision once again since the lobby group’s plebiscite petition was ruled invalid. (Kudos to Paula Simons who wrote an excellent column on this subject).

Envision Wildrose
There is an important political question about how much the Wildrose Alliance, which has endorsed the Envision Edmonton lobby group, is using this issue to promote their own political agenda. Bonnyville Mayor Ernie Isley told the Bonnyville Nouvelle in a recent interview that ‘his goal in life is to do everything possible in the next two years to elect a Wildrose government next election.’ ‘everything possible.’

Legislature Staffers standing in the municipal election.
Two political staffers at the Alberta Legislature are trying to make the jump to municipal politics this fall. NDP Caucus Research Director Sarah Hoffman is challenging Edmonton Public School Board Trustee George Rice in Ward G. Wildrose Caucus staffer James Johnson is running against City Councillor Jane Batty in Edmonton’s downtown Ward 6. Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr dropped out of the Calgary Mayoral contest last week.

Next Provincial Election.
I have started a list of candidate nominated to stand in the next provincial election (I have also created a link to the list in the bar above). By my count, the Wildrosers have nominated 9 candidates, the NDP 2, and the Liberals will nominate their first candidate on October 2. I will try to keep the list up to date, so please email daveberta.ca@gmail.com if there are additions to the list.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.

edmonton election 2010: know your candidates and issues better.

Municipal elections only come once every three years (on the third Monday of October) and if I had my choice, they would come every year. I love election season, especially on the municipal level. While provincial and federal elections are defined by partisan politics and leaders with micro-managed images, local politics offers a more gritty and real politics.

Instead of hearing about billion dollar gun-registries or carbon taxes, we all get to spend four weeks talking about potholes and roads, garbage pickup, traffic congestion, and other issues that affect people literally where they live. Generally there are a number of larger issues that will shape the larger debate, like (hopefully an end to the never ending debate about) the closure of the City Centre Airport or the financing of Daryl Katz‘s downtown arena – but so much about municipal politics falls under the old adage “all politics is local.”

It may be easy to believe that because the Prime Minister gets more airtime on the 6pm news that your municipal elected officials are just not important. Although Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s single-vote on City Council probably will not have national repercussions, it could affect the way your City operates and your quality of life. This is why it is important to take some time over the next few weeks to learn more about your candidates and see what ideas they are running on and platforms they are presenting (or not presenting, as is the case thus far with the platform-absent Mayoral candidate David Dorward). Take the time to learn about your candidates and then vote.

If you think you will not have any time over the next four weeks to learn more about the candidates who will be on your ballot on October 18, 2010, you should think again. The miracle of the Internet has led to the birth of extensive resources and information available about the issues and candidates. Instead of spending your lunch hour watching YouTube or your evening chatting on Facebook, take a look at some of the online resources available.

The City of Edmonton has a comprehensive website with any kind of elections information you will need as a voter or candidate. The fourteen all-candidate forums sponsored by the City of Edmonton will also be live-streamed online so that anyone can tune in from their homes and even submit questions online. For political watchers, this will make it much easier to catch what is being said at the forums (and who is excelling or crashing and burning). Remember that the Ward boundaries have changed and that you will only be able to vote for one Councillor this year.

Share Edmonton is an excellent resource for finding out which Ward you will be voting in, dates and times of all-candidate forums in your Ward, and links to candidates’ websites and contact information. Share Edmonton is also a great resource for finding out the election buzz on Twitter. Avnish Nanda has also compiled a great social media catalogue for City Council, Public School Board, and Catholic School District candidates.

The Edmontonian and The Unknown Studio will most certainly be providing informed, entertaining, and unique coverage of the election. EdmontonPolitics.com will have some commentary and Mastermaq is the man about town and the king of data. Edmonton’s alternative news Vue Weekly also has their very own special elections webpage.

The mainstream media has also set up special websites dedicated to election information. Check out CTV Edmonton, the Edmonton Journal, and the Edmonton Sun. Also make sure to check out the new Edmonton Commons blog hosted by Edmonton Journal columnists Paula Simons and David Staples.

As I delve through the links, websites, platforms, and news I will publish profiles of some of the contests and issues over the next few weeks. If you are following any of the contests or candidates on the ground, or just have some information you want to share, please comment or send me an email at daveberta.ca@gmail.com.

foster care fiasco.

For many reasons, so much about politics in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reminds me of the above scene from The West Wing.

I used to believe that the toughest job in the Alberta cabinet was held by Health & Wellness Gene Zwozdesky, but lately I am starting to believe that it is actually held by Children and Youth Services Minister Yvonne Fritz. Following this week’s shenanigans and resignation over foster care funding, it is clear that something is not functioning properly in our government.

On Monday morning, NDP leader Rachel Notley held a media conference leaking a public document that outlined changes to foster care funding in the Edmonton region. Ms. Notley claimed that the plan was to cut foster funding, and called on Minister Fritz to rescuing the new funding formula. She did and insisted that she told department officials not to cut support. Paula Simons raised the issue in her Tuesday column: Was Minister Fritz sabotaged? Does the Minister actually have a handle on the decisions being made inside the Minister of Children & Youth Services?

Minister Fritz was appointed to the portfolio in January 2010, replacing Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk, who had not excelled when faced with challenges in that Department.

Yesterday, Premier Ed Stelmach undoubtably breathed new life into the foster care issue by accusing the NDP of playing politics with the issue. While he may have been trying to save face, his point is somewhat well taken. Should Ms. Notley have brought the issue directly to Minister Fritz? Ms. Notley claims that if she had brought the issue directly to the Minister, it would have been buried (not an unjust assumption). At what point does this kind of political gamesmanship become irresponsible? Like so many issues raised in the Assembly, what was really accomplished when they devolve into this kind of weekly round-robin?