Tag Archives: Peter Lougheed

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

The rise and fall of (Pierre) Trudeaumania in Alberta

Trudeau's Tango Alberta Darryl Raymaker

Trudeau’s Tango

There is perhaps no greater myth in Alberta politics than that the National Energy Program, which all Albertans are told to believe brought untold devastation to the oil sector and salted the earth for the federal Liberals in this province for decades to come.

Looking beyond the myth, most Albertans might be surprised to learn that by the time the NEP was launched, it had already been twelve years since the (Pierre) Trudeau Liberals had last elected an MP in Alberta.

Long-time Calgary Liberal Darryl Raymaker does his share of myth-busting as he delves into a period of political optimism, generational changes and missed opportunities that swept through Alberta in the late 1960s and early 1970s in his new book, Trudeau’s Tango. Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

An active member of the Liberal Party of Canada at the time, Raymaker’s book is rich with stories and anecdotes from the offices of party insiders and the trenches of the campaign trail during the Trudeaumania election of 1968. That election saw a federal Liberals breakthrough in Alberta, with four MPs elected, but a long-string of missteps and mistakes led to the party being shut out in the province four years later (and not electing another MP from Alberta until 1993).

Raymaker provides useful insight into the fraught relationship between the four Alberta Liberal MPs and their Ottawa masters, between Trudeau and Calgary’s nouveau rich oil industry, as well as the federal party’s reaction to the shifting ground that led Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives to unseat the long-governing Social Credit Party in 1971.

One of the most fascinating stories Raymaker includes in his book is about the failed attempt to negotiate a political coalition between the federal Liberals and the provincial Social Credit Party. The political coalition was an attempt to solidify federal Liberal gains and keep Lougheed’s Tories at bay. The marriage negotiations failed, and as Raymaker argues, helped drive many traditional federal and provincial Liberals into Lougheed’s big-tent PC Party.

The institutional memory that Raymaker shares in this book is invaluable to anyone wanting to understand the politics of a period that had a significant impact on Alberta’s politics in the following decades.

While the context may be different, the book provides some parallels to today’s Alberta politics –  the electoral breakthrough by the (Justin) Trudeau Liberals in 2015, Trudeau’s friendly relationship with the government of NDP Premier Rachel Notley, and the ongoing political battles over oil pipelines and climate change.

Darryl Raymaker will be launching Trudeau’s Tango in Edmonton on Tuesday, at a free event open to the public at Audreys Books on Jasper Avenue. Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault will be sharing a few words at the event and facilitating a discussion after Raymaker’s talk.

Edmonton Book Launch of Trudeau’s Tango
Audreys Books, 10702 Jasper Avenue
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Ernest Manning, Joseph Tweed Shaw, Peter Lougheed, Harry Hays, and Alexander Rutherford are a few of the Alberta politicians with electoral districts bearing their name.

Alberta’s odd tradition of naming electoral districts after former politicians

Become famous in Alberta politics and one day you could have a provincial electoral district named in your honour.

It has become a custom in recent decades in Alberta for electoral districts to be named after former politicians. As far as I can tell, Alberta and Quebec appear to be the only provinces who have widely embraced the practice of of naming districts after historical figures.

John Courtney

John Courtney

In a 2000 edition of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, University of Saskatchewan Professor John Courtney noted that in 1991 the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing urged a shift in naming electoral districts away from geographic place names, including hyphenated names, to a recognition of distinguished Canadians and important historic events or locations.

“Canadians often decry their limited knowledge of their own history and fail to recognize the accomplishments of those who have made outstanding contributions to the country,” Courtney wrote, suggesting it would “be a welcome change from ponderous directional reference points and an excessive reliance on hyphenated place names.”

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

In Alberta, at least 10 out of the 87 current electoral districts bear the name of a political figure from Alberta’s history. When compiling this list, it was important to make the distinction between electoral districts that have been specifically named after individuals and districts named after communities that were already named after individuals (ie: Calgary-Currie, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Livingstone-Macleod, and St. Albert).

Looking through the list, I discovered a few interesting facts. For instance, despite Alberta’s reputation as an unfriendly political environment for Liberal partisans, there are today more electoral districts named after former Liberal MLAs than there are actual Liberal MLAs in the Alberta Legislature.

Elmer Roper

Elmer Roper

The earliest instance of electoral districts being named after individuals may have been in Alberta’s first election. Two districts were created in 1905 – Victoria and Alexandra – which may have been named after Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.

Why and when naming districts after historical figures began in more modern times might a little more difficult to determine. The Calgary-Egmont district, named after Frederick George Moore Perceval, 11th Earl of Egmont, was created in 1971 and existed until it was renamed Calgary-Acadia in the 2012 election.

The Calgary-McCall district first appeared in the 1971 election and was either named after First World War ace fighter pilot Fred McCall or the airfield that was named after him (McCall Air Field became the home of the Calgary International Airport after 1966). Also created in 1971 was the Calgary-McKnight district, which was either named for McKnight Boulevard or the boulevard’s namesake, Second World War flying ace Willie McKnight. The district was renamed Calgary-Nose Creek for the 1993 election.

In 1986, the Calgary-Shaw district was created and appears to have been named in honour of Joseph Tweed Shaw, who represented west Calgary as an MLA and MP in the 1920s and 1930s. He served as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party from 1926 to 1930.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

The next instance occurred in 1993, when the Calgary-Lougheed, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Rutherford, Edmonton-McClung, and Edmonton-Roper districts were created, named after former Premiers Peter Lougheed, Ernest Manning and Alexander Rutherford, one of the Famous Five and former MLA Nellie McClung, and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Elmer Roper. Lougheed, Manning and Roper were alive at the time but had retired from politics many years before.

The original recommendation from the MLA committee that oversaw the redrawing of the electoral map at the time had the Manning and McClung districts in difference locations from where they now exist. Manning was originally to be located in southwest Edmonton and McClung in northeast Edmonton, until it was later discovered that Ernest Manning once owned a home in northeast Edmonton Also, Manning Drive, which was named for Manning in 1972, is in the district. An amendment introduced in the Assembly swapped the two closer to their current locations on the electoral map.

While the other names remain on the electoral map, the Edmonton-Roper district was renamed Edmonton-Castle Downs in 1997.

Laurence Decore Alberta Liberal Leader

Laurence Decore

In 2004, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended the creation of the Calgary-Hays, Calgary-Mackay and Edmonton-Decore districts named after former Calgary mayors Harry Hays and Donald Mackay and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Laurence Decore. The Decore district was created from Edmonton-Glengarry, which Decore represented in the Assembly from 1989 until 1997.

Six years later, two more districts were named after former politicians. The first was Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley was named in honour of former MLA and NDP leader Grant Notley, who represented the area in the Assembly from 1971 until 1984.

Grant Notley

Grant Notley

And the second, created through an MLA introduced amendment in the Assembly after the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s final report had been tabled, is the only example I could find of a district being named after an individual who has recently retired from political life.

On October 26, 2010, Progressive Conservative MLA Kyle Fawcett introduced an amendment to rename Calgary-North Hill to Calgary-Klein, after former premier Ralph Klein, who had been retired from elected office for only three years. Fawcett, who represent North Hill, admitted that Klein had never actually represented that area of Calgary as an MLA, but that he was born and raised in the community of Tuxedo Park in the district.

The amendment was accepted by the Assembly, but it raises questions about the lack of process of honouring individuals by including their names in electoral districts. Unlike the process used to name parks, public spaces and schools used by municipal governments and school boards to honour notable community members, there does not appear to be a clear process in naming electoral districts.

The 2009/2010 Commission recommended in its final report that the Assembly consider adopting a protocol for the naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions. It is unclear whether any protocol has been adopted or whether the current commission will continue the trend of recommending naming new districts after political figures from Alberta’s history.

The Famous Five

If the current Electoral Boundaries Commission does name any districts in honour of notable Albertans, I would recommend they choose those names in honour of a century of women being allowed the right to vote in elections (women of European ancestry, at least). One way to do this is for the already existing Edmonton-McClung district be joined by four new electoral districts named in honour of the other members of the Famous FiveEmily MurphyIrene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Opposition to Daylight Saving Time in Alberta since the 1970s.

Thomas Dang MLA

Thomas Dang

Edmonton-South West MLA Thomas Dang announced last week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly in the 2017 spring session that would abolish Daylight Saving Time. The biannual practice of turning the clock forward by one hour in the spring and back one hour in the fall has a long and controversial history in Alberta.

DST was introduced in Alberta after a 1971 province-wide plebiscite resulted in 386,846 votes (61.47%) in favour of adopting the change. This followed the first plebiscite, which took place in 1967 and resulted in a narrow defeat for the Daylight Saving Time change (248,680, or 51.25%, against the change).

While the time change is anecdotally unpopular, a CBC report suggested that lobbyists representing big-box stores, sporting and recreational goods manufacturers, barbecue and charcoal retailers, shopping malls and golf courses remain big supporters of Daylight Saving Time.

National Post columnist Colby Cosh chimed in today, taking a totally reasonable if it’s not broken why fix it? approach to the debate.

Since it was introduced in Alberta, there have been a handful of attempts by opposition critics and government backbenchers to abolish the practice or at least raise concerns about Daylight Saving Time.

A newspaper advertisement promoting DST in 1967.

A newspaper advertisement opposing DST in 1967.

In 1978, Spirit River-Fairview MLA and New Democratic Party leader Grant Notley tabled a petition in the Assembly from 36 constituents “living in an area of the province that comes closest to having the midnight sun,” which called on the government to hold a referendum or plebiscite at the time of the next provincial election.

In 1983, Walt Buck, an Independent former Social Credit MLA representing the Clover Bar constituency, asked in Question Period whether the Progressive Conservative government “if any studies have been done as to the feasibility of leaving daylight saving time year-round?

Premier Peter Lougheed was quick on his feet with a non-response to Buck, “I have to admit I haven’t had a question on that subject since possibly 1972, and I would be somewhat concerned to ask the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Economic Development. So the question is quite properly directed to me. I’ll have to take consideration and decide who will be the fortunate person to whom I delegate the answer.

Lacombe PC MLA Ronald Moore introduced private members’ bill in 1991 and 1992 which proposed the adoption of daylight saving time year-round. Both bills were introduced into the Assembly but did not make it further than first reading and were not debated.

In March 2015, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske tabled a petition organized by Ruby Kassian calling for an end to Daylight Saving Time. More than year later, in December 2016, Vermilion-Lloydminster PC MLA Richard Starke tabled a petition urging the government to introduce legislation to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act and require the observance of Central Standard Time in Alberta.

Daylight Saving Time now longer than it was in 1972

The first Daylight Saving Time was observed in Alberta at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday in April in 1972.

In 1987, Attorney General Jim Horsman introduced Bill 2: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to first Sunday in April.

In 2006, Justice Minister Ron Stevens introduced Bill 4: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November. This was in response to the same change made by the United States Congress in 2005.

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Floor Crossing! What to make of Tory MLA Sandra Jansen joining the NDP?

Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.

It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.

“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”

“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”

There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.

In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.

Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.

With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.

While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.

Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.

Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.

A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.

With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.

Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

Notley searches for her Lougheed moment by demanding pipelines for Trudeau’s carbon tax

Demanding the federal government help “break the landlock” and support the construction of oil pipelines from Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips drew a line for Alberta’s support of the Justin Trudeau government’s proposed national carbon pricing plan. In a statement released today, Ms. Notley stated that the Alberta government would not support the federal carbon pricing plan without federal support for increased “energy infrastructure” (a.k.a. oil pipelines).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

There is nothing more Albertan than a good old fashioned political battle between the provincial government and Ottawa over energy issues. Premier Notley may be hoping this standoff could be reminiscent of the heated political disputes that took place between the governments of Premier Peter Lougheed and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Mr. Lougheed, an iconic figure in Alberta politics, political fights with Ottawa can help boost a politician’s popularity at home.

When Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice began casting the New Democratic Party as “extremists” during the 2015 election, Ms. Notley frequently turned to quotes by Mr. Lougheed to support her party’s positions on issues like raising corporate taxes.

Ms. Notley’s NDP have been vocal supporters of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline since she became party leader in 2014. Now, as government, the Alberta NDP’s support for oil pipeline expansion has contributed to an increasingly deep divide between the national and provincial NDP in this province. The national NDP, with strong support in anti-pipeline constituencies in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, has played a much less supportive role in advocating for Alberta’s oil industry.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

The Alberta government’s criticism of the federal government puts Ms. Notley in the company of conservative Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a constant critic of Ottawa. But unlike Mr. Wall’s government, which has dragged its feet on tackling climate change, Ms. Notley’s government cannot be accused of doing nothing to address climate change. Alberta’s NDP government has led the charge with its flagship ‘Climate Leadership Plan‘ which includes its own carbon tax and an aggressive phasing out of dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Alberta NDP plan enjoys the support of environmental groups and oil and gas industry heavyweights like Cenovus, Suncor, CNRL and Shell.

Meanwhile, opposition groups like the Wildrose Party are literally hoping to rehash the political battles of the 1980s. The official opposition Wildrose Party circulated a meme online today comparing the national carbon tax announcement to the unpopular National Energy Program of the 1980s. The Wildrose Party continues to be fierce critics of the federal Liberals and NDP but party leader Brian Jean has yet to offer any alternative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Ironically, the Wildrose Party’s 2015 election platform proposes to “Ensure Alberta’s standards for CO2 emissions and pollutants are in line with national and international standards.” This statement was written during a time when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister and a national climate change plan was nowhere on the agenda. It is amazing how quickly politics can change in a short seventeen months.

Breaking the landlock,’ which I predict will become the latest political buzzword, is analogous to the “bitumen bubble” that former premier Alison Redford warned Albertans of in a televised address in 2014. Both buzzwords are part of a public campaign to build pipelines that would presumably allow for easier export of Alberta’s oil, and allow the private companies exporting the oil to sell Western Canadian Select at a lower discount rate than in previous years. This probably would not make a significant difference to Alberta until the international price of oil rebounds.

Over the past year, Ms. Notley has shown her willingness to work with Mr. Trudeau on a wide-range of issues. This may have led the Prime Minister to expect he would find an ally in Ms. Notley in his bid to implement a national carbon pricing plan. But by attaching strings to Alberta’s support for a national carbon pricing plan, Ms. Notley is playing a political game that could pay out political dividends at home. In a fight between the Alberta government and Ottawa, as Mr. Lougheed discovered, you can bet that nine times out of ten, Albertans will side with Edmonton.


Here is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in the House of Commons today announcing the national carbon pricing plan:

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley NDP

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.


The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

6 reasons why Alberta history will be kind to Ed Stelmach

Five years ago today, Ed Stelmach began the process of quietly stepping out of the political spotlight by announcing his resignation as Premier of Alberta after nearly five years in the office.

The mild-mannered farmer from the Village of Andrew dedicated more than twenty-five years of his life to municipal and provincial politics and led the Progressive Conservative Association to win one of its largest electoral victories in its forty-four years as government. Despite this win, his party’s Calgary establishment never forgave him for defeating their choice for leader in the 2006 leadership race.

On January 25, 2011, facing dangerous ideological divisions in his party and caucus, Mr. Stelmach announced his decision to resign. On October 7, 2011, he was replaced as premier and party leader by Calgary MLA Alison Redford.

While there were certainly controversies and missteps during his time as premier, Mr. Stelmach made a number of significant decisions that have had a positive effect on our province. Considering my history with the man, some readers may be surprised to learn that I believe history will be kind to Alberta’s thirteenth Premier. Here’s why.

Six reasons why Alberta history will be kind to Ed Stelmach

1) Mr. Stelmach reinvested in public services and infrastructure. After years of neglect, his government tackled the province’s growing deferred maintenance budget by investing billions of dollars into public infrastructure.

The Municipal Sustainability Initiative and the $1 billion GreenTrip Fund provided to municipalities allowed for the expansion of public transit in Alberta’s fast-growing cities. A series of 5% increases to the health care budget helped to stabilize the see-saw of unpredictable funding allocated by his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

2) The creation of the Capital Region Board helped de-escalate the tensions and narrow the deep divisions between the dozens of municipalities in the Edmonton region. While tensions still exist in some corners of the capital region, Mr. Stelmach helped usher a détente‎ by forcing the municipal politicians to use a process for resolving grievances and planning the future.

3) The creation of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness set a bold plan in motion to eliminate homelessness in our province by 2017. While homelessenss will not be eliminated by 2017, the provincial plan along with plans to end homelessness in CalgaryEdmonton and other cities, thousands of Albertans have been successfully housed through programs like Housing First.

4) The introduction of the Lobbyist Registry helped shine a spotlight into the shadowy world of political lobbying and horse-trading. Although not foolproof, the registry gives Albertans a chance to see who is being paid to influence their elected officials on a daily basis.

5) During his first year in office, Mr. Stelmach concluded a deal with the Alberta Teachers’ Association in which the province agreed to contribute $2.1 billion towards the $6.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In exchange, Alberta’s 34,000 teachers  agreed to a five-year contract. This is a stark contrast to his predecessor and successor, who waged war on Alberta’s public sector workers, their pensions and their unions.

6) In the spirit of former Premier Peter Lougheed, Mr. Stelmach moved the Tories back to the centre of the political spectrum. While he did not stay to face them in an election, he recognized that to compete with the right-wing Wildrose Party, then led by Danielle Smith, he needed to move his party to the middle, rather than the political right. While this angered his opponents both inside and outside his party, this decision may have helped save his party from political defeat in the 2012 election. Had he remained leader of the PC Party, he might still be Premier of Alberta today.

While he never enjoyed the same level of personal popularity as Mr. Klein, I suspect the actions Mr. Stelmach took while in office will have a longer lasting positive impact in this province than those of his immediate predecessor.

(This post is an updated version of an article first published in 2013)

Albertans are more progressive than you might think. I’m not surprised.

A new report, “The Quiet Majority“, released by a new group called Progress Alberta shows that we Albertans may be more progressive than we believe we are.

Progress Alberta Edmonton Hunger Ukrainian Strike

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data, when Albertans were asked whether they consider themselves to be progressive, 59 percent answered yes. It appears that although we identify our province as being conservative, a significantly larger group of Albertans identify as being moderate or progressive.

“Urbanization, in-migration, and generational change are all shifting the province’s political attitudes and behavior,” Abacus Data’s David Coletto said in a press release today.

The survey also shows strong support for same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana, and support for raising personal income taxes on high income earners and the introduction of a carbon tax.

This survey also reinforces the arguments made by political watchers like Corey Hogan, that shifting demographics and massive population growth have created a new political environment in Alberta which made an electoral win by the New Democratic Party possible in 2015.

As shown in the graphs below, where Albertans place themselves and where they believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum is quiet different.

AB_Ideological_Self-Placement-1

Where Albertans place themselves on the ideological spectrum.

AB_in_General_Ideological_Placement

Where Albertans believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum.

The results of the survey are not surprising to anyone who has been paying close attention to Alberta politics, as I have over the past ten years. While there are a large number of self-identified conservatives in our province, Alberta’s electorate has always been more populist than conservative.

Peter Lougheed Alberta Conservative Premier

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

The great success of the old Progressive Conservative government, starting under the leadership of Peter Lougheed in 1971, was forged with the creation of a broad political coalition that appealed to conservative, moderate and progressive voters in Alberta. And at the height of the Ralph Klein-era in Alberta politics, the Liberals and NDP were still able to garner between 30 and 40 percent of the province-wide vote.

This is why I am hesitant to predict the death of the PC Party in Alberta, even in its current weakened state.

The right-wing Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean continues to mount a campaign to take over the PC Party. At meetings across the province, Wildrose Party members are being encouraged to purchase PC Party memberships in order to push the merger agenda at constituency associations and other internal party levels.

Proponents of the take over characterize it as a merger but it is likely that the Wildrose needs the PCs more than the PCs need the Wildrose and the limited appeal of the ideological social conservatism that much of its membership base represents. The PCs won 12 elections from 1971 to 2012 by raising a big tent centrist party, not by just uniting conservatives under one conservative party banner, as Mr. Jean and MLAs like Derek Fildebrandt appear to be proposing.

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

Many members of the PC Party, including Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen remain opposed to merging with the Wildrose, which could drag the PCs further to the political right and away from where most Albertans stand, near the moderate centre. With the right leader, the PCs may be able to regain the trust of voters lost in 2015.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Wildrose Party’s strategy is to eliminate the PC Party as an alternative while continuing to brand the NDP government as “risky”, “extreme” and “ideological,” despite no real evidence supporting those claims.

The success of Rachel Notley‘s NDP in 2015 was based on her appeal to moderate and progressive voters. It is not surprising that during last year’s election campaign Ms. Notley frequently invoked the memory of Mr. Lougheed, who was seen by many Albertans as the embodiment of a progressive and forward-looking leader.

The success of the NDP in the 2019 election could be based on their ability to remain appealing to that coalition of moderate and progressive voters. This will require Ms. Notley to keep the balance and moderation that was promised in her party’s election platform and not veer too far left to appease her party’s fringe.

This is only one poll and is not an indicator of how Albertans will vote in future elections but it does provide some valuable information about the values held by many voters in our province. It is encouraging that groups like Progress Alberta are being formed to ensure that issues important to progressive Albertans are publicly discussed in a province dominated by conservative commentators and pundits.

Publisher’s Note

I am pleased to be contributing to Progress Alberta as a member of their advisory board. See the full list of advisory board members here.

Information about the survey

The survey informing this study was conducted online with 1,000 Albertans aged 18 and older from December 2 to 7, 2015. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Albertans recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading providers of online research samples.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

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.

Throwback Thursday: Alberta ‘should annex’ parts of Canada’s North

On April 19, 1972, Calgary MLA Dave Russell, minister of municipal affairs in the newly elected Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Peter Lougheed publicly suggested that the Province of Alberta should annex parts of the Northwest and Yukon territories.

The Calgary Herald reported that Mr. Russell’s plan was to redraw the map so that on the eastern border the province would run from the American border to the top of Canada. The province’s western border would include the Mackenzie River Valley and parts of the Yukon.

“It makes sense in view of transportation and pipelines,” Mr. Russell told the Herald.

Here is an excerpt (pdf) from Mr. Russell’s speech in the Legislative Assembly as recorded by Hansard:

Mr. Speaker, because of what is happening in the field of energy resource development and transportation on the North American continent at this time, it seems to me that there is a great deal of logic in extending the existing northern Alberta boundary from its present location up to the northern limit of our country. I am thinking that the entire area lying between an extension of Alberta’s eastern boundary and the Yukon-Northwest Territories boundary, logically some day probably belongs in the Province of Alberta.

I am putting this proposition in the form of a question, because I am wondering if it has occurred to the hon. members what an exciting prospect there is there in making the entire area, from the 49th parallel right up through the Greater Slave Lake region and the Mackenzie Delta the energy and resource corridor and political entity on the North American continent. I think the potential there and the logic of carrying out such a move makes a great deal of sense.

Danielle Larivee Rachel Notley Deron Bilous

Notley creates Economic Development ministry, appoints rural Municipal Affairs minister

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew from twelve to thirteen today with the appointment of Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee to the posts of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta.

Ms. Larivee takes over those roles from Deron Bilous. Mr. Bilous, one of the four NDP MLAs elected before this year’s orange chinook swept across Alberta, is now the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, a new department created from elements of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation and International and Intergovernmental Affairs.

With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table the provincial budget in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 27, the creation of this new ministry is meant to send a message about the importance of job creation and economic diversification. It was announced today that the budget will also include an “economic development plan” that will help provide some direction for this initiative.

The provincial budget is expected to include significant investment in public infrastructure and job creation projects to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by the drop in the international price of oil.

Calgary No Longer the Centre of Alberta’s Political Universe

The appointment of a rural northern Alberta MLA to cabinet has already generated complaints from some Calgary-based pundits. Only four of thirteen cabinet ministers represent constituencies south of Edmonton, including Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.

Over the course of its 44 years in power, the old Progressive Conservative government was led by Calgarians for more than three decades – Premiers Peter Lougheed (1971 to 1985), Ralph Klein (1992 to 2006), Alison Redford (2011-2014) and Jim Prentice (2014-2015).

It is suspected that former Alderman Bob Hawkesworth would have been appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs if he had won a September by-election in the Calgary-Foothills riding. If this is true, Calgarians can rightfully ask why one of the other eleven NDP MLAs in Calgary wasn’t appointed to cabinet. But they would be mistaken to believe they are the only group the provincial government is trying to represent.

As an MLA representing a large rural constituency, Ms. Larivee’s appointment to the Municipal Affairs post is more likely a tip of the hat to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties. An incredibly well-connected lobby group during the PC Party’s time in power, the AAMDC has found itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

The group was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many of its officials have used the group as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former cabinet minister Jack Hayden).

As a registered nurse who worked in a community health care setting, Ms. Larivee will understand some of the challenges facing the rural and remote communities represented by the AAMDC. It just so happens that Ms. Larivee’s new job starts a month before her first large event as minister – the AAMDC’s annual general meeting on November 17 and 18.


Alberta’s New Cabinet

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona) – Premier

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) – Economic Development and Trade

Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne) – Agriculture and Forestry

Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort) – Finance and Treasury Board President

David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) — Education and Culture and Tourism

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo) Justice and Aboriginal Affairs

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton Glenora)— Health and Seniors

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake) – Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta

Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) –  Infrastructure and Transportation

Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley) – Energy

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West) – Environment and Parks and Status of Women

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall) – Human Services.

Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview) – Advanced Education, and Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” former Premier Peter Lougheed once said.

Let’s Review Oil Royalties and Start Acting Like Owners Again.

Alberta’s new NDP government has taken steps to fulfill one of their key election promises by appointing a panel to ensure Albertans are receiving their fair share from their natural resource wealth through the royalty rates paid by the oil industry to the Alberta government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The choice of Alberta Treasury Branches President Dave Mowat, energy economist Peter Tertzakian, former Alberta deputy minister of finance Annette Trimbee, and Mayor of Beaverlodge Leona Hanson to review Albertans royalties should calm any anxiety industry leaders may have had with this process. These are sensible choices for this important review.

Like the panel reviewing Alberta’s climate change strategy, the royalty review panel is stacked with knowledgable appointees who cannot be accused being partisan New Democrats. And while some industry leaders are still uncomfortable with this year’s election results, Mr. Tertzakian has some advice for conservative-connected business leaders.

Peter Tertzakian

Peter Tertzakian

“The industry needs to have more than just an open mind — I think you have to go with forward thinking and that this is an opportunity to get away from business as usual,” Mr. Tertzakian told a business reporting website after Rachel Notley‘s NDP was elected with a majority government on May 2015.

The appointment of Mr. Tertzakian received immediate praise online from two prominent conservative voices –  former Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

The panel has an important task ahead of it and has a mandate to “optimize” returns to Albertans as owners of the resource, industry investment, diversification opportunities, such as value-added processing, and responsible development of Alberta’s resources.

Bill Hunter, who chaired the 2007 royalty review panel established by former Premier Ed Stelmach, wrote in his final report that “Albertans do not receive their fair share from energy development. Albertans own the resource. The onus is on their government to re-balance the royalty and tax system so that a fair share is collected.”

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Marg McCuaig Boyd (photo by Connor Mah)

Nearly a decade after Mr. Hunter penned those words, the responsibility once again falls on Alberta’s government to ensure that Albertans are receiving their fair share from energy development.

It is up to the current panel to consult with Albertans and industry to determine what that proper balance will be.

Part of that balance will be timing, as Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd told reporters today that any changes to royalties will not be implemented until 2017. And like any other panel review, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd and Ms. Notley have the leeway to ignore any recommendations that might appear to be politically unpalatable or carry too much risk. This is why government’s like to employ these types of panels to review potentially controversial policy changes.

Politicians from the opposition benches have been fiercely critical of NDP plans to review royalties. The WildroseAlberta PartyLiberal and the Progressive Conservative opposition have described the review as “job killing.” A September 3 by-election in Calgary-Foothills has escalated the partisan rhetoric from the opposition, who see a by-election win as a way to discredit the new government’s agenda.

Dave Mowatt

Dave Mowat

But others, like Alberta Oil Magazine editor Max Fawcett, argue that now is the perfect time for a royalty review. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Tim McMillan has said he does not want the government to delay the review, and even Mr. Stelmach has said the review should happen.

Comparisons can be made to a rookie PC government led by Peter Lougheed, which reviewed royalties during its first year in office, to the consternation of industry leaders who had grown accustomed to a comfortable relationship with the old Social Credit government.

“The oil companies, not unexpectedly, are howling – while the natural gas industry is quaking in its boots because the government also has made clear it is going to change its taxes in the fall,” the Ottawa Citizen reported on May 8, 1972.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” Mr. Lougheed once said while encouraging Albertans to think like owners.

As the owners of the resources, Albertans deserve to know whether we are getting our fair share. But the result of a royalty review is made more important if the government does something meaningful with the funds collected through the rent of our natural resources.

Alberta launched the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976. Under Mr. Lougheed’s leadership, the Heritage Fund initially received 30% of government resource revenues and was worth $12.7 billion in 1986, when the PCs began a 17 year freeze on new deposits into the fund. The Heritage Fund is now worth only $17.4 billion. Despite an embarrassment of riches during most of its 44-years in power, the old conservative government proved to be poor financial managers once Mr. Lougheed retired.

In their 2015 election platform, the NDP campaigned on the promise that “100% of incremental royalty revenue, above the sums earned by Alberta under the current regime, will be invested into Alberta’s Heritage Fund.

The current downturn in the price of oil will certainly change some of the new government’s short-term plans when the budget is tabled in October 2015, but significant investment in the Heritage Fund when oil prices do rise again will pay off for Albertans in the long-term. And ensuring that the owners – Albertans – are receiving their fair share from energy development, as Mr. Hunter wrote in 2007, will be key to this long-term planning.

Notley should avoid getting dragged into oilsands election trap

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

When Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper claimed on the campaign trail last week that Alberta’s new government was “a disaster,” Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci calmly and cautiously responded.

But when Mr. Harper again criticized Alberta’s new government during a brief stop in Edmonton this week, Mr. Ceci delivered a sharply worded response criticizing the federal Conservatives eight consecutive years of budget deficits.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

The decision to stay out of the personal fight was typical of Ms. Notley, who already demonstrated her ability to fly above the political fray when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall attempted to goad her into a political war of words last month.

Mr. Harper’s bluster is a sign of larger problems for the Ottawa Conservatives across Canada. Nationally, they are in a three-way race with the NDP and Liberals. Provincially, the political environment in Alberta has undergone a seismic shift and the Conservatives no longer have natural allies sitting in government in Edmonton.

Should Notley respond to McQuaig?
Linda McQuaig Oilsands Alberta

Linda McQuaig

Acting as if the topic of natural resource policy should be taboo in election campaigns, Conservative politicians and columnists have wasted no time pilling on Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig and other NDP and Liberal candidates for comments made about Canada’s oil sands .

Ms. McQuaig is known for her strong opinions about Canada’s natural resources, she should not be demonized for staking a position in the public debate (well-known public deviants such as former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and former Premier Peter Lougheed also questioned the speed of growth and environmental impact of oil development).

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

While support for the oilsands and pipeline construction is high in Alberta and Saskatchewan, there is significant public opposition in other parts of Canada.

A lax approach to environmental concerns has cost Alberta in political currency and a visceral reaction to these criticisms will not help build a successful public case for oilsands expansion and pipeline construction across Canada.

Having already described the oilsands as a “tremendous public asset,” Ms. Notley should not get caught in the trap of rebutting every political candidate or commenter who criticizes the province’s natural resource track record. The appointment of an expert panel to recommend a new approach to climate change has the potential to have a more positive impact on public opinion.

But what Ms. McQuaig’s comments do suggest is that a future divide between elements of the federal NDP and Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP over the future of natural resource development is almost inevitable. And when it comes to national debates about energy, Albertans will rally behind their Premier, regardless of who sits in office in Ottawa.

Ghosts of the Progressive Conservative Party's 44-year long reign continue to haunt Alberta politics.

7 Conservatives scandals that still haunt Alberta politics

After forty-four years of Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, it still feels surreal to believe that another party has been elected into government. Two and a half months after the NDP victory, Premier Rachel Notley is putting her stamp on Alberta politics. But Alberta’s new government is left to deal with some of the more unhelpful legacies created by the previous government. Here is a look at a few of the Progressive Conservative scandals that continue to haunt Alberta politics.

Funeral Homes

CBC reports that it has obtained documents showing how the Alberta Funeral Service Association pressured former minister Jonathan Denis and the Department of Justice to reopen a contract and abandon earlier efforts to control spending. CBC reports the contract was reopened and revised against the advice of a government lawyer and chief medical examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau.

Kananaskis Golf Course

Alberta’s auditor general is reviewing a controversial contract between the government and a private company operating a publicly-owned Kananaskis golf course. During this year’s election, NDP MLA Brian Mason asked the auditor general to investigate why the government paid $9.3 million to the company, which is known to have connections to the PC Party. The golf course has been closed since the 2013 floods in southern Alberta.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who chairs the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, has said he hopes to compel former PC cabinet ministers, including Diana McQueen, to appear at a committee meeting. Critics have criticized the 1983 contract as a “sweetheart deal.”

Airplane sale

The rushed sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes led to a $5 million loss for Albertans. This contradicts claims by former PC premier Jim Prentice that the sale of the planes netted $6.1 million for the government. The planes were sold after Ms. Redford and PC MLAs faced harsh criticism for alleged misuse of the government air fleet for personal and partisan activities.

Public Sector Pensions

Alberta public sector pension liabilities dropped by more than $400 million last year, suggesting evidence that changes planned to the funds by former premier Alison Redford and finance minister Doug Horner were not necessary. The attacks on public sector pensions alienated thousands of public sector workers in Alberta, many who voted for Ms. Redford’s PC Party in the 2012 election. The PC government’s planned changes to the pension plan were scrapped after Ms. Redford resigned as premier in early 2014.

Cowboy welfare

The auditor general reported that the government has been forgoing an estimated $25 million in annual revenue by not limiting surface rights compensation paid by the energy companies to holders of provincial grazing leases. The report states the province does not track which leases have oil and gas activity on them or how much was paid to the leaseholders for access to the natural resources.

“Current legislation allows an unquantified amount of personal financial benefit to some leaseholders over and above the benefits of grazing livestock on public land,” the report says.

Previous attempts to change the law governing the leases met fierce opposition from rural leaseholders, including a posse of sixty cowboys on horseback who tried to block premier Ralph Klein from visiting the Royal Tyrrell Museum in 1999.

Carbon Capture and Storage

The government’s large investments in carbon capture and storage development has not paid off, according to a July 2014 report from the auditor general. Marketed as a key piece of the PC government’s climate change plan, the auditor general reported that “with only two carbon capture and storage projects planned, the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.”

The NDP pledged to end the carbon capture contracts and instead reinvest hundreds of millions of dollars into public transit programs, but high cost of cancelling binding contracts with private sector corporations developing the projects could solidify this PC legacy.

Heritage Fund

When premier Peter Lougheed created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976, the government dedicated 30% of annual revenues into the rainy day fund “to save for the future, to strengthen or diversify the economy, and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.” The PC government halted non-renewable resource transfers to the fund in 1987, when it was worth $12.7 billion. Investments into the fund were only started again in 2004.

Despite Alberta’s immense natural wealth, the fund is now only worth an estimated $17.4 billion.

PC Party patronage machine grinds to a halt, future of appointees unknown

After 44 years as government, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party built an impressive patronage machine. For many decades, there very likely has not been a board with provincially appointed members that did not enjoy the presence of a PC Party member. That political machine ground to a halt on May 5 when Albertans swept Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party into office.

As the NDP transition into office is the first real change of power since 1971, we can expect that many PC-connected appointees on numerous agencies, boards and commissions will exit or not have their terms renewed in the next few years. The same can be said for a slew of ideologically-based advocacy groups that have enjoyed generous funding from the PC Government in recent years.

While having a PC Party membership should not automatically preclude an individual from serving on a public board in the future, as many honest Albertans have held a membership in that party over its four decades in power, it will no longer be a golden ticket into the corridors of power in Alberta.

Here is a quick look at some prominent PC Party members, supporters and former MLAs and cabinet ministers who are currently serving in government appointed roles at colleges and universities:

Here are a number of other high-profile PC supporters who are serving in government appointed roles:


The last Social Credit Party education minister, Robert Clark, currently serves as chair of the Board of Governors of Olds College. Mr. Clark was elected as Social Credit MLA for Olds-Didsbury in 1960 at the age of 23 and served until 1981. He was Leader of the Official Opposition from 1973 to 1980.