Tag Archives: Preston Manning

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.

Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover of Alberta’s PC Party is complete

Former federal politician Jason Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta today, as was widely expected. Kenney received the support of 75 percent of the delegates attending the party’s voting meeting today at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

His only opponents, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson, earned 21 percent and two percent support from the voting delegates.

Kenney’s leadership bid was more of a hostile takeover than a traditional leadership campaign. The central point of his platform was his plan to dissolve the 8-MLA PC Party and form a new party with the official opposition Wildrose Party. Kenney has said he plans to meet with Wildrose leader Brian Jean on Monday to further discuss his plans.

Over the course of the campaign, Kenney and his legions of social conservative supporters, many who also happen to be card-carrying members of the Wildrose Party, worked tirelessly to marginalize progressive voices in the party. Two leadership candidates, Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, said they and their supporters faced threats and bullying by Kenney’s supporters before they dropped out of the race. Jansen later crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party and Khan endorsed Starke.

Kenney’s reputation for being a focused campaigner helped him win an overwhelming number of delegates at the local constituency votes. The lethargic and uninspiring campaigns mounted by his opponents were left in the dust.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

But even with such a commanding lead, Kenney’s campaign couldn’t stop itself from getting into trouble. His campaign was fined $5,000 for breaking party rules and the party executive was faced with complaints from former MLAs and calls for Kenney to be disqualified from the race. One of his key organizers, Alan Hallman, was expelled from the party and was reportedly charged with assault last night at the convention hotel.

Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race. The progressives who showed up in droves to vote for Ed Stelmach in 2006 and Alison Redford in 2011 stayed home this time. Or maybe they, like Sandra Jansen, like what they see from Rachel Notley’s NDP government?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said this week that Kenney-ally Preston Manning is eyeing his party’s name, even going so far as to offer Clark a cabinet spot in a future government. It was only one year ago that the Kenney-front group Alberta Can’t Wait attempted a takeover of the Alberta Party.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Clark claims that a number of former PC MLAs and activists, including former deputy premier and vocal Kenney critic Thomas Lukaszuk, are in discussions with his party. This may be related to an upcoming “unite the centre” event in Red Deer that former PC MLA and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is said to be behind. Another former PC MLA, Heather Klimchuk, said in an interview on The Broadcast podcast that she is watching St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse‘s campaign to lead the Liberal Party.

What we discovered today is that less than two years after Alberta’s natural governing party lost its first election in 44 years, the PC Party is a shell of its former self and was ripe for a takeover by Wildrose Party supporters.

In his victory speech, Kenney confidently told delegates at the PC Party convention that he plans to repeal all the changes made by the NDP when he becomes Premier in 2019. That would mean the repeal of policies unpopular with conservatives, like the carbon tax, the Climate Leadership Plan and new farm safety laws, all introduced by the NDP.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

If Kenney is true to his word this would also mean that corporate political donations would be reintroduced, small business taxes would be increased, the minimum wage would be lowered, school fees would be increased, the wealthiest Albertans would get tax cuts, and laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination would be repealed.

When Kenney pledged today to repeal all of the changes made by the NDP, he was not talking to the now former progressive-wing of the PC Party. He was talking to the social conservative and rural base of the Wildrose Party.

Now that the takeover of the PC Party is complete, Kenney will set his sights on his main challenger for the leadership of a new conservative party, Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

Kevin O'Leary is coming to Alberta but skipping the Conservative Party leadership debate.

O’Leary skips Conservative debate, federal NDP debate skips Alberta

The most high-profile candidate running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada will be skipping tomorrow’s leadership debate in Edmonton. As the thirteen other candidates for the leadership gather on stage at the Citadel Theatre, Boston-resident and American reality television personality Kevin O’Leary will instead be hosting a “fireside chat” in a fireplace-less conference room across the street at the Westin Hotel.

Jason Kenney Wildrose Conservative Alberta

Jason Kenney

O’Leary will be joined by former Conservative MP Tim Uppal who will moderate the chat. Uppal represented the Edmonton-Sherwood Park riding from 2006 until 2015 when he switched ridings and was defeated by Liberal candidate Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods in October 2015.

O’Leary was spotted chatting with former MP and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney at last weekend’s Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa. Kenney participated in a panel discussion at the conference with Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and conference namesake Preston Manning on the topic of uniting Conservatives in Alberta.

Manning, who has been involved in conservative politics in Alberta since the 1960s (his father, Ernest Manning was premier of Alberta from 1943 to 1968), played an instrumental role in convincing nearly the whole Wildrose caucus to cross the floor to join the PCs in 2014.

Back to the federal Conservative leadership, Fildebrandt has endorsed leadership candidate Maxime Bernier, the Quebec MP known for his libertarian views briefly served as Minister of Foreign Affairs before resigning in 2008 after he acknowledged leaving sensitive government documents out in the open, apparently at his former girlfriend’s home. Bernier has also been endorsed by Calgary MP Tom Kmiec and former Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth.

The largest group of Conservative MPs (ten) from Alberta are supporting Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer‘s bid for the leadership. Four are supporting Ontario MP Erin O’Toole and one, David Yurdiga, is supporting Kellie Leitch (watch her latest video here, if you can bear it). Bow Valley MP Martin Shields is supporting Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai‘s candidacy.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Wildrose MLA

Derek Fildebrandt

O’Leary does not have the support of any sitting MPs from Alberta but has gained support from Uppal and former PC MLA Ken Hughes. O’Leary was widely mocked online last year after writing an open letter to Premier Rachel Notley pledging to invest $1 million to Alberta economy if she would resign (it is not known if the letter was sent by O’Leary from his home in Massachusetts).

Federal NDP skip Alberta in leadership debate schedule

Meanwhile, the federal NDP released a schedule of debates for their leadership contest and have apparently skipped over Alberta, the only province in Canada with an NDP government.

It is an odd slight, but one that is probably welcomed by Notley’s pro-pipeline NDP government, whose Climate Leadership Plan helped gain approval for the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia. The divide between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts in Ottawa on the pipeline issue is stark and the federal party would not be doing Notley’s government any favours by rolling into the province trumpeting an anti-pipeline message.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper delivers his concession speech.

Two Tories step up to run in Calgary-Heritage by-election after Harper resigns

Following former prime minister Stephen Harper’s resignation last week, a by-election must be called in the Calgary-Heritage riding by February 25, 2017. Two candidates have already entered the Conservative nomination race to succeed Mr. Harper in Calgary-Heritage.

The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)

The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)

Local Conservative Party activist Bob Benzen was the first to announce his candidacy for the nomination. His website states that he is the co-founder of the Decade of Excellence Committee, which paid for large billboards thanking Mr. Harper for his service in office after the Liberal Party’s victory in the October 2015 election.

Calgary lawyer Paul Frank is the second candidate to join the nomination contest. He previously ran in the 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election and as a candidate for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in 2014.

Bob Benzen

Bob Benzen

Also mentioned as potential candidates are Richard Billington, who ran for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Centre before the 2012 by-election (his wife, Susan Billington, was the 2015 Progressive Conservative candidate in Calgary-Varsity) and former Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt, who was elected in the 2012 by-election and unseated by Liberal Kent Hehr in the 2015 general election.

Local Liberals have been actively campaigning in Calgary-Heritage in anticipation of Mr. Harper’s resignation (and the neighbouring Calgary-Midnapore in anticipation of Jason Kenney’s resignation on October 1, 2016).

Brendan Miles Liberal Calgary-Heritage by-election

Brendan Miles

Rumoured potential candidates for the Liberal nomination include lawyer and past Calgary-Confederation candidate Matt Grant, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, and past candidate Brendan Miles. Mr. Nenshi quashed rumours of his candidacy when he told Metro Calgary in May 2016 that he would not run in the by-election.

Mr. Harper was re-elected in October 2015 with 63 percent of the vote, ahead of Liberal Dr. Miles with 25 percent, New Democrat Matt Masters with 8 percent and Green Kelly Christie with 2 percent.

Before the 2015 election, the riding was known as Calgary-Southwest and had been represented by Mr. Harper since 2002. The riding was previously represented by Reform Party leader Preston Manning from 1993 to 2002.


19 Days Left! South east of Calgary, there are 19 days left until a federal by-election must be called in the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

A look at who is backing Jason Kenney’s bid for the PC Party leadership

Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney is expected to announce his candidacy for the leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta tomorrow, July 6, in Calgary, deliver a speech in Grande Prairie that evening and then travel to Edmonton on July 7 for another speech. He was widely expected to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and only just recently began positioning himself as candidate to unite Alberta’s conservative partisans under one banner.

He would be the first candidate to officially enter the PC leadership contest, which is scheduled to be held on March 18, 2017.

  • As I explained in a column last month, Mr. Kenney could have a rough landing in Alberta politics.
  • A skilled organizer with more than 25 years of experience as a taxpayers federation lobbyist and Ottawa politician, Mr. Kenney should not be underestimated by his opponents.
  • Mr. Kenney follows in the footsteps of his former colleague, Jim Prentice, who led the PC Party from 2014 until its defeat by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in May 2015. That election ended forty-four uninterrupted years of PC majority governments in Alberta.
  • Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
  • Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
  • Mr. Kenney is not assured an easy victory in the PC leadership race. I spoke with CTV about some of the potential candidates who also might enter the race, including former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who Mr. Kenney once described as an “asshole,” Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who said she would consider leaving the PC Party if Mr. Kenney became the leader. Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry is also considering entering the contest and former MLA Doug Griffiths is rumoured to be interested.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.

Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.

Mr. Kenney appears to have the support of two unite-the-right groups. The Alberta Can’t Wait group, backed by former Reform Party stalwarts Preston Manning and Cliff Fryers, lobbyist Hal Danchilla and 1980s Tory cabinet minister Rick Orman, and the Alberta Prosperity Fund, backed by former right-wing talk radio host Dave Rutherford, former MLAs Heather Forsyth and Shiraz Shariff, and former PC Party president Jim McCormick. The Alberta Prosperity Fund issued a formal endorsement of Mr. Kenney on July 5, 2016.

The Alberta Can’t Wait group was reportedly planning to hijack the Alberta Party later this summer and Prosperity Fund founder and director Barry McNamar, formerly of the Fraser Institute and Manning Centre, is reportedly suing the Wildrose Party.

The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.

Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.

Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.

Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.

Perhaps hoping to capitalize on Hillary Clintons candidacy, the Reform Party of Alberta logo, shown above, is remarkably similar to the American Democratic Party's logo. 

Reform Party of Alberta now officially registered as a political party

In the midst the latest round of unite-the-right chatter, conservative voters in Alberta now have another party to cast their ballots for.

Randy Thorsteinson

Randy Thorsteinson

The Reform Party of Alberta is now officially registered as a political party with Elections Alberta. The party describes itself as “Alberta’s principled, compassionate, socially and fiscally conservative political party.

The drive to register the party was launched in mid-2014 by conservative activist Randy Thorsteinson, who pledged in March 2015 to run a full-slate of candidates in the upcoming election. Unfortunately for Mr. Thorsteinson and his followers, Jim Prentice called the provincial election one year earlier than expected and his party was unable to register with Elections Alberta before the vote.

The party again tried to gain registered status with Elections Alberta in advance of the March 22, 2016 by-election in Calgary-Greenway but they were unable to meet the deadline required to have a candidate listed on the ballot.

I am told the party definitely plans on running a full-slate of candidates in the next provincial election, expected to be held in early 2019.

A party with the same name previously existed from 1989 until 2004 as a place-holder vehicle for the Reform Party of Canada to contest Alberta’s Senator-in-Waiting elections in 1989 and 1998. Although federal party leader Preston Manning is said to have pondered expanding the provincial-wing to challenge the Progressive Conservatives, Reform partisans alternatively found willing supporters in the conservative-wings of the PC and Liberal parties in advance of the 1993 election.

That party should also not be confused with the Alberta Reform Movement, which was founded in 1981 by former PC MLA Tom Sindlinger.

Party leader Mr. Thorsteinson led the Social Credit Party from 1992 to 1999 and the Alberta Alliance Party from 2003 until 2005. He stood as a candidate in the 1993, 1997 elections in Red Deer-South and in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake in 2004.

He participated in the televised leaders debate in 1997 and led the Socreds to earn 6.8 percent of the province-wide vote, the strongest showing by that party since 1979. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Party, earned 8.7 percent of the vote in 2004 while campaigning on the slogan “Blame Ralph,” in reference to then-premier Ralph Klein (his legacy is now lauded by conservatives, but many Albertans forget how unpopular Mr. Klein was starting to become during his final years in office).

In February 2016, Mr. Thorsteinson explained his reasons for forming a new party and not joining the Wildrose Party:

“The challenge I have with the Wildrose is that I am also a Social Conservative. I believe in the traditional Albertan family values, the Wildrose does not. Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose, just after his victory as Wildrose leader called Social Conservatives “wingnuts” and “nutbars” in newspapers. I obviously can’t support him.

Additionally, the Wildrose Caucus MLAs also joined with all other parties in the Alberta legislature on Dec. 7, 2015 to unanimously vote in favour of Bill 7 the “Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, 2015”. This is the law that allowed the NDP government to have the legal authority to pronounce the outrageous “Guidelines of Best Practices” that mandates that boys and men have the right to use women’s public washrooms and showers if they “self identify” as a girl or woman. My wife and I have six daughters, we are very concerned there will be a lot of teenage boys who “self identify” as a girl to go into the girls showers. It recently happened at the University of Toronto where male students were videoing female students taking showers in “gender neutral showers” on campus. Progressive/Liberals will call it fear mongering, parents call it outrageous. The guidelines also undermine parents and wants schools to stop using the words mother and father; him and her for something “gender neutral”. For the record for progressive/liberals I am a husband and father, Kathleen is my wife and mother of our children. We are not gender neutral.

All of the Wildrose MLAs unanimously voted for it. As a Social Conservative I can’t support them. It’s not the party I founded, it’s Progressive Conservative lite.”

So there you have it. If you are a conservative who does not believe the other five conservative parties in Alberta are conservative enough, then the Reform Party of Alberta could be a good fit for you.

Note: As noted in the photo caption above, the Reform Party of Alberta logo, shown above, is remarkably similar to the logo used by the American Democratic Party.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

In or Out? Jason Kenney could have a rough landing into Alberta politics

CBC reports that after 19 years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 48, is considering entering provincial politics in Alberta. Postmedia’s Jen Gerson writes that he will not confirm whether this is true.

It was a prediction first made by Postmedia’s Graham Thomson in January 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].

So, Mr. Kenney, who just this week was appointed to the parliamentary committee studying electoral reform, could be abandoning plans to replace Rona Ambrose as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and setting his sights on uniting-the-right and challenging Rachel Notley‘s moderate New Democratic Party government in 2019. If Mr. Kenney is going to enter Alberta politics, he will need to decide quick because the Progressive Conservative Party will be choosing its new leader before April 30, 2017.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.

New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.

Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A bid for the PC Party or the Alberta Party leadership might seem odd for Mr. Kenney, who is likely more comfortable in the social conservative wing of the Wildrose Party and with his former colleagues at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The historical success of the PC Party in Alberta between 1971 and 2015 was not based on adherence to conservative ideology but on the ability of its leaders to build a big blue tent of conservative, moderate and liberal voters.

Despite strong support for sending federal Conservatives to Ottawa, Alberta is now a much more progressive and moderate province than it was 20 years ago, when a young Mr. Kenney was roaming the halls of the Legislature as the spokesperson for the taxpayers federation.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

Mr. Kenney is not well-known for his conciliatory approach to Alberta politics. In 2015, he argued that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were to blame for the politicization of the niqab ban instituted by the federal Conservative government. In 2014, he engaged in a  public spat with Ron Liepert when the former finance minister defeated long-time MP Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. And in 2012, Mr. Kenney’s true feelings about then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk were made known in a leaked reply-all email.

There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.

It should be noted that the last time an attempt was made to unite-the-right in Alberta, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (pictured above with Mr. Kenney) was forced to apologize for his role in nudging 9 Wildrose MLAs across the floor to the PCs. That was in December 2014.

There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly undermined by internal party disputes and self-inflicted embarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.

The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.

Tax Increases no longer Political Kryptonite in Canadian Elections

It’s been a rough year for Conservatives in Canada as two major elections in six months have resulted in major blows for Conservative parties in Alberta and Ottawa.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In May 2015, former federal cabinet minister and bank vice-president Jim Prentice, a political moderate and patrician of the province’s Conservative establishment, led the 44-year long governing Progressive Conservatives to a stunning defeat by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party.

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives were swept from office by Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal Party.

These two major election defeats shattered many common beliefs about politics in Alberta and Canada. In both cases, Conservative parties were defeated by parties promising moderate progressive platforms that included tax increases and significant increases to public infrastructure investment and explicit commitments to run deficit budgets, for at least the short-term period in the case of the NDP. In Alberta, both the PC Party and NDP promised various tax increases.

On the final Sunday of the federal election campaign, Mr. Trudeau spoke to an energetic crowd of more than 2,000 supporters in the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding, home of now elected Liberal MP Amarjeet Sohi. During his speech, he explained to the crowd that if the Liberals were elected on Oct. 19, that they would raise taxes by asking Canada’s wealthiest income earners “to pay just a little bit more.”

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

If these words sounded familiar to anyone in the crowd, it’s because they might have heard Ms. Notley deliver nearly the exact same message five months earlier when speaking to similarly energized crowds during the provincial election. And they in both cases, the message resonated with the crowd, and on election day with voters.

This new reality will certainly come to a shock to those gathering at Preston Manning‘s institute on Oct. 22 to watch the Canadian Taxpayers Federation present former Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day with a “TaxFighter Award” for his role in implementing Canada’s first 10 percent flat-rate personal income tax in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is the same flat-tax that Ms. Notley’s NDP replaced with a progressive income tax system only a few short months ago.

These tax increases and other changes brought in by the NDP have not been without their critics, some more vocal and violent than others. But perhaps the biggest irony of these criticisms is that even with the tax increases brought in by Ms. Notley’s NDP, corporate and small business tax rates are still lower than they were when Mr. Day served in Premier Ralph Klein‘s cabinet.

While taxes might not have been the only issue that drove voters to the polls, it didn’t drive them away. These two elections have shattered the myth cultivated by conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, think tanks and lobby groups for decades that promising to increase taxes is political kryptonite.

As Rachel Notley proved on May 5 and Justin Trudeau showed on Oct. 19, voters in 2015 are willing to reward political leaders who present smart, sensible and responsible plans for increased taxation and government revenue.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was a guest on the #abvote Google Hangout on April 9, 2015.

Notley’s NDP should ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections

One of the main promises made by the NDP before their win in the May 2015 provincial election was a commitment to ban corporate and union donations in provincial politics.

Current campaign finance laws allow individuals, corporations and labour unions to donate a maximum of $15,000 per year to a provincial political party in a non-election period and a maximum of $30,000 during an election period. The previous governing party, the Progressive Conservatives, relied heavily on corporate donations to fill their coffers but the new governing New Democratic Party and official opposition Wildrose Party have cultivated large individual donor bases that contribute smaller donations so they do not rely on larger donations.

The NDP should not limit the ban on corporate and union donations to the provincial level, they should also ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections. The provincial legislature approves the law that governs municipal election financing, which allows corporate, union and individual donations up to $5,000 during an election year. The provincial law also allows for an odd exemption that individual municipal candidates can contribute a maximum of $10,000 to their own campaign.

Research compiled by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues in June 2014 found that in Edmonton’s recent municipal elections: (1) the most successful fundraiser was the victorious candidate in 100% of ward races; (2) successful candidates raised an average of three times more money than the second place candidate in their respective race, and four times more than all other candidates combined; and (3) on average, successful candidates received more than five times the number of donations be- tween $101 and $4,999 than other candidates, and close to triple the number of $5,000 donations (the maximum contribution).

‘The EFCL is concerned that some of our most dedicated and qualified potential public servants are getting priced out of office. It is also concerned about council members being placed in difficult situations, when the majority of the donations are coming from companies and unions that have a direct interest in decisions made by city council.’ – EFCL

Along with eliminating corporate and union donations, the NDP should also impose a cap on the total amount a candidate or campaign can spend during a campaign. While there are currently no rules, in 2010, Calgary mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi pledged to cap his campaign’s spending at $0.65 per resident.

The EFCL also wrote in their report that municipal candidates elected to Edmonton’s 12 councillor positions raised more than $80,000 on average in 2013, including three who raised more than $100,000 and two who raised less than $50,000. The most successful fundraiser was the victorious candidate in 100% of the ward races and successful candidates generally raised three times more money than the second place candidate. Many of these donations came from corporations and unions, including building developers who have a special interest in currying good relationships with municipal councillors.

In a recent op-ed in the Edmonton Journal, Public Interest Alberta‘s Larry Booi called on the new NDP government to institute campaign spending limits, lower contribution limits to $1,200 per year, impose much stronger rules on disclosure of contributions and spending and extend the rules on contributions and spending to cover party leadership and constituency contests. While Mr. Booi’s column focused on provincial campaign finance changes, there is no reason why they also cannot be extended to municipal election campaigns.

While the rules governing third-party campaigns in provincial elections are problematic, the provincial government needs to lay out fair rules governing financial disclosures and amounts that third-party campaigns and lobby groups can spend influencing voters in municipal elections. There are already plenty of examples of wealthy individuals attempting to advance their political agendas by supporting unaccountable lobby groups, as was the case with Calgary’s infamous Sprawl Cabal‘s plans to throw more than $1 million behind Preston Manning‘s “Municipal Governance Initiative,” and the anonymous donors behind the shady ‘St. Albert Think Tank.’

The province needs to create a formal enforcement and investigation mechanism to respond to complaints about potential breeches of the municipal campaign donation laws. In one case, both the City of St. Albert and the provincial government refused to verify the candidate financial disclosures or enforce them after complaints were made by members of the public.

“My role as returning officer is to receive the submissions that candidates provide … and to make them publicly available and that’s really the extent of our role in this process,” a St. Albert’s returning officer told the St. Albert Gazette in 2014. If the municipalities will not enforce the provincially-imposed laws, then the provincial government should create an organization that will.

Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta’s new NDP government have pledged to ban corporate and union donations in provincial politics, and they now have what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to clean up election finance laws in Alberta’s municipal elections as well.

Parkland report calls for political finance reform

The University of Alberta-based Parkland Institute released a new report this morning, Ending Pay to Play: The Need for Political Finance Reform in Alberta: “Given the consensus that exists between the government and official opposition to ban corporate and union donations, it should act immediately to do so. While this in itself would be a major victory for democracy, it is crucial that the government does not stop there, but rather works to fundamentally reform Alberta’s political culture in the public interest.”

Who will be the next leader of the Wildrose Party?

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

After 11 of the party’s 16 MLAs crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in November and December 2014, the conservative opposition Wildrose Party was thrown into chaos. Left without its most public faces, notably former leader Danielle Smith, the party will choose its next permanent leader sometime in the next year, likely between the months of March and September.

Soon-to-be-retired Member of Parliament Rob Anders said he will not run and Conservative Godfather Preston Manning would likely not be welcomed to join after he admitted to accidentally convincing the MLAs to abandon their party.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has been named as a natural choice for the leadership spot. Unknown to most Albertans, Mr. Barnes is the lone remaining Wildrose MLA, other than interim leader Heather Forsyth, to step into the spotlight in the weeks following the floor crossing. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw has also been mentioned as a potential leadership candidate.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

It is unclear whether the other remaining MLAs – Rick Strankman and Pat Stier – are interested in contesting the leadership.

Lawyer Richard Jones, the party’s nominated candidate in Calgary-Acadia, has been mentioned as a potential candidate, as has former lobby group spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt.

If the Wildrose Party waits too long to select a new leader, they could find themselves facing a provincial election without a permanent leader. On January 10, 2015, the PC Party Executive Board will meet and it is suspected they will discuss whether to keep the June 1st nomination timeline or whether to advance it in preparation for a Spring 2015 election.

Crossing the floor a last minute decision
Bruce McAllister MLA Wildrose PC

Bruce McAllister

The abruptness of the floor crossings shocked party supporters, political watchers and even some of the MLAs who crossed the floor.

“I too was shocked,” Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Bruce McAllister told the Rocky View Weekly. Mr. McAllister told the newspaper that he did not consult with his constituency prior to crossing the floor because the window of opportunity was quickly closing.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox told The Chautauqua that he “made an extremely difficult decision to join the governing PC Party of Alberta … a decision that was reached after many hours of agonizing and soul searching.”

“I finally made my decision moments before it was due,” Mr. Fox said.

Blake Pedersen MLA Medicine Hat

Blake Pedersen

In another bizarre addition to the floor crossing story, it appears that Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen was on vacation in Australia when he crossed the floor to the PC Party. On the day of the floor crossings, Mr. Pedersen sent his statement to reporters in the form of a text message from Down Under.

Despite previously embracing a mantra that leaned heavily on “consulting constituents,” it does not appear any consultation actually occurred before the MLAs quit their party.

But as Maclean’s writer Colby Cosh suggests, Albertans angry with the floor crossings are likely to move on and forget the former Wildrose MLAs transgressions.

Another Wildrose candidate drops out

The nominated Wildrose candidate in Strathcona-Sherwood Park has announced he is dropping out of the raceBrian Tiessen was nominated in a contested race in October 2014 against County Councillor Vic Bidzinski. He is one of a handful of nominated Wildrose candidates to forfeit their candidacies following the mass floor crossing on Dec. 17, 2014.

In a neighbouring constituency, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk tweeted that she will remain the nominated Wildrose candidate in Sherwood Park. Ms. Osinchuk will face PC MLA Cathy Olesen, a former mayor who Ms. Osinchuk defeated in the 2010 municipal elections.

Top 10 moments in Alberta Politics in 2014

In my nearly ten years writing about politics in Alberta on this blog, 2014 was easily the most exciting. The sheer number of scandals, controversies, fumbles and resignations made for new content on a daily basis. If I had the time and resources, I could have easily written three or four posts a day for most of the year. As this year comes to an end, I took a look through this year’s posts and compiled a list of the top ten political moments in Alberta of 2014. Thank you for reading and enjoy the list.

Rob Anders Bow River Conservative MP

Rob Anders

10. Take a hike, Rob Anders
After 17 years as one of the most hyper-conservative politicians in Ottawa, Member of Parliament Rob Anders was finally shown the door by Conservative Party members. In April 2014, Mr. Anders lost a hotly contested Conservative Party nomination race in Calgary-Signal Hill to former Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Liepert. His second attempt at a nomination was in the rural riding of Bow River outside Calgary, where Mr. Anders was defeated by Brooks Mayor Martin Shields.

Merwan Saher

Merwan Saher

9. Auditor General on Climate Change
A July 2014 report from Auditor General Merwan Saher found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy, which was first implemented in 2008. The report uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy. Mr. Saher’s report found that the total emissions reductions from the CCS program was expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated. The Auditor General also reported that Alberta was unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

8. Gay-Straight Alliances debate
What if politicians could stop school kids from starting clubs? A motion supporting Gay-Straight Alliances introduced by Liberal Party MLA Kent Hehr was defeated in April 2014 and a private members’ bill introduced by Liberal Laurie Blakeman in November 2014 derailed the PC agenda for the fall sitting. The debate showed rifts in the PC and Wildrose caucus and Jim Prentice’s ill conceived Bill 10 in response to Ms. Blakeman’s Bill 202 led to his first big fumble as Premier.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

7. Dave Hancock appointed Premier
Long-time PC cabinet minister Dave Hancock was appointed Premier and interim leader of the PC Party following the resignation of Alison Redford in March 2014. A self-described policy-wonk, Mr. Hancock may have flourished under more agreeable circumstances, but most of his short time as premier was focused on undoing the damage inflicted by his predecessor. During his six months in office, Mr. Hancock’s government oversaw major collective agreement settlements with the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and invited the R.C.M.P. to investigate Ms. Redford’s travel habits. A surprising amount of his time in office was overshadowed by a silly and politically motivated plan to remove the “Wild Rose Country” slogan from Alberta’s license plate.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

6. Ready for Rachel
After ten years as leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party, Edmonton MLA Brian Mason announced he would step down from the party’s top job. A leadership race ensued and MLA Rachel Notley won a decisive victory over fellow MLA David Eggen and labour activist Rod Loyola. Expectations are high for the new NDP leader, as polls show her party’s support has surged in Edmonton in recent months.

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta

Kyle Harrietha

5. Liberal near win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca
What should have been a sleepy federal by-election in the heart of Alberta’s Oil Belt turned into a race when Liberal Kyle Harrietha challenged Conservative David Yurdiga for the June 30, 2014 vote to replace retiring MP Brian Jean. Running an energetic campaign, Mr. Harrietha increased his party’s support from 10% in 2011 to 35.3%, placing less than 1,500 votes behind Mr. Yurdiga. The Liberal also defeated his Tory challenger in Fort McMurray, no small feat in the land of the oil sands. The two candidates will face off once again in the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding when the next federal election is held in 2015.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

4. The October mini-election
Four by-elections on October 27, 2014 provided Albertans with a mini-election less than two months after Mr. Prentice became premier. Triggered by the resignations of former premiers Ms. Redford and Mr. Hancock and PC MLAs Ken Hughes and Len Webber, the votes allowed Mr. Prentice to win a seat in the Assembly along with PC candidates Stephen Mandel, Gordon Dirks and Mike Ellis. The opposition Wildrose had hoped to win at least two of the by-elections, but were upstaged by the NDP in Edmonton-Whitemud and an insurgent Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

3. Jim Prentice becomes Premier
After a first-ballot victory in a lack-lustre and uninspiring leadership contest, Jim Prentice started his time in office with a bang. After being sworn-in, Mr. Prentice implemented a swift de-Redfordization agenda, with daily announcements undoing some of his predecessors more unpopular policies and decisions. Purging Redford era cabinet ministers, selling the government’s fleet of aircraft, keeping the Michener Centre open, backing down from controversial changes to public sector pension plans and cancelling the botched license plate redesign were all no-brainers, but they projected an image of the new premier as a competent chief executive in command. Arguably, Mr. Prentice’s only missteps in his first few months in office were his aborted Gay-Straight Alliances bill and the unease caused after he tactfully dismantled the Official Opposition (see #2 below). Despite his success in distancing himself from Ms. Redford, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same as hers.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA

Danielle Smith

2. Wildrose floor crossings
For four years, PCs told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. But in November and December 2014, Mr. Prentice’s PC Caucus accepted 11 Wildrose MLAs into their ranks, including Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. The caucus merger, which was either in negotiations for months or sparked by the Wildrose by-election loss (depending on which story you believe), was encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning (Mr. Manning later apologized for his role). The floor crossing gutted the Official Opposition, left with 5 MLAs and enraged Wildrose supporters, who started a “Recall Danielle” campaign in her Highwood constituency. Five-term Calgary MLA Heather Forsyth stepped in as interim leader until a permanent leader can be chosen in 2015.

Alison Redford Premier of Alberta resigns 1

Alison Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta on March 23, 2014.

1. The spectacular fall of Alison Redford
Mistakes were made” were some of the last public words Albertans heard from premier Alison Redford before she resigned as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in August 2014. Albertans have never seen a political career crash and burn this badly. A $45,000 flight to South Africa, use of the government plane to return from Palm Springs, alleged fake passenger bookings to ensure her and her staff had the planes to themselves, a secretly constructed private penthouse known as the Skypalace, and long trips to exotic destinations overseas are just some of the allegations of misuse of power she faced prior to her resignation. Months after her resignation, the Auditor General reported the existence of an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office.”

Alberta’s first woman premier started her time in office with great promise and many Albertans believed she signalled the beginning of a new, more progressive, era in our province. Ms. Redford quickly proved those believers wrong with deep funding cuts to colleges and universities and attacks on public sector workers and their collective bargaining rights.

In the end, plummeting fundraising returns, bad polling numbers, MLA defections, and a caucus and party on the verge of revolt forced Ms. Redford to step down as Premier of Alberta and Leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014.

Have I missed any of your top 10 moments in Alberta politics? Please share what made your list in the comment section.

Could the Wildrose collapse mean an early 2015 election?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her new boss, PC Party Premier Jim Prentice.

This week’s defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the Progressive Conservative Caucus has drastically impacted Alberta’s electoral map. The governing PCs now hold 72 of 87 electoral constituencies with the remaining opposition consisting of 5 Wildrose MLAs, 5 Liberal MLAs, 4 New Democrats and 1 Independent MLA.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

The mass-floor crossing, encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning, could increase the likelihood of an early 2015 general election. Now with 72 MLAs, the PCs are in a position to quickly nominate candidates across the province and take advantage of an opposition in disarray by calling a snap election early in the new year.

With Premier Jim Prentice increasingly warning of Alberta’s tough economic times, it is not far fetched to believe the PCs could seek a new mandate earlier than the 2016 fixed-election period. There is suspicion that Mr. Prentice wants to take advantage of the low price of oil in order to impose budget cuts before the price exits the “price trough” and begins to rise.

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

NDP MLA Brian Mason and blogger David Climenhaga suggest a snap election could be called in early January 2015, but it could be more likely the Tories would wait until February or March.

In their 43 years in government, it has been common for the PCs to table a provincial budget in February or March and then immediately drop the Writ of election in order to use the budget as their de-facto campaign platform. This timeline would also allow for an early 2015 cabinet shuffle to make room for floor-crossers Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, and allow the Tories time to build their message around a “tough economic times” budget/campaign platform.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

An early election would also allow Mr. Prentice to attract new candidates and force PC MLA’s too closely associated with former premier Alison Redford into early retirement (ie: Doug Horner, Fred Horne, Sandra JansenDoug Griffiths).

Mr. Prentice may also want to hold an election before more information is released by the R.C.M.P. regarding their investigation into Ms. Redford and her staff. The CBC reported on November 4, 2014 that a Justice Department internal review concluded Ms. Redford could face criminal charges if allegations about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The possibility of an early election should be a wake-up call for Alberta’s fractious non-conservative opposition parties, who are mostly contained within Alberta’s two largest cities. The lack of conservative vote split that the New Democrats, Liberals and Alberta Party had hoped to capitalize on may have vanished the moment Ms. Smith crossed the floor.

One potential speed bump to an early election could be dissent within the PC Caucus to the Wildrose MLA floor-crossing. I am told that more than a few PC MLAs are not pleased with their new colleagues of convenience, who have spent the past two years attacking and embarrassing them as the opposition. If Mr. Prentice suspects this internal dissent is potentially explosive, he may decide to hold off an election until tensions inside the PC Caucus cool down.

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

It is yet to be seen if the hostility to the PC-Wildrose Caucus merger – including the RecallDanielle campaign – will die down or whether it will manifest itself into a real backlash at the polls. This could have a big impact on whether an early election is held. The defection has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Albertans, but the political maneuver removes the most likely alternative that voters had to send a message to the Tories.

Despite having the luxury of a government-in-waiting for the past two years, it appears that the PC Party are once again are on a trajectory to form another massive majority and extend the their 43-year reign.

Wildrose candidates?
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Before the mass floor-crossing, Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party had nominated candidates in 28 constituencies. Following the leader-led defection, the number of nominated Wildrose candidates has dropped to 18.

Many of the party’s now-former MLAs were already nominated to run under the Wildrose banner in the next election. Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and Rick Strankman have been nominated to run in the next election.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, a former five-term PC MLA who crossed the floor to the Wildrose in 2010, has announced she will not seek re-election.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

And Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw‘s intentions remain unknown. It is suspected that Mr. Saskiw was waiting until after the Lakeland federal Conservative nomination to make a decision about staying in the Wildrose Caucus. His wife, past Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs, won the nomination late last week.

It is also likely that some of the already nominated Wildrose candidates will re-think their decision to run under that party’s banner in the next election. I am told that Edmonton Catholic School District Trustee Laura Thibert dropped out as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods earlier this month.

Jeff Wilson MLA Calgary-Shaw

Jeff Wilson

In Wetaskiwin-Camrose, nominated Wildrose candidate Gordon Hatch has dropped out of the race and endorsed incumbent PC MLA Verlyn Olson. And in Grande Prairie-Smoky, Wildrose nomination candidate Greg Tymchyna has dropped out in response of the ‘Wildrose-PC merger.’

But in Edmonton-McClung, Steve Thompson announced on his Facebook page that he would remain the Wildrose candidate and will challenge PC MLA David Xiao in the next election.

The NDP have nominated 10 candidates, not including their four MLAs and the Liberals have not yet started their candidate nomination process. Two Liberal MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, are leaving provincial politics to run as federal Liberal candidates in next year’s federal election.

Of the floor-crossers, none have publicly declared their plans to run for re-election as PC candidates, but many will try. And despite Mr. Prentice’s promised pledge of endorsement for their candidacies, the new PC MLAs could still face nomination challenges from their former opponents on the constituency level.

In Calgary-Shaw, arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler has already announced plans to seek the PC nomination, challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson.

Yellowhead federal by-election called for November 17

Alberta_Yellowhead_Highway

The Yellowhead Highway is a major east-west highway connecting the four western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Providing a distraction from the four provincial by-elections currently being held in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that federal by-elections will be held in Ontario’s Whitby-Oshawa riding and Alberta’s Yellowhead riding.

The Yellowhead by-election is triggered by the resignation of five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield, who was appointed by Premier Jim Prentice as Alberta’s envoy in Washington D.C.

Covering a huge swath of west central Alberta, the Yellowhead riding sprawls from Jasper National Park in the west to Drayton Valley, Onoway and Barrhead in the east.

The Hinton Voice reported on September 25 that two candidates were seeking the federal Conservative nomination in this riding. Former Yellowhead Conservatives President Jim Eglinski served as Mayor of Fort St. John from 2005 to 2008 and Gerald Soroka has has served as the Mayor of Yellowhead County since 2007.

According to the Voice, Hinton Town Councillor and local social studies teacher Ryan Maguhn filed his papers to become the Liberal Party candidate.

Yellowhead voted solidly Conservative riding in the 2011 election. Conservative candidate Mr. Merrifield earned 77% of the total vote in Yellowhead, with NDP candidate Mark Wells earning 13%. Green candidate Monika Shaeffer placed third with 5.1% and Liberal Zack Siezmagraff placed fourth with 2.8%.

The riding was represented by former Prime Minister Joe Clark from 1979 to 1993. In the 1988 election, Mr. Clark faced Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who he defeated 44% to 27%. Five years later, in the 1993 election, Reform Party candidate Cliff Breitkreuz was elected with 55% of the vote. He represented the riding in Ottawa until Mr. Merrifield was first elected in 2000.

Thomas Mulcair reminds me of Stephen Harper

Edmonton-Centre NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton on March 26, 2014.

Edmonton-Centre NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton on March 26, 2014.

More than 500 people packed into the lobby of the Winspear Centre yesterday to watch the New Democratic Party of Canada officially nominate Edmonton-Centre‘s Lewis Cardinal as the first candidate for 2015 federal election. The selection of Edmonton-Centre as the NDP’s first nomination demonstrates that party’s desire to turn Edmonton into a battle ground in the next election.

Jack Layton NDP Edmonton

Jack Layton at a NDP rally in Edmonton during the 2008 federal election.

After Mr. Cardinal was nominated, NDP leader Thomas Muclair took to the stage to congratulate the new candidate.

During his speech, I could not help but reflect on the differences between Mr. Mulcair and former leader Jack Layton, who spoke to a raucous crowd in the same room during the 2008 federal election.

I remember being impressed with Mr. Layton’s ability to raise the level of energy in the room just with his presence. He oozed style, was charismatic and felt like a made-for-TV leader. His energy was contagious, but I could not help but question whether he had enough substance behind that style.  I always had a difficult time picturing Mr. Layton as the next Prime Minister of Canada.

This week, Mr. Mulcair’s speech to the crowd at the Winspear was more business than partisan play. Unlike Mr. Layton’s high-energy speech in 2008, Mr. Mulcair’s speech focused on the policy and values that differentiates his party from the Conservatives and Liberals. The partisans cheered, but he did not generate the same type of excitement in the room that his predecessor was able to.

Mr. Mulcair’s speech reminded me of what Stephen Harper sounded like before the Conservatives formed government in Ottawa eight years ago. What he delivered was a perfectly acceptable grounded speech. Mr. Mulcair sounded like he could be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Side note: A great concert hall and an excellent venue, the Winspear Centre is named for philanthropist Francis Winspear, who, along with Preston Manning,  helped found of the Reform Party of Canada in 1987.

Alberta politics 2013: Big City Mayors

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election

Don Iveson

A generational shift in Edmonton

Framed as a lacklustre and uneventful campaign, local media and many mainstream pundits missed one of the most important stories of this year’s mayoral election in Edmonton.

The city’s crusty local establishment has lamented for years about the constant stream of locally-raised young talent choosing to build their careers and start their families in other cities like Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto.

But Alberta’s booming economy and a growing sense of optimism in Edmonton has led to an increasing number of young folks choosing to stay in our city, build their careers and plan to raise their families here. This important shift is a key part of what Don Iveson represented on the campaign trail this fall.

Supported by a diverse army of young Edmontonians who want to claim this city for the next generation, Mr. Iveson proved that substance and a positive campaign – or “politics in full-sentences” – can win elections.

And despite nearly all the local media and opinion page pundits predicting a horserace until the moment the polls closed, Mr. Iveson earned a stunning 63% of the votes counted on October 21. His closest challengers, councillors Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte, earned 19% and 15% of the vote.

Nenshi versus Manning

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

In Calgary, a weird proxy-war between popular mayor Naheed Nenshi and conservative godfather Preston Manning dominated this year’s election campaign.

The conflict was sparked by a leaked video recording of high-powered wealthy developers – the Sprawl Cabal – explaining their plans to take over city council by funding Mr. Manning’s conservative political training centre.

Mr. Manning’s group wants to bring a libertarian brand of conservative politics to municipal government in Canada. The “Municipal Governance Project” plans to grant private-sector developers increased powers while limiting the ability of city governments to implement long-term growth plans. This directly contradicts Mr. Nenshi’s plans to address the challenges caused by Calgary’s suburban sprawl problems.

Mr. Nenshi quickly shot back at the sprawl cabal, describing their actions as “shadowy, weird and unpleasant.” The developers attack quickly turned into an election issue, with Mr. Nenshi taking aim at the subsidies granted to suburban developers. Mr. Nenshi says his long-term goal remains to eliminate the subsidy completely.

The developers howled in protest.

Preston Manning (photo from AlbertaDiary.ca)

Preston Manning (photo from AlbertaDiary.ca)

Mr. Nenshi was re-elected with the support of 73% of Calgary voters on October 21, 2013.

Soon after the election, Cal Wenzel, the star of the leaked video, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nenshi, claiming he defamed the businessman for political gain.

Big City challenges in 2014

Funding for infrastructure like light rail transit remains a priority for Alberta’s big city mayors, as does the promise by the provincial government to create big city charters.

The charters could give Alberta’s two largest cities new fiscal powers and responsibilities to address the growth challenges created by the province’s booming economy.

In June 2012, then-Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths signed a memorandum of understanding with Mayor Stephen Mandel of Edmonton and Mayor Nenshi to formalize their commitment to develop a big city charter.

“This charter will position our two largest cities for the future,” Premier Alison Redford said on June 18, 2012. A year and a half later, the city charters have yet to be released.

New Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes said on December 12, 2013 that the city charters are one of his priorities, which is promising indicator.

While the Redford government enjoys its focus on promoting the oilsands and pipeline projects on the international stage, the two mayors may have to remind the provincial government that it cannot ignore the growth challenges facing our two largest cities.