Tag Archives: Preston Manning

Who is driving the conservative agenda in Canada?

In America’s Forbes Magazine this weekAlejandro Chafuen praised the leadership of the conservative policy think-tanks that helped set the stage for the election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government in 2011 and the success of conservative politicians across the country.

This apparatus of conservative special interest groups, think-tanks and news media has contributed to shifting Canada’s political narrative toward the political right. Who are these groups? It only takes a quick look to discover how connected and small this network actually is.

If you even pay casual attention to political news in Canada, you will undoubtedly hear clips from spokespeople representing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens Coalition, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business or the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. These are just a few of the groups that are pushing the conservative agenda in this country.

Together, these groups have been very adept at advancing an anti-public services, anti-taxation, anti-labour union, and pro free-market agenda nationally and provincially. For many of them, these goals are the sole purposes for existing.

While most of these groups will frequently call for increased transparency in government, some refuse to make public their own financial backers. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which refuses to release the names of his own financial bankrollers, was found to actually have a only handful of members. Not much of a “federation,” though this revelation does not seem to have hurt the group’s ability to earn the attention of the mainstream media. It is hard not to give points to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation operatives for their relentless and entertaining media stunts.

These groups even have their own media platform – the Sun News Network – which is applying to the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission to charge Canadians a mandatory  fee for a spot as regular cable and satellite channel. Launched in 2011, Sun News Network describes itself as “unapologetically patriotic” and “less politically correct” than other TV networks. Fox News North’s distinctly Tea Party flavour has led to no shortage of controversy since it launched.

Another group that refuses to release the names of its financial donors is the National Citizens Coalition. Drawing connections between this group and Fox News North, a former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, Gerry Nichollsquestioned why his former organization has focused on “shilling” for Sun News Network.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that the NCC has dramatically changed since my time. It’s the nature of any organization to evolve. And the NCC has clearly evolved into a kind of organizational zombie,” Mr. Nicholls wrote on iPolitics.ca. “It still staggers along from issue to issue and reacts from time to time, but it no longer has a soul.”

The National Citizens Coalition is directed by former Conservative nomination candidate and prolific tweeter Stephen Taylor. While the organization’s president its denies ties to the Conservative Party, the lines are blurred.

These organizations have also served as a training ground for career political operatives who later jump into political office. The connections between these organizations and today’s conservative political establishment run deep and demonstrate a significant record of success in helping raise conservative politicians.

Prime Minister  Harper was the President of the National Citizens Coalition before returning to parliament in 2002. Senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney was the president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation before he was elected to parliament in 1997. New Brunswick  Southwest Conservative MP John Williamson was a national director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Looking at the provincial level, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was the Alberta director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business and an intern with the Fraser Institute. Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Director for Canadian Taxpayers Federation worked for the Fraser Institute and in the Prime Ministers Office. Even Sun News caricature Ezra Levant once attempted to run for political office.

Founded by a godfather of Canada’s conservative movement, Preston Manning, the Manning Centre for Building Democracy is training a new generation of conservative candidates and activists how to win elections.

Last year, a leaked video revealed that wealthy Calgary developers – the “sprawl cabal” – were shovelling money into the Manning Centre’s municipal governance initiative with plans to block uber-popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s plans to implement smarter urban planning rules in the city. The project is run by Dimitri Pantazopoulos, who has worked as a Conservative Party pollster and strategist.

Looking toward the future, the Manning Centre is also fostering creative ideas that could help forward their movement. Mr. Manning’s group has awarded $10,000 annually to a project that will advance the conservative movement in Canada. Last year, BlueCrowd.ca, a crowd-funding project received the award.

It is somewhat ironic that one of the strongest roots of the modern conservative movement in Canada stems from a small group of tenured professors teaching at a publicly funded post-secondary institution. Conservative academics Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Ranier Knopff, David Bercuson, and former Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton at the “Calgary School” in the University of Calgary Political Science department long ago made it their mission to drive the Conservative agenda in Canada. They have done this through academic research, their own political activity and commentary, and involvement in election campaign strategy.

Notable students of the conservative Calgary School have included Prime Minister Harper, Mr. Levant, Ms. Smith, Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre, conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool, Fraser Institute senior fellow and former Taxpayers Federation director Mark Milke, and former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Ian Brodie among others.

While their are different brands of conservatism emanating from the school, from social to economic, one observer of the Calgary School reflected on its almost cultish following of libertarian economists Ludwig Von Mises and Milton Friedman.

According to Forbes Magazine, “the history of Canadian free-market think tanks and their contribution to Canadian reforms continues to be written. The leaders, supporters, and staff of the groups mentioned above deserve much credit for changing the economic face of Canada and of North America.”

Whether or not these groups accept credit for all the consequences of “changing the economic face of Canada” their opponents on the political left and centre can learn many lessons from how effective the political right machine has become in Canada.

Bad planning: Edmonton Arena funding and Calgary urban sprawl.

Top Priority: The Wayne Gretzky statue.

Top Priority: The Wayne Gretzky statue.

While too much media attention was focused this week on the fate of a statue of a hockey player who left Edmonton twenty-five years ago for sunny southern California (and piles of money), City Council desperately tried to draw up a Plan B (or Plan C) to fund the proposed downtown arena.

The unrealistic Plan A, a financial framework approved by City Council and billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz‘s company months ago, included a large funding gap of $114 million that Mayor Stephen Mandel was adamant that the provincial government would fill.

Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affair Minister Doug Griffiths have been clear that no direct funding for the arena is coming. Ever. And after Mayor Mandel’s harsh-criticisms of the province’s cuts to post-secondary education, it now seems even more unlikely that the provincial politicians would be willing to kowtow to the Mayor’s desperate demands.

Two weeks ago, a split council vote decided that the city would borrow $45 million against expected future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding, meant for public infrastructure construction and maintenance, to put towards the arena. This still leaves a $55 million gap that the provincial government has said it is not interested in filling.

As Councillors scramble to find a solution to a problem they should have solved months ago, it is now being suggested that more funds from the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) be directed toward the arena, looting funds already promised for other downtown projects.

Sprawl Cabal Cal Wenzel

Cal Wenzel

Meanwhile in Calgary, an awkwardly long press conference was held by the Sprawl Cabal’s Cal Wenzel to respond to accusations that wealthy developers are aiming to unseat aldermen who believe urban planning is better than the current near-unrestrained urban sprawl.

Despite being caught in a leaked video plotting to use Preston Manning‘s Calgary-based Municipal Governance Project to free city council from “the dark side,” Mr. Wenzel uncomfortably tried to downplay the evidence exposed by Global Calgary this week.

As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, Mr. Wenzel “would have been better to say: ‘You’ve seen the tape. Judge for yourself what I meant. Now get lost!'”

Sprawl Cabal of wealthy developers plot to take over Calgary City Council.

Calgary Developers Leaked Video

Screenshot of the leaked video

A video leaked to Global Calgary showing a large group of prominent wealthy developers plotting to stack Calgary City Council with sympathetic candidates is making waves in Alberta’s largest city. The video shows developer Cal Wenzel presenting a plan to defeat certain members of City Council who he perceives to be anti-urban sprawl – including Aldermen Druh Farrell and Richard Pootmans.

Unable to defeat popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi, this ‘Sprawl Cabal’ of wealthy developers are aiming to win over a majority of seats on City Council, which could give them the power to block any moves by Mayor Nenshi that they perceive to be against urban sprawl.

In the video, Mr. Wenzel claims that a large donation, of more than $1 million, made to Preston Manning‘s “Municipal Governance Project” training centre for civic election candidates (read the Manning Centre’s leaked talking points in response to the leaked video). The Manning Centre recently laid out their plans to train conservative-minded candidates in a bid to introduce a new brand of ideological conservative politics into Calgary’s next municipal election.

Because of municipal campaign finance laws limiting individual and corporate donations to a maximum $5,000, the presence of a special interest group like the Manning Centre in Calgary’s election appears to have given these wealthy developers a place to pour their money.

That this type of conversation happened is not a surprise. That is was recorded and leaked to the media is very surprising. The Sprawl Cabal was caught red-handed.

As former U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney learned last year when a leaked video showed him dismissing 47% of American voters, this group of developers have learned that even in the most secure locations, Little Brother is watching (I bet you never noticed that iPhone in his pocket).

(Thanks to Duncan Kinney for the ‘Sprawl Cabal’ inspiration)

J’accuse! Thomas Mulcair’s treason and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

"Treason" was one of the accusations used against NDP leader Thomas Mulcair after be voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C.

“Treason” was one of the accusations used against NDP leader Thomas Mulcair after be voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C.

The rhetoric is running high this week with President Barack Obama expected to soon decide the fate of the controversial TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline.

In Washington D.C. last week, federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair criticized the pipeline that would ship bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in Texas. Mr. Mulcair also took the opportunity to criticize the deconstruction of Canada’s environmental regulations by Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government and told the media that the pipeline would export jobs from Cnaada and would pose a threat to our country’s energy security. Mr. Muclair’s treasonous words were printed in the National Post:

“According to object studies, Keystone represents the export of 40,000 jobs and we think that is a bad thing for Canada,” Mulcair said in an interview. “We have never taken care of our energy security. We tend to forget that a 10-year supply to the U.S. is a 100-year supply to Canada. We are still going to need the energy supply to heat our homes and run our factories, whether it comes from the oilsands or it comes in the from natural gas. Fossil fuels are always going to be part of the mix.”

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

If you do not find these words abhorrent and treasonous, you may be surprised by the whiplash reaction from Mr. Mulcair’s political opponents.

In Alberta, where a political consensus is tilting towards approval of the pipeline, Premier Alison Redford took to the floor of the Legislative Assembly to attack Mr. Mulcair and NDP leader Brian Mason for their opposition to the pipeline.

Treason” was the word Mark Cooper, the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister’s Press Secretary, used on twitter this week to describe the NDP position on the pipeline. While his tweet should be taken somewhat in jest, that word set the tone for the pipeline debate this week.

On the floor of the Assembly, Energy Minister Ken Hughes criticized the NDP by boasting about having created a  “coalition of the willing” in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Minister Hughes’ comment was an unfortunate reference to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which marked its ten year anniversary this week.

Ken Hughes

Ken Hughes

Mr. Mason was more than happy to pull quotes from recently deceased former Premier Peter Lougheed, who voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in favour of refining bitumen in Alberta. This happens to be close to the NDP position.

This is not a clear left/right issue. Prominent labour unions, including the AFL-CIO in the United States, have voiced their support for the pipeline for the jobs it would create in the bitumen refineries in Texas. Pipeline critics, like Alberta Federation of Labour‘s Gil McGowan, argue that refining oilsands bitumen in Alberta would create more jobs in-province.

Also joining the debate is former Premier Ed Stelmach, who spoke in favour of local refining today telling the Edmonton Journal “…it is in our interest to promote as much pipeline capacity as possible to move products to existing markets, and of course, new markets. But to close that differential in price, we need to sell a higher-value product.”

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

To the east in Saskatchewan, the partisan divide over the Keystone XL Pipeline in not so sharp. Premier Brad Wall, the province’s most popular leader since Tommy Douglas, has trumpeted the benefits the Keystone XL Pipeline could bring to Canadian and American economies. His main opponent, newly selected Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten, has broken from his NDP colleagues and given his timid support for the pipeline’s construction.

The Alberta government purchased a $30,000 advertisement in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. While widely read, the ad was meant to respond to an anti-Keystone XL editorial widely circulated on the internet. The factual arguments made by the Alberta Government in the ad will likely fall flat in this highly emotional debate. While the ad generated significant earned media in Alberta, this one-time ad-buy will likely have little impact on the large debate happening in the United States.

Recognizing that Conservative Parties are seen by many Canadians as ‘weak’ on the environmental issues related to pipeline construction, the Conservative movement is putting significant energy toward finding the key messaging needed to convince Canadians otherwise.

At last week’s Preston Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, speakers presented their analysis of the Oilsands Pipeline debate. As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, “the most creative minds in Canadian conservatism are applying their brainpower to moving forward pipeline projects – extending from Alberta, the centre of their political and economic universe, to all points of the compass.”

More on this later.

Preston Manning’s libertarian manifesto for City government.

"Hello M’aam, I am your Manning Centre candidate in this year's civic election."

“Hello Ma’am, I am your Manning Centre candidate in this year’s civic election.”

Not satisfied with their conquests of the provincial and federal levels of government, the right-wing activists behind the Manning Centre for Building Democracy are expanding their political agenda to city-level politics. Preston Manning‘s followers plan to treat this year’s elections in Calgary as a petri-dish for their yet-to-be-completed libertarian manifesto for municipal government.

The outline of the libertarian think-tank’s manifesto for civic government was laid out at last weekend’s Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa.

Cleverly branded as the “organic cities project,” Mr. Manning’s followers expressed their frustrations with urban planning and what they described as lengthy community consultation processes. Increasing private sector planning of city development and decreasing the role of accountable public planning processes is at the heart of the Manning argument.

Outlined at the conference was a vague manifesto to reduce the scope of political decision making and move municipal governments away from Mr. Manning’s followers claim are inappropriate activities, which were suggested could be municipally-owned golf courses and recreational facilities.

With exaggerated claims of interference in the lives of citizens, Mr. Manning’s followers are setting their eyes on cleaving the limited powers already laid out in the Municipal Government Act (though the Act was never referenced in the talk).

The Manning Centre’s real target is uber-popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has taken a proactive stance on urban development, alarming the cabal of developers who have greatly benefited from near unlimited urban sprawl along the city’s edges.

Perhaps it was not coincidence that a sponsor of the Manning Networking Conference was the Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents the group of individuals who have greatly benefited from this urban sprawl.

Conservative Party of Calgary?

Earlier this year, the Manning Centre opened a facility in downtown Calgary to provide training and support to like-minded libertarians running in the October 2013 municipal elections. This could be the first step that leads to the creation of Conservative political parties on the city level in Canada. While political parties are normal in some large cities, like Vancouver and Montreal, most Canadian municipalities are free of slates and official partisanship.

Municipal political parties, like the Urban Reform Group Edmonton, were common in Edmonton until the 1980s when their popularity declined and they disappeared from the ballot.

Despite arguments at the Manning Centre conference that municipal governments are filled with left-leaning politicians, municipal councils are home to many conservatives, and many more non-partisan citizens. Progressive-minded candidates have had success being elected to municipal councils in Alberta, but their views are by no means the only views present at that level of government.

Consensus and coalitions exist on the municipal level that transcend traditional hard-line partisan loyalties. Unfortunately, ideologically-based slates and municipal political parties could be an inevitable result of the Manning Centre’s meddling.

Perhaps a sign of the times to come, it was announced this week that a slate of conservatives candidates in the City of Red Deer will run in the October elections under the “Red Deer First” banner. Sources in Red Deer tell this blogger that many of the key figures behind this group have ties to the provincial right-wing Wildrose Party.

Preston Manning throws Alison Redford, Tom Flanagan under the conservative bus.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

OTTAWA

Speaking about the state of Canada’s conservative movement at this weekend’s Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning denounced the ethical and financial state of Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives.

“…in Alberta an aging Progressive Conservative administration has lost its way ethically and fiscally and needs to be overhauled or replaced,” Mr. Manning told an audience of close to 800 conservative activists.

Mr. Manning heaped this criticism on the forty-one year governing PCs, giving an obvious tip of the hat towards his ideological allies in the right-wing Wildrose Official Opposition.

Mr. Manning also used his speech to denounce two controversial statements and tell conservatives that they need to draw the line about what public comments are acceptable in their movement.

Mr. Manning characterized his former advisor Tom Flanagan‘s comments about child pornography and homophobic remarks made by a Wildrose candidate in the last provincial election as “intemperate and ill-considered remarks that discredit the conservative movement as a whole.”

“For the sake of the movement and the maintenance of public trust, conservative organizations should be prepared to swiftly and publicly disassociate themselves from those individuals that cross the line,” Mr. Manning said.

Numerous supporters of Dr. Flanagan attending the conference prominently sported buttons showing the face of the discredited university professor.

Social Credit celebrates 77 years in government.

Social Credit Party Alberta

Supporters celebrate 77 years of Social Credit rule in Alberta.

CALGARY STAR-TRIBUNE

In 1935, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ hit song “Cheek to Cheek” topped the music charts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers became the first western Canadian team to win the Grey Cup. It was also the year that the Social Credit Party formed government in Alberta.

Fresh from celebrating the party’s 21st consecutive election win, Premier Rob Anderson will join party faithful this weekend to celebrate the Social Credit Party’s 77th year in government.

 Long abandoned are the social credit monetary policies that defined the party when it formed government in 1935. Social Credit in 2012 embraces what political watchers have called the Conservatism of the New Albertan Century.
Rob Anderson MLA Wildrose

Rob Anderson

“One of the regular talking points of the Official Opposition is to claim that after 77 years of Socred rule, the province of Alberta is some grim, dark, horrible place to live,” said Premier Anderson. “It’s entirely untrue, of course. And it doesn’t say much for the Opposition that they say such terrible things about this great province.”

“Alberta is the best place to live, work and play in Canada,” said the Premier.

On Friday night, Premier Anderson will join Traditional Family Values Minister Rob Anders, Telecommunications Minister Ezra Levant and Treasurer Jason Kenney in paying tribute to former Premiers William Aberhart, Ernest Manning, Harry Strom, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Monte Solberg.

Only once in the party’s 77 year history has it faced the threat of electoral defeat.

Harry Strom Alberta Premier

Harry Strom

While the history books record Premier Harry Strom as the great conciliator of Canadian confederation, he led the dynasty to its narrowest victory the 1971 election. New to the office, Strom fought back young Peter Lougheed‘s liberal-minded Progressive Conservatives, leading his party to form a small majority government.

Four years later, Strom led Social Credit to a decisive victory over the Tories.

Many historians credit Social Credit’s survival in 1971 to the failure of the Daylight Savings Time plebiscite.

Lingering in the opposition benches in the 41 years since 1971, the PC Party has been unable to topple the long-standing government.

Current PC Party leader Raj Sherman has called the Social Credit Party old and out of touch.

“The simple fact is that over the past 77 years the government has backed itself into a corner on revenue and desperately needs to find a way to return to solid financial ground,” said Sherman, an emergency room doctor.

“While Albertans deserve to have a say in all matters of public policy, I am troubled by this administration’s penchant for government by polling – particularly when they are so selective about the feedback that they choose to heed,” said Sherman.

NDP leader Rachel Notley has called on Premier Anderson to tear down the economic “Firewall” that divides Alberta from the rest of Canada. “Too often the Socreds make poorly studied, reactionary decisions based on industry lobbying”, said Notley.

“As things stand now, we are closing our eyes, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best,” Notley said.  “Albertans deserve better,” said Notley.

Albertans can follow the weekend’s celebrations using the Twitter hashtag #after77years.

A History of recent Federal By-Elections in Alberta.

The November 26 by-election in Calgary-Centre will be the fourth federal by-election held in Alberta in the past twenty-six years. In that time, only one of the by-elections saw the election of a candidate not from the incumbent political party. All three by-elections were won by candidates representing conservative parties.

Walter Van De Walle

Walter Van De Walle

Pembina By-election
(September 29, 1986)
Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Elzinga jumped into provincial politics and was elected as an MLA that year, vacating the riding he had represented since 1974. Longtime Sturgeon County councillor and reeve Walter Van De Walle faced a high-profile main competitor, New Democrat Ivor Dent, in a closely fought by-election. Mr. Dent had served as Mayor of Edmonton from 1968 to 1974.

When the votes were counted, Mr. Van De Walle defeated Mr. Dent by a narrow margin of 274 votes. Although Mr. Dent did not win the by-election, the strong showing for the NDP foreshadowed that party’s first federal electoral win in Alberta two year’s later when Ross Harvey was elected in Edmonton-East.

Deborah Grey Beaver River MP

Deborah Grey

Beaver River By-election
(March 13, 1989)
Tory MP John Dahmer died five days after he was elected in the November 21, 1988 election, triggering a by-election in this safe Tory riding. Reform Party candidate Deborah Grey earned a distant 4th place finish in the 1988 general election and carried the young protest party’s banner in the by-election only months later.

Riding a wave of western Canadian discontent with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney‘s PCs, Ms. Grey surprised the nation when she defeated PC candidate Dave Broda by 18%, becoming the first Reform Party MP. (Mr. Broda would later serve as the PC MLA for Redwater from 1997 to 2004). Ms. Grey was re-elected with 58% of the vote in the 1993 election along with 51 other Reform Party candidates.

Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper

Calgary-Southwest By-election
(May 13, 2002)
While he served as the Reform Party MP for Calgary-West from 1993 to 1997, Stephen Harper was not a sitting MP when he replaced Stockwell Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. With a by-election expected in the riding vacated by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, Mr. Harper managed to convince a reluctant Ezra Levant to step aside as his party’s already nominated candidate.

Mr. Harper was elected with 71% of the vote, more than 10,000 votes ahead of United Church Minister Bill Phipps, his NDP challenger. The Liberal Party declined to run a candidate in order to not oppose the new party leader’s entry into the House of Commons.

leaky pipeline gives slick impression of alberta oil.

Alberta Oil Pipeline Leak Red Deer

A pipeline leak spews oil into a central Alberta lake (photo from @tedgbauer at https://twitter.com/tedgbauer/status/211154927446278144/photo/1)

When word first broke that a leaky pipeline near the central Alberta town of Sundre had poured an estimated 1000 to 3000 barrels of oil into a tributary of the Red Deer River, Premier Alison Redford was quick to respond. That afternoon, the Premier, flanked by Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen and local Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, held a media conference near the location of the spill.

Premier Alison Redford Alberta

Premier Alison Redford

Despite the quick response, which is a change from the days when it felt like these types of leaks were publicly ignored by our political leaders, Premier Redford’s media conference cannot change the fact that oil spills and leaking pipelines have already become a regularly reported occurrence in Alberta. The latest leak comes at a crucial time when the Government of Alberta and Enbridge Inc are pushing the construction of a new oil pipeline that would travel through Alberta and British Columbia to the port at Kitimat.

As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson has pointed out, the latest leak only confirms the suspicions and fears that some British Columbians have about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline:

B.C. will only agree to the pipeline if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risk. That is an argument the Alberta government has not managed to put forward.

Political support for the project is also in question. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a vocal supporter of the pipeline, has somewhat moderated her tone as her party’s electoral fortunes continue to slip further in the public opinion polls (the BC Liberals have been trailing the NDP in the polls since September 2011). The BC Conservative Party, led by septuagenarian former Member of Parliament John Cummins, are competing with Premier Clark’s Liberals for second place, and have come out in favour of the pipeline.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix

Adrian Dix (photo from @terminator on Flickr)

Taking advantage of the unease about the environmental impact of the pipeline, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix launched a petition against the construction of the pipeline which respond to legitimate concerns about the navigation of oil-filled supertankers through the narrow Douglas Channel.

In the land of political spin, Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway claimed last week that the company had secured the support for the pipeline from 60% of First Nations communities along the proposed corridor. The Coastal First Nations group disputed that number, accusing Enbridge of expanding its corridor by 80 kilometres to boost the number of supporters. The group claimed many of the First Nations listed by Enbridge as supporters are located outside of any area that could be impacted by a potential spill.

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark (photo from @bcgovphotos on Flickr)

Readers of this blog may remember Mr. Stanway from his previous roles as columnist and publisher at the Edmonton Sun and communications director to former Premier Ed Stelmach from 2007 until 2010.

Although the next federal election could be nearly three years away, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is capitalizing on the concerns central Canadian and British Columbian voters about the effect of oilsands development on the environment and its effects on traditional manufacturing industries (a la Dutch Disease). Everyone from former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have chimed in to criticize Mr. Mulcair.

There is irony in Mr. Mulroney shaming Mr. Mulcair for playing regions against each other, considering that some of Mr. Mulroney’s more unpopular policies led to the divisive regionalization of Canadian politics following the 1993 election.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives have proven numerous times over the past nine years, leveraging social and regional wedge issues can lead to great electoral success. Mr. Mulcair would be foolish not to take a page from Prime Minister Harper’s book. While conservative pundits and politicians denounced Mr. Mulcair’s criticisms, the political strategy, at least in the short-term, does not appear to have hurt NDP chances in voter-rich regions outside the prairie provinces. A recent poll showed the federal NDP in a statistical tie with the governing Ottawa Conservatives.

alberta’s tories could have already won another election.

Premier Alberta Alison Redford Election 2012

Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford is expected to call a provincial election today.

Had Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives followed conventional political wisdom and dropped the writ shortly after tabling the 2012 provincial budget on February 10, they may have already secured their next majority government.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Party leader Election 2012

Danielle Smith

Instead, in an attempt to bump that conventional wisdom by holding a spring sitting in the Assembly after the budget was tabled, Premier Redford may have bolstered the opposition parties resilience. With the organizational ability to have had candidates nominated in every constituency by February 10, 2012, a mid-March Election Day would have saved the Tories from a month of embarrassing media coverage and robbed the opposition parties of one full month of organizing (this also demonstrates the uselessness of the new fixed-election period, which does not set a fixed election date, but a period over three months that election can be held).

Unfortunately for Premier Redford, “change from within” has not looked very flattering over the past month. A rough pre-election session has bruised the Tories and quickly ended the new Premier’s honeymoon period, allowing the opposition parties to expose weaknesses in the Tory battle lines (some more aggressively than others).

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012

Raj Sherman

The loud protests by religious homeschooling parents, the MLA committee pay fiasco, the drawn out “judicial” inquiry into health care, investigations into illegal political donations, and allegations of unethical conduct by Premier Redford’s man in Asia and former Tory leadership opponent Gary Mar, have scuffed the shine off the new PC administration. Even Rod Love, the former chief of staff to Premier Ralph Klein, has publicly asked “what the hell is going on in Edmonton?

It is difficult to say what actual effects delaying the election until after the Spring sitting will have had on Alberta’s opposition parties. Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party are hitting the Tories hard on the fiascos that have developed over the last month, and putting personal egos aside, they could make some significant inroads. For the Liberal Party, former Tory MLA and new leader Raj Sherman needs to prove wrong the predications of  doom and gloom for his official opposition party. The NDP led by Brian Mason are hoping to replace the Liberals as the main opposition on the centre-left. And managing expectations well, the Alberta Party led by Glenn Taylor are very conscious of the uphill battle they face.

Calling in the big guns, the Wildrose Party has long-time conservative stratagist Tom Flanagan as campaign manager and Cliff Fryers, the former chairman of Enmax and chief of staff to Preston Manning, as their campaign chair. Along with flocks of federal Conservative organizers migrating to their party, rumour has it that high-priced political consultants from Ontario are being flown in to advise the Wildrose Party’s central campaign.

Despite all this new ammunition made available to the opposition parties after the rough Spring sitting, a betting man would look at the Tories’ 41 years of election victories and easily weigh the odds in their favour of winning once again. Maybe all of these cracks in the Tory armour will amount to nothing Election Day? Maybe the will make all the difference? Maybe new cracks will appear?

goodbye for now, jim prentice.

Jim Prentice (photo credit: k-ideas Photo license: Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike)

I do not regularly pay too much attention to federal politics, so I was surprised to learn yesterday that Environment Minster and Calgary Member of Parliament Jim Prentice was suddenly resigning to become Vice-Chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (apparently most Ottawa-watchers were surprised by the move).

What surprised me most about Mr. Prentice was his ability to handle the environment portfolio, the Conservative’s most toxic ministerial portfolio (no pun intended) without destroying his own political credibility among moderates. I am one of many Canadians who was less than impressed with our federal government’s lackluster participation and irresponsible handling of the COP15 Summit in Copenhagen, but I was impressed from a political standpoint with how well Mr. Prentice managed his role.

There is already mounds of speculation about what Mr. Prentice’s political future holds and there have been some consistent rumors about his political future that I have heard over the past few years (if we assume that his departure is only a sojourn until the next political opportunity presents itself).

1) Going Provincial: I know more than just a few Red Tories who see Mr. Prentice as the heir to Jim Dinning‘s dauphin throne. As a popular MP and long-time PC Party supporter, Mr. Prentice would be well positioned to be the moderate “Calgary candidate” in the next Progressive Conservative leadership contest.

I have no doubt that he would almost immediately receive the support of top level Tory organizers in Calgary, especially those weary of Finance Minister Ted Morton or another candidate from northern Alberta. His entry into provincial politics would also be interesting if he did run in the Calgary-Mountain View constituency, which is currently represented by Liberal leader David Swann (Mr. Prentice was the PC candidate in Mountain View in the 1986 provincial election).

2) Going Federal: As Environment Minister, Jim Prentice took on the most difficult political file for the Conservatives without looking like a buffoon or seriously damaging his own political reputation. Being from Calgary might actually hurt him in the next Conservative Party leadership contest (both Stephen Harper and Preston Manning represented Calgary ridings), but a few years working in the private sector could help to distance him from Prime Minister Harper’s government.

Calgary-Centre North

Not surprisingly, attention has already turned to some of the rumors circulating about what will happen if a by-election is held in Calgary-Centre North before the next federal general election. Former Mayor Dave Bronconnier and former Ontario MP Robert Nault (who now lives in Calgary) are two names that I almost immediately heard rumoured for the Liberal Party nomination after yesterday afternoon’s resignation. Four names that are already being circulated for possible Conservative candidates are former Alderman Ric McIver, former Mayoral candidate Barb Higgins, current Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, and recent Aldermanic candidate Sean Chu. Rumours aside, under the current circumstances it is difficult to believe that a by-election in this riding would produce anything but another Conservative MP.

alberta politics: 3 things more important than hal walker that happened today.

Today’s much hyped Wildrose Alliance news conference in Calgary did not live up to expectations. When announced yesterday that leader Danielle Smith would “be making an important political announcement” about the her party, the speculation was rampant. Was Preston Manning signing his endorsement pledge? Was Tom Flanagan going be their campaign manager? Was Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth going to step down to let Ms. Smith to run in a by-election? Were more PC MLAs going to cross the floor?

The news turned out to be ever so underwhelming. Party president Jeff Calloway has stepped down to allow disenchanted former Ralph Klein advisor Hal Walker to enter the role. Last September, Mr. Walker let it be known to the world that he strongly disliked Premier Ed Stelmach when he widely circulated an email that oozed the with entitlement of a longtime-insder who no longer had the ear of the powerful. The underwhelming announcement sparked a some very entertaining social media satire from the political crowd on Twitter this afternoon (follow #waptopstory to see what I mean).

While the underwhelming story of Mr. Walker and the hilarious online reaction grabbed headlines, do not be convinced that nothing important happened today in Alberta politics. Here are three things that you should be paying attention to:

1) Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne has announced the start of consultations for a new Alberta Health Act. The Act would seek to merge currently existing health care laws under one piece of mega-legislation. As was the case when the PCs created the Post-secondary Learning Act in 2003, the devil will be in the details of what is left in legislation and what will be moved into regulation (or just left out). In a media release, Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen said: “The Alberta Hospitals Act, and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act both provide core legal underpinnings for our public system. If they are repealed and not strengthened under the new legislation, it could open the doors wide for a full two-tiered, parallel private health market in the province immediately.”

2) Premier Stelmach announced on the Rutherford Show this morning that Alberta will not be holding a Senate election anytime soon. The terms of Alberta’s current three Senators-in-Waiting will expire in November 2010, but instead of holding an election to replace them, Premier Stelmach and his cabinet will decide in a closed door cabinet meeting to extend their terms. Aside from being anti-democratic, the move also undercuts the opposition parties who were preparing for a Senate election to coincide with the October municipal elections. The Wildrose Alliance began seeking Senate candidates last week and I am told that the new Alberta Party was also organizing a campaign to support a candidate this fall. At this point, Premier Stelmach might as well appoint the Senators-in-Waiting.

3) Alberta’s new Mental Health Patient Advocate is longtime PC-insider Fay Orr. Ms. Orr worked as a media relation advisor to now Senator Elaine McCoy in the early 1990s and in the 1993 election she was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Norwood (she placed third behind Liberal Andrew Beniuk and New Democrat Ray Martin). Following the election, she served as Premier Klein’s spokesperson and was appointed as managing director of the Public Affairs Bureau in 2000 (a position where current PAB Director of New Media and Internet Communications Tom Olsen described her as ‘the chief of all Alberta government talking heads‘). Soon after that, Ms. Orr served as Deputy Minister for a number of Departments, including Community Development; and Government Services, and until today, the Department of Children and Youth Services.

premier stelmach’s problems are bigger than a cabinet shuffle.

There has been a lot of chatter about what Premier Ed Stelmach can do to reverse the Progressive Conservatives downward spiral in recent polls. According to these recent polls, the PCs now sit at 25% province-wide and in third place behind Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance and David Swann‘s Liberals in Edmonton and Calgary. Another recent poll framed Premier Stelmach as the least popular Premier in Canada with a 14% approval rating.

Sheila Pratt has written an interesting article in today’s Edmonton Journal about the PCs current misfortune and the new groups of Albertans like Reboot Alberta and Renew Alberta that have emerged. Even Preston Manning is interested in starting something new. Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?

Will finally ending the disastrous reigns of Children & Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk and Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert change Premier Stelmach’s position in the polls? Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost their numbers? Will moving Energy Minister Mel Knight to another portfolio halt the Calgary energy sector support that is flowing towards the Wildrose Alliance? Will promoting Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner to Finance Minister improve their image? Will relocating Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett bring back the PC supporters who were offended over the embarrassment of Bill 44?

Will rearranging the deck chairs change the course of the ship? It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. As I said during an interview with Calgary Today’s Mike Blanchard this week, one of Premier Stelmach’s greatest challenges is that his government doesn’t have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

In his recent book, Rich Vivone accurately pointed out that when Premier Ralph Klein declared Alberta to be debt free in 2004, the PCs began to drift. Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by Laurence Decore‘s Liberals in the 1993 election and it was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. In many ways, Premier Klein’s 55.4% approval in 2006 reflected the drift.

Premier Stelmach is far from an amazing orator or political strategist, but one of his greatest strengths is that he is constantly underestimated by his opponents and the media. No one expected him to defeat Jim Dinning and Ted Morton in the PC leadership race or lead his party to win a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election. The recent polls may spell demise for the near 40-year governing PCs, but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.