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Alberta Politics

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.

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Alberta Politics

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.

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Alberta Politics

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?

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Alberta Politics

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.

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Uncategorized

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.

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Danielle Smith Dave Hancock David Swann Doug Horner Ed Stelmach Janis Tarchuk Laurence Decore Lindsay Blackett Mel Knight Preston Manning Ron Liepert

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.