Tag Archives: Progress Alberta

Jason Kenney ramps up the old Tory patronage machine, begins purging NDP appointees from public agencies, boards and commissions

If you’re a conservative lawyer or energy company CEO in Alberta, you should check your email. There’s a good chance you might have been appointed to a public agency, board or commission last week.

A large number of political appointments made last Friday morning included new board chairpersons and directors at eleven post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University and Mount Royal University, as well as Alberta Health Services, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis commission. The UCP appointees replaced a number of high-profile NDP-appointees, including U of A board chairperson Michael Phair, NAIT board chairperson Ray Martin, AHS board chairperson Linda Hughes, and WCB chairperson Grace Thostenson.

The list of appointees is flush with business insiders, corporate executives, and United Conservative Party donors. While partisan and political appointments are expected after any change in government (an occurrence we are just starting to become familiar with in Alberta – and hopefully will continue to be familiar with), this list might even make the old Progressive Conservative establishment blush.

As reported by David Climenhaga at AlbertaPolitics.ca, “At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws.” Progress Alberta is expected to publish a more detailed report soon, but a scan of financing disclosures by executive director Duncan Kinney showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were among the appointees.

Included in the flurry of appointments are a handful of former conservative politicians, activists, and officials with ties to the UCP, the federal Conservative Party, and right-wing lobby groups and think-tanks:

  • The AGLC will now be chaired by defeated UCP star candidate Len Rhodes. Rhodes was parachuted into Edmonton-Meadows following his retirement as president and CEO of the Edmonton Eskimos, but was defeated by NDP MLA Jasvir Deol in the provincial election.
  • Also appointed to the AGLC are Elan Harper, the chief financial officer for the Calgary-Varsity UCP association, and Gerard Curran, the owner of the James Joyce Pub in Calgary and former chairman of Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (now known as the UCP-friendly Restaurants Canada).
  • Former Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of MacEwan University, former MLA and associate cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans was appointed to the board of the Banff Centre, and former Member of Parliament James Rajotte is now on the University of Alberta Board of Governors.
  • Former APPEGA president Kim Farwell, appointed to the board of governors of Keyano College in Fort McMurray, was campaign manager to Conservative MP David Yurdiga and president of the local Conservative Party association.
  • Lydell Torgerson, appointed as a public member of the Board of Directors of Grande Prairie Regional College has acted as the official agent for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin‘s election campaign.
  • Andy Crooks, the former chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson, is now a member of the Municipal Government Board, and Moin Yahya, a U of A law professor and senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, is now a member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
  • Grafton Asset Management, the company run by newly appointed University of Calgary board chairperson Geeta Sankappanavar, donated $25,000 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future political action committee which purchased front-page pro-UCP ads in Alberta’s Postmedia newspapers.
  • Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy and newly appointed chairman of the Mount Royal University board of directors, donated $4,000 to the UCP in 2019.

The biggest outlier when it comes to political donations might be new AHS board chairman David Weyant, the outgoing chairman of the Banff Centre of the Arts, who has donated $1,775 to the Alberta NDP since 2016, including a $550 donation in 2019.

Overall, the appointments send two messages:

  1. The Tory patronage machine is back, and it’s a deep well. While the NDP embraced the oil and gas sector and appointed corporate executives to public boards during their five years in government, Premier Rachel Notley‘s party never had a large political establishment to draw upon for appointees. The NDP also attempted to to professionalize the selection process but holding interviews and expanding the application process to allow a broader cross-section of Albertans to serve on some public boards. The long list of UCP appointees employed as corporate executives and lawyers, as well as the lack of representation from civil society groups, signals a return to something more similar to the old PC Party regime. It also serves as a reminder of the deep well of patronage appointees from the conservative establishment in this province that have made themselves available to the UCP.
  2. Resistance is futile (at least that’s what they want you to think). Serious political resistance at the board level to what are expected to be significant funding cuts to post-secondary education and public agencies like Alberta Health Services is now less likely to be successful. With significant budget cuts expected to be recommended in the “Blue Ribbon” panel report prepared by history professor and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Janice McKinnon, it is likely that the UCP government wanted to install appointees who would be eager to enact the government’s austerity and privatization agenda when the provincial budget is tabled in the fall.

While it is difficult to criticize the qualifications of some of the appointees, some who are highly qualified for the positions they have been appointed to, it is expected that their experience was weighed closely with how compliant they will be with Kenney’s political agenda.

Soliders of Odin Nicole Williams UCP Edmonton West Henday

Soldiers of Odin photos most notable moment in Edmonton-West Henday UCP nomination race

Photo: UCP nomination candidate Nicole Williams (second from the left) with members of the Soliders of Odin at a UCP event on October 5, 2018 (source: Facebook).

United Conservative Party candidates in the new district of Edmonton-West Henday say they had no idea they were posing for photos with members of the anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin at a party event on October 5, 2018. Members of the vigilante group, who have been described as white nationalists, attended the UCP event in their club uniforms and posed for photos with nomination candidates Nicole Williams, Leila House and Lance Coulter.

Soliders of Odin Leila Houle UCP Edmonton West Henday

Leila Houle (left) and the Soldiers of Odin

The party and two of the nomination candidates quickly denounced the photos, which were shared on social media first by the Soldiers of Odin and then by Progress Alberta. The candidates claimed they had no idea who the black clad group of vigilantes were, despite recent local news coverage and the fact that they appear to have been wearing their branded uniforms with big logos.

Those running for public office are regularly photographed with members of the public. It is part of the job. We were unfortunately not aware of what the abbreviation ‘S.O.O’ stood for when these individuals entered the public venue in which the Constituency Association was holding an event, nor were we aware of this group’s disgusting views,” wrote Houle and Williams in a joint statement posted on Facebook.

Soliders of Odin Lance Coulter UCP Edmonton West Henday

Lance Coulter (right) and a Soldier of Odin.

It would be unfair to claim these nomination candidates share sympathies with the Soldiers of Odin, but a string of recent examples of UCP nomination candidates voicing anti-Muslim views online might be one reason why the group felt comfortable attending the event in their full regalia.

The dramatic rise of right-wing extreme groups across Canada is something to be alarmed about and this incident is not something UCP members should just casually dismiss. As David Climenhaga wrote at AlbertaPolitics.ca, Alberta voters are within their rights to wonder why the UCP keeps attracting far-right fringe groups, some of them quite unsavoury.

UCP members in Edmonton-West Henday vote to choose their candidate on October 22, 2018.

UPDATE: Via Press Progress:

Lance Coulter, one of three United Conservative Party nomination candidates recently photographed partying with a white supremacist hate group, has a history interacting with white nationalist and alt-right content on social media.


Trouble brewing in Calgary-Mountain View

Caylan Ford UCP Calgary Mountain View

Caylan Ford

Nine members of the UCP board of directors in Calgary-Mountain View have filed a formal complaint with party executive director Janice Harrington requesting an investigation into the eligibility of Caylan Ford to seek the party’s nomination in the district.

A copy of the complaint shared with daveberta.ca showed the group of directors are requesting the party to investigate whether Ford meets the Alberta residency requirement to seek the nomination.

The complaint claims that Ford was until recently a resident of Ontario and that the party nomination rules require UCP candidates “to have physically lived on Albertan soil for one year before becoming a UCP candidate.”

One of the signatories to the complain and request for investigation is recently withdrawn nomination candidate Dean Brawn, who is the Chief Financial Officer for nomination candidate and former Progressive Conservative MLA Mark Hlady.

Reached by email, Ford responded to the complaint: “The board members who signed this letter were misinformed. They also appear to have misunderstood the UCP’s residency requirements. A good faith mistake, I am sure.

Ford is an international affairs specialist with a background in China and human rights. She has worked as a senior policy advisor with Global Affairs Canada. Ford was a panelist at a 2018 Manning Centre conference discussion about conservative culture in Canada.

Ford, Hlady, Becca Polak and Jeremy Wong are seeking the UCP nomination in this district. A date for the nomination vote has not yet been announced.

Michael Janz

Public schools should be the priority, says trustee Michael Janz

With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table Alberta’s budget in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, March 22, there was plenty of activity today by advocates wanting to see big changes in provincial education.

Public schools should be the priority, says Janz

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Michael Janz is calling on the province to prioritize the construction of public schools in new communities. Janz will introduce a motion encourging the board seek a commitment from the provincial government that ‘the first school built in any community or neighbourhood be a public school or a shared public, separate, and/or francophone board facility.’

As of September 2017, around 100,000 students were enrolled in Edmonton’s public school system, a 3.4 percent increase from the previous year. According to Janz, the board’s draft projections indicate an increase of an additional 3,000 students in the 2018-2019 school year.

The board is currently debating its Three Year Capital Plan.

3 out of 4 taxpayers say no money for elite and exclusive private schools 

Progress Alberta released a poll from Environics showing that 75 percent of Albertans agree that schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition should not receive public funding. According to data released by Progress Alberta in 2017, 15 private schools that charge more than $10,000 in annual tuition fees received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies from the Alberta government in 2015-2016.

Some school boards falling behind on protecting sexual minority students

Public Interest Alberta has released a new report on four school boards’ policies and procedures on sexual and gender minorities that points to the need for changes to protect students and their rights. “Policies should be clear, comprehensive and unequivocal in their support for LGBTQ students, staff and families. Students shouldn’t need a lawyer to make sense of their school policies, or to find out if they’re fully protected or not,” University of Alberta assistant professor Kristopher Wells told Metro Edmonton.

Photo: Edmonton Public School Trustee Michael Janz

Alberta taxpayers are subsidizing Calgary’s elite and exclusive private schools

Alberta taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund posh private schools for Calgary’s elites.

According to data released by Progress Alberta, 15 private schools which charge more than $10,000 in annual tuition fees received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies in 2015-2016.

One of those private schools, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, charges $21,660 in annual tuition fees per student, the highest of any private school in Alberta. The school has received $20.5 million in government funding since 2010 and in 2016 it raised $25 million through fundraising. At the end of 2016 the school’s two charitable foundations had $4.7 million remaining, according to Progress Alberta.

Public funding for private schools has become a hot political topic in recent weeks, with some groups calling for the Alberta government to stop public funding of private schools. I remain undecided about whether funds should be available for some private education, but I was shocked to learn that some of Alberta’s most elite and exclusive private schools are receiving public subsidies.

Conservatives politicians have stepped up to defend private schools. Wildrose education critic Leela Aheer and Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney argued that private schools provide Albertans with choice in education. Aheer said in a written statement that the private system saves Albertans money because they receive 70 per cent of the per-student funding of public schools.

Both those arguments are flimsy to begin with and completely fall apart when we start focusing on private schools that charge significantly high tuition fees while also being able to fundraise large amounts of money. Most Albertans can’t afford the “choice” of enrolling their children in exclusive schools, and private schools which can generate large amounts of funding on their own can probably survive without government subsidies.

Funding exclusive private schools with admission fees that are out of reach of most Albertans only perpetuates a system of education based on economic class. Equality of opportunity should be the driving force behind public funding for education, whether it be public or private.

The speed at which Education Minister David Eggen swiftly denied any allegations that the NDP government would be defunding private schools was surprising considering the criticism his party levelled toward the old PC government on the same issue. The NDP should do what should have been done a long time ago – let Alberta taxpayers off the hook for funding these expensive, exclusive and elite private schools.

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

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

Progress Alberta Edmonton Hunger Ukrainian Strike

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

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

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

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

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

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

AB_Ideological_Self-Placement-1

Where Albertans place themselves on the ideological spectrum.

AB_in_General_Ideological_Placement

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

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

Peter Lougheed Alberta Conservative Premier

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

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

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

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

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

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher’s Note

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

Information about the survey

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

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