Tag Archives: Rachel Notley

Wildrose-PC merger a big deal, but not a silver bullet for 2019

Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.

For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.

There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.

A) If members from both parties vote to approve the agreement and amend their party constitutions, then a joint board of directors will be appointed to govern the business of the UCP and the two existing parties. The creation of a new party will need to be approved by Elections Alberta, which I expect will happen shortly after a successful vote.

An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.

A leadership race will be scheduled for October 28, 2017 and four candidates have already declared their candidacy or interest in running: Wildrose leader Brian Jean, PC Party leader Jason Kenney, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

B) If the vote fails, it is expected this would be because of opposition by Wildrose Party members. While I would be very surprised if the vote fails, it would not be the most outlandish event to occur in Alberta politics in the past decade. The Wildrose membership are known for being cantankerous and notoriously anti-establishment.

A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.

A Plan B could take the form of a non-compete agreement, where the two parties would not challenge each other in constituencies in the next election. This would be similar to what Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke proposed during the PC leadership race.

If technical issues hamper the vote and cause party members to question or challenge the validity of the results, it could damage the UCP before it is even officially formed.

What does this mean for the conservative movement in Alberta? 

With some prominent PC members jumping to the Alberta Party, a group of disgruntled Wildrose members threatening to start another new party and some conservatives even joining the NDP, Conservatives actually appear less united than they have been in years. While much of the Conservative establishment is backing the Wildrose-PC merger, there is a threat that it would lead to a further split into smaller conservative parties.

The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.

Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.

What does this mean for the NDP?

While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.

Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has stated that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.

What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?

Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.

Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.

Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet

Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.

And, as the past two elections have proven, Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.


I joined Brock Harrison and Shaye Ganam on July 21, 2017 to chat about Alberta politics and the July 22 vote on 630CHED. Here is the audio recording of our discussion.

Another Season of Stampede Politicking in Calgary

Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Politicians of all stripes descended on Alberta’s largest city this week for the annual Calgary Stampede festivities.

Though most of them have probably never ridden a horse or woke up at 5am (or earlier) to start their day on the farm, they were almost all brandishing big shiny belt buckles, wrangler-style shirts and cowboy hats of various sizes (and if they are lucky, they weren’t wearing them backwards).

Alberta’s NDP caucus held their annual summer caucus meeting in Calgary this week, which allowed most of the 54 NDP MLAs to scatter across the city to attend pancake breakfasts and BBQ lunches that could be found on almost every street corner this week.

The NDP had a particularly strong presence at Stampede events this year, signalling what many political watchers already believe – that Calgary will be a major battleground in the next provincial election. Calgarians elected fifteen NDP MLAs in the Orange Wave of 2015 but the party still remains organizationally weak in this city.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta

Brian Jean

Premier Rachel Notley and various cabinet ministers used the week in Calgary to make a series of funding announcements, including loosening restrictions on restaurant patios, construction industry tax credits, improvements to the Canada-Alberta Job Grant and business grants for Alberta’s food processing and booming craft beer industry.

Already campaigning for the leadership of the currently non-existent United Conservative Party, Brian Jean was spotted attending some events that a leader of the right-wing Wildrose Party would not expected to be seen at – such as the annual United Nurses of Alberta BBQ and LGBTQ events. This is likely an attempt to differentiate himself from his social conservative leadership rival Jason Kenney.

Kenney, who is earning a reputation as the potshot king of Alberta politics, offered to pay for Notley to take a course in economics this week. Notley, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Alberta and a Law Degree from Osgoode Hall, rightfully pointed out the arrogance of Kenney’s comments.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

Meanwhile, Alberta Together, a political action committee for the Alberta Party, attracted a sizeable group of disgruntled former PC Party members unhappy with Kenney’s leadership to an event this week in Calgary.

By the end of Sunday, most of the politicians visiting Calgary will have hung up their cowboy hats and packed away their boots and denim until next year. But while the Calgary Stampede may be the biggest political event of the season, it is only the beginning of what will be a summer full of political campaigns and maneuvering.

Wildrose MLA blames “hack job” for anti-Trudeau tweet

Speaking to a radio station in his Drumheller-Stettler constituency, Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman claimed the “electronic sphere” and a “hack job” were responsible for a tweet posted by his MLA twitter account last week accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being a “gutless puke.”

The tweet appeared to have been sent in response to Trudeau’s initial plans not to attend this year’s Stampede, which he later changed (Trudeau was attending the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany earlier this week).

The tweet, which was deleted moments after it was posted, was first reported on this blog last week.

All roads lead to Red Deer and the Alberta Party for homeless politicos

Red Deer and the Alberta Party are frequent destinations for disaffected politicos in search of a new political home.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

Led by former Progressive Conservative Party president Katherine O’Neill and backed for former cabinet minister Stephen Mandel, disaffected Tories are booking their flights to the central Alberta city this weekend to discuss bringing centrists “together,” presumably under the banner of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Together political action committee, led by O’Neill, has been created to search for a new home for centrists unhappy with the rightward direction of the established Conservative parties in the province.

The Alberta Party has been home to some very different stripes of politicos since it was founded in the early 1980s. The party had little success as a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party during its first two decades of existence and made minor headlines when it was involved in unsuccessful merger negotiations with the Alberta Alliance (the predecessor of the Wildrose Party) in the mid-2000s.

It was only a only a few short years ago that another group of disaffected political activists, mostly Liberals and Greens, with a few PCs and New Democrats tossed in the mix (including myself), also met in Red Deer to discuss the creation of a new political… something. Those meetings back in 2010, following the landslide victory that Premier Ed Stelmach led the PCs to in 2008, led to the creation of what has become the current version of the Alberta Party.

Dave Taylor MLA

Dave Taylor

The party, which was nothing more than a great name at the time, was inherited by former Green Party supporters in 2009 (the Green Party of Alberta was disbanded in 2009) and soon after Hinton mayor and past NDP candidate Glenn Taylor became the party’s leader. Two-term Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor became the party’s first MLA in 2011 after he left the then-Official Opposition Liberals.

The reinvention of the Alberta Party in 2010 dramatically shifted the tiny party into the limelight for a short period in the early 2010s, when it was seen as a potential successor to the failing Liberal Party brand in Alberta. But Stelmach’s decision to retire and Alison Redford’s ascendancyto what at the time looked like a reinvigorated ProgressiveConservative Party stole the wind from the Alberta Party’s sails.

The Alberta Party bandied around merger discussions with the Liberal Party before the 2012and 2015 elections, but nothing came of it. Rather than merging or accepting a floor crossing, the Alberta Party decided to endorse Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s re-election bid in Edmonton-Centre in 2015 (the five-term MLA was defeated by New Democrat David Shepherd in the orange tidal wave that swept the capital city).

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in the mid-1990s, was elected as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015. And since then, Clark has tried to position his party as a new home (and a safe refuge) for PCs who are uncomfortable with Jason Kenney’s social conservative leadership and the planned merger with the Wildrose Party to create the United Conservative Party.

Like those disaffected Liberals, Greens and New Democrats who gathered under the Alberta Party banner in the early 2010s to create a new alternative to the PCs, this group of disaffected PCs are gravitating toward the Alberta Party to create a new alternative. Some of the big names associated with the weekend gathering were involved in the PC Party’s epic defeat to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election.

The Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, and a home for disaffected politicos without a home. Whether or not this latest group to wander over will make themselves at home in the Alberta Party is yet to be determined.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Edmonton City Hall

There are 124 days left until Edmonton’s Municipal Elections

There are 124 days left until the October 2017 municipal elections in Edmonton. Here are some of the latest updates to the list of candidates running in Edmonton’s municipal election for City Council:

  • Kirsten Goa Edmonton City Council Ward 8

    Kirsten Goa

    Alex McFarlane is running in Ward 5.

  • Kirsten Goa and James Kosowan are running in Ward 8. Goa is the Advisory Committee Community Co-Chair of Edmonton City Council’s Initiative on Public Engagement. She was until recently working for Rachel Notley in her constituency office in Edmonton-Strathcona and is a member of the Kokopelli Choir Association’s adult community choir, Vacilando. Kosowan is a high school social studies teacher with the Edmonton Public School Board and has been involved with the Bonnie Doon Community League.
  • Restauranteur Vieri Berretti is running in Ward 10. He will launch his campaign on June 20th at the Royal Gardens Community League.

The Edmonton Elections Office is holding an information session for candidates and their official agents on June 21, from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the Elections and Census Office at 16304-114 Avenue. The session will provide information about Nominations Requirements and Forms, Election Legislation, Bylaws and Signage, and Campaign Finances, Contributions, Disclosures and Expenses.

If you know any other candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for Mayor, Council, or School Board and are not on this list, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them. Thank you!

Gwnyth Midgeley and David Khan Liberal

David Khan wins leadership of obscure Liberal Party

Photo: Liberal Party executive director Gwyneth Midgley and newly elected party leader David Khan (photo from March 2017).

Calgary – In a battle of Calgary lawyers, David Khan defeated Kerry Cundal to become the next leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

Khan earned 54 percent of the vote with 897 votes to Cundal’s 765 votes. He succeeds interim leader David Swann, who is also the party’s only MLA. He may also be the first leader of a political party in Alberta who is openly-gay.

It would be easy to have forgotten the Liberals were picking a new leader today, as the race did not generate much interest outside of loyal Liberal Party circles. The race was also fraught by a series of resignations.

Leadership co-chair Kevin Feehan was appointed as a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in October 2016. And the other leadership co-chair, Nirmala Naidoo, resigned in October 2016 to work on Sandra Jansen’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership (Jansen later withdrew from that race and joined the New Democratic Party).

The two candidates both entered the race at almost the last minute after St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse dropped out days before the nomination deadline in March 2017. It was widely expected until that point that Crouse would be acclaimed.

Cundal, a past federal Liberal candidate who was a PC Party member only weeks before she launched her leadership bid, promoted the idea that it was time for the Liberal Party to work with other centrist parties, and maybe even create a new party. Khan ran on a more traditionalist platform of keeping the party name, which appealed to the party’s loyalists.

But it is hard to figure out where the Liberal Party fits in today’s provincial political environment.

Most of the party’s voter base in Edmonton shifted enmasse to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election. I am not sure why many of those former Liberal voters would abandon the NDP in the next election, especially faced with the alternative of Derek Fildebrandt, Jason Kenney, or Brian Jean becoming the next premier of Alberta.

Far from being a party of socialist firebrands like Jeremy Corbyn‘s UK Labour Party, Notley’s NDP are basically governing Alberta as centrist-leftish Liberals.

I am sure that Khan will work hard in his new role. As his party’s 2014 candidate in Calgary-West (where he earned 8.5 percent of the vote) and 2015 candidate in Calgary-Buffalo (where he earned 24.6 percent of the vote), Khan already has experience campaigning at a local level. And a local level might be the best place for him to start in his new role. He has a huge challenge ahead of him to rebuild a party that over the past five years has fallen from official opposition to obscurity.

Both Khan and Cundal were endorsed by former Senator Nick Taylor, the likeable and quotable stalwart who led the party from 1974 until 1988. As the last person to lead the party through a long-period in the wilderness, Taylor might have some wise advice to share with Khan as he starts his new role as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

Looking past pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement looks pretty good for BC

“Mark my words, that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made.” – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Alberta politicians, media and pundits are unsurprisingly focused on what the governing agreement between British Columbia New Democratic Party leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver will mean for the future of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

The agreement would have the province’s three Green Party MLAs support the 41 NDP MLAs on confidence motions and money bills in the Legislative Assembly, allowing the NDP to form a minority government. Christy Clark‘s Liberals have 43 MLAs, one MLA short of a majority.

Aside from oil pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement commits to holding a referendum  on proportional representation in fall 2018 (though it is not clear what form of proportional representation will be proposed) and reforming BC’s wild-west election finance laws (banning corporate and union donations, placing limits on individual donations, and limiting party loans to banks and financial institutions).

The agreement also commits to appointing a commission to create a plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage, preserving public health care and education, and improving funding for public transit. While some of the points are intentionally vague, overall it reads like a fairly positive guide for the next BC government.

Andrew Weaver Green Party British Columbia

Andrew Weaver

But back to that pipeline from Alberta, the agreement states: “Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”

The pipeline expansion has already been approved by the federal government, but faces opposition from the public and the courts in BC. In an article earlier this month, James Wilt outlined three ways the BC government could stop or slow down the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

Political opposition to the pipeline from an Green-supported NDP government in BC could create a lot of political trouble for Rachel Notley‘s NDP government in Alberta. There is no shortage of irony that the NDP-Green agreement could create a world of political problems for the most progressive and environmentally-friendly government Alberta has ever had.

Despite the Notley government’s Climate Leadership Plan, disagreement over oil pipelines has lead to a significant split between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts outside the province.

John Horgan BC NDP Leader Premier

John Horgan

Notley has been steadfast in her support for the pipeline, and as far as Alberta politicians go, she is probably in the best position to negotiate some sort of political compromise with a future Premier Horgan. The two politicians know each other and many NDP political staffers in Edmonton have deep connections to the BC NDP. Alberta’s Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips even worked in the BC NDP campaign war-room in 2013.

In many ways, it would be easier for the BC NDP, and probably the federal NDP, if Alberta was governed by climate change denying conservatives. At least then they would be able to oppose these oil pipelines without the kind of complications that having an NDP government in Alberta has caused for them.

It is not clear when, or if, Horgan and Weaver will be able to enact their agreement. Clark has said she will remain in office for the time-being, likely until her Liberal Party loses a confidence vote in the Legislative Assembly. When that takes place could determine the political future of the pipeline, and who will be representing BC when the Council of the Federation meets in Edmonton from  July 17 to 19, 2017.

Schweitzer is back, again, probably

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is not running in the PC leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who pulled the plug on his bid to leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party last September and backed Jason Kenney instead, has announced his plans to run for the currently non-existent United Conservative Party. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was involved in Jim Prentice‘s campaign for the Alberta PC Party leadership in 2014. He served as Kenney’s scrutineer when the ballots were counted in the 2017 PC leadership race.

Schweitzer’s candidacy is entirely dependent on whether members of the Wildrose and PC parties vote to form a new party on July 22, which I expect will happen.

Labour Minister Christina Gray. Photo from premierofalberta on Flickr.

NDP finally introduce their Labour Law modernization bill

Labour Minister Christina Gray introduced Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, into the Legislative Assembly today. This bill includes long-awaited reforms to modernize Alberta’s Labour Code and Employment Standards Code. Some parts of Alberta’s labour laws have remained untouched since the 1970s.

The 249-page bill includes a wide-range of amendments from improving maternity leave and compassionate care leave to extending parental leave from 37 weeks to 52 weeks to guaranteeing job protection for new unpaid leaves to simplifying union certification and decertification processes.

Well-respected labour lawyer Andrew Sims, who was hired by the government to work on the reforms, described the changes in Bill 17 as moderate and middle of the road. “This is not a cutting-edge, lead-the-country reform,” Sims told reporters. “It is in most respects a bring-the-best-experiences-from-elsewhere to Alberta.” This would appear to fit with the New Democratic Party‘s shift in adopting more centrist policies ahead of the next provincial election.

While the bill does not include changes some trade unions were advocating for, including banning “double breasting” and replacement workers during strikes, it does include some meaningful changes.

During her time as an opposition MLA, Premier Rachel Notley was a vocal advocate for first contract arbitration, which is included in the bill. First contract arbitration allows employers and unions to access dispute resolution methods under the Labour Relations Code that could avoid lengthy lock-outs or job action if negotiations for a first contract at newly unionized worksites are unsuccessful.

On the issue of card-check, which I briefly discussed yesterday, changes in Bill 17 require a secret ballot vote to take place at a job site where between 40 and 65 percent of workers have signed up to join a union. If more than 65 percent of workers have signed up, then a vote is not required.

You would think that a bill allowing workplace leave for parents looking after kids with long-term illness, leave for women suffering from domestic violence, and striking a provision that allowed persons with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage would garner support from all sides of the Legislative Assembly. You would think.

But before debate on Bill 17 could even begin, Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLAs, now essentially operating as the United Conservative Party caucus, voted against first reading of the bill. It is very unusual for MLAs to vote against a bill in first reading, as a vote in favour of first reading is needed to allow for debate on a bill to begin. In fact, a vote in favour of first reading is needed before MLAs and the public even get a chance to read the bill.

It is hard to describe their behaviour as anything but foolish partisanship. Wildrose and PC MLAs have made it clear they are unwilling to work with the NDP on many issues, but at a bare minimum they should be able to offer alternatives and meaningfully contribute to a debate.

But perhaps this is not surprising when you consider some of the last significant pieces of labour legislation passed by a Conservative government in Alberta. In 2015Jim Prentice‘s government repealed a law passed in 2013 that would have levelled fines of $500 and a prosecution within one year for any “person” who suggested that public sector employees strike or threaten to strike. The 2013 law was undemocratic and very likely unconstitutional.

At first glance, the NDP bill appears to bring some semblance of balance into labour law in Alberta while modernizing some workplace protections that are fairly standard in most other Canadian provinces.

The bulk of the changes included in the bill also reflect the NDP’s main narrative in 2017 of “making lives better for Albertans.” By voting against Bill 17 before it was even up for debate, Wildrose and PC MLAs continued to fulfill the NDP’s secondary narrative, “making life difficult for conservative MLAs.”

Pipelines, pipelines, pipelines – An Alberta view of the BC election

British Columbia voters reduced Christy Clark’s BC Liberals to minority status in the provincial election this week. The BC Liberals, who have formed government since 2001, elected candidates in 43 of the province’s 87 legislative constituencies (pending recounts). The official opposition New Democratic Party led by John Horgan boosted their numbers by electing 41 MLAs. And the Green Party, led by climate scientist Andrew Weaver, could hold the balance of power in the minority legislature after three Green MLAs were elected on Vancouver Island.

John Horgan

John Horgan

Results of the British Columbia provincial election by political watchers and pundits in Alberta are being viewed through the same lens they have viewed the entire BC election campaign: by wondering how it will impact future construction of oil pipelines from Alberta to the West Coast.

The NDP and Greens have stated their opposition to the pipeline expansion, and the Liberals gave their support to the federally approved Trans Canada Kinder-Morgan Pipeline expansion. But given the results of yesterday’s election, it is hard to say if there is any governing scenario in BC that is ideal for Alberta’s pipeline dreams.

But just because pipelines are top of mind for many Albertans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing our priorities were the same priorities in the minds of BC voters who cast their ballots on Tuesday. Sure, pipelines, climate change, energy, and environmental issues were likely important issues for many BC voters, but so were health care, education, housing affordability, government corruption, political financing and many other issues.

While pipeline approvals fall under federal jurisdiction, opposition by a provincial government can create significant political problems for any project and a federal government that supports it. The unanswered question now on the minds of many Albertans is how the election results will impact the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to a shipping terminal in Burnaby.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A minority government formed by Clark’s Liberals could continue to support for pipelines, but if they become dependent on the votes of the three Green MLAs to maintain their government, political necessity could change their enthusiasm for the project. An NDP government supported by the Greens could result in further opposition to pipeline expansion.

Opposition to the pipeline by the BC NDP led pro-pipeline Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley to announce in Dec. 2016 that NDP political staffers in Edmonton would be barred from working on BC NDP campaigns in this election. The divide between the two parties, and two provinces, on the pipeline issue is stark. Public support for pipelines among Albertans appears to be near unanimous, while opposition to pipelines in BC is a broad and mainstream opinion.

While the BC Liberals are considered to be a conservative party, a Clark government will not necessarily have the best interests of Albertans in mind. In reaction to American President Donald Trump imposing a tariff on Canadian softwood lumber exports, Clark threatened to impose a $70 per tonne levy on thermal coal exports through BC ports. Alberta’s coal exports could be collateral damage in this move, even though Notley has questioned whether Clark actually has the constitutional authority to impose the levy.

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver

Clark has attacked the Alberta NDP in speeches before and during the campaign, and it would not be uncharacteristic of the BC Liberals to attack Alberta in order to further expose the rifts between the Notley government and Horgan NDP.

While Albertans focus on prospects for oil pipelines to the West Coast, it is important to remember that what Albertans perceive as their best interests are not necessarily the top priorities for voters and politicians in BC, and nor should they be.

Former Alberta MLA defeated on Vancouver Island

Former Alberta MLA Alana DeLong was unsuccessful in her bid for election as a Liberal candidate in the Nanaimo-North Cowachin constituency on Vancouver Island. DeLong, who represented Calgary-Bow as a Progressive Conservative in the Alberta Legislature from 2001 to 2015, was defeated by incumbent New Democrat Doug Routley 10,986 votes to 6,696 votes.

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

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

As I wrote earlier this month, the NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working well for the NDP.

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

Jason Kenney emerges from hiding at Conservative fundraising dinner in Vancouver

As Premier Rachel Notley returns from leading a ten-day economic trade mission to China and Japan, political watchers have been wondering where the recently elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has been? Jason Kenney appeared to go into hiding around a month ago after he sparked controversy with his comments about Gay-Straight Alliances and outing gay kids in Alberta schools during an interview with the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary.

Vancouver-based website TheBreaker reported this week that Kenney was recently spotted in British Columbia speaking at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative Party fundraising event at Hy’s Steakhouse in downtown Vancouver. Kenney tweeted that he was in Vancouver for a conference, but did not mention any other political activities the PC Party leader has been engaged in on the west coast.

The website author, journalist Bob Mackin, alleged that Kenney urged guests at the fundraising dinner to support the BC Liberal Party of Christy Clark in the province’s May 9 general election and that a new conservative  party could be formed in Alberta as soon as this weekend.

Readers will remember that a question first asked on this blog on December 5, 2016 about whether the Alberta New Democratic Party would lend a hand to their BC cousins led to a decree by Notley banning any west coast election-related travel by her government’s political staffers. The BC NDP under the leadership of John Horgan oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, a project that the Notley NDP are firmly in favour of.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted on April 22, 2017, Horgan’s NDP leads Clark’s Liberals 44 percent to 34 percent, with an insurgent Green Party led by Andrew Weaver polling at 22 percent support.

Meanwhile, as the unite-the-right discussions continue, a new poll released by Mainstreet Research asking Albertans who they would prefer as leader of a merged Wildrose-PC party showed Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean leading Kenney with 29 percent to 24 percent support. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose “Someone Else” and 23 percent were unsure, suggesting that there could be appetite for a third or fourth candidate to enter the contest (some Conservative activists have suggested outgoing interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose could fill this void).

Jean has been criss-crossing the province holding town hall meetings ostensibly to collect feedback on the party merger, but in reality he is campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be-named and yet-to-be-merged Wildrose-PC party.

I am told that one of the significant issues of debate between the leadership of the two conservative parties is the timeline for a leadership vote. Jean has firmly said the leader of a new party should be chosen before October 15, 2017 while Kenney has been saying since last year that he wants a founding convention to be held in late 2017 before a leadership vote takes place in early 2018.

Jean’s preferred timeline appears to be more sensible, as it would allow a leader to hold court over a founding convention that could be unruly and filled with bozo-erruptions if a leader is not in place to keep the rowdy membership base in line. Kenney’s preference would buy him more time to compete with Jean in a leadership vote, which he might need now that he has decided to lend himself out to conservative fundraising efforts in British Columbia.

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.

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.

Not many surprises in Alberta’s stay the course budget

There were few surprises when Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood to table the New Democratic Party’s third budget since forming government in 2015.

What I expect were strategic leaks over the past week revealed some popular highlights included in the budget, giving the government some positive media in the days before the budget was released. The construction, revitalization and renovation of schools and funding for a new hospital in south Edmonton were two of the most notable tidbits to be released in advance of yesterday’s budget speech.

If the leaks were indeed intentional, it was not a bad communications strategy considering the government’s current financial situation. It created a positive distraction from two big numbers that the conservative opposition parties want to focus on – total budget spending and the budget deficit.

But when the budget was tabled yesterday, neither of these numbers were really a surprise. We knew the NDP was not planning to make deep cuts to provincial program spending in this budget. And we knew from Ceci’s third-quarter update from the last fiscal year that the deficit would likely remain over $10 billion – it is projected to be $10.3 billion, down around $500 million from $10.8 billion last year.

The conservative opposition attacked the budget, which was also something we knew would happen. A Wildrose opposition press released called the budget a “a debt-fueled disaster” and the Progressive Conservatives claimed it took Alberta over a “fiscal cliff.” A press release from Alberta Party leader Greg Clark claimed the budget was “uninspired, irresponsible and focused only on the short term.”

Also not surprising was the response from Liberal leader David Swann, who took a more reasoned approach by applauding the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, and then pointing out where the budget failed.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga writes in detail, Rachel Notley‘s NDP government rejected the kinds of conservative fiscal policies that created the infrastructure deficit Alberta has today.

The government continues to make significant investment in public infrastructure, which is long overdue in Alberta. Along with a new hospital in Edmonton, the budget includes funding for renovations at the Misericordia Hospital and new construction at the Royal Alexandra and Glenrose hospitals (which was not previously announced, so that was a surprise).

One question that remains unanswered is how, in the long-term, the government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil. For many years, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old PC government used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but financial irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue.

The NDP took some steps to diversify revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes after they were first elected 2015 but it was nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall (Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada). The positive news is that Alberta still has the advantage of having a low debt-to-GDP ratio, which means at least in the short-term our province should be able to deal with being in a deficit situation.

Overall, I am not surprised about what is and is not included in the 2017 provincial budget. I am encouraged that the NDP is not heeding the calls of the conservative opposition parties to make deep funding cuts to public services and infrastructure investments, which would be detrimental to Albertans’ quality of life during this economic downturn.

David Eggen goes back to the NDP basics with bill to cut school fees

A flagship bill to cut school fees by 25 percent is familiar and friendly territory for the Alberta’s New Democratic Party. Introduced  in the Legislative Assembly today by Education Minister David Eggen, Bill 1: An Act to Reduce School Fees, eliminates fees for textbooks, workbooks, photocopying, printing and busing transporting.

Last year’s Bill 1, which established a series of job creation and economic diversification committees, was much more technocratic than this year’s first bill. Eggen’s bill returns to retail politics and goes back to the NDP basics. It moves the NDP closer to fulfilling one of their campaign promises from the 2015 election, to “reduce school fees for essential services such as lunch supervision and busing.”

As an opposition party, the NDP railed against growing out of pocket fees that Alberta parents were forced to pay under the old Progressive Conservative government. Eliminating these types of school fees, which cost Albertans an average of $50 million each year, is a change that will have a positive impact in the lives of a lot of Albertans.

The elimination of fees is likely to be a popular move, and it is also shrewd politics. Like the NDP government’s increases to the minimum wage and introduction of $25 per day child care, it will be politically difficult for the conservative opposition parties to campaign against cuts to school fees in the next election.