Tag Archives: Raj Pannu

24-hours in the life of a student leader the day tuition was removed from legislation

Photo: ACTISEC President Jon Hoffman, Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, NDP MLA Raj Pannu, and CAUS Chairperson Dave Cournoyer in the media room at the Alberta Legislature on May 9, 2006.

This week’s news about the Alberta Government extending the tuition freeze and legislating the formula to increase tuition reminded me of the day I came very close to being kicked out of the Legislature.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt introduced Bill 19: An Act to Improve the Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education in the Legislative Assembly this week. If passed, Bill 19 will implement a new framework that will regulate tuition and mandatory non-instructional fees and provide a new measure of fairness for students enrolled at Alberta’s colleges and universities.

Bill 19 will cap each post-secondary institutions average tuition and apprenticeship fee increases to the Consumer Price Index and allow the minister to regulate mandatory non-instructional fees and international student tuition. It also gives student leaders a more meaningful voice in the process.

These are significant changes but, closer to the heart of this writer, Schmidt is bringing Alberta’s tuition policy out from behind the closed doors of the government boardrooms and returning it to public light in legislation.

In 2006, I was elected Vice-President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union and chosen as chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students, an organization that represented undergraduate students from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge. It was a interesting time to be a student leader in Alberta. The price of oil was high and political change was in the air.

After 13 years as premier, Ralph Klein was approaching the end of his time in office, and he was backtracking on a pledge made during a 2005 televised address that Alberta would have the most affordable tuition in Canada.

It happened that May 9, 2006 was an exciting and dramatic day to step in a new role as chairperson of CAUS. Then-Minister of Advanced Education Denis Herard announced he would introduce Bill 40: Post-secondary Learning Amendment Act, which would remove the tuition formula from the Post-Secondary Learning Act and move it into regulations. The formula as it then existed was complicated and needed to be reformed, but removing it from legislation meant that future changes to how much tuition could be raised in Alberta would be made in a closed door cabinet meeting, rather than required to be debated in front of the public on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

The leaders of Alberta’s student movement were concerned that removing the policy from legislation would lead to further increases, rather than the affordability Klein had promised.

We decided that a quick response was best.

My first full-day as CAUS chairperson started with an early morning press conference in the media room in the basement of the Alberta Legislature Building.It was my first time participating in a press conference of any kind where I would be front and centre.

I was joined by Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, ACTISEC president Jon Hoffman, and the Advanced Education critics from the Liberal and New Democratic Party critics, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu.

It was a big deal at the time that the Liberal and NDP critics joined us at the press conference, and it may have been the first time the two parties had ever participated in a press conference together. I remember there were some moments of heated dispute between staffers from the two opposition caucuses about which critic would speak first, and I recall the issue was settled in favour of Pannu because the NDP Caucus had booked the media room for the press conference.

The media room was packed with reporters as we read our statements arguing for transparency and accountability of the cost of education. It was the first time I had ever done something like this and it was nerve racking. Without the help of Moore-Kilgannon (who is now Minister Schmidt’s Chief of Staff) and the incredibly resourceful Duncan Wojtaszek, then-executive director of CAUS, I am not sure I would have even had my talking points straight.

It was political maneuvering on our part to hold the early morning press conference. We hoped to pre-empt a press conference that the minister of advanced education was scheduled to hold on the same topic later that morning. Little did we know that Herard would never show up to his own press conference.

After our media event ended we did a few more interviews and later joined the representatives from the University of Calgary Students’ Union for a tour of the Legislature. While on the tour, NDP Caucus staffer Tony Clark rushed to tell us that the minister had canceled his press conference and snuck out of the building before the media could track him down.

With that news in hand, we held an impromptu media scrum on the third floor of the Legislature. It wasn’t until I spotted Klein walk past our scrum that I realized that we had planted ourselves right outside the doors of Room 307 – the Premier’s Office – which was apparently considered a major security violation.

To our surprise, after the scum ended and the reporters disbursed to file their stories, U of A SU president Samantha Power and I were escorted by Legislature security to the front doors of the building. The guards gave us a stern talk about why we weren’t allowed to hold a scrum outside the Premier’s Office. After some heated negotiations, we convinced the guards that evicting us and presumably banning us from re-entering the building would result in us holding another press conference on the Legislature steps minutes later.

I didn’t believe that day could get any more exciting but I was proven wrong when CAUS received an urgent call from the Minister Herard’s office. He wanted to meet with us as soon as possible.

We met with the minister a few hours later in a conference room at the Delta Hotel in downtown Edmonton. The meeting was memorable but completely underwhelming. The minister listened to our arguments why keeping the tuition policy in legislation would ensure transparency and accountability for students but he offered nothing more than platitudes and strange metaphors in return.

Herard’s short time in cabinet would be remembered for his desire to “cross the wisdom bridge” and “build an army of mentors.”

Eight days later, Progressive Conservative MLAs voted to remove the tuition policy from legislation by passing Bill 40. The minister was shuffled into the backbenchers later that year when Ed Stelmach entered the Premier’s Office.

At the press conference early that morning, I told the assembled media that students were prepared to wait until the next time the legislature met to have a new policy implemented, so that the policy would be embedded in an act of the legislature. If the tuition policy was not in legislation, it was no good to us, I said.

I never expected the policy to ever be returned to legislation. And while the fight to lower the cost of and eliminate tuition fees needs to continue, 12 years later the tuition policy is finally out from behind closed doors and back where it should be – enshrined in legislature. And it is a big deal.

Alberta NDP Convention 2018

Notley NDP launch “Fighting for You” campaign for re-election, Tribute to Brian Mason, and Vegreville Ford breaks from the MDA-Kenney Pact

Alberta’s New Democratic Party has focused a lot of energy attacking Jason Kenney and honing in on United Conservative Party nomination candidate bozo-eruptions in hopes of building a narrative that casts the UCP as having a big problem with its social conservative elements. But while Kenney and the UCP were frequently mentioned at the NDP convention at the Westin Hotel in downtown Edmonton today, the governing party put a lot more focus on what might become the positive narrative of their campaign for re-election.

With “Fighting for You,” “Fighting for Jobs,” “Fighting for Healthcare,” “Fighting for Public Education,” and “Fighting for Public Services” projected on the large bright screen at the front of the convention hall, NDP officials and cabinet ministers took to the microphones to test talking points and remind delegates about the changes the party has implemented on childcare, climate change, education, health care, and workplace safety since the 2015 election.

The convention feels like it was designed avoid the kind of controversy that was generated at the recent UCP policy convention or the last time there was a big NDP gathering in Edmonton. And unlike previous conventions, there were no contentious debates about halting pipelines, disaffiliating from the federal NDP, or merging with other political parties. Delegates instead reaffirmed their support for Notley’s fight for oil pipelines and a range of progressive policies that included expanding broadband internet in rural Alberta, eliminating racism, expanding affordable childcare, and opposing education vouchers.

Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci took part in a panel discussion moderated by Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet. The discussion was very friendly, allowing Notley and Ceci to highlight their familiar narrative that investment in public infrastructure and public services was a better choice for Albertans than cutting frontline public services when the price of oil dropped in 2014.

The second day of the NDP convention also featured guest speakers. Chief Billy Joe Laboucan spoke about the historic agreement signed with the Lubicon Lake Band this week. Former Calgary Board of Education chairperson Joy Bowen-Eyre spoke about the need to protect funding for public education. And University of Alberta professor Russell Cobb spoke about how austerity and tax cuts in once-oil rich Oklahoma has led that state down the road to massive public service cuts.

Overall, the second day of the convention was a very well-stage managed event.

But despite a lack of controversy on the convention floor today, the group of more than 1,200 delegates appeared upbeat, energized and ready to hit the doors to campaign in 2019.

“Rachel’s Team” coming to a billboard near you

We can expect a larger focus on Premier Rachel Notley going into Alberta’s next provincial general election. The NDP has already begun to quietly exchange its party logo in many of its public documents in favour of Rachel Notley’s name. It has been clear since 2015 that Notley is her party’s greatest asset, so it is not surprising that she will play the central role in her party’s 2019 re-election campaign.

When next spring arrives, I would not be surprised to see “Rachel’s Team” billboards popping up across the province.

Notley is scheduled to deliver her keynote speech to delegates on the second day of the convention at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, October 28, 2018.

Ceci criticizes feds for “moving the goal posts” on Olympic funding

Joe Ceci scrums with reporters at the NDP convention.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci accused the federal government of “moving the goal posts in the fourth quarter,” following news that the federal Liberal cabinet had decided to fund up to $1.75 billion towards the potential Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics, but only if the Alberta government and City of Calgary match the total. The Alberta government said it will not budge from its $700 million commitment to Calgary’s Olympic Games.

The news from Ottawa gave Ceci an opportunity to criticize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, something that is rarely a negative in Alberta politics. Expect NDP cabinet ministers to continue to distance themselves from their former federal allies in the coming months.

Tribute to former leader Brian Mason

NDP MLAs gather on stage during the tribute to former party leader Brian Mason.

The lunch break featured a tribute to Brian Mason, the retiring cabinet minister and MLA from Edmonton-Highlands-Nowood who led the NDP through the muddy trenches of Alberta politics from 2004 to 2014. Mason was introduced by Notley and joined on stage by former party leaders Raj Pannu and Ray Martin, and dozens of his fellow NDP MLAs.

Brian Mason (source: The Gateway, November 1974).

Brian Mason (source: The Gateway, November 1974).

“Work hard, give lots, take nothing for granted, and never, ever, ever give up,” Mason told convention delegates.

Mason has been a fixture in Edmonton and Alberta politics for decades, first as a prominent activist and student leader at the University of Alberta in the 1970s, then as an transit driver turned Edmonton City Councillor in the 1980s and 1990s before jumping into provincial politics in 2000.

Respected community advocate and educator Janis Irwin has been nominated as Mason’s NDP successor in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.

Big difference from the last NDP convention I attended

Mason was party leader the last time I attended an NDP convention.

It was September 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel, the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project.

The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.

The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates.

Nine years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral coalitions. They are holding their final convention before going to the polls to ask Albertans to grant them a second-term as government.


Vegreville Ford breaks from MDA support for Jason Kenney’s PAC

Vegreville Ford

Vegreville Ford

Brian Baron, the dealer principal of Vegreville Ford, posted a message on his car dealership’s Facebook page this week, distancing himself from the dozens of car dealerships across Alberta that have donated $170,000 to Shaping Alberta’s Future, a pro-Jason Kenney political action committee:

“Although we are a member of the MDA, we have chosen not to contribute to the “Shaping Alberta’s Future” 3rd party marketing campaign. Our position is that we do not feel that this action supports what we feel the MDA’s or our purpose should be. Vegford is nonpartisan and it neither endorses nor supports financially any politician or political party. Our job is to take great care of our customers and our staff. We care about Albertans and we vote, but in a world that is already too divided, we feel no need to engage in controversy.”

Who might and might not be invited to the Leaders’ Debate in Alberta’s 2019 election?

Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.

We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.

Most readers of this website will remember Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice‘s infamous “math is difficult” rebuttal to New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley during the 2015 debate. The comment was viewed by many as sexist and the embodiment of a 44-year old political dynasty way past it’s best before date.

Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.

Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.

Stephen Mandel: Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel will almost certainly be invited to join the debate even though he is not currently an MLA. Mandel served as a PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from October 2014 to May 2015 and was defeated by NDP MLA Bob Turner in 2015. The Alberta Party elected one MLA in 2015 – Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark – and now has three MLAs due to floor-crossings by former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and UCP MLA Rick Fraser.

David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.

The Derek Fildebrandt Question: Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.

Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.

Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.

As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.


A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections

Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:

1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.

The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”

At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.

1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.

1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.

An alternative debate that included leaders of smaller parties was also televised. That debate included the leaders of the Communist Party, Confederation of Regions, Alliance Party and Green Party. Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson refused to participate, arguing that the Social Credit party should have been included in the main leaders debate.

1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts. 

2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.

2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.

The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.

2008 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast on Global, CTV and CBC: PC Party leader Ed Stelmach, Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman. Hinman was the Alberta Alliance Party’s sole elected MLA in the 2004 election before the party changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance (he would be defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008).

The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election). 

2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Smith was invited to join the debate despite her party not having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The Wildrose Party was represented in the Assembly by four MLAs when the election was called. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore and Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier were elected as PC candidates in 2008 before crossing the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.

Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.

2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.

The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.

Knickers in a twist over David Suzuki’s University of Alberta honorary degree

Photo: Environmentalist, scientist, author, and broadcaster David Suzuki (credit: David Climenhaga)

The decision by the University of Alberta‘s volunteer Senate to present an honorary degree to high profile environmentalist, scientist, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient Dr. David Suzuki has aroused much outrage from conservative partisans, Postmedia columnists, donors and U of A staff. It even earned an embarassingly entitled response from the Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes, who said he was “deeply sorry” and “ashamed” of the decision.

Good grief.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with Suzuki’s political positions (most notably his controversial comments about Canada’s oil sands) or have had poor personal experiences with him (which many people seem to have had), it is impossible to deny the huge contributions he has made to the popularization of sciences in Canadian culture.

As host of the Nature of Things and Quirks and Quarks, a generation of Canadians were introduced to the sciences through Suzuki’s broadcasts.

The U of A responded with it own statement in defence of Suzuki’s honourary degree, but it appears one statement may not have been enough to appease angry critics. Suzuki has been demonized by the political right for years, including a recent attack from United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney.

Politically manufactured outrage toward Suzuki, who already has an honorary degree from the University of Calgary and nearly 30 other universities, could also be pointed at previous honourary degree recipients.

Albertans outraged about Suzuki’s honorary degree might be surprised to discover that a U of A honorary degree was given to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1968. The U of A also bestowed an honorary degree to Maurice Strong in 1973, three years before Trudeau appointed him as head of Petro-Canada, the now privatized crown-corporation decried by Conservatives of the day. Unthinkable!

Only five short years after he was in charge of enforcing the much-derided National Energy Program as federal minister of energy, Jean Chretien was given a U of A honourary degree in Spring 1987. Blasphemy!

And Mel Hurtig, who later became the country’s loudest crusader against free trade with the United States in the early 1990s, was given an honorary degree in Fall 1986. Unbelievable!

As a U of A alumnus and former member of the U of A Senate, Suzuki’s honourary degree does not particularly bother me more than some previous choices.

Back in 2012, I was not pleased to learn that the U of A Senate had granted an honorary degree to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chair of Nestlé, the largest multinational food and water corporation in the world.

As Scott Harris wrote in back in 2012, Nestle had been the “target of international boycotts stretching back decades for its marketing of breast milk substitutes … in violation of international standards, widespread labour violations and links to slave labour in its chocolate production, and its environmental impact and strong-arm tactics with communities opposed to Nestlé’s exploitation of groundwater for its bottled water division.”

That is offensive.

At least the U of A administration cannot be accused of not being consistent in their defence of the Senate’s choices for honorary degree recipients.

It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Suzuki’s opinions will generate from the audience of U of A Science graduates and their families. Will he insult them by criticizing the oil and gas industry and calling to stop climate change? Will he call for an end to or insult our oil pipelines? Should the U of A give a platform to someone who will likely voice opinions that those sitting in the Jubilee Auditorium might find offensive?

It would not be the first time.

I am told that some parents of graduates refused to applaud former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis when he delivered a call to action against climate change as he accepted his U of A honourary degree a few years ago.

Albertans are free to criticize the U of A Senate’s choices of honourary degree recipients, and we should probably even criticize the sometimes silly exercise of granting honorary degrees.

But the U of A should not shy away from controversial choices.

The University should resist pressure from external donors and internal voices like Forbes to withdraw Suzuki’s honorary degree. As my colleague David Climenhaga writes, doing so would “be a black mark on the intellectual reputation of the U of A, a great university, and it will be a great victory for those who would, “without fairness or justification,” turn all Albertans into climate-change pariahs.”


Luckily for U of A grads in 2018, along with Suzuki the honourary degree recipients speaking at their convocation ceremonies will include farmers’ union activist Nettie Wiebe, CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada Louise Bradley, historian, playwright and composer France Levasseur-Ouimet, particle physicist Brian Cox, human rights scholar David Matas, former Alberta MLA Raj Pannu, former premier of the North West Territories Stephen Kakfwi, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, and respected foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed.

Suzuki will receive an honourary doctor of science degree from the university on June 7 at 10 a.m.

March 3, 2008 was an optimistic day to be a Liberal supporter, at least up until 8:22 p.m.

Photo: Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft speaks to a rally of supporters on the weekend before the 2008 election. Taft, in my opinion, was one of the best premiers Alberta never had.

March 3, 2008 was an optimistic day to be a Liberal Party supporter, at least up until 8:22 p.m that night. The polls had only closed for 22 minutes when the news channels began declaring that the long in the tooth Progressive Conservatives would form another majority government in Alberta.

The front page of the Edmonton Journal on March 4, 2008 (Photo originally shared by Les Stelmach on Facebook).

The front page of the Edmonton Journal on March 4, 2008 (Photo originally shared by Les Stelmach on Facebook).

It was a heartbreaking loss for those of us who were involved in the Alberta Liberal Party campaign that year.

I had been involved with the Liberal Party since the early 2000s and played a behind the scenes role in that year’s election campaign.

While I spent a considerable amount of time knocking on doors for candidates in Edmonton, I was also working with a group of MLAs, lawyers and former PC cabinet ministers on what would have been the plan to transition the Liberals into government if the party had won that election ten years ago today.

The whole project felt like a silly effort at 8:22 p.m. that night, but there were moments in the campaign where it did feel like Albertans were looking for a change.

After a divisive PC leadership race and a surprise win in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, it looked as if the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft were about to build significant gains after their Calgary breakthrough in the 2004 election.

The Liberals did make gains in Calgary that night, electing five MLAs including rookies Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, but the party suffered huge losses in its traditional base of Edmonton. Liberal MLAs were defeated in seats the party had held since the 1980s and 1990s and gains they had made in the city in the previous election were competely erased. When the dust settled, there were only 3 Liberal MLAs left in the capital city.

It was also bittersweet night for our opponents in the New Democratic Party campaign. Star candidate Rachel Notley was elected in Edmonton-Strathcona, retaining the seat held by former party leader Raj Pannu. But the party’s caucus was reduced to two after MLAs David Eggen and Ray Martin were swept away in the PC’s Edmonton wave.

It really felt like Edmonton that night.

The Progressive Conservative Party’s new leader, Ed Stelmach, had been underestimated by just about everybody inside and outside his party. Even as he led a party that had been in power for almost 40 years, his campaign tipped their hat to an energetic campaign south of the border by using the slogan “Change that works for Albertans.”

For those involved in the PC campaign, it was a remarkable landslide. And the last big landslide of the party’s more than four consecutive decades in office.

Stelmach ended up being a fairly decent premier, who I believe history will treat kindly, but landslide victories like these can be a doubled-edged sword. The large PC caucus of 72 MLAs, which included rookie MLAs Alison Redford and Raj Sherman, proved to be too unruly to manage. And the politics of a bitter conservative establishment festered as aspiring leadership contenders jockeyed for power. It was less than four years later that Stelmach resigned from the Premier’s Office.

The 2008 election was a real formative political period for me. Despite the disappointing and depressing outcome, I learned so much from my time working with the dedicated and passionate Albertans involved that campaign. It was a real honour.

To this day, I think Albertans were looking for change on March 3, 2008. It just took them another seven years to decide that the change they were looking for wouldn’t come from inside the PC Party.

Dave Cournoyer (left) with two teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics, Andrew Kaczynski (centre) and Al Meunier (right).

Thank you to the teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics

Today is World Teachers’ Day, which is held annually on 5 October as part of a UNESCO initiative to appreciate, assess, and improve the educators of the world. In this spirit, almost everyone can name a teacher they had in school who played an important role in inspiring, encouraging and challenging them to further their interests and studies.

I am blessed to have had many great teachers during my K-12 and university education in Alberta but there are two Social Studies teachers who I credit for playing big roles introducing me into the world of Alberta politics.

During the 1997 provincial election, as part of my Grade 8 Social Studies course at École Georges H. Primeau School in Morinville, we were given an assignment that required us to collect news paper clippings of media coverage of the election. Each evening, after my parents had finished reading the papers, I studiously cut out relevant news stories from the Edmonton Journal, the Morinville Mirror and St. Albert Gazette, and glued them into a scrapbook.

I cannot remember whether I was asked or if I volunteered, but my teacher, Al Meunier, was organizing an all-candidates forum at the school and was looking for student volunteers. Each of the election candidates was to be introduced by a student at the start of the forum and I was chosen to introduce and read the biography of Tom Turner, the local New Democratic Party candidate. I remember not completely understanding the differences between the candidates, but I do remember starting to pay more attention to Alberta politics after that event.

Three years later, Andrew Raczynski, an excellent teacher who had taught my Grade 9 Social Studies and English courses announced that he was running for the nomination to become the local provincial Liberal candidate in the next election. Unlike most rural areas in Alberta, the community I grew up in had a unique history of electing Liberal MLAs (Nick Taylor in 1986, 1989 and 1993 and Mary Anne Balisilie in a 1996 by-election). The PC candidate had only narrowly captured the constituency in 1997.

I had become more politically aware after the Progressive Conservative government attempted to ram through a law allowing for increased privatization of health care in Alberta. As a budding politico and soon-to-be voter, I was a impressed when I received personalized responses to letters I had sent to Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu about my concerns with increased privatized health care.

I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to volunteer on Mr. Raczynski’s campaign. I was elected as a director on the local constituency association board and over the next year I campaigned alongside the candidate in communities across the sprawling rural Redwater constituency. I knocked on doors in every hamlet, village and town in the constituency and attended more rodeos, parades, town fairs and demolition derbies than I ever imagined existed.

It was a great time. I learned a lot about politics and about the people in that area of Alberta. And even though the campaign was not successful in getting Mr. Raczynski elected (not for lack of hard-work, it was a really bad election year for Liberals in Alberta) it was a worthwhile experience. I was hooked on politics.

Soon after the campaign ended, I moved to Edmonton and began studying Political Science and History at university. I continued my involvement in party politics and became active with the Students’ Union at the University of Alberta, which led to an increasing interest in communications and media.

Mr. Meunier and Mr. Raczynski were two teachers who played a big role in sparking my interest in Alberta politics.

Without them, I might have become involved in politics in some role but likely not through the same path. I thank them for challenging me to think critically about my own views, giving me an opportunity to become involved and encouraging me to pursue my interest in Alberta politics.

Photo Above: Me (left) with two teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics, Andrew Raczynski (centre) and Al Meunier (right), at a 2014 rally featuring Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Edmonton.

Gil McGowan

McGowan to run for NDP nomination, Tories choose Viersen in Peace River-Westlock

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan is expected to announce at a press conference tomorrow that he will seek the New Democratic Party nomination in the federal riding of Edmonton-Centre. Mr. McGowan is known as an outspoken advocate for labour issues and critic of the Temporary Foreign Workers program.

Reakash Walters

Reakash Walters

Mr. McGowan was first elected President of the AFL in 2005 and previously worked as journalist with the Canadian Press and Edmonton Journal.

This is not Mr. McGowan’s first time seeking an NDP nomination in Alberta. In 1996, he challenged Raj Pannu for the provincial NDP nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona and in 2000 he sought the nomination in Edmonton-Mill Creek.

He will face at least one other candidate in the nomination race. Reakash Walters, an activist and Alberta NDP Government Caucus staffer, has been campaigning for the nomination since 2014. The NDP nomination meeting in Edmonton-Centre has been scheduled for August 23, 2015.

Arnold Vierson

Arnold Vierson

The NDP had previously nominated educator Lewis Cardinal in early 2014, who later stepped down for personal reasons. Mr. Cardinal placed second with 25% of the vote in the 2011 election.

In Peace River-Westlock, 29-year old mechanic Arnold Viersen defeated three rivals to win the Conservative Party nomination in this new northwest rural Alberta riding. Mr. Viersen is the former treasurer of the Barrhead/Neerlandia local of the Association for Reformed Political Action, a social conservative Christian organization that has spoken against Gay-Straight Alliance legislation for Alberta schools and questioned the existence of human-influenced climate change.


These updates have been added to the list of candidates nominated and seeking party nominations to stand in Alberta ridings in Canada’s October 2015 federal election. 

Fifty years of Alberta NDP.

Alberta NDP Campaign Button 1986 Election

Alberta NDP button from 1986 election (PC Premier Don Getty had been a football Quarterback before entering politics).

New Democrats from across Alberta have gathered in Edmonton this weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their party’s founding. Attendees at this weekend’s annual convention will hear from NDP leader Brian Mason, MLAs Rachel NotleyDeron Bilous, and David Eggen, Member of Parliament Linda Duncan, and federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

With only 4 elected MLAs in the 87 seat Assembly, the NDP Opposition is a small force in Alberta but their MLAs are known for punching above their weight, taking full advantage of every opportunity to get their message into the media. They are good at it. When I worked for the Liberal official opposition in my previous life, I remember how frustrating it was to see the tiny NDP caucus regularly overshadow the Liberal official opposition. They were a tough scrappy insurgency and could easily outmanoeuvre the more official Liberal establishment at the Legislature.

Looking back at the past 50 years, the conference will include a retrospective panel, which will include former MLA Alex McEachern, former NDP president Reg Basken, and former leaders Raj Pannu and Ray Martin. A ‘Planning our future’ panel, complementing the historical retrospective panel, will include Brian Topp, Ryan Meili, and Manitoba Member of Parliament Niki Ashton.

Here is a look at how the Alberta NDP have performed in provincial elections since 1963:

Alberta NDP MLAs

The number of NDP MLAs elected to serve in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly compared to the total number of MLAs in elections from 1963 to 2012. (Click to enlarge)

 

Alberta NDP Vote 1963-2012

The number of votes received by the Alberta NDP compared to total voter turnout in elections from 1963 to 2012. (Click to enlarge)

sitting out the senate election would be a missed opportunity for the liberals, ndp, alberta party.

Senate of Canada

Senate of Canada

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Betty Unger to the Senate of Canada. Ms. Unger was chosen as one of Alberta’s Senators-in-Waiting in the 2004 election and is the third elected Senator to be made a member of Canada’s appointed Upper House.

This spring in conjunction with the 2012 General Election, the Province of Alberta will be holding another election to choose a new batch of Senator-in-Waiting candidates.

While Alberta’s previous Senator-in-Waiting elections quickly became quirky sideshows that attracted a crowd of unknown partisan insiders, the candidates lining up for the 2012 election may bring a higher level of seriousness to the contest. Seeking the nomination for the Progressive Conservative candidacy are lawyer Doug Black, Calgary Police Commission Chairman Mike Shaihk, businessman Scott Tannas, City of Leduc Mayor Greg Krischke, and past-President of NAIT Sam Shaw.

Long-time Conservative Party organizer Vitor Marciano has stepped up to carry the Wildrose Party flag and former Liberal MLA Len Bracko will run as an Independent candidate.

Hugh MacDonald MLA

MLA Hugh MacDonald

The Liberal Party, New Democratic Party, and Alberta Party have all declared that they will not participate in this election. I believe that not running a candidate in the upcoming Senator-in-Waiting election is a real missed opportunity for these opposition parties.

I have heard three main arguments by members of these parties against participating in the Senate election. Here are the arguments and the responses:

Argument #1: The non-conservative opposition parties do not have the resources to run a candidate in the Senate election. Having limited resources does not stop any of the parties from putting a name on the ballot. I believe it is a disservice to the voters not to have an alternative to the two conservative parties on the ballot. There is also political value in having a Liberal, NDP, or Alberta Party candidate on the ballot. These candidates will receive many votes, provide a natural opposition choice for thousands of Albertans, and they can generate positive media coverage for the parties (even if they don’t win).

Raj Pannu former MLA

Raj Pannu

I suggested in an earlier post that retiring Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald could be an ideal candidate for the Liberals. Former NDP MLA Raj Pannu would also make an ideal candidate for the NDP.

Argument #2: The Prime Minister is not obligated to appoint the Senator-in-Waiting. True. If the elected candidate is not appointed it would showcase how serious the Prime Minister is about elected Senators.

Argument #3: [From NDP supporters]: The NDP has a policy supporting the abolition of the Senate. I believe this is a bad policy, but even so, this would not stop the NDP from running candidates in the election. What better way to promote the abolishment of the Senate than to run a candidate in the very election that could choose Alberta’s next Senators?

The NDP now forms the Official Opposition in the House of Commons and has no representation in the Senate, where the Liberals form the Opposition. The NDP in Ottawa have rejected previous attempts by their supporters to represent the New Democrats in the Senate. When Lillian Dyck was appointed to represent Saskatchewan in the Senate in 2005, the NDP refused to recognize her as a member of their Parliamentary Caucus. She now sits with the Liberal Caucus.

If these opposition parties do not step up to the plate, Albertans can once again expect a Senator-in-Waiting election dominated by conservative politicians. Candidates from these three parties would challenge the dominant narrative that the two conservative parties are the only contenders in the next provincial election. It would be a real missed opportunity for them to sit on the sidelines.