Tag Archives: Raj Pannu

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.