Two polls released in the final weeks of 2014 could give an indication of the direction Alberta political might take in 2015.
The polls show Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservatives dominating in Calgary and rural Alberta. And with Wildrose Party support in decline across the province, Mr. Prentice could be tempted to call an election sometime in early 2015.
The polls also show a race for support in Edmonton between the PCs (with 30% in both polls) and Rachel Notley‘s NDP (with 32% and 34% in the two polls).
Edmonton has been a traditional region of support for the NDP and Liberals since the 1980s. All four NDP MLAs and two of five Liberal MLAs, including leader Raj Sherman, represent capital city constituencies.
While NDP candidate Bob Turner‘s strong showing in the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election has contributed to the narrative of NDP growth in Edmonton, the Liberals remain a wild card in city. Liberal support is inconsistent in the two polls (one showing the party with 13% and the other with 28%) and that party’s traditional base of support in Edmonton should not be ignored.
Many New Democrats hope that the disorganization and apparent marginalization of the provincial Liberals will allow their party to make long sought after gains in Edmonton. But it may not be that easy.
As we have recently seen in other provinces, the NDP have a track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
A big challenge for both Ms. Notley and Dr. Sherman is to attract liberal and moderate Edmontonians who voted for Alison Redford‘s PC Party in order to block a Wildrose victory in 2012. Now that most Wildrose MLAs have joined the PC Party, those voters may be looking for a new home.
The potential for vote splitting and a PC Party rout in the next election, with a backdrop of a slowing economy and low oil prices, has reignited the discussion about uniting Alberta’s tiny centrist and progressive opposition parties.
I’ve tried for years and there is no budging. Each party has a core of supporters that believe their party is the best, the one and only. They will never leave or merge. Both still have infrastructure that is very hard to build, but neither can attract the volunteers and donators to be THE government. I think sometimes we spend more effort fighting each other than the PCs or WR.
Are more Wildrose MLAs preparing to cross the floor to the Progressives Conservatives? Independent MLA Joe Anglin has told reporters that Danielle Smith‘s 14 MLA Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus will vote on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 on whether to join the governing PC Caucus.
Mr. Anglin’s comments, claims published on an anonymously blog and tweets from conservative activists fuelled the rumours of the Wildrose Party’s demise on social media last night.
The sources of the rumours are questionable, but the curious silence of official Wildrose Party social media accounts suggests that the merger of the two caucuses could indeed be on the table when Wildrose MLAs meet on Dec. 16.
More reliable sources say that Mr. Anderson and Mr. Saskiw will make a presentation to their fellow MLAs on Dec. 16 detailing an offer extended by Mr. Prentice to Wildrose MLAs to join the PC Caucus. [Update: The Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell has obtained a copy of the “Reunification Agreement.”]
This is not the first time we have heard rumours of a merger. In May 2014, Ms. Smith told reporters that then-PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice had proposed a merger of the two conservative parties. At the time, Premier Dave Hancock denied the claims, but it was clear that Mr. Prentice was reaching out to Wildrose MLAs.
Since becoming Premier, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of its most effective talking points by committing to focus on property rights and reversing many of former premier Alison Redford‘s most unpopular decisions. In some ways, it is now difficult to tell what differentiates the Wildrose Party from Mr. Prentice’s PCs.
After losing four by-elections in October 2014 and losing three MLAs since then, the normally loud Wildrosers have toned down, and in some cases struck a more conciliatory tone with the governing PCs.
Even normally hyper-partisan Justice Minister Jonathan Denistweeted about working with Mr. Anderson on a Wildrose Caucus amendment to Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act. If that does not signal a warming of relations between the two caucuses, I’m not sure what else would.
But despite the party’s recent poor showing, a Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith could still remain competitive going into the next election.
The party has collected an impressive war chest and has nominated candidates in more than a quarter of Alberta’s constituencies. Recent polls show the party sitting at 29% support, only five points behind Mr. Prentice’s PCs.
The question is whether the change in tone signals a new strategy or preparation for a merger with the 43-year governing PC Party? If there is truth to the merger rumours, the departure of more Wildrose MLAs (including Ms. Smith) would be a death blow to that party.
What would a Wildrose-PC Caucus merger mean?
MLAs crossing the floor is a fairly common occurrence in Alberta and Canadian politics, but I cannot think of any time when an Official Opposition Caucus has voted to merger with a governing caucus.
Unlike the merger of the federal Canadian Alliance and PC Party that created the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, there is little to no chance another party will form government in the next election (in the context of 2003, a PC-Wildrose merger would be more like Stephen Harper‘s Canadian Alliance joining Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party).
In a scenario where nearly all the Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party, Raj Sherman‘s five MLA Liberal Caucus could regain its role as the Official Opposition. But the Liberals would only hold that title until MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang resigned to run in the October 2015 federal election. Upon their resignations, Rachel Notley‘s four MLA NDP Caucus could become the Official Opposition.
Wikipedia defines a Gay-Straight Alliance as student-led organizations that are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.
Here is a simple timeline following the ongoing provincial debate around these student clubs in Alberta schools:
“Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
A coalition of 31 Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs vote down Motion 503. Nineteen Liberal, NDP and PC MLAs, including PC anti-bullying Minister Sandra Jansen vote in favour of the motion.
October 15, 2014: Liberal MLA Laurie Blakemanannounces plans to introduce a private members’ bill to mandate school boards to develop policies to support students who start a gay-straight alliance in their schools by offering meeting space and benefits given to other clubs.
November 15, 2014: At the party’s annual policy convention, Wildrose members reject a ‘definitive’ statement on equality. Party members voted against adopting as policy a statement affirming the rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences.
November 22, 2014: Attending the annual Gay-Straight Alliances conference at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson speaks in favour of Bill 202. “People don’t all come in the same shapes and sizes, colours and genders so it is important that a space everyone is compelled to go to as part of their education makes space for everyone,” Mr. Iveson told reporters.
November 27, 2014: At a hastily called press conference, Mr. Prentice declares that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he plans to introduce his own bill dealing with Gay-Straight Alliances. Arguing in favour of ‘parental rights,’ Mr. Prentice says his bill will allow school boards to decide whether GSAs should be allowed. If students are turned down, Mr. Prentice says they can take legal action against their school boards. It is suspected that Mr. Prentice’s bill was not yet written at this time.
December 2, 2014: Bill 10 passes second reading and procedurally removes Bill 202 from the legislative order paper. Forty-two PC and Wildrose MLAs vote in favour and 9 opposition MLAs, including Ms. Blakeman, Ms.Smith, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman, vote against the bill.
Only one PC MLA, Thomas Lukaszuk, votes against it. “I simply do not believe in incremental granting of human rights,” Mr. Lukaszuk told the media. “We didn’t give women half a vote, we gave them a full vote during the suffrage debate.”
Ms. Jansen introduces an amendment that opposition parties say will simply segregate gay students and move their support groups out of schools entirely. “That student now does not have to go to the court, they come to the Alberta ministry of education and we provide that GSA for them, and hopefully within the school environment,” Jansen said in the Assembly. “But if that is impossible, we’ll make sure they get that GSA regardless.” Education Minister Mr. Dirks was silent during this debate and Mr. Prentice was not in attendance.
The amendment passes with the support of 38 PC MLAs, including Mr. Dirks. PC MLAs Doug Griffiths, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Lukaszuk join with 14 opposition MLAs and vote against the amendment. PC MLA Jason Luan spoke against Bill 10, but was absent during the vote on the amendment.
December 4, 2014: Former PC MLA and Senator Ron Ghittertells the Calgary Herald he is disappointed in the “backwards” legislation put forward by Mr. Prentice’s government to deal with the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools.
BT Edmonton host Ryan Jespersen uses his platform on the popular morning television program to castigate PC MLAs for their support of Bill 10.
Popular artists Tegan and Sarah published a post on their blog against Bill 10 and well-known Canadian entertainer Rick Mercer also takes aim at Mr. Prentice’s Bill 10 and his position on gay rights.
“Rights are never absolute,” Prentice told reporters. Nice ring to it Jim maybe that should be on the licence plate. #Bill10#cdnpoli
A number of PC Party members announce their resignations from positions in their party in opposition to Bill 10. Calgary-Bow PC association President Josh Traptowannounced he resigned in order to speak out against Bill 10. Former Calgary City Council candidate Chris Harper announced on Twitter that he left the PC Party and resigned from his local PC constituency association. And Brenda Meneghetti, campaign manager for former leadership candidate Ken Hughes, announced she has left the PC Party because of Bill 10.
After facing four-days of widespread opposition and condemnation, Mr. Prentice announces at a hastily arranged press conference that he is putting Bill 10 on hold and that is postponing the third reading vote on the controversial bill.
“Bill 10 has added to, rather than resolved these divisions, and I accept personal responsibility for that as the premier,” Mr. Prentice told reporters. Following Mr. Prentice’s backtrack on Bill 10, Ms. Blakeman announced plans to ask the Legislature to resurrect her original Bill 202.
Fall Legislative Session November 17, 2014 will mark the start of the first legislative session for new Premier Jim Prentice, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks. The 43-year old governing Progressive Conservatives have promised to introduce new laws focusing on property rights and ‘ending entitlements’ for their MLAs.
The Wildrose motion will likely call for stronger action than will be included in Mr. Prentice’s flagship property rights bill. Also, it is almost politically impossible to amend the Canadian Constitution.
The departure of Mr. Anglin, a cancelled leadership review and a controversial motion to take away the ability of MLAs to remove their leader and the leader’s staff are also expected to fuel intense debate.
Mr. Mandel has announced plans to make it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children and ban flavoured tobacco, but not menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are said to be favoured by seniors, who also tend to vote in larger numbers.
Voters in the Yellowhead federal riding will cast ballots in a by-election on Monday, November 17, 2014. Although Conservative candidate Jim Eglinski is expecting an easy victory, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited the constituency to campaign with candidate Ryan Mahugn last week.
November 28. Kent Hehr expected to be acclaimed as federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre. The popular MLA was first elected in Calgary-Buffalo in 2008. It is unclear if Mr. Hehr and fellow Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Skyview will resign their provincial positions before the next federal election.
Borderlands By-election Voters on the Saskatchewan side of the divided city of Lloydminster elected a new MLA in a by-election held yesterday. Saskatchewan Party candidate Colleen Young was elected with 64% of the vote, defeating second place New Democrat Wayne Byers, who earned 29%. It is almost impossible to image an NDP candidate receiving that much support on the Alberta side of Lloydminster.
Did Liberal leader Raj Sherman break Alberta’s political donations limits when making donations to his own party?
The Calgary Herald is reporting that Dr. Sherman may have exceeded the $15,000 limit for donations three times in the past four years and donated double the limit this year through corporations he controls.
The questionable donations were first noticed by former New Democratic Party staffer Tony Clark, who brought them to the attention of Glen Resler, Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer.
And it is not just the money given which is a potential issue, because Dr. Sherman and his corporations would have also received tax credits in return for those donations. Dr. Sherman claims he did not deliberately break the rules, but this could still cause lasting damage to his troubled party’s credibility.
Fundraising has always been a challenge for the Liberals and starting in 2009, the party struggled to compete with the fundraising dollars captured by Danielle Smith’s rising Wildrose Party. Lately, Dr. Sherman’s party has struggled to compete with the NDP, now led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley.
In the first three quarters of 2014, Elections Alberta financial disclosures show the Liberals raised $242,499.16, close to half of the $474,306.85 raised by the NDP in the same period.
It is hard to write about the Alberta Liberal Party these days without feeling as if I am kicking a wounded animal. The once confident official opposition party has now dwindled down to a group of MLAs who more closely resemble a coalition of independents than a united front.
The Liberals will soon lose Calgary MLAs Kent Hehrand Darshan Kangto federal political ambitions, and when that happens, the 3 MLA caucus will face the threat of losing official party status, and funding, in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberal Party’s poor showing in four October 27 by-elections also does not give the party much to build upon.
A strong argument can be made that the five Liberal MLAs who were re-elected in the 2012 election did so on their own merits as strong local representatives and despite the weakness of their party brand.
If Dr. Sherman’s party continues to limp in obscurity, the Liberal MLAs facing re-election in 2016 may have to determine whether their own hard work, rather than their current party brand, will be enough to win them their jobs back for another four years.
In a move designed to quash any further internal party dissent, Wildrose MLAs rallied around their leader yesterday by unanimously requesting their party’s executive committee cancel a leadership review that Danielle Smith requested last week.
The sign of caucus unity came shortly after Sundre-Rocky Mountain House-Rimbey MLA Joe Anglin announced he was leaving the Official Opposition Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.
Ms. Smith requested the review in response to the Wildrose Party’s poor showing in four by-elections held on October 27. Although the by-elections were held in traditionally safe Progressive Conservative voting constituencies, they were seen by many political watchers as a mid-term review for the 43-year governing PC Party, now led by Jim Prentice.
Will the sign of caucus support for Ms. Smith’s leadership put an end to the Wildrose “civil war” between pragmatic and ideological conservatives that Mr. Anglin referred to in a Facebook post yesterday?
From the outside, it is difficult to tell whether an actual “civil war” is being waged. Mr. Anglin has always been more comfortable as a political lone-wolf and his departure was not unexpected. And despite the party’s sometimes uneasy coalition of libertarian and social conservatives, it is reasonable to believe Ms. Smith would still receive a strong endorsement from party members in a leadership review (she received 90% approval in a 2013 review).
But the entrance of Mr. Prentice onto the political stage may have slightly shifted the ground in Alberta’s conservative movement. As the by-election results suggest, there are many conservative voters comfortable with a PC Party led by Mr. Prentice and, at the very least, they willing to give him a chance.
Mr. Prentice does pose a serious challenge for the Wildrose Party, which made former Premier Alison Redford into political lightening rod. And while the sting of Ms. Redford’s legacy did not resonate in the by-elections, the recent announcement of an R.C.M.P investigation into her alleged misdeeds may reignite Albertans anger.
It is difficult to imagine who would replace the Wildrose Party’s high-profile leader. Although MLAs Kerry Towle, Bruce McAllister, Shayne Saskiw, Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson have some provincial profile, none are as recognizable as their current leader. I would guess that most Albertans would struggle to name a Wildrose MLA other than Ms. Smith.
Whether a “civil war” is actually underway, it is clear that the Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party is facing an identity crisis in a post-Redford political environment.
With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?
In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.
My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.
From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.
The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.
The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.
As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.
The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.
Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.
Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.
New Democratic Party
Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.
A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.
With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.
Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.
Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.
The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.
Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.
These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.
The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.
Where to vote?
Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.
This is the Alberta NDP’s first foray into a one-member, one-vote system preferential ballot system of selecting their leader, at least partially. While 75% of the total votes cast to choose the next leader are allocated to individual members, 25% of the total votes are allocated to organizations affiliated with the NDP.
This hybrid system was adopted after a vote by NDP members at a recent policy convention. The 25% affiliate organization vote is a recognition of the party’s historical ties to labour unions, who are suspected to make up most of the affiliates.
How the votes will actually be counted is also a source of confusion among NDP members I have spoken with. The Edmonton Journal’s Karen Kleiss did an admirable job trying to explain the system, but even after an explanation it remains needlessly complicated:
The affiliate status gives the eight unions a 25 per cent weighted vote in the leadership election.
This means that if each of the eight unions cast one ballot, each of those ballots would count for 3.12 per cent of the total votes. In a hypothetical race with 10,000 ballots cast, each union ballot would count for 312 votes.
Simply put, the votes of indivdiual organizations will be weighed heavier than votes of individual NDP members in this leadership vote. But even though NDP members may be told how those votes are weighed within the 25%, there is still no public listing of the affiliated organizations.
I am told there are at most ten organizations eligible to cast votes in the leadership contest, but privacy rules restrict the NDP from releasing the names of the organizations without their approval.
There are limited rules around how provincial political parties conduct leadership contests. Unlike the United States, where open primary votes feel like general elections and are highly structured, leadership votes in Alberta feel like the Wild West.
Leadership candidates and their Chief Financial Officers must register with Elections Alberta, but aside from that, party’s set their own rules around entry fees, spending limits, debates, and how the leader is selected. This has led to some odd voting schemes and irregularities during recent leadership contests.
In their 2011 leadership contest, the Liberal Party introduced a “supporter” category of voter, who could vote in their leadership contest by signing up for free. The “supporters” did little to boost the active membership of the party and the category was dissolved shortly after Raj Sherman was selected as leader.
Our political leaders should be encouraged to develop new and innovative ways of engaging voters in leadership races, but Albertans need to know the processes being used are fair and transparent.
In 1971, The Jackson 5 were topping the billboard charts and Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives were just starting what has become an uninterrupted 43-year reign as Alberta’s governing party. Recent messaging from the PC Party have certainly drawn inspiration from the band’s famous song – I Want You Back – as the PC Party tries to convince its former members, and former supporters, that all they need is one more chance.
Under the subject line “We want you back!,” an email sent to PC Party supporters over the weekend from party executive director Kelley Charlebois begged former members to renew their memberships to vote in the September 6 leadership vote.
“We’ve seen some upsetting revelations over the past weeks, and we are just as disappointed as you are,” Mr. Charlebois wrote. The email smelled desperate and gave a peek into how much the recent scandals and fiascos have rocked the long-governing party.
Asking for a second chance, former PC candidate Brian Henninger does not believe that voters should take out their frustration on the new premier in an upcoming by-election. “I don’t care what message you want to send to the premier, don’t do it with your vote,” Mr. Henninger told the Calgary Herald. Mr. Henninger was the PC candidate in the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election. With former Premier Alison Redford‘s resignation two weeks ago, there will be another by-election held in the same constituency. Voters may not be so kind to the next PC candidate in the upcoming by-election.
Hoping that they will forget what happened and let his political career live again, Finance Minister Doug Horner wrote a long-winded and typo-ridden letter to his PC caucus colleagues, claiming that he is not responsible for the gross misuse of government planes.
While the fleet of government planes is managed by the Finance Department, Mr. Horner claims he was blind to Ms. Redford’s extensive and allegedly personal use of the planes.
A large group of disgruntled backbench PC MLAs are said to be furious with Mr. Horner and on the verge of forcing him to resign from the Finance Ministry.
Mr. Horner’s letter reminded me of the hastily written letter sent by then-junior health minister Raj Sherman to his PC caucus colleagues in 2009 (he was kicked out of the PC caucus shortly afterward). Meanwhile Dr. Sherman, now leading the opposition Liberals, has launched a petition calling on Mr. Horner to resign from cabinet.
When the “Skypalace” scandal was uncovered through a CBC investigation, Infrastructure MinisterWayne Drysdale told the media he cancelled the project in late 2012. Former Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver said he stopped the Skypalace in January 2014. And Deputy Minister Marcia Nelsonconfirmed to the Public Accounts Committee in May 2014 that Mr. McIver issued the cancellation of the residential suite. It is unclear who in the PC Government ordered the secret construction on the penthouse to continue.
It is yet to be seen how many second chances Albertans will give the PCs, but the opposition parties may be starting to feel optimistic about their chances in the next election.
And for those of you with the lyrics stuck in your head, you’re very welcome…
In any other job, breaking the law would likely be cause for dismissal, but this does not appear to be the case if you are a cabinet minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government.
NDP leadership candidate MLA David Eggen, himself a teacher, chimed in on Mr. Johnson’s actions, saying “(It) shows a lack of respect for the teachers and a lack of respect for the law.”
Mr. Johnson, who appears to be intent on dragging the professional credibility of Alberta educators through the mud, also turned his attention to school board administrators this week by demanding they hand over all complaints against teachers from the past ten years. Tory MLAs are expected to discuss Mr. Johnson’s reign of terror at this week’s annual “Stampede Caucus Meeting” in Calgary.
Joe Anglin unleashed
Rabble-rouser MLA Joe Anglin was defeated in his bid to be a Wildrose candidate in the next election. The first-term MLA was defeated by local constituency president Jason Nixon in a controversy-ridden party nomination contest in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. Mr. Nixon’s brother, Jeremy Nixon, is the nominated Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Klein.
Mr. Anglin now has some decisions to make before the next election. He could quietly complete his term as a Wildrose MLA and retire at the next election, or he could run for another party or as an Independent candidate (given his style, this may be the likely option). A property rights activist and former leader of the Alberta Greens, Mr. Anglin sparked a political wildfire in central Alberta before the 2012 election over widespread opposition to electrical transmission line construction.
Nenshi calls out paid political agitator Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called out the untransparent Canadian Taxpayers Federation after its spokesperson was invited to speak at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference. Mr. Nenshi has been in a prolonged public feud with the special interest group’s paid political agitator, Derek Fildebrandt. While the Taxpayers Federation preaches transparency for government, it refuses to make public a list of its own financial backers.
This is at least the second time Mr. Butler has switched parties in recent years. Before joining the Liberals, he ran as an NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford in the 2008 provincial election and in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2008 federal election. He was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2011 federal election and in Edmonton-Mill Creek in the 2012 provincial election.
While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.
At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.
No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.
While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.
The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.
Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.
While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.
Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.
A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.
Rachel Notley First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.
She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.
Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award
Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.
Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.
Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.
Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.
Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.
Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.
The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire. And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.
In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).
Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)
In 2006, it was $15,000, in 2011, it was $40,000, and in 2014, the fee to become a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race is $50,000.
Senior officials from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party gathered in Red Deer last night to discuss timelines, entry fees and the rules that will help shape their party’s 2014 leadership race.
The first ballot vote will be held on September 6, 2014 and, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on that ballot, the top two candidates will compete on a second ballot held on September 20, 2014.
The combination of a short campaign period (5 months and 18 days) and a high entry fee could limit the number of candidates able to enter the race.
In order to run a campaign, candidates will need to raise significant amounts of funds in a very short period in addition to the cost of the entry fee. In 2011, Gary Mar‘s frontrunner campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million on his leadership bid (collecting more than $200,000 in debt). Alison Redford‘s campaign spent $1.3 million.
It is not known whether the PCs will limit the amounts that individual campaigns are allowed to spend or if they will require the disclosure of financial donors to the leadership campaigns.
The practical reality for the PC Party is that they needed to consider high entry fees in order to help finance the organization and promotion of the leadership campaign. As leadership candidates sap funds that would normally fill party coffers, the party needs to quickly recuperate the costs of the leadership race after in order to prepare for a general election in 2016 (or sooner).
Leadership candidates emerge, kind of…
Defying expectations that cabinet ministers should resign their posts when running in a party leadership race, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, 60, launched a public “exploratory committee” website at a press conference yesterday. A “serious” person, according to quotes on his website, Mr. Hughes does not appear to be serious about whether he should be a candidate in this race.
On the peripheries of public attention, it appears as though Stephen Mandel, 68, could be preparing to come out of retirement. The recently retired three-term mayor of Edmonton is rumoured to be preparing a campaign team to test the waters. Mr. Mandel will be 70 years-old by the time the next election is called.
Also said to be interested in mounting a leadership bid is former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice. The former Calgary Member of Parliament is currently serving as a Senior Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He recently accepted a role as Enbridge’s envoy to northern British Columbia’s First Nations communities in their bid to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat.
Liberal leader makes fundraising pitch
In a fundraising email sent yesterday, the Liberal Party announced that leader Raj Sherman will match all donations made to the party before March 31, 2014. According to Alberta’s political finance laws, individuals can only donate a maximum of $15,000 each year.
As a physician, Dr. Sherman has also frequently made donations to the Liberal Party through his professional corporation, raising his limit to $30,000. And as the Daryl Katz-PC Party donation fiasco taught us in 2012, you can always depend on family members or employees to make donations as well.
Less than two years after adopting a new green and grey Liberalberta logo, the Alberta Liberal Party appears to have switched back to the party’s traditional red. A new website design launched last week shows the Liberals have also dropped the “-berta” portion of the logo, returning to plain ‘Liberal‘ name.
The adoption of the new branding in October 2012 was a shock for many party supporters who were surprised at the sudden shift in branding. It is yet to be seen how the party’s supporters will react to the latest logo change.
While the provincial Liberals may have been looking to distance themselves from the federal Liberals in 2012, the switch back to red may signal a desire to appear closer to Justin Trudeau‘s Liberals.
This year was a tumultuous time in Alberta politics. What does 2015 have in store for Albertans?
December 20, 2014
Story by: Dirk Pranter, Edmonton Journal-Sun
Building the next Alberta
With the new year just weeks away, speculation is rampant Albertans could go to the polls early next year, less than four years after the last provincial election.
Premier Alison Redford returned to Alberta this week between stops in Washington D.C. and Beijing, fuelling the rumours of the impending election. While in the province, she joined Deputy Premier Mike Allen in announcing the construction of new schools in Airdrie, Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Grimshaw, and High River.
It is the sixth new school announced this month by Redford’s government as part of a promise to build 50 schools and modernize 70 more by 2016.
The schools announcement coincided with the launch of a new government advertising campaign titled “Building the Next Alberta.”
“Building the Next Alberta is different than Building Alberta,” a Redford spokesperson said, “it’s about Building the Next Alberta.”
When asked why the blue and orange colour patterns on the government billboards spell the words ‘re – elect,’ the spokesperson would only say that “a limited colour pallette” was responsible for the design.
Wildrose on the rise
Concluding another year of incredible fundraising returns, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith is hoping for good tidings in the new year. Recent polls show the official opposition party in a dead heat with the PCs in Calgary and rural Alberta.
In anticipation of an early election the Wildrose campaign bus rolled into Edmonton this week without incident.
University of Red Deer professor of political science Rick Dunderland believes the early launch sends a message that the Wildrose war chest is overflowing with cash from this past year’s fundraising efforts.
“With such successful fundraising this year, the Wildrose has decided not to wait for the Redford Tories to call the election,” Dunderland said.
Interim leader Laurie Blakeman took up the reigns of the Liberal Party since Raj Sherman announced he will run for the federal Liberals in the Edmonton-West riding.
Hoping that Justin Trudeaumania with also translate into Raj Shermanmania, Sherman said his experience as an Emergency Room Doctor will make him a strong voice for Edmonton in Ottawa.
After a surprise surge in support in this year’s federal by-election in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding, the Liberals are hoping to make gains in Alberta.
Meanwhile, merger negotiations are underway between the provincial Liberals, the Alberta Party, and the Green Party to run a joint slate of candidates in the next election. Sources indicate the slate could be called “the Green Liberalbertans.”
NDP now pro-pipeline
Planning to spend more time in the Okanagan with his wife and family, NDP leader Brian Mason announced his retirement from politics after serving twenty-five years in provincial and municipal elected office. The NDP leadership vote, scheduled for early 2015 has attracted the interest of the party’s three other MLAs and a handful of outsiders. No candidates have officially entered the race.
Many Alberta New Democrats were shocked at their federal leader’s sudden change of heart on pipeline development this month. With Thomas Mulcair’s NDP poised to form government in next year’s federal election, the federal NDP released a new pro-pipeline policy book.
“The difference now is that, instead of just saying what we don’t like about the old pipelines, we’re also saying why we’re in favour of more pipelines,” Mulcair told reporters in a year end press conference.
As the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline moves forward at a brisk pace, energy industry experts are relieved that the project’s future is not likely to be threatened with a change of government in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesperson called the ploy a cynical move. “No one supports pipelines more than strong, stable, majority Conservative governments in Ottawa,” she said.