Another news report this week focused on the devastation of caribou habitat in northwestern Alberta. The CBC story reported that deforestation caused by seismic cutlines and snowmobile traffic has caused irreparable damage to habitat critical to the survival of Alberta’s caribou herds. “About five per cent of range for the Little Smoky and a la Peche caribou herds remains undisturbed — a long way from the federal government’s 65% target,” the CBC report stated.
Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership was left reeling yesterday when it was reported that he racked up a $20,000 cell phone bill on his government cell phone while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012. Although Mr. Lukaszuk was on a personal trip, he told the media that he conducted business by downloading large-sized files of legal documents onto his phone.
An important endorsement was made in the less-talked about campaign to lead the Alberta NDP. NDP MLA Deron Bilous has endorsed his caucus colleague Rachel Notley in her bid to become that party’s next leader. Mr. Bilous, who has represented Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview since 2012, is one of four NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislature. Ms. Notley is facing Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and union activist Rod Loyola in the leadership race. The vote to chose the new leader is schedule for October 18, 2014 at Edmonton’s Sutton Place.
The NDP will hold a nomination meeting in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 8. Past candidate Marlin Schmidt is expected to be acclaimed in that contest. In 2012, Mr. Schmidt placed 880 votes behind PC candidate David Dorward, making this a target constituency for the NDP in the next election. The meeting will feature guest speaker Pat Martin, NDP MP for Winnipeg-Centre.
The Liberals will be nominating their candidate for the upcoming Calgary-Elbow by-election on September 18, 2014. Susan Wright, lawyer and author of the witty Susan On The Soapbox blog has put her name forward for the nomination. Although the Liberals fared poorly in this constituency in 2012, the party surprised many political watchers by winning the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election that replaced former Premier Ralph Klein.
The full report from Auditor General Merwan Saher is scheduled to be released on tomorrow. Ms. Redford resigned today.
This week, her former deputy premier called on Progressive Conservative MLAs to hold an emergency meeting to remove her from the governing caucus. PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, the front man for Ms. Redford’s brutal funding cuts to Alberta’s colleges and universities, continues to take advantage of any opportunity to attack the former premier.
And he was not alone. All PC Party leadership candidates have taken aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.
Mr. Lukaszuk’s main opponent, bank executive Jim Prentice, has tried his best to avoid connecting himself in anyway to his party’s former leader. The front-runner refuses to even mention Ms. Redford by name when speaking to the media.
But while Mr. Prentice is aiming for a complete public divorce from his predecessor, he cannot escape the fact that the majority of his supporters in the PC caucus also supported Ms. Redford.
Ms. Redford’s resignation means that a by-election will need to be called in the Calgary-Elbow constituency within the next six months (by February 5, 2015). This will be the second by-election in Calgary-Elbow since 2007, when former Premier Ralph Klein retired from politics. The Liberals won that by-election.
Kennedy-Glans requests a return
In a strange move that will now be buried under the news of Ms. Redford’s most recent resignation, Independent MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans chose the middle of the summer to distribute a media release declaring that she wants to rejoin the PC caucus. Ms. Kennedy-Glans infamously left the PC caucus days before Ms. Redford’s resignation, saying that she was “increasingly convinced that elements of this 43-year old government are simply unable to make the changes needed to achieve that dream of a better Alberta.” It is unclear what has changed in the past five months to make her change her mind.
As StephenCarter penned on his Calgary Herald blog, Ms. Kennedy-Glans, a) wants a spot in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet, and b) does not want to chance being challenged by a ‘star’ PC candidate in the next election. All the respect that Ms. Kennedy-Glans earned when she left the government on principle on appears to have been lost with this seemingly politically opportunistic move.
Another Calgarian has entered what has been, at least so far, an all-Calgarian Progressive Conservative leadership race.
Announcing his candidacy in the contest to become the next PC Party leader and premier, former Infrastructure minister Ric McIver declared he would bring a “common-sense new approach to replace insider, establishment thinking, with new common-sense thinking.”
The first-term MLA and former three-term Calgary Alderman brandishes a rhetorical brand of meat and potatoes conservative populism not seen in a PC Party leadership race for some time. Mr. McIver’s style may be reminiscent of former Premier Ralph Klein, but can the dated “common-sense conservative” message resonate with PC Party members in 2014?
Despite serving as a senior cabinet minister in Premier Alison Redford’s government for two years, he appears to be running against the controversial record of the previous premier. This is probably not a bad strategy for a party with a track record of denying victories to candidates seen as too close to the “party establishment.”
Mr. McIver has tapped Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool as his campaign manager. Mr. Boessenkool is the former chief of staff to British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark and briefly served as the spokesperson for the “Alberta Blue Committee.”
Unanswered questions remain about Mr. McIver’s role in the Skypalace – a penthouse suite that was secretly being constructed for Ms. Redford in the Federal Building. Mr. McIver claims he cancelled the construction project, but the same claim was made by his predecessor, Wayne Drysdale.
Former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes was the first Calgarian to enter the race. Non-Calgarians, including Labour minister Thomas Luksazuk (from Edmonton) and Energy minister Diana McQueen (from Drayton Valley) are also rumoured to considering their entry into the contest.
While rivalries between regions in Alberta are less relevant than they were twenty or thirty years ago, a leadership race gives a political party an opportunity to demonstrate its strength and support across the entire province. After losing ground in its traditional rural strongholds in the last election, a lack of regional diversity among the candidates would present a challenge to a PC Party struggling with internal strife and Alberta’s growing population.
Necessitated by the resignation of Premier Alison Redfordon March 19, the race to choose the next leader of Alberta’s 43-year long governing PC Party has so far drawn little interest from serious candidates and yawns from political watchers.
While other would-be contenders, like Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, are kicking-tires and positioning themselves for a run, the popular wisdom of the day suggests that Mr. Prentice would be an unstoppable front-runner. Even the sole candidate to have entered the contest so far, former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, has publicly suggested he would consider withdrawing his candidacy if Mr. Prentice runs. [see comment section below for clarification]
Some Tories I have spoken with talk about Mr. Prentice as their only hope of stopping Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party in the next election. They talk about Mr. Prentice as the only person who can shake off the damaging baggage left after Ms. Redford’s tenure as PC leader. And they talk about the large amount of corporate money they expect he could attract to fill their party’s coffers.
As an outsider, it appears the Tories risk being blinded by star power, as all these hopes and dreams are built on a complete lack of information about what Mr. Prentice would stand for as a party leader and premier.
Sure, Mr. Prentice has built a respectable career as a cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a senior executive of a major Canadian bank, but no one really knows what kind of Premier or Party leader he would be. Does he support Finance minister Doug Horner‘s plans to impose drastic changes on public sector pension plans? How would he approach the province’s choppy relationships with Alberta’s fast-growing cities? Where does he stand on public health care? Education curriculum? Agriculture? Public infrastructure? Climate change?
A coronation would also present a missed opportunity for the PC Party to reconnect with its supporters and discover who its base of support is in 2014. This would be important because it is not entirely clear what the PC Party stands for today and is very unclear what it will stand for after their new leader is selected in September.
With Ms. Redford appearing uninterested in continuing her duties as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, it is possible that a by-election could be held to provide an opportunity for a new party leader who is not an MLA to earn a seat in the Assembly. This would be the second by-election in that riding in eight years. Liberal Craig Cheffins won the seat in the by-election held to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.
Other opportunities for by-elections may open up if the three MLAs seeking federal party nominations – Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang, Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, and Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao – decide to resign their seats in advance of the next federal election.
On March 20, 1989, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with a majority government but Premier Don Getty was defeated by voters in his Edmonton-Whitemud constituency. It was a stunning embarrassment for the then 18-year governing PC Party.
Twenty-five years later, on March 20, 2014, Alberta’s still-governing PCs selected Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock to serve as Premier of Alberta until a replacement could be chosen for the embattled departing Premier Alison Redford.
Mr. Hancock was president of PC Party during the dying days of Mr. Getty’s premiership, when it appeared as though the Tories would be defeated by the Liberals led popular former mayor Laurence Decore.
Mr. Getty’s resigned in 1992 after being dragged down by low public approval ratings and a disgruntled caucus. A divisive leadership race chose his successor, Ralph Klein, who soon after led the Tories to win a majority government in the 1993 election. Tory partisans of a certain age fondly refer to this period as “the miracle on the prairies.”
Mr. Hancock’s experience as party president during the early 1990s and his 43 years of involvement in the province’s natural governing party could help him calm the dissent in the unwieldy PC caucus.
Facing increased pressure from the opposition Wildrose Party, the next four to six months will be an incredibly important time for the Tories, as the upcoming leadership race will define the PC Party in advance of a fast approaching 2016 election.
The parallels between the early 1990s and today are not perfect, and perhaps not even fair, but they serve as a reminder about the ability of the PC Party to reinvent itself. Even at its most damaged and divided, as it appeared to be this week, the PC Party remains a political force to be reckoned with.
About 2,000 Albertans from every corner of the province braved the -33C windchill yesterday to defend their modest pension plans at a rally in Edmonton’s Churchill Square. Many municipal and provincial employees are concerned that Finance minister Doug Horner‘s proposed changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans could impact their retirement security.
Despite rhetoric about ‘gold-plated pension plans,’ the average full pension under the Local Authorities Pension Plan is only $15,000 per year.
After receiving a tip about a suspicious record in the Alberta Government Flight Manifests, I asked Ms. Redford on Twitter why a government plane flew empty to Palm Springs and returned to Calgary with her, her daughter and two members of her security detail onboard in April 2013.
Ms. Redford did not respond to my tweet, but her communications director Stefan Baranski did. He explained that the flight brought the premier back to Alberta from her vacation home in order to attend former premier Ralph Klein‘s memorial service.
While the cost of the $9,200 flight to and from Palm Springs is not as salacious as Ms. Redford’s $45,000 flight to South Africa, it is unclear why the premier did not return to Alberta on one of the many commercial flights available in the six days before the memorial service.
Speech from the Throne & Budget A Speech from the Throne will open the spring sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly today at 3:00 p.m. The 2014 provincial budget will be tabled by Mr. Horner on the afternoon of Thursday, March 6.
NDP to nominate the first candidate of the 2016 election
As was first reported last week on this blog, the Alberta NDP will hold a candidate nomination meeting on March 4 in the Edmonton-Riverview constituency. The NDP are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson, manager of professional affairs with the Alberta College of Social Workers, as their candidate. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Steve Young.
Hundreds of supporters of the long-governing Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta will gather in Red Deer on November 22 and 23, 2013 to attend to the business of their annual general meeting and conduct a review of Premier Alison Redford leadership.
Why does a leader who nineteen months ago led her party to its 12th consecutive electoral victory have to face a leadership review?
Because it’s mandatory.
Article 15.1 of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta constitution states “At the second Annual General Meeting of the Association following a Provincial General Election where the Party forms the Government or at the first Annual General Meeting of the Association following a Provincial General Election where the Party does not form the Government, a secret ballot on leadership review shall be held.”
Who gets to vote?
Members in good standing of the PC Party and duly registered delegates who fall into one of the following categories:
– members of the PC Party Board of Directors
– 15 delegates from each of the 87 PC Party constituency associations (which must include a minimum of 3 youth delegates between the ages of 14 and the end of the calendar year in which they reach 26 years old)
– 20 youth delegates appointed by the Progressive Conservative Youth of Alberta, and 2 youth delegates who are full-time students from every accredited post-secondary education institution on which a PC campus club exists,
– current and past PC Members of the Legislative Assembly,
– PC candidates nominated to run in an upcoming provincial election,
– past presidents of the PC Party,
– 5 directors and up to 30 deputy directors of the PC Alberta Fund,
– PC Senators and Senators-in-Waiting,
– Conservative Party of Canada Members of Parliament from Alberta.
Why are Conservative Party of Canada MPs invited to vote in the leadership review?
Article 15.4 of the PC Party constitution states that the ballot shall contain the question: “Do you wish a Provincial Leadership Election to be called?”
What happens if delegates vote for a leadership review?
If a majority of ballots are marked in the affirmative, the PC Party Board of Directors shall proceed to call a provincial leadership election.
How would a new leader be chosen?
According to Article 14 of the PC Party constitution, a leadership election must be held not sooner than four months and not later than six months from the date of the leadership review.
Members in good standing of the PC Party who are Canadian citizens, at least 14 years of age and residents of Alberta for at least 6 consecutive months immediately prior to the leadership election are eligible to vote.
When the leadership election is held, the candidate who receives more than half the total valid ballots cast shall be declared the leader. If no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first ballot, a second ballot will be held with the two candidates who received the most votes. This is different from previous PC leadership votes where the three candidates with the most votes moved the the second ballot. This created situations where, in 1992, 2006, and 2011, the candidate with the most votes on the first ballot did not win on the second ballot.
Will Ms. Redford survive the leadership review?
While Ms. Redford has her detractors in her party and caucus, I believe the prospect of a majority of delegates voting for a formal leadership race is unlikely. As far as I am aware, no leader of a major Canadian political party has earned less than a majority vote in an internal leadership review (please correct me if I am wrong). But if a leadership race is called for, it would certainly be interesting to see if Ms. Redford followed her in the footsteps political mentor, Joe Clark, in contesting a leadership race.
Peter Lougheed appears to be the only leader of the PC Party in Alberta who has retired from politics on his own accord since that party first formed government in 1971.
A weak endorsement of the current leadership would certainly be good news for the tire kickers in the PC Party who would like to see Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk or Finance Minister Doug Horner have an opportunity to lead. But if delegates endorse the current leadership, as most political watchers are predicting, the potential challengers may have to cool their heels for at least the next few years.
The political battle between the Wildrose opposition and long-governing Progressive Conservatives continued today as the Legislative Assembly resumed for the fall sitting. Debt was the biggest issue of the day. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith jumped at the opportunity to make light of comments Premier Alison Redford made that compared the government’s decision to accept debt financing as “hope.”
“Let’s take some of the premier’s other quotes and sub in ‘hope’ for ‘debt’ and see if that makes sense. Alberta does not have hope, and we will not incur hope. We cannot come out the current fiscal situation with hope.”
“So to the premier, if debt is hope, when can we expect to once again be hope free?”
– Danielle Smith
After a decade of worshiping an anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics, the natural governing party changed their tune. Abandoning the culture of “no debt” that they created has undoubtably been difficult for the PCs as they embraced a new faith in capital financing. It makes fiscal sense if you want to plan for the long-term, but in the Alberta context, it symbolizes an awkward culture shift for a political party that defined itself by this rally cry.
Cabinet shuffle rumours
If there is any truth to the cabinet shuffle rumours that have been circulating in political circles, it would not be unexpected for Ms. Redford to hit the reset button after she faces a mandatory leadership review in November (I anticipate PC activists will approve of her leadership). It may surprise Albertans to discover that twenty-seven of fifty-nine PC MLAs currently serve in some ministerial or associate ministerial role (that’s 45% of the government caucus).
Three cabinet ministers who have caused particular difficulty for the government and should be candidates to be shuffled are Education minister Jeff Johnson, Municipal Affairs minister Doug Griffiths, and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
Mr. Johnson has earned the distain of teachers and schools boards officials for his clumsy handling of the last year’s Alberta Teachers’ Association contract negotiations and the ensuing financial havoc wreaked on the education employers.
Mr. Griffiths has locked horns with Calgary’s popular mayor Naheed Nenshi too many times to be seen as an effective minister. The election of Don Iveson as mayor of Edmonton could help convince the Premier that perhaps she needs a more effective communicators in the increasingly important municipal affairs role.
Ramming through the Redford government’s cuts to post-secondary education, the powerful Mr. Lukaszuk frequently speaks as if he leads the government, leading some conservatives to suggest he has leadership ambitions of his own. Some conservatives have begun noticing similarities between Mr. Lukaszuk and former Deputy Premier Ken Kowalski.
In the first few years of Mr. Klein’s administration, Mr. Kowalski served in a powerhouse role as Deputy Premier and the unofficial “Minister of Everything.” At the time, some Tories suggested that Mr. Kowalski was actually running the government, which raised the ire of Mr. Klein. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Kowalski was unceremoniously booted from the halls of power by Mr. Klein mid-way through his government’s first-term.
Showing a surprising lack of class, Ms. Redford’s communications director Stefan Baranski took to Twitter to attack the former PC MLA for controversial comments he made years ago. It appears that many of Ms. Redford’s staff spent their weekend posting juvenile and sarcastic tweets about the opposition party’s gathering. Apparently this is how senior government staff spend their weekends these days.
Whatever it takes, Wildrose Party activists are expected to moderate the tone of their policies at their weekend policy convention in the booming central Alberta city of Red Deer. A delicate and sometimes shaky coalition of libertarians and social conservatives (among other groups), Alberta’s official opposition party will learn from the mistakes they made in the 2012 election. On the cusp of victory, offensive remarks made by social conservative candidates in Calgary and Edmonton scared many moderate Albertans to support the long-governing Progressive Conservatives at the ballot box.
Since forming the official opposition with 17 MLAs, Ms. Smith has led a disciplined front-bench that has in many cases driven the government’s agenda, or at the least frustrated government ministers unaccustomed to their aggressive style. Implementing tactics used by the Ottawa Conservatives, the Wildrose have been relentless in their opposition to the forty-two year old governing PC Party.
Fighting back against the Wildrose, or at least trying to, Tory environment minister Diana McQueen emerged from her legislature office yesterday to attack Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s position on climate change. While Ms. Smith’s party is undoubtably weak on environmental issues, especially on the important climate change file, the Tory government’s environmental record is not much better. While the Alberta government is doing more on this file than it has in a decade, its plan appears to be propped up by snippets of truth and focus group tested sound bites.
The Wildrose are looking for second chances and there is opportunity for them. With drastic cuts to education and post-secondary education, constant political meddling in the health care system and fears that public sector pension changes may negatively impact the retirement prospects of hundreds of thousands of Albertans, Alison Redford’s Tories threaten to alienate the electoral coalition of moderate voters (including many former Liberal voters) who helped them narrowly win re-election. Shooting from their hips (and frequently missing their targets), cabinet ministers Thomas Lukaszuk, Jeff Johnson, Fred Horne, and Doug Griffiths often confuse their own confidence with arrogance. The Tories do not give any impression that they were humbled by their near-defeat in last year’s election.
Some Tories may point to the electoral success of Premier Ralph Klein following his drastic budget cuts in the early 1990s, but this is a very different political environment, and I am sure that most Albertans would agree that Ms. Redford is no Mr. Klein.
A recent poll from Leger Marketing, for what it’s worth three years before the next election, shows Ms. Redford’s and Ms. Smith’s parties competing with mid-30 percent range support. The poll also shows that more than half of Albertans disagree with the government’s performance, but the Wildrose’s support in the polls suggests voters have not settled on an alternative.
This weekend and over the next three years, the Wildrose Party could look to Saskatchewan for inspiration. Stalled for years in the opposition benches, the conservative Saskatchewan Party undertook a move to modernize its image and policies when Brad Wall became the party leader in 2004. The unruly coalition of Tories and Liberals led by a former Reform Party MP had been unable to defeat the institutionalized New Democrats, who dominated in that province’s major cities. Under the smart and savvy Mr. Wall, the Sask Party modernized, and slowly began to encroach into NDP held urban constituencies.
After his party finally defeated in NDP in 2007, the conservative Mr. Wall has become one of Canada’s most popular provincial leaders. Like the NDP did to the Sask Party, and the Tories did to the Wildrose in 2012, Albertans can expect to be berated by rounds of “ooga booga, the Wildrose is scary” ads in the next election. The part that will be missing from those ads is that many, if not most, current Wildrose supporters were sitting comfortably in the Tory camp until about three years ago.
Wildrose success is not entirely about policy. Planting the seeds of doubt in Ms. Redford’s ability to run an honest government will also be key to the Wildrose Party’s success in the next election. Ms. Redford’s tendency to avoid controversy by hiding the truth or bending the facts is something that many political watchers have noted. Her office’s decision to block requests to release details of more than $2 million in severance packages given to former premier’s office staffers planted one seed of doubt. Her actions, her words, and people she surrounds herself have planted others. Two bad seeds that might not go away, controversial former PC MLAs Mike Allen and Peter Sandhu, are expected to apply for re-entry into the Government Caucus.
And the Wildrose do not just need Tory voters to vote for them, they also need former New Democrat and Liberal voters to return to their prior allegiances (a key reason behind Ms. Smith’s province-wide debate tour with NDP leader Brian Mason).
So, it’s clear the Wildrose needs to moderate the tone of their policies to attract new voters, but they can also benefit greatly from the seeds of doubt that the Redford Tories appear to be planting each week.
Two years ago today, Ed Stelmach quietly stepped out of the political spotlight after a nearly five years as Premier of Alberta. The mild-mannered farmer from Andrew dedicated more than twenty-five years of his life to municipal and provincial politics and led the Progressive Conservative Association to win one of its largest electoral victories in forty years. Despite this win, his party’s Calgary establishment never forgave him for defeating their choice for leader.
On January 25, 2011, facing dangerous divisions in his party and caucus, Mr. Stelmach announced his decision to resign. On October 7, 2011, he was officially replaced by Calgary MLA Alison Redford.
While there were certainly controversies and missteps during his time as premier, Mr. Stelmach made significant decisions that have had a positive effect on our province. Consideringmyhistory with the man, some readers may be surprised to learn that I believe history will be kind to Alberta’s thirteenth Premier. Here’s why.
Six reasons why history will be kind to Ed Stelmach
1) Mr. Stelmach reinvested in public services and infrastructure. After years of neglect, his government tackled the province’s growing deferred maintenance budget by investing billions of dollars into public infrastructure. The $1 billion GreenTrip Fund provided to municipalities allowed for the expansion of public transit in Alberta’s fast-growing cities. A series of 5% increases to the health care budget helped to stabilize the see-saw of unpredictable funding allocated by his predecessor, Ralph Klein.
2) The creation of the Capital Region Board helped de-escalate the tensions and narrow the deep divisions between the dozens of municipalities in the Edmonton region. While tensions still exist in some corners of the capital region, Mr. Stelmach helped usher a détente by forcing the municipal politicians to use a process for resolving grievances and planning the future.
3) The creation of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness set a bold plan in motion to eliminate homelessness in our province by 2017. Along with plans to end homelessness in Calgary, Edmonton, and many other cities in the province, thousands of Albertans have been successfully housed through programs like Housing First. In 2012, Edmonton’s Homeward Trust honoured Mr. Stelmach with Special Recognition for Leadership towards Ending Homelessness
4) The introduction of the Lobbyist Registry helped shine a spotlight into the shadowy world of political lobbying and horse-trading. Although not foolproof, the registry gives Albertans a chance to see who is being paid to influence their elected officials on a daily basis.
5) During his first year in office, Mr. Stelmach concluded a deal with the Alberta Teachers Association in which the province agreed to contribute $2.1 billion towards the $6.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In exchange, Alberta’s 34,000 teachers agreed to a five-year contract.
6) Mr. Stelmach moved the Tories back to the centre of the political spectrum. While he did not stay to face them in an election, he recognized that to compete with the upstart Wildrose Party, he needed to move his party to the middle, rather than the political right. While this angered his opponents both inside and outside his party, this decision may have helped save his party from political defeat in the 2012 election.