Tag Archives: Ralph Klein

Minister Christina Gray with Lynsae Moon, co-owner of the Nook Café.

253,900 Albertans got a raise this month

Labour Minister Christina Gray with Lynsae Moon, co-owner of the Nook Café. (Photo: Government of Alberta)

Alberta’s minimum wage jumped to $15 per hour on October 1, 2018, making our province the first in Canada to reach this mark. The New Democratic Party promised to raise the minimum wage as part of its platform in the 2015 election and quickly began a 3-year phased increase to the minimum wage shortly after Premier Rachel Notley formed her government.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP

Rachel Notley

The $15 minimum wage will make life more affordable for women, single parents, families and everyone who has been working a full-time job or more but is still struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent,” Labour Minister Christina Gray said in a September 28 press release.

According to the Alberta Low Wage Profile, the number of employees with average hourly earnings of less than $15 per hour in Alberta decreased from 292,400 in 2016 to 253,900 in 2018. The profile also shows that Alberta has the lowest percentage of low wage earners among the Canadian provinces, followed by Saskatchewan.

The phased-in increase to minimum wage is a challenge that business owners who pay poverty level wages had been forced to confront. And not surprisingly, business owners and their lobby groups have taken issue with the increases since they began after 2015.

Some business owners have warned that pay increases could lead to increased costs for consumers. There is no doubt that an increase to the minimum wage will increase costs for employers, but I am sure they have already found many Albertans will not mind paying a little bit more knowing that the employees who serve their coffee, prepare their lunches, or stock their grocery store shelves are paid better than they were last month.

The leaders of Alberta’s two main conservative parties, Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party and Stephen Mandel of the Alberta Party, have floated the idea of a lower minimum wage for workers under the age of 18 or workers in the service industry.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA

Stephen Mandel

Mandel went into detail with his proposal to lower the minimum wage for certain Alberta workers, lowering the rate to $13.60 an hour for workers 17 and under and to $14 an hour for servers who earn tips.

It makes little sense to penalize or devalue the work of the lowest paid workers in Alberta because of their age or the industry they work in. This kind of thinking presumes that most young workers are just earning pocket money to buy V-Bucks for Fortnite and not saving to pay for post-secondary education, helping pay the bills at home or trying to raise their own families.

Around 63 per cent of minimum wage earners are women, more than 37 per cent of minimum wage earners are parents, including around 14,300 who are single parents.

A pay cut for low wage workers could be part of Bill 1: The Free Enterprise Act, which Mandel announced at a gathering of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce earlier this month would be the first law passed by an Alberta Party government. He was mum on what else would be included in this bill, but as the NDP have already lowered the small business tax rate from 3 per cent to 2 per cent, it is possible Mandel would like to see the tax completely abolished.

Kenney initially played coy on the topic, saying he had no plans to roll back the $15 per hour wage but in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce last week he went into detail about his willingness to adopt a system of lower minimum wages based on age or industry.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney

While Kenney was not specific about how far be would roll back wages for young workers, recent UCP leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, who is now the party’s star candidate in Calgary-Elbow, said last year that he would cut Alberta’s minimum wage by 18.7 per cent from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour, because it is the “right choice for Albertans whose livelihoods count on it the most.

Kenney also stated he plans to repeal labour law reforms implemented by the NDP, which updated many Alberta laws not changed since the 1970s. It is not clear whether this would include the occupational health and safety code updates, or other changes expanding compassionate care leave, maternal and paternal leave, holiday pay, and the clarification of termination and temporary layoff rules.

While most media attention is focused on small and medium sized businesses who have had to increase their staff salaries, poverty level wages are not just unique to the private sector.

Support staff including educational and financial assistants, library clerks, maintenance staff, secretaries, typists and custodians who work for the Living Waters Catholic School District in Edson, Whitecourt and Slave Lake are on strike because they were fed up with irregular working hours and low salaries. Some staff members have been turning to their local food bank to make ends meet, according to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the union representing these workers.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

The $15 per hour minimum wage was a step in the right direction, but it is still lower than the what is considered to be a living wage in some of Alberta’s urban areas.  Vibrant Communities Calgary estimated in 2017 that the Living Wage in Calgary is $18.15 per hour, the Edmonton Social Planning Council says a living wage in the province’s capital city is $16.31 per hour, the City of Grande Prairie estimated $17.35 per hour, while in 2016 Central Alberta Poverty estimated that the living wage in Red Deer and Central Alberta was between $13.71 and $14.10 per hour.

Increasing the minimum wage is not a silver bullet to eliminating poverty in our province, but raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will make a big difference in the lives of a lot of working Albertans. 


While the current crop of conservative political leaders have decried the wage increase for Alberta’s lowest paid workers, conservative politicians in the recent past have praised increases to the minimum wage:

This increase to Alberta’s minimum wage is good news for Albertans,” said Premier Ed Stelmach in June 2007, when the minimum wage was raised from $7 per hour to $8 per hour.

Minimum wage offers protection for workers,” said Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry Iris Evans, also in June 2007. “It sets the minimum rate of pay that employers must meet and ensures that workers, especially women and youth, who traditionally are in the lower income occupations, are making a better wage.”

We want to ensure that Albertans earning the minimum wage are as protected as possible during these changing times,” Minister of Employment and Immigration Hector Goudreau said in March 2009, when the minimum wage increased from $8.40 per hour to $8.80 per hour.


RAGE against the Government

Luke Ouellette Alberta MLA Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

Luke Ouellette

In light of Kenney’s comments this week about decreasing the minimum wage for young workers, the UCP leader also floated the idea of creating a Minister responsible for de-regulation and cutting red tape. This is not a new idea.

In November 2004, Premier Ralph Klein appointed Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette as Alberta’s only-ever Minister of Restructuring and Government Efficiency. Known by the nickname the “Ministry of RAGE,” the department quickly became an oxymoronic joke because was a government bureaucracy created for the purpose of cutting government’s bureaucracy.

Aside from some responsibilities related to the Alberta SuperNet that were previously handled by another government department, it was never clear what exactly the RAGE Ministry ever accomplished. And before Albertans could ever find out, the position was eliminated and, in December 2006, Ouellette was appointed Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation.

History will show that the Ministry of Restructuring and Government Efficiency was most notable for eliminating the Office of the Minister of Restructuring and Government Efficiency.

Preston Manning had a plan for carbon pricing, but Kenney and Ford choose to blow hot air over carbon tax

If the Alberta government could tax all the hot air at today’s anti-carbon tax rally in Calgary the deficit could be paid off.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford will hold a joint “Scrap the Carbon Tax” rally in downtown Calgary this evening on the second leg of the Central Canadian Premier’s anti-carbon tax tour of Western Canada.

With the PC government of Manitoba set to cancel its own carbon tax plan, Canada’s conservatives are mostly united against the national carbon tax.

Kenney hopes to turn Alberta’s 2019 provincial election into a referendum on the NDP government’s carbon tax. And federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer hopes to turn next October’s expected federal election into a referendum on Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.

It wasn’t too long ago that carbon pricing was an idea embraced by Canadian conservatives. While he may disagree with the way Rachel Notley’s government has implemented a carbon tax, Conservative movement godfather Preston Manning offered five pieces of advice on how to sell the idea of carbon pricing to Canadians in a November 2014 opinion-editorial published in the Globe & Mail.

Even if you are a progressive, it is worth listening to Manning on this issue because he does make some good points. Here are Manning’s five pieces of advice from 2014 and my impressions on how the NDP and opposition conservatives have reacted:

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

1. Avoid using the word “tax” in conjunction with pricing pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.

The NDP government launched the program as a Carbon Levy, but it did not take long for conservative voices in the opposition and opinion pages of the province’s Postmedia-owned newspapers to rebrand it as a carbon tax. Alberta governments in the past have tried to brand new taxes with different names, such as the Health Care Premium introduced by Ralph Klein and the Health Care Levy proposed by Jim Prentice before the 2015 election.

2. Ask, “Out of whose mouth will our message be most credible?”

Manning raised the point that politicians, political staff and lobbyists typical rank at the very bottom of the public trust scale, so the government will need to find different voices to promote the program. The NDP did very well at the launch of the Climate Leadership Plan, uniting environmental and industry leaders in a way that no Alberta government has done before.

The NDP government earned a lot of praise for their Climate Leadership Plan from economists, environmental and industry leaders, and even a mention from former United States President Barack Obama in his speech to the Canadian House of Commons in 2016. But they did not necessarily do an effective job selling the program, especially the carbon levy, to Albertans.

Graham Thomson CBC

Graham Thomson

As Graham Thomson explained in his new gig as a political columnist for CBC, the carbon tax is “the kind of thing opposition politicians can demonize in 10 seconds while the government needs five minutes worth of graphs and charts to explain.”

You can find lost of Albertans who are supportive of the carbon tax but will admit to being a little confused about how it actually works.

3. In selling an unfamiliar concept or policy solution, start where the public’s head is, not where yours is.

“In broaching climate change with the public, don’t start by making scientific declarations to people who rarely read or think about science,” Manning wrote in 2014. “Far better to start with the climate change effects our audience is already aware of, particularly in resource-producing areas, and then present the science to help explain. For example, start with British Columbia loggers’ awareness that winters are no longer cold enough to kill the pine beetle, or Alberta drill crews’ awareness that it’s taking longer for muskeg to freeze and allow drilling each fall.”

I believe there is broad recognition in Alberta that climate change needs to be addressed but the sharp downturn in the price of oil and the continued political wrangling over the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline have distracted the public’s attention on energy and environmental issues. The opposition was successful in branding the carbon tax as damaging to the economy at a time when many Albertans had lost or were on the verge of losing their jobs, especially in Calgary and some rural areas.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The NDP government also may have made a strategic error by arguing the Climate Leadership Plan would create the social license needed to convince British Columbians that a pipeline expansion is needed also knee-capped the carbon tax when the project stalled. Tying the carbon tax to the pipeline was a gamble, and it, so far, does not appear to have paid off.

We are also in the era of Donald Trump and conservative politicians across Canada have interpreted his success south of the 49th parallel as a license to engage in a similar angry populist tone. Conservative strategists in Alberta seem to believe that Ford’s victory in Ontario is the key to success and plan to embrace a similar campaign here in Alberta. Whether the abandonment of moderate conservatism in favour of populist rhetoric and climate change denial will lead to success in the long-term is yet to be seen.

4. Be honest about the ultimate costs to consumers.

Manning argued that “it’s possible to make environmental levies “revenue neutral” by reducing income taxes” and the initial argument from the NDP government that the cost of the carbon levy would be “revenue neutral” was confusing, unconvincing and quickly debunked.

A carbon tax does not need to be revenue neutral and the NDP bought into a naturally conservative idea by arguing so from the beginning. The NDP should have been up front about the cost while also reminding Albertans that we already pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and our government is desperate for additional revenue to fund our public services.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

5. Be balanced – Canadians love balance.

It may have been poorly communicated but I believe the Climate Leadership Plan is actually a fairly balanced and largely conservative initiative. By their very nature, carbon pricing is a free market idea and it was embraced by Conservative partisans until their opponents implemented these policies.

Despite being demonized as a leftist ideological wealth redistribution program, the plan listened to industry leaders in allowing for significant growth in the oil sands while providing incentives to decrease carbon footprint and increase energy efficiency.

Manning wrote in 2010 that “[t]here is no inherent reason why conservatives should be ambivalent on the environment, since conservation and conservatism come from the same root, since living within our means ecologically is a logical extension of living within our means fiscally, and since markets (in which conservatives strongly believe) can be effectively harnessed to environmental conservation.”

But today’s Conservatives not only have abandoned their support for carbon pricing and have used some of Manning’s advice as a manual to attack government action on climate change. Conservatives are united against the carbon tax, but remain silent on how or if they even have any ideas to address climate change.

The shift to green conservatism that Manning advocated for years ago has been ignored in favour of more open denial and skepticism of climate science which continues to be an accepted line of thought in Canada’s conservative movement. In Alberta, UCP MLA Drew Barnes helped fund a film promoting climate change denial, one recently nominated candidate, Randy Kerr, was found to have openly questioned climate science on social media, and nine UCP MLAs signed a published letter that compared the carbon tax to the Holodomor – the 1930s genocide that saw up to 7 million Ukrainians killed.

We know that today’s Conservatives oppose the carbon tax, and many of them outright deny the existence of climate change. It is yet to be seen whether they will propose an alternative to the carbon tax that is more than angry politicians and hot air.

Michael Janz

Edmonton Public School Trustees doing their due diligence by asking about UCP education cuts

UCP doesn’t want Albertans to talk about cuts that could come if they form government in 2019

How are we going to get our province back on course? I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s going to hurt. Will it affect you? It absolutely will,” said United Conservative Party MLA Dave Hanson, echoing similar statements from UCP activists and supporters, about the public service funding cuts that could follow if that party wins next year’s provincial election. 

In response to these types of statements, the Edmonton Public School Board did its due diligence when Trustee Michael Janz asked the board administration to prepare estimates for four potential budget scenarios in 2019:

  • No funding for enrolment growth.
  • Hiring Freeze – not permitted to staff retirements.
  • The District is faced with a three per cent decrease to the budget for the next four years.
  • The District is faced with a five per cent decrease to the budget for the next four years.

With a growing population and a large cohort of new students expected to enter the public education system in the next few years, these are exactly the kind of scenarios that Alberta parents and students should be worried about, and our elected trustees should be preparing for.

The worst-case scenario projected 932 teachers’ jobs cut in Edmonton, packed classrooms with fewer resources, with similar outcomes in cities, towns, and rural areas across the province.

Not surprisingly, the UCP did not appreciate the attention on this issue. The conservative opposition party is ahead in the polls, but they desperately don’t want to talk about the deep funding cuts to public services that could result if they attempt to balance the provincial budget while also decreasing government revenue through tax cuts.

As David Climenhaga wrote at AlbertaPolitics.ca, the UCP “was in furious damage control mode” as the elected trustees debated the results of the various budget estimate scenarios. UCP leader Jason Kenney leapt to his smartphone to Tweet a denial of the cuts and an accusation that Janz was an “NDP member of the Edmonton school board.”

That any trustee of our public education system might be inclined to favour parties that believe in proper, or at least stable, funding for public education should be no surprise. Since the 2015 election, Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government avoided calls for budget austerity and instead made significant investments in public services and public infrastructure. And this break from decisions made by past governments appears to be paying off.

“Over the last decade, we’ve barely recovered from the Klein cutbacks of the 1990s,” Janz wrote in an email to his Ward F constituents in southwest Edmonton. “If we want to actually make things better for our students, staff, and families, it is time for investment, not cutbacks.”

Kenney’s latter-day fondness for former premier Ralph Klein, whose personality was loved by many Albertans and whose devastating budget cuts to front-line services are still being felt, is likely the cause of some concern. And with so much at stake, our school trustees should be asking these kinds of questions.

Janz is a particularly enthusiastic and incredibly resourceful trustee. His energizer-bunny approach to canvassing during election campaigns earned him more votes in the October 2017 election than any other candidate in Edmonton except Mayor Don Iveson (I know this from personal experience, Janz is a friend and I door-knocked with him in 2017). In the same vein, he has not been afraid tackle politically controversial topics as a trustee.

During the 2015 provincial election, then-board chair Janz joined the chairs of 6 other school boards, representing 19 boards, stepping out of their traditional role on the sidelines to make a public plea that increased student enrolment must offset by increased funding from the government. More recently, he has asked the provincial government to prioritize the construction of public schools in new neighbourhoods, raising the ire of proponents of publicly-funded Roman Catholic education.

“As a Trustee, I would not be doing my job effectively if I didn’t highlight the investment in the future of our prosperity that is an excellent public education system,” Janz wrote. “Let’s stop talking about how to make it worse, let’s start talking about how to make it better.”

School board trustees are not neutral servants of any provincial politician in Edmonton. They are elected officials and when the future of public education for students is at stake, they should not shy away from asking the tough questions, regardless of how inconvenient it might be for anyone in the Alberta Legislature.

Doug Schweitzer Danielle Larivee Travis Toews Mo Elsalhy Alberta Election 2019

Doug Schweitzer wins UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, Danielle Larivee selected as NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake

Photo: Doug Schweitzer, Danielle Larivee, Travis Toews, and Mo Elsalhy.

Former United Conservative Party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer defeated past city council candidate Chris Davis to secure his party’s nomination in Calgary-Elbow on September 13, 2018. As noted last week, Schweitzer is a lawyer who briefly considered running for the PC Party leadership in 2017 before dropping out and endorsing Jason Kenney. Only a few months later, he ran against Kenney for the UCP leadership, where he placed third with 7.3 percent of the vote. He served as CEO of the Manitoba PC Party from 2008 to 2009 and was manager of Jim Prentice’s campaign for the leadership of the PC Party in 2014.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Calgary-Elbow has a long-history in conservative partisan lore, having been represented by former premiers Ralph Klein and Alison Redford and past deputy premier David Russell, but it has also been a marginal district at times.

Klein only narrowly defeated Liberal Gilbert Clark in 1989 and the district would abandon the Tories for Liberal Craig Cheffins in the 2007 by-election to replace Klein. Redford retook the district for the PCs in 2008, but her disastrous tenure in the premier’s office certainly contributed to Alberta Party leader Greg Clark (son of Gilbert) winning in Calgary-Elbow in 2015.

Schweitzer will face Clark and likely New Democratic Party nominee Janet Eremenko in the 2019 election.

Danielle Larivee was nominated as NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake. Larivee was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Children’s Services and Minister for the Status of Women. Before her election Larivee worked as a Registered Nurse in public health in northern Alberta.

Former president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Travis Toews defeated Sexsmith town councillor Kate Potter to secure the UCP nomination in Grande Prairie-Wapiti. Toews had the endorsement of former Grande Prairie PC MLAs  Walter Paszkowski and Everett MacDonald in this district currently represented by retiring UCP MLA Wayne Drysdale.

Registered Nurse Hannah Presakarchuk defeated Rafat Alam, Shaun Collicott, and Laine Larson to secure the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Rutherford.

Former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy was nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-South West and Marvin Olsen has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.

Upcoming Nomination Meetings

Karen Principe Edmonton Decore UCP

Karen Principe

Former PC MLA Janice Sarich, past city council candidate Karen Principe, and real estate agent Gordon Reekie will compete for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Decore on September 20, 2018.

Sarich represented this district from 2008 until 2015 when she was unseated by NDP candidate Chris Nielsen. Principe placed a strong third in the October 2017 city council race that saw incumbent councillor Dave Loken unseated by Jon Dzadyk. Reekie had previously been a candidate for the UCP nomination in the neighbouring Edmonton-Castle Downs before withdrawing from that contest before the vote was held.

NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt is expected to be nominated as his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 20, 2018. Schmidt was first elected in 2015, earning 68 percent of the vote in the 2015 election. He now serves as Minister of Advanced Education and will face a rematch against UCP candidate David Dorward, who Schmidt defeated in 2015 and placed a strong second against in 2012.

Edmonton-Gold Bar is a former Liberal Party stronghold, having been represented by party heavy-weights Bettie Hewes from 1986 to 1997 and Hugh MacDonald from 1997 to 2012, though support for the party collapsed to an abysmal 3.1 percent in the 2015 election.

Lacombe City Councillor Thalia Hibbs will challenge UCP MLA Ron Orr in a nomination contest in Lacombe-Ponoka scheduled for September 21, 2018.  It was announced at a forum in Lacombe that nomination candidate Rita Reich has dropped out of the contest, though no reason was given.

Thalia Hibbs Lacombe Ponoka

Thalia Hibbs

Orr was first elected as a Wildrose Party candidate in 2015, winning a close three-way contest between himself, New Democrat Doug Hart and PC candidate Peter DeWit. Orr currently serves as Official Opposition critic for Culture & Tourism and in November 2017, the former Baptist pastor suggested that the legalization of marijuana in Canada could lead to a communist revolution.

Hibbs has served on Lacombe City Council since October 2017 and previous to that served as a trustee with the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Schools from 2010 to 2017.

Four candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Glenmore: Christopher Grail, Whitney Issik, Michael LaBerge and Phillip Schumann.

Issik is a long-time party activist, having worked as a campaign manager for Jim Prentice’s brief run for the federal Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady (who is now seeking the UCP nomination in that district), and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election. LaBerge is president of Channel Energy Inc. Schuman is an insurance company account executive and until July 2017 was the Media Coordinator for United Liberty, the political action committee created by now-Freedom Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Maureen Zelmer had been seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Glenmore until it was revealed she had posted a series of Islamophobic comments on Facebook.

Kathy Macdonald Wildrose Calgary-Foothills by-election

Kathy Macdonald

Past Wildrose Party candidates Kathy Macdonald and Jeremy Nixon are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Klein on September 22, 2018. MacDonald is a retired Calgary police officer and was the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Foothills and 2015 Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mackay-Nose HillShe also ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills. Nixon ran in this district under the Wildrose banner in 2012 and 2015. He is the brother of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.

Macdonald is endorsed by former Calgary police chief and 2015 PC candidate Rick Hanson. Nixon is endorsed by Calgary Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel, Len Webber, City Councillor Sean Chu, and UCP MLAs Nathan Cooper, Todd Loewen, Angela Pitt and former UCP MLA Dave Rodney.

Deron Bilous is expected to be acclaimed for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on September 23, 2018. Bilious has represented this district since 2012 and was re-elected in 2015 with 73.8 percent of the vote. He currently serves as Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. This district has deep NDP roots, having been represented by former city councillor Ed Ewasiuk from 1986 to 1993 and former party leader Ray Martin from 2004 to 2008.

Here are some of the latest updates to the list of candidates running for party nominations ahead of the 2019 Alberta provincial general election:

Camrose – Brandon Lunty is seeking the UCP nomination. Lunty was the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election, placing third with 29 percent of the vote behind PC MLA Rick Fraser and New Democrat Mirical Macdonald.

Calgary-Falconridge – Christopher Steeves has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in this new east Calgary district. He served as a councillor with the City of Chestermere from 2005 to 2017.

Sherwood ParkSean Kenny is the fourth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this suburban Edmonton area district.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

When it comes to Sandra Jansen, it’s a grudge match for the UCP

It was supposed to be an event highlighting an effort to recruit more conservative women into politics in Alberta, but it was overshadowed by the news that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to personally campaign against New Democratic Party MLA Sandra Jansen in the next provincial election. 

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

Laureen Harper told a gathering at the launch of the She Leads group that she and her husband plan to campaign in the next election for whoever the United Conservative Party candidate is in their home Calgary-North West district. 

For UCP activists, and Jason Kenney in particular, the fight in Calgary-North West likely feels personal. Jansen was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and re-elected in 2015 before crossing the floor to the NDP in 2016. But Conservative anger was directed at Jansen before her floor-crossing.

Jansen’s support for her friend Nirmala Naidoo, who ran as a Liberal candidate in the 2015 federal election, drew the ire of the legions of federal Conservatives who were moving to take over the PC Party following its defeat in the 2015 election (Naidoo’s Conservative competitor, now Member of Parliament Pat Kelly, is endorsing UCP nomination candidate and pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage). 

Sonya Savage UCP Calgary North West

Sonya Savage

Jansen attempted a mount a campaign for the leadership after her party’s disastrous results in the last election but was all but drummed out of the party by social conservatives allied with Kenney.

Her moderate views on social issues like abortion and rights for sexual minorities, as well as her role as a former communications manager and key supporter of former premier Alison Redford contributed to the mounting tension from more hard-line conservatives.

Her comment to her former colleague and now Conservative MP Len Webber that he “should go back to being an electrician” smacked of Tory elitism.

Jansen accused Kenney of wanting to destroy the PC Party in his plans to merge with the Wildrose Party. And when push came to shove at the PC Party’s annual convention in 2016, Jansen was shoved hard by social conservative activists and soon after decided to leave the party.

She joined the NDP and was appointed Minister of Infrastructure in 2017.

For Conservative partisans, this was the biggest betrayal. 

Pat Kelly MP Calgary Rocky View

Pat Kelly

As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road and the Green Line C-Train route. 

Jansen plays a big role in Premier Rachel Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary, but her tendency to get involved in petty arguments with Conservative partisans on social media distracts from the NDP government’s narrative. As I have written in the past, she could probably spend less time arguing on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.

Uniting the Right meant CPC-UCP unity too

Regardless of whether Jansen wins or loses the next election, she should take it as a complement that a Conservative heavy hitter like Harper would personally campaign against her. She should wear it as a badge of honour.

Harper likely remains popular among Conservatives in particular and Calgarians in general, and his support for Kenney’s UCP is not surprising. Harper endorsed Kenney’s leadership bid last year and was rumoured to be one of the driving forces behind the scenes in the PC-Wildrose unity referendum last year.

Harper is now the chairman of the International Democratic Union, an international club of right-wing political parties from 63 countries. His congratulatory tweet to extreme right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in April 2018 raised eyebrows among political watchers. Orbán was re-elected after campaigning on a platform that included hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

But the federal Conservative connections to the UCP go deeper than Harper. Organizationally, the UCP has become an extension of the Conservative Party of Canada in Alberta, with most Conservative MPs actively involved or endorsing candidates in UCP nomination races. This is a significant change since the 1990s, when the provincial PC Party and the federal Reform Party were at each other throats.

Despite forming the opposition, the UCP are not the underdogs going into the next election. The next election campaign will represent the first time in more than 25-years that the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta will be marching in lock-step.

While this may give Conservatives a big boost in an election campaign, it is yet to be seen whether a UCP government would stand up for the interests of Albertans over partisan gain if faced by a Conservative government in Ottawa.

Not first time a Calgary-North West MLA targeted

Frank Bruseker MLA Calgary North West

Frank Bruseker

It is reminiscent of another election in Calgary-North West more than two decades ago. Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker had represented the district since 1989 and had become a major thorn in the side of Premier Ralph Klein going into the 1997 election.

Bruseker was described at the time as being a relentless and ferocious critic of Klein during the Multi-Corp Inc. share affair, in which the premier was accused of promoting a company his wife had shares in. 

It was reported during that campaign that PC Party campaign manager Rod Love had a poster hanging in his office of Bruseker framed by the crosshairs of a rifle scope.

The PCs poured significant resources into Calgary-North West and, when the dust settled in March 1997, Bruseker was unseated by Tory Greg Melchin by a margin of 1,964 votes.

Ed Stelmach, Danielle Smith, Kevin Taft, and Alison Redford.

Total Votes in Alberta political party leadership races from 1998 to 2018

Photo: Ed Stelmach (elected leader of the PC Party in 2006), Danielle Smith (elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009), Kevin Taft (elected leader of the Liberal Party in 2004), and Alison Redford (elected leader of the PC Party leader in 2011).

Following the announcement this week of the results of the Alberta Party leadership race, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voter participation in party leadership races in Alberta over the past twenty years.

The largest participation in a party leadership race in the past two decades, and in Alberta’s history, took place during the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 2006. More than 144,000 members voted in the race and it is believed that more than 200,000 memberships were sold. The party had a very open membership sales policy, which allowed any Albertan to purchase a membership at their local voting station on the day of the vote. This vote chose Ed Stelmach to replace Ralph Klein as PC Party leader and Premier of Alberta.

The 2011 Liberal Party leadership vote, which selected Raj Sherman as party leader, used an open membership system. This allowed any Albertan to participate in the vote without having to actually purchase a party membership.

The 2014 New Democratic Party leadership vote that selected Rachel Notley to replace Brian Mason used a hybrid one-member one-vote system which allocated 25 percent of the total vote to affiliate organizations. The lack of clarity around how many organizations took part in the vote and who they may have supported makes it unclear how many individual votes were actually cast in that leadership election.

The 2017 United Conservative Party leadership vote was conducted by delegates who were elected by party members in each district. The party membership consisted of new UCP members, as well as individuals who had been members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party until that point.

Acclamations occurred in the 2000 and 2004 NDP leadership contests, the 2001 Liberal Party leadership contest, and the 2003 Alberta Alliance leadership contest.

 

Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)

The Dream of the 90s is Alive in the UCP

Jason: Do you remember the 90’s? Y’know. People were talking about flat-taxes and buying paisley neckties. And people were singing about budget deficits and debt and reforming the Senate?

Maggie: Yeah?

Jason: There’s a place where that idea still exists as a reality and I’m leading it

Maggie: What is it?

Jason: The United Conservative Party.

Jason: Remember when kids at private schools dreamed of growing up to be Preston Manning? Everyone listened to compact discs and wore Doc Martens? When we’d stay up until 11pm eating take-out pizza and admiring Ronald Reagan?

Maggie: Right. I thought that died out a long time ago.

Jason: Not in the UCP.

Maggie: So from what I can surmise from what you’re positing, it’s like the UCP is almost an alternative universe. It’s like Ralph Klein never stopped blowing up hospitals and closing schools. The Notley government never happened.

Jason: Exactly!

Maggie: In the UCP it’s almost like government doesn’t exist, right? People drive big trucks. They drive double decker trucks! There is no carbon tax!*

Jason: Welcome to the UCP!

*Except there totally is a carbon tax.

(this post is inspired by The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland)

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.

The big revenue problem facing Alberta that none of our politicians want to talk about

As the Alberta New Democratic Party passes the half way mark of their first four-year term in office and the United Conservative Party chooses its next leader, a big question that remains unanswered in Alberta politics today is how, in the long-term, the Alberta government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old Progressive Conservative government led by Ralph Klein used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but fiscally irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue that the PCs were depending on.

After their election in 2015, Rachel Notley‘s NDP took steps to diversify government revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes. Even after those increases, Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and those increases were nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

The positive news is that Alberta’s economy is recovering, but unless the international price of oil recovers, the government will remain in a deficit situation for the foreseeable future.

While I support Notley’s smart choice to continue investing in public services and capital infrastructure projects during the course of the economic recession, it is not clear that the NDP have a real plan to deal with Alberta’s revenue challenges in the long-term.

It is unlikely that the government will revisit Alberta’s comparatively low royalty rates anytime soon, and the NDP appear unwilling to start a discussion about introducing a provincial sales tax, at least until after the next election. A sales tax could help alleviate the government revenue problems and would be smart move for the province in the long-term.

It is an odd sight to read Finance Department documents that both lament a large budget deficit and boast about low taxes. The NDP inherited one big bad habit from the old PC government and have been unable to break from it.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede AlbertaBut if you think the candidates for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party are coming up with new, bright ideas for Alberta’s long-term future, think again. Political rhetoric about returning to the mythical “Alberta Advantage” and calls for drastic cuts to both government spending and revenue are mostly what Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer have proposed.

It is meat for the party base, but not exactly inspiring plans for Alberta’s future.

I get the impression that while they are playing from different sides of the political spectrum, both the NDP and the UCP’s prospective leaders are praying that oil prices recover enough to avoid having to raise taxes or slash the budget to shreds.

Alberta has a revenue problem. And the sooner someone is willing to “take the tax bull by the horns,” as my colleague David Climenhaga wrote, and begin planning for a more sustainable government revenue stream, the better off future generations of Albertans will be.


Schweitzer wants to lower the minimum wage

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

Doug Schweitzer says he would cut Alberta’s minimum wage from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour, because it is “right choice for Albertans whose livelihoods count on it the most.”

While he is likely referring to the livelihoods of business owners, it would be the wrong choice for the people impacted the most – the lowest wage working Albertans who would have their wages cut from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour.

It is safe to say that Schweitzer has earned much, much more than $12.20 per hour at his downtown Calgary job as a partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.

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

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

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

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

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

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

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

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

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

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

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

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

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

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

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

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

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

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

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

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

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

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

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Looking ahead to the Throne Speech and Spring Session

Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.

To give you an idea of what recent throne speeches have included, here is what the NDP government’s throne speech from March 8, 2016 promised to:

  • diversify energy markets.
  • pursue a coherent and effective economic development strategy.
  • invest in a greener, more sustainable economy.
  • pursue a responsible approach to public finance.
  • pursue ongoing democratic reform to ensure public accountability in all of this work.

The spring session will start just as Premier Rachel Notley returns from Washington D.C. and will mark the half-way mark in the New Democratic Party government’s first term in office.

We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.

We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.

Predictions that the Alberta economy is beginning to recover bodes well for the NDP as they prepare to present their next provincial budget. If the economy does recover and the unemployment rate decreases, they should be praised for not making the massive cuts to critical public services advocated for by, Jason Kenney, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party.

(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).

The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.

I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.

Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.

The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:

“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”

The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.

But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.

Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?

Ernest Manning, Joseph Tweed Shaw, Peter Lougheed, Harry Hays, and Alexander Rutherford are a few of the Alberta politicians with electoral districts bearing their name.

Alberta’s odd tradition of naming electoral districts after former politicians

Become famous in Alberta politics and one day you could have a provincial electoral district named in your honour.

It has become a custom in recent decades in Alberta for electoral districts to be named after former politicians. As far as I can tell, Alberta and Quebec appear to be the only provinces who have widely embraced the practice of of naming districts after historical figures.

John Courtney

John Courtney

In a 2000 edition of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, University of Saskatchewan Professor John Courtney noted that in 1991 the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing urged a shift in naming electoral districts away from geographic place names, including hyphenated names, to a recognition of distinguished Canadians and important historic events or locations.

“Canadians often decry their limited knowledge of their own history and fail to recognize the accomplishments of those who have made outstanding contributions to the country,” Courtney wrote, suggesting it would “be a welcome change from ponderous directional reference points and an excessive reliance on hyphenated place names.”

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

In Alberta, at least 10 out of the 87 current electoral districts bear the name of a political figure from Alberta’s history. When compiling this list, it was important to make the distinction between electoral districts that have been specifically named after individuals and districts named after communities that were already named after individuals (ie: Calgary-Currie, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Livingstone-Macleod, and St. Albert).

Looking through the list, I discovered a few interesting facts. For instance, despite Alberta’s reputation as an unfriendly political environment for Liberal partisans, there are today more electoral districts named after former Liberal MLAs than there are actual Liberal MLAs in the Alberta Legislature.

Elmer Roper

Elmer Roper

The earliest instance of electoral districts being named after individuals may have been in Alberta’s first election. Two districts were created in 1905 – Victoria and Alexandra – which may have been named after Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.

Why and when naming districts after historical figures began in more modern times might a little more difficult to determine. The Calgary-Egmont district, named after Frederick George Moore Perceval, 11th Earl of Egmont, was created in 1971 and existed until it was renamed Calgary-Acadia in the 2012 election.

The Calgary-McCall district first appeared in the 1971 election and was either named after First World War ace fighter pilot Fred McCall or the airfield that was named after him (McCall Air Field became the home of the Calgary International Airport after 1966). Also created in 1971 was the Calgary-McKnight district, which was either named for McKnight Boulevard or the boulevard’s namesake, Second World War flying ace Willie McKnight. The district was renamed Calgary-Nose Creek for the 1993 election.

In 1986, the Calgary-Shaw district was created and appears to have been named in honour of Joseph Tweed Shaw, who represented west Calgary as an MLA and MP in the 1920s and 1930s. He served as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party from 1926 to 1930.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

The next instance occurred in 1993, when the Calgary-Lougheed, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Rutherford, Edmonton-McClung, and Edmonton-Roper districts were created, named after former Premiers Peter Lougheed, Ernest Manning and Alexander Rutherford, one of the Famous Five and former MLA Nellie McClung, and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Elmer Roper. Lougheed, Manning and Roper were alive at the time but had retired from politics many years before.

The original recommendation from the MLA committee that oversaw the redrawing of the electoral map at the time had the Manning and McClung districts in difference locations from where they now exist. Manning was originally to be located in southwest Edmonton and McClung in northeast Edmonton, until it was later discovered that Ernest Manning once owned a home in northeast Edmonton Also, Manning Drive, which was named for Manning in 1972, is in the district. An amendment introduced in the Assembly swapped the two closer to their current locations on the electoral map.

While the other names remain on the electoral map, the Edmonton-Roper district was renamed Edmonton-Castle Downs in 1997.

Laurence Decore Alberta Liberal Leader

Laurence Decore

In 2004, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended the creation of the Calgary-Hays, Calgary-Mackay and Edmonton-Decore districts named after former Calgary mayors Harry Hays and Donald Mackay and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Laurence Decore. The Decore district was created from Edmonton-Glengarry, which Decore represented in the Assembly from 1989 until 1997.

Six years later, two more districts were named after former politicians. The first was Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley was named in honour of former MLA and NDP leader Grant Notley, who represented the area in the Assembly from 1971 until 1984.

Grant Notley

Grant Notley

And the second, created through an MLA introduced amendment in the Assembly after the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s final report had been tabled, is the only example I could find of a district being named after an individual who has recently retired from political life.

On October 26, 2010, Progressive Conservative MLA Kyle Fawcett introduced an amendment to rename Calgary-North Hill to Calgary-Klein, after former premier Ralph Klein, who had been retired from elected office for only three years. Fawcett, who represent North Hill, admitted that Klein had never actually represented that area of Calgary as an MLA, but that he was born and raised in the community of Tuxedo Park in the district.

The amendment was accepted by the Assembly, but it raises questions about the lack of process of honouring individuals by including their names in electoral districts. Unlike the process used to name parks, public spaces and schools used by municipal governments and school boards to honour notable community members, there does not appear to be a clear process in naming electoral districts.

The 2009/2010 Commission recommended in its final report that the Assembly consider adopting a protocol for the naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions. It is unclear whether any protocol has been adopted or whether the current commission will continue the trend of recommending naming new districts after political figures from Alberta’s history.

The Famous Five

If the current Electoral Boundaries Commission does name any districts in honour of notable Albertans, I would recommend they choose those names in honour of a century of women being allowed the right to vote in elections (women of European ancestry, at least). One way to do this is for the already existing Edmonton-McClung district be joined by four new electoral districts named in honour of the other members of the Famous FiveEmily MurphyIrene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training Shirley Bond (right) and former Alberta PC MLA Alana DeLong.

Former Alberta MLA Alana DeLong running as a Liberal in BC election

A former Alberta MLA has been nominated to run in the upcoming British Columbia provincial election for the Liberal Party. Alana DeLong, who served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Bow from 2001 to 2015, has been nominated as a BC Liberal candidate in the Nanaimo-North Cowachin constituency.

Ms. DeLong served as a government backbencher during her time as an MLA in Alberta and briefly ran a campaign for the leadership of the PC Party in 2006 following Ralph Klein‘s retirement. She did not run for re-election in 2015. According to her wikipedia biography, she moved to British Columbia after her retirement.

In the 2013 election, New Democratic Party MLA Doug Routley was re-elected in Nanaimo-North Cowachin with 46 percent of the vote, ahead of his Liberal opponent with 30 percent.

If elected, Ms. DeLong would join a small group of Canadians who have been elected as representatives in more than one provincial legislature. Former Alberta MLA Gordon Dirks, who served as the PC MLA for Calgary-Elbow from 2014 to 2015 also served as a PC MLA in the Saskatchewan Legislature from 1982 to 1986.

Despite their name, the BC Liberals are known to be much more conservative than their Liberal counterparts in Ottawa and other provinces.

The origin and real meaning of the “Alberta Advantage”


August 31, 1993 marked the first time the words “Alberta Advantage” were uttered on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.

Unlike some others, my government will not try to buy prosperity through higher taxes. Instead, it will build on Alberta’s existing advantage of low taxes and its free enterprise spirit to develop the most competitive economy in North America. The government will strengthen the Alberta Advantage and sell it aggressively around the globe.” – Speech from the Throne, August 31, 1993.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

“Promoting the Alberta Advantage” was the theme of the Speech from the Throne read by Lieutenant Governor Gordon Towers following Ralph Klein’s victory in the 1993 provincial election, dubbed by Tories as the ‘miracle on the Prairies.’ The Progressive Conservatives had narrowly defeated an insurgent Liberal campaign led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore. Both party leaders campaigned on deep funding cuts and deficit reduction.

The one element, probably the most important element, of the Alberta Advantage that was not mentioned in that year’s throne speech was that the reality of the provincial advantage was based almost entirely on the government receiving royalties from high-priced natural resources, mainly natural gas and oil.

Gordon Towers Alberta

Gordon Towers

For two decades, PC governments were able to subsidize their tax cuts with royalty revenues from natural gas, and then oil. This unfortunately led to government then using those undependable royalties to fund the province’s operations budget. What this meant was that large portions of royalty revenues that should have been saved for future generations, or for a rainy day – like now – were spent on day-to-day operations.

The PC government was once so flush with cash that it sent out $1.4 billion worth of Prosperity Bonuses – known as Ralph Bucks – to every Albertan. It was an embarrassment of riches and a hallmark of PC financial mismanagement.

The Alberta Advantage of low taxes and quality public services stopped being so easy when the international price of natural gas, and later of oil, dropped through the floor. When the PCs began running deficit budgets in the mid-2000s due in part to the drop in natural gas prices, they refused to restore the modest levels of personal income and corporate taxation that had existed before the ‘Alberta Advantage’ became their motto.

The most recent economic decline had many Albertans asking themselves “where did all the money go?” In an off the cuff moment, former premier Jim Prentice told Albertans to “look in the mirror.” But Mr. Prentice’s ‘Hail Mary’ budget of early 2015, which raised some taxes, was not enough to persuade Albertans that the Tories had learned a lesson.

Instead, having despaired of changing the Tories, they opted to change the government and elected the New Democratic Party led by Rachel Notley.