Tag Archives: Ralph Klein

As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA
After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA
Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

What’s at stake in the four Oct. 27 by-elections?

With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?

Progressive Conservatives

In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.

My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.

Wildrose Party

From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.

The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.

The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.

As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.

The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.

Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.

Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.

New Democratic Party

Alberta NDP Ad Edmonton-Whitemud Dr. Bob Turner by-election
An NDP pamphlet used in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.

While the NDP have risen in the polls in Edmonton, Whitemud is not a traditional NDP voting area. The NDP earned 9% in Whitemud in the last election and last placed second in the riding in the 1986 election.

A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.

Also running for the NDP are Stephanie McLean in Calgary-Elbow, Jennifer Burgess in Calgary-Foothills, and Brian Malkinson in Calgary-West.

Alberta Party

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow
A Greg Clark self with his supporters on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow.

With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.

Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.

Mr. Clark has earned the endorsements of popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, former Green Party candidate Chris Turner, former city councillor Gael Macleod and former mayoral candidate Wayne Stewart.

A win for Mr. Clark would be a huge victory for the Alberta Party and add a twist to the dominant PC-Wildrose narratives that has dominated Alberta politics since before the last election.

Mr. Clark is the son of Gilbert Clark, a Liberal candidate who came within 900 votes of defeating rookie PC candidate Ralph Klein in 1989.

Also running for the Alberta Party are William Munsey in Edmonton-Whitemud, Michelle Glavine in Calgary-Foothills, Troy Millington in Calgary-West.

Liberal Party

Susan Wright Calgary Elbow by-election
Liberal Susan Wright and her campaign supporters.

Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.

The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.

Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.

These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.

Also running for he Liberals are David Khan in Calgary-West and Robert Prcic in Calgary-Foothills.

Green Party

The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and  Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.

Where to vote?

Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.

The magic of Tory reinvention. A new era for Alberta.

Social-Credit-A-new-Kind-of-leader-1971-1
“A new kind of leader,” an advertisement from the Social Credit Party published in the Calgary Herald in 1971.

As the Progressive Conservatives brandish their new slogan, “A new era for Alberta,” many Albertans might be confused about which political party has been in power for the past 43 years.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an era as “a long and distinct period of history.”

If we were to apply the geological time scale of the Earth to Alberta politics, we would now find ourselves in the Honeymoon Period of the Prentice Era of the Progressive Conservative Eon (I will resist the temptation to name any political dinosaurs).

Alison Redford Not Your Father's PC Party
A PC Party election ad used during the 2012 election.

And despite the PC Party Eon having stretched more than four decades, PC Party candidates in four Alberta by-elections being held on October 27 are not running on their party’s record as the government since 1971. They are running on their party’s record since Jim Prentice became leader of the PC Party on September 6, 2014.

And it is too early to tell whether Mr. Prentice will oversee “a long and distinct period.” His two most recent predecessors each lasted less than five years in office.

The PC Party’s “new era” slogan is somewhat reminiscent of another slogan used by Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party as the 36 year old governing party tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to win re-election in 1971. But, unlike the Socreds in the 1970s, the PC Party has become masterful at reinvention, consistently rebranding their party since Peter Lougheed retired in 1984.

Unlike Mr. Strom, who was overshadowed by his popular and larger than life predecessor, Ernest Manning, Mr. Prentice would never be caught in public uttering the words “Alison” or “Redford.” But while the PC Party tries to put their recently departed leader’s legacy behind them, the opposition parties and candidates will eagerly remind voters about the past two years of PC government.

Just two years ago, the PC Party led by Alison Redford were re-elected in a hotly contested campaign under the slogan “Real life leadership” (see the campaign advertisement above). This slogan was a reference to both Ms. Redford’s time spent overseas as a United Nations lawyer and provided contrast with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, and the perceived inexperience of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

During the 2012 election campaign, a controversial advertisement published in some urban newspapers featured the slogan “Not your father’s PC Party,” which suggested to younger and more liberal-minded Albertans that the PC Party had entered a new era (and again provided a contrast to the perceived social conservative values of the Wildrose Party).

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

Six years ago, borrowing from the success of Barack Obama‘s “Change we can believe in” slogan, the PC Party led by Mr. Stelmach chose “Change that works for Albertans” as their slogan in the 2008 election. The slogan suggested that Mr. Stelmach’s main opposition, the Liberals, would provide change that would not work for Albertans.

Like his successors, the PC Party under Mr. Stelmach worked hard to distance itself from the legacy of his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

In the four by-elections being held at the end of October 2014, the opposition parties are also using new slogans to help brand their campaigns. “Send the PCs a message” is a slogan being used by the Wildrose Party, and it is meant to remind Albertans that by-elections are an opportunity to show dissatisfaction with the PC Party’s past two years of scandal and misdeeds.

The NDP are using the slogan “Albertans deserve better,” which is a true statement, but it seems unlikely that most Albertans outside Edmonton city limits are about to look to the NDP as a better choice.

While slogans alone will not win or lose an election campaign, they can cleverly help define the narrative each party or candidate is advancing and can serve as a rallying cry for or against voters choosing change at the ballot box.

If you have a few moments after reading this post, I encourage you to take a glance at the extensive ‘List of Political Slogans‘ page on Wikipedia.

Four by-elections are a risky mid-term test for Alberta Tories

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and Jim Prentice on June 10, 2014.

Albertans in four provincial constituencies will go to the polls on October 27, 2014. Half-way through the  PC Government’s current four year term in office, the by-elections will be our own version of the mid-term elections.

Ken Hughes
Ken Hughes

Yesterday morning three anticipated provincial by-elections turned into four when first-term Ken Hughes announced his resignation as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-West. Earlier in the morning, Independent MLA Len Webber, fresh from securing the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation, declared that he would vacate his Calgary-Foothills seat.

Combined with vacancies in Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud, Alberta’s political parties will face off in four constituencies in 28 days.

Premier Jim Prentice wants these by-elections to be a referendum on the past two weeks, during which time he has made daily announcements trying to undo unpopular decisions made by the Alison Redford-led PC Government. The opposition wants to make sure these by-elections are a referendum on the past two years of broken promises and misdeeds by the PC Government.

Alison Redford
Alison Redford

Despite the unpopularity of the PC Party in recent polls, the four by-elections are not taking place in constituencies that were decided by small margins of victory in the last election. These four are some of the stronger PC-voting constituencies in Alberta. In the 2012 election, the PCs earned 60.4% in Edmonton-Whitemud, 58% in Calgary-Elbow, 53.5% in Calgary-Foothills and 49.9% in Calgary-West.

After 43-years in power, will Albertans buy Mr. Prentice’s argument that the PC Party is “under new management” and has entered “a new era?” The PC Party prides itself with the ability to rebrand itself under pressure. Long-time Tories boast of the “Miracle on the Prairies,” the tale of Ralph Klein’s reinvention of the PC Party before its expected defeat in the 1993 election.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

But fresh in the minds of many Albertans is the hope and opportunity that seemed real when Ms. Redford became Premier in 2011. We were promised a new era reminiscent of the days when Peter Lougheed led our province. Instead, we received two years of arrogance, broken promises, budget cuts and endless political spending scandals. And despite attempts to blame it all on Ms. Redford, it is hard to forget the 60 PC MLAs who stood behind her during those two years.

The appointment of two cabinet ministers from outside of the Legislature certainly helps the argument that the PC Government is “under new management.” But however credible the two men are, and despite their records as successful politicians, their age and notable careers in politics certainly undermines the argument that we have entered “a new era” in Alberta politics (Gordon Dirks is 67-years old and Stephen Mandel is 69-years old).

Danielle Smith Highwood
Danielle Smith

The four PC candidates in these by-elections could easily all be elected, but some of them could just as easily be defeated. By-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.

Running in Calgary-Foothills, Mr. Prentice will soon face voters for the first time since he was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is expected to announce her party’s challenger in Foothills today.

The lack of interest in the recent PC Party leadership race suggests that many Albertans have put our Natural Governing Party on probation. It will be a test of Mr. Prentice, Mr. Dirks, Mr. Mandel and Calgary-West candidate Mike Ellis, to prove themselves worthy. And it will be a test of the opposition parties to remind Albertans why the PCs do not deserve another chance.

By-Election candidates (as of September 29, 2014)

Calgary-Elbow
AP Greg Clark [FacebookTwitter]
LIB Susan Wright [FacebookTwitter]
NDP Stephanie McLean [Twitter]
PC Gordon Dirks [Twitter]
WR John Fletcher [Twitter]

Calgary-Foothills
AP Michelle Glavine [FacebookTwitter]
GRN Polly Knowlton Cockett
NDP Jennifer Burgess [Facebook, Twitter]
PC Jim Prentice [Facebook, Twitter]

Calgary-West
AP Troy Millington [Twitter]
NDP Brian Malkinson
PC Mike Ellis

Edmonton-Whitemud
AP William Munsey [Twitter]
NDP Bob Turner [Twitter]
PC Stephen Mandel [Twitter]
WR Tim Grover [Twitter]

For an updated list of by-election candidates, visit the Alberta Election 2016 page.

Coming Soon: Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections

Calgary Elbow Map By-Election
The Wildrose Party has described the Calgary-Elbow by-election as “ground zero.”

With provincial by-elections in Alberta’s two biggest cities expected to be called soon, opposition parties are gearing up to challenge two unelected cabinet ministers running under the Progressive Conservative banner.

Dates for the by-election votes have not been scheduled and a third by-election for Premier Jim Prentice is also expected to take place. Mr. Prentice is expected to run in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.

By-elections are risky for incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a message without changing government. These votes will provide the first indications whether Albertans are satisfied with Mr. Prentice’s ability to rebrand the scandal-plagued 43-year old PC Party Government.

Calgary-Elbow

Calgary-Elbow Alberta MLA Map By-Election
The results of election and by-elections held in Calgary-Elbow since 2004 (four main parties included, with the Alberta Alliance counted as the Wildrose Party in the 2004 and 2007 votes).

Trigged by the resignation of former Premier Alison Redford, this by-election has been described as “ground zero” by the opposition Wildrose Party. Many of the neighbourhoods in this constituency were devastated by last year’s floods and I am told that many locals remain disappointed with the provincial government’s response in repairing the damage. Not surprisingly, many residents also remain very disappointed with the performance of their former PC MLA.

Newly appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, has been acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Mr. Dirks is a former Calgary school trustee and Saskatchewan PC MLA. His appointment to cabinet was a surprise to most political watchers.

Conservative activist Pat Walsh had announced plans to seek the PC nomination, but stepped aside last week to clear the way for Mr. Dirks’ acclamation. But this week, in a strange move, Mr. Walsh has endorsed Wildrose candidate John Fletcher.

Mr. Fletcher is a retired Canadian Forces Colonel and is a candidate the Wildrose believes can defeat the unelected Education minister.

The Liberals are looking to candidate Susan Wright to regain some of their former support in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberals won the constituency in a 2007 by-election to replace Mr. Klein, but lost it Ms. Redford the following year. While the Liberals have had a strong base of support in the constituency in previous elections, the party’s support plummeted in 2012. This by-election will test whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are a viable political force in Calgary.

This will be Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s second time running as a candidate in Calgary-Elbow, but this time he will have the support of celebrity political strategist Stephen Carter (formerly of the PC Party) and former Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan. The Alberta Party briefly held a seat in the Assembly before the 2012 election, when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-Currie, joined their ranks. Mr. Clark hopes that he can become his party’s second-ever MLA.

The NDP have nominated lawyer Stephanie McLean as their candidate. Both of the MLAs in the NDP leadership contest – Rachel Notley and David Eggen – have said that expanding their party’s support in Calgary is key to success. Here is their opportunity to start earning votes.

Sure to cause a stir among die-hard New Democrats is Ms. McLean’s endorsement of popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign to become the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre.

I am told that the Green Party of Alberta has decided not to run a candidate in this by-election. It is unclear why they are sitting it out.

Constituency Association Net Assets, Calgary-Elbow, 2013
Progressive Conservative: $207,972.97
Wildrose: $72,625.47
Liberals: $540.79
NDP – $0
Alberta Party: $2,465.16

Edmonton-Whitemud

Edmonton Whitemud Map By-Election
A map of the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency.

The PC Party’s longest-held constituency in Edmonton, Edmonton-Whitemud was represented by former Premier Dave Hancock from 1997 until his resignation last week.

Newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69, has been acclaimed as the PC candidate. The former three-term Edmonton Mayor remains popular among many Edmontonians and it is unclear whether he will face any serious challengers.

So far, the only candidate to step up to challenge him is Alberta Party President Will Munsey. An amiable character, Mr. Munsey ran under his party’s banner in the Leduc-Beaumont constituency in the last provincial election and as a Green Party candidate in Vegreville-Wainwright in the 2011 federal election.

Edmonton-Whitemud By-Election
The results of election and by-elections held in Edmonton-Whitemud since 2004 (four main parties included, with the Alberta Alliance counted as the Wildrose Party in the 2004 vote).

The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate, but I am told that the party is working hard to recruit a former Edmonton Liberal MLA to run in the by-election. Similar to Elbow, the Whitemud by-election will test whether Dr. Sherman’s Liberals can regain their former strength in Edmonton.

As far as I am aware, no candidates have publicly declared their intentions to seek the Wildrose or NDP nominations at the time this column was published.

UPDATE: In the comment section of this blog, Dr. Bob Turner announced that he will be the NDP candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Constituency Association Net Assets, Edmonton-Whitemud, 2013
PC = $32,366.72
Wildrose: $4,486.82
Liberal – $1,528.40
NDP – $286.77
Alberta Party: $1,171.76

Alberta politics fact: While located in two different cities, the constituencies of Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud both include some of Alberta’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Both have also been represented by two Premiers (Elbow by Ralph Klein and Ms. Redford, and Whitemud by Don Getty and Mr. Hancock).

Alberta politics today: Caribou, Cell Phone Bills, and backing down on Term-Limits

Canada Alberta Caribou Habitat
The caribou was first featured on Canada’s 25-cent piece in 1936. Today, the habitat populated by Alberta’s caribou herds has been devastated.

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.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

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.

PC leadership front-runner Jim Prentice changed his tune on plans to legislate term-limits for MLAs and Premiers in Alberta. Following his announcement last week, the legal and constitutional academic community was unanimous in their belief that it would be unconstitutional and contravene Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Prentice, a lawyer by trade, now says he would not legislate the term-limits, but implement them as an internal PC Party policy.

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.

Marlin Schmidt NDP Edmonton
Marlin Schmidt

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.

For a complete list, check out the list of 2015/2016 Alberta Provincial Election candidates and nominees.

Alison Redford resigns as MLA for Calgary-Elbow

Alberta Progressive Conservative Election Jim Prentice Alison Redford
All PC Party leadership candidates are taking aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

One-hundred and thirty-six days after Alison Redford was forced to resign as Premier of Alberta, she has announced that she will resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alison Redford Alberta
During happier times: Alison Redford and Thomas Lukaszuk

Through an opinion-editorial published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, the former premier defended her record as premier and  refused to apologize for the misdeeds and scandals that occurred during her time as Premier of Alberta.

“I recognize that mistakes were made along the way. In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently. That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”

Ms. Redford had been facing intense pressure to resign as MLA after months of controversy, including a leaked draft of a damning Auditor General report criticizing her expensive travel habits on the government dime.

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.

Ric McIver, the arch-conservative dark horse of the PC leadership race, did not ask Ms. Redford to resign, but was also critical of his former leader.

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

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity
Donna Kennedy-Glans

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 Stephen Carter 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.

The All-Calgarian PC Party leadership race

Ric McIver Alberta PC Leadership Race
Ric McIver

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?

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

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.”

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

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.

Meanwhile, front-runner Jim Prentice has yet to officially announce he will be entering the race and is already gaining support among PC MLAs. Mr. Prentice has the endorsements of Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar, Education minister Jeff Johnson, Flood Recovery minister Kyle Fawcett, Municipal Affairs minister Greg Weadick and backbench MLA Neil Brown. It is rumoured that he could soon receive the endorsement of Finance minister Doug Horner, who will make clear his own political intentions on Friday.

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.

Alberta Tories waiting for a Jim Prentice coronation

Jim Prentice: The Great Tory Hope
Jim Prentice: The Great Tory Hope

Could the snoozer that has become Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership race risk becoming a coronation if former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice jumps into the race?

Necessitated by the resignation of Premier Alison Redford on 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]

This popular wisdom is based on the assumption that he will actually be a candidate, which may not be a forgone conclusion.

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.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Mr. Prentice has already received the endorsement of Calgary cabinet minister Manmeet Bhullar and is said to be convening a team largely made up of  supporters of past PC Party leadership front-runners Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

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?

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia
Jonathan Denis

Two years ago, many Albertans looked at Ms. Redford’s resume and assumed that she hailed from the Lougheedian progressive side of the her party. Many of those same Albertans were bitterly disappointed when she forced deep funding cuts on universities and colleges, and attacked the public sector workers whose votes saved her party from defeat on election day in 2012.

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.

Provincial By-Elections?
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.

Tories hope for a Hancockian era of stability

Alison Redford Dave Hancock Alberta Premier
Outgoing Premier Alison Redford with incoming Premier Dave Hancock.

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.

Alberta Premier Don Getty
Don Getty

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.

Neala Barton Redford Press Secretary
Neala Barton

Redford press secretary returns to Toronto

Ms. Redford’s resignation has  resulted in the departure of many of her senior staff from the Legislature. The now-former press secretary to the premier, Neala Barton, appears to have already landed a new communications job in Toronto with the scandal plagued Pan Am Games Committee. Before joining Ms. Redford’s staff last year, Ms. Barton had previously served as press secretary for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.