Tag Archives: Ralph Klein

WAR ROOM ENGAGE! Kenney hires former UCP candidate Tom Olsen to run the Canadian Energy Centre

The Alberta government’s much talked about energy war room now has its General. Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced yesterday that Tom Olsen has been hired as the managing director of the newly incorporated Canadian Energy Centre. The $30-million publicly funded private corporation is part of the UCP’s “fight back strategy” to counter claims made by critics of the oil and gas industry that Premier Jason Kenney said will target politicians, media and other opinion leaders, and could include satellite offices overseas.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Olsen was most recently the United Conservative Party candidate in the downtown Calgary-Buffalo riding in the 2019 provincial election, where he finished 9 per cent short of unseating former New Democratic Party finance minister Joe Ceci. But despite his recent electoral loss, Olsen has been a fixture of Conservative politics in Alberta for more than a decade.

After years as a columnist and reporter for the large daily newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, Olsen jumped into politics when he was hired as Premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesperson in 2007. (Olsen’s brother, Gordon Olsen, worked in senior roles in the Premier’s Office while Ralph Klein occupied the office).

While some Albertans will remember Olsen for his role in the Northumberland beach photos fiasco, he also oversaw the launch of the first version of the war room.

In 2008, the Alberta government launched a website called “For the Record” that was dedicated to correcting what the government determined was incomplete or incorrect information in the media. “It’s not a forum to argue philosophy and spin. . . it’s not debating the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue. It’s about factual information,”Olsen told the Calgary Herald in December 2008. “I don’t see it as government policing journalists.”

The Alberta Government’s short-lived “For the Record” webpage.

It was the government policing journalists, and it did not last very long. The government website posted six corrections to news stories from various media outlets between November 2008 and December 2010. The website briefly became a source of controversy when Olsen insisted the Globe & Mail be referred to as the Toronto Globe & Mail. The website was later edited to drop Toronto from the newspaper’s name.

Following a wholesale purge of Stelmach’s senior communications staff, Olsen was whisked off to Vancouver to handle the Alberta government’s public relations during the 2010 Winter Olympics, which included the renting of the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train and the distribution of free iPads to journalists and VIPs.

Sonya Savage

Olsen later worked as a lobbyist for groups including the Calgary Residential Rental Association, Greyhound and the national group representing Pay Day Loan companies. He found himself back in the Progressive Conservative Party fold when he became Vice-President of Communications during Jim Prentice‘s brief time as party leader.

Savage, a former pipeline lobbyist and now a member of the war room board of directors along with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said this week that the war room will include a rapid response centre, an energy literacy unit and a data research unit. Former Postmedia columnist Claudia Cattaneo was hired in August 2019 by the government to write the Energy War Room Strategic plan.

Earlier this year, Postmedia hired Kenney’s former chief of staff, Nick Koolsbergen, to lobby the UCP government on ways the Toronto-headquartered newspaper company could be involved with the war room. 

In an interview with the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, Postmedia President and CEO Andrew MacLeod said that the lobby effort was part the company’s effort to find new revenue streams and that it had no relationship to editorial decision-making (meanwhile, the front cover of the Postmedia-owned National Post today featured a paid political advertisement attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

Andrew MacLeod Postmedia CEO President

Andrew MacLeod

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group that represents many of Canada’s oil and gas companies, is also registered to lobby Alberta MLAs, the Minister of Energy and the Premier’s Office to share and advise on best practices for the war room to counter misinformation. 

Postmedia’s past relationship with CAPP is no secret, but these group’s business relationships with the war room could be.

As CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine reported today, as a private corporation the Canadian Energy Centre will be exempt from freedom of information requests, meaning that Albertans might not ever know how much of the $30 million is paid to Postmedia, CAPP or whichever UCP-connected PR firms are hired to work for the publicly-funded private war room.

Regardless of which PR companies or Toronto-based newspaper company gets hired, Olsen will have his job cut out for him. The first order of business for the new Canadian Energy Centre might be playing defence for the Alberta government’s $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-oil campaigns – an effort that has been criticized as a witch-hunt by groups like EcoJustice and the venerable Amnesty International.

While it may be easy for Kenney to dismiss NGOs and suggest that the 4,000 Albertans participating in the climate strike protest outside the Legislature were communist sympathizers, Olsen’s war room will have a harder time dismissing its greatest opponent – the free market.

Many major international oil and gas corporations have withdrawn their investments in Canada’s oilsands over the past five years, and the UCP’s decision to scale back the Alberta government’s climate change commitments certainly will not help how our province is perceived internationally.

Conservatives howled loudly this week as a major Norwegian pension fund withdrew investments in four Alberta-based oilsands companies. The move was described by UCP supporters online as hypocritical, as Norway continues to make investments in its own off-shore oil and gas platforms. The move may have been hypocritical, but those are the types of decisions that countries like Norway can make when they have $1.1 trillion saved in the bank (something for Albertans to think about when they consider how much past governments have squandered our wealth).

Olsen’s biggest challenge might be to prove that the war room is more than a $30-million public relations subsidy to Alberta’s oil and gas companies.

Public attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change are shifting dramatically, and Alberta risks becoming increasingly isolated on energy and climate issues on the national and international stage. Judging from the Alberta government’s numerous high-profile efforts over the past two decades to correct what it saw as misinformation about the oilsands and fight environmental advocates outside the province, the war room might be an example of the UCP preparing to fight the last war.


A short history of Alberta government  advertising campaigns and initiatives aimed at critics of oil and gas companies (I am sure I have missed a few):

2002: the Alberta government announced and later scrapped plans for an anti-Kyoto Accord advertising campaign in Ontario after focus group testing proved the messaging was unpopular among Torontonians.

2008: the Alberta government launched a public relations campaign targeting critics of the oilsands outside of Alberta, which included a 20-page glossy brochure entitled Alberta’s Oil Sands: Balance. Opportunity. This campaign included a North America and European speaking tour by the Premier.

2010: the Alberta government rolled out a slick $25-million “Tell It Like It Is” oilsands promotional campaign that included advertisements in London’s Piccadilly Circus and New York City’s Times Square. The multimedia blitz includes CDs and DVDs about “Alberta’s Clean Energy Future” and “A conversation on oilsands and the environment” – which features commentary from provincial experts.

2012: the Alberta government announced it was spending $77,000 on a pro-Keystone XL Pipeline advertising campaign during the Premier’s visit to Washington DC and hired lobbyists to directly lobby US officials.

2012: the federal Conservative government assigned Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in order to counter campaigns launched by an environmental advocacy groups targeting the oilsands.

2013: the federal Conservative government launched a advertising campaign directed at American politicians ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the United States. The ad campaign described Canada as a “world environmental leader” on oil and gas development.

2018: the Alberta government spent more than $23 million promoting its KeepCanadaWorking advertising campaign in support of the expansion of the Trans Mountain PIpeline from Alberta to British Columbia.

Kenney campaigns for federal Conservatives in Ontario this weekend

With Ontario Premier Doug Ford nowhere to be seen in this federal election, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pinch-hitting for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in Ontario this weekend. Kenny will be spending a few days campaigning for federal Conservative candidates in the Ottawa region and Greater Toronto Area, a trip paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada.

It is not unusual for a provincial premier to campaign in support of their federal party of choice.  Rachel Notley shared the stage with Thomas Mulcair at a campaign rally in Edmonton in 2015 and Ralph Klein campaigned in Calgary with local Member of Parliament Bobbie Sparrow in 1993 and Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest in 1997. But it is quite unusual for a premier to be campaign for their federal party of choice in another province.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

It is perhaps less unusual because the premier in question is Jason Kenney. As a federal cabinet minister he was praised by fellow partisans for his role in expanding Conservative Party’s outreach into New Canadian communities that had previously been the strongholds of the Liberal Party, a strategy that appeared solid until its collapse in 2015.

And while Kenney is currently the Premier of Alberta, he very much remains a national politician and one of the leaders of Conservative movement in Canada, frequently speaking at partisan fundraisers and events hosted by right-wing think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manhattan Institute.

Kenney’s interest in the federal campaign is no surprise. Much of the United Conservative Party campaign in Alberta’s recent provincial election focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Kenney had pledged his efforts to defeat in the October 21 federal election. And it is probably the worst-kept secret in Canadian politics that Kenney still harbours federal leadership ambitions. Ambitions that could be realized sooner than expected if Scheer stumbles in this election.

This is the first federal election in decades that both the federal and provincial Conservative parties in Alberta are marching in lock-step. The creation of the United Conservative Party in 2017 was just as much about the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties as it was creating harmony between the dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties.

This campaign trip to Ontario is not Kenney’s first, but it is much more extensive than his previous visits.

Rajan Sawhney

Kenney made an appearance at a fundraiser earlier this year in Brampton-North, where his former ministerial staffer Arpan Khanna is running for the Conservatives. Khanna managed Kenney’s Toronto office during his time as Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of National Defence.

Flying to Ottawa today, Kenney launched his campaign tour with Conservative candidates Brian St. Louis in Nepean and Abdul Abdi in Ottawa-West Nepean.

While Kenney’s Ontario itinerary does not appear to be publicly available, UCP sources tell me that he is scheduled to spend the rest of the weekend canvassing door-to-door with Markham-Stouffville candidate Theodore Antony, attending a BBQ for Brampton-Centre candidate Pawanjit Gosal, headlining a rally with Vaughn-Woodbridge candidate Teresa Kruze, and attending an event at the Canadian Coptic Centre in support of Conservative candidates in Mississauga, among about ten other appearances.

Kenney is not the first Alberta politician to spend some time campaigning in this region of Ontario. Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney was in the area over the summer to campaign with Conservative candidates Sean Weir in Oakville North-Burlington and Ramandeep Singh Brar in Brampton-South.

If the federal Conservatives have any chance of forming government, it is believed that this is the region where that party will need to gain seats from the Liberals.

While Kenney campaigns in Ontario, he is also acutely aware of how this sort of intervention can go awry. Kenny was one of the senior Conservative Party officials who scolded then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein for contributing to his party’s defeat in the 2004 federal election.

Two days after that election was called, Klein publicly mused that his health-care reforms could possibly violate the Canada Health act, a statement which senior officials in the Conservative Party said helped Paul Martin’s Liberal Party shore up support in Ontario.

There’s pretty much unanimous consensus in the federal party that these remarks weren’t helpful,” Kenney told the Calgary Herald in 2004. “Suggesting the Alberta government was prepared to announce violations of the Canada Health Act two days after an election was giving the Liberals a big fat one over centre plate.”

Few politicians can sustain themselves in a permanent campaign-mode like Kenney can. Anyone who has been paying attention to Alberta politics over the past few years can attest that he hasn’t stopped campaigning since his jumped into provincial politics in 2017. He is a career politician who can probably out-hustle almost any of his peers, but he also carries a few suitcases worth of political baggage on his trip east.

On the issue of gun control, which the Liberals raised at the beginning of the campaign, how will Kenney’s decision to publicly endorse vigilante gun justice in rural Alberta play in suburban Ontario? Kenney will be speaking to crowds of friendly Conservative voters, but I would not be surprised to see the Liberals bird-dog Kenney on this issue during his Ontario tour.

Kenney has also spent much of the past two years fanning the flames of western alienation against Ottawa and other provinces over the national equalization formula and the expansion of oil pipelines – but mostly against Trudeau. He has also launched a crusade against climate change and environmental groups who he and his supporters claim are funded by nefarious foreign sources.

While Kenney is certainly not a separatist, he is trying to do what many past Alberta premiers have done in order to position themselves as the province’s great defender against the political interests of Central Canada.

Stoking western alienation will help solidify Kenney’s support among Conservative voters at home but it could also poison Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa even further if Trudeau’s Liberals are re-elected on October 21. This could help explain why no Alberta premier has parlayed their provincial success to federal politics – something Kenney may want to consider as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario this weekend.


Notley plays coy about her federal vote

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP

Rachel Notley

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the official opposition, continues to play coy when asked who she is planning to vote for in the October 21 federal election. “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate’s best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona,” Notley told CBC.

This comment will certainly not be helpful for the federal NDP in Edmonton-Strathcona, where the popular Notley remains MLA for the provincial riding of the same name. Heather McPherson is hoping to hold on to the seat held since 2008 by retiring NDP MP Linda Duncan. Many of Notley’s close supporters helped propel McPherson to a narrow victory over Paige Gorsak in a November 2018 nomination contest.

While I would be surprised if Notley did not vote for McPherson on October 21, it does demonstrate the deep distrust between the provincial and federal wings of the NDP in Alberta over issues like the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. While some former NDP MLAs defeated in the April 2019 election have been actively campaigning for federal NDP candidates, Notley and her current 24 NDP MLA caucus remain nowhere to be seen on the federal campaign trail in Alberta.


The kamakaze campaign that just won’t die

CBC investigative reporters have dived deep into the allegations of fraud and misuse of voting kiosks by Kenney’s campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest. According to CBC, the RCMP, which has been tight-lipped on the status and focus of its investigation, will only say it continues to investigate allegations of fraud as it relates to the 2017 UCP leadership race.

Janice MacKinnon

MacKinnon Report endorses Jason Kenney’s political agenda, doesn’t fix Alberta’s big revenue problems

The report and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, known widely as the MacKinnon Report, after the panel’s chairperson – former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and history professor Janice MacKinnon – was released yesterday.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney

The report is an endorsement of the United Conservative Party government plan to implement deep cuts to public sector funding, a wide-range of drastic changes to how Alberta’s public services are delivered (or delivered at all), and the use of legislative tools to interfere with the collective bargaining process.

When reading the panel’s report and recommendations, it is important to remember this is not a neutral or academic document. The MacKinnon Report is very much a political document written by political people who were appointed because they share the government’s vision.

Despite her past political affiliation as an NDP cabinet minister in Saskatchewan, MacKinnon’s fiscal conservative views make her more likely to feel welcome in the UCP or the Fraser Institute than in a party led by Rachel Notley or Jagmeet Singh. For decades MacKinnon has been a champion of fiscal conservatism and more recently provided an enthusiastic endorsement that was prominently displayed in the UCP’s election platform.

The MacKinnon Report calls for funding freezes or cuts to public services across the board, including increased privatization of health services, changing the funding formula for Alberta schools (and likely introducing more private and charter schools), increasing government control of post-secondary institutions and lifting the current freeze on tuition fees, and downloading more infrastructure costs on municipalities.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

In yesterday’s press conference announcing the report, MacKinnon suggested that “fewer hospitals” could be a solution to cutting the health care budget, which should raise giant red flags in rural communities across Alberta. During her time as Saskatchewan’s finance minister, 52 rural hospitals were closed as a result of budget cuts.

The report’s suggestion that the government scale back capital investments could also spell trouble for the much-needed new hospital in southwest Edmonton, which was announced by the previous New Democratic Party government in 2017.

The recommended cuts and creation of legislative mechanisms to interfere with the collective bargaining processes are likely designed to create strife with public sector unions whose members would be directly impacted by these cuts – a group that the UCP is eager to pick fights with.

For anyone who grew up or lived in Alberta in the 1990s, it may feel like deja-vu.

When premier Ralph Klein and treasurer Jim Dinning imposed drastic cuts on public services, Albertans were told that balancing the budget and paying down the provincial debt was necessary to get Alberta’s fiscal house in order. At the time, a young anti-tax crusader named Jason Kenney cheered on those cuts, going so far as to tell the Western Report that “Education will be the toughest area to cut, but it will also be the most important. If the government backs down on this one, then the entire Klein revolution will fail.”

Successive governments, both Progressive Conservative and NDP, spent decades trying to fix the damage those short-sighted cuts had on Alberta’s communities, public infrastructure and public services.

The “blue ribbon” panel was created to provide an endorsement of Premier Kenney’s political program, and, if its recommendations are adopted, could be the most radically ideologically conservative agenda Albertans have seen in decades. It is a far cry from the technocratic conservative agenda meticulously implemented by former prime minister Stephen Harper, who Kenney served dutifully in Ottawa.

Unlike Harper, there is no indication that Kenney is interested in half-measures or incrementalism.

Alberta still has a big revenue problem

The narrow mandate of this panel was a missed opportunity to actually address the fiscal challenges facing Alberta, which includes issues with revenue ranging from low taxation and over-dependence on oil and gas royalty revenues.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP

Rachel Notley

The report briefly mentions that over-dependence on unreliable natural resource revenue is an issue, but the panel was specifically told not to provide recommendations to fix the revenue problem – only spending. Both MacKinnon and Finance Minister Travis Toews repeated the government’s well-used talking points during yesteday’s press conference – that Alberta has a spending problem and not a revenue problem.

The report frequently compares public sector spending in Alberta with British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, but only when it comes to government spending. The big problem with comparing Alberta with our provincial counterparts on the spending side is that our revenue – generated through taxes – is significantly lower than every other province.

If Alberta had the same level of taxation as BC, which is the second lowest in Canada, then Alberta could have no deficit and could be collecting billions of dollars in additional revenue each year. 

By not addressing the revenue challenges faced by the Alberta government, the MacKinnon Report shows it was created to justify the spending cuts and privatization of public services that the UCP was likely already planning to implement. Remember, this is a political document.

It’s hard to criticize the MacKinnon Report without also laying some criticism at the feet of the past PC and NDP governments who did not fix Alberta’s revenue problems when they had the chance. Had the NDP been as aggressive in fixing Alberta’s long-standing revenue problems as the UCP will be in attacking government spending, we might not be reading the MacKinnon Report today.

Postmedia gives Albertans one more reason to drink on this May Long

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announced through press release and a video on YouTube that the “war on fun” being waged by the “nanny state” was coming to an end as the government relaxes alcohol restrictions at festivals and in parks, including lifting the annual ban on liquor in provincial campgrounds over the May long weekend.

Kenney referenced prohibition-era laws in the video, but the May long weekend ban at some provincial campgrounds was only first imposed in 2004, when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. Klein had supposedly sworn-off alcohol by that point in his political career but he could hardly be described as a prohibitionist.

We are confident that this proactive approach will aid in making some of Alberta’s most popular provincial parks safer and more enjoyable places for families to camp on long weekends,” said then-Minister of Community Development Gene Zwozdesky in the press release announcing the temporary liquor ban.

The 2004 government press release reinforced the reason for the ban: “During the 2003 May long weekend, there were a total of 239 recorded liquor-related enforcement action occurrences in Alberta’s 68 provincial parks, including written warnings, charges, arrests and evictions.”

Campers in parks across Alberta will find out quickly whether this or future May long weekends result in a return to the alcohol-fuel chaos that led to the ban in the first place. 

Giving Albertans another reason to drink this weekend is Postmedia Network Inc.

The company that owns the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Journal and dozens of other daily and local newspapers in Alberta and across Canada has hired a lobbyist to “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

The registered lobbyist hired by Postmedia is Wellington Advocacy CEO Nick Koolsbergen, who served as United Conservative caucus chief of staff and the party’s campaign director in the April 2019 election. Koolsbergen announced on Twitter days after the election that was leaving the UCP to “to spend some time in the private sector.” He soon after announced he was starting a new lobbyist company with former federal Conservative staffer Rachel Curran.

During the election campaign, Kenney pledged to fund a $30-million “war room” to respond to critics of the oil and gas industry, including environmental groups and Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The energy war room is essentially a $30-million public relations subsidy for some of the wealthiest corporations operating in Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage is reported to have said more information about the war room will be released soon. Criticism of the new UCP government is expected to increase as Nixon moves to repeal the entire Climate Leadership Plan implemented by the previous New Democratic Party government led by Rachel Notley.

It would appear that Postmedia is fishing for a cut of the war room advertising money, likely for its “Content Works” division, which creates advertisements in the style of an editorial or news article. Literal fake news funded by taxpayers. The whole thing stinks.

Postmedia’s conservative editorial bias is well-known. Despite attempts by some local editors-in-chief to maintain local autonomy, the Toronto-based company has in required its newspapers to publish prescribed election endorsements of Conservative parties across the country.

This is not the first time Canada’s largest media company has become involved with oil and gas industry advocacy. In 2014, it was revealed that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers made a pitch to Postmedia Network’s board of directors to create an “Energy Channel Sponsorship” for Postmedia newspapers to “amplify” CAPP’s “energy mandate.”

Some of the largest energy companies have been accused of spending $1 billion to undermine efforts to combat climate change over the past decade.

And as Postmedia is positioning itself for a role in the war room, its CEO Paul Godfrey is one of the key players agitating for funding from a new $595 million federal government media fund.

So this weekend as you relax in your lawn chair in one of Alberta’s beautiful provincial parks, forget about toasting a monarch who has been dead for 118-years, as Kenney and Nixon did in their video. Instead, raise a responsible drink or two for efforts to combat climate change, the freedom of the press, and for those poor reporters working for Postmedia who are just trying to do good journalism despite the best attempts of their bosses in Toronto.

Rachel Notley’s focus on Calgary, Andrew Scheer coming to Alberta, and Stephen Mandel goes to Alaska

With five days remaining in Alberta’s election campaign, here is a quick look at what I have been watching today:

Notley woos Calgary

NDP leader Rachel Notley is expected to spend a lot of time in Calgary during the final five days of the campaign. Today she spoke about her pledge to expand Alberta’s $25/day childcare program at a press event today and spoke at a rally in central Calgary in support of Calgary-Mountain View candidate Kathleen Ganley and Calgary-Varsity candidate Anne McGrath this evening.

The NDP campaign has revolved around Notley, who is the party’s strongest asset, with signs showing her name and smiling face appearing as frequently as local candidate’s in electoral districts across Alberta.

While the 20 to 30 per cent province-wide lead that the United Conservative Party held months ago appears to have evaporated into a 6 to 10 per cent lead, most polls show the NDP are still in second place in Calgary. With the NDP appearing to hold a healthy lead in Edmonton and the UCP dominating in rural Alberta, the narrative in the final week of the campaign has become all about Calgary.

But the regional divide is only one part of the picture. As Jason Markusoff noted in his Maclean’s election newsletter, some polls suggest there is a significant divide in party support among men and women, with one poll showing the UCP leading among men by 16 points and the NDP leading among women by 1 point. The prominence of nasty social conservative comments raised in this campaign, like the ones made by UCP candidate Mark Smith from Drayton Valley-Devon, has likely contributed to this gender divide.

Scheer comes to Alberta

Federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer will campaign with UCP leader Jason Kenney at a event in Calgary tomorrow, which is expected to include a big focus on the Notley, Justin Trudeau and the carbon tax.

Scheer’s appearance comes days after Kenney has threatened to enact legislation to shut off the flow of oil and gas to British Columbia if that province’s government opposes the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Such a move would almost certainly be unconstitutional, which is why the NDP passed but never proclaimed the law, and would likely foster more opposition to Alberta’s efforts than create support.

But back to Scheer… it is somewhat unusual to see a federal Conservative party leader campaigning in a provincial election in Alberta.

For most of the past three decades, there have been deep political divides between the various dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties in Alberta. Many political observers may have forgotten that even Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein personally campaigned for the federal PC Party candidate running against Reform Party leader Preston Manning in the 1993 federal election.

It is important to recognize that the merger of the PC and Wildrose parties in 2017 was just as much about uniting those two parties as it was creating a dominant provincial conservative party that would march in step with the Conservative Party in Ottawa. With this in mind, Kenney remains very much a national politician with ambitions beyond the Premier’s Office in Edmonton.

Scheer’s appearance on the campaign trail will come the day after it was revealed that his campaign chair, Hamish Marshall, allegedly threatened to sue the UCP over voting security during the party’s 2017 leadership race. CBC reported that email addresses fraudulently attached to party memberships were used to cast ballots in the party’s leadership race and there were virtually no safeguards against the practice.

Alaska, ho!

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel has proposed the creation of a rail-pipeline corridor to Alaska. The creation of a northern corridor to transport Alberta’s natural resources is not a new idea in Alberta politics.

In 1972, PC cabinet minister Dave Russell publicly suggested that Alberta should annex parts of the North West and Yukon territories: “It makes sense in view of transportation and pipelines,” Russell told the Calgary Herald on April 19, 1972.

Notley and Kenney visit Lethbridge on Day 2 of Alberta’s election, UCP appoints Jeremy Wong in Calgary-Mountain View

Photo: Lethbridge NDP candidates Maria Fitzpatrick and Shannon Phillips, and UCP candidates Nathan Neudorf and Karri Flatla.

Where the party leaders go during the first few days of the election campaign can sometimes give a good indication of where the parties are focusing their resources and what message they want to send to voters.

Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley announced the election call in central Calgary, where the NDP hope to create a battleground in this election. Today, Notley started the second day of the election in Edmonton and later travelled to Red Deer to campaign with MLAs Kim Schreiner and Barb Miller, She finished her day in Lethbridge to speak at the Canadian Union of Public Employees provincial convention and will be in the city tomorrow to support MLAs Shannon Phillips and Maria Fitzpatrick.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenny started the campaign in Leduc, south of Edmonton, and kicked off his party’s campaign at the office of Edmonton-City Centre candidate Lily Le. The UCP are hoping to make gains in Edmonton in this election. Today, Kenney also headed south to Lethbridge to support candidates Karri Flatla and Nathan Neudorf.

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel spent the first two days of the election in Edmonton, where his party hopes to capitalize on his name-recognition as mayor of the city from 2004 to 2013. And Liberal Party leader David Khan was in Calgary, where he is expected to focus on his race in Calgary-Mountain View.

That both Notley and Kenney visited Lethbridge in the first few days of the election signifies how much both parties feel how important and competitive the city’s two districts could be in this election.

Lethbridge’s electoral history is more liberal-leaning than most of the surrounding region in southern Alberta, likely due to the influence of the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College and a large number of public sector workers in the city. Even during Ralph Klein’s time as premier, the Liberals either won a plurality of the votes or match the PC vote in the city’s, mostly due to the large margins of victory earned by Lethbridge-East MLAs Ken Nicol and Bridget Pastoor.

As the Liberal vote collapsed in 2012, Phillips came close to winning in Lethbridge-West in 2012,. The NDP swept both districts in 2015 with significant margins. As Minister of Environment and Parks, Shannon Phillips has been a key player in Notley’s cabinet and a strong advocate for the city in the Legislature. This makes Phillips a target for the UCP and the reason why Kenney travelled to Lethbridge to re-announce his plans to cancel climate change initiatives like the carbon tax.

Here is a look at the voting history of the two Lethbridge districts over the past 26 years.

Here is a list of the candidates running in the two Lethbridge districts, as of March 20, 2019:

Lethbridge-East
Alberta Independence: John McCanna
Liberal: Devon Hargreaves [Facebook, Twitter]
NDP: Maria Fitzpatrick [FacebookTwitter]
UCP: Nathan Neudorf [Facebook]

Lethbridge-West
Alberta Independence: Ben Maddison
Alberta Party: Zac Rhodenizer [Facebook, Twitter]
Liberal: Pat Chizek
NDP: Shannon Phillips [FacebookTwitter]
UCP: Karri Flatla [FacebookTwitter]


UCP appoints Jeremy Wong to replace Caylan Ford

The UCP announced that it has appointed Jeremy Wong as the UCP candidate in Calgary-Mountain View following the resignation of star candidate Caylan Ford earlier this week. Wong ran against Ford for the nomination in December 2018. He is a pastor with the Calgary Chinese Alliance Church and recently completed a Master of Public Administration at the University of Calgary.

The UCP now have three candidate vacancies remaining, with nominating meetings scheduled to take place in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood on March 21, Edmonton-Ellerslie on March 23, and Edmonton-Mill Woods on March 24.

Tax On, Tax Off: Kenney calls for tax cuts for corporations, Greens call for PST in Alberta

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney says his party will cut Alberta’s corporate income tax down to 8 per cent from 12 per cent, which would give Alberta by far the lowest corporate taxes in Canada. Alberta’s current corporate income tax rate for corporations earning more than $500,000 in annual income was increased from 10 percent to 12 per cent by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government after the 2015 election.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney

Kenney’s call to cut corporate income taxes is not surprising, as his party sees significant cuts to both taxes and government spending as a solution to the Alberta government’s fiscal woes.

Kenney’s ideological aversion to taxes and public spending in general is well known going back to his time as a spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation more than 20 years ago.

Next to the criminal law power that we wield in Parliament, the power to collect taxes is the most significant and potentially destructive power. Some have said that the power to tax is the power to destroy,” Kenney said as a Reform Party MP in Ottawa in December 1998. 

Lowering the corporate income tax this low is not an original idea, but it is unclear what advantage cutting corporate income taxes this low would really give Albertans.

The Alberta Corporate Tax Amendment Act introduced by Revenue Minister Greg Melchin in 2002 set a target of 8 per cent for the corporate income tax rate, but the Progressive Conservative government never let the rate dip below 10 per cent.

Kenney has also pledged to repeal the provincial government’s carbon tax, cut the minimum wage, and has mused about cutting personal income taxes for those paying into the highest tax brackets by reimposing the 10 per cent flat tax.

Joel French Alberta

Joel French

Notley’s promise to increase corporate income taxes in 2015 to fill the gap left by plummeting oil and gas royalties led to the most notable exchange in that election’s leaders’ debate, when PC Party leader Jim Prentice got in trouble for sharply responding to Notley’s that “I know math is difficult.” The “math” comment was received poorly, to say the least, and the reaction from Alberta’s corporate leaders helped the NDP soar in the polls until election day.

Albertans gave this government a strong mandate to act on its promises: That was to ask top-income earners to pay a little bit more for the betterment of all and to ask corporations who benefited the most during stronger economic times to contribute fairly to rebuilding our province,” Finance Minister Joe Ceci told the Globe & Mail shortly before the corporate income taxes were increased in 2015.

It is notable that even under Notley’s NDP government, Alberta’s corporate income taxes today are still lower than the 15.5 per cent they were when Ralph Klein became Premier in 1992 (which was then the third-lowest corporate income tax rate in Canada). Notley’s NDP also lowered the small business tax rate from 3 per cent to 2 per cent, which is also significantly lower than the 6 per cent rate when Klein became premier. But this is not necessarily something to brag about in a province that continues to struggle with its chronic over-reliance on royalty revenues.

As noted by Public Interest Alberta executive director Joel French in a May 2018 opinion-editorial in the Edmonton Journal, “Applying the tax system of any other province to Alberta would raise us a minimum of $11.2 billion in additional annual revenue, more than covering the projected $8.8-billion deficit in this year’s budget.

With a young and growing population, slashing the corporate income taxes that help fund the day to day operations of government, like the public education and public health care that Albertans depend on to preserve our high quality of life, sounds short-sighted.

With a lack of policy proposals and campaign promises coming from the NDP during this pre-election period, this is another example of Kenney and the UCP dominating the media coverage going into the provincial election.

Carl Svoboda Green Party Alberta Calgary Edgemont

Carl Svoboda

Meanwhile, the Green Party of Alberta has strapped itself to one of the third rails of Alberta politics by calling for the creation of a Provincial Sales Tax. Many political watchers and economists have called for the creation of a sales tax to help diversify the government’s revenue sources, but politicians of all stripes have been extremely reluctant to take a position in favour of a PST in Alberta.

The other parties are terrified to mention a sales tax other than to denounce it, but the Green Party is not. It is time for Alberta to start acting like a normal province and bring in a sales tax,” said Green Party public finance shadow critic Carl Svoboda, who is running in Calgary-Edgemont.

In another political universe, this might have been something championed by the NDP, but not in Alberta in 2019.

With no MLAs in the Legislature, the Alberta Greens may have little to lose by calling for the creation of a PST, but by taking this position they do open the door to a much-needed PST debate a little bit wider.

Child poverty in Alberta drops by half in two years

Alberta has the lowest child poverty rate in the country at 5 per cent, having managed to cut its rate in half in just two years, between 2015 and 2017. University of Calgary economist Ron Kneebone told The Star Calgary that the the national Canada Child Benefit and the Alberta Child Benefit were the biggest reasons for this improvement.

Elizabeth May comes to Alberta

Speaking of the Green Party, federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May will visit Alberta later this week with stops in Calgary on March 7 and Edmonton on March 8, 2019.

Premier Rachel Notley delivered a pre-campaign speech at a rally in downtown Calgary (photo credit: @SKGreer on Twitter)

Notley is the Alberta NDP’s strongest asset. Don’t expect to see ‘Team Kenney’ logos on UCP lawn signs.

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley delivered a pre-campaign speech at a rally in downtown Calgary today (photo credit: @SKGreer on Twitter)

As has been widely reported this week, the Alberta New Democratic Party has purposely shifted the focus of their political material onto their greatest asset, Premier Rachel Notley. The NDP began replacing the NDP logo with a Rachel Notley logo on their social media images back in April 2018, but the party recently highlighted this focus with the launch of their new RachelNotley.ca campaign website.

The move has been attacked by critics of the NDP, who claim the party is nefariously attempting to distance itself from its unpopular federal cousins. The NDP are probably trying to distance itself from the Jagmeet Singh-led federal NDP, but there is nothing nefarious about it. Campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Rachel Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Jason Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.

Putting the focus on party leaders is nothing new in Alberta politics.

A PC Party advertisement from the 1971 Alberta election.

In 1971, much of the Progressive Conservative Party’s advertising and messaging revolved around Peter Lougheed. The “Lougheed Team” focused on the party’s young and dynamic leader and the impressive slate of candidates that surrounded him.

While Alberta politics have certainly changed since the 1970s, Notley frequently evokes the memory of popular Lougheed in her media statements and campaign speeches.

Ralph’s Team’ was a slogan the PC Party used in the 1990s, putting the focus on their popular party leader, Ralph Klein. And the federal Liberal Party attempted a similar move when they placed ‘Team Martin’ logos on their campaign signs and material during the 2004 election.

As Postmedia columnist Keith Gerein wrote last week, the two main party leaders have divergent popularity among their parties own supporters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley remains wildly popular among NDP voters.

United Conservative Party has a massive lead in the polls, but party leader Jason Kenney is much less popular than the party he now leads, which which is why Albertans will probably not spot any “Team Kenney” logos when the election is called this spring.

Almost all NDP MLA’s should know they have Notley’s leadership to thank for their electoral fortunes in the 2015 election, the same might not be said of UCP candidates and their leader in 2019. If the UCP’s strong support holds, many of that party’s candidate could be elected despite their leader’s lower approval ratings.

Any leader who’s popularity falls below that of the party they lead inevitably becomes vulnerable to leadership challenges and caucus revolts, as Don Getty, Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, and in the dying days of his premiership, Ralph Klein, discovered. Conservatives in Alberta have been ruthless with their party leadership and rarely tolerate weaknesses that could jeopardize electoral success.

It is yet to be seen whether Kenney will fall into this category, which will probably depend on what the UCP caucus looks like after Election Day. If the UCP caucus is large, Kenney’s leadership could be secure. But as Stelmach and Klein discovered, large caucuses are impressive but can be unruly and difficult to manage. If he does fall into the traps sprung by previous Conservative premiers, look to UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Nathan Cooper, Leela Aheer and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean to be eyeing the Premier’s chair.

Rachel Notley on the other hand might not be as vulnerable, even if the NDP is defeated in 2019. If her party does better than expected in 2019, even electing 25 or 30 MLAs, the NDP caucus and members may come to the conclusion that Notley remains their strongest asset and could be their best bet at returning to government in 2023. They could encourage her to remain party leader.

As an opposition leader, Notley would be fierce and lead an actual government-in-waiting, not something Albertans are used to having. It would also signal whether the NDP will remain in its centre-leftish position or embrace a more aggressive progressive agenda advocated by some members.

While Notley remaining in the party leadership beyond a 2019 loss may go against some of the common popular opinion about former premiers, past NDP premiers Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan and Dave Barrett in British Columbia both led their parties into elections following defeats. Barrett even went on to have a career in federal politics and nearly became leader of the federal NDP in 1989.

I am probably getting ahead of myself, as this year’s election has not even been officially called, but scenarios like these are certainly something that many political watchers are thinking about.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background.

Former Speaker Gene Zwozdesky has died at age 70. The “Wizard of Zwoz” started as a Liberal and became the PC Party’s charm machine.

Gene Zwozdesky, the former Speaker of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, has died of cancer at the age of 70.

Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.

Gene Zwozdesky Alberta MLA

Gene Zwozdesky’s official MLA portrait photo in 1997.

A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.

Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes castLed by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.

He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.

Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.

In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed to cabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.

As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive. 

Only three weeks into the job he’s the Wizard of Zwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.

In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.

He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.

While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision. 

He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.

Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.

Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.

Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)

24-hours in the life of a student leader the day tuition was removed from legislation

Photo: ACTISEC President Jon Hoffman, Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, NDP MLA Raj Pannu, and CAUS Chairperson Dave Cournoyer in the media room at the Alberta Legislature on May 9, 2006.

This week’s news about the Alberta Government extending the tuition freeze and legislating the formula to increase tuition reminded me of the day I came very close to being kicked out of the Legislature.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt introduced Bill 19: An Act to Improve the Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education in the Legislative Assembly this week. If passed, Bill 19 will implement a new framework that will regulate tuition and mandatory non-instructional fees and provide a new measure of fairness for students enrolled at Alberta’s colleges and universities.

Bill 19 will cap each post-secondary institutions average tuition and apprenticeship fee increases to the Consumer Price Index and allow the minister to regulate mandatory non-instructional fees and international student tuition. It also gives student leaders a more meaningful voice in the process.

These are significant changes but, closer to the heart of this writer, Schmidt is bringing Alberta’s tuition policy out from behind the closed doors of the government boardrooms and returning it to public light in legislation.

In 2006, I was elected Vice-President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union and chosen as chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students, an organization that represented undergraduate students from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge. It was a interesting time to be a student leader in Alberta. The price of oil was high and political change was in the air.

After 13 years as premier, Ralph Klein was approaching the end of his time in office, and he was backtracking on a pledge made during a 2005 televised address that Alberta would have the most affordable tuition in Canada.

It happened that May 9, 2006 was an exciting and dramatic day to step in a new role as chairperson of CAUS. Then-Minister of Advanced Education Denis Herard announced he would introduce Bill 40: Post-secondary Learning Amendment Act, which would remove the tuition formula from the Post-Secondary Learning Act and move it into regulations. The formula as it then existed was complicated and needed to be reformed, but removing it from legislation meant that future changes to how much tuition could be raised in Alberta would be made in a closed door cabinet meeting, rather than required to be debated in front of the public on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

The leaders of Alberta’s student movement were concerned that removing the policy from legislation would lead to further increases, rather than the affordability Klein had promised.

We decided that a quick response was best.

My first full-day as CAUS chairperson started with an early morning press conference in the media room in the basement of the Alberta Legislature Building.It was my first time participating in a press conference of any kind where I would be front and centre.

I was joined by Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, ACTISEC president Jon Hoffman, and the Advanced Education critics from the Liberal and New Democratic Party critics, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu.

It was a big deal at the time that the Liberal and NDP critics joined us at the press conference, and it may have been the first time the two parties had ever participated in a press conference together. I remember there were some moments of heated dispute between staffers from the two opposition caucuses about which critic would speak first, and I recall the issue was settled in favour of Pannu because the NDP Caucus had booked the media room for the press conference.

The media room was packed with reporters as we read our statements arguing for transparency and accountability of the cost of education. It was the first time I had ever done something like this and it was nerve racking. Without the help of Moore-Kilgannon (who is now Minister Schmidt’s Chief of Staff) and the incredibly resourceful Duncan Wojtaszek, then-executive director of CAUS, I am not sure I would have even had my talking points straight.

It was political maneuvering on our part to hold the early morning press conference. We hoped to pre-empt a press conference that the minister of advanced education was scheduled to hold on the same topic later that morning. Little did we know that Herard would never show up to his own press conference.

After our media event ended we did a few more interviews and later joined the representatives from the University of Calgary Students’ Union for a tour of the Legislature. While on the tour, NDP Caucus staffer Tony Clark rushed to tell us that the minister had canceled his press conference and snuck out of the building before the media could track him down.

With that news in hand, we held an impromptu media scrum on the third floor of the Legislature. It wasn’t until I spotted Klein walk past our scrum that I realized that we had planted ourselves right outside the doors of Room 307 – the Premier’s Office – which was apparently considered a major security violation.

To our surprise, after the scum ended and the reporters disbursed to file their stories, U of A SU president Samantha Power and I were escorted by Legislature security to the front doors of the building. The guards gave us a stern talk about why we weren’t allowed to hold a scrum outside the Premier’s Office. After some heated negotiations, we convinced the guards that evicting us and presumably banning us from re-entering the building would result in us holding another press conference on the Legislature steps minutes later.

I didn’t believe that day could get any more exciting but I was proven wrong when CAUS received an urgent call from the Minister Herard’s office. He wanted to meet with us as soon as possible.

We met with the minister a few hours later in a conference room at the Delta Hotel in downtown Edmonton. The meeting was memorable but completely underwhelming. The minister listened to our arguments why keeping the tuition policy in legislation would ensure transparency and accountability for students but he offered nothing more than platitudes and strange metaphors in return.

Herard’s short time in cabinet would be remembered for his desire to “cross the wisdom bridge” and “build an army of mentors.”

Eight days later, Progressive Conservative MLAs voted to remove the tuition policy from legislation by passing Bill 40. The minister was shuffled into the backbenchers later that year when Ed Stelmach entered the Premier’s Office.

At the press conference early that morning, I told the assembled media that students were prepared to wait until the next time the legislature met to have a new policy implemented, so that the policy would be embedded in an act of the legislature. If the tuition policy was not in legislation, it was no good to us, I said.

I never expected the policy to ever be returned to legislation. And while the fight to lower the cost of and eliminate tuition fees needs to continue, 12 years later the tuition policy is finally out from behind closed doors and back where it should be – enshrined in legislature. And it is a big deal.

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.