Tag Archives: Reform Party of Canada

Kenney’s Alberta Autonomy Panel given questions answered 15 years ago by Klein’s Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation Committee

Things are getting pretty weird in Alberta.

Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.

Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.

Kenney’s panel is both a continuation of his personal political campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s Liberal Party was re-elected with a large minority government, and a reaction to the frustration felt by many of the 70 per cent of Albertans who voted for Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party.

While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.

Panel members include former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (who has openly warned about separatism), former one-term Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans (who recently wrote a blog post asking if Trudeau has committed treason), current UCP MLAs Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao, Fraser Institute senior fellow and University of Alberta academic Moin Yahya, Canada West Foundation board chair Oryssia Lennie, former Alberta Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Jason Goodstriker, and Peter Lougheed’s son Stephen Lougheed.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity

Donna Kennedy-Glans

The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:

  • withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
  • replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
  • ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
  • opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
  • forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
  • creating an Alberta Constitution.

The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.

The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.

The panel’s mandate and the questions it is being tasked with asking are remarkably similar to the questions asked by the MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by premier Ralph Klein in November 2003.

Chaired by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Ian McClelland (a former Reform Party Member of Parliament) and co-chaired by Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, members of the committee included Calgary-Fort MLA Wayne Cao, Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk, Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths, Calgary-Currie MLA Jon Lord, Calgary-North Hill MLA Richard Magnus, St. Albert MLA Mary O’Neill, and Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk.

The MLA committee was created in the wake of the infamous 2001 Firewall Letter, signed by right-wing luminaries Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, Andy Crooks, Ken Boessenkool, and future prime minster Stephen Harper, and in response to small but loud fringe groups like the Alberta Independence Party and the Separation Party of Alberta.

And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government. 

Ian McClelland

The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.

The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:

Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommends that Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)

Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required). By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)

Mary Anne Jablonski

Police Force: The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)

Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)

Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)

Our Future:The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)

The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.

This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.


Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again

In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.

The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.

In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.

Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.

(Photo source: Facebook)

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.

Sarah Hoffman Edmonton Glenora MLA Alberta Election 2019

Sarah Hoffman secures NDP nomination in Edmonton-Glenora, MLA Dave Hanson fends off two challengers in Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul

Minster of Health and Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman has been nominated as the New Democratic Party candidate in Edmonton-Glenora for the next election. Hoffman was first elected as MLA for this district in 2015 with 68 percent of the vote, unseating two-term Progressive Conservative MLA Heather Klimchuk. She previously served two terms on Edmonton’s Public School Board including as chair from 2012 to 2015.

Hoffman has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Premier Rachel Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I have written before, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and is on my list of cabinet ministers who I believe are future Premier material.

Dave Hanson MLA UCP Bonnyville Cold Lake St Paul

Dave Hanson

MLA Dave Hanson fended off two challengers to secure the United Conservative Party nomination in the new Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul district today. City of Cold Lake mayor Craig Copeland, who also ran for the PC Party in Bonnyville-Cold Lake in the 2015 election, and private school administrator Glenn Spiess, were unable to unseat Hanson in this contest.

Hanson was endorsed by former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who served as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin until resigning earlier this year. Copeland had the endorsement of Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative Member of Parliament David Yurdiga.

At a candidate forum held before the vote, all three candidates, including Hanson, expressed their support for the further privatization of health care in Alberta.

The nomination contest in this district initially looked as if it would be a contest between Hanson and Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr, but Cyr dropped out of the contest in April 2018.

Hanson was first elected in 2015 as the Wildrose MLA for Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills. He currently serves as UCP Indigenous Relations critic.

Upcoming Nomination Meetings

On September 13, 2018, UCP members in Calgary-Elbow will choose either past city council candidate Chris Davis or former party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer as their candidate in the next election. Schweitzer is a lawyer who briefly considered running for the PC Party leadership in 2017 before dropping out and later running 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.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

Schweitzer is endorsed by Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer, former PC MLA and cabinet minister Jim Dinning, and former Calgary mayoral candidate Bill Smith. And Davis is endorsed by retired oil company executive Allan Markin and Kudatah leader George Clark.

Whoever wins this nomination will face Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark, who was first elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015.

UCP members in Grande Prairie-Wapiti will choose their next candidate on September 14, 2018. With incumbent UCP MLA Wayne Drysdale not seeking re-election in 2019, party members will choose between Sexsmith town councillor, family literacy coordinator and former bible school registrar Kate Potter and former president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Travis Toews.

Toews is being endorsed by Walter Paszkowski (MLA for Smoky River from 1989 to 1993, and MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 1993 to 2001),Everett McDonald (MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2012 to 2015), and County of Grande Prairie councillor Peter Harris.

Former Liberal Party MLA Mo Elsalhy is expected to be nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-South West on September 15, 2018. Elsalhy was the MLA for Edmonton-McClung from 2004 and 2008 and ran for the party leadership in 2008. He attempted a comeback in 2012 but was unable unseat PC MLA David Xiao. During his time as MLA he served in various critic roles, including as Official Opposition critic for Justice and Public Safety, and Innovation and Science.

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

UCP members in Edmonton-Rutherford will select their next candidate on September 15, 2018.  Four candidates are seeking the nomination: MacEwan University assistant professor Rafat Alam, Shaun Collicott, Laine Larson, and Hannah Presakarchuk.

CBC reported in May 2018 that Larson has questioned vaccination science and has suggested parents may be harming their children by vaccinating them against disease. Larson is an independent contractor and the step-son of former Reform Party Member of Parliament Deborah Grey.

NDP MLA Danielle Larivee is expected to be nominated as her party’s candidate in Lesser Slave Lake on September 16, 2018. Larivee was first elected in 2015, unseating seven-term PC MLA Pearl Calahasen. Larivee currently serves as Minister of Children’s Services and Minister for the Status of Women.

Marvin Olsen expected to be chosen as the Alberta Party candidate in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville on September 16, 2018. Olsen is the owner of Grim’s Contracting Ltd. Previously declared nomination candidate Campbell Pomeroy withdrew his name from the contest.

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

Calgary-Klein – Julie Huston has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest.

Calgary-LougheedRachel Timmermans has been selected as the Alberta Party candidate in this southwest Calgary district. Timmermans, a Mount Royal University policy studies student, will face UCP leader Jason Kenney in the next election.

Calgary-NorthTommy Low is seeking the UCP nomination.

Calgary-North EastGurbachan Brar is seeking the NDP nomination in this new north east Calgary district. Brar is a former President of the Punjabi Likhari Sabha and a former broadcaster at RED FM 106.7.

CamroseKevin Smook is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Smook is councillor for Division 1 on Beaver County council, where he was first elected in 2013. He served as Reeve of Beaver County from 2014 to 2017.

Edmonton-Rutherford – Aisha Rauf defeated Arnold D’Souza to secure the Alberta Party nomination. She is an instructor and according to her website biography is waiting for her PhD Linguistics thesis defence. She was interviewed in a September 2017 episode of the Broadcast.

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!


Former NDP leader, school trustee Ray Martin releasing new book

Ray Martin NDP MLA School Trustee Edmonton Alberta

Ray Martin

Former MLA Ray Martin is releasing his memoir, “Made in Alberta: The Ray Martin Story” on September 27, 2018.

Martin is the former leader of the Alberta NDP and served as leader of the Official Opposition in the Legislative Assembly from 1984 to 1993. He was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Norwood from 1982 to 1993 and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 2004 to 2008, and ran for the provincial NDP in 9 separate elections between 1975 and 2012. He most recently served as a trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board representing Ward D from 2013 to 2017.

Martin’s decades worth of experiences in Alberta politics will certainly mean he has many interesting stories to tell. I am definitely adding this new book to my Fall 2018 reading list.

UCP draws huge crowds, huge controversy to its first policy convention

(Photo credit: @Alberta_UCP on Twitter)

With more than 2,500 party members in attendance, this weekend’s United Conservative Party founding convention was one of the biggest political events in Alberta’s recent memory. It was a big show of force for the official opposition party, which continues to dominate in the polls and fundraising.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

The convention should have been a victory lap for Jason Kenney after forcing the merger of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties and winning the new party’s leadership. Instead, the big story of the convention is how it was derailed by a membership base weirdly obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances.

Fifty-seven percent of convention delegates voted in favour of a policy that would out students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. Supporters of the policy claimed it was about parental rights, but that did not stop three MLAs from going to mic to plead with UCP members to end the madness.

“This is about outing gay kids,” said Calgary-Hays UCP MLA Ric McIver as he pleaded with party members not to pass the policy. “Don’t be called the Lake of Fire party, I’m begging you. This will really severely hurt our chances at winning. Don’t do that to yourself.”

“When we’re talking about freedoms, that means all people’s freedoms. That means making sure that children have safe spaces in schools,” urged Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

But the pleas from the MLAs were not enough to change the minds of members, including a well organized contingent of social conservatives, at the convention.

The debate over this motion came only days after Edmonton’s Pride Festival Society rejected the UCP’s application to march in this year’s pride parade. A similar application was rejected by Calgary’s Pride festival in August 2017.

Even though it was Kenney’s comments about Gay-Straight Alliances that reignited this issue back in March 2017, he now says he won’t implement the policy if he becomes premier.

It could, and probably will, be argued that Kenney’s denouncement of this policy contradicted his “Grassroots Guarantee” that the party membership will determine the party’s policies. Kenney used the “guarantee” as a way of circumventing any substantive policy debates during the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

It is not clear what other member-endorsed policies Kenney will choose to ignore if and when he becomes Alberta’s next premier.

UCP members also adopted policies to eliminate the carbon tax, reintroduce a flat tax, increase privatization in health care and education, and require parental consent for invasive medical procedures on a minor (this motion was cheered by anti-abortion groups).

All things considered, it is hard to imagine that Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats could have hoped for a better outcome this weekend.

One Big Conservative Family

An underreported story of this weekend’s convention is the very close relationship between the UCP and the Conservative Party of Canada.

The presence of a federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer as a keynote speaker would have been unheard of at any provincial party convention in recent years. Scheer was joined at the convention by a number of Conservative MPs, and former leader Rona Ambrose, who spoke at the convention on a panel about women in politics.

The relationship between the federal and provincial conservative parties has always been complex, but it has been exceptionally complicated over the past three decades. The rise of the Reform Party and collapse of the federal PC Party in the early 1990s meant there was no formal alliance between the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta for many years.

Almost as soon as the Conservative Party of Canada was formed in 2003, the Alberta Alliance, and later the Wildrose Alliance and Wildrose Party split the provincial conservative movement, leaving federal Conservative MPs divided in their loyalties for the PC and Wildrose parties.

While most of the focus has been on the Wildrose-PC merger, Kenney’s “unity” extends to the federal party as well.

Thomas Mulcair reminds me of Stephen Harper

Edmonton-Centre NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton on March 26, 2014.

Edmonton-Centre NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton on March 26, 2014.

More than 500 people packed into the lobby of the Winspear Centre yesterday to watch the New Democratic Party of Canada officially nominate Edmonton-Centre‘s Lewis Cardinal as the first candidate for 2015 federal election. The selection of Edmonton-Centre as the NDP’s first nomination demonstrates that party’s desire to turn Edmonton into a battle ground in the next election.

Jack Layton NDP Edmonton

Jack Layton at a NDP rally in Edmonton during the 2008 federal election.

After Mr. Cardinal was nominated, NDP leader Thomas Muclair took to the stage to congratulate the new candidate.

During his speech, I could not help but reflect on the differences between Mr. Mulcair and former leader Jack Layton, who spoke to a raucous crowd in the same room during the 2008 federal election.

I remember being impressed with Mr. Layton’s ability to raise the level of energy in the room just with his presence. He oozed style, was charismatic and felt like a made-for-TV leader. His energy was contagious, but I could not help but question whether he had enough substance behind that style.  I always had a difficult time picturing Mr. Layton as the next Prime Minister of Canada.

This week, Mr. Mulcair’s speech to the crowd at the Winspear was more business than partisan play. Unlike Mr. Layton’s high-energy speech in 2008, Mr. Mulcair’s speech focused on the policy and values that differentiates his party from the Conservatives and Liberals. The partisans cheered, but he did not generate the same type of excitement in the room that his predecessor was able to.

Mr. Mulcair’s speech reminded me of what Stephen Harper sounded like before the Conservatives formed government in Ottawa eight years ago. What he delivered was a perfectly acceptable grounded speech. Mr. Mulcair sounded like he could be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Side note: A great concert hall and an excellent venue, the Winspear Centre is named for philanthropist Francis Winspear, who, along with Preston Manning,  helped found of the Reform Party of Canada in 1987.