Tag Archives: Ric McIver

United Conservative Party Caucus Gay-Straight Alliances

Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill

Photo: Jason Kenney with UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Leela Aheer, Ric McIver and Prab Gill on October 30, 2017.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced on November 7, 2017 that his party’s MLAs will vote against Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances.

David Eggen

Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.

The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

The bill has the support of Premier Rachel Notley‘s 54 New Democratic Party MLAs, 2 Alberta Party MLAs and Liberal MLA David Swann, making its passage into law almost certain. Numerous public school board trustees have voiced their support for the bill.

Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”

Fort McMurray Catholic School District board chair Paula Galenzoski told Fort McMurray Today that “Our board has always been supportive of our LGBT community and LGBT students, and the health and inclusion of all students. If a person isn’t able to stay safe in their environment, then we’re failing big.”

Even former MLA Jeff Wilson, who served as a Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Shaw from 2012 to 2015, is urging UCP MLAs to vote in favour of Bill 24.

The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.

The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.

As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.

Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.

The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.

United Conservative Party leadership candidates Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Tracking MLA endorsements in the UCP leadership race

Members of the United Conservative Party will be selecting the party’s first permanent leader on October 28, 2017. After of this week’s fee payment deadline, four candidates will be listed on the ballot: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Of the 28 UCP MLAs represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, nineteen have endorsed candidates in this leadership race (I am including Jean, the only sitting MLA in the contest, who has obviously endorsed himself). Here is a map showing which UCP MLAs have endorsed which leadership candidate as of September 14, 2017.Brian Jean: Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Rocky View), Wayne Anderson (Highwood), Dave Hanson (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills), Todd Loewen (Grande Prairie-Smoky), Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake), Angela Pitt (Airdrie), Ron Orr (Lacombe-Ponoka), Dave Schneider (Little Bow), Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), Glenn van Dijken (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock), Tany Yao (Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo)

Jason Kenney: Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays), Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre), Mark Smith (Drayton Valley-Devon), Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)

Doug Schweitzer: Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)

Photo: Former PC MLAs Jacquie Fenske, Don Scott, Linda Johnson and Ron Casey

Former PC MLAs running for municipal office in 2017

Alberta’s 2015 provincial election resulted in the election of 75 new MLAs in the 87 seat Legislative Assembly. More than two years after that historic election, a group of former Progressive Conservative MLAs have put forward their names to stand in the October 16, 2017 municipal elections. Here is a quick look at some of the former PC MLAs jumping into municipal politics:

  • Jacquie Fenske is running for Mayor of Strathcona County. Fenske served as the PC MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2012 until 2015 and previous to that as a Strathcona County councillor. Fenske was unseated by New Democrat Jessica Littlewood in the 2015 election.
  • Former Fort McMurray-Conklin PC MLA Don Scott is running to become the next mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Scott served on council from 2010 to 2012 and as MLA from 2012 until he was unseated by Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean in 2015. He served as Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation from 2012 to 2014 and Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education from 2014 until 2015.
  • Linda Johnson announced she is running for Calgary City Council in Ward 11. Johnson was the PC MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2012 until 2015, when she was defeated by 6 votes by New Democrat Anam Kazim. Current Ward 11 councillor Brian Pincott, who is not seeking re-election this year, is considering a run for the NDP in Calgary-Mountain View in the next provincial election.
  • Former Banff-Cochrane PC MLA Ron Casey is running for Mayor of Canmore, an office he held from 1998 to 2001 and 2004 until entering provincial politics in 2012. Casey will challenge John Borrowman, who was elected mayor in the by-election following the 2012 provincial election. Casey was unseated in the 2015 election by New Democrat Cameron Westhead.
  • Former PC MLA David Xiao is running for city council in Ward 5. Xiao was the MLA for Edmonton-McClung from 2008 to 2012 and served as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Employment and Immigration. ‘Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao’s claimed travel expenses of nearly $35,000 last year, more than any of his Edmonton colleagues,’ the CBC reported on Jan. 22, 2013. In 2014, he was disqualified from running for the federal Conservative nomination in the Edmonton-West riding. He was defeated in the 2015 election by New Democrat Lorne Dach.
  • Former PC MLA Art Johnston is running for Calgary City Council in Ward 13. Johnston was MLA for Calgary-Hays from 2004 to 2012. Johnston has the distinction of being the only MLA to endorse Alison Redford in the first round of voting in the 2011 PC leadership race and he served as parliamentary assistant to premier Redford from 2011 until 2012. He lost two bids to win his party’s nominations in advance of the 2012 election – to Rick Fraser in Calgary-South East and Ric McIver in Calgary-Hays.
  • Dave Quest had initially announced plans to run for Strathcona County council but has since withdrawn his name from the race. He served as the PC MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park from 2004 to 2015 until he was unseated by New Democrat Estefania Cortes-Vargas.

If I have missed any former MLAs running in this year’s municipal election, please let me know and I will mention them in future updates. Thanks!

Former PC MLA now organizing for the Alberta Party

Blake Pedersen MLA Medicine Hat

Blake Pedersen

Speaking of former PC MLAs… Blake Pedersen is listed as the contact person for upcoming annual general meetings for Alberta Party associations in the Medicine Hat and Cypress-Medicine Hat constituencies.

Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PCs in 2014. During his time as MLA he served as the Official Opposition critic for Culture and Innovation and Advanced Education.

He was unseated by New Democrat Bob Wanner in the 2015 election.

A rally held in the Calgary-Varisty constituency for NDP leader Rachel Notley attracted hundreds of Calgarians on May 2, 2015.

Powerful NDP fundraising machine, Kenney implodes the Tories, Liberals launch leadership campaign

The Alberta New Democratic Party raised more than the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties combined in the final quarter of 2016 and more than any other party over the entire year, according to financial disclosures published by Elections Alberta.

The NDP finished their fourth quarter fundraising drive with $798,165, compared to $511,667 for the Wildrose Party, $218,792 for the PCs, $85,930 for the Liberals and $32,612 for the Alberta Party.

This was the second consecutive quarter where the NDP raised more than the opposition Wildrose. Over the course of 2016, the NDP raised $1,985,271 in donations from individual Albertans, more than then $1,758,377 raised by the Wildrose Party.

THE INCREDIBLE IMPLODING TORIES

Alan Hallman

Alan Hallman

Despite lawsuits, fines, complaints by former MLAs, and having a campaign strategist kicked out of the party, Jason Kenney’s single-focused campaign to dissolve the PC Party and merge it with the Wildrose Party appears to be on track to win a landslide at the party’s delegate convention on March 18.

And despite claims that the party remains viable, and that its constituency associations hold more than $1.7 million in the bank, none of the three candidates claiming to support the “renewal” of the current party appear to be contenders.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

The latest explosion in the PC Party leadership race occurred over the weekend as the party executive voted to suspend the membership of long-time organizer Alan Hallman over an inappropriate tweet. Hallman, who had announced plans to sue Stephen Carter late last year, was serving a strategist, or “field organizer,” for Kenney’s campaign.

In a bombshell rebuke to the party’s elected executive, interim party leader Ric McIver publicly defended Hallman and some members of the party’s youth wing publicly appointed him as their honorary chairman the day after he was suspended. At least three members of the youth wing executive – Sierra Garner, Kyle Hoyda and Natalie Warren – tweeted they were not informed of the decision to give Hallman the honorary chairmanship before it was announced (I am told this is also a violation of the PC Party’s rules, as Hallman is no longer a party member).

It is unclear whether the blowback from McIver and Kenney’s supporters in the youth wing will convince the party executive to rescind the suspension order.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

Less than two years after being reduced to third place in the last provincial election, the party that led Alberta for almost forty-four uninterrupted years feels like a shell of its once mighty self. Once Kenney wins the leadership, there might not be anything left to merge with the Wildrose Party. Maybe that was the plan?

LIBERALS LOOKING FOR A NEW LEADER

Karen Sevcik

Karen Sevcik

The Alberta Liberals launched their leadership race over the weekend.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga notes, potential candidates to replace interim leader David Swann include include outgoing St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, former Calgary broadcaster Nirmala Naidoo, and Calgary lawyer David Khan.

“There’s an opportunity right now in the middle of that political spectrum for a kind of common sense, pragmatic solution to some of the challenges we’re facing right now,” party President Karen Sevcik told CBC Edmonton. “We think there’s some room, there’s opportunity, there’s change, and when there’s change, there’s opportunity.”

The party will hold leadership debates in Calgary on April 8 and Edmonton on May 6. Party members will announce its new leader on June 4, 2017.

PC leader Ric McIver, Wildrose MLA Nathan Cooper, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, Liberal leader David Swann and Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

Four Opposition Leaders United on Panel Boycott

While it has become common to watch the leaders of Alberta’s one Liberal and three Conservative opposition parties vote together against the New Democratic Party government in the Legislative Assembly, it is not everyday that those leaders hold a joint press conference. That happened yesterday as the four leaders pledged unity in boycotting a proposed all-party MLA panel tasked to study the childrens’ services system.

The opposition parties have raised concerns about the panel’s terms of reference, duplication of unimplemented recommendations made by previous reports, and the role played by embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir.

Here is what they said during yesterday’s press conference.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean: “We have seen panels and reports gather dust for years. This is a real opportunity to provide important changes for our children in care system, but we need to get this right. The opposition parties in Alberta are unified in making real change in our system, and we trust the NDP will accept our conditions.”

Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver: “Each and every member of the Legislative Assembly is responsible for ensuring that the children in our care are protected. We cannot in good conscience go home and spend Christmas with our families without knowing that an open and transparent process has been established to address Alberta’s deeply flawed child intervention system. We urge the NDP to accept these conditions and move this process forward.”

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark“The time for studies has passed, it’s time for action. Albertans want to know that real changes are being made to ensure all children in government care are safe. This panel should focus on ensuring the Serenitys in the system today are protected now and in the future. This issue transcends partisanship, and I ask the Minister to accept these good-faith changes.”

Liberal Party leader David Swann: “The parents, families and loved ones of children who’ve died in our care are not interested in yet another government document on how government has failed them – they want to know why nothing has been done about it. The opposition parties are united in our belief that this panel must be about implementing the solutions recommended in past reports.”

I do not have much to add to this debate that has not already been said about the sobering and heartbreaking stories of deaths of children in the care of government and government agencies. While the current NDP government is not to blame for the systematic problems that have existed in Alberta’s child welfare system for decades, they will be judged by how they now act to improve the system.

As I wrote back in 2013, as Albertans, we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens, particularly those in care and especially children.

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

Floor Crossing! What to make of Tory MLA Sandra Jansen joining the NDP?

Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.

It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.

“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”

“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”

There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.

In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.

Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.

With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.

While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.

Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.

Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.

A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.

With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.

Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.

Coming Soon: A federal by-election in Calgary-Midnapore

Jason Kenney said last week that he will resign as the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Midnapore when the Progressive Conservative Party leadership campaign officially starts on October 1, 2016. He is expected to spend the summer months campaigning for the party leadership while presumably continuing to have access to MP resources and collecting his Ottawa salary and pension.

If Mr. Kenney does go on to win the leadership of the PC Party in March 2017, he may look for an opportunity to quickly become an MLA. If interim party leader Ric McIver were to resign as MLA for Calgary-Hays, he would create an opening for Mr. Kenney to enter the Legislature.

In return, Mr. McIver could potentially seek the federal Conservative nomination to run in the by-election to replace Mr. Kenney in Calgary-Midnapore. The Calgary-Hays constituency is inside the boundaries of the Calgary-Sheperd federal riding but was until 2015 partially in Calgary-Southeast, a federal riding represented by Mr. Kenney from 1997 until 2015.

Mr. McIver represented southeast Calgary as an Alderman from 2000 to 2012 and as an MLA since 2012. A jump into federal politics would be a natural fit. He would become one of the few Canadian politicians to have been elected at three orders of government and it would also give Mr. McIver an honourable path to bow out of provincial politics without seeking the party leadership for a second time.

Michael Connolly

Michael Connolly

Of note, Calgary-Hawkwood NDP MLA Michael Connolly was briefly nominated as the federal NDP candidate in Calgary-Midnapore before he decided to instead throw his hat into provincial politics before the 2015 election, which turned out to be a good choice. Mr. Connolly was elected as MLA in May 2015 and Mr. Kenney was re-elected in October 2015 with 70 percent of the vote.


A federal by-eleciton is expected to be called soon in the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner federal riding and another will be held in the Calgary-Heritage riding after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper resigns as MP, which he is expected to do this summer.

In anticipation of the three by-elections, I am maintaining a special page to keep track of the three potential federal by-elections in Alberta.

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat Cardston Warner

Glen Motz wins Conservative nomination in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner

Glen Motz will be the Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the upcoming federal by-election in the riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner. Mr. Motz defeated five other men, including former Wildrose Party leader and Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Paul Hinman, in a contest that drew more than 3,100 party members to vote. The candidate was chosen on a fourth round of voting using a preferential ballot system.

Paul Hinman Wildrose Calgary

Paul Hinman

Mr. Motz is a long-time community volunteer in Medicine Hat who served in the local police service for 35 years before retiring as an Inspector in December 2015. According to his online bio, in 2013, Governor General David Johnston presented him with The Order of Merit of Police Forces.

He also has some social conservative views that are probably closer to the mainstream in this sprawling rural south east Alberta riding than they are in most of Canada.

I’m pro-life, there’s no question. Unfortunately it’s the law of the land in this country,” Mr. Motz is reported to have told a crowd of supporters at a candidate’s forum in June 2016. “I will continue to fight that the rights of the unborn are not eroded further. I believe in the sanctity of life.

Women’s reproductive rights and gay rights were some of the top issues debated by a field of white male candidates in the last nomination contest held in this riding in 2014.

The Liberals, New Democrats and Greens have not yet nominated a candidate.

Following the death of Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hillyer on March 23, 2016, Elections Canada has announced that a by-election must be called in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner before September 26, 2016. The earliest a by-election could have been held was May 16, 2016.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

This is one of the most reliably Conservative voting ridings in Canada, so it is almost a certainty that Mr. Motz will be the next Member of Parliament. Mr. Hillyer earned 68.8 percent of the vote when he was re-elected in October 2015.

Calgary-Heritage

Another federal by-election is expected to be held in the Calgary-Heritage riding if former Prime Minister Stephen Harper resigns as an MP later this summer as predicted. The names of a handful of potential nominees for the Conservative nomination have been rumoured, including Calgary-Hays Progressive Conservative MLA Ric McIver.

While it is expected that the Conservatives will easily hold on to this riding, the Liberals did see their share of the vote skyrocket from 7 percent in the 2011 election to 26 percent in the 2015 election (the Conservative vote in this riding dropped from 74.3 percent in 2011 to 63.7 percent in 2015).

Brendan Miles Liberal Calgary-Heritage by-election

Brendan Miles

The Liberals also saw their vote share increase significantly in four federal by-elections held in Alberta before the 2015 election, including in Calgary-Centre in 2012. Without the appeal of an incumbent Conservative MP or a sitting Prime Minister, the Liberals could see their vote increase in this by-election as well.

He does not appear to have officially declared his intentions to run for the Liberal Party nomination, but past candidate Brendan Miles has been knocking on doors in the riding for months and the local Liberal association is holding a pancake breakfast during the Calgary Stampede.

Calgary-Midnapore

And of course, if Jason Kenney does indeed decide to make a jump into provincial politics, there would also be a by-election held in the federal riding of Calgary-Midnapore.

Perhaps in anticipation of a surprise by-election, the local Liberals in this riding have scheduled an organization and training session for July 20, 2016.

Who wants to lead Alberta’s PC Party?

A surprisingly strong turnout of 1,001 registered participants at last weekend’s Progressive Conservative Party annual general meeting in Red Deer gave party stalwarts a glimmer of hope for the third-place party but there remain some significant challenges facing Alberta’s old natural governing party.

1) They only have nine MLAs.
2) They have no money.
3) And they have no leader.

What the PCs do have is a new president. Katherine O’Neill won a contested vote to replace Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre, who announced months ago that she would step down at the annual meeting.

Ms. O’Neill is a former Globe & Mail reporter (known as Katherine Harding when she wrote for the G&M) who ran as a PC candidate in the Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2015 election. As a party vice-president, she spent much of the past year traveling the province holding engagement sessions with local party officials about the future of their party after its electoral defeat.

The PCs also have a new voting system. Party delegates chose to abandon their open one-member one-vote leadership election process in favour of a more closed system where each constituency association chooses delegates to vote at a leadership convention.

The leadership race is expected be held sometime between August 2016 and May 2017.

For four decades, the PC Party’s strongest unifying factor was that it held power as government. But now that they are in opposition as the third-party, the PC Party has struggled to define its purpose for existence. The upcoming leadership race will sort out some of these issues and help define the direction of the party over the next three years.

So, who wants to run for the PC Party leadership? No one, yet, but here is a list of some potential candidates:

Inside Caucus

Richard Starke – A veterinarian and PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012. He served as Tourism Minister in premier Alison Redford’s government. He is one of two PC MLAs from rural Alberta elected in the 2015 election.

Sandra Jansen – First elected as MLA for Calgary-North West in 2012, she served as associate minister of family and community safety in Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Before her election she was a TV news anchor and worked in Ms. Redford’s office at the McDougall Centre. Even though she fumbled her party’s Gay-Straight Alliance law in 2014 (something she regrets), Ms. Jansen continues to be seen as a voice of the Progressive-wing of the party. Her endorsement of two federal Liberal candidates in last year’s election raised the ire of conservative partisans.

Ric McIver – The current acting leader was first elected as MLA for Calgary-Hays in 2012 and was an alderman on Calgary City Council for nearly a decade before then. Mr. McIver served as a cabinet minister from 2012 to 2015 and was caught up in the Sky Palace scandal while serving as Infrastructure Minister. He sits firmly in the Conservative-wing of the PC Party and sometimes sounds like he would be more comfortable in the Wildrose caucus. He placed second with 11.7 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.

Mike Ellis – First elected as the MLA for Calgary-West in an October 2014 by-election, former sergeant of the Calgary Police Service Mr. Ellis does not carry the political baggage some of the other candidates carry. His private members’ bill, Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, to restricting pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis, has gained him some positive press in the past month. Mr. Ellis has also co-hosted conservative partisan pub nights with Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, suggesting that he could be a unite-the-right candidate if he decides to run in this race.

Outside Caucus

Jason Kenney – There has been speculation in the media that the Conservative Member of Parliament may consider seeking the leadership. I do not put much weight in this speculation, as Mr. Kenney’s politics align more closely with the Wildrose Party and his ambitions appear to be federal. Mr. Kenney was first elected as an Calgary MP in 1997.

Thomas Lukaszuk – A prolific tweeter, former cabinet minister and deputy premier, Mr. Lukaszuk served as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs from 2001 until he was defeated in the NDP sweep of 2015. Known as a social moderate in the PC Party, he placed third with 11.4 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.

Brad Ferguson – The President and CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was a keynote speaker at a well attended breakfast organized by Conservative partisans earlier this year, which raised eyebrows among some young business conservatives looking for an outsider to bring new blood into the party.

Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver and 7 of his party's MLAs at their post-election leader's dinner.

Alberta PCs to debate leadership changes, including delegated conventions

Activists from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party will be electing executive officers and debating amendments to their organization’s constitution at an annual general meeting on May 7, 2016 in Red Deer. After 44 years as government, the PC Party was defeated in the 2015 election. But after a year in the doldrums, the party showed some signs of life when it was able to hold its ground in the Calgary-Greenway by-election.

With former Jim Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre stepping down as party president, there appears to be a heated race for leader between former Globe & Mail reporter and past candidate Katherine O’Neill and Calgary lawyer Tyler Shandro [note: you may recognize Mr. Shandro from “govern yourself accordingly” fame]. The choice of president may determine if the PC Party moves closer or distances itself from the burgeoning ‘unite the right’ industry.

Among the amendments that will be debated are proposals to change the rules governing how the party chooses its next leader.

According to my reading of the current PC Party constitution, a leadership vote to replace former premier Jim Prentice should have happened between 4 and 6 months after he resigned on the night of the May 5, 2015 election. [note: the Liberal Party also violated their own constitution when they postponed their leadership vote until 2017]

There are various proposed constitutional amendments to change the timelines after the party leadership becomes vacant, including one changing the window to between 3 and 12 months. Another proposal would bar an acting leader from seeking the permanent leadership, which would push current Acting Leader Ric McIver out of the race.

Most of the amendments would keep a variation of the current open one-member one-vote system in tact, but one proposal that will be debated would have the PC Party adopt a delegated convention system to select a new leader.

Once the standard, delegated leadership conventions have fallen out of favour with most mainstream political parties in recent years. The Alberta Party, Liberal Party and Wildrose Party use a similar one-member one-vote system and the New Democratic Party uses a hybrid system that divides votes between members and affiliate organizations.

The return of a system where local members elect delegates to attend a convention and vote for a leader could bring an aura of excitement back to what can become a fairly dull leadership process.

Under the current open one-member one-vote system, any Albertan can purchase a party membership and vote for the next PC Party leader. This led to a wave of excitement before the leadership vote in 2006, when more than 144,000 Albertans cast ballots in the vote that selected Ed Stelmach as leader. But the open system also exposed a giant weakness when only just more than 23,000 Albertans participated in the PC Party’s 2014 vote.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

“Over My Dead Body” – This week in Alberta’s Big Happy Conservative Family

It was only last week that the leaders of Alberta’s two main conservative political parties – Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver and Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean – were in Ottawa hobnobbing with the conservative and right-wing establishment at the annual Manning Centre conference. It was reported that the two party leaders met with federal Conservatives at Stornoway, the official residence of official opposition leader Rona Ambrose, who were trying to help facilitate a merger between the two parties.

Yesterday, it appeared that any ground closed between the two party leaders last week may have been lost after Mr. Jean publicly claimed that Mr. McIver was encouraging PC Party members to purchase Wildrose Party memberships.

The Calgary Herald reported that Mr. McIver would not directly answer a question in an interview Monday on whether he had encouraged dual membership in both parties. But yesterday afternoon, Mr. McIver came out swinging with a LinkedIn post titled “Over My Dead Body,” in which he refuted Mr. Jean’s “outrageous statement.”

This strange blowout follows another odd episode on social media on Monday between the president of the Calgary-North West PC association and a Wildrose Caucus staffer, which PC MLA Sandra Jansen responded to on Twitter. Seen as a moderate conservative, Ms. Jansen is a vocal opponent of a merger with the Wildrose Party, and she could be a potential candidate for the PC Party’s permanent leadership.

In another odd story, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt stirred up attention with his aggressive defence of his decision to submit expenses for a breakfast meeting with former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, the Manning Centre’s namesake.

Mr. Manning’s recent move to insert himself into the merger debates was publicly rebuffed by Mr. Jean. Conservatives still remember Mr. Manning’s role in the defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the PC Party in December 2015, which proved to be a very unpopular move with party members and regular Albertans.

Both the PCs and Wildrose parties are running candidates in the March 22 by-election in Calgary-Greenway to choose a successor to PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar. The results of the by-election could be vital in projecting the future viability of the PCs, who formed government in Alberta from 1971 until they were defeated by Rachel Notley‘s NDP in 2015.

It is clear that despite attempts by outside groups to merge the two parties, which have a history as vicious opponents, there is still a very wide gap between the leadership and supporters in both camps.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016: Sarah Hoffman, Nathan Cooper, Deborah Drever, Greg Clark, Sandra Jansen, Deron Bilous, Danielle Larivee, Richard Starke, Shannon Phillips, and Prasad Panda.

A Rookie Crew: Eleven Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016

The past few years in Alberta politics have reminded us that politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a very tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choices of Premier Rachel Notley, Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Wildrose leader Brian Jean, here is a list of eleven Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2016.

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Deron Bilous faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan can work as the provincial economy faces declining international oil prices.

Greg Clark (Calgary-Elbow): As leader of the one MLA Alberta Party opposition, Greg Clark is punching above his weight in getting media attention and working hard to position himself as a moderate conservative alternative to the NDP and Wildrose Parties. He was also the only opposition MLA to propose an alternative budget and climate change plan in 2015.

Nathan Cooper (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): With a detailed knowledge of Assembly rules and procedure, Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper will prove to be a valuable asset to the rookie Wildrose Caucus.

Deborah Drever (Calgary-Bow): Elected as a New Democrat and sent into legislative exile as an Independent after embarrassing social media posts were reported, she has been the target of relentless personal attacks by Wildrose MLAs and anonymous internet trolls. She has redeemed herself as a well-spoken representative and shepherded her first private members’ bill – Bill 204 – to unanimous approval in the Legislature. Expect Ms. Drever to be invited to rejoin the NDP caucus in 2016.

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): Probably the most high profile Wildrose MLA, Derek Fildebrandt is the loudest critic of the NDP government. But his hyper-partisan outbursts, including an embarassing fight with a Globe & Mail reporter and an angry tweet directed at the Assembly Speaker, are not necessarily the kind of attention his MLA colleagues are pleased to receive. Can he tone down the rhetoric and offer reasonable solutions and alternatives in 2016?

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): As Health and Seniors Minister, Sarah Hoffman is well-spoken and smart as a fox. She can explain complex issues and spar with the opposition with ease. She is a contender for strongest member of Rachel Notley’s cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): Sandra Jansen is the voice of the moderate wing of the Progressive Conservative Party. She has publicly clashed with interim leader Ric McIver over his decision to endorse the federal Conservatives, and with Wildrose supporters over her decision to endorse Liberal candidates in the 2015 federal election. Her record as a vocal opponent of a merger with the Wildrose would make her a candidate to watch in her party’s next leadership race.

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake): Appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta in a fall shuffle, Danielle Larivee has proven herself as a tough and well-spoken advocate. As one of the government’s point-people for the fumbled Bill 6 Farm Safety Bill, she demonstrated her toughness. A Registered Nurse, she is also co-chair of the government’s review of mental health services, which is expected to be released early in 2016.

Prasad Panda (Calgary-Foothills): When he won a Sept. 2015 by-election in Jim Prentice’s former constituency, he became the Wildrose Party’s only MLA from Calgary. He has been quite quiet since his win, but Mr. Panda’s performance as MLA over the coming years could determine how far his rural-based party might expand its presence in Alberta’s largest city.

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge West): Smart, passionate and a fierce partisan, Shannon Phillips impressed many with her calm and cool delivery of Alberta’s climate change plan ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference in Nov. 2015. As Environment and Parks Minister, she helped bring together oil industry leaders and environmental groups to endorse the province’s plan. Selling the plan and its carbon tax to Albertans over the next year will be a serious test of Ms. Phillips’ political skills.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): As a critic of Bill 6, Richard Starke took a more reasoned approach to criticizing the farm safety law and avoided the hysterical and negative reactions characteristic of his counterparts in the Official Opposition caucus. One of two remaining rural PC MLAs, he is said to be interested in making a bid for his party’s leadership.

Young Alberta MLA Under 30 Politics 2016

The Under 30s: Jon Carson, Michael Connolly, Estefania Cortes-Vargas, Thomas Dang, Trevor Horne, Anam Kazim, Stephanie McLean, and Graham Sucha.

The Under 30s: Another result of the massive turnover in the legislature last year was a significant drop in the average age of Alberta’s MLAs, from 53 to 40 years old. Among the newly elected younger MLAs are a handful who are under thirty-years old (including Ms. Drever, who is noted above).

While it is not uncommon to have one to two under-30s elected to the Assembly from time to time, I cannot remember a time when so many were elected at once. It is a refreshing change, as younger Albertans bring a very different perspective than the typical older, greyer elected representative.

There could be future cabinet ministers or party leaders in this group, so in 2016, I will be keeping an eye on Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Jon CarsonCalgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly, Sherwood Park-Strathcona MLA Estefania Cortes-VargasEdmonton-Southwest MLA Thomas Dang, Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Trevor HorneCalgary-Glenmore MLA Anam KazimCalgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.


Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 2015 and 2014.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Alberta NDP face legitimate concerns and kooky conspiracy theories in debate over Bill 6 farm safety bill

Alberta’s NDP government has been in full damage control mode since Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act exploded in their faces late last month. While attempting to bring our province closer to national standards on farm safety – Alberta is currently the only province without occupation health and safety laws and employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers – the bill sparked two large protests at the Legislature and continues to bring out thousands of agitated rural Albertans to government-sponsored town-hall style consultation meetings across the province.

Commies

No, it’s not.

Bill 6 has been perceived as a threat to what many rural Albertans see as a traditional way of life and business on the family farm, and inept communications by the government only fuelled claims that this was the intention of the bill.

Taken by surprise, NDP cabinet ministers fanned out to the town hall meetings in an attempt to assure angry rural Albertans that they are listening to their concerns.

While the Wildrose, PC and Alberta Party MLAs have taken positions against Bill 6, the biggest advocate for the bill outside of the mostly silent NDP caucus has been Liberal party interim leader David Swann, a Calgary MLA and former medical officer of health of the now defunct Palliser and Headwaters health authorities in southern Alberta.

Returned from her trip to the Paris Climate Change Conference, Premier Rachel Notley published an open letter to reassure the media and the public that this bill was about farm safety, not about destroying the family farm.

Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Jobs, Employment and Labour, introduced amendments to Bill 6 in the Legislature this week.

The amendments, which “make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends” and “make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year,” appear to address two of the main criticisms of the bill that many opponents and critics (including myself) have raised as concerns.

Aside from legitimate criticisms that rural Albertans were not properly consulted before Bill 6 was introduced into the Legislature, some opponents of the government have tried to spread the kookiest of conspiracy theories about the NDP’s proposed farm safety law.

Over the past week, I have heard claims that Bill 6 would:

  • allow the government to nationalize farm land to build solar or wind farms,
  • force farm workers to unionize as part of some secret communist conspiracy,
  • mark the beginning of a Stalinist farm collectivization program.

None of these outlandish claims are true. But while these claims largely emanate from the anonymity of Twitter and the internet, other oddball claims are actually being made by opposition MLAs.

In the Legislature on Dec. 1, Rick Strankman, the Wildrose MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, suggested that Bill 6 could lead to OHS inspectors confiscating privately owned firearms if they were found to be improperly stored on farms. Mr. Strankman spared fellow MLAs from hearing his best Charlton Heston impersonation.

But perhaps the kookiest of conspiracy theories comes from Progressive Conservative Party interim leader Ric McIver, who is reported to have claimed Bill 6 was part of the NDP plan to turn Alberta into a “Socialist Disneyland.” According to Metro Calgary, Mr. McIver continued in length to praise the conservatism of Saskatchewan, while choosing to omit the fact that our neighbour to the east has a 5 percent provincial sales tax, a 12 percent corporate tax rate, crown corporations for insurance, power and gas, and… farm safety legislation.

Alberta’s NDP government was caught totally off guard by opposition to Bill 6 and has helped fuel the backlash by being slow to react to concerns about changes to farm safety laws. For this, they deserve to be criticized. This is an important lesson for the new government, and one they should recognized as being lucky took place in the first year of their four year term in government, and not six months before the next election.

What’s next?

Bill 6 is currently in second reading in the Legislature.

This will not be the last time the new government will need to challenge the status quo in rural Alberta. The government’s next challenge to rural Alberta will likely be related to province’s longstanding grazing lease program, which the auditor general reports has cost the government an estimated $25 million in annual revenue and is currently under review.

Changes to Alberta’s electoral boundaries, which could be redistributed before the next election to reflect changes in Alberta’s population, would likely result in a reduction of rural constituencies and an increase of urban constituencies in the Alberta Legislature.

Manmeet Bhullar MLA Calgary Greenway

Alberta loses a big voice with the passing of MLA Manmeet Bhullar

Terribly sad news in Alberta politics today. CBC is reporting that 35-year old MLA Manmeet Bhullar has been killed in a car crash on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway while driving from Calgary to Edmonton.

Mr. Bhullar’s performance during his eight years the Alberta Legislature earned him a reputation as a skilled parliamentarian and a powerful voice for his constituents in northeast Calgary.

A star in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party, Mr. Bhullar rose in the ranks under premiers Ed StelmachAlison Redford, and Jim Prentice, first as a parliamentary assistant and then as Minister of Service Alberta, Minister of Human Services and Minister of Infrastructure. He most recently served as PC opposition critic for Finance and Treasury Board, and Infrastructure.

As Human Services minister, he was tasked with the difficult challenge of overhauling Alberta’s laws so more information could be released about the deaths of children in foster care. He became one of Mr. Prentice’s campaign co-chairs during his party’s 2014 PC leadership contest and was rewarded with an appointment as Minister of Infrastructure, a position he held until the 2015 re-election.

Mr. Bhullar was first elected as the PC MLA for Calgary-Montrose in 2008 at the age of 27 and was re-elected as MLA for Calgary-Greenway in 2012 and 2015. He was one of ten PC MLAs re-elected in the 2015 election.

News of his passing generated an outpouring of condolences from his colleagues in elected office:

His passion and dedication will live on in our hearts and we will greatly miss him. To Manmeet’s family: many of our colleagues are dear friends of Manmeet and his family, and it breaks our hearts to know we have lost such a great soul. Manmeet accomplished more in his brief time than most people accomplish in their lifetimes.” – Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver (full statement)

Manmeet’s accomplishments are well-known. He was a powerful community advocate from a young age and first elected to the Alberta legislature at 28. He was brave and unrelenting in his role, particularly when it came to forcefully advocating for children in care – the least powerful people in our society.” – Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (full statement)

Mr. Bhullar worked tirelessly in service of this province. First elected in 2008, he proudly served as Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Human Services, and Minister of Service Alberta. All Albertans should be proud of his significant contributions to public life.” – Premier Rachel Notley (full statement)

Words cannot express the incredible sadness we all feel over the sudden and tragic loss of our dear colleague. The absence of our friend Manmeet will be felt across the great province that he loved. To his friends, our hearts weep with you. For all his constituents, we express our sympathy and support. To the PC party, to his caucus, to all MLAs who have served with him, and for all staff who came into contact with Manmeet during his incredible time as a public servant, we mourn together.” – Wildrose leader Brian Jean (full statement)

Manmeet was a big man and his stature got attention. But more than that, much more than that, I remember his words. His words were powerful. Passionate. Intelligent. Meaningful. He is exactly the sort of person we need in public office. I am devastated. I cannot begin to imagine what his family is going through, nor his community, nor his colleagues in the PC caucus. All will miss him. Our world is a lesser place without Manmeet Bhullar. Rest in peace my friend.” – Alberta Party leader Greg Clark (full statement)


Here is video of Mr. Bhullar’s maiden speech in the Legislative Assembly, delivered on Wednesday, April 16, 2008.

Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver and 7 of his party's MLAs at their post-election leader's dinner.

PC Party financials reveal $1.5 million debt from 2015 election

Reports of the death of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta might only be slightly exaggerated. Financial disclosure reports submitted to Elections Alberta show the former governing party amassed a $1.5 million debt during the May 2015 election.

After reportedly nearly missing the deadline to submit its financial disclosures from the recent provincial election, the PCs posted the disclosure on its own website, which provides some detail into the overwhelming wealth of the former governing party during its failed attempt at re-election in May 2015. (The full report is now posted on the Elections Alberta website).

The disclosure report provides information about a $2,000,000 loan secured by the PC Party from the Canadian Western Bank with an outstanding balance of $1,544,866 as of July 5, 2015. Security on the loan includes a personal guarantee of $1,455,000 from a former director, who is unnamed in the document.

The report shows the PCs raised $2,802,500 in donations greater than $250 and $90,625 lower than $250 during the April 7 to July 15, 2015 campaign period. The PCs spent $4,303,969 and ran a deficit of $930,236 during the election campaign.

In response to its financial troubles, the party received significant financial transfers from some of its wealthier constituency associations, including $30,000 from Edmonton-Whitemud, $25,000 from Calgary-Elbow, $20,000 from each Calgary-Varsity and St. Albert, and $15,000 from Whitecourt-Ste. Anne.

Major donors listed on the PC Party’s financial disclosure include Richard Haskayne ($30,000), Ronald Joyce ($30,000), Ken King ($30,000), Calfrac Well Services Ltd ($30,000), MacLab Hotels & Resorts Ltd ($30,000), Matco Investments ($30,000), Christopher Potter ($30,000), Primrose Livestock Ltd ($30,000), Susan Rose Riddell ($30,000), Clayton Riddell ($30,000), Ronald P Mathison Private Banking Ltd ($30,000), Cathy Roozen ($30,000), Mike Rose ($30,000), Shane Homes Ltd ($30,000), Walton International Group Inc ($30,000), TIW Western ($25,000), CIBC ($23,750), Scotiabank ($23,750), BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc ($20,000), Matthew Brister ($20,000), Brian Michael Brix ($20,000), Grandview Cattle Feeders Ltd ($20,000), Kolf Farms Ltd ($20,000), Kelly Koss ($20,000), Mancal Corporation ($20,000), Kyle Ross ($20,000), Nancy Southern ($20,000), and Sunset Feeders Ltd ($20,000).

During its 44 years in government the PCs were able to depend on large corporate donors to help pay off campaign bills and debts, but the party has struggled after corporate donations to political parties were banned by the first law passed by the Alberta NDP Government in June 2015. Interim leader Ric McIver initially denounced the ban, but later stood with the entire nine member PC caucus in voting in favour of the bill.

The PCs will hold their annual general meeting in spring 2016 and have launched a 500-Day Plan to prepare the party for the 2019 provincial election. The PCs are expected to choose a permanent leader in early 2016.

New Unite the Right By Moving Further to the Right Group

According to a report from the Calgary Herald, a new group calling themselves “ The Alberta Prosperity Fund” has launched the latest bid to unite the two main conservative parties in Alberta. The private group is reported to have looked far to the political right for inspiration by inviting American anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist as guest speaker to a closed-door session in Calgary this week. Mr. Norquist is known for his role in pushing the Republican Party further to the political right, contributing to the deep political division in America.

The group is headed by Barry McNamar, a former vice-president of the right-wing Fraser Institute and director of the Calgary School of Public Policy. It is unclear who is providing financial support for the Fund.

Responding to the group’s formation, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean told the Herald that “[w]e have had our lawyer send them a letter requesting that they stop telling people they have our endorsement or support.