Tag Archives: Richard Starke

UCP MLAs Mike Ellis and Angela Pitt United Conservaitve Party

Alberta Candidate Nomination Update: Pitt bests Millions in Airdrie-East, Michael Connolly moves to Calgary-Varsity, and more.

Photo: Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis and Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt were greeting party members outside the nomination voting station in the Town and Country Centre in Airdrie on July 20, 2018. (Source: Dave Cournoyer)

Despite indications of a dogfight in Airdrie-East, United Conservative Party members voted overwhelmingly to choose incumbent MLA Angela Pitt over Sportsnet Calgary Flames Commentator Roger Millions. Millions announced his retirement from broadcasting and entry into politics only 9 days ago.

Pitt won the nomination with 71 percent of the vote.

Michael Connolly NDP MLA Calgary Hawkwood

Michael Connolly

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly has announced he will run for the New Democratic Party nomination in the newly redrawn Calgary-Varsity district. Connolly’s current district is will not exist when the next election is called as it is being redistributed into three other districts.

Current Calgary-Varsity NDP Stephanie McLean is not running for re-election.

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

Banff-Kananaskis – It is a candidacy that might be short-lived, but conservative activist and provocateur Cory Morgan has filed his intentions to seek the NDP nomination with Elections Alberta. Also seeking the NDP nomination is the current MLA for Banff-Cochrane, Cameron Westhead. Reached by email, Morgan said he would release platform in the next few days.

Morgan was an Alberta Independence Party candidate in Banff-Cochrane in the 2001 election, the Separation Party of Alberta candidate in Highwood in the 2004 election, and Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Mountain View in the 2008 election. 

Brooks-Medicine HatDinah Hiebert is the third candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this newly redrawn district. She is an account executive with Newcap radio and former president of Brooks Women in Business. Bob Wanner, the current NDP MLA for Medicine Hat, told CHAT News that he not yet decided whether he will seek re-election in 2019. Wanner currently serves as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Calgary-Buffalo – Finance Minister Joe Ceci was nominated as the NDP candidate in this downtown Calgary district. Ceci currently represents the Calgary-Fort district, which will not exist when the next election is called.

Calgary-Klein – Kathy Macdonald is seeking the UCP nomination. She was the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Foothills and 2015 Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill. She also ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

Calgary-North East – Calgary-Greenway MLA Prab Gill is seeking the UCP nomination in the new Calgary-North East district, which does not include any of the areas currently included in Calgary-Greenway. Gill was first elected as a PC MLA in a 2016 by-election following the death of MLA Manmeet Bhullar.

Calgary-Shaw – Jack Redekop is seeking the UCP nomination. Redekop ran for the federal Conservative Party nomination ahead of the 2017 Calgary-Midnapore by-election. He briefly ran as a candidate in the 2012 Senator Nominee election but appeared to have dropped out of the race before the filing deadline.

Calgary-Varsity – John Huang is seeking the UCP nomination. Huang ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 Calgary-Foothills by-election.

Chestermere-Strathmore – Mark Giesbrecht is seeking the UCP nomination. He ran for Strathmore town council in 2013.

Edmonton-Castle Downs/Decore – Gordon Reekie has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in Edmonton-Castle Downs and will now contest the UCP nomination in the neighbouring Edmonton-Decore.

Edmonton-Gold BarDavid Dorward has been nominated as the UCP candidate. Dorward served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for this district from 2012 and 2015. He was the PC candidate in this district in the 2008 election and placed second in Edmonton’s mayoral campaign in 2010.

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood – Del Shupenia is seeking the UCP nomination.

Edmonton-South – Dan “Can Man” Johnstone is no longer seeking the Alberta Party nomination and he is quitting the party. I am told that Johnstone’s decision was made following a discussion by the party to extend the nomination period in this district,  and a source with knowledge of the process said that he had not paid the $500 entry fee to join the nomination contest. He posted a long message on Facebook yesterday announcing his departure from the party.

Effective immediately, I will no longer be associated with the Alberta Party and will be pulling out of the…

Posted by Can Man Dan on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Edmonton-West Henday – Leila Houle is seeking the UCP nomination.

Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville – Conservative activist Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk has been acclaimed as the UCP candidate. She previously served as the PC Party’s regional director for Central Northeast Alberta. Darryl Kropielnicki’s nomination was rejected by the UCP.

Grande Prairie – John Lehners is seeking the UCP nomination in this new urban Grande Prairie district. Lehners serves as trustee and chair of the Grande Prairie Public School District.

Red Deer-South – Tax lawyer Jason Stephan is seeking the UCP nomination. He is the president of the Red Deer Taxpayers’ Association. In 2017, he publicly raised concerns about the establishment of a safe consumption site in Red Deer.

St. Albert – Laine Matoga is seeking the UCP nomination.

Sherwood ParkSue Timanson is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Timanson ran for the PC nomination in Sherwood Park in 2012 and 2015, and she is a former regional director of the PC Party. She endorsed Richard Starke in the 2017 PC Party leadership contest.

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!

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

It’s all about Derek… Speculation mounts that ousted UCP MLA will run as an Independent in 2019

He’s “wasting his time” if he thinks he can run for a United Conservative Party nomination, says party leader Jason Kenney, but that isn’t stopping Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt from being a thorn in his former party’s side.

Jason Kenney

Once considered a rising star in Alberta’s conservative movement, the spectacular implosion of his political career has largely been self-inflicted.

He was refused re-entry into the UCP caucus in February 2018 following an embarrassing string of controversies, including being caught renting his taxpayer subsidized condo on AirBNB, being charged with a hit-and-run, and being charged with illegally killing a deer while he was hunting on private property without the landowner’s permission.

Now as an Independent-Conservative MLA, he sits in the furthest corner of the opposition side of the Legislature, beside sole remaining Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Starke and behind Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. He was recently removed from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which he used to chair, and his motion to cut MLA pay by 5 percent received zero interest from the governing New Democratic Party or the official opposition UCP.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview

Leela Aheer

As I wrote last week, Fildebrandt is agitating in the newly redrawn Chestermere-Strathmore district, essentially accusing his former party of being afraid of an open nomination contest in the district. The theatrical former official opposition finance critic and Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson accused the UCP of “Trudeau-style affirmative action” for not allowing him to run against popular Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who has announced her plans to run in the new district.

Playing the victim of political correctness, Fildebrandt is trying to generate populist support for himself in the UCP membership. The strategy is not without merit. It worked two years ago.

When then-Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean attempted and failed to suspend Fildebrandt from the Official Opposition caucus in 2016, an uprising of party activists demanded he be allowed to rejoin. It was a fairly embarrassing 72-hours for the Wildrose Caucus and a clear evidence that Jean might not have had the full loyalty of his party.

But that was then and this is now. With Kenney’s intentions being pretty clear and Fildebrandt’s chances of rejoining the UCP before 2019 next to none, there is mounting speculation that he is preparing the ground to run as an Independent candidate against Aheer in the 2019 election.

Do Independents get elected in Alberta?

Clarence Copithorne

Independent candidates don’t usually get elected in Alberta, but there are exceptions. The last time an Independent MLA was elected in Alberta was in 1982, when two former Social Credit MLAs, Walt Buck and Raymond Speaker, were re-elected in Clover Bar and Little Bow. Previous to that, Clarence Copithorne was elected as an Independent MLA in the Banff-Cochrane district in 1967.

More recently, other MLAs who had been previously elected under party banners and tried to run for re-election as Independent candidates were former PC MLAs Kurt Gessell in Clover Bar-Fort Saskatchewan in 1993, Carl Benito in Edmonton-Mill Woods in 2012, former Liberal Dan Backs in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, and former Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2015. All were defeated.

Fringe separatist party renames itself… again

Alberta First Party has been renamed the Western Freedom Party of Alberta, according to Elections Alberta. The party was formed as the Alberta First Party in 1999 and renamed the Separation Party of Alberta from 2004 until 2013, when it was once again renamed the Alberta First Party.

The President and Chief Financial Officer of the Western Freedom Party are Bob Lefurgey and Heather McDonald Furcho. They were both previously reported to be collecting signatures to form another new separatist party that was to be called The Western Independence Party of Alberta.

Under its various names and forms, this party saw its best electoral results in the 2001 election in Cardston-Taber-Warner with leader John Reil earning 26 percent of the vote (Reil would later run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party in 2004) and in a 2002 by-election in Wainwright with candidate Jerry Barber earning 25 percent of the vote (Barber is currently listed as the President of the UCP association in the Battle River-Wainwright district).

Update: As of July 3, 2018, the Western Freedom Party has been renamed the Freedom Conservative Party. As of July 18, 2018, Derek Fildebrandt has joined this party, becoming its first MLA.

Stephen Mandel Alberta Party Leadership

Stephen Mandel wins Alberta Party leadership. Alberta Advantage Party acclaims Marilyn Burns as leader.

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, 72, is the new leader of the Alberta Party.

Kara Levis Alberta Party

Kara Levis

Mandel was elected on the first ballot with 66 percent of the vote, defeating Calgary lawyer Kara Levis, who placed second with 18 percent, and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, who placed third with 16 percent. 4,613 of the party’s 6,443 members participated in the vote.

Mandel served as mayor of Edmonton from 2004 to 2013 and as a city councillor from 2001 to 2004. He represented the Edmonton-Whitemud district as a Progressive Conservative MLA from 2014 to 2015 and was Minister of Health until his defeat in 2015 to New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner.

He has said he will run in the next election in the Edmonton-McClung district, currently represented by New Democratic Party MLA Lorne Dach.

The Alberta Party currently has three Calgary MLAs in the 87 MLA Legislative Assembly. It is widely rumoured that lone-PC MLA Richard Starke could cross the floor to join the Alberta Party caucus this spring. Starke was endorsed by Mandel in last year’s PC Party leadership race.

While the Alberta Party has framed itself as a “centrist” alternative to the two main political parties in the province – the NDP and the UCP – the party’s policies reveal it to be a conservative party in a similar vein as the old PC Party.

Alberta Advantage Party acclaims leader

Marilyn Burns Alberta Advantage Party

Marilyn Burns

Meanwhile, much further to the fringe populist right, Edmonton lawyer Marilyn Burns has been acclaimed as leader of the anti-UCP Alberta Advantage Party.

A co-founder of the Wildrose Party and vocal critic of the UCP, Burns was the only candidate in the race. She was a candidate for the leadership of the Alberta Alliance Party in 2005 and was a candidate for that party in Stony Plain in the 2004 election.

The party is in the process of registering but is not yet recognized as an official party by Elections Alberta.

Stephen Mandel Alberta Party Leadership

It’s an Alberta Party leadership race: Kara Levis, Rick Fraser… Stephen Mandel

Photo: Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel when he announced his plans to retire from municipal politics in 2013.

The rumours have been circulating for weeks, and they now appear to be confirmed.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election

Dr. Bob Turner

Stephen Mandel is jumping back into provincial politics by launching a campaign for the leadership of the Alberta Party. The 72-year old former Edmonton mayor and provincial cabinet minister is expected to officially join the race on Jan. 10, 2018 at an “announcement about Alberta’s future” at the Boyle Street Community Hall.

Mandel was a popular mayor from 2004 to 2013 and briefly served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and Minister of Health from 2014 to 2015. Despite his largely successful three-terms as mayor, his short and unremarkable time in the provincial cabinet was ended when New Democratic Party candidate and Cross Cancer Institute oncologist Bob Turner unseated Mandel in the 2015 election.

He was rumoured to have considered a run for the PC Party leadership in 2017, but instead made a last-minute endorsement of Richard Starke. Since then, Mandel has been seen as a driving force behind Alberta Together, the political action committee led by former PC Party president Katherine O’Neill. AT is believed to have been influential in pushing former leader Greg Clark to step down as leader ahead of the party’s annual general meeting in November 2017.

Both Mandel and O’Neill were seen as star candidates for the PC Party in the 2015 election and were featured in online and television ads produced for the campaign.

Mandel’s installation as Chancellor of Concordia University of Edmonton on Nov. 30, 2017 makes the timing of his reentry into political life confusing, but his well-known dislike for the Wildrose Party and his cool relationship with former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Ottawa Conservatives – which would extend to Jason Kenney – could be what is driving him. He will certainly add some interest to the Alberta Party leadership race.

Former UCP MLA enters the Alberta Party race

Rick Fraser Alberta Party

Rick Fraser

The news of Mandel’s entry into the race broke on the same day it was reported that Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser will join the Alberta Party and enter the leadership race. Fraser’s candidacy means he will join party MLAs Greg Clark and Karen McPherson to form a caucus of three. McPherson joined the party shortly after she left the NDP caucus in Oct. 2017.

Fraser was elected as MLA for Calgary-South East in 2012 and 2015 as a Progressive Conservative and left the United Conservative Party Caucus in July 2017 citing concerns about the party’s positions on climate change and social issues.

He served as Associate Minister of Recovery and Reconstruction of High River following the floods that devastated southern Alberta in 2013. And he is the former president of CUPE Local 3421, which until April 2009 represented two-thirds of the province’s paramedics.

Kara Levis was the first candidate in the race

The two men joined the contest almost one month after Kara Levis, a Calgary-based commercial lawyer and President of the National Women’s Liberal Commission, became the first candidate to enter the leadership race. Levis is a co-founder of Ask Her, an organization dedicated to encouraging more women candidates to run in the 2017 Calgary Municipal Election.


Huffman is back

Jacob Huffman Alberta Liberal Leadership

Jacob Huffman

Also declared as a candidate in the race is jokester Jacob Huffman, whose previous attempt to run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party was rebuffed.

His top campaign promises include returning “Redford supporters to positions of power and influence” and stimulating “economic growth by building the greatest Sky Place ever.”

It is unclear if the Alberta Party is prepared to allow such bold ideas in their leadership race.


The Alberta Party leadership race will take place on Feb. 27, 2018. The deadline for candidates to join the race is January 15, 2018.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018: Leela Aheer, Shaye Anderson, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci, Rick Fraser, Sandra Jansen, Brian Jean, Danielle Larivee, Jessica Littlewood, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd and Richard Starke.

12 Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018

Photo: Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018: Leela Aheer, Shaye Anderson, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci, Rick Fraser, Sandra Jansen, Brian Jean, Danielle Larivee, Jessica Littlewood, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd and Richard Starke.

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past twelve years. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits.

As is tradition on this blog, each year I publish a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here are the MLAs I will be watching in 2018:

Leela Aheer (UCP – Chestermere-Rockyview): Aheer was a staunch supporter of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean during the 2017 UCP leadership race, but when the dust settled, a victorious Kenney appointed her as Deputy Leader of the UCP caucus. Her private members’ bill, Bill 206: the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement (Adoption Advertising) Amendment Act, which aimed to bring the process of adoption into the digital age by allowing prospective adoptive parents to go online through licensed adoption agencies, was passed after a remarkably civil debate in 2017.

Shaye Anderson (NDP – Leduc-Beaumont): Anderson is charming and has just the kind of average working-man appeal that the NDP government needs. Appointed to cabinet in 2017, the Municipal Affairs Minister will oversee the implementation of the new City Charters and a reformed Municipal Government Act in 2018. With talk of the AUMA and AAMDC merging and increasing pressure on the NDP to reform municipal election finance laws, Anderson’s role at the cabinet table could become more important in 2018.

Deron Bilous (NDP – Edmonton-Beverly Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Bilous has led successful trade missions to China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. With the province’s economy growing but unemployment rates remaining unchanged, he faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan is working as the provincial economy recovers from the sharp decline of international oil prices.

Joe Ceci (NDP – Calgary-Fort): With Alberta’s economy projected to have grown between 3.9 percent and 6.7 percent in 2017, the Finance Minister will implement what Notley describes as “compassionate belt-tightening.” The NDP need to present a more defined budget plan, but it should not just focus on spending. Alberta has a revenue problem and if we should have learned anything since the international price of oil collapsed in 2014, it is that we should not depend on royalty revenues from oil and gas to fund the day to day operations of our public services. And did I mention he is a champion of Alberta’s booming craft brewing industry?

Rick Fraser (Independent – Calgary-South East): The former PC MLA left the UCP caucus in September 2017, citing concerns about the party’s position on climate change and social issues. There were strong rumours that Fraser would join the Alberta Party caucus in 2017, but the resignation of Greg Clark as party leader may have put any floor-crossing plans on hold.

Sandra Jansen (NDP – Calgary-North West): Appointed to cabinet in 2017, the former PC MLA plays a big role in Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary. As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road. She should spend less time arguing with Conservative partisans on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.

Brian Jean (UCP – Fort McMurray-Conklin): The former leader of the Wildrose Party disappeared from public sight after losing the UCP leadership to Kenney. As the only Official Opposition MLA without a critic role, there were questions raised about whether Jean will stick around until the 2019 election or whether Albertans can expect a by-election to be held in Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018. But in a year-end interview with Fort McMurray Today, Jean says he is not planning on leaving politics in 2018.

Danielle Larivee (NDP – Lesser Slave Lake): A rising star in the Alberta cabinet, Larivee was shuffled from Municipal Affairs to Children’s Services in 2017 to quell a political scandal, which she appears to have successfully done. She launched and expanded Alberta’s $25 per day child care program, which will have a real positive impact on a lot of Alberta families.

Jessica Littlewood (NDP – Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): Appointed as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade with responsibilities for small business, Littlewood is another rising star in the NDP caucus. With a potential cabinet shuffle ahead in 2018, I would not be surprised if she is appointed to a full cabinet position.

Shannon Phillips (NDP – Lethbridge-West): The Environment and Parks Minister continues to champion the Alberta government’s high-profile Climate Leadership Plan. The plan has led to the creation of Canada’s lowest renewable electricity rates, but a focused opposition campaign by its Conservative critics has led to mass confusion about the goal of the carbon levy. Phillips will have a big challenge ahead of her in 2018 to explain how the NDP’s plan to combat climate change will have a positive impact on individual Albertans ahead of the 2019 election.

David Shepherd (NDP – Edmonton-Centre): With 1,200 votes counted, Shepherd was chosen as the Up and Comer to Watch in 2018 in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey. He is a hard-working, well-spoken and passionate MLA who has excelled at communicating online, in-person and on the floor of the Assembly.

Richard Starke (Progressive Conservative – Vermilion-Lloydminster): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and leadership candidate opted not to join his fellow PC MLAs when they joined the Wildrose-heavy UCP caucus in July 2017. He instead decided to remain a PC MLA in the Assembly. Like his former PC colleague Rick Fraser, there were strong rumours in 2017 that Starke could join the Alberta Party caucus.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 201720162015 and 2014.

Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey Photo: Jessica Littlewood, Greg Clark, Shannon Phillips, Nathan Cooper, and Sarah Hoffman.

Vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey (Round 2!)

In our most recent episode of The Daveberta Podcast, Ryan and I asked you to help us shape our final episode of 2017 by voting in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey.

More than 300 of you responded to the survey last week with your choices for the biggest political players and defining political issues of 2017. We tallied all the responses from that survey and we are now asking you to vote on the top 3 choices in each category.

Voting will be open until 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 21, 2017 and we will reveal and discuss the results in the final podcast episode of 2017, which we will be recording on the same day.

Here are the top 3 contenders who you can vote for in Round 2 of the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2017? – Vote

  • Premier Rachel Notley, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre

An honourable mention to Sandra Jansen, the NDP MLA for Calgary-North West, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting.

What was the biggest political issue in 2017 in Alberta politics? – Vote

  • Gay-Straight Alliances
  • The Economy and Jobs
  • Oil Pipelines

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2017? – Vote

  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Seniors
  • David Eggen, Minister of Education
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Danielle Larivee, Minister of Children’s Services, and Deron Bilous, Minister of Trade and Economic Development, who placed a strong fourth and fifth in the first round of voting.

Who was the Best Opposition MLA for 2017? – Vote

  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow
  • Nathan Cooper, UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • David Swann, Liberal MLA for Calgary-Mountain View

Honourable mentions to Richard Starke, the Independent PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, and Brian Jean, the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, who placed a strong fourth and fifth in the first round of voting.

Who is the up and comer for 2018? – Vote

  • Jessica Littlewood, NDP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville
  • Jason Kenney, UPC MLA for Calgary-Lougheed and Leader of the Official Opposition
  • David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Centre

An honourable mention to Brian Malkinson, the NDP MLA for Calgary-Currie, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting.

What was the biggest political play of 2017 in Alberta politics? – Voting Closed

In the first round of voting, 59 percent of you chose the creation of the United Conservative Party as the biggest political play of 2017. Because of this was the choice of a clear majority, we have declared this result as the winner in this category. Congrats, UCP.

Other notable choices in his category were Premier Rachel Notley’s pipeline tour, Greg Clark’s being forced out of the Alberta Party leadership and the NDP government’s Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools.

Photo: Jessica Littlewood, Greg Clark, Shannon Phillips, Nathan Cooper, and Sarah Hoffman.

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

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

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

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

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

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

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

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

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

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

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

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

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

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

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

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

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

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

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

Jason Kenney as the face of Conservatism in Alberta

When the Legislative Assembly resumes for its fall sitting on Monday, there will be a new seating plan.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

A new Official Opposition United Conservative Caucus made up of twenty-two former Wildrose MLAs and six former Progressive Conservative MLAs will make its debut.

Richard Starke of Vermilion-Lloydminster will continue to sit as a lone PC MLA and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser of Calgary-South East will join exiled former Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt as Independent MLAs. Former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson will join Greg Clark in doubling the Alberta Party Caucus. And sitting alongside Premier Rachel Notley in the government front-benches will be newly appointed Minister of Infrastructure Sandra Jansen, who left the PCs to join the NDP last November.

Leading the new United Conservative Party Caucus will be former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney, who won yesterday’s leadership vote with 61 percent, defeating former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who finished with 31 percent, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who finished a distant third with 7 percent.

Kenney does not have a seat in the Assembly and indicated today that Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney will resign on November 1, 2017 in order to create a by-election for his party’s new leader. Rodney was first elected in 2004.

David Eggen

As the new leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney will face some immediate issues as the Assembly reconvenes. He will need to reorganize his caucus office staff, reassign his party’s MLAs to new critic roles, and set an opposition agenda for the next 16 months. Kenney will do his best to avoid the bozoeruptions that plagued the former Wildrose MLAs in his UCP caucus and pivot to issues that will solidify his party’s conservative base.

As Kenney enters his new role as the new face of Conservatism in Alberta, the NDP will hope that Albertans forgive their more unpopular policies when reminded of the new UCP leader’s more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric.

Education Minister David Eggen will introduce legislation making it illegal for schools to “out” students who join gay-straight alliances. Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances will reopen an issue that had conservative politicians tying themselves in knots after Kenney told a Postmedia editorial board that he would support teachers outing students who join GSAs.

Eggen has said most schools have been working with the province to establish codes of conduct against discrimination and adopt policies to protect LGBTQ youth, but a small group of mostly publicly-subsidized private schools are resisting. This bill could reignite the debate over the existence of publicly-subsidized private schools, some of which charge tens of thousands of tuition per student in order to attend.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Despite calls from their political allies, Notley’s NDP government has avoided overhauling the structure of Alberta’s school system. But open resistance by private schools over GSAs, and by publicly-funded Catholic Superintendents wanting to dumb-down the Sexual Education curriculum, could force a debate over accountability of public funds being provided to these religious schools.

Kenney has been a vocal supporter of the Catholic schools, claiming that Notley’s opposition to a dumbed-down Sexual Education curriculum is the “statist ideology of the NDP on steroids.”

Of course, Notley is not telling publicly-funded Catholic schools not to teach Catholicism, she is telling them that they must teach consent and acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (welcome to the 21st century).

Alberta is one of a few remaining provinces that provides full public funding to Catholic schools. Former PC MLA David King, who served as education minister from 1979 to 1986, has collected close to 1,000 signatures in an online petition demanding a referendum on the future of publicly funded Catholic schools in Alberta.

David King

On the flip-side, as Kenney enters his role as UCP leader, he will hope that Albertans forgive his more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.

Repealing farm safety laws and the government’s climate leadership plan, including the carbon tax and phase-out of dirty coal-fired power plants, were two of his key promises, along with much chest-thumping about withdrawing from Canada’s equalization program (which is not something any province can do, because the funds are collected through Canadian federal income taxes, not by the provinces).

We can expect Kenney to spend a lot of time criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has developed a relatively friendly working relationship with Notley’s government on issues ranging from oil pipeline construction to climate change. With deep connections to the Conservatives in Ottawa, expect a Kenney-led UCP to march in lockstep with their federal cousins on these issues.

Justin Trudeau

Notley’s NDP subtly shifted their messaging last year, focusing on launching new programs and projects they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the Kenney-led UCP, who they will argue would attack public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has said that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre and the Green Line in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Would Kenney close schools and hospitals, like his political role model Ralph Klein did in the 1990s? Expect the NDP start asking these questions when MLAs meet in Edmonton tomorrow.

This weekend’s UCP leadership vote and the resumption of the Legislative session tomorrow marks a huge change in Alberta’s political landscape. Alberta politics has changed drastically over the past two years, and even the past decade. The next few weeks, and the next 16 months, in Alberta politics will be fascinating to watch.

Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade.

No Thanks and So Long. Former PC MLA Rick Fraser leaves the UCP to sit as an Independent

Photo: Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade (Photo from Facebook). 

The recently formed United Conservative Party may be leading in the polls but the party is looking a lot less united. One of the party’s 28 MLAs, Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, announced on social media this morning that he was leaving the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Fraser, who was re-elected for a second term as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015, is the third politician to leave the ranks of the UCP since it was formed in July 2017. Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke declined to join the UCP and decided to continue sitting as a PC MLA in the Assembly shortly after he party was founded. Then, in August 2017, the party’s co-finance critic Derek Fildebrandt resigned from the caucus after an expenses controversy and a traffic-accident related court battle.

In his resignation letter, Fraser gave a number of reasons for his departure, ranging from social and economic issues to the party’s increasingly polarizing hyper-partisan tone. While the UCP does not yet have any official policies, or even a permanent leader, it is seems clear that Fraser is uncomfortable with the direction that the province’s largest conservative party is heading.

Social issues are the achilles heel for the UCP, just as they were for the party’s previous incarnation, the Wildrose Party.

The two main candidates for the leadership of the party,  Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, are openly appealing to the party’s social conservative and rural base of supporters and have been extremely reluctant to discuss any social issues. And as we saw in this week’s UCP leadership debate, only Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer was willing to come out in support of gay rights, taking Kenney to task for his silence.

Earlier this year, Wildrose MLAs were tying themselves in knots over student-organized Gay-Straight Alliances and whether school administrators should be required to inform parents if their children joined one of the anti-bullying clubs. The debate, which was triggered by comments Kenney made to the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary, was painful and acrimonious to watch.

And while the party’s interim governing board has issued a statement in support of LGBTQ rights, support for that position by some of UCP MLAs and party members is questionable.

The unanimous position among the UCP leadership candidates to repeal the carbon tax without proposing any alternatives to reform or replace it suggests that none of them see climate change as a serious issue.

Comments, tweets and Facebook posts promoting climate change denial and skepticism have been rampant among the former Wildrose MLAs in the UCP caucus. Earlier this year, Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes helped fund a film promoting climate science skepticism. And last year, Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman was  forced to apologize – twice – after penning an article comparing Alberta’s carbon tax to the Holodomor – the Ukrainian genocide of the 1930s.

An MLA’s first responsibility is to their constituents, and if Fraser does not feel he can effectively represent the people of Calgary-South East as a member of the UCP, he has every right to leave that caucus. He was elected under that banner of the Progressive Conservative Party and now that party is now essentially defunct.

Fraser writes in his letter that he will consult his constituents before making any future decisions, which means he might be open to joining another party sometime in the future. I am willing to bet that Greg Clark , leader of the upstart conservative-lite Alberta Party, is making some phone calls today.

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose

UCP merger kickstarts another summer of politiking in Alberta

Photo: Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally launches his campaign to lead the United Conservative Party (source: Facebook)

It has been a busy week in Alberta politics, and it is only Tuesday.

Nathan Cooper

On Saturday, 95 percent of Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Party members who cast ballots voted in favour of amending their respective parties constitutions and create a new political party – the United Conservative Party.

Only 57 per cent of eligible Wildrose members, and 55 percent of PC member, cast a ballot, which is roughly 25,000 and 27,000 members of the two parties. It is suspected that a significant number of individuals who voted held membership in both parties, and voted twice.

Here is a quick look at what has happened since:

  • As predicted on this blog a few days ago, Nathan Cooper has been chosen as interim leader of the new 29-MLA joint-Wildrose-PC United Conservative caucus. Cooper will serve as leader of the Official Opposition, though likely not in the Assembly as the Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until after the new party chooses a permanent leader in October 2017. He is a first-term Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didisbury Three Hills and a former Wildrose caucus Chief of Staff, Carstairs town councillor, and spokesperson for the social conservative Canada Family Action group.
  • Richard Starke

    Richard Starke

    PC MLA Richard Starke will not join the new UCP caucus. Starke, who has represented Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012, ran against Jason Kenney in the 2017 PC leadership race and opposed his plans to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party. Starke wrote on Facebook that: “My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward.”

  • Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally announced his bid for the leadership of the new party at the Apple Creek Golf Course in Rockyview County. Jean was accompanied by Airdrie Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt, who has endorsed his campaign.
  • Kenney is expected to formally announce his leadership bid on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
  • Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who is also expected to join the leadership race, vowed he would never support Jean in a leadership race. Jean briefly attempted to suspend Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus in May 2016, after the MLA’s partisan antics went too far. 
  • Long-time PC Party strategist Susan Elliott announced she will be joining the Alberta Party. Elliott managed the PC Party’s successful 2012 election campaign.

Wildrose-PC merger a big deal, but not a silver bullet for 2019

Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.

For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.

There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.

A) If members from both parties vote to approve the agreement and amend their party constitutions, then a joint board of directors will be appointed to govern the business of the UCP and the two existing parties. The creation of a new party will need to be approved by Elections Alberta, which I expect will happen shortly after a successful vote.

An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.

A leadership race will be scheduled for October 28, 2017 and four candidates have already declared their candidacy or interest in running: Wildrose leader Brian Jean, PC Party leader Jason Kenney, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

B) If the vote fails, it is expected this would be because of opposition by Wildrose Party members. While I would be very surprised if the vote fails, it would not be the most outlandish event to occur in Alberta politics in the past decade. The Wildrose membership are known for being cantankerous and notoriously anti-establishment.

A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.

A Plan B could take the form of a non-compete agreement, where the two parties would not challenge each other in constituencies in the next election. This would be similar to what Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke proposed during the PC leadership race.

If technical issues hamper the vote and cause party members to question or challenge the validity of the results, it could damage the UCP before it is even officially formed.

What does this mean for the conservative movement in Alberta? 

With some prominent PC members jumping to the Alberta Party, a group of disgruntled Wildrose members threatening to start another new party and some conservatives even joining the NDP, Conservatives actually appear less united than they have been in years. While much of the Conservative establishment is backing the Wildrose-PC merger, there is a threat that it would lead to a further split into smaller conservative parties.

The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.

Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.

What does this mean for the NDP?

While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.

Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has stated that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.

What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?

Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.

Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.

Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet

Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.

And, as the past two elections have proven, Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.


I joined Brock Harrison and Shaye Ganam on July 21, 2017 to chat about Alberta politics and the July 22 vote on 630CHED. Here is the audio recording of our discussion.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover of Alberta’s PC Party is complete

Former federal politician Jason Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta today, as was widely expected. Kenney received the support of 75 percent of the delegates attending the party’s voting meeting today at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

His only opponents, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson, earned 21 percent and two percent support from the voting delegates.

Kenney’s leadership bid was more of a hostile takeover than a traditional leadership campaign. The central point of his platform was his plan to dissolve the 8-MLA PC Party and form a new party with the official opposition Wildrose Party. Kenney has said he plans to meet with Wildrose leader Brian Jean on Monday to further discuss his plans.

Over the course of the campaign, Kenney and his legions of social conservative supporters, many who also happen to be card-carrying members of the Wildrose Party, worked tirelessly to marginalize progressive voices in the party. Two leadership candidates, Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, said they and their supporters faced threats and bullying by Kenney’s supporters before they dropped out of the race. Jansen later crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party and Khan endorsed Starke.

Kenney’s reputation for being a focused campaigner helped him win an overwhelming number of delegates at the local constituency votes. The lethargic and uninspiring campaigns mounted by his opponents were left in the dust.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

But even with such a commanding lead, Kenney’s campaign couldn’t stop itself from getting into trouble. His campaign was fined $5,000 for breaking party rules and the party executive was faced with complaints from former MLAs and calls for Kenney to be disqualified from the race. One of his key organizers, Alan Hallman, was expelled from the party and was reportedly charged with assault last night at the convention hotel.

Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race. The progressives who showed up in droves to vote for Ed Stelmach in 2006 and Alison Redford in 2011 stayed home this time. Or maybe they, like Sandra Jansen, like what they see from Rachel Notley’s NDP government?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said this week that Kenney-ally Preston Manning is eyeing his party’s name, even going so far as to offer Clark a cabinet spot in a future government. It was only one year ago that the Kenney-front group Alberta Can’t Wait attempted a takeover of the Alberta Party.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Clark claims that a number of former PC MLAs and activists, including former deputy premier and vocal Kenney critic Thomas Lukaszuk, are in discussions with his party. This may be related to an upcoming “unite the centre” event in Red Deer that former PC MLA and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is said to be behind. Another former PC MLA, Heather Klimchuk, said in an interview on The Broadcast podcast that she is watching St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse‘s campaign to lead the Liberal Party.

What we discovered today is that less than two years after Alberta’s natural governing party lost its first election in 44 years, the PC Party is a shell of its former self and was ripe for a takeover by Wildrose Party supporters.

In his victory speech, Kenney confidently told delegates at the PC Party convention that he plans to repeal all the changes made by the NDP when he becomes Premier in 2019. That would mean the repeal of policies unpopular with conservatives, like the carbon tax, the Climate Leadership Plan and new farm safety laws, all introduced by the NDP.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

If Kenney is true to his word this would also mean that corporate political donations would be reintroduced, small business taxes would be increased, the minimum wage would be lowered, school fees would be increased, the wealthiest Albertans would get tax cuts, and laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination would be repealed.

When Kenney pledged today to repeal all of the changes made by the NDP, he was not talking to the now former progressive-wing of the PC Party. He was talking to the social conservative and rural base of the Wildrose Party.

Now that the takeover of the PC Party is complete, Kenney will set his sights on his main challenger for the leadership of a new conservative party, Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

Richard Starke’s last push – what happens to the Renew PCers after March 18?

With five days left until Jason Kenney wins the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in a landslide vote, his main rival is marshalling his forces.

Representing PC supporters who want to renew the party, rather than dissolve it, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke has announced a string of endorsements from former PC cabinet ministers and MLAs over the past few days, including former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and former leadership candidate Stephen Khan.

Khan dropped out of the leadership race earlier this year and claimed Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party would lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Starke’s list of endorsers include former MLAs Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths, Thomas Lukaszuk, Mike Allen, Rob Lougheed, Hector Goudreau, LeRoy Johnson, Jack Hayden, Ron Casey, Cal Dallas, Arno Doerksen, Bridget Pastoor, Dave Quest, Teresa Woo-Paw, Ron Ghitter, Verlyn Olson, Genia Leskiw, Iris Evans, Cathy Olesen, Heather Klimchuk, Pearl Calahasen, Ray Danyluk, Jim Horsman, Peter Elzinga, Linda Johnson, and Jacquie Fenske.

It seems like an odd strategy to pull out a list of prominent endorsers after the delegate selection meetings have been held but it could be the last card that Starke’s team had to play. Kenney is an impressive campaigner and his organization solidified a solid lead in the elected delegate count.

Jason Kenney Wildrose Conservative Alberta

Jason Kenney

After party delegates vote to elect Kenney as their leader on Saturday, March 18, 2017, the PC Party will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party. His campaign against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean has essentially already begun.

Starke’s campaign to renew the PC Party released a “Common Sense Plan” in January 2017 which laid out a vague plan to work with the Wildrose Party without merging with them, but even at the time it felt like a last ditch attempt to ward off Kenney’s juggernaut.

It is unclear what Starke and his supporters will do when Kenney wins the leadership in a landslide on March 18, 2017. He and his only supporter in the PC caucus, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale, will have to decide whether they want to remain in a Kenney-led PC Party which could potentially cross over to the Wildrose caucus before the 2019 election.

Maybe they will start a new moderate conservative party, or join another party? Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen left the PC leadership race and joined the NDP caucus in November 2016. Perhaps hoping to gain a caucus-mate, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark has been pushing his ‘Centre Together’ message targeted at centrist Tories unimpressed with Kenney’s Wildrose merger plans.

What comes after a bozo-eruption? A bozo-aftershock. 

Last week I wrote about the “Feminism is Cancer” email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the screening of a Men’s Rights film on International Women’s Day. The Gauntlet, the campus newspaper, reports that the student who the club claimed to have fired as communications director after the incident may have not actually existed. The newspaper was unable to find any student with the name “Robert McDavid” listed with the university’s registrar or the party membership list.

If The Gauntlet report is correct, either the club did not actually fire their director or they fired someone who did not want their name to be publicly associated with the “Feminism is Cancer” email.

A Wildrose Party sign spotted outside of Hinton last week.

Today’s Edition of The Fight on the Right

Starke vs. Kenney: the lightweight match

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

Starting the day off, Richard Starke, the soft-spoken veternarian from Lloydminster entered the ring with his “Common Sense Plan” to save the Progressive Conservative Party from Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover plans to merge it right-wing Wildrose Party.

The PC leadership race has largely been devoid of any other real issues or policy discussions and focused almost entirely on Kenney’s takeover bid. Starke’s plan was extremely light on details but here’s what we know: he is open to a coalition between the two parties but he would keep the PC and Wildrose parties separate.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

It is unclear if this means the two parties would not run candidates against each other, but that might be one way of salvaging the estimated $1.5 million currently sitting in the bank accounts of PC constituency associations that would be forfeit if the party was dissolved into the Wildrose Party.

Today’s announcement was likely aimed at dislodging the significant lead Kenney has secured in the delegate selection meetings, but it feels like a desperate last grasp by Starke.

Jean vs. Kenney: The bare-knuckle round

Overshadowing Starke’s plan is Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean‘s shot at Kenney. Jean announced today that he is prepared to step down as leader of his party to contest the leadership of a new conservative party, if one is created before the next election.

Brian Jean

There had been speculation for months that Jean could avoid a messy leadership challenge by running for Mayor of Wood Buffalo in October 2017 instead of fending off a challenge from Kenney, but this appears to settle it. As leader of the Wildrose Party, Jean has been unofficially campaigning for months to bolster his bid to leader the conservative movement in this province by holding town hall meetings with supporters.

Jean took the reigns of his party from the edge of the political abyss after most Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party in 2014. He led the rural-based party to a swift recovery in the 2015 election but has faced challenges within his caucus and party ever since. His party has also been stuck in the mid-30 percent range in public opinion polls over the past year.

It is unclear whether Jean and Kenney would be the only two candidates to run for the leadership of a new Wildrose-dominated conservative party, or whether a third or fourth contender would enter the contest to lead this currently non-existent party.


Khan throws in the towel

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

Former St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan has dropped out of the PC leadership race. The former one-term MLA gave columnist Paula Simons a fairly damning description of the state of conservative politics in Alberta: “I wouldn’t call it a dumpster fire. But I’d call it a destructive circus.”

Here is an excerpt from his statement:

I was confident that this race would be one of ideas and hope for Alberta’s future and I expected it to be a well-run and principled campaign. Instead, it has devolved into vitriol, anger and division. As such, I can no longer participate in this race in good conscience, nor ask my family, volunteers and supporters to do the same on my behalf.

We have seen the reputation of the PC Party damaged so badly over the course of this campaign that our credibility may be beyond repair. More concerning, we have seen volunteers, organizers, leadership candidates, members of the Board of Directors, our party President and even some PC caucus members harassed and threatened. It is clear that there is no room in this race for competing ideas and we have seen more anger and division in the last 3 months than in the half-century legacy of this party.

As I step down, I know other candidates in this leadership race will carry on the fight. I will remain a proud member and volunteer with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Going forward, I will put my support behind Richard Starke and I would ask my supporters to do the same.