Tag Archives: Rick Fraser

Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

MLA Robyn Luff removed from NDP Caucus after speaking out “about culture of fear and intimidation”

Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”

Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.

Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.

Robyn Luff MLA Calgary East NDP Press Release

MLA Robyn Luff’s letter on November 5, 2018

Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.

“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”

A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”

Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.

There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.

Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.

Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.

In the mid-1990s, rookie backbench Progressive Conservative MLAs Jon Havelock, Mark Hlady, Lyle Oberg, Murray Smith, Ed Stelmach, and Lorne Taylor formed “the Deep Six” by attempting to drive an agenda of cuts to spending and government services, or at least that is the political narrative that was created.

The short-lived sequel to the Deep Six, the Fiscal Four, was formed by Doug Griffiths, Jonathan Denis, Rob Anderson, and Kyle Fawcett after the 2008 election. The group of PC backbenchers soon expanded to include three or four other MLAs, but it did not last long after Anderson crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 (and the “Fiscal Seven” did not have the same ring to it).

Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.

It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.

Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.

Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.

Goodridge challenged in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, last-PC MLA Starke could run again in 2019, Alberta Party AGM this weekend, and kd lang named to the Alberta Order of Excellence

Photo: Laila Goodridge was sworn-in as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin on October 11, 2018 (source: Facebook)

Could an MLA first elected in a July 2018 by-election be at risk losing her nomination to run in the next election before the Legislature meets at the end of October? Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Laila Goodridge is said to be facing a strong challenge from former Lac La Biche County councillor Gail Broadbent-Ludwig and former Wood Buffalo mayoral candidate Allan Grandson for the United Conservative Party nomination in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district.

Voting for the UCP nomination will take place on October 25 and 26, 2018, only days before the fall session of the Legislative Assembly begins on October 29, 2018. This will mark first time Goodridge, and fellow rookie MLA Devin Dreeshen of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, will sit in the Assembly as MLAs.

The electoral boundary changes in northeast Alberta are significant. When the election is called, Fort McMurray-Conklin will be dissolved and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will be created, increasing the population of the district from around 26,000 to 44,166.

UCP MLAs Wayne Anderson and Rick Strankman, have recently faced defeat in their bids to seek their party’s nomination to run in the next election. We discussed this nomination contest on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

Starke could run for re-election, for who?

Richard Starke Vermilion Lloydminster Independent MLA Alberta

Richard Starke

Richard Starke is considering running for re-election, but it is not clear whether the Independent MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster would run as an Independent candidate or join a political party before the election was called. Starke was elected as a Progressive Conservative in the 2012 and 2015, and would be expected to run for re-election in the new Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright district.

I have not decided yet whether I will seek a third term as MLA,” Starke wrote when contacted. “If I run, it could be as an independent or I may seek a nomination for one of the partiesThat decision will be made in due course; I have no timeline for any announcement.”

Starke is recognized by Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner as a Progressive Conservative MLA, but that recognition does not mean much outside the Legislative Grounds in Edmonton. He declined to join the UCP Caucus when the remaining PC Party MLAs joined the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus to form the new party in July 2017.

The remnant of the PC Party, which governed Alberta from 1971 to 2015, is now legally controlled by the UCP board of directors. This means, if he does decide to run for re-election, there is little to no chance Starke will be listed as a PC Party candidate on the ballot in the next election.

There has been speculation since 2017 that Starke would join the Alberta Party, which has become a refuge for many of his former PC Party colleagues, including many who endorsed him in that party’s March 2017 leadership contest.

Starke would face at least seven challengers for the UCP nomination in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, including his Wildrose Party challenger from the previous two elections, the wife of a retiring UCP MLA, and another past PC Party candidate. It seems unlikely that he would cross to the NDP, but stranger things have happened

Independent MLAs are rarely re-elected in Alberta. The last time an Independent candidate was elected to Alberta’s Legislative Assembly was in 1982, when former Social Credit MLAs Raymond Speaker and Walt Buck were re-elected. They would form the Representative Party of Alberta in 1984 and were both re-elected under that party’s banner in 1986. 

Alberta Party AGM

Lynn Mandel, Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel, and MLA Karen McPherson.

Lynn Mandel, Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel, and MLA Karen McPherson.

One of Starke’s former colleagues, Doug Grittiths, will be delivering the keynote speech at the Alberta Party annual general meeting, being held on October 19 and 20, 2018 at the Edmonton Expo Centre.

Griffiths served as PC MLA for Wainwight from 2002 to 2004 and Battle River-Wainwright from 2004 to 2015, and served in cabinet with Starke as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Service Alberta. Griffiths endorsed Starke in the March 2017 PC Party leadership contest, as did former PC cabinet minister and current Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel.

The Alberta Party has seen its legislative caucus expand from 1 to 3 MLAs over the past year with the addition of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser, but the party has struggled to generate excitement among voters. Four public opinion polls released since April 2018 show support for the Alberta Party ranging from 5.1 percent to 11 percent province-wide.

Mandel has had a bit of a rough few weeks ahead of this annual meeting, first scrambling to explain to his party’s membership why he agreed to meet with the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, disqualifying Yash Sharma as the party’s nominated candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie, and defending a poorly delivered and tone-deaf comment about women in politics.

kd lang named to the Alberta Order of Excellence

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Notley's husband Lou Arab, and kd lang.

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Notley’s husband Lou Arab, and kd lang. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Singer and song-writer kd lang has finally received the recognition she deserved this week as she was awarded to the Alberta Order of Excellence. The honour granted to to lang was praised by Premier Rachel Notley, who tweeted that she is “a trailblazer, opening doors and bravely championing many causes, including LGBTQ2S+ rights.” Notley’s congratulatory comments are a far cry from the backwards attitudes and actions of some Alberta MLAs twenty-five years ago.  

In January 1993, Alberta PC MLAs blocked a motion to congratulate lang on her musical awards and achievements. Some rural PC MLAs were said to be annoyed at anti-beef comments she had made a few years before, but that was not the only reason. The Globe & Mail reported in January 1993 that some backbench PC MLAs said they did not support sending a message of congratulations to the singer because she had openly declared she is a lesbian.

Frankly, it makes them look very bad,” said William Roberts, the Edmonton-Centre NDP MLA who introduced the motion to congratulate lang. “I think people would say there are a lot of narrow-minded people in Alberta.”

lang had only a short, cryptic message for her detractors at the time: “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”

Anne McGrath

Anne McGrath jumps into NDP nomination in Calgary-Varsity, Byron Nelson seeks UCP nod in Calgary-Bow

New Democratic Party stalwart Anne McGrath announced on social media today that she plans to seek her party’s nomination to run in Alberta’s next provincial election in the Calgary-Varsity district. A long-time advocate for progressive issues, McGrath is known to many of Canada’s New Democrats as Chief of Staff to former federal party leader Jack Layton from 2008 to 2011 and president of the NDP from 2006 to 2008.

Most recently, McGrath returned to Alberta after Rachel Notley‘s NDP were elected into office in 2015, first serving as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office in Edmonton and then moving to Calgary to serve as Executive Director of the Premier’s Southern Alberta Office at the McDougall Centre.

McGrath’s entry into this nomination race was foreshadowed by the unexpected announcement over the weekend by Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly that he was withdrawing from the contest. Connolly had been challenging Julia Hayter for the nomination to succeed incumbent Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, who announced in June 2018 that she would not seek re-election in 2019. (UPDATE: It appears that Hayter has also withdrawn from the nomination contest).

McLean was elected with 43.9 percent of the vote in the 2015 election, and along with this district’s history of electing Liberal Harry Chase from 2004 to 2012, the NDP see holding Calgary-Varsity as a priority in 2019.

Anne McGrath (centre) during her time as field organizer for the Alberta Federation of Students in 1982.

Anne McGrath (centre) during her time as field organizer for the Alberta Federation of Students in 1982. (Photo Source: The Gateway)

McGrath is no stranger to Alberta politics. She was an organizer in Alberta’s student movement in the early 1980s and worked as a field organizer for the Alberta Federation of Students she organized activities including anti-tuition campaigns and rallies. And during her time involved in student politics at the University of Alberta, she ran as a Communist Party of Canada candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona during the 1984 federal election. She earned 137 votes in that election and years later she would explain her brief involvement with the Communists as “I was young, probably naïve, interested in talking about politics. And very influenced by friends and teachers.

She was later a spokesperson for the Alberta Status of Women Action Committee and ran for the Alberta NDP in Calgary-Bow in the 1993 election and in Calgary-McCall during a 1995 by-election. She also ran for the leadership of the Alberta NDP, challenging then leader Ross Harvey and earning 118 votes to Harvey’s 177 at the party’s 1995 convention.

She enters the nomination contest in Calgary-Varsity as Notley’s approval numbers have jumped following the Premier’s tough talk in response to the latest setbacks in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.


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

Byron Nelson PC MLA Candidate Calgary Bow

Byron Nelson

Calgary-Bow – Lawyer Byron Nelson is seeking the UCP nomination. Nelson was the Progressive Conservative Party candidate in this district in 2015 and ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2017 (he finished in third place with support from 2.7 percent of the voting delegates at the party’s convention). Harry Fleming has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest and is now working as a Communications Advisor at the UCP Caucus office.

Calgary-South East – MLA Rick Fraser has announced he plans to seek the Alberta Party nomination and run for re-election in 2019. Fraser was elected as a PC Party MLA in 2012 and 2015 and left the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA on September 12, 2017. He joined the Alberta Party caucus on January 9, 2018 and ran for that party’s leadership.

Camrose – Steven Hansen is seeking the Alberta Party nomination and Trevor Miller is seeking the UCP nomination. Miller was the Wildrose Party candidate in Wetaskiwin-Camrose in 2012, where he placed second with 31.8 percent of the vote. The UCP nomination contest in this district is turning into a Wildrose Stomp, as Miller faces Jackie Lovely, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015, and Brandon Lunty, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election.

Edmonton-Glenora – Glen Tickner is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.

Lethbridge-East – Motivational speaker and consultant Kimberly Lyall is seeking the UCP nomination.

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!

Doug Schweitzer Danielle Larivee Travis Toews Mo Elsalhy Alberta Election 2019

Doug Schweitzer wins UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, Danielle Larivee selected as NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake

Photo: Doug Schweitzer, Danielle Larivee, Travis Toews, and Mo Elsalhy.

Former United Conservative Party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer defeated past city council candidate Chris Davis to secure his party’s nomination in Calgary-Elbow on September 13, 2018. As noted last week, Schweitzer is a lawyer who briefly considered running for the PC Party leadership in 2017 before dropping out and endorsing Jason Kenney. Only a few months later, he ran against Kenney for the UCP leadership, where he placed third with 7.3 percent of the vote. He served as CEO of the Manitoba PC Party from 2008 to 2009 and was manager of Jim Prentice’s campaign for the leadership of the PC Party in 2014.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Calgary-Elbow has a long-history in conservative partisan lore, having been represented by former premiers Ralph Klein and Alison Redford and past deputy premier David Russell, but it has also been a marginal district at times.

Klein only narrowly defeated Liberal Gilbert Clark in 1989 and the district would abandon the Tories for Liberal Craig Cheffins in the 2007 by-election to replace Klein. Redford retook the district for the PCs in 2008, but her disastrous tenure in the premier’s office certainly contributed to Alberta Party leader Greg Clark (son of Gilbert) winning in Calgary-Elbow in 2015.

Schweitzer will face Clark and likely New Democratic Party nominee Janet Eremenko in the 2019 election.

Danielle Larivee was nominated as NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake. Larivee was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Children’s Services and Minister for the Status of Women. Before her election Larivee worked as a Registered Nurse in public health in northern Alberta.

Former president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association Travis Toews defeated Sexsmith town councillor Kate Potter to secure the UCP nomination in Grande Prairie-Wapiti. Toews had the endorsement of former Grande Prairie PC MLAs  Walter Paszkowski and Everett MacDonald in this district currently represented by retiring UCP MLA Wayne Drysdale.

Registered Nurse Hannah Presakarchuk defeated Rafat Alam, Shaun Collicott, and Laine Larson to secure the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Rutherford.

Former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy was nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-South West and Marvin Olsen has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.

Upcoming Nomination Meetings

Karen Principe Edmonton Decore UCP

Karen Principe

Former PC MLA Janice Sarich, past city council candidate Karen Principe, and real estate agent Gordon Reekie will compete for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Decore on September 20, 2018.

Sarich represented this district from 2008 until 2015 when she was unseated by NDP candidate Chris Nielsen. Principe placed a strong third in the October 2017 city council race that saw incumbent councillor Dave Loken unseated by Jon Dzadyk. Reekie had previously been a candidate for the UCP nomination in the neighbouring Edmonton-Castle Downs before withdrawing from that contest before the vote was held.

NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt is expected to be nominated as his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 20, 2018. Schmidt was first elected in 2015, earning 68 percent of the vote in the 2015 election. He now serves as Minister of Advanced Education and will face a rematch against UCP candidate David Dorward, who Schmidt defeated in 2015 and placed a strong second against in 2012.

Edmonton-Gold Bar is a former Liberal Party stronghold, having been represented by party heavy-weights Bettie Hewes from 1986 to 1997 and Hugh MacDonald from 1997 to 2012, though support for the party collapsed to an abysmal 3.1 percent in the 2015 election.

Lacombe City Councillor Thalia Hibbs will challenge UCP MLA Ron Orr in a nomination contest in Lacombe-Ponoka scheduled for September 21, 2018.  It was announced at a forum in Lacombe that nomination candidate Rita Reich has dropped out of the contest, though no reason was given.

Thalia Hibbs Lacombe Ponoka

Thalia Hibbs

Orr was first elected as a Wildrose Party candidate in 2015, winning a close three-way contest between himself, New Democrat Doug Hart and PC candidate Peter DeWit. Orr currently serves as Official Opposition critic for Culture & Tourism and in November 2017, the former Baptist pastor suggested that the legalization of marijuana in Canada could lead to a communist revolution.

Hibbs has served on Lacombe City Council since October 2017 and previous to that served as a trustee with the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Schools from 2010 to 2017.

Four candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Glenmore: Christopher Grail, Whitney Issik, Michael LaBerge and Phillip Schumann.

Issik is a long-time party activist, having worked as a campaign manager for Jim Prentice’s brief run for the federal Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady (who is now seeking the UCP nomination in that district), and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election. LaBerge is president of Channel Energy Inc. Schuman is an insurance company account executive and until July 2017 was the Media Coordinator for United Liberty, the political action committee created by now-Freedom Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Maureen Zelmer had been seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Glenmore until it was revealed she had posted a series of Islamophobic comments on Facebook.

Kathy Macdonald Wildrose Calgary-Foothills by-election

Kathy Macdonald

Past Wildrose Party candidates Kathy Macdonald and Jeremy Nixon are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Klein on September 22, 2018. MacDonald is a retired Calgary police officer and was the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Foothills and 2015 Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mackay-Nose HillShe also ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills. Nixon ran in this district under the Wildrose banner in 2012 and 2015. He is the brother of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.

Macdonald is endorsed by former Calgary police chief and 2015 PC candidate Rick Hanson. Nixon is endorsed by Calgary Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel, Len Webber, City Councillor Sean Chu, and UCP MLAs Nathan Cooper, Todd Loewen, Angela Pitt and former UCP MLA Dave Rodney.

Deron Bilous is expected to be acclaimed for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on September 23, 2018. Bilious has represented this district since 2012 and was re-elected in 2015 with 73.8 percent of the vote. He currently serves as Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. This district has deep NDP roots, having been represented by former city councillor Ed Ewasiuk from 1986 to 1993 and former party leader Ray Martin from 2004 to 2008.

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

Camrose – Brandon Lunty is seeking the UCP nomination. Lunty was the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election, placing third with 29 percent of the vote behind PC MLA Rick Fraser and New Democrat Mirical Macdonald.

Calgary-Falconridge – Christopher Steeves has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in this new east Calgary district. He served as a councillor with the City of Chestermere from 2005 to 2017.

Sherwood ParkSean Kenny is the fourth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this suburban Edmonton area district.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!

Episode 19: Quashing Pipelines and Political Dreams

In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss the latest news in Alberta politics, including Premier Rachel Notley’s response to the quashing of approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, how rumours of an early federal election could impact Alberta’s 2019 election, and Ryan’s favourite topic, the Alberta Party.

We discussed some of the latest candidate nomination news , including the Calgary-Fish Creek UCP Islamophobia controversy and upcoming contests in Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, Edmonton-Glenora, Calgary-Elbow, and Edmonton-McClung. We also respond some of the great questions you sent us, including about the Calgary 2026 Olympic bid and thoughts on Notley’s pipeline speech at Calgary Pride.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network powered by ATB Financial. 

You can listen and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We’d love to hear what you think of this episode, so feel free to leave a review where you download, comment on the blogFacebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca.

Also, it would be a big help if you could leave a review where you download this podcast and share this episode with a friend.

We are always thankful to our hard working producer, Adam Rozenhart, who helps make each episode of the Daveberta Podcast sound so great.

Thank you for listening!

Recommended reading/watching

Who might and might not be invited to the Leaders’ Debate in Alberta’s 2019 election?

Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.

We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.

Most readers of this website will remember Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice‘s infamous “math is difficult” rebuttal to New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley during the 2015 debate. The comment was viewed by many as sexist and the embodiment of a 44-year old political dynasty way past it’s best before date.

Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.

Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.

Stephen Mandel: Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel will almost certainly be invited to join the debate even though he is not currently an MLA. Mandel served as a PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from October 2014 to May 2015 and was defeated by NDP MLA Bob Turner in 2015. The Alberta Party elected one MLA in 2015 – Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark – and now has three MLAs due to floor-crossings by former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and UCP MLA Rick Fraser.

David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.

The Derek Fildebrandt Question: Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.

Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.

Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.

As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.


A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections

Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:

1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.

The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”

At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.

1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.

1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.

An alternative debate that included leaders of smaller parties was also televised. That debate included the leaders of the Communist Party, Confederation of Regions, Alliance Party and Green Party. Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson refused to participate, arguing that the Social Credit party should have been included in the main leaders debate.

1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts. 

2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.

2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.

The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.

2008 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast on Global, CTV and CBC: PC Party leader Ed Stelmach, Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman. Hinman was the Alberta Alliance Party’s sole elected MLA in the 2004 election before the party changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance (he would be defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008).

The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election). 

2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Smith was invited to join the debate despite her party not having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The Wildrose Party was represented in the Assembly by four MLAs when the election was called. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore and Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier were elected as PC candidates in 2008 before crossing the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.

Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.

2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.

The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.

Jason Kenney Prab Gill

Sixth MLA leaves the UCP. Prab Gill resigns from caucus following ballot-stuffing investigation.

The polls suggest the United Conservative Party is poised to form government in 2019, but how united the caucus actually is remains questionable.

Calgary-Greenway UCP MLA Prab Gill issued a statement yesterday announcing that he has left the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA following the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of ballot-stuffing and ballot-snatching at a party meeting in the new Calgary-North East district on June 30, 2018.

Gill had already resigned as UCP caucus deputy whip on July 11, 2018, and with his departure from the UCP caucus he leaves his roles as Official Opposition critic for seniors, housing and multiculturalism. He had been planning to challenge Anand Chetty and Tariq Khan for the UCP nomination in Calgary-North East.

The allegations of ballot-stuffing and ballot-snatching originally stemmed from a YouTube video posted by a disgruntled UCP member who attended the June 30 meeting. 

Carruthers Report not made public

Following the circulation of the video, UCP leader Jason Kenney announced he had asked retired judge and former Progressive Conservative Party president Ted Carruthers to investigate the allegations.

Carruthers served as president of the PC Party from 1992 to 1994 and oversaw the party’s 1992 leadership contest, which he at the time described as “the greatest exercise in democracy ever seen in our province.” He was appointed as an Alberta Family and Youth Court Judge in 1996 by then-Justice Minster Brian Evans.

Carruthers’ report and its contents, which prompted Gill’s departure from the UCP caucus, has not been made public.

Nasty internal power struggles were common in old PC Party

A Wildrose Party flyer attacking PC candidate Prab Gill for being a "Justin Trudeau Liberal." Mr. Gill was elected on March 22, 2016.

A Wildrose Party flyer attacking PC candidate Prab Gill for being a “Justin Trudeau Liberal.” Mr. Gill was elected on March 22, 2016.

Gill was first elected as the PC MLA for Calgary-Greenway in a 2016 by-election following the death of PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar. Gill was first appointed as the PC Party candidate but a backlash from party members led to the party allowing a contested nomination, which he then won.

In the by-election, he narrowly defeated his main opponent, Wildroser Devinder Toor, by 335 votes and faced harsh criticism from the Wildrose Party for his support of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the October 2015 federal election.

Gill’s predecessor in Calgary-Greenway, Bhullar, was appointed Premier Ed Stelmach as the PC Party’s candidate in the former Calgary-Montrose district in 2008 following a very public legal battle between the PC Party and its local volunteers in the district. The PC Party won the court battle.

The loss of this MLA, along with a recent nasty nomination contest in Chestermere-Strathmore, suggests that despite the party name change the UCP may have the inherited the culture of nasty internal power struggles similar to the ones that mired the old PC Party before the 2015 election.


Prab Gill is the sixth MLA to leave the United Conservative Party caucus since it was formed on July 24, 2017.

1. Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt left the UCP caucus on August 15, 2017 after he was charged with hunting and shooting a deer on private property without permission. He currently sits as an Independent Conservative MLA in the Assembly.

2. Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser left the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA on September 12, 2017. He joined the Alberta Party caucus on January 9, 2018 and ran for that party’s leadership.

3. Dave Rodney resigned as MLA for Calgary-Lougheed on November 1, 2017 in order to trigger a by-election to allow Kenney to enter the Legislative Assembly. Rodney was first elected as a PC MLA in 2004.

4. Don MacIntyre resigned as MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake on Feb. 2, 2018 after being charged with sexual assault and sexual interference. McIntyre was the UCP’s critic for Energy and a member of the UCP Rural Crime Task Force.

5. Brian Jean resigned as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin on March 5, 2018 in the months following his defeat in the UCP leadership contest. Jean had led the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017.

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.

Karen McPherson, Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill.

MLA Karen McPherson to endorse Rick Fraser in Alberta Party leadership race, sources confirm

One-third of the Alberta Party Caucus is expected to endorse Alberta Party leadership candidate Rick Fraser this morning, campaign sources confirm.

Rick Fraser MLA Alberta Party Calgary-South East

Rick Fraser

Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson is one of three Alberta Party MLAs in the Legislative Assembly. She was first elected as a New Democratic Party MLA in 2015 and joined the Alberta Party in 2017.

Fraser was elected as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-South East in 2012 and 2015. He briefly joined the United Conservative Party caucus before joining the Alberta Party leadership race in January 2018.

Following former leader Greg Clark’s resignation in Nov. 2017, the race flew largely under the radar of most Alberta politics watchers until former PC cabinet minister and three-term Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel threw his name into the contest. Calgary lawyer and federal Liberal official Kara Levis was the first candidate to join the race in late 2017.

By all accounts the race has been civil and the interactions between the three leadership campaigns have been friendly and cordial.

Membership sales for the leadership vote were cut off yesterday at noon. Voting will take place online from Feb. 25 to 27, 2018.

Results of the leadership race will be announced at an event at the Oasis Centre in Edmonton on Feb. 27. A results viewing party will be also be held at the Craft Beer Market in downtown Calgary.

Daveberta Podcast - Ryan Hastman Adam Rozenhart Dave Cournoyer

Episode 4: The Alberta Party (again), leaked UCP policy, and predictions for 2018

Daveberta Podcast Alberta PoliticsThe Alberta Party leadership race (it’s finally a race!), the United Conservative Party’s leaked policy document, predictions for 2018, and hot gossip from the Alberta Legislature are just some of the topics covered in the latest episode of The Daveberta Podcast with Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman (recorded in the Harry Strom Memorial Studios on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018).

Dave also talks about the 10 year anniversary of the edstelmach.ca incident.

Listen and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play, and wherever you find podcasts online.

We’d love to hear what you think of the podcast, so feel free to leave a review where you download it and share the podcast with a friend. Also feel free to leave a comment on this blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We’d also like to send a huge thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for his help in making this podcast a reality.

Thanks!

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.

Karen McPherson Jamie Kleinsteuber Calgary NDP MLA

MLA Karen McPherson bids farewell to the Alberta NDP

Photo: Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson (right) and Calgary-Northern Hills MLA Jamie Kleinsteuber (left). Source: Facebook

There have been a lot of changes on the opposition side of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly this year, but today marked the first time since 2015 that we saw a decline in the number of MLAs on the government side.

Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson unexpectedly announced on social media this morning that she was leaving the governing New Democratic Party caucus in order to sit as an Independent MLA. Elected in the Orange Wave that swept Alberta in 2015, McPherson has kept a relatively low profile in the Assembly while serving as chairperson of the Standing Committee on Private Bills.

In a statement that in parts sounded somewhat similar to what former UCP MLA Rick Fraser wrote last month when he announced he was sitting as an Independent MLA, McPherson wrote:

“Alberta, in fact the world, is changing quickly and I believe our political processes need to reflect these shifts. Continuing to do politics the way it’s being done will lead to further polarization. We are missing the middle where we have more in common with each other than we are different. Albertans need political choices that inspire them, not scare them.”

McPherson’s letter was short on details but included statements about the need to transform the health care and education system and the role of technology in the economy, including expanding high speed internet to all rural communities (she also mentioned this in a promotional video produced by the NDP caucus in July 2016).

As a backbench MLA, McPherson’s departure is not likely to have any significant impact on the functions of the government. But it does mark the most significant breach of party discipline the NDP has experienced during their first term in government. To their credit, Rachel Notley‘s NDP have done an impressive job enforcing MLA discipline in the government caucus, avoiding the kind of embarrassing bozo-eruptions that have plagued the Conservative opposition benches over the past two years.

Despite her low-profile and her insistence that the decision was made without malice, McPherson’s departure does add fuel to the narrative that the NDP is weak in Calgary, which is expected to be a key electoral battleground in the next election.


SHOCKER: Callaway endorses Kenney

If McPherson’s announcement came out of nowhere, the decision by Jeff Callaway to drop out of the United Conservative Party leadership race to endorse Jason Kenney was the exact opposite. Most political watchers I have spoken with believe that Callaway’s only real reason for entering the UCP leadership race was to attack Brian Jean on Kenney’s behalf.

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.

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.