Tag Archives: Rick Strankman

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.

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

Tracking MLA endorsements in the UCP leadership race

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

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

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

Doug Schweitzer: Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)

Another Season of Stampede Politicking in Calgary

Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Politicians of all stripes descended on Alberta’s largest city this week for the annual Calgary Stampede festivities.

Though most of them have probably never ridden a horse or woke up at 5am (or earlier) to start their day on the farm, they were almost all brandishing big shiny belt buckles, wrangler-style shirts and cowboy hats of various sizes (and if they are lucky, they weren’t wearing them backwards).

Alberta’s NDP caucus held their annual summer caucus meeting in Calgary this week, which allowed most of the 54 NDP MLAs to scatter across the city to attend pancake breakfasts and BBQ lunches that could be found on almost every street corner this week.

The NDP had a particularly strong presence at Stampede events this year, signalling what many political watchers already believe – that Calgary will be a major battleground in the next provincial election. Calgarians elected fifteen NDP MLAs in the Orange Wave of 2015 but the party still remains organizationally weak in this city.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta

Brian Jean

Premier Rachel Notley and various cabinet ministers used the week in Calgary to make a series of funding announcements, including loosening restrictions on restaurant patios, construction industry tax credits, improvements to the Canada-Alberta Job Grant and business grants for Alberta’s food processing and booming craft beer industry.

Already campaigning for the leadership of the currently non-existent United Conservative Party, Brian Jean was spotted attending some events that a leader of the right-wing Wildrose Party would not expected to be seen at – such as the annual United Nurses of Alberta BBQ and LGBTQ events. This is likely an attempt to differentiate himself from his social conservative leadership rival Jason Kenney.

Kenney, who is earning a reputation as the potshot king of Alberta politics, offered to pay for Notley to take a course in economics this week. Notley, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Alberta and a Law Degree from Osgoode Hall, rightfully pointed out the arrogance of Kenney’s comments.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

Meanwhile, Alberta Together, a political action committee for the Alberta Party, attracted a sizeable group of disgruntled former PC Party members unhappy with Kenney’s leadership to an event this week in Calgary.

By the end of Sunday, most of the politicians visiting Calgary will have hung up their cowboy hats and packed away their boots and denim until next year. But while the Calgary Stampede may be the biggest political event of the season, it is only the beginning of what will be a summer full of political campaigns and maneuvering.

Wildrose MLA blames “hack job” for anti-Trudeau tweet

Speaking to a radio station in his Drumheller-Stettler constituency, Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman claimed the “electronic sphere” and a “hack job” were responsible for a tweet posted by his MLA twitter account last week accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being a “gutless puke.”

The tweet appeared to have been sent in response to Trudeau’s initial plans not to attend this year’s Stampede, which he later changed (Trudeau was attending the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany earlier this week).

The tweet, which was deleted moments after it was posted, was first reported on this blog last week.

Two weeks until decision day for Conservatives in Alberta

On July 6, 2016, Jason Kenney officially launched his campaign to capture the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives and lead them into a merger with the right-wing Wildrose Party. After 19-years as an Ottawa politician, Kenney was easily able to stage a hostile take-over the broken and battered former governing party.

One year later, Kenney is campaigning to convince PC and Wildrose members to approve the creation of a new party in a July 22 vote, while also campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be created United Conservative Party (whether Conservatives are actually more united now is a completely different question).

A vote of 50 percent plus one is needed from PC Party members to approve the deal, but a steeper 75 percent support vote is needed from Wildrose Party members to fulfill their end of the agreement.

As has been pointed out before, it is expected that many conservative activists will purchase memberships in both the PC and Wildrose parties in order to vote twice on July 22.

Some Wildrosers are nervous that the three-quarters support could be hard to achieve.

On most days it can be hard to get 75 percent of Wildrose members to agree what day of the week it is,” one former Wildrose Party member told me, referring to the raucous reputation and anti-establishment tendencies of the party’s membership. But with the political careers of so many prominent Conservative politicians tied to the success of the July 22 vote, it is hard to believe it would be allowed to fail.

But just in case, a Plan B might be needed.

Rona Ambrose

Rona Ambrose

Four candidates have officially declared their interest in running for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party, when and if it is actually formed: Kenney, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer and Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Both Jean and Kenney have essentially been using their parties as vehicles to promote their leadership campaigns while also setting up separate political action committees. Fildebrandt has created United Liberty PAC and his leadership bid appears to be at least partly inspired by the strong showing by Maxime Bernier in Alberta during the recent federal Conservative leadership race.

It may just be wishful thinking by some conservatives, but speculation continues that former federal Official Opposition leader Rona Ambrose could enter the race. Ambrose recently resigned her seat in Parliament and is expected to begin a new role in Washington D.C. She, along with a crowd of Conservatives MPs, also endorsed Kenney after he announced his bid for the PC leadership a year ago.

Another Wildrose Bozo-Eruption

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Hamburg, Germany to meet with world leaders at the G20 summit, some conservatives are angry he is not instead attending the Calgary Stampede.

Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, who has represented Drumheller-Stettler since 2012, posted a tweet on July 4, 2017 which appeared to accuse Trudeau of being a “Gutless puke” for not attending the Stampede (see the screenshot).

The tweet was deleted moments after it was posted.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Kenney shifts into Phase Two of Uniting the Right

Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.

Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.

An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.

Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.

Wason Resigns

Troy Wason

Troy Wason

PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.

It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.

Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.

The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is spending much his political retirement on Twitter, posted a photo online showing the PC constituency association in Edmonton-Castle Downs, which he represented in the Assembly from 2001 until 2015, had liquidated its financial assets by donating the funds to local charities.

I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.

Gotfried and the Red Menace

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.

This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman apologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?

Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.

Press Progress unleashed a long list of “abnormal” comments that the 48-year old Kenney has made over the course of his 30ish-year political career. They include comments from his time as an anti-abortion activist at the Catholic University of San Francisco to more recent claims that schools brainwash children with anti-conservative beliefs“bohemian” youths are “unconsciously” promoting communism and marxist professors are working to “suppress” Canada’s “Christian patrimony.”

There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.

Main photo: Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

PC Alberta Tammany Hall

NDP Bill aims to take Big Money out of Alberta politics

The Alberta NDP are pushing forward with their plans to reform Alberta’s outdated election finance laws.

Christina Gray Edmonton Mill Woods MLA

Christina Gray

Labour Minister Christina Gray, who also serves as Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, introduced the NDP’s latest election finance reforms in the Legislature today in Bill 35: Fair Elections Finances Act. This follows in the footsteps of the first bill championed by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP after the party formed government in 2015, banning corporate and union donations to political parties.

The bill introduced today includes a handful of the reform ideas that were debated by the now-defunct Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability, which was created during the euphoria that followed the election of the NDP. The political mood soured quickly after the election and the committee quickly succumbed to a year of partisan wrangling and procedural brinksmanship until the Legislature allowed the committee to disband in September 2016.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

The new bill has already received the support of committee member and Liberal Party leader David Swann. Dr. Swann, who is believed to be quite sympathetic to the NDP on many issues, was quoted in a government press released praising the changes.

The bill picks up where the committee left off, but does not include some of the more controversial ideas, such as per-vote financial subsidies for political parties.

Bill 35 would lower the limit that individuals can contribute annually to political parties to $4,000, which is a positive move, and is a reform that NDP and Wildrose MLAs on the all-party committee found room to agree on. The current annual contribution limits are $15,000 outside election periods and $30,000 during election periods.

Eric Rosendahl

Eric Rosendahl

The bill imposes a spending limit of $50,000 for each individual candidate’s campaigns and a $2 million limit for political parties (the Progressive Conservatives were the only party to spend more than $2 million in the last election). I am in favour of spending limits but I do believe that a $50,000 limit for constituency campaigns could be too low. I expect this could lead to some candidate campaigns spending additional funds in advance of the election being called in order to circumvent the low limit.

There are currently no spending limits in Alberta and our province is currently the only province in Canada without spending limits. The lack of spending limits has led to some significant disparities in what is spent in elections campaigns. For example, Edmonton-Whitemud PC candidate Stephen Mandel‘s campaign spent $132,991 in 2015, while candidates like West Yellowhead New Democrat Eric Rosendahl spent $748. Generally, the rule is that the candidate who spends the most money is likely to win, but 2015 was an exception to that rule (Mr. Mandel was defeated and Mr. Rosendahl was elected).

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

The NDP have allowed a handful of costs to be exempted from the limit, including travel costs, parking and gas, childcare expenses, expenses related to a candidate living with a disability, and financial audits required by law. I suspect the exemption of travel and gas costs are meant to address some concerns that MLAs on the committee raised about additional expenses incurred when campaigning in geographically large rural constituencies. This issue was raised by Wildrose MLAs on the committee who represent some of these large rural areas.

The bill also proposes limiting spending by candidates running in party nomination contests, which currently does not exist in Alberta. Nomination candidates would now have to register their candidacy with Elections Alberta, which is similar to a system that already exists for federal political parties.

Rick Strankman

Rick Strankman

Perhaps most controversially, Bill 35 seeks to limit the total amount of money that third-party advertisers can spend during elections campaigns. The proposed limit of $150,000, of which no more than $3,000 could used in an individual constituency, is severely limiting. The high costs associated with advertising campaigns would mean that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any third-party group to run an effective province-wide campaign during an election period in Alberta.

The province’s original third party advertising laws were introduced in 2009 by first term Progressive Conservative MLA Rob Anderson, who later crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 before crossing back to the PCs in 2014. Mr. Anderson is now supporting Jason Kenney‘s campaign to merge the two parties and penned an apology to Wildrose supporters on his blog.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, considering the vastly different political environment in 2016, the third-party advertising laws passed by the PCs in 2009 were seen as a reaction to the Albertans for Change advertising campaign targeted then-premier Ed Stelmach. The ads, which became infamous for the spooky “Noooo Plaaan” tagline, were sponsored by a handful of Alberta labour unions.

It was during the 2009 debate in the Legislative Assembly over Mr. Anderson’s bill that the rookie MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, Rachel Notley, foreshadowed what seven years later would become her government’s reforms to Alberta’s elections finance system:

…in Alberta we should have a much more comprehensive set of rules around our own election financing as candidates, as members of political parties, we should have much more substantial limits on how much we can spend as political parties, and we should have much more substantial rules on the maximum donation that we can receive, all of that designed to ensure it is the individual voter whose activity and whose engagement ultimately makes the day one way or the other at the end of the process and that it’s not one person or a group of 20 people with $15,000 each who can decide a particular campaign in a particular riding.


Where is Strankman’s bill?

Post media columnist Graham Thomson raises an important point in his latest column. Earlier this year Wlidrose MLA Rick Strankman introduced a Private Members’ Bill calling for a blackout of government announcements during election period in order to prevent a governing party from using public funds to influence the election.

The bill was introduced in the Assembly but then referred to the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability, which never had the opportunity to debate it before it was disbanded. It is unclear whether Mr. Strankman’s bill will ever resurface in a future sitting.

What the 2nd quarter fundraising results mean for Alberta’s political parties

Elections Alberta released the results of this year’s second quarter of fundraising for provincial political parties this week. Following the release of the disclosures I took a closer look at last quarter’s results and what they could mean for the parties.

Alberta Political Party fundraising in 2015 and the first two quarters of 2016.

Alberta Political Party fundraising in 2015 and the first two quarters of 2016. (Click for a larger image)

New Democratic Party

The Alberta NDP raised ten percent less than they did in the first quarter of 2016, which marks the third best full quarter fundraising results since the party formed government in May 2015. The NDP have never led party fundraising but they appear to have developed a healthy and significant base of individual donors. Note: The NDP do not register donations to individual constituency associations, so all funds raised are disclosed through the central party.

Wildrose Party

The Wildrose Party maintained its fundraising lead over the NDP by raising the most funds of any party the second quarter. This is a good sign for leader Brian Jean, who’s position as leader of Alberta’s conservatives is being challenged by federal Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney through a hostile take-over bid of the PC Party. Not counted in the chart above is the funds raised by constituency associations in the second quarter, including Highwood which raised $17,545, Strathmore-Brooks which raised $8,350 and Calgary-Foothills which raised $8,100.

Of note:

  • Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman and his wife Diane Strankman donated $1,500 to the Vermilion-Lloydminster Wildrose Association, that constituency association’s largest donors in the second quarter. The constituency is represented in the Legislative Assembly by PC MLA Richard Starke.
  • Gary Bikman, an MLA who crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the PCs in December 2014, donated $500 to the Wildrose association in Cardston-Taber-Warner. He represented the constituency from 2012 to 2015 and was defeated in his bid to become the PC candidate in 2015.

Progressive Conservative Party

Long gone are the days of secret trust funds and overflowing campaign war-chests. This was a dismal second quarter for the former governing Progressive Conservative Party, which raised only $27,376. This was the party’s second worst quarterly fundraising result in recent memory, which is not a good sign as the PCs are set to begin a leadership race on October 1, 2016. But the poor showing by the central party is somewhat deceiving as some local PC constituency associations raised a significant amount of funds in the second quarter: $11,090 in Calgary-Hays, $10,166 in Vermilion-Lloydminster, $10,100 in Calgary-West, $9,386 in Calgary-Northern Hills and $8,277 in Grande Prairie-Wapiti.

Liberal Party

For the Alberta Liberals, the good news is they increased the quarterly fundraising by 97 percent, the bad news is that they only raised $57,561.04, which is less than their highest quarter last year (they raised more than $110,000 in the first quarter of 2015). Worth noting is a fundraising reception the Liberals are holding on July 21 at the Mayfair Golf Club that will be hosted by Marc de La Bruyere, chairperson of MacLab Enterprises and a well-connected businessman (he also donated $5,000 to the PC Party during the 2015 election).

Alberta Party

After the election of their first elected MLA in 2015, the Alberta Party appears to still be struggling to develop a sustainable base of donors. Unlike the other parties, the newish party is without an already established fundraising network, which takes significant time and resources to develop.


Here is a list of the top donors for each of the five parties, including donations to constituency associations, in the first two quarters of 2016:

New Democratic Party
Harinder Rai: $15,000
Pavan Kumar Elapavuluri: $5,000
Tim Foster: $5,000
Jamie Kleinsteuber: $3,653.75
Jason Rockwell: $3,407.50
Trevor Horne: $3,051.25
Darshan Brar: $3,000
David Eggen: $2,773.75
Mary Williams: $2,730
Alayne Sinclair: $2,643.75

Wildrose Party
Arnell Gordon: $29,000
Tom Goodchild: $15,000
Maurice Swertz: $15,000
Arlene Goodchild: $7,000
Robert Such: $6,050.00
Iris Kirschner: $7,587.50
James Brown: $5,000
Ryan Crawford: $5,000
Alexander Soutzo: $5,000
Frances Jean: $3,962.33

Progressive Conservative Party
Marcel Van Hecke: $15,957.50
Dave Bissett: $15,000
Scott Burns: $15,000
Stanley Milner: $15,000
Bradley Shaw: $15,000
Celine Belanger: $5,000
Ric McIver: $2,940
Chris Warren: $1,020
Elizabeth Henuset: $1,000
Franklin Kernick: $1,000

Liberal Party
Grant Dunlop: $5,600
Karen Sevcik: $5,300
Ian Cartwright: $3,306
Peter Poole: $3,000
Raj Sherman: $2,000
Dan MacLennan: $1,520
Dan Hays: $1,500
Rowland Nichol: $1,500
Catherine Ryan: $1,260
David Swann: $1,000

NDP leader Rachel Notley, surrounded by her party's Calgary candidates in the 2015 election.

1 year later – has the NDP kept their election promises to improve ethics in government?

Days after the Alberta New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government in 2015, I wrote a column outlining the promises made in the party’s election platform to improve ethics in government. One year later, here is a look at those six platform points and whether the NDP have kept their promises to implement them.

(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.

This was the first law passed by the NDP after they formed government. Introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta banned corporate and union donations to provincial political parties in Alberta. The received unanimous support in the Legislature and retroactively came into effect on June 15, 2015.

It is banned provincially and federally but it is still legal for corporations and unions to make financial contributions to municipal election candidates in Alberta. There is still time for the NDP to amend the Local Authorities Elections Act to ban these donations before the October 2017 municipal elections.

(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.

A promise made by Premier Rachel Notley at a campaign stop in Calgary on April 17, 2015. An NDP press release at the time said that “[t]he list will indicate how projects are prioritized, including the standards used to make the decisions, and will identify when and how changes are made to those priorities.”

Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason said in July 2015 that a list would be released soon but by November 2015 he told reporters that an “artificial order” of priority might create too much animosity between municipalities. The NDP still have until 2019 to implement this promise but I suspect they have decided the political blowback from municipal governments and school boards would cause more trouble than it is worth for the provincial government.

(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

The Select Special Committee on Ethics and Accountability was created in 2015 to review the Conflicts of Interest Act, the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

The committee is chaired by Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville NDP MLA Jessica Littlewood and is composed of 10 NDP MLAs, 5 Wildrose MLAs, and one Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Alberta Party MLA. The committee is expected to submit its recommendations for amendments to the Acts in September 2016. A motion introduced by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark to extend the committee’s mandate until March 2017 failed last week.

(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.

This could be included in the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability recommendations expected to be completed in September 2016. A private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman in 2016 that would ban government advertising during election periods was referred to this committee.

(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act was introduced by Ms. Ganley on November 5, 2015 and came into effect on December 11, 2015. This bill extended the sunshine list to require compensation disclosure for certain employees who work for agencies, boards and commissions, public post-secondary institutions, Offices of the Legislature and provincial health authorities.

(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.

This is a perennial pledge made by opposition politicians that in practice is difficult to prove when the party forms government. When the NDP won a majority government on May 5, 2015, they also won  a majority majorities on the all-party committees of the Legislature. Like all majority governments, they are using their majority to push forward their agenda at the committee level.

As long as our legislative system is dominated by the government leadership it is unlikely that MLAs committees will actually be independent of influence from the Premier’s Office. There is little evidence to suggest that MLA committees are now controlled any more or any less than they were under the previous PC Party government.

Funding for the eight Offices of the Legislature has decreased by $26,300,000 from $152,407,000 in 2015-2016 to $126,107,000 in 2016-2017, largely due to a decrease in funding for the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (because the next election is not expected to be held until 2019).

Ethics Commissioner Complaints

Responding to a request by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler investigated allegations that two fundraisers attended by Ms. Notley were in violation of the Conflicts of Interest Act. Ms. Trussler’s report concluded that Ms. Notley was not in breach of the act with respect to either of Mr. Nixon’s complaints.

Questions have been raised about the results of another investigation made by Ms. Trussler into allegations that former PC Finance Minister Robin Campbell had violated the Conflicts of Interest Act through his activities as President of the Coal Association of Canada. Political strategist Corey Hogan penned a letter to Ms. Trussler asking for clarification of how she interpreted the Act in this investigation.

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

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

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

Commies

No, it’s not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next?

Bill 6 is currently in second reading in the Legislature.

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

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

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Sky does not fall as Alberta NDP presents its first budget

When Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood in the Legislature on Oct. 27 to deliver the Alberta NDP’s first budget, it marked the first time since 1972 that the budget was not tabled by a Progressive Conservative finance minister.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The first budget of Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP government includes a 15 percent increase in capital spending over the next five years, with a goal to create jobs and tackle the province’s aging and neglected hospitals, schools, roads and other public infrastructure.

The NDP budget includes modest increases and projected stable funding for health care, education, advanced education and human services – core services that Albertans depend on. This was a key component of the election platform that helped propel the NDP into government on May 5. The job creation and economic stimulus elements of the budget followed last week’s creation of an Economic Development and Trade portfolio, led by Edmonton MLA Deron Bilous.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

A projected $6.1 billion deficit in the NDP budget is larger than the $5 billion deficit presented in the Tory spring budget, which was tabled but never passed. But the Alberta government’s eighth consecutive deficit budget is “…hardly sky is falling territory,” wrote University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe in Maclean’s Magazine this week.

While not trivial, obviously, it is completely manageable. Alberta is fully able to handle it and no one need panic. It represents 1.8 per cent of the province’s GDP, which is fairly small, as far as some deficits go,” Dr. Tombe wrote.

The NDP government will borrow to pay for parts of its operations budget starting next year, which will hopefully be a short-term move. Decades of bad financial management and poor long-term planning by the previous conservative government has exacerbated the provincial government’s current fiscal situation. The PCs simply became too comfortable and dependent on unreliable revenue from natural resource royalties to fund the province’s operations budget.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Mr. Ceci also announced that the government would legislate a debt ceiling of 15 percent debt-to-GDP in order to hold off a risk of credit downgrades and higher debt service costs.

Former premier Jim Prentice was correct last year when he warned about getting “off the royalty roller coaster.” The Alberta government faces serious revenue problems and moving Alberta away from its over dependence on resource revenue will be a significant test of Ms. Notley’s first term in government.

Any plan to deal with the revenue problem will likely come after the government receives a much anticipated report from the royalty review panel chaired by ATB President and CEO Dave Mowat. The panel is expected to finalize its recommendations by the end of the year. But it will not be enough to simply wait for the international price of oil to rise again. Albertans need to have a serious conversation about revenue and taxation, including the potential introduction of a provincial sales tax.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

To no ones surprise, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and finance critic Derek Fildebrandt responded to the NDP budget with outrage and a message filled with apocalyptic rhetoric.

Mr. Jean’s post-budget press conference was somewhat overshadowed by Mr. Fildebrandt’s bizarre decision to refuse to answer a question from Globe & Mail reporter Carrie Tait (see the ~8:50 mark in this video). Mr. Fildebrandt is sour from a recent interview Ms. Tait published in which she quotes him as claiming the NDP duped Alberta voters by actually implementing promises made during the election (and he later referred to Ms. Tait as a b-list reporter and accused her of auditioning for a job in the Premier’s Office – a comment he later retracted).

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A joint opinion-editorial written by Wildrose MLAs Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), and Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Dave Schneider (Little Bow) and circulated to rural weekly newspapers in September 2015 provides some sense of how that party would approach provincial budgeting if elected to government:

“When governments borrow and spend, there’s no marketable asset. There’s only debt. It’s like using a credit card to buy pizza. Even when governments borrow to spend on bridges and highways rather than programs, the debt is still not connected to a marketable asset. It’s a liability. Mortgages can be liquidated. Houses can be sold. Who buys used government bridges and worn-out highways?”

This is a crude ideological approach to public governance. Using capital financing to pay for the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, bridges and roads is nothing like using a credit card to buy a pizza.

The Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget is sensible and reflects the thoughtful approach that has defined the first six months of Ms. Notley’s tenure as Alberta’s Premier. Rather than follow a disastrous road taken by some of her predecessors, and slash funding to government services while the price of oil is low, the NDP government is taking an opportunity to invest in much needed public infrastructure when the economy is slow and the price is right. It’s not a brand new approach in Alberta politics, but it is refreshing to see a government focus on building rather than tearing down.

Premier Rachel Notley (centre) and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason (right) announce that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge (left) will advise the new government. (Photo Credit to premierofalberta on Flickr)

Notley NDP waste no time implementing popular progressive agenda in former conservative heartland

Banning corporate and union donations: Check.
Restoring funding to health, education and human services: Check.
Increasing corporate taxes: Check.
Introducing a new climate change strategy: Coming soon.
Phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage: Coming soon.
Reviewing Alberta’s natural resource royalty framework: Coming soon.

Progress is the order of business in Canada’s so-called Conservative heartland as Premier Rachel Notley’s newly elected Alberta NDP government begins implementing the main promises from their winning election platform. Leaders of the previous PC regime, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, styled themselves as Progressive Conservatives, their actions rarely matched their words. The NDP proposed a fairly moderate progressive agenda and it is refreshing to see it take action so quickly after the election.

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Revenue and tax reform was a big issue before and during the recent election, with Mr. Prentice and the opposition argued over how best to remove Alberta from the oil revenue roller coaster. It remains clear that Alberta cannot continue to rely on revenues generated from oil and gas royalties to fund the provincial operating budget. Both the PCs and NDP proposed tax increases in the recent election, but Mr. Prentice’s refusal to increase corporate taxes, even symbolically, was a huge miscalculation.

While conservatives preach doom and gloom, our province still has corporate and personal tax rates lower than when Ralph Klein was premier, no provincial sales tax, and huge reserves of oil and gas. Alberta will now have the same corporate tax rate as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous

But there is still plenty more for the new government to do. Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier should extend protections to farmworkers injured on the job. Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous should follow calls from Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton’s Don Iveson and Michael Janz to reform municipal election finance laws. And the province can do much more to clean up provincial election laws, something that a new all-party committee will be tasked to do soon (and they should consider adopting some of the amendments made by Wildrose MLAs during recent debates in the Legislature).

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

Apologizing for previous governments lack of action to stop residential schools and calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women was absolutely the right step to take but action needs to follow. Justice and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley needs to show through government policy that this apology is more than just political posturing.

The government also announced it will soon take action to improve Alberta’s record of poor environmental management and lack of action of climate change, which has helped fuel international opposition to pipeline expansion and the oil sands. On climate change, the PCs lost the public relations battle years ago. Now the challenge will fall to Ms. Notley, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd to win the policy war on climate change.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

I do not have enough room in this post to even begun to discuss the challenges facing Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Education Minister David Eggen (which will be included in a series of future posts).

As the new government moves forward with what in most other provinces would be considered a moderate progressive agenda, Canada’s conservative outrage industry is gearing up its attacks on the Alberta’s new government.

Talking heads like Ezra Levant are fuelling the paranoia of right-wing fringe conservatives afraid we are witnessing a Red Dawn-style communistic coup (federal Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte and Wildrose MLAs Drew Barnes and Rick Strankman were among the registered spectators at one of Mr. Levant’s travelling circus shows). And recent opinion editorials by critics like conservative economist Jack Mintz, who suggested Alberta could be the next Greece, have verged on the bizarre.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Ms. Notley and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason moved quickly to quell criticism of their fiscal plan by announcing last week that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge will be advising the Premier on infrastructure investment issues. Hiring Mr. Dodge is a smart move and shows a willingness to bring in talent from outside traditional NDP circles.

Aside from the angry conservatives, the new government appears to still enjoy popular support from Albertans, who tossed out the scandal-ridden and tone deaf Tories on May 5. Recent polling shows Ms. Notley, still in her honeymoon period, enjoying the approval of 53% of Albertans, making her the second most popular premier in Canada next to Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.

The NDP need to be careful not to cut short their honeymoon by making small mistakes. They have already faced criticism for hiring too many provincial outsiders and the media is poking around the perceived influence of Ms. Notley’s husband. These are minor issues that I am sure most Albertans will look past today but the small mistakes can pile up quickly if the new government is not careful.

If the NDP can continue to limit their missteps, focus on implementing their popular platform, and remember why Albertans endorsed Ms. Notley’s charismatic leadership, they will enjoy a warm welcome on the summer political barbecue and parade circuit.

Alberta’s Tories Navigate through unfamiliar waters

As most Albertans head to work tomorrow morning, the Tory-connected public relations firm Navigator will host an invite-only session for clients in downtown Edmonton titled “Alberta’s New Government: What to Expect.” The session is being hosted by former Ottawa television host Don Newman and will feature main speaker Kathleen Monk (Ottawa NDP insider and former executive director of the Broadbent Institute) and Tory-connected panelists Jason Hatcher (managing principal at Navigator) and Jaime Watt (Toronto-based Navigator executive chairman). In a normal election year, it would not be surprising that this company would organize a session like this for their clients, but this has not been a normal election year.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

One of Navigator’s managing principals, Randy Dawson, was the campaign manager for the Progressive Conservative Party‘s disastrous losing re-election campaign (despite the company’s slogan “When you can’t afford to lose”). After the firm became part of a controversy that damaged the Tories during the election campaign and one of its high profile employees led the campaign that ended the PC Party’s uninterrupted 44-year reign, it is surprising that Navigator is raising its flag in Alberta so soon after election day.

On Thursday night, interim PC Party leader Ric McIver will take the stage in what is sure to be a sombre event. Before Rachel Notley‘s NDP were swept to office on May 5, Premier Jim Prentice had been scheduled to speak at his party’s Calgary leader’s dinner on May 14. At the time tickets were so sought after that they sold out. Everyone in corporate Calgary wanted to be there to congratulate Mr. Prentice on his big win but voters had different plans. And while the fundraising dinner remains sold out, it is expected that a smaller and less powerful crowd will be in attendance.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

It has been astonishing to watch the breakneck speed in which some longtime PC supporters have abandoned any belief their party can someday return to power. Former justice minister Jonathan Denis called for a merger of the Wildrose and PC Party only days after his personal defeat in Calgary-Acadia.

Former MLA Greg Stevens, who served in Peter Lougheed’s cabinets, wrote in the Calgary Herald that the PC Party would “will cough and spit and be no more” after its election loss. And former Premier Ed Stelmach said shifting too far to the political right was a mistake made by the PC Party.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean responded to Mr. Denis by saying he was not interested in merging his party with the recently defeated Tories.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

In December 2014, the Wildrose Party was moribund after former leader Danielle Smith led most of the party’s MLAs into the PC Caucus. Today, none of the floor crossers are MLAs and Mr. Jean’s Wildrose Party has formed Official Opposition with 21 MLAs (4 more than Ms. Smith led the party to win in 2012).

In response to Ms. Smith’s attempts to restore her public image, former Wildrose Communications Director Brock Harrison wrote an op-ed in the National Post aimed at debunking her “revisionist history.

Notley Senior Staff
Brian Topp Alberta Premier Chief of Staff

Brian Topp

Ms. Notley announced three senior roles in the Premier’s Office. Brian Topp will be Chief of Staff and Adrienne King will be Deputy Chief of Staff. Mr. Topp is the former federal NDP leadership candidate and deputy Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow and Ms. King is the former Chief of Staff at the Alberta’s NDP Caucus. Richard Dicerni will continue as Deputy Minister for Executive Council. Mr. Dicerni was appointed to the role by Mr. Prentice in September 2014.

Official Opposition Critics
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

The Wildrose Official Opposition unveiled its front bench critics for the upcoming Legislative session: Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes as Shadow Minister for Health, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman as Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier as Shadow Minister for Municipal Affairs, Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt as Shadow Minister for Finance & Treasury Board, Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith as Shadow Minister for Education, Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer as Shadow Minister for Energy.

Friday morning provincial candidate nomination updates from Alberta

Bridget Pastoor Lethbridge-East MLA

Bridget Pastoor

Alberta MLAs will return to the Legislature for a spring sitting on March 10, 2015, the Progressive Conservative Party plans to have candidates nominated in all 87 constituencies by March 15, 2015 and Finance Minister Robin Campbell is expected to introduce a provincial budget in late March. It would be hard to find stronger indicators that an April 2015 provincial general election is on the horizon.

And as the PC Party plans to hold 35 nomination meetings on a February 21 “Super Saturday,” candidates have already begun to step up to run for nominations. The quickly approaching deadline and impending election will also force incumbent MLAs whether they will seek another term in the Legislative Assembly.

Maria Fitzpatrick Lethbridge NDP

Maria Fitzpatrick

In Lethbridge-East, PC MLA Bridget Pastoor announced this week that she would not seek re-election. The departure of the three-term MLA, who was elected as a Liberal in 2004 and 2008 before crossing the floor in 2011, will make Lethbridge-East a race to watch in the next election. Before Ms. Pastoor’s floor crossing, the constituency had been represented by Liberal MLAs since 1993.

With the prospect of gains following Shannon Phillips impressive performance in Lethbridge-West in 2012, the NDP chose Maria Fitzpatrick as their Lethbridge-East candidate this week in a three-way contest.

Mike Allen MLA

Mike Allen

In the heart of oil sands country, Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Don Scott and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen announced they will once again seek the PC nominations in their constituencies. Mr. Allen may face a nomination challenge following his controversial first term, which included being arrested on prostitution related charges while on a government trip to Minneapolis, USA and his resulting time as an Independent MLA. He was fined $500 plus court costs after pleading guilty and was allowed to rejoin the PC caucus.

In Airdrie, the retirement of PC-turned-Wildrose-returned-PC MLA Rob Anderson has led to speculation that 2012 PC candidate and city councillor Kelly Hegg and Mayor Peter Brown may seek the PC nomination.

Blake Pedersen MLA Medicine Hat

Blake Pedersen

In Medicine Hat, Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Blake Pedersen could face two challengers for the PC nomination. Former city councillor John Hamill, 77, has expressed interest in the nomination, as has 2012 PC candidate Darren Hirsch.

Danny Fieldberg has announced plans to seek the PC nomination in Cypress-Medicine Hat , a constituency currently represented by Wildrose MLA Drew Barnes. Mr. Barnes is looked at as potential leadership replacement for retiring Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, who has served as interim leader of the Wildrose Party since Danielle Smith abandoned her former party on December 17, 2014.

Jack Hayden PC Drumheller Stettler

Jack Hayden

Stettler County councillor Greggory Jackson announced plans in November 2014 to seek the PC nomination in Drumheller-Stettler. The constituency is currently represented by Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman. Former PC MLA Jack Hayden and former business owner Ed Mah have also announced plans to enter the PC nomination race.

Olds Town Councillor Wade Bearchell has announced his intentions to challenge Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Bruce Rowe for the PC nomination in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.

“My sense is that people are angry and upset and I know that the people of the constituency want somebody that they can believe in — that they trust,” Mr. Bearchell told the Olds Albertan in response to Mr. Rowe’s floor crossing on Dec. 17, 2014.


I have updated the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

Who will be the next leader of the Wildrose Party?

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

After 11 of the party’s 16 MLAs crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in November and December 2014, the conservative opposition Wildrose Party was thrown into chaos. Left without its most public faces, notably former leader Danielle Smith, the party will choose its next permanent leader sometime in the next year, likely between the months of March and September.

Soon-to-be-retired Member of Parliament Rob Anders said he will not run and Conservative Godfather Preston Manning would likely not be welcomed to join after he admitted to accidentally convincing the MLAs to abandon their party.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has been named as a natural choice for the leadership spot. Unknown to most Albertans, Mr. Barnes is the lone remaining Wildrose MLA, other than interim leader Heather Forsyth, to step into the spotlight in the weeks following the floor crossing. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw has also been mentioned as a potential leadership candidate.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

It is unclear whether the other remaining MLAs – Rick Strankman and Pat Stier – are interested in contesting the leadership.

Lawyer Richard Jones, the party’s nominated candidate in Calgary-Acadia, has been mentioned as a potential candidate, as has former lobby group spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt.

If the Wildrose Party waits too long to select a new leader, they could find themselves facing a provincial election without a permanent leader. On January 10, 2015, the PC Party Executive Board will meet and it is suspected they will discuss whether to keep the June 1st nomination timeline or whether to advance it in preparation for a Spring 2015 election.

Crossing the floor a last minute decision
Bruce McAllister MLA Wildrose PC

Bruce McAllister

The abruptness of the floor crossings shocked party supporters, political watchers and even some of the MLAs who crossed the floor.

“I too was shocked,” Chestermere-Rocky View MLA Bruce McAllister told the Rocky View Weekly. Mr. McAllister told the newspaper that he did not consult with his constituency prior to crossing the floor because the window of opportunity was quickly closing.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox told The Chautauqua that he “made an extremely difficult decision to join the governing PC Party of Alberta … a decision that was reached after many hours of agonizing and soul searching.”

“I finally made my decision moments before it was due,” Mr. Fox said.

Blake Pedersen MLA Medicine Hat

Blake Pedersen

In another bizarre addition to the floor crossing story, it appears that Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen was on vacation in Australia when he crossed the floor to the PC Party. On the day of the floor crossings, Mr. Pedersen sent his statement to reporters in the form of a text message from Down Under.

Despite previously embracing a mantra that leaned heavily on “consulting constituents,” it does not appear any consultation actually occurred before the MLAs quit their party.

But as Maclean’s writer Colby Cosh suggests, Albertans angry with the floor crossings are likely to move on and forget the former Wildrose MLAs transgressions.

Another Wildrose candidate drops out

The nominated Wildrose candidate in Strathcona-Sherwood Park has announced he is dropping out of the raceBrian Tiessen was nominated in a contested race in October 2014 against County Councillor Vic Bidzinski. He is one of a handful of nominated Wildrose candidates to forfeit their candidacies following the mass floor crossing on Dec. 17, 2014.

In a neighbouring constituency, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk tweeted that she will remain the nominated Wildrose candidate in Sherwood Park. Ms. Osinchuk will face PC MLA Cathy Olesen, a former mayor who Ms. Osinchuk defeated in the 2010 municipal elections.

Could the Wildrose collapse mean an early 2015 election?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her new boss, PC Party Premier Jim Prentice.

This week’s defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the Progressive Conservative Caucus has drastically impacted Alberta’s electoral map. The governing PCs now hold 72 of 87 electoral constituencies with the remaining opposition consisting of 5 Wildrose MLAs, 5 Liberal MLAs, 4 New Democrats and 1 Independent MLA.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

The mass-floor crossing, encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning, could increase the likelihood of an early 2015 general election. Now with 72 MLAs, the PCs are in a position to quickly nominate candidates across the province and take advantage of an opposition in disarray by calling a snap election early in the new year.

With Premier Jim Prentice increasingly warning of Alberta’s tough economic times, it is not far fetched to believe the PCs could seek a new mandate earlier than the 2016 fixed-election period. There is suspicion that Mr. Prentice wants to take advantage of the low price of oil in order to impose budget cuts before the price exits the “price trough” and begins to rise.

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

NDP MLA Brian Mason and blogger David Climenhaga suggest a snap election could be called in early January 2015, but it could be more likely the Tories would wait until February or March.

In their 43 years in government, it has been common for the PCs to table a provincial budget in February or March and then immediately drop the Writ of election in order to use the budget as their de-facto campaign platform. This timeline would also allow for an early 2015 cabinet shuffle to make room for floor-crossers Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, and allow the Tories time to build their message around a “tough economic times” budget/campaign platform.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

An early election would also allow Mr. Prentice to attract new candidates and force PC MLA’s too closely associated with former premier Alison Redford into early retirement (ie: Doug Horner, Fred Horne, Sandra JansenDoug Griffiths).

Mr. Prentice may also want to hold an election before more information is released by the R.C.M.P. regarding their investigation into Ms. Redford and her staff. The CBC reported on November 4, 2014 that a Justice Department internal review concluded Ms. Redford could face criminal charges if allegations about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The possibility of an early election should be a wake-up call for Alberta’s fractious non-conservative opposition parties, who are mostly contained within Alberta’s two largest cities. The lack of conservative vote split that the New Democrats, Liberals and Alberta Party had hoped to capitalize on may have vanished the moment Ms. Smith crossed the floor.

One potential speed bump to an early election could be dissent within the PC Caucus to the Wildrose MLA floor-crossing. I am told that more than a few PC MLAs are not pleased with their new colleagues of convenience, who have spent the past two years attacking and embarrassing them as the opposition. If Mr. Prentice suspects this internal dissent is potentially explosive, he may decide to hold off an election until tensions inside the PC Caucus cool down.

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

It is yet to be seen if the hostility to the PC-Wildrose Caucus merger – including the RecallDanielle campaign – will die down or whether it will manifest itself into a real backlash at the polls. This could have a big impact on whether an early election is held. The defection has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Albertans, but the political maneuver removes the most likely alternative that voters had to send a message to the Tories.

Despite having the luxury of a government-in-waiting for the past two years, it appears that the PC Party are once again are on a trajectory to form another massive majority and extend the their 43-year reign.

Wildrose candidates?
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Before the mass floor-crossing, Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party had nominated candidates in 28 constituencies. Following the leader-led defection, the number of nominated Wildrose candidates has dropped to 18.

Many of the party’s now-former MLAs were already nominated to run under the Wildrose banner in the next election. Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and Rick Strankman have been nominated to run in the next election.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, a former five-term PC MLA who crossed the floor to the Wildrose in 2010, has announced she will not seek re-election.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

And Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw‘s intentions remain unknown. It is suspected that Mr. Saskiw was waiting until after the Lakeland federal Conservative nomination to make a decision about staying in the Wildrose Caucus. His wife, past Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs, won the nomination late last week.

It is also likely that some of the already nominated Wildrose candidates will re-think their decision to run under that party’s banner in the next election. I am told that Edmonton Catholic School District Trustee Laura Thibert dropped out as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods earlier this month.

Jeff Wilson MLA Calgary-Shaw

Jeff Wilson

In Wetaskiwin-Camrose, nominated Wildrose candidate Gordon Hatch has dropped out of the race and endorsed incumbent PC MLA Verlyn Olson. And in Grande Prairie-Smoky, Wildrose nomination candidate Greg Tymchyna has dropped out in response of the ‘Wildrose-PC merger.’

But in Edmonton-McClung, Steve Thompson announced on his Facebook page that he would remain the Wildrose candidate and will challenge PC MLA David Xiao in the next election.

The NDP have nominated 10 candidates, not including their four MLAs and the Liberals have not yet started their candidate nomination process. Two Liberal MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, are leaving provincial politics to run as federal Liberal candidates in next year’s federal election.

Of the floor-crossers, none have publicly declared their plans to run for re-election as PC candidates, but many will try. And despite Mr. Prentice’s promised pledge of endorsement for their candidacies, the new PC MLAs could still face nomination challenges from their former opponents on the constituency level.

In Calgary-Shaw, arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler has already announced plans to seek the PC nomination, challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson.