Tag Archives: Rob Anderson

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.

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.

What if Paul Hinman had lost the 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore?

Former Wildrose Alliance Party leader Paul Hinman staged an odd and brief reappearance on Alberta’s political stage this week when he announced his plans to run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party. But when the Sept. 12, 2017 deadline for candidates to deposit a $57,500 fee had passed, Hinman did not appear to make the cut.

Hinman’s blip on the political radar this week got me thinking about the bigger role he has played in shaking up Alberta’s political environment. Not as a major player but as a secondary character.

His time as leader and sole MLA representing the social conservative Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Alliance from 2004 to 2009 was fairly unremarkable, but it was the role he played after he resigned as leader that had a much bigger impact in our province’s political history.

After he was defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008, Hinman was returned to the Legislature by a 278-vote narrow victory in a September 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. The seat was previously represented by deputy premier Ron Stevens and was believed to be a Progressive Conservative urban stronghold.

Even though he would again be unsuccessful in his bid to get re-elected in the following general election, Hinman’s win undoubtably added to the momentum of Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance going into the 2012 election.

But what would have happened if Hinman had lost that by-election race in Calgary-Glenmore?

Hinman’s by-election win provided early credibility for the Wildrose Alliance by showing that the party could elect candidates in long-held PC Party constituencies. Without this by-election win, the Wildrose Alliance’s momentum could have stalled or slowed going into the 2012 election.

Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts finished only 278 votes behind Hinman. Had she won the by-election, David Swann might have stayed on as party leader instead of resigning in 2011. A win in Glenmore might have led the Liberals to experience a resurgence in support going into the 2012 election, building on the party’s 2008 gains in Calgary. Or maybe the PCs would have simply won back the constituency in the following general election, as they did in 2012.

Popular city councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart placed third as the PC candidate in the by-election, which was not really a reflection of voters feelings towards her but of the unpopularity of then-premier Ed Stelmach in Calgary. If Colley-Urquhart had held on to Glenmore for the PCs, would PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson have crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in January 2010?

And an even larger ‘what-if’ question is, if Hinman had not won the by-election and his party’s momentum had sputtered, would Stelmach have resisted pressure from his cabinet and party to resign in 2011? Would he still be premier today?

While Hinman’s narrow win in a 2009 by-election is now an obscure footnote in Alberta’s political history, its impact on our province’s political environment and the split it helped create in the conservative movement in Alberta was huge.

Thinking about these kinds of scenarios can be endless fun for politicos (or at least for me).

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.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Breaking: Alberta’s Tories Poised to Sweep Election in Spring 2016

December 17, 2015

By: Dirk Pranter, Provincial Affairs columnist, Calgary Sunherald

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

One year after nearly the entire official opposition crossed the floor to join Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, the 44 year long governing party is expected to sweep the province for a record thirteenth election victory. Premier Jim Prentice is said to be preparing his party and its candidates for an early spring 2016 election.

According to Alberta’s fixed election date law, a provincial election must be called between March 31 and May 1, 2016.

The Wildrose MLA floor crossings on December 17, 2014 hurt the PCs in the polls in the first half of 2015. But after the Tories began to recover in the polls a fall cabinet shuffle brought two former Wildrose MLAs, Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, into Prentice’s cabinet as Finance Minister and Justice Minister.

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

Public opinion polls now suggest most Albertans have embraced the Prentice Tories once again. The PCs now have the support of 77 percent of Albertans, according to the most recent Western Insite poll.

“A few months ago it looked like the Tories had a real fight on their hands but today they are back on top,” said Jake Randall, vice-president of Western Insite Inc. “Prentice really didn’t start resonating with Albertans until after May 2015,” he said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior official in the PC Party admitted they were glad the provincial election wasn’t called in early 2015, as some party insiders had pushed for.

“We simply weren’t prepared to go to the polls in spring 2015,” the source said.

“We would have got smoked, boy, it would have been the end of us,” they said.

David Climenhaga

David Climenhaga

The hopes of New Democratic Party supporters were boosted when David Climenhaga defied expectations with a 67 percent landslide win for the NDP in a May 5, 2015 by-election in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert constituency.

Liberal MLAs Laurie Blakeman and David Swann added to the orange momentum on May 6 when they joined the NDP caucus, creating speculation that Rachel Notley‘s NDP could pose a serious challenge to the Tories in the next election.

But with recent polls showing the NDP back in their traditional range of 10 percent support, Albertans may never know what an NDP government looks like.

The Wildrose Party has wilted, with most of its support relegated to a handful of rural southern Alberta constituencies.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

Wildrose leader Derek Fildebrandt remains a harsh critic of the PCs and is in talks to create a ‘real conservative alternative’ by merging his party with the right-wing Social Credit and Alberta First parties.

“Most Albertans are moderates and are very suspicious and uncomfortable with the kind of social conservative politics inside the Wildrose Party,” said Darlene Sinclair, professor of political science at Vermilion River University in Lloydminster.

Sinclair predicted that the PCs had successfully built a coalition of moderate and progressive minded urbanites that could keep the Tories in government for many decades to come. But she warned that even with high polling numbers, the Prentice government faces serious challenges.

Tory supporters are quick to defend Prentice from criticisms about the job losses caused by a downturn in the economy, tax increases and his refusal to make deep funding cuts to public programs.

Former Conservative MP Brian Jean, who will be running for the Tories in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, said that Prentice is not to blame for job losses in the oil patch.

“It would be silly to believe that any Premier of Alberta, even Jim Prentice, has the power to control the international price of oil,” Jean said.

“It just doesn’t work like that, ” he said.

(Note: This article is a satirical take on what might have happened if the PC Party had waited until Alberta’s 2016 fixed election date to call the most recent provincial election. In reality, the PCs called the election one year early and Albertans elected Notley’s NDP with a majority government on May 5, 2015).

Can Wildrose survive Rob Anders? Can floor crossers survive PC Party?

Melissa Mathieson Rob Anders Macleod Conservative Guns

Calgary-West MP Rob Anders with former Conservative nomination candidate Melissa Mathieson in Feb. 2014.

Initially turned away by Wildrose Party officials, controversial Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders has asked the Wildrose Party for a “waiver” to run for the party’s leadership. Having lost bids for federal Conservative nominations in Calgary-Signal Hill and Bow River last year, the controversial Mr. Anders, 42, is scrambling to salvage his 18 year long political career.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

Before crossing the floor to the PC Party, former leader Danielle Smith publicly told Mr. Anders that he was not welcome to run for the Wildrose Party. But now with the party weakened and without a leader, Mr. Anders may be in a position to mobilize his legions of social conservatives to win the leadership.

Also said to be considering a run for the Wildrose leadership are former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk (a nominated candidate in Sherwood Park), former lobbyist Derek Fildebrandt (running for a nomination in Strathmore-Brooks) and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.

Can the PC-Wildrose MLAs survive?
Kerry Towle

Kerry Towle

It appears that all or most former Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in the final months of 2014 will face strong competitions to win their new party’s nominations to run in the next election.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox is facing former Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkleman and businessman Peter DewitInnisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle is facing Red Deer County Mayor Jim WoodCardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman is being challenged by Taber Reeve Brian Brewin, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Jeff Wilson is being challenged by arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler.

If Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe decides to seek re-election, he will face a challenge from Olds Town Councillor Wade Bearchell, who is already campaigning for the PC nomination. Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen is also expected to face a strong challenge and Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson has already announced he will not run for re-election.

Immediately following the floor-crossings, Mr. Pedersen told the Medicine Hat News be believed their PC nominations were guaranteed, but that appears to be a key bargaining position the 9 Wildrose MLAs asked for and were denied before they joined the PCs.

Now the question is how many of the Wildrose-turned-PC MLAs can survive to run in the next election? Could a potential cabinet shuffle save their political careers?

What are PC-Wildrose MLAs are saying about being in government?

Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe (Olds Albertan):

“You know, it’s a shame to have to say this, but it’s amazing to me the doors that are open since I crossed the floor. I get into ministers’ office(s) and get things done. It’s just – it’s amazing. It’s really not the way it should be, but it is the way it is.”

What are PC MLAs saying about the PC-Wildrose MLAs?

Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner (Spruce Grove Examimer):

“This shows that was all politics. That’s unfortunate, and we will have to let that go. But I think everybody should understand that when they make accusations like that and then (cross the floor), it’s obvious there was a lot of political motivation there and not a lot of fact,” Mr. Horner said.

“I’d like to see us stop with the unfounded character assassination — and I think that will stop from them.”

Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk (Calgary Herald): 

“It’s sort of like that neighbour that screams at you all the time and calls the cops on you once in a while now moves into your house,” Mr. Lukaszuk said. “You sort of work around it and make it work. At the end of the day you have to focus on the prize — and that’s representing your constituents and making good decisions as a government.”


I will be taking a short break from blogging for the next week. In my absence, take a look at David Climenhaga‘s excellent blog at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

 

Saturday Morning election nomination updates in Alberta

From Lethbridge to Rimbey and Peace River to Cochrane, here is your Saturday morning candidate nomination update:

Peter Brown Airdrie PC MLA

Peter Brown

Airdrie: Mayor of Airdrie Peter Brown announced this week that he will seek the Progressive Conservative nomination. Mr. Brown was first elected Mayor in 2010. The constituency is currently represented by PC-turned-Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Rob Anderson, who announced his retirement from politics this month.

Banff-CochraneScott Wagner has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate. In 2014, Mr. Wagner made an unsuccessful bid for the federal Conservative Party nomination to run in the Macleod by-election. During that campaign he issued criticized now-MP John Barlow and calling for a judicial inquiry into allegations that RCMP seized privately owned firearms during the High River floods of 2013.

Christine Cusanelli MLA

Christine Cusanelli

Calgary-Buffalo: Well-known arts community member Terry Rock will seek the PC nomination. The constituency is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is the nominated federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre and is not expected to seek re-election as MLA.

Calgary-Currie: First-term PC MLA Christine Cusanelli announced on Facebook that she will seek re-election. Ms. Cusanelli served as Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation for less than a year before an Olympic travel spending scandal led to her demotion to the backbencher. She is expected to face a challenge for the PC nomination.

Robyn Luff NDP Calgary East

Robyn Luff

Calgary-EastAli Waissi is the Wildrose candidate in this constituency. In 2012, he was campaign manager for controversial Calgary-Greenway Wildrose candidate Ron Leech. The NDP are expected to choose Robyn Luff as their candidate at a Feb. 8, 2015 nomination meeting. Ms. Luff earned 8.73% of the vote as the NDP candidate in 2012 (her party’s second strongest showing in Calgary in that election).

Calgary-GlenmoreChris Kemp-Jackson is the Wildrose candidate in this constituency. Mr. Kemp-Jackson is a business and immigration consultant.

Jae Shim Wildrose Calgary Hawkwood

Jae Shim

Calgary-Hawkwood: The Wildrose have chosen lawyer and constituency association president Jae Shim as their candidate.

Calgary-Klein: Feb 8 Craig Coolahan is expected to be chosen as the NDP candidate at a Feb. 8, 2015 nomination meeting. Mr. Coolahan is a Business Representative with the United Utility Workers’ Association and was the 2012 NDP candidate in Calgary-Elbow.

Calgary-Lougheed: Two-time Mount Everest climber Dave Rodney will seek the PC nomination. Mr. Rodney has also served as the PC MLA for this constituency since 2004.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: Retired police officer Kathy Macdonald has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate in this constituency. In 2014, Ms. Macdonald challenged Premier Jim Prentice as the Wildrose candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election.

Calgary-Mountain View: Three-term Liberal MLA David Swann is expected to announce his plans to seek re-election. The Liberals have scheduled a nomination meeting on February 20, 2015. Jean-Sebastien Rioux announced he will seek the PC nomination. Mr. Rioux is the Director, Master of Public Policy program, and Associate Director, International Policy at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy. He also served as Chief of Staff to Mr. Prentice when he was a cabinet minister in Ottawa.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

Edmonton-Decore: Two-term PC MLA Janice Sarich announced she will seek her party’s nomination for re-election.

Edmonton-Whitemud
: Health Minister Stephen Mandel is expected to seek the PC nomination for re-election. Mr. Mandel was first elected to the Assembly in a by-election in September 2014.

Lethbridge-East: Lawyer Tammy Perlich is the first candidate to enter the PC nomination contest. Current PC MLA Bridget Pastoor announced her retirement earlier this month. Helen McMenamin is rumoured to be eyeing the Liberal Party nomination.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti

Wayne Drysdale

Grande Prairie-Wapiti: PC MLA Wayne Drysdale announced on Facebook that he plans to run for re-election. Mr. Drysdale was first elected in 2008.

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake: Mayor of Red Deer County Jim Wood announced that he will challenge Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Kerry Towle for the PC nomination. During the 2012 election, Mr. Wood endorsed PC MLA Luke Ouellette, who was unseated by Ms. Towle in the Wildrose sweep of central and southern Alberta. Following that election, he raised concerns about how the PC Government would treat rural Alberta constituencies represented by opposition MLAs.

Peace River: Energy Minister Frank Oberle announced on Facebook that he plans to seek the PC nomination and re-election.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: ATB employee Tammy Cote is seeking the PC nomination and may face a challenge from current Independent MLA Joe Anglin. Ms. Cote is the grand-niece of former PC MLA and lieutenant-governor Helen Hunley.

Spruce Grove-St. AlbertJaye Walter has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate in Spruce Grove-St. Albert. Previous to this nomination he had been seeking to become the candidate in the St. Albert constituency.


I have added these updates to 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.

Goodbye 4H Club – Horne, Horner, Hughes and Hancock now gone

4H Club Fred Horne Doug Horner Ken Hughes Dave Hancock

The ‘4H Club,’ Fred Horne, Doug Horner, Ken Hughes and Dave Hancock, as coined by blogger David Climenhaga.

The announcements this week by former Finance Minister Doug Horner and former Health Minister Fred Horne that they are leaving politics did not come as a surprise to anyone watching politics in Alberta.

Once powerful ministers in Premier Alison Redford’s cabinets, the two men were pushed into the backbenches when Jim Prentice ascended to the Premier’s Office in September 2014. They were also two members of the unofficial 4H Club who, along with former ministers Dave Hancock and Ken Hughes, epitomized the last generation of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party elite.

The scion of a genuine political family dynasty,  Mr. Horner is the son of former deputy premier Hugh Horner and grandson of Senator Ralph Horner. He was first elected in 2001 and quickly rose in the cabinets of Premier Ed Stelmach and Ms. Redford.

When he ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2011, many believed Mr. Horner to be the most competent choice for the job. But his close association with Mr. Stelmach made him an unpalatable choice. On the second ballot of the vote, of his supporters marked Ms. Redford as their second choice, leading to her victory over front-runner Gary Mar on the final ballot. His appointment as Finance Minister followed shortly after.

Their endorsements of Mr. Prentice’s bid were not enough to keep them in cabinet. After two years of arrogant, entitled and scandal-ridden Tory Government, their removal from cabinet was seen as necessary to distance the new premier from his unpopular predecessor.

The two departures follow the resignations of Mr. Hancock and Mr. Hughes in September 2014, which triggered by-elections in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-West.


Eight MLAs have now announced their plans to not seek re-election in the expected Spring 2015 election:

– Airdrie PC MLA Rob Anderson
– Calgary-Fish Creek Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth
– Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr
– Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne
– Spruce Grove-St. Albert PC MLA Doug Horner
– Calgary-McCall Liberal MLA Darshan Kang
– Bonnyville-Cold Lake PC MLA Genia Leskiw
– Lethbridge-East PC MLA Bridget Pastoor

 

 

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.

Wildrose Staffers land jobs with PC Caucus, Premier’s Office

Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party forms government.While some staffers working for the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus lost their jobs when leader Danielle Smith and 8 MLAs crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives before Christmas 2014, at least three former opposition staffers appear to have landed jobs working for the governing PC Caucus.

Wildrose Caucus Staffers

Government of Alberta online staff directory

Appearing on the Government of Alberta staff directory with job titles “Caucus Staff – Office of the Whip” are former Wildrose policy and research analyst David Jackson, former assistant to the leader of the Official Opposition Barbara Currie, and former Wildrose legislative assistant Nicholas Burris.

It is unclear what their new roles and duties entail, as they appear to be new positions reporting to PC Caucus Whip George VanderBurg.

Former Wildrose Caucus Chief of Staff Steve Rennick is said to have been hired to work in the Office of the Premier, along with one or two other former Wildrose staffers.

It is suspected that Premier Jim Prentice will announce a cabinet shuffle within the first months of 2015 in order to appoint some of the former Wildrose MLAs to ministerial positions.

Double crossing mla to retire
Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with floor crossing PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Meanwhile, rumour that Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson could be appointed to cabinet following his floor crossing are sure to be put to rest after his recent announcement he will not be seeking re-election. Mr. Anderson was first elected in 2008 as a PC MLA, crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 and then crossed the floor back to the PC Party in 2014. He was expected to face a serious challenge for the PC nomination if he sought re-election as that party’s candidate in the next election.

What a year 2015 has been in Alberta politics!

Alberta Legislature Building Edmonton Canada

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly (photo credit Timorose, CC BY-SA 3.0)

December 29, 2015

Column by: Dirk Pranter, Provincial Affairs columnist, Edmonton Journal-Sun

Tories re-elected for 14th time

A snap mid-Summer election returned Jim Prentice’s renamed “Conservative Party of Alberta” to its fourteenth term as government. In an unexpected twist of fate, Finance Minister Danielle Smith was defeated in her home riding by Wildrose Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

But don’t feel sorry for Smith. She was appointed to the Senate in one of Stephen Harper’s last acts as Prime Minister before the Conservatives lost the October federal election. Harper’s applecart was upset when the beautiful, unseasonably warm October weather caused Canadian voters to turn out in droves.

Back on the provincial scene, NDP leader Rachel Notley led her party to a breakthrough in Edmonton to form the Official Opposition with 21 MLAs. Notley’s party won its first seat in Calgary since the 1980s and its first ever seat in Lethbridge.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the re-election of Wildrose-turned-Liberal MLA Joe Anglin, who won by 3,000 votes in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. As the only Liberal to survive the election, Anglin is now the leader of the party.

“Unlike the 2012 election, 2015 gave Albertans two clear choices in the PCs and NDP,” said Rick Dunderland, a professor of political science at University of Red Deer. “Even though the PCs still won, there is now a difference between the government and official opposition and that will be a good thing for democracy.”

Tough Economic Times behind us

With a return to $120/barrel oil, Premier Prentice praised good economic times ahead for Albertans in the 2016.

“Back to budgeting as usual,” a senior government official said. “Now we don’t have to worry about saving money for the future, because the price of oil is never going to go down again.”

The Prentice Government is facing international criticism for his government’s continued lack of climate change plan. “Alberta’s climate change framework is important and will be a continued focus of our government in 2016,” Energy Environment Minister Rob Anderson said. “Under new management, we are continuing to take the time to ensure the decisions we make are right.”

And big city mayors have a lot to celebrate. The recently negotiated City Charters granting the municipalities new powers are expected to be unveiled in early 2016. A newly released poll showed Mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi with 95% approval among voters.

Redford tell-all

Palm Springs resident Alison Redford is set to launch a new tell-all book about her time as Premier of Alberta. Driven out by scandal in 2014, Redford has dedicated her time to charity work and has announced all proceeds from the book will go to charity. Not surprisingly, Tory insiders are expecting the wurst about what might be included in the book.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline over a bottle of champagne with President Barack Obama during his first visit to the White House last month. Conservative opposition leader Jason Kenney complained that Canadians should thank former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the pipeline’s success.

In an unexpected gesture, Prime Minister Trudeau named Harper the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine where, unfortunately, the Canadian Ambassador’s residence was burned down last week by a pro-Russian mob.

Read Dirk Pranter’s December 20, 2014 column: What a year 2014 has been in Alberta politics!

A Dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015

12 Alberta MLAs to watch in 2015

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2015: Rob Anderson, Joe Anglin, Manmeet Bhullar, Laurie Blakeman, Robin Campbell, Gordon Dirks, Heather Forsyth, Kent Hehr, Thomas Lukaszuk, Stephen Mandel, Rachel Notley, Danielle Smith

As 2014 reminded us, politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choice of Premier Jim Prentice, here is a list of a dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015.

Rob Anderson Joe Anglin Manmeet Bhullar Laurie Blakeman MLA

Alberta MLAs Rob Anderson, Joe Anglin, Manmeet Bhullar and Laurie Blakeman

Rob Anderson (Airdrie): The outspoken rookie MLA left the PC Caucus in 2010 to join the upstart Wildrose Party. And in 2014, after two years as a loud and enthusiastic critic of the government, he was one of 9 Wildrose MLAs who crossed to the PC Caucus in December 2014. It is speculated that Mr. Anderson could end up with a cabinet post in early 2015, to the ire of his new caucus colleagues. He thrived in the limelight of the opposition benches but can he survive in the government benches?

Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre): Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus in November 2014 before his colleagues could vote him out. On his way out, he declared that “an internal civil war” was being waged inside the Wildrose Party. It was recently revealed that Mr. Anglin has been in discussions with the Liberals about forming a legislative coalition that could steal Official Opposition status away from the downsized Wildrose Caucus.

Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway): A rising star in the PC Party. Mr. Bhullar rose in the ranks under premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and became one of Mr. Prentice’s lieutenants during his party’s lacklustre 2014 PC leadership contest. In his current role as Infrastructure Minister, he has a big influence over which public projects get funding.

Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton-Centre): As the longest serving opposition MLA, Ms. Blakeman is a feisty voice in the Assembly. Her Bill 202 reignited the debate around student-led Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools and demonstrated how uncomfortable an issue gay rights remains for many PC MLAs. With the Liberal Party moribund under its current leadership, it is difficult to tell what her political future holds.

Robin Campbell Gordon Dirks Heather Forsyth Kent Hehr Alberta MLA

Alberta MLAs Robin Campbell, Gordon Dirks, Heather Forsyth and Kent Hehr.

Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead): As the price of oil declines, the soft-spoken Mr. Campbell finds himself in a situation where he must deal with his party’s poor long-term financial planning. Unfortunately, the PC Caucus is reluctant to entertain the idea of more stable funding sources like sales taxes, a progressive taxation system or an increase in natural resource royalties. Look to Mr. Campbell to provide a more diplomatic approach to public sector pension changes, an issue that hastened the demise of his predecessor, Doug Horner.

Gordon Dirks (Calgary-Elbow): Missing in Action during the contentious Gay-Straight Alliances debate, Mr. Dirks’ connections to socially conservative Christian evangelical groups is a liability for the PC Party among moderate and liberal voters. He brings experience from his time as a Saskatchewan cabinet minister and a Calgary school trustee, but his religious connections and the accusations about allegedly politically-driven school announcements make him a lightening rod for opposition criticism.

Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek): The interim leader of the Official Opposition is one of the longest serving MLAs in the Legislature. First elected as a PC MLA in 1993, Ms. Forsyth served in the cabinets of Ralph Klein before joining the Wildrose in 2010. Her big challenge is keep the Wildrose Remnant alive and relevant as her party chooses their next leader in early 2015.

Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo): This respected, hard-working MLA is aiming to become the first Liberal Member of Parliament in Calgary since the early 1970s. He is hoping to build on the support earned by Liberal Harvey Locke in the 2012 by-election. His departure from provincial politics will trigger a by-election that will test the popularity of the provincial Liberals in Alberta’s largest city.

Thomas Lukaszuk Stephen Mandel Rachel Notley Danielle Smith Alberta MLA

Alberta MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Stephen Mandel, Rachel Notley and Danielle Smith.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs): Cast to the backbenches after Mr. Prentice became premier, Mr. Lukaszuk has not gone quietly. His connection to deep funding cuts to universities and colleges earned him many political enemies, including then-mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel. Mr. Lukaszuk turned on Ms. Redford when her star was falling and ran in PC leadership contest as an outsider. He has been outspoken from his spot in the backbenches, leading some political watchers to believe he could be the next Ken Kowalski.

Stephen Mandel (Edmonton-Whitemud): After nine years as Edmonton’s mayor, Mr. Mandel declared he was done with politics in 2013. One year later, he found himself riding to the rescue of Alberta’s 43 year old Progressive Conservative dynasty. As Mr. Prentice’s capital city commodore, Mr. Mandel is responsible for the most politically dangerous government department, Health. He has promised to increase local decision making in health care and is faced with a growing list of aging hospitals and health care centres that have faced decades of neglect by the provincial government.

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Expectations are high that Ms. Notley will lead Alberta’s New Democratic Party to greatness. The second generation leader of Alberta’s social democratic party is smart, witty and well-positioned to boost her party’s standings in the opposition benches. Her challenge will be to present a viable alternative to the governing PCs while expanding her party’s support outside its traditional enclaves in Edmonton.

Danielle Smith (Highwood): After two years as the leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition, Ms. Smith shocked Albertans in December 2014 when she quit her job and join the Government. It is widely suspected that Ms. Smith will be appointed to cabinet in early 2015, possibly as Deputy Premier. She is a skilled politician but will continue to face heavy criticism in 2015 from her former colleagues for her betrayal.

(Last year’s post, A Dozen Alberta MLAs to Watch in 2014, was inspired by A dozen federal MPs worth watching in 2014, published by the Canadian Press)

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.

The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase

Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA

Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections:

Wildrose wilts as Danielle Smith joins the PC Party

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith introduces candidate Tim Grover during the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

For four years, Progressive Conservatives told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. Today, it now appears that the leaders of the two parties have now put the past four years behind them and are joining forces.

Following a Tuesday, Dec. 16 caucus meeting, it is being reported that six of the Wildrose Official Opposition’s 14 MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, have decided to leave their party to join the 43-year governing PC. Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell reported yesterday that PC leader Jim Prentice offered a “Reunification Agreement” as incentive to his opposition colleagues.

CBC is reporting that the six MLAs include:
Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Blake Pederson (Medicine Hat)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)

The governing PC Caucus will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 17 and are expected to discuss the acceptance of the six MLAs into their ranks. The addition of the six would bring the total number of Tories to 69 of 87 MLAs in the Assembly. The remaining eight Wildrose MLAs would remain Official Opposition.

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson reports that a cabinet shuffle could happen as early as Thursday to make room for the new MLAs.

Some sources say that Ms. Smith could become Mr. Prentice’s Deputy Premier and Mr. Anderson, a former PC MLA who joined the Wildrose in 2010, could be appointed to a senior ministry. Another potential cabinet appointment could be former Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, who crossed the floor earlier this month.

Once source speculated that current PC ministers like Kyle Fawcett or Maureen Kubinec could be shuffled out of cabinet to make room for their new caucus-mates.

The phenomonally rapid collapse of the Wildrose Party raises questions about the unstable foundation of the party. Splits in the party became public after the loss of four by-elections and as Ms. Smith battled with party’s activists over an equality motion and her position in the Gay-Straight Alliances debate.

Just six months ago, the Wildrose Party was out-fundraising and outpolling the 43-year governing PCs. Only three months since becoming PC leader, Mr. Prentice has been able to demoralize, destabilize and now co-opt his main opposition.

The departure of the six could damage the Wildrose Party beyond repair and remove it as a viable political force in Alberta, at least in the short-term. Whatever your opinion of the party, the floor crossings are certainly a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast a ballot for Wildrose candidates in order to send the PCs a message.

Wildrose Party activists are pledging to fight any formal merger between the two parties, but the loss of high-profile leader Ms. Smith is a death-blow to the party.

The loss of Ms. Smith to the government benches and the crippling of her soon to be former party is also a blow to democracy in Alberta. After coming very close to winning the 2012 election, the Wildrose have been the most effective and aggressive opposition parties in recent memory. Their work exposed corruption and cronyism in the government and ended the careers of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

It is unclear who will replace Ms. Smith as leader of the Official Opposition, but candidates could include Shayne Saskiw or Drew Barnes. Neither have the provincial profile of their predecessor.

While the blow to the Wildrose could rob the non-conservative opposition parties of a conservative vote split in the next election, the decline of the Wildrose creates opportunities for other opposition leaders. This is especially true for new NDP leader Rachel Notley and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who now have an opportunity to present an alternative vision to Mr. Prentice’s (and Ms. Smith’s) 43-year governing PC Party.


2014CWA-secondAwards…
I was pleased to discover that daveberta.ca earned second place in the 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards in the Politics category.

Congratulations to Gender Focus for their first place finish and John Ibbitson for placing third. Thank you to everyone who continues reading, commenting, contributing and sharing this blog.