Tag Archives: Robin Campbell

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.

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.

A map tracking official campaign stops of Alberta's four main political leaders since the election campaign began on April 8, 2015 (Dark Blue: PC; Orange: NDP; Green: Wildrose; Light Blue: Alberta Party; Red: Liberal)

Where did Alberta’s party leaders spend the first week of the 2015 election?

With the first full week of Alberta’s 2015 election campaign coming to an end, I took a look at where the leaders of Alberta’s political parties have visited in the last seven days [see the map above].

The day the writ was dropped, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice hopped into his party’s campaign bus and hit the highway into rural Alberta. First driving through the West Yellowhead constituency, Mr. Prentice’s tour included campaign stops with Finance Minister Robin Campbell and a trip down memory lane to Grande Cache, where he spent part of his childhood.

The PC tour continued through central and southern rural Alberta with a quick stop in Calgary. Much of Mr. Prentice’s first week was dedicated to campaigning in constituencies that voted Wildrose in the last election – Airdrie, Drumheller-Stettler, HighwoodLacombe-Ponoka, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Livingstone-Macleod, and Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.

NDP leader Rachel Notley started election with campaign stops in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge. During the first weekend of the campaign, Ms. Notley traveled to Fort McMurray, where she campaigned with candidates Stephen Drover and Ariana Mancini, and participated in the local Firefighters charity event. Upon her return to Edmonton, she was greeted by a crowd of more than 500 NDP supporters at a Sunday afternoon rally at the Citadel Theatre.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, travelling Alberta in his campaign RV, has made stops in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Calgary, but has divided most of his time in rural southern and central Alberta and the two Fort McMurray constituencies (he is running for election in Fort McMurray-Conklin). As the campaign continues, I expect that Mr. Jean will continue to focus on key rural areas of rural Alberta and Calgary, including Strathmore-Brooks, where the Wildrose hope former Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt can win.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal leader David Swann appear to be focusing most of their energies on winning their own constituencies in Calgary, but both have made trips to Edmonton to hold press conferences and campaign with local candidates. Mr. Clark, alongside Edmonton-Gold Bar candidate Cristina Stasia, released the Alberta Party platform at the University of Alberta campus.


The latest party policy announcements

Ms. Notley released her party’s health care policy, Mr. Jean spoke about the need to prioritize high need long-term care spaces, Mr. Prentice committed to triple infrastructure and maintenance investment, and Dr. Swann’s Liberals unveiled a full-day kindergarden and universal childcare strategy.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Prentice re-election budget tough on sinners, easy on corporations

OTTAWA, ONTARIO 

If Alberta can deliver a budget, why can this minister of finance not,” Liberal MP Scott Brison asked of Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who was absent from the House of Commons today. Opposition Members of Parliament have been chastizing the Conservatives for refusing to set a date for when this year’s federal budget will be released even after Alberta and Saskatchewan have released their provincial budgets.

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead

Robin Campbell

In the Conservative-heartland of Alberta, despite months of doom and gloom warnings triggered by low oil prices, Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell did not present the budget filled with the massive across the board cuts many Albertans were expecting.

The PCs are once again running a deficit budget, as Alberta has in every budget since 2008, even during times when oil prices were high. Despite the Ralph Klein-era mythology of Alberta as a deficit adverse province, it has become the norm in provincial financing.

Funding cuts to health care and education will not have a positive impact on Albertans. Politicians claim the cuts will not impact front-line services but it is unclear how cuts like this can not impact the front-line services that Albertans depend on. Although the price of oil has declined, our provincial population is still growing and demand for health and education services has not decreased.

“We’re going to see more students arriving at the school doorsteps with no new money provided to educate them,” Edmonton Public School Board chairperson Michael Janz told Metro Edmonton. “I don’t think this is a good news budget for Edmonton public schools.”

The budget introduces a new health care levy, which appears to be similar to a health care premium that existes until the PCs cancelled the tax in 2009. Despite its name, the previously incarnation of health care premiums were directed into the province’s general revenue pool, not directly towards the health care budget.

The single-rate 10 percent flat-tax, a strange and short-sighted policy championed by former Finance Ministers Steve West and Stockwell Day in the early 2000s, appears to have been died. Minor tax rate increases are being introduced for Albertans earning more than $100,000 and $250,000 annually. According to the Parkland Institute, the flat-tax reduced government revenue by $5 billion annually from pre-2001 rates.

Sin taxes, gas taxes and user fees increased in the budget mean life will become a little more expensive for drinkers, smokers and drivers in Alberta. A previously existing alcohol tax was implemented then almost immediately reversed in the 2009 budget, which reduced government revenues by $180 million per year.

Personal taxes and fees are increasing but Alberta’s low corporate taxes will not be increased. Despite having the lowest corporate taxes in the country by far, for Conservatives there appears to never be a good time to raise taxes for corporations.

When the economy is slower, Conservatice politicians argue tax increases would cause corporations to layoff workers. When the economy is booming, politicians argue tax increases would cause corporations to stop investing.

The truth is that Alberta could raise tax rates by $11 billion annually and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.

This budget was a missed opportunity to introduce a provincial sales tax, which exists in every other province in Canada and nearly every expert has endorsed. At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit in Edmonton, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government.

In Alberta, we hear a lot from our political leaders about tough economic times, even when times are prosperous. In advance of an expected spring election, our politicians are managing voters’ expectations and positioning themselves to take credit as ‘prudent fiscal managers’ when the world-wide price of oil inevitably increases.

Without the massive cuts that were expected, it could be tough for the opposition parties to campaign against this budget in the upcoming election. After four decades in power, it is difficult to envision the PC Party actually fixing Alberta’s long-standing revenue problems, but this budget will not stand in the way of Mr. Prentice easily extending his party’s next four years as government.

Bill 45 deserved to die. Kudos to Prentice for killing it.

One year ago, the PC Party was on verge of meltdown as Alison Redford resigned as leader and Premier. Since then, the political landscape has shifted so dramatically that the only significant thing that remains the same is the PC Party is still in government and will almost certainly extend its 44 year reign in the upcoming spring election.

Alberta Legislature Building Alison Redford

Thousands of Albertans protested the Redford Government’s anti-labour laws in November 2013.

Jim Prentice is being praised as a saviour by conservatives for turning around his party’s electoral fortunes, but he is no magician. Like each of his predecessors over the past 44 years, Mr. Prentice’s goal is to ensure the PC Party remains in government. And also like these predecessors, he is succeeding.

Most of Mr. Prentice’s success has been based on his ability to reverse many of Ms. Redford’s most unpopular decisions. And this week, with an election expected to be called soon, he announced the government would repeal the unpopular Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

Introduced into the Assembly by former minister Dave Hancock, the unnecessary and probably unconstitutional Bill 45 was part of Ms. Redford’s attack on public sector workers. The bill was passed with the support of 33 PC MLAs and one Wildrose MLA in December 2013 but was never proclaimed into law (five Wildrose MLAs, two New Democrats and one Liberal voted against it). If made into law, it would have significantly increased the fines for public sector strikes and made it illegal for any person to publicly suggest that government employees take job action.

The bill also appeared to give significant powers to the Minister of Human Services to issue fines to government employees if there has even been a hint of discussion about an illegal strike or strike threat.

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead

Robin Campbell

When the bill was passed in December 2013, one constitutional law expert told the National Post it was “ripe for challenge” to the Supreme Court of Canada. Athabasca University professor Bob Barnetson suggested that because free speech is protected by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unlikely that these sections Bill 45 would survive a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada (court challenges had already been launched by United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees).

Killing Bill 45 is only one step in repairing the government’s damaged relationship with its front-line workers. Five months ago, Mr. Prentice said he found low morale and high turnover in the public service “shocking.” But with Finance Minister Robin Campbell warning of 9 percent across the board funding cuts in next week’s provincial budget, it is difficult to see how Mr. Prentice plans to change this situation.

It remains embarrassing that so many of our elected officials supported this bill, but today Mr. Prentice deserves some kudos for committing to repeal Bill 45.


Wildrose Leadership Candidates

Wildrose Party leadership candidates Brian Jean, Linda Osinchuk and Drew Barnes.

Wildrose Party leadership candidates Drew Barnes, Brian Jean and Linda Osinchuk will be guests on the next AbVote Google Hangout on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Tune in to abvote.ca at 7:00 p.m. and ask questions to the candidates using the #abvote hashtag on Twitter.

PrenticeBlamesAlbertans

Who is really to blame for Alberta’s financial situation? #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans

Are Albertans to blame for the province’s current financial situation, as Premier Jim Prentice would have you believe? Mr. Prentice faced a public backlash this week when he commented on a CBC Radio call in show that “in terms of who is responsible, we need only look in the mirror.”

With an election call expected only weeks away, it is an odd strategy for a political leader to blame the voters for his own party’s record of poor long-term planning.

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead

Robin Campbell

Of course, while Mr. Prentice’s comments are supremely arrogant, there is a small kernel of truth in them. Albertans have voted Mr. Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party into government in each election since 1971 and it is that party’s leaders who have made the decisions that have led us into the current situation.

And while hundreds of thousands of Albertans have cast ballots for the PCs over the past four decades, there are hundreds of thousands of Albertans who consistently vote for opposition parties. There have also been dozens of opposition MLAs in the Legislature over the same period who have demanded that the PCs take a more disciplined and mature approach to long-term planning.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

The response to the bad press received in the media and online through the #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans meme was truly strange. On short notice, Mr. Prentice sent out senior cabinet ministers – Finance Minister Robin Campbell and Health Minister Stephen Mandel – to defend his comments and explain to the media why what people say on the internet does not matter.

The truth is that Alberta’s current financial situation is a crisis by design.

The PC Government made an intentional decision to have the lowest corporate and personal tax rate in Canada, by $11 billion. A consequence of the decision to forgo an estimated $11 billion in potential revenue is that the government has relied heavily on revenue from unstable natural resource royalties to fund a significant portion of its operational budget.

Now, facing a shortfall in resource revenues, our politicians are taking advantage of the perceived crisis to make short-sighted 9% funding cuts to public services instead of focusing on diversifying the revenue sources that are causing our problem.

If our political leaders had kept corporate taxes at reasonable levels, not replaced our progressive income tax with the flat tax, and implemented a moderate provincial sales tax while saving the funds collected from royalties, Alberta could be in a situation today where we could rely on a large reserve fund for these “rainy days.”

Mr. Prentice blames Albertans. Who will Albertans blame when the next election is called?

Premier Jim Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell steer Alberta through 'tough economic times.' [Note: Individuals portrayed in the image are not actually Jim Prentice and Robin Campbell.]

Sometimes living in Alberta is like living in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day

Sometimes living in Alberta is like living in the classic film Groundhog Day, in which actor Bill Murray finds himself in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again.

In Alberta, relying on the cyclical nature of oil prices while not planning for the future, we appear doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Despite our enormous natural wealth, the declining price of oil and a lack of long-term planning has left our government with a significant short-term gap in revenue.

While other oil-rich jurisdictions, like Norway, set aside large financial reserves in order to weather this sort of slowdown, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leaders have historically not shared that vision.

Looking for other sources of revenue, Finance Minister Robin Campbell floated the idea this week of reintroducing Health Care Premiums. Albertans paid monthly health care premiums until the PC Government cancelled them in 2009, forfeiting an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue at the time.

Despite the name, the previous version of the health care premiums were not dedicated health care funding but were instead funnelled into the provincial government’s general revenue.

The health care premiums trial balloon is another distraction from the real revenue problems that Alberta’s politicians are reluctant to address, such as the reintroduction of a progressive taxation system, like the one Alberta had before the short-sighted flat tax was introduced in 2000.

While Mr. Campbell has travelled the province to meet with business groups and rooms filled with friendly supporters, there has been no real attempt by the government to start a meaningful conversation or consultation with Albertans about how their public services are funded. And while the PCs have signalled an intent to increase revenue by some manner, which is a positive step, Premier Jim Prentice has already ruled out some sensible changes.

Mr. Prentice has nixed any plans to make increases to corporate taxes and natural resource royalties, and likely the introduction of a provincial sales tax. The decision to avoid more corporate taxes and royalty increases is not surprising, as it serves to protect the large corporations and wealthy individuals who continue to make large donations to the PC Party.

What Albertans collect as a share of natural resource royalties from oil (image from the AUPE document "Factcheck 2015 Budget")

What Albertans collect as a share of natural resource royalties from the oil sands (image from the AUPE document “Factcheck 2015 Budget”)

According to comments made my Mr. Prentice, it would seem that the Alberta Government’s projected $7 billion in royalties from the oil sands have completely evaporated. Documents from Alberta’s Department of Energy show that when the price of oil was sitting at $120.00 a barrel, Albertans were only collecting $10.80 per barrel in royalties (9%) on gross revenue from the oil sands. Now, with oil at less than $55.00 a barrel, we are estimated to be collecting around $0.55 per barrel (1%) in royalties. Even when the price of oil was at its highest, Albertans might have only been collecting 40% from the net revenue of the oil sands.

As the owners of the natural resources, Albertans are within their right to ask for and expect to receive their fair share from the resources in our province.

Ed Stelmach was the last Premier who attempted to change the royalty structure and he faced a severe backlash from the oil and gas industry. With close ties to corporate Calgary, it is unlikely that Mr. Prentice will want to touch the issue of royalties.

Corporate and personal taxes in Alberta are estimated to be $11 billion lower than any other province in Canada. It is believed that a 5% increase for personal incomes above $150k could bring in an estimated $1.13 billion in revenue for the government. It is also estimated that each 1% increase in corporate taxes would bring $500 million in revenue.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case in politics, the loudest voices get the most attention. And Mr. Prentice’s hint of a 9% funding cut for public services has been followed by a barrage of opinion-editorials from market fundamentalists and the tax outrage industry calling on the province to slash health care and education funding.

Other opinion-makers, like the City of Edmonton’s Chief Economist, John Rose, warn that provincial budget cuts to combat the falling price of oil will have a negative impact on the economy. Mr. Rose also suggested the province have a serious discussion about a provincial sales tax.

Alberta is the one jurisdiction in Canada that has the capacity to weather this kind of economic downturn. Rather than relying on short-sighted budget cuts that are sure to only cost more money in the long-term, Alberta’s political leaders have an opportunity to redefine how our province prepares for its future.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character finally ends the time-loop after doing a great job on his reporting assignment and finding true love. Maybe Alberta’s version of Groundhog Day will end with meaningful revenue reform. It is not a motion picture ending, but it would be good of the future of our province.


Alberta Election Google Hangout!

We are launching a sequel to the popular EdmontonPolitics.com Google Hangout. Tune in tonight at 7:00 p.m. to join Mack Male, Ryan Hastman and I for the first Alberta Election Google Hangout.

 

Sharpen Your Pencils, Alberta. Slash-and-burn is back.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

Living in the land of the lowest taxation rates in Canada allows many personal benefits but long-term government stability has not been one of them. Relying heavily on natural resource revenues, our political leaders continue to stumble from embarrassment of riches to poverty and never appear to learn from our past.

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead

Robin Campbell

And here we go again. Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Robin Campbell announced plans yesterday for a 9% across the board funding cut in the 2015/2016 provincial budget, which is expected to tabled near the end of March.

Two years ago, we were told that funding for colleges and universities needed to be slashed in order to survive Alison Redford‘s “Bitumen Bubble.” Twenty years ago, many Albertans accepted the deep funding cuts imposed by former Premier Ralph Klein and then watched with cynicism as the government spent the next two decades trying to repair the damage done to our public infrastructure and health and education systems.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

While claiming “all options” are on the table, the PCs have already ruled out increases to corporate taxes or resource royalties, and likely also the introduction of a provincial sales tax or a return to a progressive taxation system. Rather than looking at alternative revenue sources, Mr. Campbell and Premier Jim Prentice appear to be on an unfortunate course towards drastically cutting public service funding.

Four months ago, Mr. Prentice said he found low morale and high turnover in the public service “shocking.” But with the Finance Minister warning of deep funding cuts across the government, it is difficult to see how he plans to change this situation.

Alberta is now facing a crisis not caused by low oil prices but by decades of poor planning.

As a province with decades worth of dependence on revenues from natural resource royalties, it should not be a shock that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Maybe our only problem is not our over reliance on cyclical natural resources revenues, but that the Progressive Conservatives are just bad fiscal managers.

One dull pencil

Genia Leskiw MLA Bonnyville Cold Lake

Genia Leskiw

Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Genia Leskiw fumbled embarrassingly this week when she tried to explain why the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices, which is controlled by PC MLAs, voted to reject a request from Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff to restore $275,000 in funding that the committee voted to cut in December 2014.

I don’t really believe they’ve sharpened their pencils as sharp as they could have,” Ms. Leskiw told CBC reporter John Archer when asked why the advocate’s request was denied. When pressed for details about why the funding was denied, Ms. Leskiw responded that she was not an accountant.

This is not the first time Ms. Leskiw has used the ‘I’m not an accountant’ defence. In 2012, she pleaded ignorance when asked about the extra money she was collecting from the infamous ‘no-meet committee,’ telling the CBC that “I don’t even look at my paycheque.

Mr. Graff asked for the funds in order to continue investigations into the deaths of children who are in the province’s care or who are supported by the province. In 2014, the PC Government faced harsh criticism when a Calgary Herald-Edmonton Journal investigation revealed the government had dramatically under-reported the number of child welfare deaths over the previous decade.

Mr. Prentice defended the funding cut and ordered the MLA committee to revoke the $500,000 in additional funding it had just granted this week to the Auditor General. The Premier’s heavy-handed move raises the question of why legislative committees exist if he can unilaterally overrule their decisions. Will any of the PC MLAs on the committee have the backbone to stand up for their decision when they meet again next Tuesday? Or will they simply bow to the whim of their party leader?

The cuts in funding for the Child and Youth Advocate and the Auditor General take place as the provincial government provides $18 million to rebuild the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, which was damaged in the 2013 floods. Public funding for the golf course has not been revoked, but plans for other critical projects, like the long promised new Cancer Centre in Calgary, have now been delayed.

Sunday Night candidate nomination updates in Alberta

Sarah Hoffman Edmonton Rachel Notley NDP

Sarah Hoffman endorsed Rachel Notley when she entered the NDP leadership contest on June 16, 2014.

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sarah Hoffman is expected to make an announcement on Monday, January 19 that could signal a jump into provincial politics. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Hoffman could be announcing plans to seek the New Democratic Party nomination in the Edmonton-Glenora constituency. The NDP have never elected a MLA in Glenora, but the party saw its support in the constituency increase from 15% in 2008 to 25% in 2012.

Ms. Hoffman was first elected as a trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board in 2010 and currently serves as chairperson. In 2014, she endorsed Rachel Notley for the leadership of the NDP.

With the Progressive Conservatives planning to complete candidate nominations in all 87 constituencies by March 15, 2015, there have been plenty of announcements since my previous update:

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater: Athabasca 94.1 The River broadcaster Victor Mario Kaisar tweeted that Jeff Johnson has announced intentions to run for re-election. Mr. Johnson was first elected in 2008 and is currently serving as Minister of Seniors.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Dixie Dahlstedt posted an announcement on her Facebook page that she has withdrawn from the Wildrose nomination contest.

Calgary-Northern Hills: Mortgage broker Aryan Sadat has launched his campaign for the PC nomination in Calgary-Northern Hills. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Teresa Woo-Paw, who has yet to announce whether she will seek the nomination.

Calgary-Nose Hill-MackayNeil Brown announced on Twitter that he plans to seek the PC nomination. Mr. Brown was first elected in 2004.

Calgary-Shaw: Arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler continues his campaign to become the PC candidate in the next election. Mr. Chandler is expected to face Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson for the PC nomination.

In 2007, Mr. Chandler won the PC nomination in the former Calgary-Egmont but was later removed as a candidate after publicly commenting that Albertans who did not like conservative culture or politics should move back to where they came from.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills: Local PC Party Association President Darrell Younghans and Jeff Dechaine have declared intentions to seek the PC nomination in this constituency. The area is currently represented by Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw.

Lacombe-Ponoka: Lacombe area resident Peter Dewit announced in December 2014 that he plans to seek the PC nomination. Mr. Dewit might face off against Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Rod Fox, who has yet to publicly announce whether he plans to seek re-election.

Sherwood Park: PC MLA Cathy Olesen announced on Twitter that she plans to seek her party’s nomination for the next election. Ms. Olesen tweeted that PC Party regional vice president Sue Timanson is challenging her for the nomination.

Spruce Grove-St. Albert:  Incumbent PC Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner told the St. Albert Gazette that he would make his intentions about running again known by this week. The former Finance Minister was first elected in 2001.

West Yellowhead: Finance Minister Robin Campbell announced on Twitter that he will seek the PC Party nomination for re-election. Mr. Campbell was first elected in 2008.


 

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.

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.

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)

Look who’s running in 2016: Alberta Election nominations

With the four provincial by-elections over, the focus will soon turn back to nominating candidates to stand in Alberta’s next general election. The next election is scheduled to be held sometime between March 1 and May 31, 2016, but can be called earlier if premier requests the Lieutenant Governor to issue a writ of election.

The Wildrose Party and the New Democrats are the first out of the starting gate with the most nominated candidates and nomination contests currently underway.

Jack Hayden PC Drumheller Stettler

Jack Hayden

Blast from the past?
Two defeated Progressive Conservatives MLAs are not ruling out a return to politics in the next election. Former Cypress-Medicine Hat PC MLA Len Mitzel, who was defeated by Wildrose candidate Drew Barnes in 2012, told the Medicine Hat News he has not ruled out a comeback in 2016. And in Drumheller-Stettler, former Infrastructure Minister and registered lobbyist Jack Hayden is said to be mulling a 2016 bid. Mr. Hayden was unseated by Wildroser Rick Strankman in 2012.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake
Accountant Scott Cyr and architect Dixie Dahlstedt are facing off for the Wildrose Party nomination. Ms. Dahlstedt is a Daughter of the American Revolution who recently returned from a career in New York City to raise quarter-horses near Therrien, Alberta.

Dixie Dahlstedt Wildrose Bonnyville Cold Lake

Dixie Dahlstedt

Calgary-Bow
The Wildrose nomination in this west Calgary constituency has been set aside as a open spot for a candidate to be appointed by leader Danielle Smith. Rumours have been circulating for some time that Ms. Smith is working hard to recruit Canadian Taxpayer Federation spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt as the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Bow. Mr. Fildebrandt is an outspoken critic of the PC Government and has targeted Premier Jim Prentice with FOIP requests dating back to his time in Ottawa.

Calgary-Elbow
Both Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal candidate Susan Wright have declared their intentions to seek their parties nominations to run in the next provincial election. In the recent by-election held on Oct. 27, Mr. Clark placed a close second with 26.94% of the vote. Ms. Wright placed fourth with 11.99%.

Heather Sweet NDP Edmonton-Manning

Heather Sweet

Edmonton-Manning
On September 30, Heather Sweet was acclaimed as the NDP candidate in this northeast Edmonton constituency. Ms. Sweet is a registered social worker working in child protection and is member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ Committee On Political Action.

Edmonton-Rutherford
The NDP are holding a nomination meeting on November 5, 2014 in this southwest Edmonton constituency. Former City Council candidate and social work instructor Richard Feehan and 2012 candidate Melanie Samaroden are running for the nomination.

Grande Prairie-Smoky
Construction company manager Greg Tymchyna is seeking the Wildrose Party nomination in this northwest Alberta constituency. Now living in Grande Prairie, Mr. Tymchyna is also a homeowner in High River, where he is part of a legal battle seeking more compensation from the provincial government for flood damaged homes.

Kris Hodgson NDP Lethbridge East

Kris Hodgson

Lesser Slave Lake
Registered Nurse Danielle Larivee has been nominated as the NDP candidate in this rural northern Alberta constituency. Ms. Larivee is the President of the United Nurses of Alberta Local in Slave Lake.

Lethbridge-East
Kris Hodgson has tweeted his plans to seek the New Democratic Party nomination in this southern Alberta urban constituency. Mr. Hodgson is a Lethbridge College journalism instructor and president of Allied Arts Council. Earlier in the summer, Lethbridge College political scientist and former city councillor Faron Ellis declared his candidacy for the Wildrose Party nomination.

Medicine Hat
The NDP are holding a nomination meeting on November 12, 2014. Paramedic Jason Soklofske is expected to be acclaimed. Mr. Soklofske is a southern representative with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and, according to his online biography, chairs that union’s political action committee.

Brian Tiessen Wildrose Sherwood Park Strathcona

Brian Tiessen

Sherwood Park-Strathcona
Businessman Brian Tiessen defeated Strathcona County Councillor Vic Bidzinski to become the Wildrose Party candidate in this constituency east of Edmonton. Mr. Bidzinski’s political past, as a Liberal candidate in the 1997 federal election, drew confused reactions from some local Wildrose supporters.

West Yellowhead
Stuart Taylor was acclaimed as the Wildrose Party candidate in West Yellowhead. As the party’s candidate in the 2012 election, Mr. Taylor placed second with 26.91%. The constituency is currently represented by Finance Minister Robin Campbell, who was first elected in 2008.

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

In party leadership races, endorsements by sitting MLAs can be a double-edged sword. Endorsements can lend credibility to candidates and individual MLAs own local political networks to the campaign. Large numbers of endorsements can also signal to rank and file party members where their party’s establishment is lining up.

But MLA endorsements are not always a solid indicator of who will win a party leadership vote. In 2006, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning had the support of the majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Ed Stelmach. In 2011, Gary Mar had the support of a majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Alison Redford.

In this year’s Alberta PC Party leadership race, bank vice-president Jim Prentice has the overwhelming lead in MLA endorsements. As of today, I count at least 15 PC MLAs who have lent their names to support his campaign to become their leader. More are expected to endorse Mr. Prentice:

MLA’s endorsing Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC leadership are Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway), Neil Brown (Calgary-Nose Hill), Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead), Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar), Kyle Fawcett (Calgary-Klein), Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright), Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) Ken Hughes (Calgary-West), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater), Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon), Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed), George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont), Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West).

The only other candidate to enter the leadership race, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, has no declared support from inside the PC caucus. Thomas Lukaszuk, who is expected to enter the contest, also has yet to receive any MLA endorsements.

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan and Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey endorsed the short-lived leadership campaign of Ken Hughes, who is now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

I will be tracking the list of PC MLA endorsements on the 2014 Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest page.

Rejection of Gay-Straight Alliances motion shows some Alberta MLAs need a reality check

Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo

Kent Hehr

Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.

Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.

Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.

Alberta MLA Vote Gay Straight Alliances Vote Motion 503

A map showing the constituencies represented by MLAs who voted in favour (blue) and against (red) Motion 503. White indicates MLAs who were not present for the vote. (Click to enlarge)

Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.

Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen voted in favour but Education minister Jeff Johnson voted against it.

Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.

The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire.  And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.

In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).

Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)

4 ways out of the PC leadership crisis

1016747_10152283795607556_1252277004_n

The increasingly public struggle between Premier Alison Redford and a group of disgruntled MLAs in the Progressive Conservative Party continues this week.

Following Monday’s announcement by Calgary-Varsity PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans that she would sit as an Independent MLA, two more PC MLAs are publicly considering leaving.

Matt Jeneroux MLA Edmonton South West

Matt Jeneroux

Edmonton-South West PC MLA Matt Jeneroux mused that he is “taking time to reflect” about whether he should remain in the government caucus. Edmonton-Riverview MLA Steve Young, already , is also considering leaving the PC caucus.

Government House leader Robin Campbell says that PC MLAs are free to speak their mind. But the lack of discipline in the caucus suggests the real reason is that any attempt to silence the disgruntled MLAs could lead to a mass departure from the government caucus.

At a press conference held yesterday afternoon, party president Jim McCormick gave a luke-warm support for Ms. Redford’s leadership. Mr. McCormick also sent an email to PC Party supporters, explaining that the “work plan” issued to the premier last weekend does not exist on paper. There is no plan.

Meanwhile, Lougheed-era cabinet minister Allan Warrack has added his name to the list of Tories calling on the premier to resign.

With the current situation in flux, here are four possible scenarios that could play out over the next few weeks:

Redford resigns – Pressure from her caucus and party results in Ms. Redford resigning as Premier of Alberta and leader of the PC Party. The disgruntled MLAs remain in the government caucus. An interim premier, possibly Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, is appointed and a leadership contest is scheduled. MLAs hope that a new leader can reinvent and reenergize their aging party before the next election.

Redford stays, more MLAs leave – Ms. Redford and her loyalists resist the pressure from disgruntled MLAs and supporters calling for the premier’s resignation. Some of the ten MLAs, possibly as many as ten, leave the PC caucus to sit as Independent MLAs, causing a severe rift in the party and the caucus.

Kumbaya” – The disgruntled MLAs resolve their issues with Ms. Redford and she pledges to change her leadership style in order to improve her relationship with her caucus and party. The Tory dynasty continues as peace and harmony is returned to the government benches.

Conflict continues – Ms. Redford refuses to resign and the disgruntled MLAs continue to voice their discontent with the premier’s leadership style. The party and caucus are torn apart in the political fight. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith rejoices and leads her party to win the 2016 election.