Tag Archives: Sandra Jansen

United Conservative Party of Alberta leader Jason Kenney.

Jason Kenney as the face of Conservatism in Alberta

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

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

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

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

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

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

David Eggen

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

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

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

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

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

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

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

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

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

David King

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau

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

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

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

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

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Former Tory Sandra Jansen appointed to Notley NDP cabinet

Photo: Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016. (Photo from Premier Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page)

It was widely expected to happen in 2017, and today NDP MLA Sandra Jansen was sworn-in to the provincial cabinet as Minister of Infrastructure. She takes over the portfolio from veteran MLA Brian Mason, who had served as both Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation since the NDP formed government in 2015.

First elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2008, Jansen was one of ten PCs to survive the NDP orange wave of 2015. After being driven out of the PC leadership race by social conservative supporters of Jason Kenney, she crossed the floor to the NDP.

Bringing Jansen into cabinet bolsters the number of NDP cabinet ministers in Calgary, which is expected to be a critical electoral battleground in the next election. Infrastructure issues, like the construction of a new cancer centre, were key issues for voters in the last election.

The NDP swept Calgary in the last election, but they will face a very steep uphill battle to re-elected many of those MLAs in the next election.

Jansen’s appointment to the provincial cabinet means the majority of Alberta’s cabinet ministers – eleven out of twenty-one – are women.

Other recent changes to the provincial leadership include the appointment of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jessica Littlewood as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade for Small Business and Sherwood Park MLA Annie McKitrick as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education.

Under the old PC government, appointments of Parliamentary Secretaries, or Parliamentary Assistants, were used in some cases to provide training for backbench MLA’s identified as being future cabinet minister material. In other cases, when the PCs were burdened with large caucuses, some MLAs were given with Parliamentary Secretary appointments as a way of generating busy-work for backbenchers who might otherwise cause trouble for the government leadership.

Littlewood and McKitrick are the first two Parliamentary Secretaries appointed since the NDP formed government in 2015, so it is unclear what their actual role in the government will be.

Other notable appointments include:

  • Calgary-Currie MLA Brian Malkinson was recently appointed to the provincial Treasury Board.
  • Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas was recently sworn in as a member of the Legislative Review Committee.
Gwnyth Midgeley and David Khan Liberal

David Khan wins leadership of obscure Liberal Party

Photo: Liberal Party executive director Gwyneth Midgley and newly elected party leader David Khan (photo from March 2017).

Calgary – In a battle of Calgary lawyers, David Khan defeated Kerry Cundal to become the next leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

Khan earned 54 percent of the vote with 897 votes to Cundal’s 765 votes. He succeeds interim leader David Swann, who is also the party’s only MLA. He may also be the first leader of a political party in Alberta who is openly-gay.

It would be easy to have forgotten the Liberals were picking a new leader today, as the race did not generate much interest outside of loyal Liberal Party circles. The race was also fraught by a series of resignations.

Leadership co-chair Kevin Feehan was appointed as a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in October 2016. And the other leadership co-chair, Nirmala Naidoo, resigned in October 2016 to work on Sandra Jansen’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership (Jansen later withdrew from that race and joined the New Democratic Party).

The two candidates both entered the race at almost the last minute after St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse dropped out days before the nomination deadline in March 2017. It was widely expected until that point that Crouse would be acclaimed.

Cundal, a past federal Liberal candidate who was a PC Party member only weeks before she launched her leadership bid, promoted the idea that it was time for the Liberal Party to work with other centrist parties, and maybe even create a new party. Khan ran on a more traditionalist platform of keeping the party name, which appealed to the party’s loyalists.

But it is hard to figure out where the Liberal Party fits in today’s provincial political environment.

Most of the party’s voter base in Edmonton shifted enmasse to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election. I am not sure why many of those former Liberal voters would abandon the NDP in the next election, especially faced with the alternative of Derek Fildebrandt, Jason Kenney, or Brian Jean becoming the next premier of Alberta.

Far from being a party of socialist firebrands like Jeremy Corbyn‘s UK Labour Party, Notley’s NDP are basically governing Alberta as centrist-leftish Liberals.

I am sure that Khan will work hard in his new role. As his party’s 2014 candidate in Calgary-West (where he earned 8.5 percent of the vote) and 2015 candidate in Calgary-Buffalo (where he earned 24.6 percent of the vote), Khan already has experience campaigning at a local level. And a local level might be the best place for him to start in his new role. He has a huge challenge ahead of him to rebuild a party that over the past five years has fallen from official opposition to obscurity.

Both Khan and Cundal were endorsed by former Senator Nick Taylor, the likeable and quotable stalwart who led the party from 1974 until 1988. As the last person to lead the party through a long-period in the wilderness, Taylor might have some wise advice to share with Khan as he starts his new role as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.

Gwnyth Midgeley and David Khan Liberal

Does anyone want to lead Alberta’s Liberal Party?

The deadline is fast approaching. On March 31 at 5:00 p.m. we will know for sure who, if anyone, wants to lead Alberta’s Liberal Party. The race to choose a replacement for the party’s last permanent leader – Raj Sherman, who resigned in January 2015 – has been less than exciting.

Nolan Crouse

Nolan Crouse

Until he dropped out of the race yesterday, the candidacy of three-term St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse had given the leadership contest some much needed media attention. It also gave the party some hope for its political future. Crouse is a well-known name in the Edmonton-region, which is also where Rachel Notley’s NDP has its strongest support.

David Swann was the only Liberal to be re-elected in 2015, and that was largely due to his own personal popularity in Calgary-Mountain View. He was the party’s leader from 2008 to 2011 and interim leader since 2015.

Crouse’s departure only days before the deadline left the party in a lurch. Party executives scrambled to ensure that they would have at least one candidate, or maybe even two, submit their papers before 5:00 p.m. on March 31. It would be incredibly embarrassing if no one signed up to run.

In the wake of Crouse leaving the race, rumours circulated that former Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk could become a candidate, but those rumours appear to have dried up.

Kerry Cundal Liberal Calgary

Kerry Cundal

CBC reports that two last-minute candidates are planning to throw their names in the race: Kerry Cundal and David Khan.

Cundal ran as a federal Liberal candidate in the 2015 election, placing second to Conservative Ron Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill. She was involved with the Progressive Conservative Party in support of Sandra Jansen’s brief leadership campaign and the “Renew” faction of the party that opposed Jason Kenney’s campaign.

Khan is a Calgary-based lawyer who ran as a provincial Liberal candidate in Calgary-West in 2014 and in Calgary-Buffalo in 2015. He was the executive vice-president of the party until recently (his name has been removed from the party website). He has also become a frequent political commentator on CBC’s national politics program, Power & Politics.

Jacob Huffman Alberta Liberal Leadership

Jacob Huffman

Neither Cundal or Khan have formally announced their plans to run.

A third potential candidate, University of Calgary student Jacob Huffman, launched a Facebook page announcing his candidacy shortly after Crouse dropped out. The way this race has progressed it might be hard to tell whether or not his candidacy is serious, but at the rate it is going Huffman might be acclaimed (he’s already planning his victory party).

Who will actually run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party? Wait to find out at 5:00 p.m. on March 31, 2017.

Photo above: Liberal Party executive director Gwyneth Midgley and David Khan at the reception following the 2017 Speech from the Throne.

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

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

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

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

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

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

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

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

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

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

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

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

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

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

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

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

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

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

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

Setting the stage for Wildrose 2.0: Moderates need not apply

“We must also ensure that a new, united party will be built on a solid foundation of conservative principles and policy. The left-liberal clique that managed to slowly highjack the PC Party must never again be allowed to seize control of Alberta’s conservative movement.”

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

This call for ideological purity came from Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt in an opinion-editorial published by Postmedia earlier this week. Fildebrandt, who sounds as if he is preparing his own leadership bid, has been a vocal supporter of Jason Kenney’s bid to “unite” the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party to form a new consertvative party before the next election.

Fildebrandt’s manifesto reads like a call to create a rebranded Wildrose Party without the moderates, centrists and liberals who once found a home in the old PC Party. Driving this ideological agenda, Fildebrandt would undoubtably be a prominent leader in the new Conservative Party, one that a province-builder like Peter Lougheed might not even recognize.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party appears unstoppable at this time. Along with support from former prime minister Stephen Harper, the Manning Centre, and Wildrose Party members, he appears to have secured a majority in the leadership delegate count.

Kenney’s supporters have succeeded in driving out a number of high profile political moderates from the party.

Former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen quit the leadership race after being harassed and threatened with violence. She later joined the NDP and is expected to be appointed to cabinet sometime this year.

Former MLA Stephen Khan told Postmedia columnist Paula Simons last week that he quit the PC leadership race last week after an ugly race where he was the target of racist and Islamaphobic emails from new party members supporting Kenney.

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

When AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga, well-known for his progressive views, asked him about his political future, Khan replied “I have as much interest in joining the Wildrose 2.0 Party as you do.

Party president Katherine O’Neill has done an admirable and thankless job trying to lead the PCs through the turbulent period. Under siege from conservative hard-liners and Kenney supporters, O’Neill represents urban, centrist and moderate views that could lead to a PC Party revival. Too bad she is not a candidate for the leadership.

One year and eight months after losing the election, the big blue tent that led the PC Party to 44 years of electoral success has collapsed but not folded. The party was ripe for Kenney’s hostile takeover but any plans to dissolve the party will have to address  vendor contracts, party constitutional issues, local and provincial board approvals, legalities around fundraising and bank accounts, and fairly strict legal parameters. Despite his campaign to “unite” the two political parties, it is legally impossible to merge political parties in Alberta.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

All this is occurring at the same time as Rachel Notley’s NDP government looks more moderate and centrist by the day. And with pipeline approvals and some projections of a recovering economy, the NDP might be the sensible option on Albertans’ ballots in 2019. But attacks on the NDP, and on Notley personally, will be harsh.

Last week marked six years since Ed Stelmach announced he would step down as Premier of Alberta. Faced with a revolt by right-wing cabinet ministers and the rise of an insurgent Wildrose Party, Stelmach surprised the province at a Jan. 2011 press conference, where he issued a stern warning about the direction and tone of politics in our province, which is shockingly relevant to today:

“There is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and US style negative, attack politics that is directed at me personally.

The danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focussing on personality – on me personally.

This type of U.S. style wedge politics is coming into Canada, and it comes at our peril.”

Stelmach was a few years early, but he was right.

New Alberta Politics Podcast: The Broadcast

Edmonton-based journalists Trisha Estabrooks and Alex Zabjek have launched a new podcast focusing on women and Alberta politics. The Broadcast website describes the inspiration for the podcast:

We started this podcast because we believe that 100 years after some women won the right to vote in Alberta, there are challenges to figure out, successes to celebrate, inequalities that need to be exposed, and stories to discover. We hope to learn as much as you through our work on this show.

The first three episodes of the podcast include interviews with PC-turned-NDP MLA Sandra Jansen, historian Charlotte Gray, and journalist turned politicians Katherine O’Neill and Danielle Smith.

The PC Party’s Christmas gift to the NDP

A defamation lawsuit wrapped with a big bow.

Alan Hallman

Alan Hallman

Any hope Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party had of making the story of Sandra Jansen’s harassment go away is long gone as a political operative working for Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign has launched a lawsuit against a strategist who worked for Jansen’s now-defunct leadership campaign.

According to a report by the CBC, Alan Hallman claims his reputation suffered “irreparable harm” from a tweet posted by Stephen Carter. Hallman is being represented in the lawsuit by former justice minister Jonathan Denis, who is also supporting Kenney’s leadership bid.

The CBC reported that Carter will defend himself against the defamation claim and that the lawsuit is a “bullying tactic.”

“I believe it’s a tactic being used to try to suppress speech around the leadership. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m going to fight,” Carter told the CBC.

Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter

Facing harassment and online threats because of her moderate political views, Ms. Jansen dropped out of the PC leadership race and soon afterward crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party. It is widely expected she will be appointed to a cabinet position in early 2017.

Hallman and Carter are veteran campaign strategists who have publicly clashed in the past. During the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Carter, the campaign manager for Alberta Party candidate Greg Clark, filed a complaint with the CRTC regarding the use of robocalls by the PC campaign in Calgary-Elbow. Hallman was the manager of PC candidate Gordon Dirks’ campaign in that by-election.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

The PC Party released an investigative report last week in response to Jansen’s allegations that she was targeted by Kenney’s supporters during the party’s policy convention in Red Deer. There is digital evidence that the online harassment is real and it is likely the in-person harassment against Jansen was real as well, but the PC Party had little incentive to deliver justice after she joined the NDP.

The PC Party had little to gain by further penalizing or condemning Kenney’s supporters, as he appears to be on his way to sweeping the party leadership in 2017. The report was a way to end the story, and the allegation, that could tarnish the PC Party and Kenney’s leadership.

Thanks to Hallman, Denis and their lawsuit, the story of how a talented and high-profile woman was pushed out of Alberta’s PC Party will live on into 2017.

Merry Christmas, NDP.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017: Shannon Phillips, Sarah Hoffman, Sandra Jansen, Derek Fildebrandt, Brian Jean, RIchard Starke, Thomas Dang, Christina Gray, Jessica Littlewood, and David Swann.

Ten Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past decade. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits. As is tradition on this blog, each December I sit down by the open fire and pen a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or Finance Minister Joe Ceci, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here is my list of MLAs to watch in 2017:

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): The implementation of Alberta’s much lauded and much derided Climate Leadership Plan will be central to the government’s agenda in 2017. Navigating attacks against the incoming carbon tax, which led to the approval of two oil pipelines, will be critical to the success of the plan. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will also have to navigate the politics of replacing Alberta’s dirty coal fired power plants with renewable electricity generation, which could include potentially controversial hydro electric dam projects in northern Alberta.

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Now as Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Sarah Hoffman continues to prove that she is one of the toughest MLAs in the government benches. She has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Ms. Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I noted in last year’s list, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016 could find herself with a cabinet post in 2017. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Notley could shuffle the cabinet early next year. Appointing Ms. Jansen as Minister of Energy could help shore up NDP support in Calgary, especially with the recent approval of two oil pipelines. Or perhaps she could replace embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir?

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): The outspoken attack dog of the Official Opposition is unleashed, as was demonstrated by his rant against “political correctness” at a recent event organized by Ezra Levant’s fringe advocacy group. After being muzzled by Wildrose leader Brian Jean in early 2016, Mr. Fildebrandt is already feeling empowered in 2017 by the rise of Jason Kenney in Alberta’s Conservative movement. Like Mr. Kenney, he is a former Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a rigid conservative ideologue. Expect Mr. Fildebrandt to be one of Mr. Kenney’s chief lieutenants in his bid to merge the PC Party with the Wildrose Party in 2017.

Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Conklin): What lies ahead for the leader of the Wildrose Party? After Mr. Kenney succeeds in his hostile takeover of the PC Party leadership in May 2017, Mr. Jean might be the only obstacle standing in the way of the two parties merging. He saved his party from the electoral abyss in 2015, but the well-meaning Fort McMurray politician will face significant pressure from his party and the federal Conservatives to step aside to let Mr. Kenney take over. It seems unlikely that his leadership will survive 2017.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): If PC Party members want to preserve their party, rallying behind the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster might be their only, and last, chance. Standing in opposition to Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover, Mr. Starke appears to understand that his party’s success over the past four decades was not based in rigid ideology but in the ability to build a big tent that invited conservatives, moderates and liberals to the table. If he cannot win, then 2017 will be the final year for the PC Party in Alberta.

Thomas Dang (Edmonton-South West): Alberta’s youngest MLA could become known as the Daylight Saving Time Slayer in 2017. He announced this week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill in the spring session of Assembly that would abolish the unpopular annual time-shift.

Christina Gray (Edmonton-Mill Woods): Labour Minister Christina Gray is not the most high profile cabinet minister but she is charged with steering some of the NDP government’s important policy changes. This fall she introduced reforms to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, and next year she will face the government’s much-needed review of the Workers’ Compensation Board, expected changes to the Labour Relations Code and implementation of Occupational Health & Safety rules under the controversial Bill 6 farm safety law.

Jessica Littlewood (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): She had a rough time while serving as chair of the Special Select Committee on Ethics and Accountability, but the trial by fire was more than most of her rookie MLA colleagues have experienced. Despite the committee fumble, Ms. Littlewood stands out as a well-spoken and articulate member of the NDP caucus. A junior cabinet position could be in her future.

David Swann (Calgary-Mountain View): The ernest and hardworking interim leader of the Liberal Party will step down from that role in June 2017. It is not clear who will succeed Dr. Swann, who is currently Alberta’s only Liberal MLA (he is serving his fourth-term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View), which makes it difficult to predict what his role will be in a Liberal Party led by someone from outside the Legislature.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 20162015 and 2014.

Brian Topp NDP leadership candidate

Off the Topp: Notley shuffles her senior staff

As the fall Legislative session ends and MLAs prepare to return home to their constituencies for the holiday season, Premier Rachel Notley announced big changes in the senior ranks of her political office.

John Heaney

John Heaney

Gone is Brian Topp, the veteran political operative who became Ms. Notley’s Chief of Staff after the NDP formed government in 2015. He is reportedly becoming a fellow with the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum.

Mr. Topp is replaced by John Heaney, a former British Columbia NDP political operative who served as Chief of Staff to John Horgan until moving east to Alberta last year. He was filling the role as Alberta’s policy czar as Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office.

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

Former federal NDP campaign manager Anne McGrath, who was hired as Ms. Notley’s Principal Secretary after the 2015 federal election, moves south to run the Premier’s Calgary office at the McDougall Centre.

Ms. McGrath, who lived in the city and studied at the University of Calgary, replaces former alderman and MLA Bob Hawkesworth as Executive Director. It is hard to interpret this move as anything but a demotion. But the addition of Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen to the government caucus, placing a campaign manager in the role could signal that the NDP are beginning to realize the need to shore up support in Alberta’s largest city before the next election.

Anne McGrath NDP

Anne McGrath

Back in Edmonton, Ms. McGrath will be replaced by ministerial chief of staff and former BC NDP advisor Jim Rutkowski, who rounds up the group of recently imported BC NDP operatives now filling the two most powerful political jobs in Alberta.

Alberta’s NDP government has pursued an aggressive policy and legislative agenda since defeating the 44-year old Progressive Conservative regime in May 2015. And while the economic recession caused by the decline in the international price of oil has created significant challenges, it has not slowed down the political agenda.

The recent approval of two oil pipelines suggests the NDP government flagship Climate Leadership Plan is already achieving political results for the province but the political battle over the carbon tax and phase of dirty coal fired power plants will continue into 2017.

It is too soon to tell what today’s staff changes will mean or how they will impact how the NDP government operates. The NDP focused on introducing policy and legislative changes during its first year in office, and now the government will need to shift political gears as it moves to implement its ambitious Alberta-changing policy goals.

This is a situation where you would file a complaint. Jason Kenney has been driving his blue truck across Alberta since early summer. Driver and truck in the photo are not actually Jason Kenney and his blue Dodge Ram.

Former PC MLA files complaint against Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign

A former MLA has filed a complaint with the Progressive Conservative Party in response to an email sent by Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign to party members in a constituency northeast of Edmonton.

Jacquie Fenske MLA Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville

Jacquie Fenske

The complaint launched by Jacquie Fenske, who served as the MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2012 to 2015, alleges that an email sent from Mr. Kenney’s campaign misused the name of a prominent community member who is not supporting his campaign. The individual’s name was included in a list of pro-Kenney candidates standing in that constituency’s Delegate Selection Meeting on Nov. 17, 2016 in Bruderheim.

The individual’s name was used in Mr. Kenney’s campaign email even though she was not running to be a delegate in the PC leadership race and claims to have never met or spoken with Mr. Kenney. Both the individual and Ms. Fenske are supporting Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke’s leadership bid.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

Ms. Fenske’s complaint, which was emailed to PC Party Edmonton vice-president Robert Parks on Nov. 19, 2016, is divided into two sections.

The first section reads: “I believe that what the campaign did was unethical and most likely illegal. They circulated an email within the constituency that contained false information and abused an individual’s name and  reputation.  I will leave the issue of protecting the privacy of her name to her to deal with. What I wish to complain about is the practice of purposely misleading the public by stating she was in support of Jason Kenny, which you can plainly see from her email she was not. Not only that she never registered to be a delegate. Knowingly circulating false information is wrong.”

The second section of the complaint alleges that because the name used in the email is the name she chooses to be called, which is different from the full name included in the local PC Party membership list, that Mr. Kenney’s campaign purposely included her chosen name in the email to increase the credibility of their slate of delegates.

Did they know it is wrong?  Of course.” Ms. Fenske wrote.

If this is happening here then I must ask ‘where else’? If we do not do something about this it drags not only the party into question but also the wonderful people and volunteers who truly do care about this party and about ensuring Albertans are well represented. This is unacceptable and has gone beyond a mere slap on the wrist or fine in my opinion,” Ms. Fenske wrote.

Ms. Fenske told the author of this blog that she does not expect the results of the DSM to be overturned but that she does expect the party to enforce privacy rules. She suggested that she may file a complaint with the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner if the party does not address the misuse of a party member’s name.

Ten delegates supporting Mr. Kenney’s leadership bid were elected at the DSM held in Fort Saskatchewan-Vergreville on Nov. 16, 2016. A total of 15 delegates were elected.

Mr. Kenney’s campaign was fined $5,000 for rules infractions at the DSM in Edmonton-Ellerslie on Nov. 16, 2016 and another complaint is being filed against him for his actions at the Spruce Grove-St. Albert DSM on Nov. 17, 2016.


NDP MLA gets security protection

Facing online harassment and death threats, Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen will now receive protection from the provincial government’s Executive Protection Unit.

Claiming she was harassed and intimidated by Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters at the party’s recent convention, Ms. Jansen abandoned her bid to lead the PC Party and crossed the floor from the PCs to join the NDP on Nov. 17, 2016. She spoke publicly yesterday about the threats and disgusting harassment she has been receiving because she is a women in elected office.

Sandra Jansen’s brave statement against online harassment and violence


Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor from the Progressive Conservatives to the governing New Democratic Party last week, stood in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly today to speak against the disgusting online harassment and violence that has been directed at her and other women MLAs.

This is not the first time an Alberta MLA has raised this issue but it was a brave statement that is certainly worth watching.

Once you have watched the video of Ms. Jansen’s statement, head over the to Calgary Herald and read Don Braid‘s powerful column in response. Here is an excerpt:

We have to face it — some men in this province simply can’t stand the sight of a government run by a female premier, who is in turn supported by a caucus with a higher percentage of women than any other in Canadian history.

Alberta has become a kind of social laboratory, unique in North America, to test whether a near-majority of women in a government caucus makes a change in style and substance. The verdict is already in — they do, as shown both by Notley’s conciliatory style and the NDP’s advancement of women and minorities.

The more obvious this becomes, the more the language escalates. It slimes its way from women to the LGBTQ community and back again.

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Floor Crossing! What to make of Tory MLA Sandra Jansen joining the NDP?

Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.

It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.

“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”

“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”

There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.

In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.

Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.

With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.

While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.

Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.

Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.

A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.

With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.

Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.

Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean, Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir and Premier Rachel Notley announced the government's $25/per month affordable childcare plan.

Alberta Politics This Week: Affordable Childcare, Kenney’s Conspiracy Theory and ‘hysterical political correctness’

“Future Ready” with full stomachs and affordable daycare

The Alberta NDP government’s awkwardly branded “Future Ready” campaign includes some pretty good policy initiatives. Premier Rachel Notley unveiled this week that the government plans to fund healthy breakfasts for low-income students in primary and secondary schools. She initially promised to create this type of program when running for the NDP leadership in September 2014.

Ms. Notley, along with Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir and Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean, also announced the creation of one thousand $25 per day childcare spaces in urban and rural communities across the province. The cost of childcare in Alberta has skyrocketed in recent years, with many parents paying more than $1,000 per month for childcare. This pilot project is a welcome change that will have a positive impact on many Alberta families.

Kenney sees a socialist conspiracy

In the midst of his own hostile takeover of the PC Party, leadership candidate Jason Kenney accused radical New Democrats of purchasing PC Party memberships. A thin-skinned Mr. Kenney lashed out at Mike Morrison, the author of the popular Calgary culture website Mike’s Bloggity Blog, as an example of a socialist conspiracy to take over the PC Party. Mr. Morrison responded sharply, pointing out that he used to be a PC Party member and had voted for PC candidates in most elections. Meanwhile, in a fundraising letter for Mr. Kenney’s campaign, former prime minister Stephen Harper urged Wildrose Party members to join the PC Party to force the merger of the two parties.

Wildrose MLA Don MacIntyre, who represents the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake constituency, told Postmedia that “I would have preferred that Mr. Harper retire and stay out of it, and not try to influence this whole thing one way or the other.”

Mr. Kenney’s supporters swept the first delegate selection meeting held in the Edmonton-Ellerslie constituency, electing 15 delegates for the 2017 PC leadership vote. A scruitineer representing another candidate has filed a formal complaint with the party, accusing Mr. Kenney’s campaign of breaking party rules by hosting a hospitality suite near the polling station.

Jansen & Kennedy-Glans missed in PC race

The only women running for the leadership of the PC Party dropped out of the race last week, citing sexist attacks and a lack of space for centrist ideas in the party. Both Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans appeared to be willing to challenge the status quo thinking in Alberta’s conservative establishment, with Ms. Jansen even questioning the holy grail of Alberta’s past economic prosperity. She wrote on her campaign website that “…a young Albertan born this decade could see oil and gas replaced as our primary industry. Preparing our next generations for every possibility is a priority.” She is the only Conservative politician I can recall ever publicly mentioning the idea of a future where Alberta can no longer depend on oil and gas to drive our economy.

This is an important debate about our economy and education system that Conservatives should not shy away from. But now Ms. Jansen has now left the race and is even pondering whether she even has a future in Alberta’s PC Party.

Alberta Party first out of the gate

Alberta Party members in Calgary-Buffalo constituency will nominate their candidate for the next election on Nov. 27, 2016. Whoever they choose will be the first candidate, from any party, to be nominated to run in Alberta’s next provincial general election. Leader Greg Clark became the first MLA elected under the Alberta Party banner when he unseated PC Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow in in May 2015.

Angry Wildrose MLA’s latest social media rant

During a month when online sexist attacks against women politicians in Alberta appear to getting worse, Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt has posted a 743 word treatise on his Facebook page decrying “hysterical political correctness in politics. Mr. Fildebrandt was briefly (sort-of) disciplined by Wildrose leader Brian Jean earlier this year after launching a verbal attack against Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during her visit to the Alberta Legislature and being involved in an offensive social media blunder about her sexual orientation soon afterward.

In contrast to Mr. Fildebrandt’s post, Wildrose MLA Nathan Cooper shared a reasonable response on Facebook, stating that “Hateful, violent, sexist comments are not acceptable in any way or in any form.”

“I want to encourage all individuals to consider our words carefully. These are people’s mothers, daughters, fathers and sons. We owe each other our best. Women in politics should not serve in fear,” Mr. Cooper wrote.