Tag Archives: Stan Schumacher

Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper claims the throne in Alberta’s latest Speaker election

When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the new Legislature today, the first piece of business they were required to conduct was the election of a Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who will preside over debates and ensure that the established rules of behaviour and procedure are followed.

The Speaker is elected by MLAs through a secret ballot held at the beginning of each legislative session. Candidates are nominated by their colleagues on the floor of the Assembly and voting takes place immediately afterward. 

It has been fairly well known in most political circles that Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper has had his eye on the Speaker’s Chair. Cooper made his intentions known shortly after the election and as former interim leader of the United Conservative Party and opposition house leader, he was well positioned to take on the role. His lack of appointment to the UCP cabinet earlier this month was a pretty definite signal that he would have the support of Premier Jason Kenney and most or all of the UCP caucus in this election.

Heather Sweet NDP Edmonton-Manning

Heather Sweet

As has become the norm in recent years, the opposition also nominated a candidate for the Speaker’s Chair. Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray nominated her New Democratic Caucus colleague, Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet in the election. Sweet had served as Deputy Chair of Committees during the previous Assembly. 

Not surprisingly, the UCP majority elected Cooper as Speaker.

The election of a Speaker through a secret ballot is a relatively new invention in Alberta politics. Before 1993, when the first secret ballot vote took place, the Premier’s choice for Speaker was typically acclaimed by the Assembly.

An exception that I discovered was in 1922, when a United Farmers of Alberta MLA surprised the Assembly when he nominated a Conservative opposition MLAs to challenge Premier Herbert Greenfield’s chosen candidate for Speaker. The Conservative MLA declined the nomination and Greenfield’s choice was acclaimed.

Here is a look at a few of the contested Speaker elections held since 1993:

2015: When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the legislature following the 2015 election, Medicine Hat NDP MLA Bob Wanner was elected as Speaker. Wanner faced Calgary-Lougheed Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney. The Wildrose opposition attempted to nominate others challengers in a strange attempt to disrupt the process. Wildrose MLAs Angela Pitt and Leela Aheer nominated NDP MLAs Stephanie McLean and Marie Renaud and PC MLA Sandra Jansen, all who declined their nominations.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

2008 and 2012: Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was nominated by her Liberal caucus colleagues in the 2008 and 2012 Speaker elections and was defeated by incumbent Speaker Ken Kowalski in the first election and Edmonton-Mill Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Gene Zwozdesky in the second election.

1997: Barrhead-Westlock PC MLA and former deputy premier Ken Kowalski was elected as Speaker on the second round of voting over Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg after Highwood MLA Don Tannas was eliminated on the first ballot. Liberal leader Grant Mitchell nominated then-Liberal MLA Gene Zwozdesky as a candidate for Speaker, but he declined to stand.

It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Kowalski’s over Clegg, who was seen as Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice. Kowalski’s comeback happened a short three years after he had been unceremoniously booted from Klein’s cabinet.

1993: Liberal leader Laurence Decore nominated Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes as speaker in 1993, the first time the Speaker was elected by secret ballot. Hewes was defeated by PC MLA Stan Schumacher.


Speaker punches newspaper publisher over wife-swapping allegations, 1935

Oran McPherson

Oran McPherson

A glance through the history of Speakers of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reveals some fascinating stories. One story really stuck out.

In 1935, Speaker Oran McPherson is reported to have engaged in a heated argument at the top of the rotunda’s grand staircase with Edmonton Bulletin publisher Charles Campbell, who McPherson accused of spreading lies about his divorce. McPherson punched Campbell and he hit a railing and banged his head on a pillar.

It had been reported that McPherson was arranging a “wife-swap” with the aide-de-camp to the serving Lieutenant Governor.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background.

Former Speaker Gene Zwozdesky has died at age 70. The “Wizard of Zwoz” started as a Liberal and became the PC Party’s charm machine.

Gene Zwozdesky, the former Speaker of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, has died of cancer at the age of 70.

Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.

Gene Zwozdesky Alberta MLA

Gene Zwozdesky’s official MLA portrait photo in 1997.

A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.

Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes castLed by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.

He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.

Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.

In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed to cabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.

As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive. 

Only three weeks into the job he’s the Wizard of Zwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.

In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.

He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.

While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision. 

He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.

Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.

Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.

Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)

year in review 2010: alberta mla edition.

Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman

Raj Sherman (Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark)
The Emergency Room Doctor turned MLA shook the Tory establishment when he went public with his concerns about how the PC government has handled health care. Dr. Sherman saved special criticism for former Health Minister Ron Liepert, who was responsible for the creation of Alberta Health Services. An over-night folk hero to many, Dr. Sherman was suspended from the PC caucus and became the target of a whisper campaign to undermine his credibility, which started with a phone call placed by MLA Fred Horne. Dr Sherman has said he may take legal action against those involved in the smear campaign. In three weeks, Dr. Sherman’s public criticisms of the PCs health care record made him the de-facto leader of the opposition in the last two months of 2010.

Dr. Sherman made this list in 2008, when I described him as “one of the brighter stars in the vast expanse of dim lights in the Alberta Legislature.

Doug Griffiths (PC Battle River-Wainwright)
Thinking out of the box has kept this perennial Parliamentary Assistant away from the cabinet table, where he would likely excel. Doug Griffiths’ appointment as the Parliamentary Assistant for Finance and Enterprise is the latest in a series of lateral moves from his previous roles as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Solicitor General. After trying to start a public discussion about how a provincial sales tax could reduce government dependency on natural resource revenue, Mr. Griffiths became the target of his own colleagues who shot down his idea at the 2010 PC Party convention and by the Wildrose Alliance, who used Mr. Griffiths’ comments as a fundraising-focused attack campaign. He also hit the road this year as the author of a new book, 13 Ways to Kill your Community.

In last year’s list, I wrote of Mr. Griffiths: “With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.

Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson with Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.

Rob Anderson (Wildrose Airdrie-Chestermere)
First-term PC MLA Rob Anderson‘s floor-crossing from the PCs to the Wildrose in January 2010, along with fellow PC MLA Heather Forsyth, set the tone for Alberta politics in 2010. He may have less political experience than his three fellow Wildrose MLAs (two of which are former PC cabinet ministers), but what he does not have in age or years of experience he makes up in political tenacity. If leader Danielle Smith is unable to win a seat in the next provincial election, Mr. Anderson is in a good position to take over the role.

Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock)
Making his third appearance on this list, Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski celebrated his 31st year as an MLA by micro-managing the communications of and denying a requested increase in funding to the Wildrose Alliance caucus, which grew from one to four MLAs over the past 12 months. Ex-Speakers David Carter and Stan Schumacher criticized his decision to block Wildrose funding and the Calgary Herald even called for his resignation. While unreasonable under these circumstances, Speaker Kowalski allowed for a second (and successful) motion from Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman for an emergency debate on health care during the fall sitting of the Assembly.

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr

Kent Hehr (Liberal Calgary-Buffalo)
What started as a tongue-in-cheek campaign by Liberal caucus staffers became reality when first-term Liberal MLA Kent Hehr launched his candidacy for Mayor of Calgary. Although he was a popular candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Hehr was unable to create the kind of momentum that launched Naheed Nenshi into contention. Mr. Hehr dropped out of the Mayoral contest when his poll numbers showed he was far behind, but that did not hurt his political credibility as he returned to the Assembly as the Official Opposition Justice Critic.

Dave Taylor (Independent Calgary-Currie)
After an unsuccessful run for the Liberal leadership in 2009, Dave Taylor was not satisfied with the leadership of his rival David Swann and left the Liberal Opposition to sit as an Independent in April 2010. As one of the more effective opposition critics in the Liberal caucus, losing Mr. Taylor likely cost the Official Opposition in media attention and also an MLA who held the support of many of his former talk radio hosts at the popular AM770 and 630CHED stations.

Cindy Ady (PC Calgary-Shaw)
Alberta’s Minister of Parks and Tourism rode the Alberta train as our province’s ambassador to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While handing out White Cowboy hats and iPod Touches, Minister Ady made sure that Alberta was the topic of discussion for the international media and tourists traveling to the Olympic events in Whistler.

Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA & Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky

Gene Zwozdesky (PC Edmonton-Mill Creek)
Crowned as the “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky was responsible for fixing the mess created and mend the fences destroyed by previous Minister Ron Liepert. Minister Zwozdesky has been more open and accessible than his predecessor, but the real challenge will be for him to actually deliver real improvements to a health care system that has been seen constant political interference and restructuring over the past twenty years.

Kyle Fawcett (PC Calgary-North Hill)
On the night of the October municipal election, the backbench Tory MLA who once described Premier Ed Stelmach as “a man of extraordinary vision,” also had a loose twitter finger. As the Purple Revolution swept his city, Mr. Fawcett tweeted that Calgarians had made a “Big Mistake” by electing Naheed Nenshi as Mayor.

Carl Benito (PC Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Where do I start? A broken promise to donate his entire salary to a scholarship fund for students in his constituency and blaming his wife for forgetting to pay his municipal property taxes. Mill Woods, your MLA is a real winner.

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Previous Annual MLA Reviews
Year in Review 2009: Alberta MLA Edition
Year in Review 2008: Alberta MLA Edition