Tag Archives: Stephen Khan

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.

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.

Richard Starke’s last push – what happens to the Renew PCers after March 18?

With five days left until Jason Kenney wins the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in a landslide vote, his main rival is marshalling his forces.

Representing PC supporters who want to renew the party, rather than dissolve it, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke has announced a string of endorsements from former PC cabinet ministers and MLAs over the past few days, including former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and former leadership candidate Stephen Khan.

Khan dropped out of the leadership race earlier this year and claimed Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party would lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Starke’s list of endorsers include former MLAs Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths, Thomas Lukaszuk, Mike Allen, Rob Lougheed, Hector Goudreau, LeRoy Johnson, Jack Hayden, Ron Casey, Cal Dallas, Arno Doerksen, Bridget Pastoor, Dave Quest, Teresa Woo-Paw, Ron Ghitter, Verlyn Olson, Genia Leskiw, Iris Evans, Cathy Olesen, Heather Klimchuk, Pearl Calahasen, Ray Danyluk, Jim Horsman, Peter Elzinga, Linda Johnson, and Jacquie Fenske.

It seems like an odd strategy to pull out a list of prominent endorsers after the delegate selection meetings have been held but it could be the last card that Starke’s team had to play. Kenney is an impressive campaigner and his organization solidified a solid lead in the elected delegate count.

Jason Kenney Wildrose Conservative Alberta

Jason Kenney

After party delegates vote to elect Kenney as their leader on Saturday, March 18, 2017, the PC Party will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party. His campaign against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean has essentially already begun.

Starke’s campaign to renew the PC Party released a “Common Sense Plan” in January 2017 which laid out a vague plan to work with the Wildrose Party without merging with them, but even at the time it felt like a last ditch attempt to ward off Kenney’s juggernaut.

It is unclear what Starke and his supporters will do when Kenney wins the leadership in a landslide on March 18, 2017. He and his only supporter in the PC caucus, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale, will have to decide whether they want to remain in a Kenney-led PC Party which could potentially cross over to the Wildrose caucus before the 2019 election.

Maybe they will start a new moderate conservative party, or join another party? Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen left the PC leadership race and joined the NDP caucus in November 2016. Perhaps hoping to gain a caucus-mate, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark has been pushing his ‘Centre Together’ message targeted at centrist Tories unimpressed with Kenney’s Wildrose merger plans.

What comes after a bozo-eruption? A bozo-aftershock. 

Last week I wrote about the “Feminism is Cancer” email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the screening of a Men’s Rights film on International Women’s Day. The Gauntlet, the campus newspaper, reports that the student who the club claimed to have fired as communications director after the incident may have not actually existed. The newspaper was unable to find any student with the name “Robert McDavid” listed with the university’s registrar or the party membership list.

If The Gauntlet report is correct, either the club did not actually fire their director or they fired someone who did not want their name to be publicly associated with the “Feminism is Cancer” email.

Will the PC Party finally disqualify Jason Kenney?

He’s not running to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party. He’s running to destroy the party so that he can then form a new party that he’s going to run and become leader of,” Progressive Conservative Party member Jeffrey Rath told CBC Calgary.

The Priddis-based lawyer has filed a complaint with his party alleging that leadership candidate Jason Kenney’s vision runs counter to the party’s constitution and that he should be disqualified.

Kenney is running to dissolve the PC Party, not to merge or unite it with the Wildrose Party.

Despite running under the slogan “Unite Alberta,” Kenney’s goal is to win the leadership and then dissolve the party. If that does not run counter to the party’s constitution, I am not sure what else would.

The PC Party was foolish for allowing Kenney to run in the first place. Facing a lethargic and uninspiring group of “renewal” candidates, Kenney appears to have easily locked up the support of enough delegates to secure a victory at the upcoming convention.

Rath’s complaint is a Hail Mary pass but it could work. It could be difficult for the PC Party executive to disqualify him now but they should if they want their party to exist in a year from now.

The Kenney campaign’s record of flouting the rules has given the PC Party’s executive plenty of reasons to consider disqualification. One of his chief strategists was even suspended from the party for a one-year period. Some moderate conservatives in the PC Party, including former leadership candidate Stephen Khan, believe Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party will lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who had previously endorsed plans for a new party, recently announced that his plans would have conservatives rally behind the current Wildrose Party structure. That’s rebranded Wildrose Party.

Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, who was recently acclaimed as the Wildrose Party candidate in Chestermere-Rocky View, even announced on a Facebook video that she was proud to be running for the Wildrose Party in the 2019 election, with no mention of a new party.

This goes back to my long-held belief that the Wildrose Party needs the PC Party more than the PCs need the Wildrose. In two consecutive elections the Wildrose Party has struggled to break out of its rural Alberta base and might only be able to win an election if the PC Party is completely removed from the picture.

In 2015, the PCs were arrogant, out of touch and deserved to lose the election. But unlike the Wildrose Party, the PCs have a record of 44 years of straight election victories and a brand that many Albertans still respect.

It would not be unimaginable to see the PCs bounce back to win another election. But they won’t be able to win any future elections if they allow Kenney lead them to extinction, as he plans to do.

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.

A Wildrose Party sign spotted outside of Hinton last week.

Today’s Edition of The Fight on the Right

Starke vs. Kenney: the lightweight match

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

Starting the day off, Richard Starke, the soft-spoken veternarian from Lloydminster entered the ring with his “Common Sense Plan” to save the Progressive Conservative Party from Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover plans to merge it right-wing Wildrose Party.

The PC leadership race has largely been devoid of any other real issues or policy discussions and focused almost entirely on Kenney’s takeover bid. Starke’s plan was extremely light on details but here’s what we know: he is open to a coalition between the two parties but he would keep the PC and Wildrose parties separate.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

It is unclear if this means the two parties would not run candidates against each other, but that might be one way of salvaging the estimated $1.5 million currently sitting in the bank accounts of PC constituency associations that would be forfeit if the party was dissolved into the Wildrose Party.

Today’s announcement was likely aimed at dislodging the significant lead Kenney has secured in the delegate selection meetings, but it feels like a desperate last grasp by Starke.

Jean vs. Kenney: The bare-knuckle round

Overshadowing Starke’s plan is Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean‘s shot at Kenney. Jean announced today that he is prepared to step down as leader of his party to contest the leadership of a new conservative party, if one is created before the next election.

Brian Jean

There had been speculation for months that Jean could avoid a messy leadership challenge by running for Mayor of Wood Buffalo in October 2017 instead of fending off a challenge from Kenney, but this appears to settle it. As leader of the Wildrose Party, Jean has been unofficially campaigning for months to bolster his bid to leader the conservative movement in this province by holding town hall meetings with supporters.

Jean took the reigns of his party from the edge of the political abyss after most Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party in 2014. He led the rural-based party to a swift recovery in the 2015 election but has faced challenges within his caucus and party ever since. His party has also been stuck in the mid-30 percent range in public opinion polls over the past year.

It is unclear whether Jean and Kenney would be the only two candidates to run for the leadership of a new Wildrose-dominated conservative party, or whether a third or fourth contender would enter the contest to lead this currently non-existent party.


Khan throws in the towel

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

Former St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan has dropped out of the PC leadership race. The former one-term MLA gave columnist Paula Simons a fairly damning description of the state of conservative politics in Alberta: “I wouldn’t call it a dumpster fire. But I’d call it a destructive circus.”

Here is an excerpt from his statement:

I was confident that this race would be one of ideas and hope for Alberta’s future and I expected it to be a well-run and principled campaign. Instead, it has devolved into vitriol, anger and division. As such, I can no longer participate in this race in good conscience, nor ask my family, volunteers and supporters to do the same on my behalf.

We have seen the reputation of the PC Party damaged so badly over the course of this campaign that our credibility may be beyond repair. More concerning, we have seen volunteers, organizers, leadership candidates, members of the Board of Directors, our party President and even some PC caucus members harassed and threatened. It is clear that there is no room in this race for competing ideas and we have seen more anger and division in the last 3 months than in the half-century legacy of this party.

As I step down, I know other candidates in this leadership race will carry on the fight. I will remain a proud member and volunteer with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Going forward, I will put my support behind Richard Starke and I would ask my supporters to do the same. 

Alberta Tories hold the World’s Most Boring Leadership Race

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver

Yaaawwwnn… Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

In 53 days, members of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party will vote to choose their next leader and the next Premier of Alberta.

Unlike previous PC leadership races, where Albertans of all political-inclinations were excited to participate in the vote to directly choose the next Leader of the Natural Governing Party, there does not appear to be any sign of overwhelming interest in 2014. This year’s PC leadership race, held less than three years since the last one, appears to be far away from the minds of most Albertans.

The overwhelming perception that former federal politician and bank executive Jim Prentice is the sure-bet in the race has certainly contributed to the disinterest. Mr. Prentice’s campaign has the backing of the party’s powerful establishment and boasts a long-list of MLA endorsements – 49 of 59 PC MLAs, including recent additions St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan, Tourism minister Richard Starke and Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen.

With their party lagging behind the Wildrose (and the NDP) in some polls, PC MLAs are nervous that a divisive leadership race will further damage their party.

Mr. Prentice’s campaign succeeded early in the race in chasing away his most serious potential rivals, like Finance minister Doug Horner, current Energy minister Diana McQueen and former Energy minister Ken Hughes, out of the race. He now faces former cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, who have no support in the caucus (other than themselves).

On the ideas front, there has not been much to discuss. Two months after Mr. Prentice entered the leadership race, it still remains unclear what he stands for. He speaks in vague generalizations about “keeping Alberta strong,” “pursuing commons sense policies,” “global markets and long-term capital investment” and “an end to sweet heart government contracts for political staff,” but provides little detail.

Unlike the 2011 leadership contest, during which the PC Party organized public forums in each region of the province, there are no public debates scheduled for this contest. The lack of public venues for the candidates to engage with each other has made Mr. Prentice’s low-risk front-runner campaign hard to beat.

And without any public debates, there is little opportunity for PC Party members or any interested members of the general public to challenge the candidates into providing more details about what they would do as premier.

While two years of embarrassment and scandal have seriously damaged the reputation of the 43-year old government, the PC Party is still the party in power and will sell a lot of memberships. But the key number will be how many of these members actually vote in the leadership selection (144,289 voted in 2006 and 78,176 voted in 2011).

Unlike previous races, where anyone could show up on the day of the vote and buy a membership, this year’s vote will be held online and memberships sales will be cut off 36 hours before the vote is held.

Any voter apathy around Mr. Prentice’s front-runner status could help his opponents. However unlikely, it is not impossible to foresee a scenario where one of his opponents could capitalize on perception that Mr. Prentice’s win is a forgone conclusion. A low-voter turnout on the September 6 first ballot vote could actually help another candidate with a more motivated base of support.

Mr. McIver’s reputation as Calgary’s Dr. No still carries some cache among Calgary conservatives. And, despite condemnations from media columnists and liberals, his association with Calgary Street Church and the March for Jesus could have actually solidified his support among social conservatives (who have the motivation to vote).

Some political watchers suspect that the PC Party is purposely downplaying the leadership race, and there may be truth to this. The establishment of the long-governing party is eager to avoid any controversy that would result in the defeat of the establishment’s chosen candidate, like happened in 1992, 2006 and 2011.

So, while we may spend the next 53 days watching a leadership race devoid of excitement and substance, we can only hope that this boring leadership race produce some interesting results.

A Christmas cabinet shuffle in Alberta?

Alberta Redford Cabinet Shuffle

Premier Alison Redford and her MLA caucus.

With the Legislative Assembly’s fall sitting coming to an end, can some Progressive Conservative MLAs expect an early Christmas present from their leader, Premier Alison Redford? Nearly half-way through the PC Party’s twelfth term in office and fresh from a leadership review victory, it is expected that Ms. Redford could choose to shuffle her cabinet before Christmas. Speculation about an imminent cabinet shuffle has intensified this week.

Diana McQueen Alberta

Diana McQueen

With an increased focus on the government’s agenda to support the Keystone XL, Enbridge Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, some political watchers have suggested that calm and confident Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen could see her prominence in cabinet rise with an appointment as Deputy Premier.

Ms. McQueen has roots in rural Alberta as an MLA and mayor, both qualities the Redford Government would like to highlight in advance of the next provincial election. Her appointment as Deputy Premier could send a signal to out-of-province skeptics that Ms. Redford takes the environmental portfolio seriously (even though that is debatable from a substance standpoint).

With the intense focus on pipelines and a desire to shift attention away from this year’s more controversial budget cuts, Ms. Redford could look to replace Finance Minister Doug Horner, a former leadership rival, with Energy Minister Ken Hughes, a close confidant.

Ken Hughes

Ken Hughes

Moving Mr. Horner to the Energy portfolio would free him from the constrains of last year’s manufactured budget woes and put him in the important position of advocating for pipeline expansion to the United States and British Columbia. In Finance, Mr. Hughes would be someone the premier could rely on to present a consistent message while managing the government’s controversial and potentially dangerous push to overhaul Alberta’s public sector pension plans before the next election.

Among the political watchers I speak with, there is no concensus where current Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk could end up in a cabinet shuffle. Some believe he could be promoted to a higher profile role like Finance and others believe he could be completely stripped of his cabinet responsibilities. His confrontational and partisan style has certainly created difficulties for Ms. Redford, but he is also one of her government’s staunchest defenders.

Mr. Lukaszuk does not shy away from engaging in heated debates in the Assembly and on social media, where it is sometime difficult to distinguish confidence from arrogance. On Twitter last week, the Deputy Premier mocked opponents of Bill 45, which could infringe on free speech rights in Alberta.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

Mr. Lukaszuk replaced MLA Stephen Khan as Enterprise & Advanced Education Minister earlier this year when Ms. Redford needed a heavy-hand to impose deep budget cuts on Alberta’s colleges and universities. Not only has Mr. Lukaszuk become Ms. Redford’s lieutenant, he appears to be positioning himself as premier-in-waiting. Mr. Lukaszuk is a double-edged sword for the Premier.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths is a prime candidate to be shuffled into a different cabinet position or even to the backbenches after his unimpressive performance in cabinet. Since he was first appointed to cabinet in 2011, Mr. Griffiths has stumbled through the high profile items in his portfolio, including managing to create unnecessary conflict with popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi while also alienating many rural politicians.

Mr. Griffiths caused some embarrassed for the government last month when Ms. Redford was forced to halt the passage of Bill 28 Moderinizing Regional Governance Act after rural municipal leaders protested that they had not been properly consulted before the introduction of the planning legislation. The bill has since been amended, but Mr. Griffiths remains unapologetic.

If the speculation is true, December could be a both exciting and very disappointing month for some members of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. If a cabinet shuffle is imminent, there will be PC MLAs  who return home for the Christmas break with lumps of coal and others with their arms full of holiday reading material (also known as ministerial briefing binders).

Strange claim made by PC backbencher

Filed under “strange claims made by backbenchers,” Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao claims on his official Progressive Conservative caucus website that he is the “first mainland Chinese candidate elected in Western democracy.” This claim should surprise some, including Mae Yih, born in Shanghai and elected to Oregon Legislature in 1977, and Richard Lee, born in Zhongshan and elected to the BC legislature in 2001.

Nomination races begin for federal election 2015

There are 705 days until Monday, October 19, 2015, when the next Canadian federal election is scheduled to be held. With less than two years until Canadians choose who will serve as Members of Parliament and with new electoral boundaries coming into effect at the next election, candidates across Alberta are preparing to seek party nominations, a first step to becoming a candidate.

Edmonton's 2015 electoral districts as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission Final Report.

Edmonton’s 2015 electoral districts as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission Final Report.

Last week’s resignation announcement by Conservative MP Ted Menzies opens the door for a by-election to be held in southwest Alberta’s Macleod riding. When the next election is called, Macleod will be dissolved and the new Foothills riding will be created. Rumours circulated soon after Mr. Menzies announcement that Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith could seek the Conservative nomination were quickly quashed when he announced she would remain as MLA for Highwood. According to the Okotoks Western Wheel, three local residents, businessman Scott Wagner, rancher Phil Rowland and former Parliament Hill staffer Melissa Mathieson, have expressed interest in seeking the Conservative nomination.

With former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber confirming he will run as an Independent in the new St. Albert-Edmonton riding in the next election, aspirants are already lining up to contest Conservative Party nomination.

Expected to enter the race in St. Albert-Edmonton is businessman and former political organizer Ryan Hastman, who is currently employed as a Regional Director in the University of Alberta‘s Office of Advancement. Readers of his blog will recognize Mr. Hastman as a co-host of the #yegvote Google Hangout and as the 2011 Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona. He has previously worked in Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Office and for the Wildrose Party.

Lawyer and conservative activist Michael Cooper has already announced his candidacy in the St. Albert-Edmonton Conservative nomination and has the support of the provincial Progressive Conservative establishment, including endorsements from Finance Minister Doug Horner, Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, and St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan. Also in the race is Kevin Tam, a Conservative Party activist who is currently employed as a researcher with the provincial Liberal Opposition.

Lethbridge and southern Alberta 2015 electoral districts as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission Final Report.

Lethbridge and southern Alberta 2015 electoral districts as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission Final Report.

Changing boundaries in southern Alberta mean that Lethbridge Conservative MP Jim Hillyer will soon find himself living inside the redrawn Medicine Hat riding, currently represented by Conservative MP LeVar Payne. While a nomination race between the two incumbents could easily be averted if Mr. Hillyer runs in the newly redrawn Lethbridge, he may still face a tough nomination contest now that his large base of support in the southern half of the old riding will now living in a new riding.

After a narrow win in last year’s by-election, Conservative MP Joan Crockatt can expect a strong challenge from a newly revitalized Liberal Party organization in Calgary-Centre.

Conservatives have still yet to resolve who will run in the handful of new ridings created in south Edmonton. Similar to the situation in southern Alberta, Conservatives are hopeful that nomination battles between MPs Mike Lake, James Rajotte, and Blaine Calkins can be averted. This may be even further complicated if current Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal decides to seek a nomination in the newly redrawn Edmonton-Mill Woods riding. Mr. Uppal was the Canadian Alliance and Conservative candidate in south east Edmonton in the 2000 and 2004 federal elections and lost his party nomination to Mr. Lake before the 2006 election.

Rod Loyola announced his intentions to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods last year. Mr. Loyola was the 2012 provincial NDP candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie and is currently the president of the Non-Academic Staff Association at the University of Alberta.

Calgary's 2015 electoral districts as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission Final Report.

Calgary’s 2015 electoral districts as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission Final Report.

With the retirement of Calgary-Nose Hill MP Diane Ablonczy, who was first elected under the Reform Party banner in 1993, Calgarians can expect a hotly contested nomination race in this riding that is considered a Conservative stronghold. One candidate rumoured to be considering a run for a nomination is Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber, who served as a cabinet minister in Premier Ed Stelmach‘s government but was shuffled to the backbenches after Alison Redford became Premier in 2011.

In the always contested Edmonton-Centre, aboriginal activist and educator Lewis Cardinal, announced earlier this year that he would once again seek the NDP nomination. In 2011, Mr. Cardinal increased his party’s support in that riding by 11%, placing second to Conservative incumbent Laurie Hawn. The central Edmonton riding was represented by Liberal MP Anne McLellan from 1993 until 2006. Hoping for a revival of Liberal support in the next election, a number of candidates are said to be preparing to contest the Liberal nomination, including entrepreneur and Rhodes Scholar Randy Boissonnault, and  2011 candidate and lawyer Mary MacDonald.

Two-term Edmonton-Decore PC MLA Janice Sarich is rumoured to be mounting a challenge against current Edmonton-East Conservative MP Peter Goldring in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding. With Mr. Goldring back in the Conservative fold after sitting as an independent, he is expected to seek his party’s nomination in the new riding. The NDP are searching for a star candidate in this riding, after seeing their support steadily increase since the past four federal elections. The new riding also significantly overlaps the areas represented by NDP MLA Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Deron Bilous in the provincial Legislature. The NDP’s 2008 and 2012 candidate, former MLA Ray Martin, was elected to serve on Edmonton’s Public School Board on October 21, 2013.

Update (November 14, 2013): Educator Janis Irwin has announced her intention to seek the NDP nomination in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding.

Because lists are something that this writer tends to do well, I will soon start a list tracking declared and nominated candidates planning to run in the 2015 federal election in Edmonton. If I have missed anyone in this round-up, please post a comment below or send me an email at davidcournoyer@gmail.com.

Fake tuition freeze flops after Redford’s $147 million budget cut.

University of Alberta students penned messages to the provincial government at yesterday's #Graffiti4Govt graffiti wall.

University of Alberta students penned messages to the provincial government at yesterday’s #Graffiti4Govt graffiti wall.

“We’ve been very clear that we will not be balancing the budget on the backs of students,” Premier Alison Redford told the media at a press conference yesterday.

This statement is only partially true. The provincial government is not balancing the budget this year.

Gathered to re-announced what Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk casually announced off-the-cuff last week, Premier Alison Redford and her loyal Deputy declared yesterday that the provincial government provide an extra $16.5 to post-secondary institutions to cover next year’s expected 2.5% tuition increase for students. The government has framed the move as a tuition “freeze,” but it is really a one-time subsidy to hide a fee increase, as the institutions will be implementing tuition increases regardless.

So, the good news is that students will not be paying more out of their pockets in tuition next year. The bad news is due to provincial budget cuts, class sizes will be larger and there will be fewer instructors. This is, of course, if your program has not been cancelled.

Deep cuts to the provincial government’s post-secondary education budget has led Alberta’s universities and colleges to announce staff layoffs, program cutbacks and, in some cases, complete program eliminations. Mount Royal University, Grant MacEwan, NAIT, Lakeland College, and Athabasca University have announced cuts to programs and staff that will affect the quality of education Alberta students will receive in the coming years.

University of Alberta students penned messages to the provincial government at yesterday’s #Graffiti4Govt graffiti wall.

University of Alberta students penned messages to the provincial government at yesterday’s #Graffiti4Govt graffiti wall.

Yesterday’s announcement, like the Deputy Premier’s focus on Campus Alberta logos and mandate letters, is meant to distract the public from the affects the deep budget cuts. The  fake tuition freeze and orders from Deputy Premier Lukaszuk that all institutions implement a three-year wage freeze in all future staff contracts, could drive a wedge between students and post-secondary staff, who have remained unusually unified in speaking against the budget cuts.

Unlike the broad-sweeping budget cuts implemented during Premier Ralph Klein‘s time in office, post-secondary education is a main target in Premier Redford’s cuts. These cuts may be an indication as to why the soft-spoken former Advanced Education Minister Stephen Khan was shuffled out of cabinet earlier this year in favour of the more aggressive and heavy-handed Deputy Premier Lukaszuk.

Alberta’s two big city mayors are united in displeasure over the cuts.

Speaking to an audience of 2,000 people earlier this month, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel shamed the Redford government at his annual State of the City Address:

“When I see Edmonton’s key growth sector — our post-secondary institutions — placed in a position of fundamental uncertainty, I worry that a new era of ‘good-enough’ thinking is poised to undermine our long-term sustainable prosperity” – Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel (April 2, 2013)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, an associate professor at Mount Royal University, penned an open letter to the institution’s board of governors urging them to stand up to the provincial government.

I have been on record as saying that the provincial government has made a terrible error in its post-secondary education policy – great cities need great universities and great universities need government support. No doubt these actions have made your life very difficult. However, I would encourage the leadership of MRU to stand up to the provincial government on behalf of its students, faculty, and community, rather than capitulate to the government’s bad policy. – Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (April 17, 2013)

Two rookies turfed from Tory cabinet.

New Tourism Minister Richard Starke, and departing cabinet ministers Stephen Khan and Christine Cusanelli.

New Tourism Minister Richard Starke, and departing cabinet ministers Stephen Khan and Christine Cusanelli.

In an unexpected move, Premier Alison Redford shuffled two rookie cabinet ministers out of her cabinet yesterday morning. Advanced Education & Enterprise Minister Stephen Khan (MLA St. Albert) and Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli (MLA Calgary-Currie) were both appointed to cabinet in May 2012.

Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk

Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk

Mr. Khan’s time in cabinet was largely seen as reserved and underwhelming. Ms. Cusanelli caused an unwelcome stir when she was forced to repay the government $10,600 for expenses made in her first five months in office, including $4,000 in airfare to have her daughter and mother join her at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom. She was also given the unenviable task of defending the government’s large line of hospitality expenses at the London Games.

Ms. Cusanelli’s ministerial office was recently shuffled with the hiring of Chief of Staff Tammy Forbes, who previously served as the Premier’s media liaison, and press secretary Andrew Fisher, who previously served as Chief of Staff.

Replacing Mr. Khan is Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who has been operating without an official cabinet portfolio since before last year’s election. First-term MLA Richard Starke, representing Vermilion-Lloydminster, has been tapped to replace Ms. Cusanelli as Minister of Tourism.

——

Minister Starke’s constituency has a long history of electing MLAs who later served as cabinet ministers.

First to the Tory cabinet was Lloydminster MLA Bud Miller served as the Minister of Public Lands and Wildlife in Premier Peter Lougheed‘s cabinet from 1979 to 1982.

Directly preceding Minister Starke was Lloyd Snelgrove, who was MLA from 2001 to 2012 and served in a number of portfolios during Premier Ed Stelmach‘s time in office, including a period of Minister of Finance. Citing irreconcilable differences, Mr. Snelgrove left the PC caucus to sit as an Independent MLA following Premier Redford’s successful leadership bid.

Preceding Mr. Snelgrove was Steve West, who served as the constituency’s MLA from 1986 to 2001 and served in a number of cabinet portfolios during Premier Ralph Klein‘s time in office, including Minister of Finance.

(Judging from historical trends, you might think there is a good chance that Minister Starke could one day be Minister of Finance).

Map: Alberta cabinet ministers catch the international travel bug.

“The Redford government spent more than half a million dollars on its trip to the London Olympics earlier this year, including about $113,000 in hotel rooms that were not used…” – Edmonton Journal reporter Keith Gerein

According to the Journal, the $518,280 trip sent 29 Albertans to London including Tory Premier Alison Redford, Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister Christine Cusanelli, government officials, artists and performers including Corb Lund and Donovan Workun.

While the trip to the London Olympics has sticker shock, it is small potatoes in comparison to the Government of Alberta’s $14 million splash at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where Premier Ed Stelmach and cabinet ministers hosted Olympic attendees on a $499 per ticket luxury train to Whistler and showered them with gifts that included iPod Touchs and White Cowboy Hats.

I understand the value of sending cabinet ministers on these trips to promote our province abroad and I generally believe it is in our best interest, but there reaches a certain point when return on investment needs to be demonstrated.

Over the past eleven months, Premier Redford, cabinet ministers,  and backbench Tory MLAs have traveled extensively on government business. The trips have taken Alberta Government officials to five continents and more than twelve countries, including numerous trips to Washington DC, New York, and Hong Kong.

I have created a Google Map tracking the international travel of Premier Redford, cabinet ministers, and backbench Tory MLAs since November 2011. Zoom in and click the icons to read who traveled where and when.


View Alberta Cabinet Minister and MLA Travel November 2011-October 2012 in a larger map

Note: Travel dates and locations listed on this map were found in media releases published on the Government of Alberta website.

edmonton’s advantage: we owe danielle smith nothing.

Danielle-Smith-Stephen-Mandel

After three years of slagging him in the media, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith met Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel for the first time yesterday (The image is a dramatization of actual events).

Three years after becoming leader of her party, Official Opposition Wildrose Party leader and southern Alberta MLA Danielle Smith met with Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel for the first time yesterday.

It is bizarre that Ms. Smith, who believed she was on the verge of becoming Premier of Alberta before April 23, had not met the Mayor of Alberta’s capital city until today. Knowing how many events Mayor Mandel attends on a weekly basis it is surprising to me that the two  have not coincidentally (or even purposely) bumped into each other at a reception or fundraiser. Perhaps this suggests where Edmonton fit in the Wildrose Party’s grand strategy to form government on April 23, 2012.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Stephen Mandel

In the three years since she was selected as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Ms. Smith has attempted, very publicly, to turn decisions made by Edmonton City Council into wedge issues in northern Alberta.

The most notable attempt was in 2010, when the Wildrose Party leader denounced the decision by City Councillors to implement a phased closure of the City Centre Airport, and used the conclusion of the long-standing and painful civic to wedge away traditional Tory support in northern communities concerned about what effects the closure could have on medivac and charter flight services.

While campaigning for the cancelation of the phased closure plans, Ms. Smith and her party started what became a personal battle against Mayor Mandel, who supported the phased closure. Despite the Wildrose Party’s incursion into municipal affairs, Mayor Mandel was re-elected with 55% of the vote.

Over the course of the next two years, and the 2012 election campaign, Ms. Smith’s party made issue of the provincial funding for a new Royal Alberta Museum and the renovation of the too-long abandoned Federal Building in Edmonton’s downtown.

These wedge issue did not translate into seats in northern Alberta on election day. The party’s candidates were competitive in many constituencies north of Edmonton, but only Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills candidate Shayne Saskiw was successful and the party’s only incumbent in the north, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier, was defeated.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012

Danielle Smith

The Wildrose Party was also strongly rebuked in Edmonton, where in total votes it placed behind both the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats. Following controversial comments made on a blog by Edmonton Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger, Mayor Mandel cautiously waded into the election campaign. Voters in only one urban Edmonton-area constituency gave the party more than 30% support (in Sherwood Park).

Newly elected Cardston-Taber-Warner Wildrose MLA Gary Bikman believes his party’s drubbing in Edmonton was a result of rural voters “possessing more common sense” than the city dwellers, suggesting that Ms. Smith’s party may still have to undergo a significant psychological transformation before it will appeal to those nonsensical city voters.

The Edmonton’s Advantage

Simple geopolitics gives the two other opposition parties an advantage over the new Wildrose Official Opposition in the capital city. The leaders of of the two other opposition parties actually live there. The four MLA NDP caucus, led by Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason, is entirely based in Edmonton and the former official opposition Liberal Party, led by Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman, holds two seats in the capital city.

Even as a Calgary-based politician, PC Premier Alison Redford appointed some powerful Edmonton representatives at the cabinet table, including Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, Health Minister Fred Horne, Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk, and PC caucus whip Steven Young. Just outside the city limits, Advanced Education Minister Stephen Khan, Education Minister Jeff Johnson, and Finance Minister Doug Horner represent constituencies in the Capital Region.

Despite Ms. Smith’s electoral posturing against the Mayor and City Council, and her party’s contingent of MLA’s hailing mostly from rural southern constituencies, Edmonton’s municipal officials will benefit from cultivating working relationships with the new Official Opposition. There will undoubtably be times over the next four years when the Mayor and City Council do not see eye to eye with the Government and that is when a healthy relationship with the bodies occupying the Official Opposition benches will be of benefit to Edmontonians.

With Ms. Smith’s party shut out of Edmonton, the city’s elected representatives do not owe anything to the Wildrose MLA’s, meaning that the Mayor and City Council can build relationships in their own time and on their own terms.

alison redford and her new cabinet could lead a new urban agenda.

Alberta Cabinet Ministers Premier Redford

Premier Alison Redford's new cabinet ministers (photos from premierofalberta Flickr feed).

Premier Alison Redford appointed her post-election cabinet ministers today after forgoing an initial press release and announcing them on Twitter. These picks and the legislation they will bring forward over the next four years will shape the direction Premier Redford wants to take her Progressive Conservative Party into the next election.

The new cabinet will face a new Wildrose Party Official Opposition, which is dominated by rookie MLA’s from rural southern and central Alberta constituencies.

The bleeding of large portions of the PC Party’s rural social conservative wing to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party in the April 2011 election could be a blessing for Premier Redford and her government. Keeping the Wildrose Party electorally contained in the rural south and central regions of the province, while focusing on issues that will appeal to the rapidly growing and diverse urban populations in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Calgary, Edmonton could be a solid strategy to provide a more forward-looking government agenda and preserve the PC Party’s electoral dominance in the coming decades.

In the three years leading into this year’s election, the Wildrose proved extremely successful in using wedge issues like property rights and the construction of electrical transmission lines to drive traditional PC voters in rural southern and central Alberta constituencies into their electoral camp. If they have not already, the PC brain trust should take note of similar strategies that will keep the Wildrose Party at bay in urban centres.

 No longer forced to appease a more conservative rural base of MLAs and supporters, Premier Redford has an opportunity to lead a new urban agenda for Alberta, especially with the urban-based Liberal and NDP opposition pushed to the margins. With potential strong allies in Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, Premier Redford could make strides on issues like reinvesting in Alberta’s Heritage Fund and investing in urban public transit and transportation infrastructure.

If expected patterns of population growth continue, it is the urban areas which will receive additional constituencies in the Alberta Legislature when the boundaries are redistributed.

New cabinet:

Alison Redford – Premier
Thomas Lukaszuk – Deputy Premier
Doug Horner – Minister of Finance & President of Treasury Board
Dave Hancock – Minister of Human Services
Cal Dallas – Minister of International & Intergovernmental Relations
Diana McQueen – Minister of Environment & Sustainable Resource Development
Fred Horne – Minister of Health
Ken Hughes – Minister of Energy
Jeff Johnson – Minister of Education
Verlyn Olson – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Jonathan Denis – Minister of Justice & Solicitor General
Doug Griffiths – Minister of Municipal Affairs
Robin Campbell – Minister of Aboriginal Relations
Heather Klimchuk – Minister of Culture
Manmeet Bhullar – Minister of Service Alberta
Wayne Drysdale – Minister of Infrastructure
Stephen Khan – Minister of Enterprise & Advanced Education
Ric McIver – Minister of Transportation
Christine Cusanelli – Minster of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation

letter by former mla a glimpse at desperate times in the liberal party.

“At year’s end there is a saying, “Out with the old and in with the new”

“Unfortunately, this does not apply to your St. Albert Provincial Liberal Constituency Association. The reality of our situation is that “The old is not out and the new is the same old.”

A letter sent to current and past Alberta Liberal Party supporters in the St. Albert constituency gives a glimpse into how disorganized and far-behind the Liberal Party is in preparing for the next provincial election in some constituencies.

The letter, signed by local activist Wilf Borgstede and constituency association president and former MLA Jack Flaherty, outlines the trouble that the Liberals have had in recruiting a candidate to run in that constituency in the upcoming provincial election.

The letter makes reference to two prospective candidates who showed interest in running, but declined because of the lack of support the local organization would be able to provide them during the election campaign.

According to the letter, the last Annual General Meeting was held in 2008, the year which Mr. Flaherty was defeated. The letter suggests that despite a brief boost in interest in the party during the recent leadership contest and when former Tory MLA Raj Sherman was chosen as leader, that interest has since disbursed.

When contacted about this letter, Liberal Party campaign chairman Corey Hogan, always an optimist, wrote via email that “I suspect the launch of our platform on the 6th will further invigorate members and supporters in St. Albert and elsewhere as we get prepared for the coming contest.”

Meanwhile, the four other main political parties have nominated candidates. Alberta Party candidate Tim Osborne was nominated more than a year ago, the NDP acclaimed activist Nicole Bownes in 2010, and the Wildrose have chosen former Alderman James Burrows (who is a former Liberal Party member). Two weeks ago, the PCs held a hotly contested nomination meeting that drew three candidates and hundreds of local supporters to select a replacement to retiring MLA Ken Allred. Businessman Stephen Khan was the successful PC nominee.

The letter may be symptomatic of broader problems facing the Liberal Party. Two staffers who recently left the Liberal Caucus Office have landed in the PC camp. Former Liberal Researcher Kyle Olsen recently left the Caucus for a job as a researcher at the PC Caucus and former public relations coordinator Andrew Fisher is now supporting Edmonton-Centre PC candidate Akash Kokhar‘s campaign.