The phrase “all politics is local” has been used many times to describe voters who might shy away from trying to restructure health care or environmental policy but are passionate about potholes or saving the park down their street.
This phrase appears to be particularily reflective of the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, where former Edmonton mayor and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is campaigning for election to the Legislative Assembly as a Progressive Conservative candidate.
As volunteers canvass door-to-door in the constituency, the campaign of Wildrose candidate Tim Grover is circulating a letter from a local resident who opposed a controversial Terwilligar Housing First development.
The letter alleges that at an August 2013 town-hall meeting about the proposed housing development, then-mayor Mr. Mandel loudly shouted at a group of residents about the project. While the tensions were high at the meeting, community members I have spoken with who attended the town hall meeting dispute the allegation that Mr. Mandel actually shouted at anyone at the meeting.
As part of the City of Edmonton’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the development would have provided permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless Edmontonians. And because of the outcry of a small and vocal group of community members, the development was cancelled.
While the proposal was not perfect, the debate around the Terwilligar Housing First development had all the hallmark characteristics of NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”).
When he launched his campaign, Mr. Mandel said that he would run on his nine-year record as Mayor of Edmonton. And while he has a lot to be proud of, after three terms in office Mr. Mandel did collect a certain amount of political baggage. Because of this, it is not surprising that his political opponents would try to exploit these wedge issues during an election campaign.
Last week, two articulate members from the Haddow neighbourhood spoke to the CBC about their opposition to the development of a surplus school site that Mr. Mandel supported. I am told that “Save Haddow Park” signs have now been spotted in Mr. Grover’s campaign office.
NDP army campaigns for Dr. Bob
Fresh from her victory in the NDP leadership contest, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley led an army of volunteers on to the streets of Edmonton-Whitemud. The NDP took a break from their weekend leadership convention to bus as many volunteers as possible from downtown’s Sutton Place Hotel to the southwest to help candidate Dr. Bob Turner.
Voters in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-West will vote on October 27, 2014. Advance Polls are: being held on October 22, 23, 24 and, 25, 2014.
He is the Premier of Alberta and he does not have a seat in the Legislature, but Jim Prentice skipped last night’s all-candidates forum in the Calgary-Foothills by-election. The event was organized by the Edgemont Community Association.
Noting the high-profile candidate’s absence, forum organizers placed a halloween pumpkin at Mr. Prentice’ empty spot at the table.
He has held almost daily media events since becoming Premier, but they have all taken place at planned and highly-controlled events. An all-candidates forum is an uncontrolled environment where Mr. Prentice would be forced to engage with his opponents, which could cause potential embarrassment to the new Premier.
In an press conference designed to keep Health Minister Stephen Mandel in the news, Mr. Prentice joined his party’s Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate to make a vague announcement about the opening of more “continuing care” spaces.
The announcement provided no detail about how the province plans to address the shortage of long-term care beds, which provide a higher level of care to Albertans in need of longer-term medical assistance.
Despite a growing population, the number of long-term care beds across the province has actually decreased over the past decade.
Mr. Prentice used the press conference as an opportunity to repeatedly explain to reporters that Mr. Mandel is a “hands-on minister” (a description he used at least three times during the press conference).
Although the former mayor is widely expected to win the Whitemud by-election, Mr. Mandel has faced pressure from Liberal Dr. Donna Wilson and New Democrat Dr.Bob Turner to address the province’s lack of long-term care beds and to replace the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital.
“It’s not just about electing Dirks, it’s about beating Carter too,” a PC Party insider told me this week. Fighting to elect appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, the PCs are also gunning to defeat Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, whose campaign is being run by former Tory strategist Stephen Carter.
A sort of political mercenary, Mr. Carter was a key strategist in Alison Redford‘s 2011 leadership campaign and Naheed Nenshi‘s 2010 mayoral election.
While the Wildrose Party poses a threat to the Tories province-wide, recent moves suggest they recognize Mr. Clark as a threat in this by-election. For example, Mr. Dirks’ campaign trotted out an endorsement last week from former Alberta Party leadership candidate Randy Royer.
Drawing on the experience of Mr. Carter and a band of local political organizers, Mr. Clark’s supporters say his campaign is showing signs of momentum on the ground. Whether they can translate any momentum, real or perceived, into votes is an unanswered question.
A Progressive Conservative MLA is appealing a decision by a Conservative Party of Canada committee to disqualify him as a nomination candidate in the newly created Edmonton-West federal riding, according to reliable sources.
(see updates below)
It remains unclear why the committee chose to disqualify Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao, who announced his entry into the contest in March 2014.
If Mr. Xiao’s disqualification is upheld by the Conservative Party National Council, it is expected that Edmonton hotel manager Kelly McCauley will be acclaimed as the party’s candidate for the next federal election.
Since his election in 2008, Mr. Xiao has served as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Energy, Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Employment and Immigration. He faced public criticism after claiming travel expenses of nearly $35,000 in 2012, even though his constituency is located in Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.
The Conservative Party is expected to respond to Mr. Xiao’s appeal this week.
Contributing to more potential controversy, a lawyer representing Mr. Xiao recently informed Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smithand Innisfail-SylvanLake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towlethat he planned to issue notices under Alberta’s Defamation Act.
UPDATE (October 15, 2014): Mr. Xiao has released a statement confirming he is appealing his disqualification as a nomination candidate by the Conservative Party in Edmonton-West.
UPDATE (October 16, 2014): According to reliable sources, Mr. Xiao’s appeal has been rejected by the Conservative Party of Canada National Council. Mr. McCauley is expected to be acclaimed as the candidate in Edmonton-West.
Can the opposition parties win any of the four provincial by-elections being held on October 27, 2014?
The by-election votes will take place in four urban constituencies that were considered safe for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 election. With a change in provincial leadership and a volatile political environment, these by-elections do provide opportunities for the opposition parties to make gains.
In Calgary-Elbow, Wildrose candidate John Fletcherappears to be PC candidate and appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks‘ main conservative challenger and challenges from two other liberal-leaning candidates could create an interesting result in Calgary-Elbow.
Liberal Susan Wright and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark are running strong campaigns competing for the same liberal and moderate voters that Mr. Dirks will need to win against his more conservative opponent. Mr. Clark has gained the support of 2012 PC Party campaign strategist Stephen Carter and 2012 Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan, who are both heavily involved in his campaign.
Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins was able to win this constituency in a 2007 by-election at a time when the Liberals were Official Opposition and the Tories were led by new PC leader Ed Stelmach, who was unfamiliar to most Calgary voters at the time. In 2014, the field of candidates and parties is much more crowded and unpredictable.
Retired popular Edmonton Mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is widely expected to glide to victory in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election (his predecessor, Dave Hancock was re-elected with 60% of the vote in 2012).
Mr. Mandel’s vocal opponents are trying to make health care and the provincial government’s lack of long-term infrastructure planning the big issues of the by-election campaign.
Both Dr. Turner and Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson have made south west Edmonton’s aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital a focus of their campaigns. Dr. Wilson held a press conference outside the Misericordia Hospital yesterday and today the NDP will hold a lunch-hour rally outside the facility.
Statistician Eric Grenier predicts Wildrose candidate Sheila Taylorcould win the Calgary-West by-election. Ms. Taylor, a now former trustee on the Calgary Board of Education, is a star candidate for the Wildrose in Calgary. She is facing Calgary police officer Mike Ellis, who unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination before the 2012 election.
Premier Jim Prentice‘s recent announcement to build an additional 55 new schools and renovate another 20 is certainly meant to boost Mr. Dirks’ and weaken Ms. Taylor’s candidacy. Quick to respond, Mr. Clark’s campaign set up a website detailing the schools Mr. Dirks voted to close during his time on the Calgary Board of Education.
Running as a candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election, Mr. Prentice faces his main challenge from Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald, a 20-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service. Foothills has voted solidly PC since 1967 and while it is easy to assume that Mr. Prentice’s job as Premier makes him a shoe-in, he should not take voters for granted. Mr. Grenier has classified Foothills are a “tossup” between the PCs and Wildrose.
There is nothing more the opposition parties would love than to see a sitting Premier defeated in his own constituency. A loss in Foothills might be unlikely, but a loss of even one of the four by-elections would be a sign that the PCs, even under “new management,” remain politically vulnerable. By-elections can be risky for incumbent governments, especially when voters are eager to use their votes to send a message.
Upcoming all-candidates forums
Calgary-Foothills all-candidates forum: October 15, 8:30pm at the Edgemont Community Association (33 Edgevalley Circle NW).
BANFF – Stepping onto the national stage for the first time since he was appointed as Alberta’s Minister of Health, Stephen Mandel met with his provincial and federal counterparts this week in Banff for the annual Health Ministers meeting. Mr. Mandel co-chaired the meeting, a role his predecessor, Fred Horne, had planned to fill.
The ministers are said to have discussed a wide-range of topics, perhaps most dramatically, a strategy for pharmacare, a plan that could decrease the cost of prescription drugs by billions of dollars each year. This sort of national plan would require the involvement of a federal Conservative Government that has, unfortunately for Canadians, taken a hands-off approach to health care.
Mr. Mandel began on the long road of rebuilding relationships with federal government by meeting with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose. Despite being represented by federal Conservative MPs in Ottawa, relations between the City and federal government soured in recent years. In November 2010, an angry Mr. Mandel publicly blamed Ms.Ambrose for the failure of the City’s unarticulated plans to host Expo 2017.
CALGARY – The Wildrose Party announced two of its by-election candidates this week. Former Calgary police officer Kathy Macdonald is running against Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and Calgary public school board trustee Sheila Taylor will run in Calgary-West.
A savvy move, Mr. Prentice announced the appointment of Emma May as the executive director of the Premier’s Southern Alberta Office at the McDougall Centre. A well-respected community advocate, Ms. May leads the Calgary River Communities Action Group, which represents residents whose homes were damaged by the 2013 floods.
Ms. May’s appointment may also have an impact on the by-election in Calgary-Elbow, a constituency which includes many flood impacted neighbourhoods. Running as the PC candidate, appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirksis facing strong challengers in Wildrose candidates John Fletcher, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal Susan Wright.
The Green Party is expected to announce its candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud shortly. The Social Credit Party will not run candidates in any of the by-elections.
TROUBLED WATERS – CBC reports that the Auditor General Merwan Saher found that sole-source contracts of up to $274,000 were awarded to Navigtor Ltd. during the 2013 southern Alberta floods. The firm has close connections to Mr. Prentice and former Premier Alison Redford.
FLOOR CROSSING? – Rumours are stirring in political circles this week that Mr. Prentice and PC Caucus Whip George VanderBurg have reached out to a handful of Wildrose MLAs in an attempt to convince them to cross the floor. Any opposition floor crossings could be seen as a significant political win for the long-governing PC Party.
Albertans in four provincial constituencies will go to the polls on October 27, 2014. Half-way through the PC Government’s current four year term in office, the by-elections will be our own version of the mid-term elections.
Yesterday morning three anticipated provincial by-elections turned into four when first-term Ken Hughesannounced his resignation as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-West. Earlier in the morning, Independent MLA Len Webber, fresh from securing the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation, declared that he would vacate his Calgary-Foothills seat.
Combined with vacancies in Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud, Alberta’s political parties will face off in four constituencies in 28 days.
Premier Jim Prentice wants these by-elections to be a referendum on the past two weeks, during which time he has made daily announcements trying to undo unpopular decisions made by the Alison Redford-led PC Government. The opposition wants to make sure these by-elections are a referendum on the past two years of broken promises and misdeeds by the PC Government.
Despite the unpopularity of the PC Party in recent polls, the four by-elections are not taking place in constituencies that were decided by small margins of victory in the last election. These four are some of the stronger PC-voting constituencies in Alberta. In the 2012 election, the PCs earned 60.4% in Edmonton-Whitemud, 58% in Calgary-Elbow, 53.5% in Calgary-Foothills and 49.9% in Calgary-West.
After 43-years in power, will Albertans buy Mr. Prentice’s argument that the PC Party is “under new management” and has entered “a new era?” The PC Party prides itself with the ability to rebrand itself under pressure. Long-time Tories boast of the “Miracle on the Prairies,” the tale of Ralph Klein’s reinvention of the PC Party before its expected defeat in the 1993 election.
But fresh in the minds of many Albertans is the hope and opportunity that seemed real when Ms. Redford became Premier in 2011. We were promised a new era reminiscent of the days when Peter Lougheed led our province. Instead, we received two years of arrogance, broken promises, budget cuts and endless political spending scandals. And despite attempts to blame it all on Ms. Redford, it is hard to forget the 60 PC MLAs who stood behind her during those two years.
The appointment of two cabinet ministers from outside of the Legislature certainly helps the argument that the PC Government is “under new management.” But however credible the two men are, and despite their records as successful politicians, their age and notable careers in politics certainly undermines the argument that we have entered “a new era” in Alberta politics (Gordon Dirks is 67-years old and Stephen Mandel is 69-years old).
The four PC candidates in these by-elections could easily all be elected, but some of them could just as easily be defeated. By-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.
Running in Calgary-Foothills, Mr. Prentice will soon face voters for the first time since he was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is expected to announce her party’s challenger in Foothills today.
The lack of interest in the recent PC Party leadership race suggests that many Albertans have put our Natural Governing Party on probation. It will be a test of Mr. Prentice, Mr. Dirks, Mr. Mandel and Calgary-West candidate Mike Ellis, to prove themselves worthy. And it will be a test of the opposition parties to remind Albertans why the PCs do not deserve another chance.
On August 26, Mr. Prentice told the Edmonton Journal he would call a by-election immediately after he became PC Party leader. He was elected PC Party leader on September 6 and sworn-in as premier on September 15.
It appears likely that Mr. Prentice might announce which constituency he will run in on the day the writ of by-election is signed by Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Using all the advantages of an incumbent government, it appears he is trying to give the opposition parties the least time possible to prepare candidates to run against him.
The “announcement-a-day keeps the memory of Alison Redford away” strategy has kept Mr. Prentice’s name in the news headlines, and has allowed him to create a two-week long list of talking points with which to campaign.
It is widely believed that Mr. Prentice will run in Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay, where current PC MLA Neil Brown has publicly offered to resign.
There is also speculation that he could also choose to run in another north Calgary constituency – like Calgary-Foothills – currently represented by Independent MLA Len Webber. Mr. Webber is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation (he left the PC caucus in May 2014, after describing Ms. Redford as a “bully”).
The tight-lipped preparations have led many political watchers to believe that the Tories remain worried that Albertans may choose to punish the new Premier for the misdeeds and broken promises of Ms. Redford and the PC caucus over the past two years.
Under normal circumstances, Mr. Prentice would easily be elected, but by-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.
But whichever constituency he decides to run in, one party is ready with a candidate in the wings. Calgary writer Jennifer Burgess has said she will run for the New Democratic Party in any by-election Mr. Prentice chooses to run in. Her website cleverly describes herself as the NDP candidate in the Calgary-Prentice constituency.
The NDP and Wildrose Party announced their candidates in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. Dr. Bob Turner, a well-spoken doctor from Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute, has decided to run against former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel.
Flanked by Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and a handful of supporters and Wildrose MLAs, Tim Groverannounced his plans to challenge Mr. Mandel. Mr. Grover was already nominated to run for the Wildrose Party in the Edmonton-South West constituency. He was also the ‘Get Out the Vote’ chairman for Karen Leibovici‘s 2013 mayoral campaign.
Alberta Party President William Munsey is running under his party’s banner.
With provincial by-elections in Alberta’s two biggest cities expected to be called soon, opposition parties are gearing up to challenge two unelected cabinet ministers running under the Progressive Conservative banner.
Dates for the by-election votes have not been scheduled and a third by-election for Premier Jim Prentice is also expected to take place. Mr. Prentice is expected to run in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.
By-elections are risky for incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a message without changing government. These votes will provide the first indications whether Albertans are satisfied with Mr. Prentice’s ability to rebrand the scandal-plagued 43-year old PC Party Government.
Trigged by the resignation of former Premier Alison Redford, this by-election has been described as “ground zero” by the opposition Wildrose Party. Many of the neighbourhoods in this constituency were devastated by last year’s floods and I am told that many locals remain disappointed with the provincial government’s response in repairing the damage. Not surprisingly, many residents also remain very disappointed with the performance of their former PC MLA.
Newly appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, has been acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Mr. Dirks is a former Calgary school trustee and Saskatchewan PC MLA. His appointment to cabinet was a surprise to most political watchers.
Conservative activist Pat Walsh had announced plans to seek the PC nomination, but stepped aside last week to clear the way for Mr. Dirks’ acclamation. But this week, in a strange move, Mr. Walsh has endorsed Wildrose candidate John Fletcher.
Mr. Fletcher is a retired Canadian Forces Colonel and is a candidate the Wildrose believes can defeat the unelected Education minister.
The Liberals are looking to candidate Susan Wright to regain some of their former support in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberals won the constituency in a 2007 by-election to replace Mr. Klein, but lost it Ms. Redford the following year. While the Liberals have had a strong base of support in the constituency in previous elections, the party’s support plummeted in 2012. This by-election will test whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are a viable political force in Calgary.
This will be Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s second time running as a candidate in Calgary-Elbow, but this time he will have the support of celebrity political strategist Stephen Carter (formerly of the PC Party) and former Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan. The Alberta Party briefly held a seat in the Assembly before the 2012 election, when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-Currie, joined their ranks. Mr. Clark hopes that he can become his party’s second-ever MLA.
Sure to cause a stir among die-hard New Democrats is Ms. McLean’s endorsement of popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign to become the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre.
I am told that the Green Party of Alberta has decided not to run a candidate in this by-election. It is unclear why they are sitting it out.
Constituency Association Net Assets, Calgary-Elbow, 2013 Progressive Conservative: $207,972.97 Wildrose: $72,625.47 Liberals: $540.79 NDP – $0 Alberta Party: $2,465.16
The PC Party’s longest-held constituency in Edmonton, Edmonton-Whitemud was represented by former Premier Dave Hancock from 1997 until his resignation last week.
Newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69, has been acclaimed as the PC candidate. The former three-term Edmonton Mayor remains popular among many Edmontonians and it is unclear whether he will face any serious challengers.
So far, the only candidate to step up to challenge him is Alberta Party President Will Munsey. An amiable character, Mr. Munsey ran under his party’s banner in the Leduc-Beaumont constituency in the last provincial election and as a Green Party candidate in Vegreville-Wainwright in the 2011 federal election.
The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate, but I am told that the party is working hard to recruit a former Edmonton Liberal MLA to run in the by-election. Similar to Elbow, the Whitemud by-election will test whether Dr. Sherman’s Liberals can regain their former strength in Edmonton.
As far as I am aware, no candidates have publicly declared their intentions to seek the Wildrose or NDP nominations at the time this column was published.
UPDATE: In the comment section of this blog, Dr. Bob Turner announced that he will be the NDP candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.
Constituency Association Net Assets, Edmonton-Whitemud, 2013 PC = $32,366.72
Liberal – $1,528.40
NDP – $286.77
Alberta Party: $1,171.76
Alberta politics fact: While located in two different cities, the constituencies of Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud both include some of Alberta’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Both have also been represented by two Premiers (Elbow by Ralph Klein and Ms. Redford, and Whitemud by Don Getty and Mr. Hancock).
Premier Jim Prentice announced this week that five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield would be appointed as Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Mr. Merrifield’s resignation from the House of Commons means that a federal by-election will need to be called in the Yellowhead riding by March 17, 2015. This would be the fourth federal by-election in Alberta since the 2011 general election.
Media have been banned from attending the forums of the Conservative nomination forums in the Bow River riding. This is no doubt to spare the Conservative Party of the embarrassment of having Mr. Anders on their ballot in that riding.
Last week, the Medicine Hat News reported an embarrassing exchange at a forum in that riding’s nomination contest which saw two social conservative candidates debating gay-rights and women’s access to abortion.
Local Conservative member Brian De Jontold the Brooks Bulletin that there has been “no substance” at the Bow River forums anyway.
An “Anybody But Xiao” (ABX) campaign is heating up in this new west Edmonton riding. With candidate Brad Rutherford dropping out and throwing his support behind Kelly McCauley, a group of local Conservatives are trying to prevent Edmonton-McClung Progressive Conservative MLA David Xiao from winning the nomination.
But Mr. Xiao has his supporters. Former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed provincial health minister Stephen Mandel, former Premier Ed Stelmach, Justice minister Jonathan Denis and Infrastructure minister Manmeet Bhullar have all pledged their endorsements to Mr. Xiao.
Conservative candidate Joan Crockett sent a shot across the bow of popular Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign last week. In a column in the Calgary Herald, Ms. Crockatt claimed that Mr. Hehr has done little as an MLA to help with flood recovery in Calgary’s central neighbourhoods (also naming him in the same sentence as disgraced former Premier Alison Redford).
Mr. Hehr, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding told the told Herald reporter James Wood that “it’s politics.” “Joan and I are going to have a lot of time to discuss the issues and she’s just getting an early jump on it,” Mr. Hehr said.
Most Edmontonians probably would not have noticed when Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and 96 New Democratic Party MPs descended on the city for their caucus meeting earlier this month. But while the NDP MPs did appear to spend most of their time behind closed doors, they did take a notable break to help out a local candidate in east Edmonton’s new Griesbach riding.
Confirming what many believed to be inevitable, six-term Conservative MP Peter Goldring announced that he will not seek re-election. Mr. Goldring has endorsed Omar Tarchichi over former mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte in the nomination contest to replace him. Curiously, for a governing party’s candidate, Mr. Tarchichi’s campaign has chosen “Rise Up” as its slogan. It is unclear what Mr. Tarchichi plans to rise up against.
Two candidates have stepped forward to run for the Conservative nomination in the new Lakeland riding after three-term backbencher Brian Storseth announced he was retiring from federal politics.
Shannon Stubbs is a former Wildrose caucus staffer and ran for the party in the 2012 provincial election (collecting 5,800 votes in the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville riding). She is also the wife of popular Lac La Biche-Two Hills-St. Paul Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw(they were married today – congratulations!)
Ms. Stubbs will face Lewis Semashkewich, an Aspen View Public School Board trustee. The Athabasca Advocate reported that Mr. Semashkewich is calling for the construction of a new oil refinery in that corner of the province.
Lawyer Tom O’Leary is seeking the Liberal nomination in the new Edmonton-Riverbend riding.
Edmonton-Strathcona Len Thom will carry the Conservative banner against NDP MP Linda Duncan in the next election. The lawyer of and provincial PC Party constituency president was acclaimed at a nomination meeting this week.
As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.
But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.
Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.
Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.
As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.
Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).
How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.
Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.
During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.
Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.
The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.
On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.
Unelected Cabinet Ministers
Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.
Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skinwhen he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.
Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.
It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.
Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?
Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).
Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.
The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.