Tag Archives: Steve West

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

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

OTTAWA, ONTARIO 

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

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead

Robin Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Redford legacy haunts Prentice Tories

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating the anniversary of the 2012 Tory victory: then-Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs Moe Amery, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu. (photo from May 2013).

Most people rely on TripAdvisor or call a travel agent to book hotels for overseas trips, but it is alleged by intrepid CBC investigative journalists that former Premier Alison Redford dispatched a staffer to visit hotels and restaurants in advance of her trips to India, China, Switzerland, Washington, and Toronto for a cost of nearly $330,000.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).

If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?

In response to the allegations, former top Redford loyalist Thomas Luksazuk has called on the former premier to resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, a move that is likely to occur after Jim Prentice wins the party leadership. Mr. Prentice is without a seat in the Assembly and the cash-flush Calgary-Elbow PC association could steer the new Premier through a potentially treacherous by-election.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

In a fundraising email sent to supporters today, Wildrose Party president David Yager wrote that his party “will fight the by-election with every ounce of firepower we have.”

Advance Cabinet Shuffle

Signalling that Jeff Johnson‘s troubling reign as Education Minister could come to an end in September, Mr. Prentice pledged to work “in a respectful way” with the powerful Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.

Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti

Wayne Drysdale

But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.

Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.

Klein-era finance and revenue ministers Stockwell Day, Steve West, Greg Melchin, Lloyd Snelgrove, Lyle Oberg, and Ted Morton penned a letter to the PC leadership candidates urging them to return to the pre-Horner consolidated annual budget. Mr. Horner adopted a confusing new structure shortly after he was appointed to the post by Ms. Redford in 2012.

Notably missing from the list of former finance ministers was Jim Dinning, who spoke out against Mr. Horner’s budget reporting in April 2014.

Mason vs Smith: Wildrose and NDP leaders on province-wide debate tour

NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith

NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith spar at their latest debate hosted by the University of Alberta Political Science Undergraduate Association.

Three years before the next provincial election, a public debate tour might not be where you would expect to find the leaders of two political parties. Breaking convention, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith and Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason are joining forces to bring provincial politics to college and university campuses across Alberta. In the second of a planned seven stops, the two leaders stood at their podiums in front of a crowd of 400 at the University of Alberta last night to debate the future of Alberta.

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

It made me wonder when was the last time one party leader faced another in such a public arena and reflect on how this format is more humanizing than the sterile television studio we typically watch our political leaders debate in. Needless to say, it was a highly entertaining evening.

Ms. Smith and Mr. Mason playfully sparred over issues facing the energy sector, pipelines, the economy, post-secondary education, health care and public services.

On so many issues, it was refreshing to see two distinct opinions being debated. It was also refreshing that, for a change, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives were not always the centre of attention. Highlighting the point of the debate tour, Mr. Mason urged the crowd to “think past the PC government,” reminding them that he was in Grade 11 when the Tories first formed government in Alberta.

On government spending, Mr. Mason cleverly pledged his party would not raise taxes, but reversing tax cuts implemented by former Tory finance ministers Stockwell Day and Steve West. Ms. Smith affirmed that new pipelines would help Alberta restore its revenue stream, and worried that the government was becoming too centralized, especially in health care and potentially in post-secondary education.

“I’m not an expert in post-secondary education, but guess what, neither is Thomas Lukaszuk.” – Danielle Smith

Brian Mason

Brian Mason

On the topical issue of pipelines, Mr. Mason reaffirmed his party’s support for refining bitumen in Alberta, rather than creating refinery jobs in Texas and China. Ms. Smith avoided commenting on the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, instead focusing on the Energy East proposal that would pump oil from Alberta to New Brunswick (which Mr. Mason said he also supports).

While it may seem odd that the two opponents would so comfortably share the stage, there is method to this strategy. After recent budget cuts and government scandals, the two parties are betting that Albertans will be less enamoured with Premier Alison Redford‘s Tories when the next election approaches.

If the Wildrose wants to defeat the Tories in the next election, they not only need to steal votes away from the four-decade old political dynasty, they need other parties to do so as well. While the Wildrose does not have a strong base of support in Edmonton,  the NDP are well-positioned to steal votes away from the Tories in the provincial capital (the NDP increased their vote share in Edmonton from 18% in 2008 to 21% in 2012).

If this sounds a tad familiar, there are some parallels that can be drawn to the strategy used by Conservative leader Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton to destroy Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party in the mid-2000s (except in this case, the Martin Liberals are the Redford Tories).

If you missed tonight’s debate, check out on of the upcoming debates near you:

September 25 – Medicine Hat College
September 26 – University of Lethbridge
October 3 – Red Deer College
October 10 – MacEwan University
October 17 – Mount Royal University

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).

alberta politics notes 1/28/2011.

What’s next?

The sudden Tuesday morning announcement by Premier Ed Stelmach that he will resign before the next election caught many people by surprise, but beyond the broad statement there was little detail about when he would actually resign and when he would be replaced. At a press conference in Calgary yesterday, Premier Stelmach gave a little more detail saying that he would continue in his role until at least the end of the Spring Session of the Legislature.

Dr. Ted Morton after presenting the 2010 Provincial Budget.

Morton’s savvy move

Yesterday’s departure of Finance Minister Ted Moron from the provincial cabinet is an unsurprising move by the conservative former University professor. Dr. Morton’s resignation as Finance Minister will allow him to concentrate on his leadership bid and more importantly distances himself from a 2011 budget which is expected to include a substantial deficit, which would hurt his credibility among his conservative supporters.

Not having to stand up on the Legislative Assembly floor and present a deficit budget in 2011 will not give the Wildrose Alliance the pleasure of attacking his credentials as a fiscal hawk (or fiscal mallard). The battle over whether to accept a deficit or balance the budget (resulting in serious budget cuts) was a fight that is suspected to have contributed heavily on Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement earlier this week.

New Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove flipping pancakes at the 2010 Premier's Breakfast in Edmonton.

Lloyd from Lloydminster

Mr. Morton’s departure from cabinet made way for Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove‘s appointment as Minister of Finance. Minister Snelgrove was first elected as the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster in 2001, replacing former Finance Minister Steve West (who was known as Dr. Death for the part he played in the government cuts of the 1990). Minister Snelgrove was one of the nine  MLAs who supported Premier Stelmach’s bid for the PC leadership in 2006 and has been a key member of the Premier’s inner circle since.

Video interviews with Danielle Smith and Jonathan Denis

Ontario Conservative political blogger Stephen Taylor has posted two video interviews this week with Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith and Housing Minister Jonathan Denis in reaction to Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement.

Alberta Party acting leader Sue Huff and the first Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor.

The Economist weighs in.

The Economist published a review of Alberta’s current political situation titled “Prairie fire” that gives a good synopsis of the PC leadership strife, the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, and the growth of the new Alberta Party with its first MLA Dave Taylor.

Another Liberal departure

Media Coordinator Tanara McLean is leaving the Liberal Caucus to take a position with SunTV reporter starting next month. This will be the second departure from the Liberal Communications Office in 2011. Communications Director Neil Mackie left in early January.

MLA Dr. Raj Sherman announced that he will continue to sit as an Independent MLA in the upcoming Spring Sitting of the Legislature.

Raj Sherman Media Conference

Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman held a media conference yesterday to announce that he will be entering the Spring Session of the Legislature as an Independent MLA. He also reminded the media of his upcoming townhall tour with the Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen.

Nomination contests

A few new additions to the list of declared candidates seeking party nominations for the next provincial election. In Calgary-Varsity, previously declared Kevin Dick is now facing Justin Anderson for the Wildrose Alliance nomination. Other newly declared seeking Wildrose candidate nominations are Tim Dyck in Calgary-Bow and Cory Morgan in Calgary-North Hill (soon to be Calgary-Klein). Mr. Morgan was the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mountain View in the 2008 election and some people may remember him as the leader of the Alberta Independence Party in 2001.

In Edmonton-Decore, Zack Siezmagraff is seeking the Liberal Party nomination to reclaim the constituency from PC MLA Janice Sarich. This riding under its current and previous names was represented by Liberal MLAs Bill Bonko, Bill Bonner, and its namesake Laurence Decore from 1989 to 2008.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.