Tag Archives: Stockwell Day

Tax Increases no longer Political Kryptonite in Canadian Elections

It’s been a rough year for Conservatives in Canada as two major elections in six months have resulted in major blows for Conservative parties in Alberta and Ottawa.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In May 2015, former federal cabinet minister and bank vice-president Jim Prentice, a political moderate and patrician of the province’s Conservative establishment, led the 44-year long governing Progressive Conservatives to a stunning defeat by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party.

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives were swept from office by Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal Party.

These two major election defeats shattered many common beliefs about politics in Alberta and Canada. In both cases, Conservative parties were defeated by parties promising moderate progressive platforms that included tax increases and significant increases to public infrastructure investment and explicit commitments to run deficit budgets, for at least the short-term period in the case of the NDP. In Alberta, both the PC Party and NDP promised various tax increases.

On the final Sunday of the federal election campaign, Mr. Trudeau spoke to an energetic crowd of more than 2,000 supporters in the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding, home of now elected Liberal MP Amarjeet Sohi. During his speech, he explained to the crowd that if the Liberals were elected on Oct. 19, that they would raise taxes by asking Canada’s wealthiest income earners “to pay just a little bit more.”

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

If these words sounded familiar to anyone in the crowd, it’s because they might have heard Ms. Notley deliver nearly the exact same message five months earlier when speaking to similarly energized crowds during the provincial election. And they in both cases, the message resonated with the crowd, and on election day with voters.

This new reality will certainly come to a shock to those gathering at Preston Manning‘s institute on Oct. 22 to watch the Canadian Taxpayers Federation present former Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day with a “TaxFighter Award” for his role in implementing Canada’s first 10 percent flat-rate personal income tax in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is the same flat-tax that Ms. Notley’s NDP replaced with a progressive income tax system only a few short months ago.

These tax increases and other changes brought in by the NDP have not been without their critics, some more vocal and violent than others. But perhaps the biggest irony of these criticisms is that even with the tax increases brought in by Ms. Notley’s NDP, corporate and small business tax rates are still lower than they were when Mr. Day served in Premier Ralph Klein‘s cabinet.

While taxes might not have been the only issue that drove voters to the polls, it didn’t drive them away. These two elections have shattered the myth cultivated by conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, think tanks and lobby groups for decades that promising to increase taxes is political kryptonite.

As Rachel Notley proved on May 5 and Justin Trudeau showed on Oct. 19, voters in 2015 are willing to reward political leaders who present smart, sensible and responsible plans for increased taxation and government revenue.

Nominated Edmonton NDP candidates Heather Mackenzie (Edmonton-West), Linda Duncan (Edmonton-Strathcona), Aaron Paquette (Edmonton-Manning) and Janis Irwin (Edmonton-Griesbach).

Monday morning Alberta nomination update – 84 days until the federal election

There are 84 days until the October 19, 2015 federal election. Here is the latest news from federal candidate nomination updates in ridings across Alberta.

Calgary-Confederation: Noel Keough has entered the NDP nomination contest. He will face Arti Modgill, Kirk Heuser and Marc Power. Dr. Keough is an assistant professor of urban design at the University of Calgary. Earlier this year Dr. Keough withdrew his name from the ballot as the Green Party candidate in Calgary-Klein to endorse provincial NDP candidate Craig Coolahan. Mr. Coolahan defeated Progressive Conservative MLA Kyle Fawcett by 40.2% to 26.6%.

Calgary-Heritage: Artist and country music singer Matt Masters Burgener is seeking the NDP nomination to run against Prime Minister Stephen Harper in southwest Calgary. Mr. Burgener is the son of former PC MLA Jocelyn Burgener, who represented Calgary-Currie from 1993 to 2001.

Calgary-Midnapore: Three candidates will contest the Liberal Party nomination scheduled for July 28. Candidates include Haley Brown, Harbaksh Sekhon and Tanya MacPherson. Mr. Sekhon was the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Hawkwood in the recent provincial election.

Edmonton-Mannng: Artist Aaron Paquette defeated community activist Jeanne Lehman, and University of Alberta english instructor Glenda Baker to win the NDP nomination.

Edmonton-Riverbend: Registered Nurse Ruth Alexander, Meheret Worku and University of Alberta Engineering Professor Brian Fleck is seeking the NDP nomination. Dr. Fleck was the provincial NDP candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud in 2004Edmonton realtor Sandy Pon has entered the Conservative Party nomination contest triggered by the retirement of Member of Parliament James Rajotte. Also contesting the nomination are former PC MLA Matt Jeneroux and past Wildrose candidate Ian Crawford.

Edmonton-StrathconaDonovan Eckstrom announced through a YouTube video that he will run for the Rhinoceros Party. In 2011, he was the Rhino Party candidate in the Peace River riding, where he earned 0.72% of the vote.

Edmonton-West: Former Edmonton Public School Trustee Heather MacKenzie defeated hotel manager Jim Hill to win the NDP nomination. Ms. Mackenzie represented west Edmonton’s Ward E on the public school board from 2010 to 2013. She has been endorsed by Catholic School Trustee Patricia Grell, former public trustee Dave Colburn and current public trustee and former NDP MLA Ray Martin.

Lakeland: Duane Zaraska has been nominated as the NDP candidate in this northeast Alberta rural riding. Mr. Zaraska is Vice-President of Region 2 of the Metis Nation of Alberta.

Red Deer-Lacombe: Registered Nurse Doug Hart is expected to enter the NDP nomination contest. As the NDP candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka in provincial election, Mr. Hart finished with 30.1% behind Wildrose candidate Ron Orr with 35.7%. Mr. Hart will face former provincial NDP candidate Katherine Swampy for the nomination.

Red Deer-Mountain View: Lawyer Gary Wanless is seeking the NDP nomination. Mr. Wanless was the lawyer for Red Deer lawyer Robert Goddard, who, in 1999, filed a defamation lawsuit against former MLA and federal party leader Stockwell Day for comments he made in a letter to a local newspaper. Mr. Wanless has withdrawn his name from the NDP nomination contest. Public School Trustee Dianne McCauley is seeking the NDP nomination.

St. Albert-Edmonton: Aretha Greatrix is challenging Darlene Malayko for the NDP nomination. Ms. Greatrix is the Chair of the Wicihitowin Circle of Shared Responsibility and Stewardship and a member of a working group of Mayor Don Iveson’s Poverty Elimination Task Force.


I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Canada’s 2015 general election in Alberta. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

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.

Alberta can’t afford to ignore the Provincial Sales Tax

rat2.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoRat-free, PST-free and Liberal-free” has been a Conservative mantra in Alberta since the reign of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But is this trifecta now in jeopardy?

The decline of government revenues caused by the drop in the price of oil has once again sparked the discussion around resource diversification and tax increases in Alberta. And with talk of economic doom and gloom, Premier Jim Prentice is managing expectations and preparing Albertans for the upcoming provincial budget and likely a Spring provincial election.

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta

Jim Prentice

Will the budget include deep funding cuts or tax increases? Under most circumstances, deep budget cuts would be the natural choice for the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, but there is growing speculation that Mr. Prentice could be softening the ground for the introduction of a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) in Alberta.

At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government. Diversifying income sources with a five or six per cent sales tax could help soften the blow of the dreaded $7 billion gap that Mr. Prentice has warned will face the provincial budget if oil prices do not increase by next year.

Late last year, Mr. Prentice declared in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he would not consider introducing a PST, but the Premier has changed his tune in 2015, saying that everything is on the table.

This is not the first time PST has been at the centre of discussion in Alberta. Few Albertans may know it, but Alberta did have a two per cent sales tax for a short period ending in 1937.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

In the aftermath of the last major economic downturn in June 2008, when the price of oil dropped from a high of $145 per barrel in July to a low of $30 per barrel in December 2008, PC cabinet ministers like Doug Griffiths openly mused about PST. When prices increased, resource royalties once again poured in provincial coffers and Alberta’s political class moved away from the PST discussion.

Facing a decline in the price of oil in 1984, Premier Peter Lougheed publicly mused about introducing a sales tax, but did not act on it.

The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, introduced by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995, states that a referendum must be held before a Provincial Sales Tax can be introduced. The PCs have shown in the past that they have no problem sweeping away old laws like this one. In 2009, the PC government amended their much touted Fiscal Responsibility Act which prohibited deficit budgets in order to pass a deficit budget.

Relying on a boom-bust economy, a real lack of long-term financial planning has been the biggest weakness of the 43-year governing PC Party.

Ted Morton MLA

Ted Morton

The introduction of a PST would be a bold and courageous move – one that could land Mr. Prentice in Alberta’s history books beside statesmen like Mr. Lougheed and Ernest Manning. And while under normal circumstances this would be a kiss of death to a Premier’s political career, we may now be witnessing a once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a sales tax.

The Wildrose Opposition is both leaderless and in complete disarray, and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals could have a difficult time protesting a move that could majorly diversify the government’s revenue stream. And with the departure of Derek Fildebrandt late last year, the local Tax Outrage Industry is lacking a major spokesperson.

The move also comes with the support of former Finance Minister Ted Morton, a member of the right-wing Calgary School, who recently penned an opinion-editorial in the Calgary Herald calling for a PST. And while he was teaching at the University of Alberta, Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff Mike Percy admitted that a “sales tax gives you greater stability.”

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta

Kevin Taft

As reported on David Climenhaga‘s blog, Conference Board of Canada chief economist Glen Hodgson also weighed in on Alberta’s tax dilemma: “Not having a provincial consumption or sales tax is highly popular and has been great politics, but it denies the provincial government a steady and stable source of revenue through the business cycle.”

To get a grasp of how embarrassingly low our tax rates current are in Alberta, Kevin Taft in his 2012 book, Follow the Money, says that Alberta could increase its tax rates by $11 billion and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.

Critics will argue that a sales tax would unfairly penalize low income Albertans, and they are right. The government should also scrap the short-sighted flat tax and return to a real progressive income tax system. Alberta is currently the only province with a Flat Tax, the odd-ball brain child of former Treasurer Stockwell Day.

While Albertans look with envy at Norway’s $900 billion petroleum fund, it could be decades before our government imposes meaningful increases in natural resource royalties. The PCs bowed to political pressure from the oil and gas industry and paid a significant political price when trying to implement meaningful increases to resource revenues in the late 2000s.

The strongest opposition to the introduction of a PST may come from inside the PC caucus. Many PC MLAs are said to be unconvinced that Albertans would support a PST, and the presence of 11 anti-tax former Wildrose MLAs in the government caucus could stiffen the opposition from within. Skeptical MLAs would probably be correct that they will receive a blowback from Albertans in the short-term, but the right decisions are not necessarily the most popular when they are initially implemented. And without a credible government-in-waiting, now could be the the only time the PCs could implement a PST.

Alberta should strive to remain rat-free forever, but on the revenue front, we need to break our dependency on resource revenues that cripple our provincial government each time there is a hiccup in the market.

Will Gordon Dirks become the latest inter-provincial political jumper?

Gordon Dirks Alberta Education Minister MLA

Gordon Dirks

The controversial appointment of unelected Gordon Dirks as Education minister caught many Albertans by surprised this week. As the former chairman of the Calgary Board of Education, he is well-known to educators in that city, but not to the rest of Alberta. Before moving to Calgary, he served as a Progressive Conservative MLA in the Saskatchewan Legislature from 1980 to 1986 (during that time he was a minister in Premier Grant Devine’s cabinet).

In a the comment section of a previous column, a reader asked whether I knew of any other examples of politicians who have served in more than one provincial legislature, or in more than one province’s cabinet. It is not uncommon for politicians to serve as MLA or municipal politician in one province and then jump into a different level of politics in another (i.e.: Tommy DouglasStockwell Day, Val Meredith and Glen Murray, to name a few), but the jump from provincial politics in one jurisdiction to provincial politics in another is much less common.

Alexander Grant MacKay Alberta

Alexander MacKay

Gulzar Cheema served as a Liberal MLA in Manitoba from 1988 to 1993 and later was elected to serve in the British Columbia Legislature from 2001 to 2004. Clive Tanner was a Yukon MLA in 1970s and was later elected as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands in the 1991 election.

While I am sure there may be more, in Alberta’s political history, I found two examples.

Duncan Marshall was an MLA in Alberta from 1909 to 1921 (where he served as Minister of Agriculture) and an MPP in Ontario from 1934 to 1937 (where he also served as Minister of Agriculture). He was appointed to the Senate by William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1938.

Michelle Mungall BC NDP MLA Nelson Creston

Michelle Mungall

Alexander Mackay served in Ontario’s Legislature from 1902 to 1913 and in Alberta’s Legislature from 1913 to 1920. He was leader of the Official Opposition Liberals in Ontario from 1907 to 1911 and later served as Alberta’s first Health Minister.

There are a few more recent examples of individuals who have tried to be elected in provincial legislatures in different provinces, but have been unsuccessful. For example, Michelle Mungall was the NDP candidate in St. Albert in the 2001 provincial election and, in 2009, she was elected as the NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston in B.C. And Roger Coles was a Yukon MLA and leader of the territorial Liberal Party in the 1980s. He later ran as a Liberal in Drayton Valley-Calmar in Alberta’s 2001 election.

If Mr. Dirks is successfully elected to the Alberta Legislature in an upcoming by-election, his name will be added to the small group of inter-provincial political jumpers in Canadian history.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will either run in a by-election in Calgary-Elbow, until recently represented by former Premier Alison Redford, or in another, safer constituency, for the PC Party. Some political watchers have predicted that Calgary-West MLA Ken Hughes may resign to allow Mr. Dirks to run in a by-election in that constituency.

(Thank you to all the daveberta.ca readers who helped me compile this list)

A closer look at 20 years of by-elections in Alberta

Traditionally safe for incumbent parties, the latest by-elections have been risky business for the Tories
Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice was selected as leader of Alberta’s PC Party and the next Premier of Alberta on September 6, 2014.

As newly selected Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice begins his transition into the Premier’s Office (having just named his transition team), attention will soon turn to a provincial by-election that will allow the new premier an opportunity to be elected as an MLA.

In advance of the impending by-election (or by-elections), I have taken a look at the nine provincial by-elections that have been held over the past twenty-years in Alberta.

Alberta Provincial By-Elections Results 1995 - 2009

Only two of the nine by-elections have resulted in constituencies changing hands between different political parties. Those two by-elections, Calgary-Elbow in 2007 (won by Liberal Craig Cheffins) and Calgary-Glenmore in 2009 (won by the Wildroser Paul Hinman), were followed by general elections which resulted in PC candidates recapturing the seats for their party.

With the exception of Edmonton-Highlands, which elected current NDP leader Brian Mason in a 2000 by-election, PC candidates were elected in each of the other eight constituencies in the following general election.

In the six by-elections where there had previously been a PC MLA, the governing party saw its percentage of the vote decline. This occurred most drastically in the 2009 Calgary-Glenmore by-election, where the PC candidate support dropped by 24.7% compared to the previous general election (the Wildrose saw its share of support increase by 28.8% in that by-election).

Voter turnout ranged from a low of 20.4% in the 2000 Red Deer-North by-election, held to replace PC MLA Stockwell Day who resigned to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, to 45.5% in the 1996 Redwater by-election, held to replace Liberal MLA Nick Taylor who had been appointed to the Canadian Senate.

Mr. Prentice has publicly said that he plans to run in a by-election in his home city of Calgary, but not in former Premier Alison Redford‘s now unrepresented Calgary-Elbow constituency. Third-term PC MLA Neil Brown has said that he would resign to allow the new premier to run in a by-election in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.

There has also been some speculation that Calgary-Klein MLA Kyle Fawcett could resign to allow Mr. Prentice to run in a constituency overlapped by his former federal riding of Calgary-Centre North.

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.

By-election update: Conservatives choose Barlow for Macleod, Liberal MPs invade Alberta

Macleod by-election map

The sprawling prairie, peaks of mountains, and rolling hills of the Macleod riding run from Spray Lakes in the north to the edge of Waterton National Park in the south.

John Barlow was chosen as the Conservative Party candidate last night in the Macleod riding. With a by-election expected to be called soon, Mr. Barlow defeated three other candidates – Melissa Mathieson, Phil Rowland and Scott Wagner – to win the nomination.

During the campaign, Mr. Barlow faced severe opposition from Canada’s gun lobby for his defence of RCMP actions during last year’s flood in High River. The National Firearms Association waded into the debate and urged Conservatives to support Ms. Mathieson and Mr. Rowland.

Mr. Barlow was the Progressive Conservative candidate in Highwood in the 2012 election, where he faced off against Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. In that race, he earned 8,159 votes to Ms. Smith’s 10,094 votes.

Dustin Fuller is the first person to declare a candidacy for the Liberal nomination in Macleod. Wascana Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is expected to visit the Macleod next week for a meet and greet in Okotoks. Mr. Goodale will also attend an event in Calgary-Centre.

Fort McMurray-Athabasca
Up north, Chris Flett is the second candidate to enter the Liberal nomination to run in the upcoming Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election. Mr. Flett, an active member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 955, joins Kyle Harrietha in the race.

A nomination date has not yet been announced, but the cutoff to purchase a Liberal membership to vote in the contest is March 13, 2014.

Hoping to gain support in the by-election, the Liberals have focused resources on the diverse and energy rich northern Alberta riding. Liberal MPs Rodger Cuzner and Marc Garneau will headline a $250 a plate fundraising dinner in Fort McMurray on March 18. Last month, Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones visited Fort McMurray to meet with local members.

Meanwhile, rumours continue to circulate about whether former PC turned Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier will jump into federal politics as the Conservative candidate. Tim Moen announced last week that he plans to run for the Libertarian Party nomination.

Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan
Conservative activist Garnett Genuis is the first candidate to enter the Conservative nomination in the new Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan riding.

Mr. Genuis was the 2012 Wildrose Party candidate in Sherwood Park, and is a vice-president of a polling company and the executive director for Parents for Choice in Education, a pro-Charter school lobby group whose board of directors includes former Wildrose candidates John Carpay and Andrew Constantinidis. Mr. Genuis has been endorsed by former MPs Ken Epp and Stockwell Day.

Canada’s next federal election is scheduled to be held on October 19, 2015. I have been maintaining a list of candidates who have announced their intentions to seek nominations and run in the next federal election in Alberta ridings. Please contact me at david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta.

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

Social Credit celebrates 77 years in government.

Social Credit Party Alberta

Supporters celebrate 77 years of Social Credit rule in Alberta.

CALGARY STAR-TRIBUNE

In 1935, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ hit song “Cheek to Cheek” topped the music charts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers became the first western Canadian team to win the Grey Cup. It was also the year that the Social Credit Party formed government in Alberta.

Fresh from celebrating the party’s 21st consecutive election win, Premier Rob Anderson will join party faithful this weekend to celebrate the Social Credit Party’s 77th year in government.

 Long abandoned are the social credit monetary policies that defined the party when it formed government in 1935. Social Credit in 2012 embraces what political watchers have called the Conservatism of the New Albertan Century.
Rob Anderson MLA Wildrose

Rob Anderson

“One of the regular talking points of the Official Opposition is to claim that after 77 years of Socred rule, the province of Alberta is some grim, dark, horrible place to live,” said Premier Anderson. “It’s entirely untrue, of course. And it doesn’t say much for the Opposition that they say such terrible things about this great province.”

“Alberta is the best place to live, work and play in Canada,” said the Premier.

On Friday night, Premier Anderson will join Traditional Family Values Minister Rob Anders, Telecommunications Minister Ezra Levant and Treasurer Jason Kenney in paying tribute to former Premiers William Aberhart, Ernest Manning, Harry Strom, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Monte Solberg.

Only once in the party’s 77 year history has it faced the threat of electoral defeat.

Harry Strom Alberta Premier

Harry Strom

While the history books record Premier Harry Strom as the great conciliator of Canadian confederation, he led the dynasty to its narrowest victory the 1971 election. New to the office, Strom fought back young Peter Lougheed‘s liberal-minded Progressive Conservatives, leading his party to form a small majority government.

Four years later, Strom led Social Credit to a decisive victory over the Tories.

Many historians credit Social Credit’s survival in 1971 to the failure of the Daylight Savings Time plebiscite.

Lingering in the opposition benches in the 41 years since 1971, the PC Party has been unable to topple the long-standing government.

Current PC Party leader Raj Sherman has called the Social Credit Party old and out of touch.

“The simple fact is that over the past 77 years the government has backed itself into a corner on revenue and desperately needs to find a way to return to solid financial ground,” said Sherman, an emergency room doctor.

“While Albertans deserve to have a say in all matters of public policy, I am troubled by this administration’s penchant for government by polling – particularly when they are so selective about the feedback that they choose to heed,” said Sherman.

NDP leader Rachel Notley has called on Premier Anderson to tear down the economic “Firewall” that divides Alberta from the rest of Canada. “Too often the Socreds make poorly studied, reactionary decisions based on industry lobbying”, said Notley.

“As things stand now, we are closing our eyes, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best,” Notley said.  “Albertans deserve better,” said Notley.

Albertans can follow the weekend’s celebrations using the Twitter hashtag #after77years.

A History of recent Federal By-Elections in Alberta.

The November 26 by-election in Calgary-Centre will be the fourth federal by-election held in Alberta in the past twenty-six years. In that time, only one of the by-elections saw the election of a candidate not from the incumbent political party. All three by-elections were won by candidates representing conservative parties.

Walter Van De Walle

Walter Van De Walle

Pembina By-election
(September 29, 1986)
Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Elzinga jumped into provincial politics and was elected as an MLA that year, vacating the riding he had represented since 1974. Longtime Sturgeon County councillor and reeve Walter Van De Walle faced a high-profile main competitor, New Democrat Ivor Dent, in a closely fought by-election. Mr. Dent had served as Mayor of Edmonton from 1968 to 1974.

When the votes were counted, Mr. Van De Walle defeated Mr. Dent by a narrow margin of 274 votes. Although Mr. Dent did not win the by-election, the strong showing for the NDP foreshadowed that party’s first federal electoral win in Alberta two year’s later when Ross Harvey was elected in Edmonton-East.

Deborah Grey Beaver River MP

Deborah Grey

Beaver River By-election
(March 13, 1989)
Tory MP John Dahmer died five days after he was elected in the November 21, 1988 election, triggering a by-election in this safe Tory riding. Reform Party candidate Deborah Grey earned a distant 4th place finish in the 1988 general election and carried the young protest party’s banner in the by-election only months later.

Riding a wave of western Canadian discontent with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney‘s PCs, Ms. Grey surprised the nation when she defeated PC candidate Dave Broda by 18%, becoming the first Reform Party MP. (Mr. Broda would later serve as the PC MLA for Redwater from 1997 to 2004). Ms. Grey was re-elected with 58% of the vote in the 1993 election along with 51 other Reform Party candidates.

Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper

Calgary-Southwest By-election
(May 13, 2002)
While he served as the Reform Party MP for Calgary-West from 1993 to 1997, Stephen Harper was not a sitting MP when he replaced Stockwell Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. With a by-election expected in the riding vacated by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, Mr. Harper managed to convince a reluctant Ezra Levant to step aside as his party’s already nominated candidate.

Mr. Harper was elected with 71% of the vote, more than 10,000 votes ahead of United Church Minister Bill Phipps, his NDP challenger. The Liberal Party declined to run a candidate in order to not oppose the new party leader’s entry into the House of Commons.

surveys show big-tent tories and ideologically polarized opposition.

A new survey released in the National Post by Forum Research Inc. shows Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives with 38% province-wide support and the opposition Wildrose Party sitting at 29%. This survey shows the Liberals at 14%, New Democratic Party at 13%, and the Alberta Party with 3% province-wide support.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta leader

Danielle Smith

Surveys conducted by Environics, Angus Reid, and Lethbridge College in the final months of 2011 tell a different story, showing the Tories with a commanding lead placing more than 20% ahead of the opposition parties. Finding different results, the Forum survey shows the PCs up one-percent from a previous survey conducted by the same firm in December 2011 and the Wildrose up six points in the same period of time. I will wait to see whether other surveys begin to show similar results before I begin to believe that the PCs and Wildrose are this close in electoral support.

It is important to remember that surveys and polls are snapshots of where a population is at an exact moment in time. They are helpful at detecting trends, but as all political watchers should remember – campaigns matter – and Albertans will have an opportunity to see their political parties in full electoral action in the coming months.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

Without Premier Ed Stelmach as their lightening-rod in Calgary perpetually unhappy oil company community, the Wildrose Party appears to have lost the steam from the high point they sat at in mid-2010. In response, they are trying their best to cast Premier Alison Redford as a flip-flopper and have come out strong with negative advertising aimed at the Tories. There is plenty to criticize in the Tory record book, but the relentless angry and outrageous attacks lend little suggestion that the Wildrose Party would be a very pleasant crew if they ever form government.

As I said in the National Post, there are not many people talking about the Wildrose Party forming government these days – except Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith appears to be doing very little to manage the expectations of her party’s core activists, many whom are still wearing the [wild]rose coloured glasses they donned when the their party hit the peak of its meteoric rise in 2010.

Alison Redford

Alison Redford

Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake. While the political environment was different, the most appropriate example may be the Alberta Liberal experience following the infamous 1993 election. With early polls showing a meteoric rise in the polls for the long-outcast Liberal Party, leader Laurence Decore had pumped expectations of forming government so-high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories. The Liberals have not come close to this high-point since.

I also point to the quick rise and fall of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day or Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who both filled their supporters minds with great expectations of electoral glory, only to disappoint when the votes were counted.

What results of the Forum survey and other surveys suggest to me is that the PCs remain Alberta’s big-tent political party – one that both blue conservatives and moderate liberals are comfortable joining – and that the opposition is increasingly polarizing to the political left and right.

The rise of the conservative Wildrose Party to what may become the default opposition and the increase in support for the social democratic NDP may leave a difficult space for the moderate opposition parties that want to occupy the political centre – the Liberal and the Alberta Party.