Tag Archives: Ted Morton

Another PC MLA abandons Redford for the Harper Tories

David Xiao - Edmonton-West Conservative

A pamphlet for MLA David Xiao’s campaign for the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-West.

Another Progressive Conservative MLA is about to jump into the federal arena. Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao will announce this week that he will seek the Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-West.

An email circulated to Conservative supporters in Edmonton says that Mr. Xiao will make the announcement at 10 a.m on Tuesday March 4th, 2014 at the Edmonton Glenora Club. The email included a pamphlet with endorsements from former premier Ed Stelmach, former mayor Stephen Mandel, former cabinet minister Ted Morton and current cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.

After failing to secure the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Centre in advance of the 2004 election, Mr. Xiao unseated Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy in 2008. He defeated Mr. Elsalhy in a rematch in the 2012 election. Mr. Xiao has been criticized for claiming extravegant travel expenses, which were $35,000 in 2012.

Mr. Xiao is the third MLA to jump into federal politics.

Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber is seeking the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation.

Liberal MLA Darshan Kang announced he will seek the Liberal Party nomination in the new Calgary-Skyview riding. One of five Liberals in the Assembly, Mr. Kang is currently serving his second term representing Calgary-McCall.

Ron Liepert versus Rob Anders: the next PC-Wildrose proxy war?

Rob Anders

Rob Anders

Will former provincial cabinet minister Ron Liepert make the jump into federal politics?

With the launch of the TimeToDoBetter.ca website today, rumours began to spread that the former two-term Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA turned consultant could challenge ultra-conservative Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in the new Calgary Signal Hill riding.

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert

Ron Liepert

Mr. Liepert’s candidacy would surely spark another proxy-war between the supporters of the provincial PC and Wildrose parties first seen in last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election.

This would not be the first time these two men have publicly sparred. In 2009, Mr. Liepert accused Mr. Anders of campaigning against him in the 2008 provincial election. Many of Mr. Anders associates have joined Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party, including his close confident Andrew Constantinidis, who ran to replace Mr. Liepert in the 2012 provincial election.

While many of his supporters flocked to the new provincial party, some in the Wildrose establishment see Mr. Anders as a political liability whose ideology could challenge their attempt to rebrand as a moderate conservative alternative to the governing PCs.

In the conservative bloodbath that is sure to ensue if the rumours are true, I would expect nothing less than for Mr. Anders and conservative entertainer Ezra Levant to slice directly at Mr. Liepert’s jugular. They will be sure to remind their conservative base about Mr. Leipert’s record as the Health minister who created the centralized Alberta Health Services and the Finance minister who introduced deficit budgets and talked about increasing taxes.

Mr. Liepert’s ties to the provincial PC establishment date back to the Peter Lougheed era, when he worked at the Legislative Assembly and was appointed as a staff member at Alberta’s trade office in Los Angeles. He first ran for the PC Party in 1993, first in an unsuccessfully bid for the party nomination in Edmonton-Glenora and then as the PC candidate in  Edmonton-Highlands-Beverly (in the election he was defeated by his Liberal opponent, Alice Hanson). He was first elected to the Assembly in 2004 as the PC MLA for Calgary-West.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

Mr. Leipert is no slouch. In provincial politics, he thrived off the cut and thrust of partisan conflict.  Whether he could win the Conservative Party nomination against Mr. Anders is yet to be seen.

There is no shortage of criticism of Mr. Anders. Perhaps the most hard-edged social conservative in Ottawa, he is well-known for being the sole parliamentarian to vote against granting former South African president Nelson Mandela an honorary Canadian citizenship. He also embarrassingly attacked two Canadian Forces veterans, who he described as “NDP hacks.” He used his podium at an official Government of Canada press conference to endorse right-wing conservative Ted Morton. And he recently suggested that former NDP leader Jack Layton‘s death was hastened by now-leader Thomas Mulcair.

Since he was first elected in 1997, Mr. Anders has been challenged by many high profile conservatives and easily defeated all of them in nomination battles.

At the age of 24, Mr. Anders, then a young Republican Party provocateur, returned to Canada to defeat nine other candidates to win his first Reform Party nomination in Calgary-West. His election coincided with the election of a group of young conservative Reformers, including Jason Kenney and Rahim Jaffer.

If he is challenged by Mr. Liepert in the upcoming nomination, it would not be the first time a high-profile politico who has attempted to end Mr. Anders career in Ottawa.

In 2004, future Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford made her first jump into electoral politics with an unsuccessful nomination bid against Mr. Anders. Mr. Liepert was her campaign manager.

In 2000, he was unsuccessfully challenged by Calgary-Currie PC MLA Jocelyn Burgener (now a poet) and in 2009 he faced future Calgary-Varsity PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans. With the help of Mr. Levant, he nastily branded Ms. Kennedy-Glans as a “Liberal saboteur” and a “bizarre cross between a radical feminist and an apologist for a women-hating Arab dictatorship.”

Internal nomination contests are not the only area Mr. Anders has faced challengers. In the 1997 election, alderman and future mayor Dave Bronconnier led an unsuccessful campaign against him as the Liberal Party candidate. In the 2000 election, Mr. Anders defeated both former Calgary-North West Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker and PC candidate Jim Silye (a Reform Party MP for Calgary-Centre from 1993 to 1997). Wind energy entrepreneur Justin Thompson earned 29% as the Liberal candidate in the 2004 election, the highest of any of Mr. Anders challengers. And the 2006 and 2008 elections, former Calgary Board of Education trustee Jennifer Pollock carried the Liberal banner against Mr. Anders.

Despite these high-profile challengers from inside and outside his party, Mr. Anders has yet to face electoral defeat in the political arena.

The ghosts of senate reform haunt the Harper Conservatives

Stephen Harper Senate Conservatives Reform

Howling “RREEEEFFFOOOORRRRMMMM,” the ghosts of the Reform Party stumble towards the Conservative Party Convention in Calgary (Yes, this is a photo of zombies, but ghosts don’t stumble).

The ghosts of Senate reform will haunt Prime Minister Stephen Harper as his party establishment gathers in Calgary on Halloween to discuss and debate party policy. After more than seven years in office, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have accomplished little on the issue of reforming the Canadian Senate.

Who would have thought that a Senate scandal involving Conservative appointees could potentially be one of the defining stories of Mr. Harper’s third-term as Prime Minister? Was Mr. Harper not the Prime Minister who vowed to reform Canada’s archaic upper house of Parliament?

While the federal Conservatives had hoped to end this particular Senate scandal with the announcement of a new free trade agreement with the European Union and a consumer-first agenda, the wrath of Conservative Senators scorned has dominated the headlines.

After being ejected from Conservative Party ranks, Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau, all appointed by Mr. Harper, have proven to be incredibly dangerous liabilities. Accused of improper spending and expenses, the three former Conservatives have turned on their former party and are drawing national attention to alleged improper activities of Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Senate reform was a defining policy for the now defunct Reform Party of Canada and a historical grievance that many western Conservatives hoped would finally be resolved when the Canadian Alliance (the Reform Party’s rebranded name) merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. While the crusade for a Triple-E Senate (equal, elected and effective) helped propel the Reform Party onto the national stage in the early 1990s, there does not appear to be much political appetite for this type of reform among Canada’s political leaders.

Since becoming Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Harper has appointed at least 52 of the Senate’s 106 members, including many failed Conservative party candidates or close associates of the Prime Minister. Despite his claims that he would approach the Senate differently, Mr. Harper has proven by his actions that he is not much different than Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, or Paul Martin.

In Alberta, the only province to have held elections for Senate nominees, the votes have attracted low levels of attention and there is no indication that the upper chamber is more effective with the three current elected nominees that have been appointed.

Popular Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, seen by many as a potential successor to Mr. Harper, announced today that his government will revoke its support for Senate nominee election in favour of supporting abolishment of the Senate. This positions Mr. Wall alongside Official Opposition NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who has embraced NDP’s long-standing position that the Senate should be abolished.

The Reform Party’s first leader, Preston Manning, in his role as the godfather of Canada’s conservatives, will today be hosting an all-day Manning Foundation symposium on the future of the Senate. Speakers will include Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre, former Alberta MLA Ted Morton,  retired Liberal Senator Dan Hays, Calgary School chieftains Tom Flanagan and Rainer Knopff, and former Senator-nominee turned Wildrose Party candidate Link Byfield. This and other Manning Foundation events will coincide with official Conservative Party events in Calgary this weekend.

Provincial NDP take Lethbridge

Meanwhile, in southern Alberta, provincial New Democrats will gather this weekend for their annual convention  in Lethbridge. Delegates will hear from NDP strategist Anne McGrath and Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

At the annual meeting, NDP leader Brian Mason will not face a leadership review, but his party activists will debate some changes to party operations. One topic of debate will be whether the party holds annual conventions or moves to biennial conventions. Party members are also expected to debate whether the Labour movement should have two vice-presidents represented on the party’s executive council.

Most of the province outside of Edmonton is bleak for the social democratic party, but Lethbridge has provided a glimmer of hope that the NDP plan to build on. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP saw their support double to 27% and in the 2012 provincial election, Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips placed a strong second in a three-way race won by PC MLA Greg Weadick.

Who is driving the conservative agenda in Canada?

In America’s Forbes Magazine this weekAlejandro Chafuen praised the leadership of the conservative policy think-tanks that helped set the stage for the election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government in 2011 and the success of conservative politicians across the country.

This apparatus of conservative special interest groups, think-tanks and news media has contributed to shifting Canada’s political narrative toward the political right. Who are these groups? It only takes a quick look to discover how connected and small this network actually is.

If you even pay casual attention to political news in Canada, you will undoubtedly hear clips from spokespeople representing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens Coalition, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business or the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. These are just a few of the groups that are pushing the conservative agenda in this country.

Together, these groups have been very adept at advancing an anti-public services, anti-taxation, anti-labour union, and pro free-market agenda nationally and provincially. For many of them, these goals are the sole purposes for existing.

While most of these groups will frequently call for increased transparency in government, some refuse to make public their own financial backers. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which refuses to release the names of his own financial bankrollers, was found to actually have a only handful of members. Not much of a “federation,” though this revelation does not seem to have hurt the group’s ability to earn the attention of the mainstream media. It is hard not to give points to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation operatives for their relentless and entertaining media stunts.

These groups even have their own media platform - the Sun News Network – which is applying to the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission to charge Canadians a mandatory  fee for a spot as regular cable and satellite channel. Launched in 2011, Sun News Network describes itself as “unapologetically patriotic” and “less politically correct” than other TV networks. Fox News North’s distinctly Tea Party flavour has led to no shortage of controversy since it launched.

Another group that refuses to release the names of its financial donors is the National Citizens Coalition. Drawing connections between this group and Fox News North, a former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, Gerry Nichollsquestioned why his former organization has focused on “shilling” for Sun News Network.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that the NCC has dramatically changed since my time. It’s the nature of any organization to evolve. And the NCC has clearly evolved into a kind of organizational zombie,” Mr. Nicholls wrote on iPolitics.ca. “It still staggers along from issue to issue and reacts from time to time, but it no longer has a soul.”

The National Citizens Coalition is directed by former Conservative nomination candidate and prolific tweeter Stephen Taylor. While the organization’s president its denies ties to the Conservative Party, the lines are blurred.

These organizations have also served as a training ground for career political operatives who later jump into political office. The connections between these organizations and today’s conservative political establishment run deep and demonstrate a significant record of success in helping raise conservative politicians.

Prime Minister  Harper was the President of the National Citizens Coalition before returning to parliament in 2002. Senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney was the president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation before he was elected to parliament in 1997. New Brunswick  Southwest Conservative MP John Williamson was a national director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Looking at the provincial level, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was the Alberta director of Canadian Federation of Independent Business and an intern with the Fraser Institute. Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Director for Canadian Taxpayers Federation worked for the Fraser Institute and in the Prime Ministers Office. Even Sun News caricature Ezra Levant once attempted to run for political office.

Founded by a godfather of Canada’s conservative movement, Preston Manning, the Manning Centre for Building Democracy is training a new generation of conservative candidates and activists how to win elections.

Last year, a leaked video revealed that wealthy Calgary developers – the “sprawl cabal” – were shovelling money into the Manning Centre’s municipal governance initiative with plans to block uber-popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s plans to implement smarter urban planning rules in the city. The project is run by Dimitri Pantazopoulos, who has worked as a Conservative Party pollster and strategist.

Looking toward the future, the Manning Centre is also fostering creative ideas that could help forward their movement. Mr. Manning’s group has awarded $10,000 annually to a project that will advance the conservative movement in Canada. Last year, BlueCrowd.ca, a crowd-funding project received the award.

It is somewhat ironic that one of the strongest roots of the modern conservative movement in Canada stems from a small group of tenured professors teaching at a publicly funded post-secondary institution. Conservative academics Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Ranier Knopff, David Bercuson, and former Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton at the “Calgary School” in the University of Calgary Political Science department long ago made it their mission to drive the Conservative agenda in Canada. They have done this through academic research, their own political activity and commentary, and involvement in election campaign strategy.

Notable students of the conservative Calgary School have included Prime Minister Harper, Mr. Levant, Ms. Smith, Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre, conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool, Fraser Institute senior fellow and former Taxpayers Federation director Mark Milke, and former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Ian Brodie among others.

While their are different brands of conservatism emanating from the school, from social to economic, one observer of the Calgary School reflected on its almost cultish following of libertarian economists Ludwig Von Mises and Milton Friedman.

According to Forbes Magazine, “the history of Canadian free-market think tanks and their contribution to Canadian reforms continues to be written. The leaders, supporters, and staff of the groups mentioned above deserve much credit for changing the economic face of Canada and of North America.”

Whether or not these groups accept credit for all the consequences of “changing the economic face of Canada” their opponents on the political left and centre can learn many lessons from how effective the political right machine has become in Canada.

Former Finance Ministers Morton, Liepert and Snelgrove line up with free advice.

Ted Morton MLA

Ted Morton

Free from the tight leash of party discipline, three former Finance Ministers are giving plenty of advice to Premier Alison Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner.

Ted Morton, the former two-term Tory MLA from Foothills-Rockyview and two-time Tory leadership candidate who served as Finance Minister from 2010 to 2011, penned an opinion-editiorial in Wednesday’s Calgary Herald pointing out some common misconceptions about Alberta’s fiscal situation.

While Professor Morton correctly points out that the symptoms of Alberta’s financial woes are not a new phenomenon, his prescription is a tough pill to swallow.

In his column, Dr. Morton dispels the myths that 1) our fiscal problems are just because we are having a bad year, 2)  our fiscal problems are just because of the low price of bitumen (also known as the notorious ‘Bitumen Bubble‘), and that 3) this is just about a Budget 2013 deficit.

On his fourth argument, Dr. Morton diverts into a more conservative ideological direction. While he correctly points out the fickleness and limited life-span of some political agendas, the former Finance Minister criticizes his successor for choosing to use financing to fund capital projects. On this point, Dr. Morton appears to share the view of his ideological kin in Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party, who spent the waining days of 2012 on a relentless offensive against the government on this very issue.

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert

Ron Liepert

Ron Liepert, the former two-term Tory MLA from Calgary-West who served as Finance Minister from 2011 to 2012, has suggested that it was time for the government to address its revenue problems by looking at tax hikes.

“Nobody likes to pay more taxes. Nobody likes to pay the taxes you’re paying today. But everybody wants the services,” Mr. Liepert told the Calgary Herald in December 2012.

Meanwhile, disgruntled former Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove, who quit the Tory caucus in 2011 citing irreconcilable differences with Premier Redford, told the right-wing Sun News that he does not believe the government has a revenue problem, but if it does then a sales tax should be imposed.

Back in 2010, the last Tory to seriously discuss the idea of a sales tax was then-backbench MLA Doug Griffiths (now Municipal Affairs Minister). Mr. Griffiths was publicly demonized by the opposition for even broaching the topic.

Only two years earlier, another now-former Tory MLA, who is also now one of the government’s most vocal critic of the government, stood up in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly and called for tax reform and the introduction of a sales tax in Alberta:

“I, too, believe that the government of Alberta should look into studying the feasibility of eliminating our provincial income tax and using a consumption-based taxation system in its place, with a provincial sales tax being the likely substitute revenue generator.” – Newly elected Progressive Conservative MLA Rob Anderson in April 2008.

Map: Alberta cabinet ministers catch the international travel bug.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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