Tag Archives: Thomas Lukaszuk

Alberta politics today: Caribou, Cell Phone Bills, and backing down on Term-Limits

Canada Alberta Caribou Habitat
The caribou was first featured on Canada’s 25-cent piece in 1936. Today, the habitat populated by Alberta’s caribou herds has been devastated.

Another news report this week focused on the devastation of caribou habitat in northwestern Alberta. The CBC story reported that deforestation caused by seismic cutlines and snowmobile traffic has caused irreparable damage to habitat critical to the survival of Alberta’s caribou herds. “About five per cent of range for the Little Smoky and a la Peche caribou herds remains undisturbed — a long way from the federal government’s 65% target,” the CBC report stated.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership was left reeling yesterday when it was reported that he racked up a $20,000 cell phone bill on his government cell phone while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012. Although Mr. Lukaszuk was on a personal trip, he told the media that he conducted business by downloading large-sized files of legal documents onto his phone.

PC leadership front-runner Jim Prentice changed his tune on plans to legislate term-limits for MLAs and Premiers in Alberta. Following his announcement last week, the legal and constitutional academic community was unanimous in their belief that it would be unconstitutional and contravene Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Prentice, a lawyer by trade, now says he would not legislate the term-limits, but implement them as an internal PC Party policy.

An important endorsement was made in the less-talked about campaign to lead the Alberta NDP. NDP MLA Deron Bilous has endorsed his caucus colleague Rachel Notley in her bid to become that party’s next leader. Mr. Bilous, who has represented Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview since 2012, is one of four NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislature. Ms. Notley is facing Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and union activist Rod Loyola in the leadership race. The vote to chose the new leader is schedule for October 18, 2014 at Edmonton’s Sutton Place.

Marlin Schmidt NDP Edmonton
Marlin Schmidt

The NDP will hold a nomination meeting in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 8. Past candidate Marlin Schmidt is expected to be acclaimed in that contest. In 2012, Mr. Schmidt placed 880 votes behind PC candidate David Dorward, making this a target constituency for the NDP in the next election.  The meeting will feature guest speaker Pat Martin, NDP MP for Winnipeg-Centre.

The Liberals will be nominating their candidate for the upcoming Calgary-Elbow by-election on September 18, 2014. Susan Wright, lawyer and author of the witty Susan On The Soapbox blog  has put her name forward for the nomination. Although the Liberals fared poorly in this constituency in 2012, the party surprised many political watchers by winning the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election that replaced former Premier Ralph Klein.

For a complete list, check out the list of 2015/2016 Alberta Provincial Election candidates and nominees.

Advice for the next Premier of Alberta: Be Bold by being Boring

daveberta.ca

Guest post by: Anonymous

So you’re a new Premier, looking for a way to make a splash – to make the public forget about the previous regime. You could do something simple like reduce Cabinet to 20, which is essentially the size of Cabinet (Associate Ministers are not actually Cabinet ministers). But that’s not really bold. Bold would be to end the whole idea of creating ministries to fulfill or establish a political debt.

An issue rarely talked about is how cabinet shuffles increase costs, create inefficiency, and general serve little operational strategies, but political ones. Thomas Lukaszuk has alluded to it with the Jobs, Skills, etc ministry that was created to keep him happy about being demoted from Deputy Premier. But for the bureaucracy, the effect is real. There are divisions that have been shuffled 5 times in 6 years; needing to learn a new ministry, new corporate culture, rebuild networks and adjust to new processes. Why? So a ‘leader’ can fulfill a political debt, not to make for a more efficient or effective government.

To do something bold would be to reduce the number of ministries to 10 or 12, codify the departments in the Government Organization Act, and have any enactment past or future be tied to a specific department. The structure of government should be far more permanent than it is. This enables for more streamlined decision-making, and creates consistency for stakeholders and the public when interacting with government. It also reduces the number of senior appointments, reduces ‘make work” projects that come from a cabinet shuffle, like creating new websites, new letterhead, etc and it can consolidate internal services like finance, HR, policy, FOIPP and communications.

To me, the structure of government and ministries and any proposed changes to them should always receive the scrutiny of the House. Government structure is fundamental and yet its structure is set to the whim of the Premier and not the will of the House.

As a political benefit, this reduces the size of Cabinet, which inevitably improves the timeliness of decision-making. But what about paying back all those political debts? How does the Premier make sure Cabinet doesn’t run amok of what MLAs are hearing on the ground?

Committees can be a real answer. Being a committee chairman should have the same status as being a Cabinet minister. Some politicians are better in the executive and others are better in the law making. Effective committees can hold Ministers accountable, add more voices to the policy development process and ensures that the Legislature and not the bureaucracy is driving policy. Moreover, they give caucus a real means to engage in policy and keeping Ministers accountable.

Speaking of holding Ministers accountable, why is that a Minister rarely executes the powers conferred on him or her without checking in with Cabinet or the Premier? A leader allows others to lead, to succeed and to screw up. If a screw up is that bad, fire the Minister. And since you have a stock of experienced legislators, you have plenty of options to choose a replacement. Allowing your Ministers to use their powers frees the Premier to focus on the broad policy objectives, building relationships and to build the political machine.

Be bold by being boring. You’d be surprised how far it may take you in governing.


This guest post was submitted, on the condition of anonymity, by a hardworking member of Alberta’s public service.

Alison Redford resigns as MLA for Calgary-Elbow

Alberta Progressive Conservative Election Jim Prentice Alison Redford
All PC Party leadership candidates are taking aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

One-hundred and thirty-six days after Alison Redford was forced to resign as Premier of Alberta, she has announced that she will resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alison Redford Alberta
During happier times: Alison Redford and Thomas Lukaszuk

Through an opinion-editorial published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, the former premier defended her record as premier and  refused to apologize for the misdeeds and scandals that occurred during her time as Premier of Alberta.

“I recognize that mistakes were made along the way. In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently. That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”

Ms. Redford had been facing intense pressure to resign as MLA after months of controversy, including a leaked draft of a damning Auditor General report criticizing her expensive travel habits on the government dime.

The full report from Auditor General Merwan Saher is scheduled to be released on tomorrow. Ms. Redford resigned today.

This week, her former deputy premier called on Progressive Conservative MLAs to hold an emergency meeting to remove her from the governing caucus. PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, the front man for Ms. Redford’s brutal funding cuts to Alberta’s colleges and universities, continues to take advantage of any opportunity to attack the former premier.

And he was not alone. All PC Party leadership candidates have taken aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

Mr. Lukaszuk’s main opponent, bank executive Jim Prentice, has tried his best to avoid connecting himself in anyway to his party’s former leader. The front-runner refuses to even mention Ms. Redford by name when speaking to the media.

But while Mr. Prentice is aiming for a complete public divorce from his predecessor, he cannot escape the fact that the majority of his supporters in the PC caucus also supported Ms. Redford.

Ric McIver, the arch-conservative dark horse of the PC leadership race, did not ask Ms. Redford to resign, but was also critical of his former leader.

Ms. Redford’s resignation means that a by-election will need to be called in the Calgary-Elbow constituency within the next six months (by February 5, 2015). This will be the second by-election in Calgary-Elbow since 2007, when former Premier Ralph Klein retired from politics. The Liberals won that by-election.

Kennedy-Glans requests a return

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity
Donna Kennedy-Glans

In a strange move that will now be buried under the news of Ms. Redford’s most recent resignation, Independent MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans chose the middle of the summer to distribute a media release declaring that she wants to rejoin the PC caucus. Ms. Kennedy-Glans infamously left the PC caucus days before Ms. Redford’s resignation, saying that she was “increasingly convinced that elements of this 43-year old government are simply unable to make the changes needed to achieve that dream of a better Alberta.” It is unclear what has changed in the past five months to make her change her mind. 

As Stephen Carter penned on his Calgary Herald blog, Ms. Kennedy-Glans, a) wants a spot in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet, and b) does not want to chance being challenged by a ‘star’ PC candidate in the next election. All the respect that Ms. Kennedy-Glans earned when she left the government on principle on appears to have been lost with this seemingly politically opportunistic move.

False Passengers and Fake Promises: Could the PC Party be choosing the next opposition leader?

Alison Redford Jim Prentice Thomas Lukaszuk Ric McIver Alberta Premier PC Leadership Race
Alison Redford, Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice

Here’s a question that isn’t often asked in Alberta: Which of the three Progressive Conservative leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

An insane trail of scandal continues to leak out of the 43-year-long governing PC Party as it lurches towards a leadership vote on September 6.

A CBC exclusive story alleged today that Auditor General has uncovered “false passengers” were booked to ensure that Premier Alison Redford and her political staff would be the only passengers on government planes during certain flights.

The leak was a draft copy of a report Auditor General Merwan Saher is expected to release in August 2014 and will also include a review of the former premier’s flights to South Africa and Palm Springs.

Along with Ms. Redford’s secret plans for a private penthouse residence, this week’s secret cancellation of a three-year pay-freeze for senior government executives (which was only implemented 17 months ago), and the Auditor General’s discovery last month that the province has failed implement its much vaunted Climate Change plan, the PC government does not look like the well-polished machine it once was.

Two years ago, PC candidates led by Ms. Redford promised a new era of open and transparent government. It appears that the fake passengers were not the only fabrication.

Is it possible that the three men vying to lead the PC Party did not know about the false flyers?

Both insiders, Thomas Lukaszuk served as Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and Ric McIver was Transportation Minister from May 2012 to December 2013. While they have denied knowledge of the flights, it is strange that at the very least these two senior cabinet minister had not even heard rumours about the Premier’s alleged fictional bookings and questionable travel habits.

And Jim Prentice? He is not an MLA and was busy working for a big Bay Street bank during Ms. Redford’s reign.

But what of Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose department is responsible for the Alberta government’s fleet of airplanes? Surely someone within the Finance Department would have been aware of these alleged ghost travellers? Mr. Horner, along with 50 other PC MLAs and nearly every PC Party insider, is supporting Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC Party leadership.

Mr. Prentice, who appears to only speak in generalizations and avoids details in all his public announcements, issued a statement on his Facebook Page in response to the allegations. “Albertans do not need excuses from those who were at the table when these decisions were made,” Mr. Prentice’s Facebook statement said.

Nearly everyone who would have been sitting around the cabinet table when these phantom flyers were on the books are now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

His opponent, Mr. Lukaszuk, was much more harsh on Ms. Redford, who remains the PC MLA for Calgary-Elbow. The former Deputy Premier said he would have his former boss thrown out of the PC Caucus and would ask a retired judge to investigate the allegations (Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, also supporting Mr. Prentice, today asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to decide whether there should be an investigation).

This leads me back to my initial question: Which of the three leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

For the past four decades, this would have been a nonsensical question. But in 2014, the Tories face a relentlessly aggressive Wildrose opposition flush with cash and preparing for an election. There is an increasingly real possibility that the PC Party could be in opposition after the next election.

Mr. Prentice served in the Conservative Official Opposition benches in Ottawa for two years during the dying days of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, a time which may oddly familiar similar to the current politics in Alberta. An ambitious politician, Mr. Prentice does not strike me as someone who would be interested in remaining in the opposition benches if the PC Party were to lose the next election.

Mr. Lukaszuk is well-known for his partisan attack dog-style in Question Period, and might thrive in the opposition benches. Mr. McIver served as the unofficial opposition to Mayor Dave Bronconnier on Calgary City Council, but, like Mr. Lukaszuk, he has no support from his PC MLA colleagues.

In light of recent revelations, perhaps some time spent in the opposition benches could inject a much needed dose of humility into Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, who have become very comfortable with the trappings of political power. Despite coming within a hair of losing the last election, the Tories act as if they are an invincible force. This recent string of scandals may help prove that the PCs are not invincible.

Alberta Tories hold the World’s Most Boring Leadership Race

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver
Yaaawwwnn… Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberta’s billion dollar failed Carbon Capture “science experiment”

Carbon Capture and Storage Alberta Oil Sands
Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Government has committed to spend billions of dollars on unproven Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

A report from Auditor General Merwan Saher released this week found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy which was first implemented in 2008. The report also uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy.

Since it was first announced in 2008, the PC government has committed to hand over more than a billion public dollars to the world’s largest energy companies, including Shell, to develop ways to bottle carbon dioxide deep in the ground.

Progressive Conservative leader-presumptive Jim Prentice dismissed the provincial government’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy, saying he would move away from the unproven technology. This echoes what the former federal minister told the Globe & Mail editorial board in 2009: “CCS is not the silver bullet in the oil sands.”

Mr. Prentice characterized the project a “science experiment,” which is a generous description (I refer to it as unicorn science).

“It was apparent to the department that the expected reductions from carbon capture and storage will not be achieved. Carbon capture and storage in the 2008 strategy represents the majority of forecasted emission reductions. However, with only two carbon capture and storage projects planned, the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.” – Auditor General’s report on Alberta’s Climate Change strategy, July 2014 (Page 39)

Not surprisingly, the Auditor General also reports that Alberta is unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.

I am not sure what is worse: being a climate change denier or believing in climate change but not seriously doing anything to stop it?

Under Premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and now Dave Hancock, the PC government used funding unproven Carbon Capture and Storage technology to convince the international community and investors that Alberta can ‘green’ the oil sands. While the oil sands represents the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in Canada, some of Alberta’s largest emissions result from of our large coal burning industry.

But it was not as if no one saw this coming. In 2008, a leaked government memo from a University of Calgary researcher suggested that Carbon Capture and Storage would do little to reduce carbon emissions emanating from Alberta’s oil sands. The report by researcher Dr. David Keith wrote that not enough of the oil sands carbon dioxide could be captured because most emissions are not concentrated enough.

A report by the Munk School of Global Affairs released in 2009 described the Carbon Capture and Storage plan as “sheer folly.” At the same time, Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr characterized Carbon Capture and Storage as an expensive “experiment” and the Wildrose opposition has said many times that it would cancel the project outright (although any government would likely be contractually obligated to complete some of the project funding already committed – or spend funds on legal bills resulting from broken contracts).

PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as a senior cabinet minister from 2010 to 2014, told the media that he continues to support the project.

As a public relations exercise, Carbon Capture and Storage has come with a high price. Allocated more intelligently, the hundreds of millions of public dollars spent on Carbon Capture and Storage could have helped Alberta become a world leader in smart innovation and research and development of renewable energy or sustainable transportation.

These billions of dollars are emblematic of the problem with the current government – while aged hospitals flood, public schools overcrowd and the legal-aid system buckles, the PCs spend mountains of Albertans resource revenues on a flimsy “science experiment.”

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.

Opposition hoping for a sequel to Air Redford… Air Prentice

Air-Alison-Redford-Jim-Prentice
Alberta’s Opposition Parties are giddy at the thought of a sequel to the Air Redford scandals… Air Prentice. Can they make it fly in the minds of Albertans?

The long-summer of 2014 has begun in Alberta politics. With little substantial policy ideas to dispute or debate, Alberta’s opposition parties have set their sights on Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Jim Prentice (if this continues, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are going to start feeling left out).

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

Hoping to tie Mr. Prentice to frequent-flying former Premier Alison Redford and her controversial $45,000 flight to South Africa and flights to Palm Springs and Jasper, the NDP Opposition released detailed flight manifests outlining the former federal cabinet minister’s travel expenses during his time in Ottawa.

Describing Mr. Prentice as “a Bay Street lawyer and a millionaire,” Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous said in a news release that the Tory leader-to-be “used them repeatedly as a cabinet minister, costing the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The NDP claim the manifests show Mr. Prentice’s flights cost the federal government in excess of $400,000. NDP researchers must have been giddy when they discovered flights in 2009 that cost $29,169 (Mr. Prentice had the government plane fly from Ottawa to Calgary to drop him and his constituency director off in Washington DC, and then the plane flew back to Ottawa empty) and in 2010 that cost $41,522 (Mr. Prentice flew to Norway from Ottawa with his Communications Director and Chief of Staff).

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

Following the NDP’s lead, the Wildrose Party quickly released an info graphic highlighting Mr. Prentice’s recent quote that politicians should not be riding on government airplanes, but should fly commercial with everybody else. Putting aside the $400,000 sticker-shock, it is not clear that Mr. Prentice did not frequently travel on commercial airlines. Members of Parliament are allowed a certain number of expensed commercial flights each year to between Ottawa and the riding they are elected to represent.

The question is whether Albertans will see this as more confirmation of Tory excess (which Mr. Prentice has pledged to crack-down on, even though short-term Premier Dave Hancock refuses to acknowledge it exists) or as the price of doing government business in a geographically large country like Canada. I imagine it will be a mix of both.

Recent polling from ThinkHQ shows the Wildrose Party far in the lead among decided Alberta voters, even after Mr. Prentice entered the PC leadership race. The polls also show the NDP leading in support in Edmonton. While this is one single poll, it is a snapshot that will surely contribute to the growing narrative that the PC Party remains in trouble even after jettisoning Ms. Redford.

With the smell of opportunity in the air, Alberta’s opposition parties are expected to continue taking every opportunity to remind Albertans of the out-of-touch attitudes of the previous premier and hope it sticks to Mr. Prentice and the 45 PC MLAs who eagerly endorsed his candidacy.

And then there were three (white men)

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver
Alberta PC Party leadership candidates Thomas Luksazuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

As the deadline for candidates to enter their names (and $50,000 fee) in the contest to become the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association came to a close yesterday, three politicians have put forward their names – bank vice-president and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and former provincial cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

A quick glance at the names of the three candidates confirms that no women or visible minorities have entered the race to fill the position vacated by Alberta’s first woman premier, Alison Redford, who was pushed out of office only a few short months ago. A few woman candidates were rumoured to be interested, but the most high profile of those rumoured, Energy minister Diana McQueen, declined to run, choosing instead to endorse Mr. Prentice.

While Canada reached a high-water mark in recent years, with women occupying the premiers office in six provinces and territories, the number has plummeted after recent elections. Today, only British Columbia and Ontario have women premiers (and Ontario voters will decide the fate of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals on June 12, 2014).

Alberta could once again enter this category if Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith leads her Wildrose Party to win the next election. Edmonton MLA Rachel Notley is said to be considering a run for the Alberta NDP leadership and some say she would become an instant front-runner if she enters the race.

All three PC leadership candidates have cut their political teeth in Alberta’s largest cities. Mr. Prentice was the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre North from 2004 to 2010, Mr. McIver as a Calgary MLA, former Alderman and mayoral candidate, and Mr. Lukaszuk as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs since 2001.

The presence of three urban candidates signals both the growing political importance of the province’s two largest cities (and the urban agenda’s put forward by popular mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi) and the PC Party’s weakness in rural Alberta.

Not having a candidate from rural Alberta is embarrassing for the 43-year governing party. Once almost universally dominated by PC MLAs, the Tories have seen their support plummet in rural and small-town Alberta over the past four years. In the last election, many PC MLAs, including a some senior cabinet ministers, were handily defeated by Wildrose candidates in rural constituencies that had voted enmasse for the PC Party for more than three decades.

This is also the smallest number of candidates to participate in a PC leadership race since the party chose Don Getty as leader in 1985. In 1992, there were 9 candidates; in 2006 there were 8 and the 2011 leadership race attracted 6 candidates.

The small-number of candidates is a testament of the internal turmoil in the PC Party following the coup d’etat that caused Ms. Redford’s departure and the strength of Mr. Prentice’s campaign. Whether it is perceived or real, the ‘Team Prentice’ brand quickly drew the support of more than twenty PC MLAs and an army of party insiders and political consultants.

Unlike the deflated front-runners in previous PC leadership campaigns – Jim Dinning and Gary Mar – Mr. Prentice has succeeded in scaring away most of his credible potential challengers. Whether he suffers the same fate as these former ‘front-runners’, who were later defeated by underdogs, is yet to be seen.

The challenge for the three candidates will be to generate interest in a campaign that already feels like it is a forgone conclusion (a victory by Mr. Prentice). A big question is whether the any of the candidates in this race will be compelling enough to convince those thousands of ‘two-minute Tories‘ to lend them their votes.

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding
MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

In party leadership races, endorsements by sitting MLAs can be a double-edged sword. Endorsements can lend credibility to candidates and individual MLAs own local political networks to the campaign. Large numbers of endorsements can also signal to rank and file party members where their party’s establishment is lining up.

But MLA endorsements are not always a solid indicator of who will win a party leadership vote. In 2006, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning had the support of the majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Ed Stelmach. In 2011, Gary Mar had the support of a majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Alison Redford.

In this year’s Alberta PC Party leadership race, bank vice-president Jim Prentice has the overwhelming lead in MLA endorsements. As of today, I count at least 15 PC MLAs who have lent their names to support his campaign to become their leader. More are expected to endorse Mr. Prentice:

MLA’s endorsing Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC leadership are Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway), Neil Brown (Calgary-Nose Hill), Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead), Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar), Kyle Fawcett (Calgary-Klein), Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright), Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) Ken Hughes (Calgary-West), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater), Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon), Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed), George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont), Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West).

The only other candidate to enter the leadership race, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, has no declared support from inside the PC caucus. Thomas Lukaszuk, who is expected to enter the contest, also has yet to receive any MLA endorsements.

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan and Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey endorsed the short-lived leadership campaign of Ken Hughes, who is now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

I will be tracking the list of PC MLA endorsements on the 2014 Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest page.