Tag Archives: Thomas Lukaszuk

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Kenney shifts into Phase Two of Uniting the Right

Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.

Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.

An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.

Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.

Wason Resigns

Troy Wason

Troy Wason

PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.

It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.

Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.

The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is spending much his political retirement on Twitter, posted a photo online showing the PC constituency association in Edmonton-Castle Downs, which he represented in the Assembly from 2001 until 2015, had liquidated its financial assets by donating the funds to local charities.

I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.

Gotfried and the Red Menace

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.

This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman apologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?

Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.

Press Progress unleashed a long list of “abnormal” comments that the 48-year old Kenney has made over the course of his 30ish-year political career. They include comments from his time as an anti-abortion activist at the Catholic University of San Francisco to more recent claims that schools brainwash children with anti-conservative beliefs“bohemian” youths are “unconsciously” promoting communism and marxist professors are working to “suppress” Canada’s “Christian patrimony.”

There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.

Main photo: Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover of Alberta’s PC Party is complete

Former federal politician Jason Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta today, as was widely expected. Kenney received the support of 75 percent of the delegates attending the party’s voting meeting today at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

His only opponents, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson, earned 21 percent and two percent support from the voting delegates.

Kenney’s leadership bid was more of a hostile takeover than a traditional leadership campaign. The central point of his platform was his plan to dissolve the 8-MLA PC Party and form a new party with the official opposition Wildrose Party. Kenney has said he plans to meet with Wildrose leader Brian Jean on Monday to further discuss his plans.

Over the course of the campaign, Kenney and his legions of social conservative supporters, many who also happen to be card-carrying members of the Wildrose Party, worked tirelessly to marginalize progressive voices in the party. Two leadership candidates, Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, said they and their supporters faced threats and bullying by Kenney’s supporters before they dropped out of the race. Jansen later crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party and Khan endorsed Starke.

Kenney’s reputation for being a focused campaigner helped him win an overwhelming number of delegates at the local constituency votes. The lethargic and uninspiring campaigns mounted by his opponents were left in the dust.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

But even with such a commanding lead, Kenney’s campaign couldn’t stop itself from getting into trouble. His campaign was fined $5,000 for breaking party rules and the party executive was faced with complaints from former MLAs and calls for Kenney to be disqualified from the race. One of his key organizers, Alan Hallman, was expelled from the party and was reportedly charged with assault last night at the convention hotel.

Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race. The progressives who showed up in droves to vote for Ed Stelmach in 2006 and Alison Redford in 2011 stayed home this time. Or maybe they, like Sandra Jansen, like what they see from Rachel Notley’s NDP government?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said this week that Kenney-ally Preston Manning is eyeing his party’s name, even going so far as to offer Clark a cabinet spot in a future government. It was only one year ago that the Kenney-front group Alberta Can’t Wait attempted a takeover of the Alberta Party.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Clark claims that a number of former PC MLAs and activists, including former deputy premier and vocal Kenney critic Thomas Lukaszuk, are in discussions with his party. This may be related to an upcoming “unite the centre” event in Red Deer that former PC MLA and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is said to be behind. Another former PC MLA, Heather Klimchuk, said in an interview on The Broadcast podcast that she is watching St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse‘s campaign to lead the Liberal Party.

What we discovered today is that less than two years after Alberta’s natural governing party lost its first election in 44 years, the PC Party is a shell of its former self and was ripe for a takeover by Wildrose Party supporters.

In his victory speech, Kenney confidently told delegates at the PC Party convention that he plans to repeal all the changes made by the NDP when he becomes Premier in 2019. That would mean the repeal of policies unpopular with conservatives, like the carbon tax, the Climate Leadership Plan and new farm safety laws, all introduced by the NDP.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

If Kenney is true to his word this would also mean that corporate political donations would be reintroduced, small business taxes would be increased, the minimum wage would be lowered, school fees would be increased, the wealthiest Albertans would get tax cuts, and laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination would be repealed.

When Kenney pledged today to repeal all of the changes made by the NDP, he was not talking to the now former progressive-wing of the PC Party. He was talking to the social conservative and rural base of the Wildrose Party.

Now that the takeover of the PC Party is complete, Kenney will set his sights on his main challenger for the leadership of a new conservative party, Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

PC Party Superdelegates could block Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover

There are thirty-four days remaining until the Progressive Conservative leadership officially begins on October 1, 2016. The race is already unofficially underway with one candidate in the contest Jason Kenney – the Member of Parliament who launched a hostile takeover campaign earlier in the summer in a bid to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party with the backing of lobbyists with Wildrose Party ties.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

I keep hearing from my friends involved in the PC Party that a social conservative like Mr. Kenney cannot be allowed to win this race.

The third-place PC Party, which formed government in Alberta from 1971 until 2015, have abandoned its former one-member one-vote system that threw open the doors to any Albertan who wanted to participate. The party’s next leader will be chosen by locally elected delegates – 15 from each of the province’s 87 constituencies.

The PC Party committee drawing up the rules for the leadership race has decided that of each group of 15 elected delegates, ten which will be open to any local party member wishing to become a delegate and five reserved for local party officials. This is somewhat similar to the Superdelegate system used by the Democratic Party in the United States.

Doug Schweitzer

Doug Schweitzer

The adoption of this Superdelegate system means the thousands of Wildrose Party supporters who may purchase PC Party memberships to support Mr. Kenney may have a smaller impact than if all 15 delegate spots were wide open. It will likely make it more difficult for Mr. Kenney to succeed in his hostile take over the Alberta’s PC Party.

But stopping Mr. Kenney would mean someone would actually have to run against him.

We have heard rumours of that Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is aiming to run, with the support from the party’s monied Calgary establishment. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was connected to Jim Prentice‘s 2014 leadership campaign. Also said be considering a run is Byron Nelson, another Calgary lawyer and a past PC election candidate.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

I am told that more than a few moderate Tories are warming up to the idea of supporting soft-spoken veterinarian Richard Starke, one of two remaining rural PC MLAs. Sandra Jansen has also been talked about as a voice of the party’s ‘progressive’ wing. She is despised by federal Conservative activists for throwing her support behind two Calgary Liberal Party candidates in the last federal election.

Will there be a candidate from Edmonton? The NDP remain popular and ahead in the polls in the capital city, which elected New Democrats in every constituency in the 2015 election.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

Former Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk has been rumoured but his support of funding cuts to the University of Alberta, his close association with former premier Alison Redford and his strange $20,000 cell phone bill are significant political impediments. According to a recent ThinkHQ poll, his disapproval rating in Edmonton sits around 50 percent.

City Councillor Michael Oshry has mused about running but his real goal might actually be to secure his spot as a PC candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the next election, a seat that the PCs might be able to pick up. Lawyer Harman Kandola, who was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2015 is also said to be testing the waters for a run.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

I have heard some PC Party members wish party president Katherine O’Neill would join the leadership race. The former Globe & Mail reporter and past PC candidate has been criss-crossing the province at the same speed as Mr. Kenney and his big blue truck, though it is probably too late for the party president to shift gears into a leadership vote this close to the official start of the campaign.

Mr. Kenney has spent the summer travelling around the province preaching his gospel of merging the PCs and Wildrose Party to defeat the risky, dangerous and scary socialists in Edmonton. But it might not necessarily a bad thing that Mr. Kenney has sucked up all the PC leadership oxygen this summer. In doing so he has defined the narrative of this part of the campaign – merging the PCs with the Wildrose – an idea that 1,000 PC Party members, including many who will now vote as Superdelegates, loudly rejected at their annual general meeting earlier this spring.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

A look at who is backing Jason Kenney’s bid for the PC Party leadership

Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney is expected to announce his candidacy for the leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta tomorrow, July 6, in Calgary, deliver a speech in Grande Prairie that evening and then travel to Edmonton on July 7 for another speech. He was widely expected to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and only just recently began positioning himself as candidate to unite Alberta’s conservative partisans under one banner.

He would be the first candidate to officially enter the PC leadership contest, which is scheduled to be held on March 18, 2017.

  • As I explained in a column last month, Mr. Kenney could have a rough landing in Alberta politics.
  • A skilled organizer with more than 25 years of experience as a taxpayers federation lobbyist and Ottawa politician, Mr. Kenney should not be underestimated by his opponents.
  • Mr. Kenney follows in the footsteps of his former colleague, Jim Prentice, who led the PC Party from 2014 until its defeat by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in May 2015. That election ended forty-four uninterrupted years of PC majority governments in Alberta.
  • Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
  • Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
  • Mr. Kenney is not assured an easy victory in the PC leadership race. I spoke with CTV about some of the potential candidates who also might enter the race, including former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who Mr. Kenney once described as an “asshole,” Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who said she would consider leaving the PC Party if Mr. Kenney became the leader. Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry is also considering entering the contest and former MLA Doug Griffiths is rumoured to be interested.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.

Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.

Mr. Kenney appears to have the support of two unite-the-right groups. The Alberta Can’t Wait group, backed by former Reform Party stalwarts Preston Manning and Cliff Fryers, lobbyist Hal Danchilla and 1980s Tory cabinet minister Rick Orman, and the Alberta Prosperity Fund, backed by former right-wing talk radio host Dave Rutherford, former MLAs Heather Forsyth and Shiraz Shariff, and former PC Party president Jim McCormick. The Alberta Prosperity Fund issued a formal endorsement of Mr. Kenney on July 5, 2016.

The Alberta Can’t Wait group was reportedly planning to hijack the Alberta Party later this summer and Prosperity Fund founder and director Barry McNamar, formerly of the Fraser Institute and Manning Centre, is reportedly suing the Wildrose Party.

The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.

Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.

Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.

Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

In or Out? Jason Kenney could have a rough landing into Alberta politics

CBC reports that after 19 years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 48, is considering entering provincial politics in Alberta. Postmedia’s Jen Gerson writes that he will not confirm whether this is true.

It was a prediction first made by Postmedia’s Graham Thomson in January 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].

So, Mr. Kenney, who just this week was appointed to the parliamentary committee studying electoral reform, could be abandoning plans to replace Rona Ambrose as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and setting his sights on uniting-the-right and challenging Rachel Notley‘s moderate New Democratic Party government in 2019. If Mr. Kenney is going to enter Alberta politics, he will need to decide quick because the Progressive Conservative Party will be choosing its new leader before April 30, 2017.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.

New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.

Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A bid for the PC Party or the Alberta Party leadership might seem odd for Mr. Kenney, who is likely more comfortable in the social conservative wing of the Wildrose Party and with his former colleagues at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The historical success of the PC Party in Alberta between 1971 and 2015 was not based on adherence to conservative ideology but on the ability of its leaders to build a big blue tent of conservative, moderate and liberal voters.

Despite strong support for sending federal Conservatives to Ottawa, Alberta is now a much more progressive and moderate province than it was 20 years ago, when a young Mr. Kenney was roaming the halls of the Legislature as the spokesperson for the taxpayers federation.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

Mr. Kenney is not well-known for his conciliatory approach to Alberta politics. In 2015, he argued that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were to blame for the politicization of the niqab ban instituted by the federal Conservative government. In 2014, he engaged in a  public spat with Ron Liepert when the former finance minister defeated long-time MP Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. And in 2012, Mr. Kenney’s true feelings about then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk were made known in a leaked reply-all email.

There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.

It should be noted that the last time an attempt was made to unite-the-right in Alberta, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (pictured above with Mr. Kenney) was forced to apologize for his role in nudging 9 Wildrose MLAs across the floor to the PCs. That was in December 2014.

There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly undermined by internal party disputes and self-inflicted embarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.

The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.

Who wants to lead Alberta’s PC Party?

A surprisingly strong turnout of 1,001 registered participants at last weekend’s Progressive Conservative Party annual general meeting in Red Deer gave party stalwarts a glimmer of hope for the third-place party but there remain some significant challenges facing Alberta’s old natural governing party.

1) They only have nine MLAs.
2) They have no money.
3) And they have no leader.

What the PCs do have is a new president. Katherine O’Neill won a contested vote to replace Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre, who announced months ago that she would step down at the annual meeting.

Ms. O’Neill is a former Globe & Mail reporter (known as Katherine Harding when she wrote for the G&M) who ran as a PC candidate in the Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2015 election. As a party vice-president, she spent much of the past year traveling the province holding engagement sessions with local party officials about the future of their party after its electoral defeat.

The PCs also have a new voting system. Party delegates chose to abandon their open one-member one-vote leadership election process in favour of a more closed system where each constituency association chooses delegates to vote at a leadership convention.

The leadership race is expected be held sometime between August 2016 and May 2017.

For four decades, the PC Party’s strongest unifying factor was that it held power as government. But now that they are in opposition as the third-party, the PC Party has struggled to define its purpose for existence. The upcoming leadership race will sort out some of these issues and help define the direction of the party over the next three years.

So, who wants to run for the PC Party leadership? No one, yet, but here is a list of some potential candidates:

Inside Caucus

Richard Starke – A veterinarian and PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012. He served as Tourism Minister in premier Alison Redford’s government. He is one of two PC MLAs from rural Alberta elected in the 2015 election.

Sandra Jansen – First elected as MLA for Calgary-North West in 2012, she served as associate minister of family and community safety in Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Before her election she was a TV news anchor and worked in Ms. Redford’s office at the McDougall Centre. Even though she fumbled her party’s Gay-Straight Alliance law in 2014 (something she regrets), Ms. Jansen continues to be seen as a voice of the Progressive-wing of the party. Her endorsement of two federal Liberal candidates in last year’s election raised the ire of conservative partisans.

Ric McIver – The current acting leader was first elected as MLA for Calgary-Hays in 2012 and was an alderman on Calgary City Council for nearly a decade before then. Mr. McIver served as a cabinet minister from 2012 to 2015 and was caught up in the Sky Palace scandal while serving as Infrastructure Minister. He sits firmly in the Conservative-wing of the PC Party and sometimes sounds like he would be more comfortable in the Wildrose caucus. He placed second with 11.7 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.

Mike Ellis – First elected as the MLA for Calgary-West in an October 2014 by-election, former sergeant of the Calgary Police Service Mr. Ellis does not carry the political baggage some of the other candidates carry. His private members’ bill, Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, to restricting pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis, has gained him some positive press in the past month. Mr. Ellis has also co-hosted conservative partisan pub nights with Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, suggesting that he could be a unite-the-right candidate if he decides to run in this race.

Outside Caucus

Jason Kenney – There has been speculation in the media that the Conservative Member of Parliament may consider seeking the leadership. I do not put much weight in this speculation, as Mr. Kenney’s politics align more closely with the Wildrose Party and his ambitions appear to be federal. Mr. Kenney was first elected as an Calgary MP in 1997.

Thomas Lukaszuk – A prolific tweeter, former cabinet minister and deputy premier, Mr. Lukaszuk served as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs from 2001 until he was defeated in the NDP sweep of 2015. Known as a social moderate in the PC Party, he placed third with 11.4 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.

Brad Ferguson – The President and CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was a keynote speaker at a well attended breakfast organized by Conservative partisans earlier this year, which raised eyebrows among some young business conservatives looking for an outsider to bring new blood into the party.

The main campus of Athabasca University, located 152 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Will the NDP save or shutter Athabasca University?

Residents of one northern Alberta community want to know what Alberta’s new New Democratic Party government has planned for their local university.

Peter McKinnon

Peter MacKinnon

Athabasca University, the province’s largest distance-learning institution employs more than 400 people in Athabasca, making it the largest employer in the town of 3,000.

There is significant fear in the town about the consequences of the university closing or relocating to a larger urban centre, like Edmonton.

In recent years, Athabasca University has been the source of much controversy, ranging from illegal political donations made to the Progressive Conservative Party to claims of financial insolvency.

In 2012, staff called for then-university president Frits Pannekoek to retire, citing questions around illegal donations to the PC Party and the institution’s finances, including the depletion of its reserve fund.

In 2013, four of the institution’s vice-presidents and associate vice-presidents had their positions apparently terminated without explanation to the public shortly after the Public Accounts Committee called the university out for its fiscal mismanagement. And after denying there were financial problems in 2012, the institution cut around 100 positions in 2013, citing financial difficulties.

Colin Piquette NDP

Colin Piquette

During those cuts, sources in government reported that discussions were taking place to merge parts of Athabasca with the University of Alberta, talks that then-PC cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he was not aware of.

PC MLA Jeff Johnson was unseated by NDP candidate Colin Piquette in this year’s provincial election, with the future of the university being a key issue for voters in the area. The election of an NDP MLA has led locals to believe Mr. Piquette will take action to ensure the university stays open and remains in Athabasca.

In June 2015, Athabasca University interim president Peter MacKinnon released a task force report on the university’s sustainability, which indicated the institution was facing insolvency in the 2015/2016 financial year. The report blamed over-reliance on tuition fees, the state of its information technology infrastructure, as well as staff compensation and the university’s location, for the university’s financial difficulties.

Lori Sigurdson NDP

Lori Sigurdson

While the task force report focused on alarming terms like ”insolvency,” the university had small surpluses in its 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 budgets.

Some observers in the community have suggested that Mr. MacKinnon is playing chicken with the government in an attempt to force new Advanced Education Minister Lori Sigurdson to commit to keeping the university in Athabasca.

Current Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon was a student representative on Mr. MacKinnon’s task force.

In response to the report, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3911, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 69 and the Athabasca University Faculty Association have launched a petition demanding the government ensure Athabasca University and its jobs remain in Athabasca.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA

Jeff Johnson

Politically speaking, it may have been an easier decision for the new government to make if an NDP MLA was not currently representing the area. If the constituency had remained PC territory, the NDP would not have to worry about Mr. Piquette’s re-election chances in 2019.

Now the NDP government is stuck in an odd position. Even if the new government wanted to relocate the institution, it would not be difficult to reallocate extra funds in the provincial budget to cover the deficits.

If the NDP’s first budget is focused on job creation and stimulus, then protecting 400 jobs in Athabasca should be on the list of priorities.

The new government also faces the question about what to do with the university’s board of governors after years of controversy. Like several universities and colleges across Alberta, the board is headed by someone with strong political connections to the old governing party.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Jason Nixon

Acting chair Marg Mrazek is a former president of the PC Party. While the Post-Secondary Learning Act gives the government the ability to replace the board, with Ms. Mrazek’s term is set to expire on July 24, 2016 the NDP may wait until that date before replacing the Tory appointee.

In many ways, Athabasca University is a microcosm for the challenges of regime change after forty-four years of Progressive Conservative government in Alberta.

But Athabasca University may be able to use its NDP connections to apply pressure to the new government. Mr. MacKinnon is the husband of former Saskatchewan NDP MLA and Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon, who served in Roy Romanow‘s cabinet in the 1990s. Premier Rachel Notley‘s Chief of Staff, Brian Topp, was Mr. Romanow’s deputy chief of staff during that period.

While the new government has been able to remain coy about the future of the institution in its first four months in office, residents of Athabasca will demand to know what the NDP has planned for their university. They may find out this week when Ms. Sigurdson is scheduled to meet with Ms. Mrazek and Mr. MacKinnon.

Interim PC Party leader Ric McIver and 7 of his party's MLAs at their post-election leader's dinner.

The tough road ahead for Alberta’s opposition PC Party

When Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly gather on June 11 to choose a new Speaker, the seating chart will be unlike anything Albertans have seen in this province’s 110 year history. Premier Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats will occupy the majority of the seats, the Wildrose Party will sit as Official Opposition, and for the first time in 44 years the Progressive Conservative MLAs will sit in the opposition benches.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

The three other political parties that previously held government in Alberta faded into obscurity soon after losing power. With the exception of the Liberal Party, none of the other parties (the United Farmers of Alberta and the Social Credit Party) ever reemerged into Alberta politics a meaningful way (though the UFA transformed into a successful agricultural cooperative).

And with these historical precedents in mind, it will undoubtably be a tough transition for the remaining PC MLAs and their party, who have no institutional memory of how to operate in opposition.

The PC Party has actually appointed a transition team to help navigate the party into opposition. While other provincial conservative parties in Canada can rely on their federal counterpart for assistance, it has been long suspected that many in the Conservative Party of Canada favour the more conservative Wildrose Party over the PCs.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

A big challenge facing PC MLAs in the upcoming session of the Legislature is to simply be relevant now that they are no longer in government. Interim leader Ric McIver announced his caucus critic roster today (see the list below) and it will be fascinating to watch how those MLAs perform in their new roles. It is still yet to be seen what the motley crew of nine MLAs that make up the PC Caucus have in common politically, other than wanting to have been elected into government, or if they can even work together as a team.

Who does and does not vie to become the party’s seventh leader in the past ten years will also be telling. Former cabinet ministers Mr. McIver and Manmeet Bhullar are frequently named as possible contenders, as is former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who was unseated by Nicole Goehring in the NDP sweep of Edmonton. What political direction these potential leaders would lead the new party is unknown.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs

Thomas Lukaszuk

Losing power after 44 years in office makes the PC Party a brokerage party with nothing left to broker. And while a future in opposition without the comfort of large corporate donations may look bleak, PC Party supporters now have an opportunity to redefine what their party stands for and rebuild its credibility after crippling election defeat. While the memory of PC scandals and arrogance are fresh in the minds of Albertans today, including distasteful comments recently made by a member of the PC Party board, there are four long years before the next election.

We can expect many of the usual suspects, including professional political meddler Preston Manning, to advocate a merger of two main conservative parties. Both PC and Wildrose MLAs should not forget the role Mr. Manning played in manufacturing the disastrous floor-crossing that critically damaged both conservative parties in Alberta before the recent election.

Because of its history and bitter political differences, future floor crossings are not a palatable option and a merger of the PC Party and Wildrose Party would probably not be a match made in heaven. If it is possible for the PC Party to survive outside of government, could it play a role in Alberta politics as an urban based conservative opposition?


Here is the PC Opposition Caucus critic roster for the upcoming session of the Legislature:

PC MLA Critic Role
Ric McIver, MLA
Calgary-Hays
  • Interim Leader
  • Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour
  • Municipal Affairs
Wayne Drysdale, MLA
Grande Prairie-Wapiti
  • Caucus Whip
  • Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development
  • Transportation
Richard Starke, MLA
Vermilion-Lloydminster
  • PC Opposition House Leader
  • Culture and Tourism
  • Health
  • Parks and Recreation
Richard Gotfried, MLA
Calgary-Fish Creek
  • International and Intergovernmental Relations
  • Seniors
Manmeet Bhullar, MLA
Calgary-Greenway
  • Finance and Treasury Board
  • Infrastructure
Dave Rodney, MLA
Calgary-Lougheed
  • Aboriginal Relations
  • Innovation and Advanced Education
Sandra Jansen, MLA
Calgary-North West
  • Education
  • Human Services
  • Status of Women
Rick Fraser, MLA
Calgary-South East
  • Energy
  • Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Mike Ellis, MLA
Calgary-West
  • Justice and Solicitor General
  • Service Alberta

 

PC Party leader Jim Prentice called the election a year earlier than scheduled to seek a mandate for the provincial budget. Now he is changing the budget on the campaign trail.

Prentice amending the budget on the fly as polls suggest PC Party in trouble

This was supposed to be an election campaign about the provincial budget, or at least that is what Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice told Albertans when he called the election one year earlier than the legislated fixed election day.

Despite ignoring the results of own government’s online budget survey, Mr. Prentice and his party plotted forward with their own pre-election budget and “10-year plan,” which was designed to also serve as the PC Party’s re-election platform. Mr. Prentice claimed he needed to call the early election to seek a mandate for a budget that would usher in “generational change” but that same budget is now being amended on the campaign trail.

Mr. Prentice announced today that, despite weeks of defending the decision, he will reverse the unpopular decision to slash the Charitable Donations Tax Credit included the budget. Cutting tax credit for charitable donations from 21% to 12.75% was expected to have dramatically impacted the abilities of not-for-profit organizations and charities to raise funds.

[Note: The generous tax credit for donations made to political parties was not touched.]

While reversing the cut to the charity tax credit is positive, it is disappointing that his party’s plummeting support in the polls was the apparent impetus for Mr. Prentice’s reversal. Cutting the charity tax credit was a bad decision from the beginning. If the polls continue to show the PC Party in a tough electoral position, it now might not be unexpected for Mr. Prentice to reverse more decisions that only a few weeks ago were set in stone in the provincial budget.

The charity tax credit flip flop is eerily reminiscent of what Albertans witnessed under the PC Party recently led by Alison Redford from 2011 to 2014. Numerous times during her premiership, Ms. Redford would make an unpopular decision and spend weeks defending her position only to change her position after it had already damaged her politically (see: the $45,000 flight to South Africa).

Now that Mr. Prentice has reopened the provincial budget for discussion, here are a few other items that the PC Party should consider changing:


Edmonton-Castle Downs PC candidate Thomas Lukaszuk is calling for increases to the Corporate Tax Rate, breaking from his party’s spin that each 1% increase in corporate taxes would lead to 8,900 job layoffs. Mr. Prentice has called NDP leader Rachel Notley an “extremist” for wanting modest increases to corporate taxes in Alberta. It is unclear whether Mr. Prentice will now label Mr. Lukaszuk as an extremist.

 

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

Alberta Election Week 1: The Economy and Corporate Tax confusion

Recent polls show a three-way split in support between the Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic and Wildrose Parties have generated some interest in Alberta’s provincial election campaign but with 24 days left until voting day we can expect a lot to change. Here is a quick review of what the politicians were saying and political parties were spinning in the first week of this election campaign.

Progressive Conservatives
PC leader Jim Prentice launched his party's election campaign in Edmonton.

PC leader Jim Prentice launched his party’s election campaign in Edmonton.

Campaigning on issues related to the March 2015 provincial budget, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice spent most of his week travelling around rural Alberta in his party’s campaign bus.

Mr. Prentice targeted his opponents as extremists while moderating his own tone around Alberta’s economy. Before the election was called, Mr. Prentice’s repeated doom-and-gloom messages led opposition critics to name him “Grim Jim.” The PCs are attempting to present Mr. Prentice as the balanced (a.k.a. safe) candidate, as opposed to the extremist (a.k.a. dangerous) leaders of the opposition.

The PCs promised to double the $17.4 billion Heritage Fund as part of a ‘ten year plan’ and Mr. Prentice repeated his pre-election statement that he would remove the provincial government’s dependence on natural resources revenues.

PC Social Media blitz

PC Social Media blitz

The recent provincial budget included almost sixty tax and fee increases, including increases to personal taxes but no increases to corporate taxes, which appears to have been a political miscalculation on the part of the PCs. The government’s own budget survey results showed 69% of Albertans support a corporate tax increase, a point the NDP has stressed.

PC MLAs and candidates took to social media to post different variations of a message that 8,900 jobs would be lost if corporate taxes were increased by 1%. It is unclear what study the 8,900 jobs number originates from.

Creating more confusion around corporate tax increases, a PC press release from April 9 stated ‘Prentice pointed out that more than 95% in Alberta are small businesses, employing fewer than 50 people, and questioned those who would put those jobs at risk with a corporate tax increase.” This is a good talking point, if not for the issue that small businesses do not pay corporate tax rates.

According to the Department of Finance website, small businesses earning $500,000 of less profit each year pay a separate 3% small business tax, not the 10% corporate tax applied to companies earning more than $500,000 in profit annually. The PCs dropped the corporate tax rate in Alberta from 15% in 2001 to the current 10% in 2006.

Edmonton Police are investigating bribery allegations made during the Edmonton-Ellerslie PC nomination contest and disqualified Edmonton-Decore PC nomination candidate Don Martin is suing the PC Party for $124,000 over bribery allegations. Dismissed nomination candidate Jamie Lall declared that he is running as an Independent candidate against PC MLA Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rockyview.

New Democratic Party
NDP leader Rachel Notley with Calgary candidates on April 8, 2015.

NDP leader Rachel Notley with Calgary candidates on April 8, 2015.

NDP leader Rachel Notley launched her party’s election campaign in Edmonton and travelled to Calgary and Lethbridge to campaign with candidates in those cities. It is notable that the NDP are focusing resources on candidates outside of Edmonton, where the party has traditionally been weak. Calgary-Fort candidate Joe CeciCalgary-Varsity candidate Stephanie McLean and Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips were prominently placed at Ms. Notley’s side during photo-ops at these stops

NDP messaging in the first week of the campaign focused on the economy. Ms. Notley announced the creation of a Job Creation Tax Credit for businesses as the first NDP election promise, providing balance from their calls for corporate tax increases. The credit sounds reasonable, but much like the PC Party’s 8,900 job loss argument, I am skeptical about this credit creating 27,000 new jobs. The NDP also announced that in-province refining and upgrading is also a top priority. Before the election was called, Ms. Notley’s unveiled her party’s plans to create a Resource Owners’ Rights Commission.

The NDP responded to Mr. Prentice’s “extremist” claims with an “extremist of the week” press release quoting former Premier Peter Lougheed’s support of increased corporate taxes and former Deputy Premier (and current PC candidate) Thomas Lukaszuk support for in-province refining and upgrading.

Ms. Notley was also a guest on this week’s #abvote Google Hangout.

Wildrose Party
Wildrose leader Brian Jean

Wildrose leader Brian Jean

Focusing on rural Alberta, Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned in southern Alberta and his Fort McMurray constituency this week. While the campaign trail in Strathmore-Brooks, Mr. Jean and candidate Derek Fildebrandt cleverly walked around town with a giant arrow in hand pointing out services and commodities, like alcohol and gas, which became more expensive due to tax increases in the recent provincial budget.

Mr. Jean released his party’s “Five Priorities” that include positions on taxes, health care, education, democracy and rural Alberta. Part of the Wildrose plan to balance the budget by 2017 without raising taxes includes cutting 3,200 management jobs, including 1,600 in Alberta Health Services and 1,600 in the Government public service.

The Wildrose announced they would sell the Kananaskis Golf Course, a publicly owned and privately-operated golf course that the provincial government had paid millions of dollars to repair after it was damaged by floods in 2013.

Mr. Jean backtracked on comments made about Mr. Prentice undermining Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Wildrose Party also nominated new candidates this week including City Councillor Buck Buchanan in Red Deer-North, past mayoral candidate Shelley Biermanski in St. Albert, Don Koziak in Edmonton-Glenora and Ian Crawford in Edmonton-Riverview.

Liberals
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, interim leader David Swann and Edmonton Liberal candidates unveil the party's pay equity proposal.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, interim leader David Swann and Edmonton Liberal candidates unveil the party’s pay equity proposal.

The Liberal Party announced they would introduce pay equity legislation, increase funding to Family and Community Support Services and reinstate the Charitable Donation Tax Credit, which was decreased in the recent budget. Interim leader David Swann , who is running for re-election in Calgary-Mountain View, received an endorsement from Senator and retired Lieuteant General Romeo Dallaire. Receiving the 2015 Calgary Peace Prize this week, Mr. Dallaire called Mr. Swann a “true humanitarian.”

Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson wrote that the Liberal Party might need “a ballot box miracle” in order to save themselves from political oblivion.

Alberta Party 

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark released his party’s policy platform and Economic Recovery Plan. Most of the party’s focus is on electing Mr. Clark in Calgary-Elbow, where he placed a strong second to PC MLA Gordon Dirks in a 2014 by-election. Mr. Clark’s campaign is using DirksRecord.ca to target Mr. Dirks’ record.

The party also grabbed media attention for scooping up the domain names choosealbertasfuture.ca and .com after the PC campaign slogan was unveiled earlier this week.

Green Party 

The Green Party published a media release criticizing the PC Government’s record on environmental regulation, describing it as a “fake, not authentic, regulation and thus an insult to the intelligence, dignity and trusting nature of Albertans.”  The release takes issue with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and calls on the government to create a regulator that understands the impact of proposed activity and puts rules in place to prevent any unacceptable impacts.

Other Groups

The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) launched a campaign to increase voter turnout among university students in this election. “We are going to sign up thousands of students and make sure they turn out on Election Day,” CAUS chairperson Navneet Khinda said in a press release.

The Parkland Institute released a new report looking at political values of Albertans. Public Interest Alberta released its “Priorities for Change” report as a resource for political candidates in this election And Change Alberta has returned to rank the progressive candidates most likely to win in constituencies across Alberta.

Alberta Legislature Building Edmonton Canada

Alberta Politics Roundup: Bill 10 and the short #ableg session

The Alberta Legislature returned for what is expected to be short sitting before an expected Spring election. With the provincial budget scheduled to be tabled on March 26 and the last major round of Progressive Conservative candidate nominations being held on March 28, many political observers are speculating that the writ of election could be called on March 30, 2015. If the writ is dropped on March 30, the 2015 election will be held on April 27, 2015.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

Making amends for Bill 10
The backwards Gay-Straight Alliance law introduced by PC MLA Sandra Jansen in December 2014 was heavily amended and passed on the first day of this Assembly sitting. When Bill 10 was first introduced last year, it faced harsh public criticism from across the country as it would have allowed school boards to ban the student-led clubs and force students to appeal those decisions through the courts. The newly amended version will do the opposite.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

This is a big win for Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who’s private members’ bill – Bill 202 – forced PC MLAs into some very uncomfortably conversations about gender, sexuality and bullying in Alberta schools last year. At its core, this debate was really about whether the government should block students from setting up clubs, and the initial version of Bill 10 was largely considered to be Jim Prentice’s first big fumble as Premier. The amended law will likely defuse any backlash to the original controversial legislation during the upcoming election.

During the Bill 10 debates, opposition MLAs were joined by PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths and Jason Luan, who spoke out against the government’s bill. Sources say PC Caucus staff were directed to keep a watchful eye over Mr. Lukaszuk after his outspoken criticism of the GSA bill.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

The Wildrose Sideshow
The Wildrose Party held its first leadership debate this week in Red Deer. The three candidates – Drew BarnesBrian Jean and Linda Osinchuk – face the significant challenge of trying to generate public interest in a leadership vote only weeks before a general election is expected to be called. The party’s new leader will be announced on March 28, 2015.

Dixie Dahlstedt Wildrose Bonnyville Cold Lake

Dixie Dahlstedt

 

PC nomination controversy
Recent PC nomination candidate Dixie Dahlstedt submitted an official complaint to the PC Party about the conduct of the party’s recent nomination vote in the Bonnyville-Cold Lake constituency. Ms. Dahlstedt’s complaint lists a series of objections about the organization of the nomination and calls for the party to conduct an inquiry.

PC nomination hopefuls Don Martin and Balraj Manhas told Metro Edmonton they were unfairly pushed out of candidate nomination contests in Edmonton-Decore and Edmonton-Ellerslie. Both constituencies are currently represented by PC MLAs who were acclaimed as candidates in the next election.

Kevin Bacon Footloose Alberta

Kevin Bacon

That town from Footloose
The southern Alberta Town of Taber has become the source of national ridicule and confusion after town councillors voted to ban yelling, swearing and spiting. The new bylaw also allows police to break up assemblies of three or more people, which is likely unconstitutional. But the biggest surprise to this writer is that Taber has its own municipal police force, which is incredibly uncommon for a town of its size in Alberta.

Alberta Election Candidates Nominations

Sunday candidate nomination update in Alberta

Some Progressive Conservative Party supporters are privately expressing frustration with the decision by Premier Jim Prentice and his cabinet ministers to openly campaign and endorse incumbent PC MLAs and Wildrose floor crossers facing nomination challenges. One PC member who contacted this blogger described it as a missed opportunity to renew the PC government with new blood.

By my count, the PCs have candidates in place in 51 of 87 constituencies across the province. The New Democratic Party have chosen 39 candidates and the Wildrose Party have 32 candidates in place. The Liberals have 7 candidates nominated and the Alberta Party has six. The Green Party has nominated two candidates.

Here are the latest updates to the growing list of candidates running for provincial party nominations in Alberta:

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater: Colin Piquette, son of former New Democratic Party MLA Leo Piquette, is seeking the NDP nomination. Mr. Piquette was the 2001 NDP candidate in the former Athabasca-Wabasca constituency, where he placed third with 9.5% of the vote.

Banff-Cochrane: First-term PC MLA Ron Casey has been acclaimed as his party’s candidate. Registered Nurse Cameron Westhead has also been acclaimed as the NDP candidate in this constituency.

Calgary-Buffalo: Lawyer Kathleen Ganley is seeking the NDP nomination in this downtown Calgary constituency. Buffalo is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is leaving provincial politics to run for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Centre.

Calgary-Currie: First-term MLA Christine Cusanelli defeated former political staffer Dustin Franks. Ms. Cusanelli served as Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation for less than a year before an Olympic travel spending scandal led to her demotion to the backbenches.

Calgary-Glenmore: Former Wildrose Party constituency vice-president Terrence Lo has announced he will seek the Alberta Party nomination in this constituency. Mr. Low left the Wildrose Party after the party split over support equal rights for sexual minorities.

Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: Past city council candidate Richard Poon is seeking the PC nomination. Also challenging incumbent PC MLA Neil Brown are Ako Ufodike and Gary Milan.

Calgary-Mountain View: Christopher McMillan and instructional designer Mirical MacDonald are seeking the NDP nomination. Mr. McMillan was the NDP candidate in this constituency in the 2012 election, when he earned 5% of the vote.

Calgary-North West: Christopher Blatch has been acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate.

Calgary-ShawBrad Leishman has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate in this south Calgary constituency.

Calgary-Varsity: Lawyer Susan Billington is seeking the PC nomination. Ms. Billington is a mediator and Municipal Councillor for the Kananaskis Improvement District. She is also the wife of Richard Billington, a well-known Calgary Tory who challenged Joan Crockatt for the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Centre in 2012. Her son Jim was a staffer on Mr. Prentice’s PC leadership campaign and now works as Chief of Staff to Minister of Culture and Tourism Maureen Kubinec.

Calgary-West: Mount Royal University economics professor Gerard Lucyshyn is the nominated Wildrose candidate. Mr. Lucyshyn was a candidate for the federal Conservative nomination in Bow River in 2014.

Cypress-Medicine Hat: Bev Waege was acclaimed as the NDP candidate.

Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley: Marg McCuaig Boyd is seeking the NDP nomination in this northwest rural Alberta constituency. Ms. McCuaig Boyd served as Vice-President Fairview for Grande Prairie Regional College from 2009 until 2013 and was a teacher and administrator with the Peace River School Division for more than 20 years.

Most of the area included in this constituency was represented by NDP leader and MLA Grant Notley from 1971 until 1984. Mr. Notley is the father of current NDP leader Rachel Notley.

Edmonton-Castle Downs: Former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk has been acclaimed as the PC candidate in this north Edmonton constituency. Mr. Lukaszuk was first elected in 2001 and served in cabinet until he ran for the PC leadership in 2014.

Edmonton-Meadowlark: Jon Carson is seeking the NDP nomination in this west Edmonton constituency.

Edmonton-Mill Woods: Past city council candidate Roberto Maglalang is seeking the Liberal nomination. In 2013, Mr. Maglalang finished with 2.8% of the vote in southeast Edmonton’s Ward 11.

Grande Prairie-SmokyTodd Loewen has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate. As his party’s candidate in 2012, Mr. Loewen earned 41% of the vote.

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Kerry Towle defeated Red Deer County mayor Jim Wood for the PC nomination. In 2012, Mr. Wood had endorsed former MLA Luke Ouellette, who was defeated by Ms. Towle in that year’s election.

Leduc-BeaumontShayne Anderson has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate.

Lacombe-PonokaDoug Hart has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Mr. Hart earned 10% of the vote as the NDP candidate in this constituency in the 2012 election.

Lethbridge-East: Legal counsel Tammy Perlich defeated former Lethbridge County reeve Lorne Hickey. This was Mr. Hickey’s second attempt at securing the PC nomination in Lethbridge-East.

Livingstone-MacLeod: Aileen Burke was acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Ms. Burke was the NDP candidate in the 2014 federal by-election in Macleod, where she earned 4.2% of the vote.

Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills: Central Alberta rancher Glenn Norman has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Mr. Norman has been described as a “vocal member” of the Alberta Surface Rights Federation and in 2009 was a spokesman for the Pine Lake Surface Rights Action Group.

Peace River: Debbie Jabbour has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Sean Weatherall is seeking the NDP nomination.

St. Albert: Marie Renaud is seeking the NDP nomination. Ms. Renaud is the executive director of LoSeCa Foundation, an organization

Sherwood Park: Community Engagement consultant and social planner Annie McKitrick has been acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Ms. McKitrick is also nominated as the federal NDP candidate in the new Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan riding.

Strathmore-Brooks: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jason Hale announced he is retiring from provincial politics. Mr. Hale, show was first elected in 2012, faced a nomination challenge from County of Newell Reeve Molly Douglass. 


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

Can Wildrose survive Rob Anders? Can floor crossers survive PC Party?

Melissa Mathieson Rob Anders Macleod Conservative Guns

Calgary-West MP Rob Anders with former Conservative nomination candidate Melissa Mathieson in Feb. 2014.

Initially turned away by Wildrose Party officials, controversial Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders has asked the Wildrose Party for a “waiver” to run for the party’s leadership. Having lost bids for federal Conservative nominations in Calgary-Signal Hill and Bow River last year, the controversial Mr. Anders, 42, is scrambling to salvage his 18 year long political career.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

Before crossing the floor to the PC Party, former leader Danielle Smith publicly told Mr. Anders that he was not welcome to run for the Wildrose Party. But now with the party weakened and without a leader, Mr. Anders may be in a position to mobilize his legions of social conservatives to win the leadership.

Also said to be considering a run for the Wildrose leadership are former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk (a nominated candidate in Sherwood Park), former lobbyist Derek Fildebrandt (running for a nomination in Strathmore-Brooks) and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.

Can the PC-Wildrose MLAs survive?
Kerry Towle

Kerry Towle

It appears that all or most former Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in the final months of 2014 will face strong competitions to win their new party’s nominations to run in the next election.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox is facing former Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkleman and businessman Peter DewitInnisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle is facing Red Deer County Mayor Jim WoodCardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman is being challenged by Taber Reeve Brian Brewin, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Jeff Wilson is being challenged by arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler.

If Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe decides to seek re-election, he will face a challenge from Olds Town Councillor Wade Bearchell, who is already campaigning for the PC nomination. Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen is also expected to face a strong challenge and Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson has already announced he will not run for re-election.

Immediately following the floor-crossings, Mr. Pedersen told the Medicine Hat News be believed their PC nominations were guaranteed, but that appears to be a key bargaining position the 9 Wildrose MLAs asked for and were denied before they joined the PCs.

Now the question is how many of the Wildrose-turned-PC MLAs can survive to run in the next election? Could a potential cabinet shuffle save their political careers?

What are PC-Wildrose MLAs are saying about being in government?

Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe (Olds Albertan):

“You know, it’s a shame to have to say this, but it’s amazing to me the doors that are open since I crossed the floor. I get into ministers’ office(s) and get things done. It’s just – it’s amazing. It’s really not the way it should be, but it is the way it is.”

What are PC MLAs saying about the PC-Wildrose MLAs?

Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner (Spruce Grove Examimer):

“This shows that was all politics. That’s unfortunate, and we will have to let that go. But I think everybody should understand that when they make accusations like that and then (cross the floor), it’s obvious there was a lot of political motivation there and not a lot of fact,” Mr. Horner said.

“I’d like to see us stop with the unfounded character assassination — and I think that will stop from them.”

Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk (Calgary Herald): 

“It’s sort of like that neighbour that screams at you all the time and calls the cops on you once in a while now moves into your house,” Mr. Lukaszuk said. “You sort of work around it and make it work. At the end of the day you have to focus on the prize — and that’s representing your constituents and making good decisions as a government.”


I will be taking a short break from blogging for the next week. In my absence, take a look at David Climenhaga‘s excellent blog at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

 

A Dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015

12 Alberta MLAs to watch in 2015

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2015: Rob Anderson, Joe Anglin, Manmeet Bhullar, Laurie Blakeman, Robin Campbell, Gordon Dirks, Heather Forsyth, Kent Hehr, Thomas Lukaszuk, Stephen Mandel, Rachel Notley, Danielle Smith

As 2014 reminded us, politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choice of Premier Jim Prentice, here is a list of a dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015.

Rob Anderson Joe Anglin Manmeet Bhullar Laurie Blakeman MLA

Alberta MLAs Rob Anderson, Joe Anglin, Manmeet Bhullar and Laurie Blakeman

Rob Anderson (Airdrie): The outspoken rookie MLA left the PC Caucus in 2010 to join the upstart Wildrose Party. And in 2014, after two years as a loud and enthusiastic critic of the government, he was one of 9 Wildrose MLAs who crossed to the PC Caucus in December 2014. It is speculated that Mr. Anderson could end up with a cabinet post in early 2015, to the ire of his new caucus colleagues. He thrived in the limelight of the opposition benches but can he survive in the government benches?

Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre): Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus in November 2014 before his colleagues could vote him out. On his way out, he declared that “an internal civil war” was being waged inside the Wildrose Party. It was recently revealed that Mr. Anglin has been in discussions with the Liberals about forming a legislative coalition that could steal Official Opposition status away from the downsized Wildrose Caucus.

Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway): A rising star in the PC Party. Mr. Bhullar rose in the ranks under premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and became one of Mr. Prentice’s lieutenants during his party’s lacklustre 2014 PC leadership contest. In his current role as Infrastructure Minister, he has a big influence over which public projects get funding.

Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton-Centre): As the longest serving opposition MLA, Ms. Blakeman is a feisty voice in the Assembly. Her Bill 202 reignited the debate around student-led Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools and demonstrated how uncomfortable an issue gay rights remains for many PC MLAs. With the Liberal Party moribund under its current leadership, it is difficult to tell what her political future holds.

Robin Campbell Gordon Dirks Heather Forsyth Kent Hehr Alberta MLA

Alberta MLAs Robin Campbell, Gordon Dirks, Heather Forsyth and Kent Hehr.

Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead): As the price of oil declines, the soft-spoken Mr. Campbell finds himself in a situation where he must deal with his party’s poor long-term financial planning. Unfortunately, the PC Caucus is reluctant to entertain the idea of more stable funding sources like sales taxes, a progressive taxation system or an increase in natural resource royalties. Look to Mr. Campbell to provide a more diplomatic approach to public sector pension changes, an issue that hastened the demise of his predecessor, Doug Horner.

Gordon Dirks (Calgary-Elbow): Missing in Action during the contentious Gay-Straight Alliances debate, Mr. Dirks’ connections to socially conservative Christian evangelical groups is a liability for the PC Party among moderate and liberal voters. He brings experience from his time as a Saskatchewan cabinet minister and a Calgary school trustee, but his religious connections and the accusations about allegedly politically-driven school announcements make him a lightening rod for opposition criticism.

Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek): The interim leader of the Official Opposition is one of the longest serving MLAs in the Legislature. First elected as a PC MLA in 1993, Ms. Forsyth served in the cabinets of Ralph Klein before joining the Wildrose in 2010. Her big challenge is keep the Wildrose Remnant alive and relevant as her party chooses their next leader in early 2015.

Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo): This respected, hard-working MLA is aiming to become the first Liberal Member of Parliament in Calgary since the early 1970s. He is hoping to build on the support earned by Liberal Harvey Locke in the 2012 by-election. His departure from provincial politics will trigger a by-election that will test the popularity of the provincial Liberals in Alberta’s largest city.

Thomas Lukaszuk Stephen Mandel Rachel Notley Danielle Smith Alberta MLA

Alberta MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Stephen Mandel, Rachel Notley and Danielle Smith.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs): Cast to the backbenches after Mr. Prentice became premier, Mr. Lukaszuk has not gone quietly. His connection to deep funding cuts to universities and colleges earned him many political enemies, including then-mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel. Mr. Lukaszuk turned on Ms. Redford when her star was falling and ran in PC leadership contest as an outsider. He has been outspoken from his spot in the backbenches, leading some political watchers to believe he could be the next Ken Kowalski.

Stephen Mandel (Edmonton-Whitemud): After nine years as Edmonton’s mayor, Mr. Mandel declared he was done with politics in 2013. One year later, he found himself riding to the rescue of Alberta’s 43 year old Progressive Conservative dynasty. As Mr. Prentice’s capital city commodore, Mr. Mandel is responsible for the most politically dangerous government department, Health. He has promised to increase local decision making in health care and is faced with a growing list of aging hospitals and health care centres that have faced decades of neglect by the provincial government.

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Expectations are high that Ms. Notley will lead Alberta’s New Democratic Party to greatness. The second generation leader of Alberta’s social democratic party is smart, witty and well-positioned to boost her party’s standings in the opposition benches. Her challenge will be to present a viable alternative to the governing PCs while expanding her party’s support outside its traditional enclaves in Edmonton.

Danielle Smith (Highwood): After two years as the leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition, Ms. Smith shocked Albertans in December 2014 when she quit her job and join the Government. It is widely suspected that Ms. Smith will be appointed to cabinet in early 2015, possibly as Deputy Premier. She is a skilled politician but will continue to face heavy criticism in 2015 from her former colleagues for her betrayal.

(Last year’s post, A Dozen Alberta MLAs to Watch in 2014, was inspired by A dozen federal MPs worth watching in 2014, published by the Canadian Press)

Updated: A Timeline of Alberta’s Gay-Straight Alliance debate

Alberta Gay Straight Alliance Debate

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, Premier Jim Prentice and PC MLA Sandra Jansen

It is sometimes amazing how quickly one political issue can transform and dominate the debate. This week’s raging debate about allowing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in Alberta schools has twisted and turned so many times, it has become difficult to figure out who is in and out of the closet on this issue.

Wikipedia defines a Gay-Straight Alliance as student-led organizations that are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

Here is a simple timeline following the ongoing provincial debate around these student clubs in Alberta schools:

April 7, 2014: Liberal MLA Kent Hehr introduces Motion 503:

“Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

A coalition of 31 Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs vote down Motion 503. Nineteen Liberal, NDP and PC MLAs, including PC anti-bullying Minister Sandra Jansen vote in favour of the motion.

September 15, 2014: Premier Jim Prentice appoints Gordon Dirks as Education Minister. Mr. Dirks is criticized for his relationship with evangelical Christian schools in Calgary.

 October 15, 2014: Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman announces plans to introduce a private members’ bill to mandate school boards to develop policies to support students who start a gay-straight alliance in their schools by offering meeting space and benefits given to other clubs.

November 15, 2014: At the party’s annual policy convention, Wildrose members reject a ‘definitive’ statement on equality. Party members voted against adopting as policy a statement affirming the rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences.

November 18, 2014: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith says her caucus will likely support Ms. Blakeman’s private members’ bill and prominent members of Edmonton’s LGBTQ community speak in favour of the bill.

November 20, 2014: Ms. Blakeman introduces Bill 202: Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 into the Legislative Assembly. It passes first reading.

November 22, 2014: Attending the annual Gay-Straight Alliances conference at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson speaks in favour of Bill 202. “People don’t all come in the same shapes and sizes, colours and genders so it is important that a space everyone is compelled to go to as part of their education makes space for everyone,” Mr. Iveson told reporters.

November 24, 2014: Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan cross the floor to the PC caucus. The Wildrose Caucus defies its party’s members by issuing its own resolution on equality.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson proposes amendments to Bill 202 which would allow Catholic and other religious schools to opt-out of allowing student to form gay-straight alliances.

November 25, 2014: Mr. Prentice announces that PC MLAs will be allowed a “free vote on Bill 202. Mr. Donovan tells CBC that the PC Party is now more socially conservative than the Wildrose Party and that the GSA vote contributed to his joining the PC Party.

November 27, 2014: At a hastily called press conference, Mr. Prentice declares that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he plans to introduce his own bill dealing with Gay-Straight Alliances. Arguing in favour of ‘parental rights,’ Mr. Prentice says his bill will allow school boards to decide whether GSAs should be allowed. If students are turned down, Mr. Prentice says they can take legal action against their school boards. It is suspected that Mr. Prentice’s bill was not yet written at this time.

December 1, 2014: Mr. Dirks, Ms. Jansen and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis hold a press conference during the time originally allotted to debate Bill 202. Bill 10: An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children is introduced into the Legislature by Ms. Jansen and passes first reading. ‘We’re moving forward. We’re moving forward incrementally,‘ said Ms. Jansen on the issue of gay rights. The Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald publish editorials harshly critical of Bill 10.

December 2, 2014: Bill 10 passes second reading and procedurally removes Bill 202 from the legislative order paper. Forty-two PC and Wildrose MLAs vote in favour and 9 opposition MLAs, including Ms. Blakeman, Ms. Smith, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman, vote against the bill.

Only one PC MLA, Thomas Lukaszuk, votes against it. “I simply do not believe in incremental granting of human rights,” Mr. Lukaszuk told the media. “We didn’t give women half a vote, we gave them a full vote during the suffrage debate.”

Klein-era Alberta Treasurer Jim Dinning condemns the PCs on Twitter for the limited time made available to debate the GSA issue in the Legislature.

Jon Cornish, a running back for the 2014 Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, criticizes Bill 10 on Twitter.

December 3, 2014: Two days after it was introduced in the Legislature, Mr. Denis announces plans to amend Bill 10. The Edmonton Youth Council votes 14-1 to pass an amendment against Bill 10.

Ms. Jansen introduces an amendment that opposition parties say will simply segregate gay students and move their support groups out of schools entirely. “That student now does not have to go to the court, they come to the Alberta ministry of education and we provide that GSA for them, and hopefully within the school environment,” Jansen said in the Assembly. “But if that is impossible, we’ll make sure they get that GSA regardless.” Education Minister Mr. Dirks was silent during this debate and Mr. Prentice was not in attendance.

The amendment passes with the support of 38 PC MLAs, including Mr. Dirks. PC MLAs Doug Griffiths, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Lukaszuk join with 14 opposition MLAs and vote against the amendment. PC MLA Jason Luan spoke against Bill 10, but was absent during the vote on the amendment.

December 4, 2014: Former PC MLA and Senator Ron Ghitter tells the Calgary Herald he is disappointed in the “backwards” legislation put forward by Mr. Prentice’s government to deal with the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools.

BT Edmonton host Ryan Jespersen uses his platform on the popular morning television program to castigate PC MLAs for their support of Bill 10.

Popular artists Tegan and Sarah published a post on their blog against Bill 10 and well-known Canadian entertainer Rick Mercer also takes aim at Mr. Prentice’s Bill 10 and his position on gay rights.

A number of PC Party members announce their resignations from positions in their party in opposition to Bill 10. Calgary-Bow PC association President Josh Traptow announced he resigned in order to speak out against Bill 10. Former Calgary City Council candidate Chris Harper announced on Twitter that he left the PC Party and resigned from his local PC constituency association. And Brenda Meneghetti, campaign manager for former leadership candidate Ken Hughes, announced she has left the PC Party because of Bill 10.

After facing four-days of widespread opposition and condemnation, Mr. Prentice announces at a hastily arranged press conference that he is putting Bill 10 on hold and that is postponing the third reading vote on the controversial bill.

Bill 10 has added to, rather than resolved these divisions, and I accept personal responsibility for that as the premier,” Mr. Prentice told reporters. Following Mr. Prentice’s backtrack on Bill 10, Ms. Blakeman announced plans to ask the Legislature to resurrect her original Bill 202.