Tag Archives: Thomas Lukaszuk

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.

As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA
After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA
Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

Tories impose a strict policy of de-Redfordization

Alison Redford Jim Prentice De Redfordization
If Alberta’s 7th PC Party Premier is successful, the record of Alberta’s 5th PC Party Premier will be far from the minds of voters when the next election is called.

The strength of any long-ruling political party is the ability to reinvent itself under new leaders and changing circumstances. After 43-years in power, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association has successfully rebranded itself under five leaders, in many cases by attacking the political record of its previous leadership.

Alberta’s seventh PC Party Premier, Jim Prentice, set about this week distancing himself from some of the more unpopular decisions made by the government when it was led by his predecessor, Alison Redford.

The process of de-Redfordization started with a cabinet shuffle that purged PC MLAs seen as being too closely tied to the previous leader. Finance minister Doug Horner, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Health minister Fred Horne, Service Alberta minister Doug Griffiths, former Energy minister Ken Hughes and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen all found themselves sitting in the backbenches.

Former Premier Dave Hancock resigned from the Legislature, instead risk spending his final years in office without a seat at the cabinet tables.

Selling the fleet of government planes, a symbol of the entitlement of the previous regime, was a political no-brainer. Use of the government planes by the former Premier to fly from a vacation home Palm Springs and to long-weekends in Jasper, as well as ‘false passengers,’ shocked even the most cynical Albertans.

Forcing MLAs and government staff to use commercial airlines frees the government of reporting its own public flight logs, but does not solve the root problems of political entitlement inside the current government.

Cancelling the botched license plate redesign was an easy win. An obvious political ploy to remove the long-standing ‘Wild Rose Country‘ slogan from the back of every vehicle in Alberta, the great license plate debate was a strange distraction from the summer’s MLA travel and Skypalace scandals.

On the international front, Redford appointee Gary Mar, who was named Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong after losing the 2011 PC leadership contest, is being replaced when his contract expires next year. Career diplomat Ron Hoffman will replace him.

But despite campaigning to “end entitlements”, Mr. Prentice has chosen former Ottawa colleagues Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill as Alberta envoys abroad. Mr. Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. and Mr. Hill, a Calgary-based lobbyist and co-chair of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign, will be Alberta’s “Senior Representative in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North and to the New West Partnership.”

Proroguing the Legislature for a new fall session of the Legislature allows for a new Speech from the Throne and provided an opportunity for the government to ditch the unpopular Bill 9 and Bill 10.

The two bills, introduced by Mr. Horner, would have imposed without consultation, an overhaul Alberta’s public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers rallied against the bills, making backbench Tories nervous about the next election.

Next on the list, Mr. Prentice is expected to make an announcement about the status of Red Deer’s Michener Centre today. Given the theme of this week’s announcements, it would not be surprising to hear the new leader reverse, or slow down, the facility’s closure.

Undoing some of the previous leader’s unpopular policies will steal away some of Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith‘s key talking points, but it will not be enough. CBC reported yesterday that Alberta’s chief medical examiner, Anny Sauvageau, is alleging political and bureaucratic interference in the independence of her office. And questions remains about irregularities in the PC leadership vote that selected Mr. Prentice on September 6.

And, despite the attempts to distance himself from the previous leader, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same.

White-washing Ms. Redford’s time in office might be enough to help the Tories win the next election, but, like other world parties that have held near uncontested power for decades, many of the serious problems facing the PC Party and its government are deeper than any one leader.

Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet

Jim Prentice Pipeline Cabinet Oil Sands
Members of the PC cabinet, elected and non-elected, stand preparing to be sworn-in to their new jobs at Government House today.

As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.

Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.

Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River
Frank Oberle

As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.

Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).

Teresa Woo Paw MLA
Teresa Woo-Paw

How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.

Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.

During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.

Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Kyle Fawcett MLA Calgary-Klein
Kyle Fawcett

His past relations with northern Albertans opposed to nuclear development may be an indication to how the new energy minister plans to approach opposition to pipeline expansion.

Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.

The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.

On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.

Unelected Cabinet Ministers

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.

Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skin when he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.

Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.

Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership
Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).

Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.

The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.

Boring Jim Prentice might be what the Tories need

Low turnout, lack of interest overshadows Prentice’s win
Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race
Alberta’s next Premier, Jim Prentice, delivered his victory speech with his wife Karen at his side.

The  atmosphere was noticeably subdued as I walked into the large hall at Northlands Expo Centre that hosted the Progressive Conservative’s leadership event. It was 6:45 pm and there were probably 300 loyal party supporters scattered across the hall, which looked like it could comfortably fit 2,000.

By the time the results were announced  at 7:36 pm by PC Party president Jim McCormick, the crowd appeared to have grown to around 400. Crowded around the stage at the end of the cavernous hall, supporters of former bank executive and retired federal politician Jim Prentice cheered when it was announced that he received 17,963 votes, 77% of the votes cast in the two day online and phone-in vote.

It is a strong mandate from PC Party members, and would have been a landslide if not for the incredibly low voter turnout. Only 23,386 PC Party members bothered to vote in the 43-year governing party’s latest leadership contest, much lower than the 78,176 who voted in the party’s 2011 leadership contest and the 144,289 who voted in 2006. I am told that around a total of 42,000 memberships were sold in this race, resulting in a 54% turnout.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech.

While pundits and politicos predicted for months that there would be a low turnout, 23,386 is shockingly low, especially considering Mr. Prentice publicly set a benchmark to sell 100,000 memberships. Interest in the race to replace former Premier Alison Redford was dismal, and the other candidates – Thomas Lukaszuk with 2,681 votes and Ric McIver with 2,742 votes – were unable to generate much opposition to Mr. Prentice’s well-financed and insider-supported campaign.

Despite the excitement of Mr. Prentice’s supporters in the crowd, there was a weariness in the air and a feeling that even the PC Party’s most loyal activists are tired. Many of them are becoming aware of how hard the next election could be to win. The Wildrose leads in the polls province-wide and support for the New Democrats has grown in Edmonton since the last election. And while support for the long-governing Tories has not completely collapsed, it was hard to walk away from this event without the feeling that the PCs are at their weakest.

Mr. Prentice’s victory speech was not remarkable. In fact, it was boring and forgetful, but maybe a little boring is what the PC Party needs. After two years of endless scandals, backstabbing and controversy, I am sure most PC MLAs are looking for stability. And while Mr. Prentice is nothing close to exciting, he is confident and could be a stable hand who can attract new talent to the party.

The politicos and MLAs I spoke with were glad the leadership contest is over and hope to put the technical irregularities of the PC Party’s contracted online voting system behind them. Although it appears there are PC members who were unable to vote or even able to vote twice because of technical glitches, it is unlikely that Mr. Prentice’s majority would have been drastically altered.

After the celebrations die down, Mr. Prentice and his team of advisors will begin the process of transitioning into the Premier’s Office. The new Premier is expected to seek a by-election soon (it is suspected that more than one by-election could be called) and once he is sworn-in as Premier, a cabinet shuffle will occur.

Aside from term-limits for MLAs, Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign largely stayed away from details or promises, a point that no PC Party supporter I spoke with in the convention hall seemed worried about. In fact, some praised the lack of details and promises as a virtue and a good campaign strategy.

“By not making any promises, he won’t break any promises,” said one PC supporter.

So, as this unexciting summer leadership race comes to an end, it is difficult to say what a new Premier will mean for Alberta. While most Albertans wait and see, I am sure many of the loyal Tories who spent their evening in that large convention hall are hoping this fall will bring calm, stability, and maybe a little boring to their long-governing party.

As lacklustre PC leadership race winds down, by-elections are on the horizon

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

With one day left before the vote, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver’s campaign took to the radio airwaves, attacking frontrunner Jim Prentice for being “an insider.” It was an strange move for Mr. McIver, as the general public appears largely disinterested in the contest and the deadline to purchase memberships has already passed.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

While Mr. McIver said he remains committed to the PC Party and this government, whether he wins or loses, it was not the kind of move made by someone who wants to impress the new boss.

Although he is not an MLA, Mr. Prentice does have the support of 50 PC MLAs and a vast network of party insiders. He has also been active in the PC Party at the federal and provincial levels since the 1980s, including as a candidate in the 1986 election. Despite his large network of supporters inside the PC Party, membership sales are said to be significantly lower than in previous leadership races – some insiders say turnout could be as low as 25,000 votes (compared to more than 144,000 in 2006).

So, as the PC Party leadership race draws to a close, I may not be the only Albertan to ask “What was that all about?

The after-effects of Alison Redford’s resignation and two years of scandal plagued government have overshadowed the summer-time leadership race to chose Albertas next premier. Anti-Gay parades, term-limits, free memberships, misuse of government airplanes, the Skypalace Penthouse and a $20,000 cell phone bill were the most interesting features of this campaign.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

The leadership candidates spoke in platitudes and took little opportunity to actually debate their ideas for Alberta’s future. Comfortable in Alberta’s oil wealth, we did not witness the PC Party have any real debate the future of Alberta’s natural resources, environment, schools, health care system or cities.

Even the short premiership of Edmonton MLA Dave Hancock was overshadowed by the record of his predecessor. Under other circumstances, Mr. Hancock could have excelled as Premier, but he spent most of his short time as premier attempting to provide stability to a damaged government.

The once unstoppable PC Party is still powerful but now aged and antiquated. And while the long-governing PCs deserve to be defeated, it would be foolish to underestimate them. The PC Party may have long forgotten how to win an election but they do know not to lose.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

On Saturday, September 6, if his opponents, Mr. McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, are able to deny Mr. Prentice a first ballot win, a second vote will be held on September 20. While this scenario is not impossible, it feels unlikely. The PC establishment appears to have done everything in its power to ensure Mr. Prentice’s smooth victory.

Soon after Mr. Prentice becomes PC Party leader, he will need to build a new cabinet. It is widely expected that he will promote loyal supporters – like PC MLAs Manmeet Bhullar and former leadership candidate Ken Hughes – into prominent promotions. It is also suspected that current ministers, like Finance minister Doug Horner, Health minister Fred Horne, and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen – all closely associated with Ms. Redford – may find themselves sitting out of cabinet.

Overall, with 25 MLAs now in cabinet, it will be challenging for Mr. Prentice to create a new cabinet seating plan from the current PC caucus.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Rumours have begin to circulate that Mr. Prentice could appoint a group of cabinet ministers from outside the Assembly, and ask them to run in a series of by-elections in the fall. Mr. Prentice will need to become an MLA, and an impressive slate of by-election candidates could help bring some much-needed new talent into the PC caucus.

The idea is not unprecedented. Following the near-disasterous 1995 Quebec Referendum vote, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Stéphane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew to the federal cabinet in advance of two Montreal by-elections.

Calgary MLA Neil Brown already said he would vacate his Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency for Mr. Prentice to run in a by-election. PC MLA David Xiao and Independent MLA Len Webber are seeking federal Conservative Party nominations and may be interested in having the support of the new premier. And Calgary-Elbow, the constituency vacated by Ms. Redford, is in need of a by-election.

Neil Brown MLA Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay
Neil Brown

Retired Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel suggested this week that he would consider running as a PC candidate if Mr. Prentice were premier. It may be stretch to believe that the 69 year old Mr. Mandel would jump back into politics (or be a breath of fresh air), but he would bring name recognition to the PC caucus.

Holding a series of by-elections would be a high-risk and high-reward strategy, because any loses could wound the new premier just as he leaves the starting gate. But if it paid off, it could help breath some new life into a 43-year old PC government that appears intent on defeating itself, or at least give Mr. Prentice a fighting chance before facing the Wildrose Party in the next election.


Calgary-Elbow By-Election

With an impending by-election expected to be called before the end of the year, politics in Calgary-Elbow are heating up.

Days before the PC Party chooses a new leader, Calgary-Elbow PC constituency association president Marina Mason announced her resignation.

Long-time partisan activist Pat Walsh has announced his plans to seek the PC Party nomination in that constituency. On his website, Mr. Walsh declares that he is willing to represent the constituency as a Government MLA “in the interim until the 2016 election is called,” when which he states he “will then step down.” I am not sure what to make of this strategy.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark announced today that he will once again put his name on the ballot in this constituency. He ran there in the 2012 provincial election.

Retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose Party nomination. And, as noted in a previous post, the Liberals are expected to nominate lawyer Susan Wright at a September 18, 2014 nomination meeting.

Alberta Politics Catch Up: Pipelines, Planes, Cities and Rob Anders

Stop the Pipelines Alberta Oilsands 1Spending a few days in another province can sometimes give you a different perspective on important national issues. Spending the last week in British Columbia served as a good reminder to this political watcher about how emotional the debate around pipelines and the Oilsands are in Alberta’s neighbouring province.

Stop the Pipelines Alberta OilsandsWhile I am sure opinion is divided in B.C., I lost count of how many times I spotted “Stop the Pipelines” spray painted across concrete walls or embankments in Vancouver. And it was not just graffiti, the neighbours in the respectable neighbourhood I called home for the weekend even had anti-pipeline signs planted on their front lawns.

Former bank executive Jim Prentice, who will likely become Alberta’s next premier after this weekend’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote, has pledged to get the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline built. But it will be a more difficult job than most Albertans would imagine, and we better become familiar with this reality.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

There are many legitimate environmental concerns surrounding the construction of oil pipelines (and the Alberta government’s failure to implement a climate change strategy), but at its base, all sides of this great Canadian debate appear to be basing their positions on emotion, rather than facts and solid arguments.

Back to Alberta politics, Mr. Prentice announced that his leadership campaign raised $1.8 million, which should not be too surprising. As favourite son of downtown Calgary and the front-runner in this contest, Mr. Prentice was expected to bring in the corporate dollars.

Earlier this year, Mr. Prentice warmed up his campaign as the committee chair for the PC Party’s Calgary fundraising dinner in May 2014. The PC Party has never really had trouble raising money, their biggest challenge is that the opposition Wildrose Party is raising just as much (and mostly in small donations from individuals, rather than large corporate donations).

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier and PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk has had a rough week. First, he changed his tune on a $20,000 cell phone bill racked up while he was on vacation in Poland and Israel, now saying that he was taking an emergency call from a cabinet minister, who was in the midst of family dispute. Then, it was revealed that Mr. Lukaszuk had quietly reimbursed the government for $1,400 worth of flights on the government planes in which he brought his daughter.

Mr. Lukaszuk was a harsh critic of former Premier Alison Redford when it was revealed she had misused government planes, including taking her daughter on flights.

Manmeet Bhullar
Manmeet Bhullar

Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar denied allegations that he offered “dirt” on Mr. Lukaszuk to the opposition parties and that he was the source of the leak. Mr. Bhullar is co-chairing Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign and is expected to earn a big cabinet promotion if his candidate wins the leadership race on September 6.

The CBC also uncovered that finance minister Doug Horner had taken his wife on 23 separate flights dating back to 2007. Mr. Horner is responsible for the fleet of government planes.

Meanwhile, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says that time is long overdue for the big cities and the provincial government to have a “grown-up conversation” about funding how we build our cities. In Calgary, popular mayor Naheed Nenshi has given Mr. Prentice, Mr. Lukaszuk and Ric McIver low grades on municipal issues, saying that none of the PC leadership candidate have outlined any significant vision for Alberta’s cities.

The Wildrose Party is trying to distance itself from offensive Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders. The party is denying it issued an endorsement after a robocall broadcast to Conservative supporters in the Bow River riding included an endorsement from former Wildrose leader and MLA Paul Hinman.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Jason Hale issued statements late last week denying any connections to Mr. Anders’ campaign. Here is Ms. Smith’s statement:

“While individual Wildrose members may choose to support individual nomination contestants for federal Conservative nominations, Wildrose as a party is neither endorsing nor assisting any nomination contestant in the Bow River electoral district.

No nomination contestant in Bow River can claim the official or unofficial endorsement of the Wildrose Party.

We encourage Albertans who are interested in politics to inform themselves about party nominations and participate in democracy and we wish all the nomination contestants the best of luck.”

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.