Tag Archives: Thomas Lukaszuk

Alberta Tories hold the World’s Most Boring Leadership Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Redford legacy haunts Prentice Tories

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.
Celebrating the anniversary of the 2012 Tory victory: then-Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs Moe Amery, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu. (photo from May 2013).

Most people rely on TripAdvisor or call a travel agent to book hotels for overseas trips, but it is alleged by intrepid CBC investigative journalists that former Premier Alison Redford dispatched a staffer to visit hotels and restaurants in advance of her trips to India, China, Switzerland, Washington, and Toronto for a cost of nearly $330,000.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).

If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?

In response to the allegations, former top Redford loyalist Thomas Luksazuk has called on the former premier to resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, a move that is likely to occur after Jim Prentice wins the party leadership. Mr. Prentice is without a seat in the Assembly and the cash-flush Calgary-Elbow PC association could steer the new Premier through a potentially treacherous by-election.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership
Thomas Lukaszuk

In a fundraising email sent to supporters today, Wildrose Party president David Yager wrote that his party “will fight the by-election with every ounce of firepower we have.”

Advance Cabinet Shuffle

Signalling that Jeff Johnson‘s troubling reign as Education Minister could come to an end in September, Mr. Prentice pledged to work “in a respectful way” with the powerful Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.

Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti
Wayne Drysdale

But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.

Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.

Klein-era finance and revenue ministers Stockwell Day, Steve West, Greg Melchin, Lloyd Snelgrove, Lyle Oberg, and Ted Morton penned a letter to the PC leadership candidates urging them to return to the pre-Horner consolidated annual budget. Mr. Horner adopted a confusing new structure shortly after he was appointed to the post by Ms. Redford in 2012.

Notably missing from the list of former finance ministers was Jim Dinning, who spoke out against Mr. Horner’s budget reporting in April 2014.

Opposition hoping for a sequel to Air Redford… Air Prentice

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

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

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

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

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

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

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

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

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

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

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

And then there were three (white men)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Jim Prentice Juggernaut unstoppable?

Jim Prentice Alberta Juggernaut
Is Jim Prentice’s campaign for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives unstoppable?

He is a leadership candidate backed by long-governing party establishment. He has chased away his potential rivals. He has experience in both the federal cabinet and the corporate sector. He is a respected party insider. He has a track record as a moderate conservative and can raise significant amounts of money for his party. The establishment sees him as the only person who can lead them to electoral victory against their aggressive opposition challengers.

His name is Paul Martin and it’s 2003.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

It has become inreasingly easy to draw parallels between the ill-fated Dauphin of the federal Liberal Party and expected coronation of Jim Prentice in September’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote.

Like Mr. Martin, expectations for Mr. Prentice among the PC establishment are very high. And without having even officially entered the contest or releasing any policy positions or vision for Alberta, his strange shadow campaign has succeeded in chasing away some of his strongest potential rivals by giving the impression that he too strong to fail.

Cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Diana McQueen, Jonathan Denis and retired Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel have all decided against running. And Ken Hughes, who only entered the race a short time ago, has already dropped out and endorsed the front-runner.

Paul Martin Jim Prentice Alberta
Paul Martin

Challenger Ric McIver claims that Mr. Prentice’s supporters have urged him to drop out of the race, but insists he will remain the fray. Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as Alison Redford’s deputy premier and budget slashing minister of Advanced Education, remains rumoured to be mulling a run for the leadership.

Pressure from Mr. Prentice’s campaign, the steep $50,000 entry fee and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to run a leadership campaign have likely scared away potential serious candidates.

Curse of the front-runner
An advantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. A disadvantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. As PC MLAs trip over themselves in their rush to endorse Mr. Prentice, it will become increasingly difficult for the new leader to weed out the incompetent or redundant members of his caucus in the next election.

If he becomes leader, one of Mr. Prentice’s biggest challenges will be to increase the PC caucus bench strength by recruiting competent and credible candidates to run. This will require significant retirements, resignations, or nomination battles before the next election.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Prentice Money
Like Mr. Martin, Mr. Prentice has proven he can raise a lot of money and fill a hall with people whose companies are willing to spend $500 a ticket to influence government, but can he resonate among regular voters? Raising money has never been a serious long-term problem for the PC Party. Their problem has become the existence of another party who can raise the same or more money than they can.

Prentice Co-Chairs
It was announced this week that former British Columbia Member of Parliament Jay Hill, Edmonton campaign strategist Patricia Mitsuka, and Calgary-Greenway MLA Manmeet Bhullar will serve as Mr. Prentice’s three campaign co-chairs. A fourth co-chair is expected to be announced at a later date.

Prentice stumbles to “unite the right” fight
Strange moves to unite the right, as Wildrose leader Danielle Smith claims she or one of her staffers were contacted by someone from Mr. Prentice’s campaign to discuss a merger. A spokesperson for Mr. Prentice’s not yet official campaign denies Ms. Smith’s claims, but it is difficult to believe the Wildrose leader is simply making this up.

If this is true, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Prentice’s campaign would make such a move. While his supporters see him as a White Knight, he will be inheriting a long-governing political party that is mired in controversy. Perhaps this move is a glimpse of how concerned the PC establishment is about the very real threat of defeat by the Wildrose in the next election?

Nominations open today
Starting today, PC Party leadership candidates can pick up their nomination forms and pay the $20,000 of their $50,000 entry fee. The candidates will need to submit their completed nomination forms on May 30 along with the remaining $30,000 entry fee. The approved candidates will be showcased at a $75 per ticket PC Party fundraiser on June 2 in Edmonton.

Detente or Entente Cordiale? AUPE and Hancock Government reach tentative agreement

Entente Cordiale
A simple detente or the start of a new “entente cordiale” between AUPE and the Alberta Government?

At 10:00 a.m. on April 28, 2014, Hugh McPhail, a lawyer representing the Alberta Government requested the Court of Appeal to adjourn a scheduled hearing on Bill 46, the controversial anti-labour law that had been halted by a court injection months ago. The law would have forced a regressive contract on the 22,000 government employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

At 3:00 p.m. on the same day, AUPE President Guy Smith took to the podium at a press conference to announce that, after a long and tumultuous process, his union had reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government for a new contract (here are the details of the tentative agreement).

Contrasting the current and previous premier, Mr. Smith praised Premier Dave Hancock for working with him to find a resolution to the acrimonious round of negotiations. In the same breath which Mr. Smith heaped glowing praise on Mr. Hancock, he delivered a harsh shot at Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, who he said played no role in achieving this resolution.

We are prepared to rebuild the relationship with the government that is needed to ensure that Albertans get the quality services they deserve,” Mr. Smith said in AUPE’s press release.

By reaching a tentative agreement and abandoning the fight to salvage an unpopular law (which was likely unconstitutional), the governing Progressive Conservatives hope to avoid a nasty and very public battle with AUPE over bargaining that could have been drawn out over the course their leadership race. They may also hope this agreement could derail AUPE’s informal alliance with Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose opposition, which threatened to dog the Tories into the next election.

It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Hancock, whose dedication to his party in unquestioned, would wish to put this issue to rest before the next PC leader leader, possibly Jim Prentice or Ken Hughes, is chosen at that party’s September leadership vote.

At least for the moment, Albertans can have hope that the current premier may take a more mature approach to labour relations than we saw under the province’s previous leadership.

Settling the negotiations with the province’s largest union was a sensible decision and the beginning of a detente at best. But if the Tories hope this announcement is a first step in creating an entente cordiale with Alberta’s labour movement and progressive voters, there is still a long way to go (backing down on the attack on public sector pensions would be another meaningful next step they could take).

Insiders will pretend to be outsiders in the PC leadership race

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is not running for the PC Party leadership

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel announced yesterday that he will not run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. Mr. Mandel was seen as a great hope by many Edmonton Tories, who believed him to be the outsider who could breath some fresh air into the stuffy corridors of the Alberta Legislature. Mr. Mandel would have been 70-years old by the time the next election would be called.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

Former cabinet minister Gary Mar has ruled himself out as a candidate, as has former Finance minister Jim Dinning. Conservative MP James Rajotte is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but it seems unlikely. Senator Scott Tannas briefly expressed interest, but has since declined.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice is frequently mention as a contender, but is he willing to abandon his high-paying job on Bay Street, and a chance at becoming Prime Minister? Why would Mr. Prentice want lead a provincial political party that is scandal-ridden and behind the times on fundamental social policy issues?

With the obvious outsiders sitting out, this leadership race could end up being a contest defined by insiders pretending they are outsiders.

Announcing his bid last week, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes is the first candidate to enter the contest. He launched his campaign by positioning himself as a political outsider, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

The former MP and chairman of Alberta Health Services served on Premier Alison Redford‘s transition team before he jumped back into electoral politics in 2011. Running for the PC nomination in Calgary-West, Mr. Hughes lost and then won a subsequent vote against former MLA Shiraz Shariff. Upon his election, he was immediately appointed Minister of Energy, one of the most coveted positions in cabinet.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

If Finance minister Doug Horner is going to run for the leadership, which may not a certainty, he is expected to wait until after the provincial budget is passed before resigning from cabinet. Mr. Horner’s support for controversial changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plan, which could negatively impact the retirement security of more than 300,000 Albertans, will certainly dog him during the campaign.

Currently scheduled to break on June 5, Premier Dave Hancock suggested this week the spring session of the Assembly might be cut short before May 15. That also happens to be the first day that candidates for the PC Party leadership can pick up their nomination packages and pay $20,000 of the $50,000 entry fee. Nominations close on May 30 and accepted nominees will be announced at a party event on June 2.

Ending the session early would also save the Tories from an embarrassing two weeks of having to dodge tough questions from the Wildrose Party about Ms. Redford’s travel expenses and Alberta Health Services’ $1 billion in untendered sole source contracts. Other than Mr. Horner’s provincial budget and two pension bills, the PCs have brought almost no substance to this session.

Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be preparing a run for the leadership include Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Energy minister Diana McQueen, and Infrastructure minister Ric McIver. Of this group, perhaps only Mr. McIver, a first-term MLA and former Calgary alderman, could realistically argue he is an outsider.

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Union donations in Alberta
Labour unions traditionally make up a small percentage of donors to Alberta’s political parties, and when they donate, it is typically to one party in particular.

According to financial disclosures from Elections Alberta, the large majority of political donations made by trade unions in the first quarter of 2014 were made to the Progressive Conservatives, with more than $18,000. The province’s social democratic NDP, the traditional party of organized labour, collected slightly more $6,100 in union donations in the same period.

PC Party leadership race off to a very slow start

Ken Hughes MLA PC leadership Race Calgary
Ken Hughes has resigned from cabinet, but has yet to announce he is running for leader of the PC Party.

Nineteen days have passed since former Premier Alison Redford announced her resignation and not one candidate has officially announced their intentions to enter the race to become the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.

But there is at least one unofficial candidate, maybe. Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes made the strange move of resigning from cabinet yesterday, but would not yet say whether he would enter the race. Mr. Hughes’ recently announced he would launch an “exploratory committee” to gauge support for a leadership bid.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia
Jonathan Denis

A handful of other cabinet ministers are said to be interested in running, including Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Energy minister Diana McQueen, Infrastructure minister Ric McIver and Finance minister Doug Horner.

Aside from Mr. Horner, whose political family dynasty stands on its own, most of the potential candidates are tied to the legacy and culture of entitlement that forced Ms. Redford to resign.

And unlike previous PC leadership races, which were billed by the establishment as the “real election,” because the next leader was virtually guaranteed to be the premier after the next election, this race cannot provide that guarantee.

There has been talk of potential outsiders interested in the race.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice would be a strong candidate, but most political watchers suspect has loftier ambitions to become the next resident of 24 Sussex Drive when Prime Minister Stephen Harper retires. His entry into the race would also force him to leave a very lucrative job as a vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

All about the numbers

Over the course of its 43 years in government, the PC Party has shown a remarkable ability to survive and reinvent itself. But can Alberta’s natural governing party survive a lacklustre or uninspiring leadership race?

Regardless of how many candidates enter, there will be comparisons drawn from previous contests. If the race fails to inspire widespread interest, membership sales could be lower than previous races that drew large sales of memberships.

In 2006, 144,289 PC Party members voted in the second ballot of the leadership vote that was won by Ed Stelmach.

Five years later in 2011, 78,176 PC Party members voted in the second ballot of the contest that selected Ms. Redford as leader.