Tag Archives: Tom Flanagan

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.

The ghosts of senate reform haunt the Harper Conservatives

Stephen Harper Senate Conservatives Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provincial NDP take Lethbridge

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

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

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

Who is driving the conservative agenda in Canada?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preston Manning throws Alison Redford, Tom Flanagan under the conservative bus.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

OTTAWA

Speaking about the state of Canada’s conservative movement at this weekend’s Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning denounced the ethical and financial state of Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives.

“…in Alberta an aging Progressive Conservative administration has lost its way ethically and fiscally and needs to be overhauled or replaced,” Mr. Manning told an audience of close to 800 conservative activists.

Mr. Manning heaped this criticism on the forty-one year governing PCs, giving an obvious tip of the hat towards his ideological allies in the right-wing Wildrose Official Opposition.

Mr. Manning also used his speech to denounce two controversial statements and tell conservatives that they need to draw the line about what public comments are acceptable in their movement.

Mr. Manning characterized his former advisor Tom Flanagan‘s comments about child pornography and homophobic remarks made by a Wildrose candidate in the last provincial election as “intemperate and ill-considered remarks that discredit the conservative movement as a whole.”

“For the sake of the movement and the maintenance of public trust, conservative organizations should be prepared to swiftly and publicly disassociate themselves from those individuals that cross the line,” Mr. Manning said.

Numerous supporters of Dr. Flanagan attending the conference prominently sported buttons showing the face of the discredited university professor.

Tom Flanagan flogged for child pornography comments.

Tom Flanagan

Tom Flanagan

Comments made by conservative election strategist Tom Flanagan about child pornography on Wednesday night have sparked outrage and condemnation of the University of Calgary professor. Speaking at an event hosted by the reputable Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs in Lethbridge, Dr. Flanagan was recorded telling the audience that viewing child pornography shouldn’t be a crime and that people should not be jailed for their taste in pictures. He described child pornography as a victimless crime (see the video below).

It was shocking to hear these comments come straight out of the mouth of the ‘Karl Rove‘ of Canadian politics. As a member of the right-wing ‘Calgary School,’ Dr. Flanagan helped build Canada’s modern Conservative political machine. While known for his more controversial statements about firewalls, Louis Riel, and aboriginal rights, he was the master architect of the successful tightly-scripted and wedge-issue-centric political campaigns that brought Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives to power in Ottawa.

Shortly after Dr. Flanagan’s comments were made public, he was dropped as a CBC commentator and swiftly denounced by his employer, the University of Calgary. U of C President Elizabeth Cannon said in a statement that “all aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children.” President Cannon announced that Dr. Flanagan had submitted his letter of retirement on January 3, 2013.

Dr. Flanagan was also denounced by the Prime Minister Director of Communications Andrew MacDougall. The professor was a well-known confident, advisor, and sometime critic to Prime Minister Harper.

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith moved quickly to condemn Dr. Flanagan’s comments in a statement to the media. A teacher and mentor to Ms. Smith, Dr. Flanagan served as campaign manager during the 2012 provincial election. “To be clear, Dr. Flanagan does not speak for me or the Wildrose caucus and he will have no role – formal or informal – with our organization going forward,” Smith said in her statment.

As well as condemning Dr. Flanagan, the Wildrose Party removed the weblink to the party’s “Tom Flanagan award for Outstanding Campaign Manager.”

Following the avalanche of condemnation, Dr. Flanagan released a statement:

I absolutely condemn the sexual abuse of children, including the use of children to produce pornography.

These are crimes and should be punished under the law. Last night, in an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography.

My words were badly chosen, and in the resulting uproar I was not able to express my abhorrence of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children.

I apologize unreservedly to all who were offended by my statement, and most especially to victims of sexual abuse and their families.

Alberta PCs propose uninviting federal Tories to annual meetings.

A Conservative Split in Alberta

A Conservative Split in Alberta

An amendment proposed to the constitution of the Progressive Conservative Party by party supporters in Calgary-Glenmore would remove the automatic invitation and voting privileges of federal Conservative Party Members of Parliament at PC Party annual general meetings.

The explanation for the proposed amendment was listed in documents circulated by the PC Party this week (pdf):

The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta should be a distinct entity form the Conservative Party of Canada. During the last election we saw several federal cabinet ministers and their staffs actively support ‘other party’ candidates. This does not bode well for the future of Alberta.

Members of the federal Conservative party, specifically MP’s should not be allowed by tradition to be invited to our party’s annual general meeting and have any voting privileges. They can only vote if they have a valid PCAA membership.

The PC Party constitution as it is currently written invites federal Conservative MPs as voting delegates to PC Party annual meetings, which is likely a holdover from a time when the federal PC Party dominated Alberta’s representation in the House of Commons and Senate. The federal PC Party dissolved in 2003 and merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada.

The decision by numerous federal Conservative Party organizers and MPs, including Vitor Marciano, Tom Flanagan, Jim ArmourRob Anders, Brian Storseth, and cabinet minister Jason Kenney, to support Danielle Smith‘s right-wing Wildrose Party in the recent election has cooled relations between the two conservative parties. In June of this year, Minister Kenney apologized after hitting reply-all on a an email that harshly criticized Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Perhaps it is not surprising that this proposal comes from PC supporters in Calgary-Glenmore. The recent election saw a pitch battle in Calgary-Glenmore between Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman, who narrowly won a 2009 by-election, and PC candidate Linda Johnson. When the votes were counted, Ms. Johnson defeated Mr. Hinman by 1,936 votes. The provincial constituency borders Premier Alison Redford‘s Calgary-Elbow constituency and is within the boundaries of Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s riding of Calgary-Southwest.

Other proposed changes to the PC Party constitution that will be debated at that party’s annual general meeting on November 9 and 10 in Calgary include overhauling the executive structure and the process in which party members select a new leader.

[updated] did jason kenney deepen the conservative divide in calgary-centre?

In light of yesterday’s embarrassing missive by federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney about Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, the race to become the Conservative Party candidate in the yet to be called Calgary-Centre by-election may get more interesting. Suggestions that the by-election could be defined by the deep schism between federal Conservatives (many of whom support the Wildrose Party) and the long-governing provincial Progressive Conservatives may soon become a reality in the lead up to the Conservative Party nomination.

Three in. The Conservative nomination contest.

John Mar Calgary-Centre Conservative

Alderman John Mar

Conservative political pundit and former Calgary Herald editor Joan Crockatt and former Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation board member Andy Crooks were the first two candidates to announce their intentions to seek the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Centre. Mr. Crooks has already been endorsed by Calgary-West MP Rob Anders, a supporter of the Wildrose Party who is known for his far-right conservative politics.

Mr. Crooks was a signatory to the now famous “Alberta Firewall Letter” in 2001, which was also signed by Conservative luminaries Stephen Harper, Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, and Ken Boessenkool.

Two-term Calgary Alderman John Mar, recently in the news for his tough on potato farmers stances, entered the contest last week. With ties to the PCs, Alderman Mar could represent the voice of moderate Conservatives in the nomination contest.

Tory victory inevitable? Almost certainly, but…

Joe Clark Calgary-Centre MP

Joe Clark

Unless something cataclysmic occurs in the next six months, it is highly unlikely that the by-election in this riding will result in anything but the election of another Conservative MP. The type of Conservative candidate could effect how strong that outcome is.

Previous elections suggest that Calgary-Centre has a more moderate conservative streak than some other Calgary ridings. In the 2000 federal election, Progressive Conservative leader and former Prime Minister Joe Clark, a Red Tory, returned to the House of Commons by defeating Canadian Alliance MP Eric Lowther in what was one of the closely watched racesin the country. Another moderate Tory, Lee Richardson, continued this trend until his recent resignation.

The Liberal long-shot.

Beena Ashar Liberal Calgary-Centre

Beena Ashar

While it may not translate to votes on the federal level, voters in this riding have a streak of electing non-Conservative representatives on the provincial level, including Liberal MLA’s Kent Hehr and Dave Taylor (Mr. Taylor later joined the Alberta Party).

Fresh off the provincial election trail, Beena Ashar has announced her intentions to seek the Liberal Party nomination. As the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Elbow, Ms. Ashar placed a distant third behind Premier Alison Redford. She also placed third when challenging Ward 5 Alderman Ray Jones in the 2010 municipal election.

Past Liberal candidate and former school board chair Jennifer Pollock announced on Twitter last week that she would not be running in the by-election.

Update: William Hamilton, the 2011 Green Party candidate, has announced that he will seek the Green Party nomination when the election is called. Mr. Hamilton was also the EverGreen Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow in the recent provincial election.

Update (July 24, 2012): Andy Crooks has dropped out of the Conservative nomination.

the reform-conservative family feud continues in alberta’s election.

Wildrose is under attack! The same people that caused the Liberal Party of Canada to be in power for 13 uninterrupted years now have Wildrose in their crosshairs. They want nothing more than to see the Redford PCs re-elected to impose their big government knows best, ivory tower views on all of us.

In a fundraising email sent to supporters yesterday by campaign chairman Cliff Fryers, the Wildrose Party revved up its political fear machine by pointing out that others are revving up theirs.

Reform Party of Canada Logo

Reform Party of Canada

Progressive Conservative Party leader Premier Alison Redford has started to hone in on some of the Wildrose Party’s controversial policies, like citizen-initiated referendums that some critics say could lead to province-wide votes on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. A similar constroversial policy was prominently placed in the platform of the former Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance. While many Albertans still have fond memories and continued respect for Preston Manning and the movement he created, one recent survey suggests that this could be a good strategy for the PCs to use against Danielle Smith‘s party.

Much has been written about how much the electoral battle between Alberta’s PCs and the Wildrose Party is a continuation of the long-standing family feud between moderate Tories and Reform Party minded conservatives of yesteryear.

Premier Redford, who was a staffer to former Prime Minister Joe Clark, stepped up to challenge controversial right-winger Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-West before the 2004 federal election. Ms. Redford was defeated. (Ms. Redford’s ex-husband’s father was the last PC MP for Calgary-West and was defeated by Reform Party candidate Stephen Harper in 1993). PC campaign manager Susan Elliott was the national director of the former PC Party of Canada and a few of Premier Redford’s cabinet ministers, including Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson and Lethbridge-West MLA Greg Weadick were federal PC candidates during the height of the Reform Party’s strength in Western Canada.

While Premier Redford may be more moderate than some candidate in the Wildrose camp, by almost every objective standard she remains a conservative.

PC Party of Canada

The Wildrose Party campaign includes a number of former Reform Party and federal Conservative stalwarts, including Mr. Fryers (who was Chief of Staff to Preston Manning), campaign manager Tom Flanagan (who was strategist for the Reform Party), Senate candidate and strategist Vitor Marciano (who is a long-time federal Conservative Party operative), and Jim Armour (an Ontario-based consultant and former Communications Director to Mr. Manning and Prime Minister Harper). Former federal Conservative candidate also Ryan Hastman joined the Wildrose Party staff shortly after the 2011 federal election.

Calgary-Southeast Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney was reported to have said that “any attempt to hurt Wildrose by linking them to old Reform movement will backfire.”

Fanning the flames of western political discontent from his desktop in Toronto, former federal Liberal Party strategist Warren Kinsella waded into Alberta’s election campaign yesterday by posting some of Wildrose leader Ms. Smith’s more controversial comments. A similar and more usefully packaged piece of advice was provided by former Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas over the past weekend.

With a few exceptions most Members of Parliament have kept a low-profile during this provincial campaign. Westlock-St. Paul Conservative MP Brian Storseth was spotted in the Bonnyville A&W with Ms. Smith earlier this week. Edmonton-Spruce Grove Conservative MP Rona Ambrose has endorsed Spruce Grove-St. Albert PC candidate and Deputy Premier Doug Horner.

On the NDP side, Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan has endorsed Edmonton-Gold Bar candidate Marlin Schmidt. Quebec NDP MP Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet will be campaigning with Mr. Schmidt today. The shift in electoral boundaries places Edmonton’s francophone community in Bonnie Doon into the Gold Bar constituency.  The NDP are hoping that the retirement of popular Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald could be their opportunity to make electoral gains in this east Edmonton constituency.

Saanich-Gulf Islands MP and Green Party leader Elizabeth May is in Edmonton this week campaigning with EverGreen Party candidates.

Later this week, Papineau Liberal MP Justin Trudeau joining Lacombe-Ponoka Liberal candidate Kyle Morrow over cyberspace to speak to a class of students at St. Augustine School in Ponoka.

alberta’s tories could have already won another election.

Premier Alberta Alison Redford Election 2012

Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford is expected to call a provincial election today.

Had Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives followed conventional political wisdom and dropped the writ shortly after tabling the 2012 provincial budget on February 10, they may have already secured their next majority government.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Party leader Election 2012

Danielle Smith

Instead, in an attempt to bump that conventional wisdom by holding a spring sitting in the Assembly after the budget was tabled, Premier Redford may have bolstered the opposition parties resilience. With the organizational ability to have had candidates nominated in every constituency by February 10, 2012, a mid-March Election Day would have saved the Tories from a month of embarrassing media coverage and robbed the opposition parties of one full month of organizing (this also demonstrates the uselessness of the new fixed-election period, which does not set a fixed election date, but a period over three months that election can be held).

Unfortunately for Premier Redford, “change from within” has not looked very flattering over the past month. A rough pre-election session has bruised the Tories and quickly ended the new Premier’s honeymoon period, allowing the opposition parties to expose weaknesses in the Tory battle lines (some more aggressively than others).

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012

Raj Sherman

The loud protests by religious homeschooling parents, the MLA committee pay fiasco, the drawn out “judicial” inquiry into health care, investigations into illegal political donations, and allegations of unethical conduct by Premier Redford’s man in Asia and former Tory leadership opponent Gary Mar, have scuffed the shine off the new PC administration. Even Rod Love, the former chief of staff to Premier Ralph Klein, has publicly asked “what the hell is going on in Edmonton?

It is difficult to say what actual effects delaying the election until after the Spring sitting will have had on Alberta’s opposition parties. Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party are hitting the Tories hard on the fiascos that have developed over the last month, and putting personal egos aside, they could make some significant inroads. For the Liberal Party, former Tory MLA and new leader Raj Sherman needs to prove wrong the predications of  doom and gloom for his official opposition party. The NDP led by Brian Mason are hoping to replace the Liberals as the main opposition on the centre-left. And managing expectations well, the Alberta Party led by Glenn Taylor are very conscious of the uphill battle they face.

Calling in the big guns, the Wildrose Party has long-time conservative stratagist Tom Flanagan as campaign manager and Cliff Fryers, the former chairman of Enmax and chief of staff to Preston Manning, as their campaign chair. Along with flocks of federal Conservative organizers migrating to their party, rumour has it that high-priced political consultants from Ontario are being flown in to advise the Wildrose Party’s central campaign.

Despite all this new ammunition made available to the opposition parties after the rough Spring sitting, a betting man would look at the Tories’ 41 years of election victories and easily weigh the odds in their favour of winning once again. Maybe all of these cracks in the Tory armour will amount to nothing Election Day? Maybe the will make all the difference? Maybe new cracks will appear?

guest post: red deer election 2010.

A Tale of Two Candidates: How to elect Union and Environmental in Red Deer

By: Jeff Sloychuk

Viewing the results of the Red Deer City Council election, which saw (yet again) a surprisingly high return of so-called “progressive” candidates, readers may well ask: “How did this happen in Red Deer?” Yes, we elected a union leader AND a cultural/environmental activist (who is also the first openly gay councillor ever elected) in Red Deer – but let’s be clear, these are two exceptional individuals, with much more to offer than simply those attributes. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I managed the Dianne Wyntjes campaign and assisted the Paul Harris campaign as much as I could. At the outset, I also arranged for the two to have lunch together – which turned out to be the beginning of a close friendship and what will surely be an excellent working relationship within an excellent council team.

A Tale of Two Candidates

The paths from the personal to the political for two new “progressive” city councillors elected to the City of Red Deer’s executive board couldn’t have been more different.

Dianne Wyntjes is an Eckville-born farm girl turned Red Deer-raised veteran of the labour movement, who, having completed her 30th year as a member/staff representative/regional director with CUPE Alberta, decided it was time for a change in her professional life.

Paul Harris, originally from Calgary, is a staple of the Red Deer downtown business community whose stylish home décor shop Sunworks has become a cultural beacon in the revitalizing city core. But Paul was well known long before as one of the anchors of the Red Deer LGBT community, dispensing support, advice, and political acumen around the community scene.

Somehow, two hard-working candidates, one rural-labour, one urban-modern, assembled two great campaign teams that successfully beat out the well-financed, traditional right-wing offerings of Jeffrey Dawson and incumbent Gail Parks.

An observer reading in Edmonton, Calgary, or any other part of Alberta may well be wondering: How?

Getting out the Vote: Traditional vs. SM

The Dianne Wyntjes campaign used every traditional method to dramatic effect, including: a quick and complete front-end postal walk; honk and waves; plant-gating; vote-pitching to unions, Rotary Clubs, organizations and associations; visits to seniors’ homes; and an intensive canvassing and private lawn sign effort, capped off with a softly-worded voice message broadcast gently reminding people to vote and offering rides to the polls.    

The Paul Harris camp eschewed campaign signs, didn’t do a postal walked leaflet, did only limited canvassing, and ignored the demon-dialer (voice broadcast messaging). The campaign made use of an extensive personal contact list painstakingly gathered by Paul over years of business activity; highly-interactive and heavily-used Facebook and Twitter platforms; flash mobs at the local Farmer’s Market; a flash mob (with t-shirts) at the Red Deer Rebels game; YouTube videos; and a complex word-of-mouth network to get out the vote.

Both ran approximately $15,000 campaigns, though returns have yet to be filed. Both were elected, Wyntjes with 7,783 votes, Harris with 6,449. Which worked better? The results speak for themselves, but each campaign focused on a specific type of voter – knowingly or not, along the Patrick Muttart/Thomas Flanagan “Zoe” model. Each camp created offerings for its voting blocks (Wyntjes on P3s, Harris on bicycle lanes for city cyclists) and got its respective vote out. Each camp was obviously successful – but to differing demographics.

A New Synthesis

It soon became apparent that Harris supporters were voting Wyntjes, and vice versa. As the two campaigns marched toward completion, Wyntjes improved upon her social media presence – and some older generation volunteers knocked on a few hundred doors for Harris.

Election Day ended with Harris, Wyntjes, and a few supporters from each camp sharing a beverage at the Harris victory party at the Matchbox Theatre, trading barbs, jokes, and tales from the campaign trail. Organized labour meets small business – and they like each other.

From Crisis Comes Opportunity

The crisis that I couldn’t have manufactured better myself came when former city councillor and right-wing Red Deer Advocate columnist Vesna Higham stood up at Red Deer’s Chamber of Commerce forum (traditionally the largest and most important public opportunity to meet the candidates) and demanded to know this, not of the candidates, but of Dianne Wyntjes specifically:

“Over the past decade, which of the political parties, both provincial and federal, have you supported or feel yourself most closely aligned with philosophically?”

Wyntjes, without a trace of hesitation, replied that she had voted in every election since she was 18 and had supported different people and parties over that time. Furthermore, she said, she was a firm believer in keeping municipal politics non-partisan.

Higham then printed that Wyntjes had “skirted” the question, and that only Higham’s apparent protégé Chris Stephan “did not hesitate to answer [her] straight-forward question with a bluntly straight-forward answer. We learned by his response that he is a Conservative.”

Stephan, a fellow member of Vesna Higham’s church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), had indeed answered that he was Conservative, but that the Wildrose Alliance was worth looking at provincially, causing a murmuring to spread through the room. It is interesting to note that this full response of Stephan’s was not reprinted in the subsequent column, viewable here.

The community reacted. Letters poured into both papers. And before you ask, I knew of only one of them beforehand. The Red Deer Express had this response.

Higham later printed a half-hearted apology of sorts, claiming that she should have phrased the question differently. Nevertheless, the poorly attempted backpedal served only to motivate the progressive vote. The mood on the doorsteps changed from apathy to enthusiastic support, and new volunteers appeared from the sidelines.

What the columns did achieve was the type of polarization that one has come to expect in provincial or federal politics. Higham motivated her core demographic, which turned out for Chris Stephan and his ‘law and order/video cameras in the streets to combat crime’ agenda. Much to Higham’s chagrin I’m sure, however, it also motivated the vote for Wyntjes (and to a lesser extent, Paul Harris).

Finally…

Wyntjes led the crop of new candidates, finishing a strong third out of 16 candidates for the eight council positions. Harris almost didn’t make the cut, coming in eighth – 500 votes ahead of defeated incumbent Gail Parks.

Both Red Deer newspapers endorsed Harris and Wyntjes. Traditional media still has an enormous influence on voter opinion, for good or for ill.

I’m sorry to report to the twittering classes (and I’m one of them) that without Paul Harris’ unique and lengthy record of community service, this campaign would not have been won using social media. Conversely, using only traditional methods, Dianne Wyntjes would have still emerged victorious, though I’m sure the SM helped the candidate’s final totals.

In a city the size of Red Deer (just shy of 100,000 souls), and with limited billboard media available, most candidates will need those election signs so many profess to hate.

Many people will similarly complain about unsolicited phone canvassing – whether it be by volunteer or by demon-dialer. Sorry to say, folks, but it works.

Lastly, any candidates who hope to win without spending time and shoes out on the doorsteps had better give their heads a shake – as Warren Kinsella, my campaign-hack soul-mate – states. Many of us would love to live in a world where online campaigning is the be-all and end-all and voter turnout is a little better than this. But we ain’t there yet, Alberta. Get on the ground, on the streets, and into people’s living rooms. That’s where the best democracy takes place – and that’s where we can elect progressive candidates, even in Alberta.

Jeff Sloychuk received his political education through the Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion, and continued that tutelage under NDP Leader Brian Mason. He was the youngest full-time journalist in Conrad Black’s chain of newspapers with the Alaska Highway News at the age of 17, before returning to Alberta in 2001 to serve in various capacities with the Alberta NDP and organized labour. He now works for the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Alberta and moonlights as a contract political organizer.

alberta politics: 3 things more important than hal walker that happened today.

Today’s much hyped Wildrose Alliance news conference in Calgary did not live up to expectations. When announced yesterday that leader Danielle Smith would “be making an important political announcement” about the her party, the speculation was rampant. Was Preston Manning signing his endorsement pledge? Was Tom Flanagan going be their campaign manager? Was Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth going to step down to let Ms. Smith to run in a by-election? Were more PC MLAs going to cross the floor?

The news turned out to be ever so underwhelming. Party president Jeff Calloway has stepped down to allow disenchanted former Ralph Klein advisor Hal Walker to enter the role. Last September, Mr. Walker let it be known to the world that he strongly disliked Premier Ed Stelmach when he widely circulated an email that oozed the with entitlement of a longtime-insder who no longer had the ear of the powerful. The underwhelming announcement sparked a some very entertaining social media satire from the political crowd on Twitter this afternoon (follow #waptopstory to see what I mean).

While the underwhelming story of Mr. Walker and the hilarious online reaction grabbed headlines, do not be convinced that nothing important happened today in Alberta politics. Here are three things that you should be paying attention to:

1) Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne has announced the start of consultations for a new Alberta Health Act. The Act would seek to merge currently existing health care laws under one piece of mega-legislation. As was the case when the PCs created the Post-secondary Learning Act in 2003, the devil will be in the details of what is left in legislation and what will be moved into regulation (or just left out). In a media release, Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen said: “The Alberta Hospitals Act, and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act both provide core legal underpinnings for our public system. If they are repealed and not strengthened under the new legislation, it could open the doors wide for a full two-tiered, parallel private health market in the province immediately.”

2) Premier Stelmach announced on the Rutherford Show this morning that Alberta will not be holding a Senate election anytime soon. The terms of Alberta’s current three Senators-in-Waiting will expire in November 2010, but instead of holding an election to replace them, Premier Stelmach and his cabinet will decide in a closed door cabinet meeting to extend their terms. Aside from being anti-democratic, the move also undercuts the opposition parties who were preparing for a Senate election to coincide with the October municipal elections. The Wildrose Alliance began seeking Senate candidates last week and I am told that the new Alberta Party was also organizing a campaign to support a candidate this fall. At this point, Premier Stelmach might as well appoint the Senators-in-Waiting.

3) Alberta’s new Mental Health Patient Advocate is longtime PC-insider Fay Orr. Ms. Orr worked as a media relation advisor to now Senator Elaine McCoy in the early 1990s and in the 1993 election she was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Norwood (she placed third behind Liberal Andrew Beniuk and New Democrat Ray Martin). Following the election, she served as Premier Klein’s spokesperson and was appointed as managing director of the Public Affairs Bureau in 2000 (a position where current PAB Director of New Media and Internet Communications Tom Olsen described her as ‘the chief of all Alberta government talking heads‘). Soon after that, Ms. Orr served as Deputy Minister for a number of Departments, including Community Development; and Government Services, and until today, the Department of Children and Youth Services.