Tag Archives: Tony Clark

24-hours in the life of a student leader the day tuition was removed from legislation

Photo: ACTISEC President Jon Hoffman, Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, NDP MLA Raj Pannu, and CAUS Chairperson Dave Cournoyer in the media room at the Alberta Legislature on May 9, 2006.

This week’s news about the Alberta Government extending the tuition freeze and legislating the formula to increase tuition reminded me of the day I came very close to being kicked out of the Legislature.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt introduced Bill 19: An Act to Improve the Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education in the Legislative Assembly this week. If passed, Bill 19 will implement a new framework that will regulate tuition and mandatory non-instructional fees and provide a new measure of fairness for students enrolled at Alberta’s colleges and universities.

Bill 19 will cap each post-secondary institutions average tuition and apprenticeship fee increases to the Consumer Price Index and allow the minister to regulate mandatory non-instructional fees and international student tuition. It also gives student leaders a more meaningful voice in the process.

These are significant changes but, closer to the heart of this writer, Schmidt is bringing Alberta’s tuition policy out from behind the closed doors of the government boardrooms and returning it to public light in legislation.

In 2006, I was elected Vice-President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union and chosen as chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students, an organization that represented undergraduate students from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge. It was a interesting time to be a student leader in Alberta. The price of oil was high and political change was in the air.

After 13 years as premier, Ralph Klein was approaching the end of his time in office, and he was backtracking on a pledge made during a 2005 televised address that Alberta would have the most affordable tuition in Canada.

It happened that May 9, 2006 was an exciting and dramatic day to step in a new role as chairperson of CAUS. Then-Minister of Advanced Education Denis Herard announced he would introduce Bill 40: Post-secondary Learning Amendment Act, which would remove the tuition formula from the Post-Secondary Learning Act and move it into regulations. The formula as it then existed was complicated and needed to be reformed, but removing it from legislation meant that future changes to how much tuition could be raised in Alberta would be made in a closed door cabinet meeting, rather than required to be debated in front of the public on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

The leaders of Alberta’s student movement were concerned that removing the policy from legislation would lead to further increases, rather than the affordability Klein had promised.

We decided that a quick response was best.

My first full-day as CAUS chairperson started with an early morning press conference in the media room in the basement of the Alberta Legislature Building.It was my first time participating in a press conference of any kind where I would be front and centre.

I was joined by Public Interest Alberta executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, ACTISEC president Jon Hoffman, and the Advanced Education critics from the Liberal and New Democratic Party critics, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu.

It was a big deal at the time that the Liberal and NDP critics joined us at the press conference, and it may have been the first time the two parties had ever participated in a press conference together. I remember there were some moments of heated dispute between staffers from the two opposition caucuses about which critic would speak first, and I recall the issue was settled in favour of Pannu because the NDP Caucus had booked the media room for the press conference.

The media room was packed with reporters as we read our statements arguing for transparency and accountability of the cost of education. It was the first time I had ever done something like this and it was nerve racking. Without the help of Moore-Kilgannon (who is now Minister Schmidt’s Chief of Staff) and the incredibly resourceful Duncan Wojtaszek, then-executive director of CAUS, I am not sure I would have even had my talking points straight.

It was political maneuvering on our part to hold the early morning press conference. We hoped to pre-empt a press conference that the minister of advanced education was scheduled to hold on the same topic later that morning. Little did we know that Herard would never show up to his own press conference.

After our media event ended we did a few more interviews and later joined the representatives from the University of Calgary Students’ Union for a tour of the Legislature. While on the tour, NDP Caucus staffer Tony Clark rushed to tell us that the minister had canceled his press conference and snuck out of the building before the media could track him down.

With that news in hand, we held an impromptu media scrum on the third floor of the Legislature. It wasn’t until I spotted Klein walk past our scrum that I realized that we had planted ourselves right outside the doors of Room 307 – the Premier’s Office – which was apparently considered a major security violation.

To our surprise, after the scum ended and the reporters disbursed to file their stories, U of A SU president Samantha Power and I were escorted by Legislature security to the front doors of the building. The guards gave us a stern talk about why we weren’t allowed to hold a scrum outside the Premier’s Office. After some heated negotiations, we convinced the guards that evicting us and presumably banning us from re-entering the building would result in us holding another press conference on the Legislature steps minutes later.

I didn’t believe that day could get any more exciting but I was proven wrong when CAUS received an urgent call from the Minister Herard’s office. He wanted to meet with us as soon as possible.

We met with the minister a few hours later in a conference room at the Delta Hotel in downtown Edmonton. The meeting was memorable but completely underwhelming. The minister listened to our arguments why keeping the tuition policy in legislation would ensure transparency and accountability for students but he offered nothing more than platitudes and strange metaphors in return.

Herard’s short time in cabinet would be remembered for his desire to “cross the wisdom bridge” and “build an army of mentors.”

Eight days later, Progressive Conservative MLAs voted to remove the tuition policy from legislation by passing Bill 40. The minister was shuffled into the backbenchers later that year when Ed Stelmach entered the Premier’s Office.

At the press conference early that morning, I told the assembled media that students were prepared to wait until the next time the legislature met to have a new policy implemented, so that the policy would be embedded in an act of the legislature. If the tuition policy was not in legislation, it was no good to us, I said.

I never expected the policy to ever be returned to legislation. And while the fight to lower the cost of and eliminate tuition fees needs to continue, 12 years later the tuition policy is finally out from behind closed doors and back where it should be – enshrined in legislature. And it is a big deal.

#InsiderBaseball: NDP government shuffles ministerial Chiefs of Staff

Rumours that the NDP government was shuffling its senior staffers appears to be true. Sources confirm that three ministerial Chiefs of Staff have been shuffled into different offices and two new Chiefs of Staff have been hired.

Chief of Staff Bill Moore-Kilgannon will move from the Office of the Minister of Health and Seniors to the Office of the Minister of Human Services, Scott Harris will move from the Office of the Minister of Agriculture to the Office of the Minister of Minister of Health and Seniors, and Tony Clark will move from the Office of Human Services to the Office of the Minister of Agriculture.

It was also noted that Andrew Tarver has been hired to succeed Jessica Bowering as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Justice and Aboriginal Relations, and Miriam Rycroft was hired to succeed Robin Steudel as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure. Ms. Rycroft previously served as a Ministerial Assistant in the same office.

It is unclear why the three senior political staffers were shuffled, though there is a chance it could simply be a human resources decision.

Tory lobby firm hires more Tories

In the world of lobbyists, the Tory-connected Canadian Strategy Group announced today that former Progressive Conservative MLA Rick Orman and former Conservative MP Brian Storseth would join its payroll. Located in Ottawa, Mr. Storseth served in the government backbenches as the MP for Westlock-St. Paul from 2006 to 2015, when he resigned and later sought the PC nomination in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills (he was defeated in the nomination). Mr. Orman was the MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 and ran for the PC Party leadership in 2011.

 

Alberta’s new political insiders mostly come from outside Alberta

Edmonton Journal report Karen Kleiss published a story this week naming the new Chiefs of Staff hired to advise Alberta’s twelve NDP cabinet ministers and manage their offices at the Legislature. The new government has faced criticism for hiring too many staff from outside of the province and Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP have responded that the new government needs to hire the best people for the job no matter where they come from (even Alberta’s premiere Tory lobbyist companies are hiring British Columbia New Democrats to advise them about Alberta’s new political landscape).

The criticism is valid. A balance of experience and local knowledge is required within the senior ranks of the new government, and as a Alberta’s first new government in 44 years, there might not be many operatives in-province with non-Progressive Conservative governing experience to rely on.

As previous premier’s Alison Redford and Jim Prentice discovered, filling senior political jobs with outsiders who may not be familiar with the provincial political environment can alienate party loyalists and MLAs and lead to embarrassing mistakes.

List of Alberta’s Ministerial Chiefs of Staff

Lisa Blanchette, Education, Culture and Tourism: Former organizer for ACTRA Toronto, previous employee of SEIU, and national political action coordinator for the United Steelworkers.

Jessica Bowering, Justice and Solicitor General and Aboriginal Relations: Lawyer and former director of Legal Services for the British Columbia Nurses Union.

Tony Clark, Human Services: Former research for the Alberta Federation of Labour and staffer for the NDP Opposition Caucus.

Brent Dancey, Environment and Parks and the Status of Women: Former Special Assistant to Premier Greg Selinger‘s Office for Manitoba Hydro.

Scott Harris, Agriculture and Forestry: Former Political Research Coordinator in Office of the Leader of the NDP Official Opposition in Ottawa.

Graham Mitchell, Energy: Former Director of Training and Leadership at the Broadbent Institute and former Executive Assistant to Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton.

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Health and Seniors: Former Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, President of the Riverdale Community League.

Nathan Rotman, Finance and Treasury Board: Former National Director of the NDP, former campaign manager for Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, former national director of  Political Action and Campaigns at the Canadian Labour Congress.

Nathaniel Smith, Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta: Former organizer for the NDP in Halifax, former executive assistant to NDP cabinet ministers in Nova Scotia.

Steve Stringfellow, Innovation and Advanced Education and Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour: Former CUPE National Representative in Alberta and BC NDP campaign manager.

Robin Steudel, Infrastructure and Transportation: Former Principal Secretary to the Alberta NDP Caucus, former Communications Officer at the NDP Official Opposition in British Columbia, former spokesperson for the Yukon NDP, and federal NDP communications officer.

Brian Topp, International and Intergovernmental Relations (Premier): NDP campaign manager, former federal NDP leadership candidate, deputy chief of staff to former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow.

Journos flee the fourth estate for NDP jobs

Intrepid CBC reporter John Archer announced this week that he has accepted a job in the Premier’s Media Relations Office. Mr. Archer is one of a handful of journalists who have recently accepted jobs with the new NDP government, including Veronica Jubinville and Laura Tupper from CTV, and Jeremy Nolais and Leah Holoiday from Metro.

Limping Alberta Liberals face more financial troubles

Alberta Liberal Party Fundraising

Tracking Alberta Liberal Party fundraising from 2004 to 2014.

Did Liberal leader Raj Sherman break Alberta’s political donations limits when making donations to his own party?
Raj Sherman MLA

Raj Sherman

The Calgary Herald is reporting that Dr. Sherman may have exceeded the $15,000 limit for donations three times in the past four years and donated double the limit this year through corporations he controls.

The questionable donations were first noticed by former New Democratic Party staffer Tony Clark, who brought them to the attention of Glen Resler, Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer.

And it is not just the money given which is a potential issue, because Dr. Sherman and his corporations would have also received tax credits in return for those donations. Dr. Sherman claims he did not deliberately break the rules, but this could still cause lasting damage to his troubled party’s credibility.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP

Rachel Notley

Fundraising has always been a challenge for the Liberals and starting in 2009, the party struggled to compete with the fundraising dollars captured by Danielle Smith’s rising Wildrose Party. Lately, Dr. Sherman’s party has struggled to compete with the NDP, now led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley.

In the first three quarters of 2014, Elections Alberta financial disclosures show the Liberals raised $242,499.16, close to half of the $474,306.85 raised by the NDP in the same period.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

It is hard to write about the Alberta Liberal Party these days without feeling as if I am kicking a wounded animal. The once confident official opposition party has now dwindled down to a group of MLAs who more closely resemble a coalition of independents than a united front.

Over the past two years, Dr. Sherman’s Liberals have undergone a strange brand transformation, first abandoning the traditional Liberal red for a green Liberalberta brand, and then sixteen months later back to red.

The Liberals will soon lose Calgary MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang to federal political ambitions, and when that happens, the 3 MLA caucus will face the threat of losing official party status, and funding, in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberal Party’s poor showing in four October 27 by-elections also does not give the party much to build upon.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

But the party’s bleak prospects do not mean that individual MLAs are not doing good work. Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, will continue the good work started by soon-departing Mr. Hehr with her private members bill to create safer environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth in Alberta schools.

A similar bill introduced by Mr. Hehr in spring 2013 was defeated by a coalition of Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs.

Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann continues to defend the rights of farm workers, who find themselves without access to workers rights and occupational health and safety standards.

A strong argument can be made that the five Liberal MLAs who were re-elected in the 2012 election did so on their own merits as strong local representatives and despite the weakness of their party brand.

If Dr. Sherman’s party continues to limp in obscurity, the Liberal MLAs facing re-election in 2016 may have to determine whether their own hard work, rather than their current party brand, will be enough to win them their jobs back for another four years.