Categories
Alberta Politics

Doing the Minimum: Kenney’s Covid Plan

Premier Jason Kenney emerged from ten days in seclusion to announce new measures in response to the record-breaking daily increases in COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

Far below the “circuit-breaker lockdown” that had been called for by public health experts, the new plan announced by Kenney is mostly previously made suggestions that are now loosely enforced rules with a lot of exceptions. And they are just as confusing at the previous restrictions.

Middle schools and high schools will move to online instruction, but restaurants, bars and casinos will remain open. There was no mention of allowing the federal CovidAlert tracing app to be activated in Alberta, even as our province’s contact tracing capacity has collapsed. And because the contract tracing has largely stopped, it is unclear what data Kenney’s government used when creating these new targeted measures.

The new rules are mostly directed at Calgary and Edmonton, with no face-mask requirements or permanent expanded business restrictions in rural areas. Alberta is now the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.

The exemptions for rural Alberta communities, as well as exemptions for indoor social gatherings in churches, suggest the the United Conservative Party government is prioritizing appeasing it’s main political constituencies – rural Albertans, libertarians, social conservatives, and industry lobby groups like Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business – over taking the advice of public health experts.

Kenney frequently frames the government’s options as either “total lockdown” or “the minimum” measures, but as we know from other provinces and countries there are many actions that can be taken that the Alberta government is unwilling to do.

In a harshly worded column in the Globe & Mail, Andre Picard described Kenney’s announcement as “inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending to do something.”

The half-measures announced today are undoubtably the result of political bargaining within a cabinet and caucus that appear unprepared or unwilling to take drastic action to protect Albertans by stopping the spread of the virus. It is hard to imagine any past Alberta government, whether it be Progressive Conservative or New Democrat, making these types of concessions during a public health crisis.

During the press conference, Kenney repeatedly spoke about the need to protect the economy and “the poor,” but the economy is people and any economic recovery won’t happen until the virus is contained. Government has the ability and responsibility to provide financial supports for all Albertans who are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

True to form, Kenney also took a moment to chastise public sector workers who collect a “public paycheque.” It is notable that none of the measures announced by Kenney were specifically aimed at relieving the pressure on understaffed hospitals and care centres where over-worked frontline nurses, doctors and health workers risk their lives to face the pandemic everyday. In fact, the fiscal update released earlier in the day by Finance Minister Travis Toews actually described public sector workers as a drain on the economy.

The Kenney government had eight months to plan and prepare for a second wave that was widely predicted but it appears that in their eagerness over the summer to shift the political narrative back to pipelines and the economy, Kenney has been caught flat footed.

The UCP government had eight months where it could have supported health care workers and educators, built up contact tracing capacity, and put in place plans for the second wave. But instead the UCP cabinet pulled an all-nighter and threw together a patch-work plan in eight hours.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Ministerial staff changes follow UCP mini-cabinet shuffle

The recent mini-cabinet shuffle is being followed by a series of staffing changes among the senior ministerial ranks of the United Conservative Party government.

Announced during last week’s shuffle that saw Kaycee Madu appointed Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer put in charge of a newly rebranded economic ministry and Tracy Allard promoted to Municipal Affairs, was the departure of Premier Jason Kenney’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin, who is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.

Other changes announced today include the departure of the Premier’s Director of Community Relations Ariella Kimmel, who will now take the role of Chief of Staff to Schweitzer. Kimmel replaces current Chief of Staff Kris Barker, who will now become a Senior Policy Advisor in the office of Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.

More changes in Room 307 include, Julia Bareman leaving Finance Minister Travis Toews office to join the Premier’s office as a Policy Advisor and Manager of Stakeholder Relations Siobain Quinton and Executive Assistant Clancy Bouwman moving to part-time roles as they pursue post-secondary studies.

Staffing changes in ministerial offices include:

  • Brock Harrison has been appointed as Executive Director of the UCP Caucus, moving on from his role as Chief of Staff to the Minster of Children’s Services. Harrison is a long-time political staffer, having served as Communication Director of the Wildrose Caucus and in the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
  • Current press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services Lauren Armstrong will become the new Chief of Staff. Alberta Proud spokesperson Becca Polak will take over as Press Secretary in this office. Polak was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View ahead of the 2019 election.
  • At the UCP Caucus, Harrison replaces Robyn Henwood, who will take over as Chief of Staff to Community and Social Services Miniser Rajan Sawhney. Current Chief of Staff Ryan Hastman will move into a new role which has yet to be announced.
  • Current Indigenous Relations Press Secretary Ted Bauer has been promoted to Chief of Staff in Minster Rick Wilson’s office and UCP Caucus Director of Communications Joseph Dow will take over as Press Secretary in this office.
  • Riley Braun, the current Chief of Staff in Indigenous Affairs, will become a senior advisor in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
  • Jonah Mozeson has been promoted from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Mozeson is married to Jamie Mozeson, who is currently the Chief of Staff to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish.
  • Long-time Kenney ally, Blaise Boehmer has been appointed as Senior Press Secretary in the Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, moving over from his role as Special Advisor to Agriculture & Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. Bohemer was director of communications for Kenney’s UCP leadership campaign and the manager of communications and engagement for the UCP caucus from 2017 to 2018. He previously worked as director of research and operations for the Saskatchewan Party Caucus in Regina.
  • Kalee Kent has been appointed a Legislative Assistant in the office of Minster of Environment & Parks Jason Nixon, moving from her current role as Ministerial Assistant in the Office of the Municipal Affairs Minister. Kent was Constituency Development Director for the UCP from 2016 to 2019 and previously worked for the Saskatchewan Party and Regina-Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty.
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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 59: The Fiscal Reckoning and Alberta’s 70-year old Revenue Problems

After a very eventful summer in Alberta politics, Dave and Adam tackle big questions about Alberta’s fiscal challenges (and revenue problems) and Premier Jason Kenney’s promised ” fiscal reckoning,” the mini-cabinet shuffle, Erin O’Toole’s win in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, what a return to school during a global pandemic looks like, and more. We also answer some great questions submitted by listeners.

Thank you to everyone who submitted recommendations for the Alberta Politics Summer Reading List. With summer coming to an end, now is time to start thinking about what Alberta politics books you want to read while cozying up next to a warm fire this fall.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading/Listening

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 52: Jobs, economy and pipelines? COVID-19 pushes small business to the brink.

Justin Archer joins Dave Cournoyer and Adam Rozenhart on this remotely recorded episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, how our political leaders are responding to the pandemic and crashing oil prices.

Justin Archer
Justin Archer

We also discussed the Alberta government’s investment in the Keystone XL Pipeline and the need to support economic diversification and the tech sector in Alberta.

Justin Archer is partner at Berlin Communications and a professional communications strategist based in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

COVID-19 overtakes plummeting oil prices as biggest worry in Alberta this week

A week ago, Alberta’s politicians were reeling from another spectacular drop in the international price of oil and debating what that could mean for the province’s budget. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, felt like a distant threat seven days ago, but that is not the case tonight.

The provincial government announced today that all classes at Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and in-person classes at post-secondary institutions are cancelled until further notice and that daycares and pre-schools would be closed as measures to avoid spreading the virus, which has been confirmed to have infected 56 Albertans.

The closures will certainly send many families scrambling to make childcare arrangements for tomorrow morning, but was likely a necessary decision.

The City of Calgary has declared a local state of emergency, though city manager David Duckworth is quoted as saying that, as of Tuesday, City employees who need to stay home to look after their children will have to use banked time or vacation time. This feels like the kind of unpopular decision that the City will be forced to walk back in the next 48 hours, similar to the public shaming the Calgary Flames received over the weekend.

Working Albertans forced to stay home because they are sick or need to take care of their children because of the school closures should not only be assured their job security, they should be assured their pay.

A period of social distancing is upon us and it is necessary.

The House of Commons and other provincial legislatures have announced plans to suspend their current sittings in order to avoid playing a role in spreading the virus. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was diagnosed with COVID-19. Edmonton Members of Parliament Michael Cooper and Kerry Diotte recently attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C., where an attendee was later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Political watchers in Alberta will be watching to see if similar measures are taken when our Alberta Legislature reconvenes tomorrow.

The United Conservative Party government of Premier Jason Kenney is in the midst of pushing its budget through the legislative committee process, but the decline in the price of oil, the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s decision today to pour an additional $500 million into public health care, means the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews two weeks ago is unrecognizable and unneeded.

The UCP government should completely halt its austerity agenda of cuts and layoffs, which has already resulted in thousands of public sector job cuts, and focus on supporting Alberta’s public sector workers as they play a critical role in facing this global pandemic.

What should Albertans do?

Listen and trust the advice of public health professionals. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw continues to do an excellent job presenting her daily public updates in a clear, concise and plain-spoken manner.

It is important for all of us to take this situation seriously.

Practice social distancing, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, clean your phone. Just as importantly, be kind and reach out to friends, family and neighbours who might be having a difficult time. We can get through this.

Also, pick up your phone, call or email your MLA and tell the government to stop picking fights with Alberta’s nurses, doctors, and health care workers – the public sector workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta Budget 2020: This is no way to run a household.

It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.

But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.

The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.

The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.

Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.

The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.

The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.

With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.

While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.

Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.

If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.

This is no way to run a household.

Categories
Alberta Politics

War Room’s Twitter tirade against New York Times sends embarrassment shivers across Alberta.

Time to shut down the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Shoot, shovel, and shut up,” was how former Alberta premier Ralph Klein suggested some of the province’s self-respecting ranchers could deal with the mad cow disease crisis of the mid-2000s. And it is time that Premier Jason Kenney heeded Klein’s words and applied the same advice to the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

The Energy War Room, as Kenney called it during and after the 2019 election campaign, has been fraught with embarrassing missteps and blunders since it was created in October 2019, but today marked peak embarrassment for the CEC.

The Calgary-based publicly-funded private public relations company and blog was caught under fire today for posting a series of tweets attacking the New York Times and sharing links claiming the 169-year old newspaper of record held anti-Trump and anti-Semitic biases and a “very dodgy” record.

The CEC’s childish tirade of tweets appear to have been posted in response to a Times article about the decision by some of the world’s largest financial institutions to stop investing in oil production in Alberta.

Some international banks, pension plans and financial institutions appear to have included the impact of climate change into their long-term investments plans and have decided to move away from investing in some carbon-intensive resource extraction industries like Canada’s oilsands.

According to the Times, “BlackRock, the worlds largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands.”

Sonya Savage

The Times article noted that “Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday,” which is a shocking departure from Kenney’s pledge he would use “the persuasive power of the premier’s bully pulpit to tell the truth of our energy industry across the country.”

CEC Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Tom Olsen publicly apologized on Twitter for the unprofessional tweet storm against the Times, a statement that is now being widely reported.

Olsen, a former United Conservative Party candidate and lobbyist, was appointed to the role when the CEC was launched in October 2019. The CEC is a private corporation created by the Alberta government and receives $30-million annually from the Alberta government to ostensibly correct misinformation about the oil and gas industry, but in reality appears to be doing a poor job conducting public relations for the oil and gas industry.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Another member of the CEC’s staff is Mark Milke, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, former senior fellow of the Fraser Institute and lead author of the UCP’s 2019 election platform. Milke is the Executive Director in charge of Research, according to the CEC’s website.

Existing as a private corporation with a board of directors that includes Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, the CEC is not subject to the freedom of information rules that make other government institutions and agencies more transparent to the public and the media. Despite receiving $30-million annually from the government, the CEC appears to have no accountability mechanisms and its internal operations are kept secret.

While Kenney was recently lauded for changing his message about an eventual transition away from of oil (I suspect he is coopting language rather than changing his mind), some of the good for Alberta that his trip to Washington DC last week may have done has at least been partially damaged by the latest PR disaster exploding through the War Room in downtown Calgary.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

What started a few months ago as a $30-million annual public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry is starting to become a running joke that might hurt Alberta, and its oil and gas industry, more than it helps it.

As Finance Minister Travis Toews asks Albertans to accept deep cuts to public health care and education and for public employees to take salary rollbacks in his Feb. 27 provincial budget, it will become increasingly difficult to convince Albertans that the CEC’s $30-million annual budget is not a giant waste of money.

In this case, Kenney should take his own conservative free-market advice and let private sector industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the legions of public relations professionals working for Canada’s oil and gas companies handle their own public relations.

As Ralph Klein might suggest, it’s time for Kenney to take the Canadian Energy Centre behind the proverbial barn and stop this embarrassing initiative from doing any more damage to Alberta’s reputation at home and abroad.

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 46: Best of Alberta Politics in 2019

With a provincial election, a change in government, a federal election, and much more in between, 2019 was a big year in Alberta politics. Tina Faiz and Natalie Pon join Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the year in Alberta politics and their hopes and wishes for 2020. 

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and served as a press secretary and acting chief of staff for the Alberta NDP government. Natalie Pon is a conservative activist and former member of the United Conservative Party interim joint board.

And with more than 2,000 votes cast, they also discuss the results of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey and their picks in each category.

Thanks to everyone who voted and congratulations to the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey:

Best Alberta MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona
Best Cabinet Minister: Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier, Minister of Health & MLA for Edmonton-Glenora
Best Opposition MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona
MLA to Watch in 2020: Janis Irwin, MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 election: Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake
Biggest political issue in 2019: Budget cuts

And a huge thanks to our talented producer, Adam Rozenhart, who always makes the podcast sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You contact us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

Thank you for listening and see you in 2020!

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2019 – The Top 3

Photos: Leela Aheer, John Archer, Greg Clark, Devin Dreeshen, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Rachel Notley, Janis Irwin, Rakhi Pancholi, Shannon Phillips (source: Legislative Assembly of Alberta website)

With more than 500 submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.

Here are the top three choices in every category:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshan, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

An honourable mention to Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West who placed a strong fourth in total submissions. Notley was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2019? – Vote

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen and Minister of Finance Travis Toews, who placed a close forth and fifth in this category. Former Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best opposition MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

Former Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark was last year’s winner in this category.

Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2020? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

An honourable mention to Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting. Jessica Littlewood, former MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, was last year’s winner in this category..

Who was the best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 Alberta election? – Vote

  • John Archer, NDP candidate in Edmonton-South West
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow
  • Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake

An honourable mention to Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville NDP candidate Jessica Littlewood, and Leduc-Beaumont NDP candidate Shaye Anderson, who tied for fourth place in this category..

What was the biggest political issue of 2019 in Alberta? – Vote

  • Budget cuts
  • Economy and jobs
  • Firing the Elections Commissioner
  • Turkey farm hostage taking

There were a lot of submissions in this category, so we decided to give you a chance to vote on the top four in this category.

What was the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta?

Lorne Gibson Alberta Election Commissioner
Lorne Gibson

This category is usually a dog’s breakfast, but this year your choice was clear. So we have declared the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta was the United Conservative Party government firing of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson. The UCP government’s omnibus Bill 22 dissolved the Office of the Election Commissioner, who was in the midst of investigating and issuing fines for violations of Alberta’s elections laws during the UCP leadership race in 2017.

Government watch-dog Democracy Watch has called on the RCMP to investigate the firing of the Election Commissioner and wants a special prosecutor appointed to oversee the investigation to ensure there is no political interference.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 Survey!

Photo from the Daveberta.ca archives: A young Dave Cournoyer votes in the March 2008 Alberta election.

Back by popular demand, Daveberta.ca is pleased to launch the third annual Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey. We want to hear from you about the big political players and issues of 2019. Submit your choices in seven categories.

Submissions will close on Dec. 8, 2019 at 6:00 pm and the top three choices in each category will be included in a round of voting starting on Dec. 9, 2019. Voting will be open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end edition of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.

Vote in seven categories:

  1. Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2019?
  2. Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2019?
  3. Who was the best opposition MLA of 2019?
  4. Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2020?
  5. Who was the best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 Alberta election?
  6. What was the biggest political issue of 2019 in Alberta?
  7. What was the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta?

Vote early, vote often.

Good luck.


Who won last time?

Take a trip down memory lane and check out the list of winners from the 2017 and 2018 Best of Alberta Politics Surveys.


Alberta MLAs have their own best MLA vote 

Legislative Assembly Speaker Nathan Cooper initiated the first ever Alberta MLA awards to give MLAs an opportunity to vote for their colleagues in a number of categories. MLAs Tracy Allard, David Eggen, Nate Horner, Shane Getson, Janis Irwin, Martin Long, Angela Pitt, Rajan Sawhney, and Travis Toews were recognized by their peers for extraordinary work in service of the people of Alberta. More than half of the 87 MLAs returned the anonymous ballots, according to a report by Canadian Press reporter Dean Bennett.

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Firing the Election Commissioner is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta

In an unusual but not unheard of piece of political theatre, New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley was removed from the Legislative Assembly today when she refused to apologize for accusing the UCP government of obstruction of justice as it dissolves the independent Office of the Election Commissioner.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley (Source: Facebook)

Notley knew what she was doing, and did not take it lightly, as she was willing to be thrown out of the Assembly for a day in order to make her point. This is the first time in recent memory that a leader of the official opposition has been removed from the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney was on a plane to Texas safely avoiding controversy when his United Conservative Party government introduced the omnibus bill.

Bill 22: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprise Act, a 174-page omnibus bill, is packed with legislative changes, including major changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans, cuts to historical and sports groups, and dissolves the Office of the Election Commissioner. That last move in effect fires Commissioner Lorne Gibson and likely shuts down his years-long investigation into the UCP’s 2017 leadership campaign that has already led to more than $200,000 in fines.

The Election Commissioner’s investigation is related to illegal or irregular donations to the so-called Kamakaze campaign of Jeff Callaway, the former Wildrose Party president whose brief run for the UCP leadership is considered to have been a stalking-horse for front-runner Kenney. The RCMP are conducting a separate on-going investigation into the UCP leadership campaign.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics
Jason Kenney (Source: Daveberta.ca)

Kenney’s campaign closely collaborated with Callaway’s campaign, and Matt Wolf, now the Premier’s Executive Director of Issues Management, played an intimate role. But that’s not the shady backroom business that is being investigated by the Commissioner or the RCMP.

The Office of the Election Commissioner was created in 2017 because it was determined that the Chief Elections Officer did not have the resources or political independence to launch thorough investigations into violations of Alberta’s election finance laws.

Wildrose MLAs argued against the creation of his office and UCP supporters have both despised and dismissed Gibson’s investigations, but it is the timing and brazenness of the firing that was shocking.

Before it was tabled for First Reading in the Assembly, Government House Leader Jason Nixon moved to fast-track Bill 22 by severely limiting debate to one hour at each stage in the Legislative process.

Finance Minister Travis Toews has framed dissolving the Office of the Election Commissioner, with its $1 million annual budget, as a money saving decision. But at the same time, the UCP government is spending $2.5 million on a public inquiry to intimidate its political opponents and is providing a $30 million public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry through the creation of Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.

The UCP are changing the rules because people involved in the party broke the rules and were starting to get caught. Kenney knew that firing the Election Commissioner would be unpopular, but he is clearly willing to spend significant political capital to end the investigations into the Kamikaze campaign. It is a cynical move that is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta.

Notley asks LG to not give Royal Assent to Bill 22

Lois Mitchell
Lois Mitchell (Source: LG website)

Notley has asked Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell to not sign Bill 22 when it passes third reading.

It is clear that the best interests of Albertans would be served by allowing the Office of the Election Commissioner to continue its investigations into violations of Alberta’s elections laws, an unlikely outcome if Bill 22 passes, but it is both a serious request and a risky and potentially ineffective political move to ask the Lieutenant Governor to intervene (as she is likely to decline, or worse, simply not respond to the request). 

That said, the Lieutenant Governor does have a power known as reservation, which has rarely been exercised over Canadian history, and probably for good reason. The powers exist in Section 55 of the Constitution Act, and explained plainly, it means the Lieutenant Governor may adopt one of three courses of action in regard to any legislation passed by the Assembly: they may assent, they may “withhold” assent, or they may reserve their assent for “the Signification of the Queen’s Pleasure.”.

I am aware of two examples in recent history in which a Lieutenant Governor opted to withhold Royal Assent to a bill passed by a provincial legislature.

John C Bowen Alberta Lieutenant Governor
John C. Bowen

In 1937, Lieutenant Governor John Bowen refused to give Royal Assent to three bills passed by Premier William Aberhart’s Social Credit government, including the Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to hand over the names and addresses of their sources to the government, and to print government rebuttals to stories the provincial cabinet objected to. The unconstitutionality of the three bills was later confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1961, Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Frank Bastedo opted to withhold Royal Assent for a mineral rights bill, which was later approved through an order-in-council passed by the federal cabinet in Ottawa.

There have been two recent cases in Alberta’s history where Lieutenant Governor’s have publicly mused about withholding assent.

Ralph Steinhauer Alberta Lieutenant Governor
Ralph Steinhauer (Source: Alberta Lieutenant Governor on Flickr)

In 1977, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Steinhauer, the first person of Aboriginal heritage to be appointed to the post, considered withholding Royal Assent and publicly spoke against Bill 29:The Land Titles Amendment Act.

The bill introduced by Premier Peter Lougheed’s PC government was designed to prevent Aboriginal land claims in the northern Alberta, including the oilsands producing areas.

And in 2000, Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole publicly suggested she might have a long talk with Premier Ralph Klein before granting Royal Assent to Bill 11, a controversial health care bill.

And in one of the most odd-ball political plays including the  Lieutenant Governor: the Kudatah. Opponents of Notley’s NDP government collected signatures for a petition to present to the Lieutenant Governor to hold a a plebiscite on the carbon tax and Farm safety laws or else they would enact a secret clause in the Elections Act to overturn the results of the May 2015 election (or something like that). With everything else that is going on lately, I don’t think Albertans need or want a repeat of that.

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 43: The UCP’s pick-a-fight budget

David Climenhaga from AlbertaPolitics.ca joins Dave and Adam on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the cuts in Alberta’s provincial budget and the United Conservative Party’s growing list of public enemies, the federal election fallout in Alberta, and how the mainstream media is reporting on the Wexit group and Alberta separatism.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts,

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You contact us on TwitterInstagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

Thanks for listening!

Categories
Alberta Politics

Let the fall session begin – MLAs return to Edmonton on Oct 8

The fall session of the Alberta Legislative Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, with Government House Leader Jason Nixon promising up to 17 new pieces of government legislation to be introduced before MLAs break for the year in December. The Legislature was initially scheduled to return on October 22, the day after the federal election, but MLAs were called back to the capital earlier than expected. As well as new bills, UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews is expected to present an austerity budget on October 24, 2019.

Richard Gotfried MLA UCP Calgary Fish Creek Alberta Election 2019
Richard Gotfried

The tone of the session is already expected to be confrontational, but the results of the October 21 federal election will determine whether the UCP caucus be celebratory (in the case of Conservative Party victory) or antagonized (in the case of a Liberal Party victory) as Toews tables his first budget.

There will also be some changes at the Legislative committee level. According to the Legislative Order Paper, Calgary-Fish Creek United Conservative Party MLA Richard Gotfried appears to have been removed as chairperson of the Standing Committee on the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, replaced as chairperson by Lacombe-Ponoka UCP MLA Ron Orr and as a committee member by Calgary-East UCP MLA Peter Singh. Gotfried also appears to have been removed from the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, where he will be replaced by Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo. Gotfried was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected as a UCP MLA in 2019.

It is not clear what sparked the shuffle, but there has been speculation that Premier Jason Kenney might make some minor adjustments to his cabinet this fall.

NDP wrap up town hall tour, Notley staying put.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP
Rachel Notley (photo from Facebook)

The official opposition New Democratic Party wrapped up a multi-city town hall tour of Alberta focused on the upcoming provincial budget. The NDP likely used these town hall meetings to collect contact information and expand their outreach network while adjusting to their role as opposition after four years as government. The uncertainty created by the expected budget cuts will almost certainly be a central narrative of this legislative session.

Despite rumours of an ambassadorial appointment, NDP leader Rachel Notley told David Climenhaga of AlbertaPolitics.ca that she has no plans on stepping down as leader anytime soon. “I’ve been very clear. I’m staying on until the next election,” Notley said.

Notley’s declaration puts aside rumours of her departure, at least for now, that fuelled speculation about an NDP leadership contest that could include former cabinet ministers and now prominent opposition critics Sarah Hoffman and Shannon Phillips.

Alberta Liberals to report on their future.

The Alberta Liberal Party is holding its annual convention on November 16 in Edmonton. The one-day meeting will include the presentation of a report by the party’s Review Committee,  which was tasked determining potential options for the future of the party. The 2019 provincial election marked the first time since 1982 that the Liberals failed to elect any candidates to the Assembly. The convention will feature a keynote presentation from John Santos, a respected public opinion and political science researcher based in Calgary.

Disqualified UCP nomination candidate now separatist party president.

Todd Beasley is now president of the Alberta Independence Party. Beasley was considered the front-runner in the July 2018 UCP nomination contest in Brooks-Medicine Hat before he was removed from the race for publishing horrible comments about muslims on the internet. He ran as an Independent candidate instead and earned 12.4 per cent of the vote. The party is without a leader since Dave Bjorkman resigned following the 2019 provincial election.

More names added to Elections Alberta’s list of banned candidates

Elections Alberta has added a number of new names to its public list of Individuals Ineligible to Run as a Candidate or Act as a Chief Financial Officer. Names on this list can include election candidates, nomination candidates, and CFOs who have missed deadlines or improperly submitted financial disclosure forms to Elections Alberta.

New additions to the list include Former MLA Ian Donovan, who ran as an Independent candidate in Cardston-Siksika, Jovita Mendita, who was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona, and a number of Alberta Independence Party and Freedom Conservative Party candidates.

Categories
Alberta Politics

MacKinnon Report endorses Jason Kenney’s political agenda, doesn’t fix Alberta’s big revenue problems

The report and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, known widely as the MacKinnon Report, after the panel’s chairperson – former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and history professor Janice MacKinnon – was released yesterday.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics
Jason Kenney

The report is an endorsement of the United Conservative Party government plan to implement deep cuts to public sector funding, a wide-range of drastic changes to how Alberta’s public services are delivered (or delivered at all), and the use of legislative tools to interfere with the collective bargaining process.

When reading the panel’s report and recommendations, it is important to remember this is not a neutral or academic document. The MacKinnon Report is very much a political document written by political people who were appointed because they share the government’s vision.

Despite her past political affiliation as an NDP cabinet minister in Saskatchewan, MacKinnon’s fiscal conservative views make her more likely to feel welcome in the UCP or the Fraser Institute than in a party led by Rachel Notley or Jagmeet Singh. For decades MacKinnon has been a champion of fiscal conservatism and more recently provided an enthusiastic endorsement that was prominently displayed in the UCP’s election platform.

The MacKinnon Report calls for funding freezes or cuts to public services across the board, including increased privatization of health services, changing the funding formula for Alberta schools (and likely introducing more private and charter schools), increasing government control of post-secondary institutions and lifting the current freeze on tuition fees, and downloading more infrastructure costs on municipalities.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

In yesterday’s press conference announcing the report, MacKinnon suggested that “fewer hospitals” could be a solution to cutting the health care budget, which should raise giant red flags in rural communities across Alberta. During her time as Saskatchewan’s finance minister, 52 rural hospitals were closed as a result of budget cuts.

The report’s suggestion that the government scale back capital investments could also spell trouble for the much-needed new hospital in southwest Edmonton, which was announced by the previous New Democratic Party government in 2017.

The recommended cuts and creation of legislative mechanisms to interfere with the collective bargaining processes are likely designed to create strife with public sector unions whose members would be directly impacted by these cuts – a group that the UCP is eager to pick fights with.

For anyone who grew up or lived in Alberta in the 1990s, it may feel like deja-vu.

When premier Ralph Klein and treasurer Jim Dinning imposed drastic cuts on public services, Albertans were told that balancing the budget and paying down the provincial debt was necessary to get Alberta’s fiscal house in order. At the time, a young anti-tax crusader named Jason Kenney cheered on those cuts, going so far as to tell the Western Report that “Education will be the toughest area to cut, but it will also be the most important. If the government backs down on this one, then the entire Klein revolution will fail.”

Successive governments, both Progressive Conservative and NDP, spent decades trying to fix the damage those short-sighted cuts had on Alberta’s communities, public infrastructure and public services.

The “blue ribbon” panel was created to provide an endorsement of Premier Kenney’s political program, and, if its recommendations are adopted, could be the most radically ideologically conservative agenda Albertans have seen in decades. It is a far cry from the technocratic conservative agenda meticulously implemented by former prime minister Stephen Harper, who Kenney served dutifully in Ottawa.

Unlike Harper, there is no indication that Kenney is interested in half-measures or incrementalism.

Alberta still has a big revenue problem

The narrow mandate of this panel was a missed opportunity to actually address the fiscal challenges facing Alberta, which includes issues with revenue ranging from low taxation and over-dependence on oil and gas royalty revenues.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley

The report briefly mentions that over-dependence on unreliable natural resource revenue is an issue, but the panel was specifically told not to provide recommendations to fix the revenue problem – only spending. Both MacKinnon and Finance Minister Travis Toews repeated the government’s well-used talking points during yesteday’s press conference – that Alberta has a spending problem and not a revenue problem.

The report frequently compares public sector spending in Alberta with British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, but only when it comes to government spending. The big problem with comparing Alberta with our provincial counterparts on the spending side is that our revenue – generated through taxes – is significantly lower than every other province.

If Alberta had the same level of taxation as BC, which is the second lowest in Canada, then Alberta could have no deficit and could be collecting billions of dollars in additional revenue each year. 

By not addressing the revenue challenges faced by the Alberta government, the MacKinnon Report shows it was created to justify the spending cuts and privatization of public services that the UCP was likely already planning to implement. Remember, this is a political document.

It’s hard to criticize the MacKinnon Report without also laying some criticism at the feet of the past PC and NDP governments who did not fix Alberta’s revenue problems when they had the chance. Had the NDP been as aggressive in fixing Alberta’s long-standing revenue problems as the UCP will be in attacking government spending, we might not be reading the MacKinnon Report today.