Tag Archives: United Conservative Party Leadership Race 2017

NDP focus on Rachel versus Kenney, UCP sticks to jobs, economy and pipelines.

Standing in front of diverse group of supporters at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Premier Rachel Notley announced that Alberta’s next provincial general election will be held on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

Notley’s campaign kick-off speech gave a good idea what the New Democratic Party’s narrative will be in this election campaign – creating a clear contrast in character, leadership and trust between Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney.

Jason Kenny isn’t working for you. He wants two Albertas – one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. He wants two Alberta’s, divided over people’s rights,” Notley said.

I want to build one Alberta. I say we stick together through this final stage – from adversity to recovery to shared prosperity – that we take care of each other,” she said.

As I have written before, campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.

The two main party leaders have divergent popularity among voters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley has fairly respectably approval ratings, making her the NDP’s strongest asset. On the flip side, Kenney’s approval ratings fall far below support for his party, meaning that he is far from his party’s strongest asset in the minds of many voters.

The NDP’s decision to launch the election in Calgary was not a shock, as the party needs to maintain a hold on its seats in Alberta’s largest city if it wants to be re-elected on April 16. At this point, it is hard to believe the NDP will hold most of their seats in Calgary but the governing party is realistically expected to be competitive in 5 or 6 districts in the city.

Notley also spoke about her government’s commitment to education and health care, including the long-overdue construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and the economy and oil pipelines.

Notley gained the support of a powerful electoral ally in that city today when Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi stepped out of the municipal arena to criticize Kenney, saying the UCP leader is “not a person who is fit to lead this province.” Nenshi also accused Kenney of ‘pandering for votes‘ by opposing the Springbank dam, a critical part of flood mitigation plans for the city following the disastrous flood in 2013.

With recent allegations of collusion and an RCMP investigation into the 2017 UCP leadership race, the Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal, and the resignation of UCP star candidate Caylan Ford, the NDP clearly believed that starting the election campaign today would put them on their best possible footing going into April 16.

The Notley NDP still have an electoral math problem, with the UCP leading in the polls in Calgary and rural Alberta, but after this week’s internal UCP turmoil, the NDP are probably feeling as confident as they ever were going to be before the May 31 deadline to hold the provincial election.

Jason Kenney

Speaking with a handful of tradesmen standing behind him at a job site in Leduc, Kenney launched his first press conference of the election campaign trying to steer the focus away from Ford’s resignation and the Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal. Kenney returned to his key messages around jobs, the economy and pipelines – and how he believed the NDP have failed in these areas.

Kenney’s message will resonate with a lot of Albertans who have felt unease and frustration with the drop in the international price of oil, high than usual unemployment levels, and delays in oil pipeline construction. And the UCP hopes this message will resonate in the Edmonton region, where the NDP swept almost every seat in the 2015 election.

So, as the election gets going, expect the Kenney to try to stick to these three key messages while the NDP focus on contrasting Notley with her main opponent. Let the games begin!


Elections Commissioner issues new fines for donations to Callaway leadership campaign

The Elections Commissioner issued a new series of penalties and letters of reprimand against donors to Jeff Callaway’s UCP leadership campaign under Section 34(1) and 34 (1.1) of the Election Financial Contributions and Disclosure Act.

Maja McAllister and David Ruiz were issued letter of reprimand for donating $4,000 to Jeff Callaway, registered UCP leadership contestant, with funds given or furnished by another person.

Darcy McAllister was issued one administrative penalties of $4,000 for donating $4,000 to Callaway’s campaign with funds given or furnished by another person, and a second administrative penalty of $4,000 for furnishing $4,000 to Maja McAllister for the purpose of making contribution to Callaway’s campaign, according to the Election Commission website.


Writ Day Hot Take

I spoke with 630CHED host Ryan Jespersen this morning moments after Notley wrapped up her speech announcing the election. Here is my hot take:

Panel discussion on CBC’s The Current: Alberta’s election and the Kenney-Callaway scandal

I was thrilled to join pollster Janet Brown, columnist Catherine Ford and host Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current on CBC Radio this morning to discuss Alberta politics, Rachel Notley’s chances of re-election this spring, and recent developments in the Jason Kenney-Jeff Callaway collusion scandal.

In case you missed it on the radio this morning, you can listen to the panel discussion online or download The Current podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.


The Jeff Callaway story took another twist this morning when Jen Gerson published this new report in Maclean’s Magazine:

“[Cameron] Davies said he received a transfer from a corporate entity of $60,000 into his personal bank account that, he alleges, was then re-distributed to Callaway’s campaign account to pay the candidate’s entry fee to the leadership contest. He said the origin of the money was then obfuscated, in part through fake donors whom he helped to obtain. Personal bank documents obtained by Maclean’s confirm the $60,000 payment to Davies.”

The Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal erupts days before an expected election call in Alberta

What did Jason Kenney know and when did he know it?

A treasure trove of emails and documents released by CBC investigative reporters Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell yesterday show that Jason Kenney‘s campaign for the United Conservative Party leadership provided Jeff Callaway’s campaign with resources ranging from “strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”

This comes a day after CBC broke the story that Alberta’s Election Commissioner has turned over to the RCMP its investigation into allegations of irregular political contributions involving Callaway’s so-called “kamikaze” campaign.

CBC reports that current UCP Caucus deputy chief of staff Matt Wolf, then director of issues management for Kenney’s campaign, communicated regularly with Callaway’s communications manager Cameron Davies, and at times Randy Kerr, who was working as Callaway’s campaign manager.

As director of issues management, Wolf was responsible for advising Kenney on the day-to-day campaign tactics and strategy of the leadership campaign.

Callaway’s withdrawal was something that wasn’t necessarily negotiable,” Davies told CBC. “It was something that had been decided in a meeting in mid-July between Callaway and the Jason Kenney leadership team.”

The Star Edmonton reporters Kieran Leavitt and Emma McIntosh reported that Davies said that ‘Kenney had first hand knowledge of the Callaway kamikaze campaign, and attended a meeting at Callaway’s house where it was discussed in July 2017.’

Kenney has repeatedly denied allegations that Callaway was a stalking horse candidate and he most recently denied knowledge of collusion. He told reporters at a press conference on Friday that that he asked his staff in late 2018 whether they had any knowledge of the the Callaway campaign allegations. “The result of those inquiries was that no one was aware of, had heard anything about or had in any way participated in such activity,” Kenney said.

And Clare Clancy has reported that Postmedia has obtained an email from Wolf to the UCP Caucus sent today in which he writes that “I’ve made no secret about that for those who have asked.”  The same Postmedia report says that Wolf has “gone home” and is not available for comment.

It is not clear whether “gone home” means Wolf was just not in the office at that minute or whether he has “gone home” to somewhere without wifi or cell phone signals for the duration of the election campaign.

Having one of Kenney’s senior advisors apparently leave on the eve of a provincial election call is not exactly the statement of confidence that UCP candidates and supporters will have been looking for today.

Collusion between the two leadership campaigns at this level is not illegal, but it is definitely not normal, certainly unethical and potentially a violation of the UCP’s Code of Conduct.

And as David Climenhaga noted on AlbertaPolitics.ca, U.S. Senator Howard Baker once said of a more famous political scandal, “it is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.”

The questions of legality surround the sharing of campaign resources and donations made by individuals to Callaway’s campaign, and where that money could have originated, which is why the RCMP have been asked to investigate. It has been alleged that some donors were not donating their own money, which is a violation of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. One donor to Callaway’s campaign has already been fined $3,500 by the Commissioner for violating the Act.

The whole Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal is bizarre mostly because, as anyone who was paying attention to Alberta politics in 2017 can attest, Kenney was the clear frontrunner in the UCP leadership race.

With 20-years of experience as an Ottawa politician and the strong backing of Canada’s Conservative establishment, Kenney had the networks, support, and money to win a race against Jean on his own, without Callaway.

But it appears that it may of not been enough for Kenney to just defeat Jean in the UCP leadership contest. Maybe Kenney’s campaign felt they needed Callaway in the race in order so that he could win so decisively that his position as leader of the UCP would be unquestionable in the face of a frequently unruly and fractious conservative movement in Alberta?

We do not have an answer to that question – and Kenney’s silence on the topic over the past two days is deafening.

One Big Happy Conservative Movement: Kamikaze campaigns, Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Derek Fildebrandt, Scott Moe, and the RCMP

Alberta politics can be a wild ride.

With an election expected to be called in a matter of days or weeks, Alberta’s Election Commissioner has turned over to the RCMP its investigation into allegations of irregular political contributions involving the so-called “kamikaze” campaign of United Conservative Party leadership contender Jeff Callaway, according to a report by CBC investigative journalists Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell.

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

It has been alleged that that the UCP leadership campaign of Jason Kenney supported a “kamikaze mission“ by Jeff Callaway to target former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson has already issued fines of $15,000 against Callaway’s campaign manager and former UCP nomination candidate, Cameron Davies, and $3,500 against donor Karen Brown. And last week, UCP executive director Janice Harrington announced that Calgary-Beddington candidate Randy Kerr had been removed because he “was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.

Scott Moe and Jason Kenney

Scott Moe and Jason Kenney

The story comes the day after heavy-hitters from western Canada’s Conservative establishment, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former prime minister Stephen Harper, rallied around Kenney following rumours that Jean was preparing to jump back into politics – with the Alberta Party or Freedom Conservative Party.

It turns out that Jean was either actually working with the Freedom Conservatives, as party leader Derek Fildebrandt claims, or was clumsily trying to position himself as a UCP leader-in-waiting in case Kenney’s leadership collapsed following the news of a potential RCMP investigation. 

Jean has provided copies of emails and text messages showing that he contacted the UCP board of directors, Kenney and Harper months ago to raise concerns about Callaway situation, only to receive no response from Kenney.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean's Facebook Page).

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean’s Facebook Page).

As Premier Rachel Notley noted to the media today, if the leader of another major political party was tied up in such an investigation, the UCP would be calling for their resignation. Notley is right, but do not expect Kenney to step aside anytime soon.

With the conservative political establishment rallying to Kenney’s defence, barring criminal charges being laid or Kenney-connected UCP organizers being perp walked in handcuffs, it is unlikely he would step aside because of or even during the course of this potential RCMP investigation. And even if Kenney did step aside, Jean now seems like a very unlikely choice to replace him. The role of interim leader would be a better fit for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who ably filled the role as interim leader during the UCP leadership contest.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

An RCMP investigation is serious business and would take time before coming to a resolution, meaning that it would likely not be until after the election that Albertans learn the results of an investigation. I have heard some calls for Notley to delay the election call until after this potential investigation is concluded, pushing beyond Alberta’s unique three-month fixed election window, which seems unlikely but not impossible.

Even with a significant lead in most public opinion polls, the timing of this announcement is bad news for the UCP. It is without a doubt that we will hear leaders and candidates from the other parties use the words “UCP” and “RCMP” in the same sentence very frequently over the next few weeks.

NDP put health care on their pre-election legislative agenda

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell is scheduled to read the Speech from the Throne on Monday, March 18, and the New Democratic Party government is expected to introduce health care legislation as a flagship bill in what is expected to be a short spring session of the Legislature.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The Throne Speech and Bill 1: Protecting Public Health Care Act, could be the last big pre-election opportunity for the NDP to push forward an election narrative on an issue that plays to their strengths.

Public health care is traditionally a strong issue for the NDP and stability in the health care system has been a hallmark issue for the NDP government. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has steered the public health care system clear of the perpetual lurch from crisis to crisis that happened under the old Progressive Conservative governments.

It is unknown how many days or weeks the NDP plan to take for this spring session, but I am told that many NDP staffers and organizers are already “on vacation” from their day jobs working hard on campaigns across the province. 


UPDATE!

CBC has released a report report with new information related to the collusion between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns during the 2017 UCP leadership contest: The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”

Jason Kenney Randy Kerr Calgary Beddington UCP

Big Day in Beddington: UCP drop Randy Kerr over Callaway donation, Alberta Party MLA Karen McPherson decides not to run for re-election

United Conservative Party executive director Janice Harrington released a statement this evening announcing that Randy Kerr has been removed as the party’s candidate in the new Calgary-Beddington district. Here is an excerpt from Harrington’s statement:

Calgary-Beddington Alberta Map

Calgary-Beddington (Click to enlarge)

“Effective immediately, Mr. Randy Kerr has been removed as the UCP’s candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Beddington.

“In the last 48-hours, new information has come to our attention indicating Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”

“To be clear, the Party is not making any allegations against Mr. Kerr regarding the legitimacy of his contribution to the Callaway Leadership, not against Mr. Callaway or his Campaign. This is not the Party’s rule to judge, and the Party does not in any way oversee financial contributions to leadership campaigns.

“However, it is our conclusion that Mr. Kerr was not sufficiently forthcoming with the Party’s earlier inquiries, and for that, he has been removed as a candidate.

“The Party has also proactively provided this new information to the appropriate office – that of the Elections Commissioner. Given that the matter is now with the Commissioner, it is inappropriate for us to comment further.

Josephine Pon United Conservative Party Calgary Beddington

Josephine Pon

According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, Kerr donated $4,000 to Callaway’s leadership campaign in 2017. The disclosure was released months ago, so it is unclear what Harrington meant when she wrote that “Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”

Kerr’s removal as a candidate comes on the same day it was revealed a lawyer representing the UCP sent a cease and desist letter to Independent MLA Prab Gill, who has been at the forefront of accusations of misconduct and alleged illegal activities that took place during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Earlier this week, UCP staffer posted a creepy video online of Gill meeting with an NDP staffer in an apparent attempt to discredit him. Kenney later accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP.

The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.

Harrington also announced that the UCP has appointed Josephine Pon as their candidate in this district. Pon had been defeated by Kerr in the August 2018 nomination contest.

Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark, Karen McPherson and Rick Fraser.

Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark, Karen McPherson and Rick Fraser.

Meanwhile, Karen McPherson, one of three Alberta Party MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, announced on social media today that she has decided against running for re-election when the provincial election is called.

McPherson had already been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Beddington, which replaces much of her the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill district she currently represents. She was first elected as an New Democratic Party MLA in 2015 in, unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Neil Brown, and left the NDP in 2017 to sit as an Independent and later joined the Alberta Party caucus.

The NDP have nominated Amanda Chapman as its candidate in Calgary-Beddington.

Non-Beddington related news

The Alberta Party has announced two new nominated candidates: Wayne Rufiange in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock and Jason Beekman in Taber-Warner. Rufiange recently sought the Alberta Party nomination in Morinville-St. Albert, but was defeated by Neil Korotash. Rufiange is principal of R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock.

The Liberals have nominated a handful of new candidates: Robin Macintosh in Calgary-Elbow, Michael Macdonald in Calgary-Klein, and Wilson McCutchan in Calgary-Lougheed. McCutchan was the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-West in the 2012 election, where he earned 7.4 per cent of the vote. And Shirley Ksienski has replaced previously nominated candidate Rork Hilford in Calgary-Glenmore.

The Green Party has announced Brian Deheer will be that party’s candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district. Deheer was a candidate for the leadership of the party in 2017 and 2018, and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.

Four more candidates affiliated with the Alberta Independence Party have filed their papers to run as Independent candidates: John Morton in Edmonton-City Centre, Kenneth Morrice in Calgary-Hays, Todd Wayne in Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ben Maddison in Lethbridge-West.

Currently operating as an unregistered political party, Alberta Independence Party will need 44 candidates approved by Elections Alberta in order to gain official party status in the upcoming election.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!

UCP staff post creepy video of NDP staffer and Independent MLA leaving a room. Kenney defends it by alleging a secret conspiracy against him.

The 51-second video is grainy, black and white, and recorded in slow motion to look like security camera footage. It is March 4, 2019. A man walks out of room into a lobby and waits for an elevator. Text appears at the bottom of the screen to tell us that he is “Jeremy Nolais, Senior Notley Advisor.” He has a pen in his mouth and looks at the person recording the video as he waits for the elevator. The video fades to black and new text appears to tell us that 10 minutes has passed as we watch Prab Gill, the Independent MLA for Calgary-Greenway, leave the same room and walk to the same elevator, giving the thumbs up to whoever is sitting behind the camera.

The creepy video appears to have been recorded inside the Federal Building, the recently renovated art deco fortress located on the north side of the Legislature Grounds where most Alberta MLAs have their Edmonton offices. The video was presumably recorded and edited on a mobile phone by someone with access to the building, like a United Conservative Party Caucus staffer.

The video was posted online by the “@UniteAlberta” Twitter account on on March 4 at 8:10 p.m. @UniteAlbeta is the Twitter account managed by United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s staff, but it is widely believed that UCP Caucus Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf is its principal tweeter.

Viewers of the video are not told what Nolais and Gill were doing in that room, but the purpose of the video is to suggest they were plotting something nefarious and sinister. The video is clearly meant to discredit Gill, a former UCP MLA who has been at the forefront of accusations of misconduct and alleged illegal activities that took place during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Gill has sent letters to the Elections Commissioner and RCMP asking for them to investigate his allegations.

The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.

The Elections Commissioner recently levelled $15,000 in administrative penalties against Cameron Davies, campaign manager for Jeff Callaway’s alleged “kamikaze mission.” Davies’ offence was listed as a violation of Section 45 of the Election Finances and Contribution Disclosure Act, “Obstruction of an investigation.” 

Callaway campaign donor Karen Brown was fined $3,500 for violating Section 34(1) of the Act by contributing “$3,500 to Jeff Callaway, registered UCP leadership contestant, with funds given or furnished by another person.

The video released by the UCP was juvenile and contradicts Kenney’s oft-repeated pledge to mount a “respectful, policy-based debate during the upcoming election campaign. Kenney frequently dismisses the NDP as an “anger machine,” but stalking your opponents and video recording them inside government offices is not an example of Kenney practicing what he preaches. Whether it was intended or not, the video definitely sends a chilling message to opponents, or “enemies,” of the UCP.

In an interview with Global Edmonton’s Jen Crosby, Kenney claimed he had not seen the video that was posted online by his staff but he accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP. Without providing any evidence to back up his claims, Kenney doubled down when he later told Postmedia that “I think it’s now pretty obvious he’s channeling attacks from the NDP, it’s dirty politics at its worst…

Gill told the media that he was speaking with Nolais about an issue with a school in his district.

This is the latest example of the remarkable hubris demonstrated by the leader of a party that most polls show to be sitting somewhere between 15 per cent and 24 per cent ahead of the New Democratic Party only a few weeks before an expected election call. 

While videos on social media are probably not enough to win an election, online gaffes can definitely hurt a party’s electoral prospects.

It can be difficult to see even a narrow path to victory for the NDP in Alberta’s current political climate without Kenney making a series of major gaffes, or his staff continuing to post creepy videos of their political opponents on the internet. But it would not be the first time a political party blew a 20 point lead. Just ask Adrian Dix.

Ed Stelmach, Danielle Smith, Kevin Taft, and Alison Redford.

Total Votes in Alberta political party leadership races from 1998 to 2018

Photo: Ed Stelmach (elected leader of the PC Party in 2006), Danielle Smith (elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009), Kevin Taft (elected leader of the Liberal Party in 2004), and Alison Redford (elected leader of the PC Party leader in 2011).

Following the announcement this week of the results of the Alberta Party leadership race, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voter participation in party leadership races in Alberta over the past twenty years.

The largest participation in a party leadership race in the past two decades, and in Alberta’s history, took place during the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 2006. More than 144,000 members voted in the race and it is believed that more than 200,000 memberships were sold. The party had a very open membership sales policy, which allowed any Albertan to purchase a membership at their local voting station on the day of the vote. This vote chose Ed Stelmach to replace Ralph Klein as PC Party leader and Premier of Alberta.

The 2011 Liberal Party leadership vote, which selected Raj Sherman as party leader, used an open membership system. This allowed any Albertan to participate in the vote without having to actually purchase a party membership.

The 2014 New Democratic Party leadership vote that selected Rachel Notley to replace Brian Mason used a hybrid one-member one-vote system which allocated 25 percent of the total vote to affiliate organizations. The lack of clarity around how many organizations took part in the vote and who they may have supported makes it unclear how many individual votes were actually cast in that leadership election.

The 2017 United Conservative Party leadership vote was conducted by delegates who were elected by party members in each district. The party membership consisted of new UCP members, as well as individuals who had been members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party until that point.

Acclamations occurred in the 2000 and 2004 NDP leadership contests, the 2001 Liberal Party leadership contest, and the 2003 Alberta Alliance leadership contest.

 

United Conservative Party of Alberta leader Jason Kenney.

Jason Kenney as the face of Conservatism in Alberta

When the Legislative Assembly resumes for its fall sitting on Monday, there will be a new seating plan.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

A new Official Opposition United Conservative Caucus made up of twenty-two former Wildrose MLAs and six former Progressive Conservative MLAs will make its debut.

Richard Starke of Vermilion-Lloydminster will continue to sit as a lone PC MLA and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser of Calgary-South East will join exiled former Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt as Independent MLAs. Former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson will join Greg Clark in doubling the Alberta Party Caucus. And sitting alongside Premier Rachel Notley in the government front-benches will be newly appointed Minister of Infrastructure Sandra Jansen, who left the PCs to join the NDP last November.

Leading the new United Conservative Party Caucus will be former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney, who won yesterday’s leadership vote with 61 percent, defeating former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who finished with 31 percent, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who finished a distant third with 7 percent.

Kenney does not have a seat in the Assembly and indicated today that Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney will resign on November 1, 2017 in order to create a by-election for his party’s new leader. Rodney was first elected in 2004.

David Eggen

As the new leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney will face some immediate issues as the Assembly reconvenes. He will need to reorganize his caucus office staff, reassign his party’s MLAs to new critic roles, and set an opposition agenda for the next 16 months. Kenney will do his best to avoid the bozoeruptions that plagued the former Wildrose MLAs in his UCP caucus and pivot to issues that will solidify his party’s conservative base.

As Kenney enters his new role as the new face of Conservatism in Alberta, the NDP will hope that Albertans forgive their more unpopular policies when reminded of the new UCP leader’s more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric.

Education Minister David Eggen will introduce legislation making it illegal for schools to “out” students who join gay-straight alliances. Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances will reopen an issue that had conservative politicians tying themselves in knots after Kenney told a Postmedia editorial board that he would support teachers outing students who join GSAs.

Eggen has said most schools have been working with the province to establish codes of conduct against discrimination and adopt policies to protect LGBTQ youth, but a small group of mostly publicly-subsidized private schools are resisting. This bill could reignite the debate over the existence of publicly-subsidized private schools, some of which charge tens of thousands of tuition per student in order to attend.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Despite calls from their political allies, Notley’s NDP government has avoided overhauling the structure of Alberta’s school system. But open resistance by private schools over GSAs, and by publicly-funded Catholic Superintendents wanting to dumb-down the Sexual Education curriculum, could force a debate over accountability of public funds being provided to these religious schools.

Kenney has been a vocal supporter of the Catholic schools, claiming that Notley’s opposition to a dumbed-down Sexual Education curriculum is the “statist ideology of the NDP on steroids.”

Of course, Notley is not telling publicly-funded Catholic schools not to teach Catholicism, she is telling them that they must teach consent and acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (welcome to the 21st century).

Alberta is one of a few remaining provinces that provides full public funding to Catholic schools. Former PC MLA David King, who served as education minister from 1979 to 1986, has collected close to 1,000 signatures in an online petition demanding a referendum on the future of publicly funded Catholic schools in Alberta.

David King

On the flip-side, as Kenney enters his role as UCP leader, he will hope that Albertans forgive his more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.

Repealing farm safety laws and the government’s climate leadership plan, including the carbon tax and phase-out of dirty coal-fired power plants, were two of his key promises, along with much chest-thumping about withdrawing from Canada’s equalization program (which is not something any province can do, because the funds are collected through Canadian federal income taxes, not by the provinces).

We can expect Kenney to spend a lot of time criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has developed a relatively friendly working relationship with Notley’s government on issues ranging from oil pipeline construction to climate change. With deep connections to the Conservatives in Ottawa, expect a Kenney-led UCP to march in lockstep with their federal cousins on these issues.

Justin Trudeau

Notley’s NDP subtly shifted their messaging last year, focusing on launching new programs and projects they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the Kenney-led UCP, who they will argue would attack public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has said that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre and the Green Line in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Would Kenney close schools and hospitals, like his political role model Ralph Klein did in the 1990s? Expect the NDP start asking these questions when MLAs meet in Edmonton tomorrow.

This weekend’s UCP leadership vote and the resumption of the Legislative session tomorrow marks a huge change in Alberta’s political landscape. Alberta politics has changed drastically over the past two years, and even the past decade. The next few weeks, and the next 16 months, in Alberta politics will be fascinating to watch.

United Conservative Party leadership candidates Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Tracking MLA endorsements in the UCP leadership race

Members of the United Conservative Party will be selecting the party’s first permanent leader on October 28, 2017. After of this week’s fee payment deadline, four candidates will be listed on the ballot: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Of the 28 UCP MLAs represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, nineteen have endorsed candidates in this leadership race (I am including Jean, the only sitting MLA in the contest, who has obviously endorsed himself). Here is a map showing which UCP MLAs have endorsed which leadership candidate as of September 14, 2017.Brian Jean: Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Rocky View), Wayne Anderson (Highwood), Dave Hanson (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills), Todd Loewen (Grande Prairie-Smoky), Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake), Angela Pitt (Airdrie), Ron Orr (Lacombe-Ponoka), Dave Schneider (Little Bow), Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), Glenn van Dijken (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock), Tany Yao (Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo)

Jason Kenney: Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays), Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre), Mark Smith (Drayton Valley-Devon), Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)

Doug Schweitzer: Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean's Facebook Page).

Derek Fildebrandt has a very, very bad week.

Photo: In happier times, as Derek Fildebrandt campaigned alongside Wildrose leader Brian Jean in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean’s Facebook Page).

Over the course of eight days, Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt went from being a potential leadership candidate to stepping down from the United Conservative Party Caucus.

As a former spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Official Opposition finance critic in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, he had earned a reputation as a relentlessly partisan critic of the old Progressive Conservative and current New Democratic Party governments. His reputation as a fiscal crusader, and his political future, were put in question this week.

Here is a quick look at the past eight days in FIldebrandt’s political world:

August 8, 2017: Former Wildrose Party finance critic and United Conservative Party finance co-critic Derek Fildebrandt announces he will not run for the leadership of the new party. He tells reporters than he will instead use his United Liberty PAC to push the party and leadership candidates to adopt libertarian policies.

He takes a direct shot at former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, now a candidate for the UCP, saying that “he is not the best man to lead the party and lead Alberta.” (Background: Jean attempted to suspend Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus in June 2016).

August 9, 2017: Postmedia reports that Fildebrandt has been renting his taxpayer-subsidized downtown Edmonton apartment on Airbnb. Fildebrandt tells the media to “Find someone under 35 with a downtown apartment that doesn’t let their apartment if they’re gone half the year.

August 10, 2017: Fildebrandt issues a statement saying he plans to donate the $2,555 he earned through Airbnb to the provincial debt. ‘I’m not interested in letting the politics of smear distract from the real issues,’ his statement read.

Rather than focusing on complaining about people trying to smear him, he should acknowledge that it was a mistake and he should apologize,” Premier Rachel Notley tells reporters.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci calls on Fildebrandt to apologize for his actions. “The public puts a lot of faith in their elected officials, and when people act like that I think they destroy that faith,” Ceci told reporters.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark calls for penalties for MLAs who break reimbursement rules and writes to Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner to ask for an audit of all MLA living expenses.

Late that night, Fildebrandt announces he is taking leave from his position as UCP finance co-critic and is leaving on vacation.

August 14, 2017: Clark releases documents that he suggests show Fildebrandt claimed meal expenses and an MLA per-diem for the same meal nine times. Fildebrandt releases a statement admitting that there “were some administrative errors in processing meal receipts.

These expense claims are concerning and appear to be part of a larger pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable for a member of the United Conservative Party caucus,” United Conservative Party leader Nathan Cooper said in an statement

August 15, 2017: CBC reports that ‘Edmonton police conducted an investigation and on June 14, 2016, charged Fildebrandt under the provincial traffic act with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to notify the owner of the damaged vehicle.’ Cooper tells CBC he did not know about the charge. The trial was adjourned until September 6, 2017, when Fildebrandt is expected to present his evidence.

Late tonight, Fildebrandt issued a statement on his Facebook page where he took two swipes at the media before announcing his plans to leave the UCP caucus and sit as an Independent MLA.

Doug Schweitzer United Conservative Party

Rebel Media becomes a wedge issue in the United Conservative Party leadership race

This weekend’s violent march of Nazis and white supremacists through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia made international headlines and also had repercussions for the United Conservative Party leadership race in Alberta.

Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer who is trying to position himself as a social moderate in the contest, used this weekend’s dark events south of the border to call on Jason Kenney and Brian Jean to denounce Rebel Media. The fringe right-wing website is more of an opposition group than a media organization and is seen to be closely allied with “alt-right” organizers in Canada and the United States.

“Enough is enough. We have to be better than this in Canada. Stand up to them for a change. We all need to lead by example,” Schweitzer tweeted.

Founders of the website include Ezra Levant, who, along with Kenney was a member of the “snack pack” in the mid-1990s, and Hamish Marshall, who is Jean’s campaign manager and was campaign manager for Andrew Scheer‘s successful federal leadership bid.

Many Wildrose Party and federal Conservative politicians have supported Levant’s Rebel website on social media, through online interviews, and participation in rallies and events organized by Levant and his employees.

Schweitzer’s challenge to Jean and Kenney will undoubtedly result in nasty pushback from a legion of right-wing twitter users, which I am sure he is prepared to respond to. But drawing a line helps Schweitzer differentiate himself from the two major candidates in the race, who have both been seen to be sympathetic or supportive of Levant’s Rebel website, and signals what kind of conservatives might not be welcome in a United Conservative Party led by Doug Schweitzer.

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose

UCP merger kickstarts another summer of politiking in Alberta

Photo: Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally launches his campaign to lead the United Conservative Party (source: Facebook)

It has been a busy week in Alberta politics, and it is only Tuesday.

Nathan Cooper

On Saturday, 95 percent of Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Party members who cast ballots voted in favour of amending their respective parties constitutions and create a new political party – the United Conservative Party.

Only 57 per cent of eligible Wildrose members, and 55 percent of PC member, cast a ballot, which is roughly 25,000 and 27,000 members of the two parties. It is suspected that a significant number of individuals who voted held membership in both parties, and voted twice.

Here is a quick look at what has happened since:

  • As predicted on this blog a few days ago, Nathan Cooper has been chosen as interim leader of the new 29-MLA joint-Wildrose-PC United Conservative caucus. Cooper will serve as leader of the Official Opposition, though likely not in the Assembly as the Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until after the new party chooses a permanent leader in October 2017. He is a first-term Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didisbury Three Hills and a former Wildrose caucus Chief of Staff, Carstairs town councillor, and spokesperson for the social conservative Canada Family Action group.
  • Richard Starke

    Richard Starke

    PC MLA Richard Starke will not join the new UCP caucus. Starke, who has represented Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012, ran against Jason Kenney in the 2017 PC leadership race and opposed his plans to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party. Starke wrote on Facebook that: “My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward.”

  • Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally announced his bid for the leadership of the new party at the Apple Creek Golf Course in Rockyview County. Jean was accompanied by Airdrie Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt, who has endorsed his campaign.
  • Kenney is expected to formally announce his leadership bid on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
  • Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who is also expected to join the leadership race, vowed he would never support Jean in a leadership race. Jean briefly attempted to suspend Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus in May 2016, after the MLA’s partisan antics went too far. 
  • Long-time PC Party strategist Susan Elliott announced she will be joining the Alberta Party. Elliott managed the PC Party’s successful 2012 election campaign.