Tag Archives: United Conservative Party

WAR ROOM ENGAGE! Kenney hires former UCP candidate Tom Olsen to run the Canadian Energy Centre

The Alberta government’s much talked about energy war room now has its General. Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced yesterday that Tom Olsen has been hired as the managing director of the newly incorporated Canadian Energy Centre. The $30-million publicly funded private corporation is part of the UCP’s “fight back strategy” to counter claims made by critics of the oil and gas industry that Premier Jason Kenney said will target politicians, media and other opinion leaders, and could include satellite offices overseas.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Olsen was most recently the United Conservative Party candidate in the downtown Calgary-Buffalo riding in the 2019 provincial election, where he finished 9 per cent short of unseating former New Democratic Party finance minister Joe Ceci. But despite his recent electoral loss, Olsen has been a fixture of Conservative politics in Alberta for more than a decade.

After years as a columnist and reporter for the large daily newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, Olsen jumped into politics when he was hired as Premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesperson in 2007. (Olsen’s brother, Gordon Olsen, worked in senior roles in the Premier’s Office while Ralph Klein occupied the office).

While some Albertans will remember Olsen for his role in the Northumberland beach photos fiasco, he also oversaw the launch of the first version of the war room.

In 2008, the Alberta government launched a website called “For the Record” that was dedicated to correcting what the government determined was incomplete or incorrect information in the media. “It’s not a forum to argue philosophy and spin. . . it’s not debating the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue. It’s about factual information,”Olsen told the Calgary Herald in December 2008. “I don’t see it as government policing journalists.”

The Alberta Government’s short-lived “For the Record” webpage.

It was the government policing journalists, and it did not last very long. The government website posted six corrections to news stories from various media outlets between November 2008 and December 2010. The website briefly became a source of controversy when Olsen insisted the Globe & Mail be referred to as the Toronto Globe & Mail. The website was later edited to drop Toronto from the newspaper’s name.

Following a wholesale purge of Stelmach’s senior communications staff, Olsen was whisked off to Vancouver to handle the Alberta government’s public relations during the 2010 Winter Olympics, which included the renting of the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train and the distribution of free iPads to journalists and VIPs.

Sonya Savage

Olsen later worked as a lobbyist for groups including the Calgary Residential Rental Association, Greyhound and the national group representing Pay Day Loan companies. He found himself back in the Progressive Conservative Party fold when he became Vice-President of Communications during Jim Prentice‘s brief time as party leader.

Savage, a former pipeline lobbyist and now a member of the war room board of directors along with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said this week that the war room will include a rapid response centre, an energy literacy unit and a data research unit. Former Postmedia columnist Claudia Cattaneo was hired in August 2019 by the government to write the Energy War Room Strategic plan.

Earlier this year, Postmedia hired Kenney’s former chief of staff, Nick Koolsbergen, to lobby the UCP government on ways the Toronto-headquartered newspaper company could be involved with the war room. 

In an interview with the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, Postmedia President and CEO Andrew MacLeod said that the lobby effort was part the company’s effort to find new revenue streams and that it had no relationship to editorial decision-making (meanwhile, the front cover of the Postmedia-owned National Post today featured a paid political advertisement attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

Andrew MacLeod Postmedia CEO President

Andrew MacLeod

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group that represents many of Canada’s oil and gas companies, is also registered to lobby Alberta MLAs, the Minister of Energy and the Premier’s Office to share and advise on best practices for the war room to counter misinformation. 

Postmedia’s past relationship with CAPP is no secret, but these group’s business relationships with the war room could be.

As CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine reported today, as a private corporation the Canadian Energy Centre will be exempt from freedom of information requests, meaning that Albertans might not ever know how much of the $30 million is paid to Postmedia, CAPP or whichever UCP-connected PR firms are hired to work for the publicly-funded private war room.

Regardless of which PR companies or Toronto-based newspaper company gets hired, Olsen will have his job cut out for him. The first order of business for the new Canadian Energy Centre might be playing defence for the Alberta government’s $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-oil campaigns – an effort that has been criticized as a witch-hunt by groups like EcoJustice and the venerable Amnesty International.

While it may be easy for Kenney to dismiss NGOs and suggest that the 4,000 Albertans participating in the climate strike protest outside the Legislature were communist sympathizers, Olsen’s war room will have a harder time dismissing its greatest opponent – the free market.

Many major international oil and gas corporations have withdrawn their investments in Canada’s oilsands over the past five years, and the UCP’s decision to scale back the Alberta government’s climate change commitments certainly will not help how our province is perceived internationally.

Conservatives howled loudly this week as a major Norwegian pension fund withdrew investments in four Alberta-based oilsands companies. The move was described by UCP supporters online as hypocritical, as Norway continues to make investments in its own off-shore oil and gas platforms. The move may have been hypocritical, but those are the types of decisions that countries like Norway can make when they have $1.1 trillion saved in the bank (something for Albertans to think about when they consider how much past governments have squandered our wealth).

Olsen’s biggest challenge might be to prove that the war room is more than a $30-million public relations subsidy to Alberta’s oil and gas companies.

Public attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change are shifting dramatically, and Alberta risks becoming increasingly isolated on energy and climate issues on the national and international stage. Judging from the Alberta government’s numerous high-profile efforts over the past two decades to correct what it saw as misinformation about the oilsands and fight environmental advocates outside the province, the war room might be an example of the UCP preparing to fight the last war.


A short history of Alberta government  advertising campaigns and initiatives aimed at critics of oil and gas companies (I am sure I have missed a few):

2002: the Alberta government announced and later scrapped plans for an anti-Kyoto Accord advertising campaign in Ontario after focus group testing proved the messaging was unpopular among Torontonians.

2008: the Alberta government launched a public relations campaign targeting critics of the oilsands outside of Alberta, which included a 20-page glossy brochure entitled Alberta’s Oil Sands: Balance. Opportunity. This campaign included a North America and European speaking tour by the Premier.

2010: the Alberta government rolled out a slick $25-million “Tell It Like It Is” oilsands promotional campaign that included advertisements in London’s Piccadilly Circus and New York City’s Times Square. The multimedia blitz includes CDs and DVDs about “Alberta’s Clean Energy Future” and “A conversation on oilsands and the environment” – which features commentary from provincial experts.

2012: the Alberta government announced it was spending $77,000 on a pro-Keystone XL Pipeline advertising campaign during the Premier’s visit to Washington DC and hired lobbyists to directly lobby US officials.

2012: the federal Conservative government assigned Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in order to counter campaigns launched by an environmental advocacy groups targeting the oilsands.

2013: the federal Conservative government launched a advertising campaign directed at American politicians ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the United States. The ad campaign described Canada as a “world environmental leader” on oil and gas development.

2018: the Alberta government spent more than $23 million promoting its KeepCanadaWorking advertising campaign in support of the expansion of the Trans Mountain PIpeline from Alberta to British Columbia.

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.

Episode 41: The federal election and Jason Kenney’s Ontario whistle-stop tour

What is missing from the federal election debate, Premier Jason Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario, and the fall session of the Alberta Legislature are some of the hot topics Dave tackles with this week’s guest co-hosts – Natalie Pon and Justin Archer.

Natalie Pon is a chartered professional accountant and a conservative activist in Edmonton. Most recently she was on the interim board of the United Conservative Party.

Justin Archer is a partner at Berlin Communications in Edmonton and a professional communications strategist. Justin and Dave worked together in their first political jobs with the Alberta Liberal Party back in the mid-2000s.

Thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for helping us put the show together, and a huge thanks to the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, for supporting the show. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts, including The Common Ground Podcast.

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 can get us on TwitterInstagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We will be back again in two weeks! Enjoy!

Recommended reading/listening/upcoming events:

Kenney campaigns for federal Conservatives in Ontario this weekend

With Ontario Premier Doug Ford nowhere to be seen in this federal election, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pinch-hitting for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in Ontario this weekend. Kenny will be spending a few days campaigning for federal Conservative candidates in the Ottawa region and Greater Toronto Area, a trip paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada.

It is not unusual for a provincial premier to campaign in support of their federal party of choice.  Rachel Notley shared the stage with Thomas Mulcair at a campaign rally in Edmonton in 2015 and Ralph Klein campaigned in Calgary with local Member of Parliament Bobbie Sparrow in 1993 and Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest in 1997. But it is quite unusual for a premier to be campaign for their federal party of choice in another province.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

It is perhaps less unusual because the premier in question is Jason Kenney. As a federal cabinet minister he was praised by fellow partisans for his role in expanding Conservative Party’s outreach into New Canadian communities that had previously been the strongholds of the Liberal Party, a strategy that appeared solid until its collapse in 2015.

And while Kenney is currently the Premier of Alberta, he very much remains a national politician and one of the leaders of Conservative movement in Canada, frequently speaking at partisan fundraisers and events hosted by right-wing think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manhattan Institute.

Kenney’s interest in the federal campaign is no surprise. Much of the United Conservative Party campaign in Alberta’s recent provincial election focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Kenney had pledged his efforts to defeat in the October 21 federal election. And it is probably the worst-kept secret in Canadian politics that Kenney still harbours federal leadership ambitions. Ambitions that could be realized sooner than expected if Scheer stumbles in this election.

This is the first federal election in decades that both the federal and provincial Conservative parties in Alberta are marching in lock-step. The creation of the United Conservative Party in 2017 was just as much about the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties as it was creating harmony between the dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties.

This campaign trip to Ontario is not Kenney’s first, but it is much more extensive than his previous visits.

Rajan Sawhney

Kenney made an appearance at a fundraiser earlier this year in Brampton-North, where his former ministerial staffer Arpan Khanna is running for the Conservatives. Khanna managed Kenney’s Toronto office during his time as Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of National Defence.

Flying to Ottawa today, Kenney launched his campaign tour with Conservative candidates Brian St. Louis in Nepean and Abdul Abdi in Ottawa-West Nepean.

While Kenney’s Ontario itinerary does not appear to be publicly available, UCP sources tell me that he is scheduled to spend the rest of the weekend canvassing door-to-door with Markham-Stouffville candidate Theodore Antony, attending a BBQ for Brampton-Centre candidate Pawanjit Gosal, headlining a rally with Vaughn-Woodbridge candidate Teresa Kruze, and attending an event at the Canadian Coptic Centre in support of Conservative candidates in Mississauga, among about ten other appearances.

Kenney is not the first Alberta politician to spend some time campaigning in this region of Ontario. Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney was in the area over the summer to campaign with Conservative candidates Sean Weir in Oakville North-Burlington and Ramandeep Singh Brar in Brampton-South.

If the federal Conservatives have any chance of forming government, it is believed that this is the region where that party will need to gain seats from the Liberals.

While Kenney campaigns in Ontario, he is also acutely aware of how this sort of intervention can go awry. Kenny was one of the senior Conservative Party officials who scolded then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein for contributing to his party’s defeat in the 2004 federal election.

Two days after that election was called, Klein publicly mused that his health-care reforms could possibly violate the Canada Health act, a statement which senior officials in the Conservative Party said helped Paul Martin’s Liberal Party shore up support in Ontario.

There’s pretty much unanimous consensus in the federal party that these remarks weren’t helpful,” Kenney told the Calgary Herald in 2004. “Suggesting the Alberta government was prepared to announce violations of the Canada Health Act two days after an election was giving the Liberals a big fat one over centre plate.”

Few politicians can sustain themselves in a permanent campaign-mode like Kenney can. Anyone who has been paying attention to Alberta politics over the past few years can attest that he hasn’t stopped campaigning since his jumped into provincial politics in 2017. He is a career politician who can probably out-hustle almost any of his peers, but he also carries a few suitcases worth of political baggage on his trip east.

On the issue of gun control, which the Liberals raised at the beginning of the campaign, how will Kenney’s decision to publicly endorse vigilante gun justice in rural Alberta play in suburban Ontario? Kenney will be speaking to crowds of friendly Conservative voters, but I would not be surprised to see the Liberals bird-dog Kenney on this issue during his Ontario tour.

Kenney has also spent much of the past two years fanning the flames of western alienation against Ottawa and other provinces over the national equalization formula and the expansion of oil pipelines – but mostly against Trudeau. He has also launched a crusade against climate change and environmental groups who he and his supporters claim are funded by nefarious foreign sources.

While Kenney is certainly not a separatist, he is trying to do what many past Alberta premiers have done in order to position themselves as the province’s great defender against the political interests of Central Canada.

Stoking western alienation will help solidify Kenney’s support among Conservative voters at home but it could also poison Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa even further if Trudeau’s Liberals are re-elected on October 21. This could help explain why no Alberta premier has parlayed their provincial success to federal politics – something Kenney may want to consider as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario this weekend.


Notley plays coy about her federal vote

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP

Rachel Notley

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the official opposition, continues to play coy when asked who she is planning to vote for in the October 21 federal election. “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate’s best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona,” Notley told CBC.

This comment will certainly not be helpful for the federal NDP in Edmonton-Strathcona, where the popular Notley remains MLA for the provincial riding of the same name. Heather McPherson is hoping to hold on to the seat held since 2008 by retiring NDP MP Linda Duncan. Many of Notley’s close supporters helped propel McPherson to a narrow victory over Paige Gorsak in a November 2018 nomination contest.

While I would be surprised if Notley did not vote for McPherson on October 21, it does demonstrate the deep distrust between the provincial and federal wings of the NDP in Alberta over issues like the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. While some former NDP MLAs defeated in the April 2019 election have been actively campaigning for federal NDP candidates, Notley and her current 24 NDP MLA caucus remain nowhere to be seen on the federal campaign trail in Alberta.


The kamakaze campaign that just won’t die

CBC investigative reporters have dived deep into the allegations of fraud and misuse of voting kiosks by Kenney’s campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest. According to CBC, the RCMP, which has been tight-lipped on the status and focus of its investigation, will only say it continues to investigate allegations of fraud as it relates to the 2017 UCP leadership race.

Episode 40: Alberta Politics and Federal Election Q&A

We are back from our summer break with a special Question and Answer edition of the Daveberta Podcast. Dave dives deep into our mailbag to answer some of the great Alberta politics and federal election questions our listeners have sent in over the past few weeks.

Thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for helping us put the show together, and a huge thanks to the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, for supporting the show.

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 can get us on TwitterInstagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We will be back again in a few weeks! Enjoy!

Recommended reading/listening/events:


Note: In this episode we referred to the investigation into sexual harrassment allegations against MP Kent Hehr’s as being inconclusive. This is incorrect. The third-party report found the claims against Hehr were legitimate, but details of the independent investigation were not publicly released. We apologize for this mistake.

More federal candidate nomination updates from Alberta

Photo: Campaign central in Edmonton-Centre: Randy Boissonnault’s campaign office (in an old bank) and James Cumming’s campaign office (in an old car dealership) are kitty-corner to each other on Jasper Avenue and 115 Street.

The first full day of Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign marked another round of new candidate nomination updates for the Liberal Party, New Democratic Party, Green Party, and other opposition parties in Alberta. Here are the latest updates:

  • Gwyneth Midgley has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in Banff-Airdire. Midgley is the executive director of the Alberta Liberal Party and was that party’s 2019 candidate in Banff-Kananaskis, where she earned 1.08 per cent of the vote. Previously declared nomination candidate Jaro Giesbrecht announced on social media that his candidacy had not passed the Liberal Party’s vetting process.
  • The NDP has nominated retired Registered Nurse Holly Heffernan in Calgary-Heritage, app developer Patrick King in Calgary-Nose Hill, UFCW Local 401 activist Charmaine St. Germain in Edmonton-Manning, and law student Noah Garver in Edmonton-Wetaskiwin. Hefferman has run for the NDP in numerous past provincial and federal elections, most recently as the provincial NDP candidate in Drumheller-Stettler.
  • Logan Garbanewski is seeking the NDP nomination in Red Deer-Mountain View and a selection meeting is scheduled to take place on September 20
  • The Green Party has nominated Jeff Cullihall in Edmonton-West, Brian Deheer in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, Shannon Hawthore in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, Angelena Satdeo in Yellowhead, Allison Tulick in Calgary-Heritage, Chris Vallee in Edmonton-Manning, and Stephanie Watson in Lethbridge
  • The Christian Heritage Party has nominated Tom Lipp in Bow River, Esther Sutherland in Calgary-Forest Lawn, Larry Heather in Calgary-Heritage, Joseph Alexander in Calgary-Skyview, Christine Armas in Edmonton-Griesbach, Pamella Phiri in Edmonton-Manning, Don Melanson in Edmonton-Mill Woods, and Marc Singerland in Lethbridge. Slingerland narrowly lost the United Conservative Party nomination in Cardston-Siksika to Joseph Schow ahead of the 2019 provincial election.
  • The Marxist-Leninist Party has nominated Kevan Hunter in Calgary-Confederation, Peggy Askin in Calgary-Nose Hill, Daniel Blanchard in Calgary-Skyview, Peggy Morton in Edmonton-Centre, Mary Joyce in Edmonton-Griesbach, and Andre Vachon in Edmonton-Manning.
  • Naomi Rankin is the Communist Party of Canada candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona. Rankin has served as leader of the Communist Party of Alberta since 1992 and has run in every provincial and federal election in Alberta since 1982. Also running for the Communist Party are Jonathan Trautman in Calgary-Forest Lawn and Adam Handy in Calgary-Skyview.

Please contact me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta and I will add them to the list. Thank you!


Thank you to CBC Edmonton for having me on the radio on Tuesday morning to talk politics with Mark Connolly, Melissa Caouette, and Chaldeans Mensah ahead of the official election call.

Jasraj Singh Hallan, Nirmala Naidoo, Joe Pimlott, Gurdiner Singh Gill

Liberals, NDP and Greens scrambling to fill candidate slates in Alberta ahead of federal election call

Photo: federal candidates Jasraj Singh Hallan, Nirmala Naidoo, Joe Pimlott, and Gurinder Singh Gill

With a federal election expected to begin sometime in the next nine days, some of Canada’s major political parties are scrambling to fill their slate of candidates in Alberta. At the time this update was published, the Liberal Party had 17 candidates nominated in Alberta’s 34 ridings, the NDP had nominated candidates in 9 ridings, and the Greens had candidates in 21 ridings. The Conservative Party and People’s Party had nominated full-slates of 34 candidates.

The regionally dominant Conservative Party is already expected to sweep most of the federal races in Alberta on October 21, 2019, but it is still a bit shocking that the other major political parties are still so far behind in their candidate selection process. It sends a pretty strong signal that those parties will be spending most of their resources in other provinces that are seen as more competitive, with the exception of a few Alberta ridings – Edmonton-Strathcona for the NDP and Calgary-Centre, Edmonton-Centre and Edmonton-Mill Woods for the Liberals.

Former UCP candidiate Hallan wins Conservative nomination in Calgary-Forest Lawn

Jasraj Singh Hallan won the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Forest Lawn, defeating Andre Chabot, Amrit Rai Nannan, and Aman Obhrai (son of deceased former MP Deepak Obhrai). Hallan runs a residential home building business in Calgary and was the United Conservative Party candidate in Calgary-McCall in Alberta’s 2019 provincial election where he finished 13 points behind New Democratic Party MLA Irfan Sabir.

Calgary-Forest Lawn was the eighth closest race in Alberta in the 2015 federal election, with Obhrai finishing 4,932 votes ahead of the Liberal candidate in that election.

As noted in a previous update, Joe Pimlott has been chosen as the federal NDP candidate in Calgary-Forest Lawn. Pimlott is a community liaison with Metis Calgary Family Services and was the NDP candidate in Calgary-Peigan in the 2019 provincial election.

Naidoo runs for Liberals in Calgary-Skyview

Nirmala Naidoo has been acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Skyview. The former television broadcaster was the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in the 2015 election. She briefly served as co-chair of the Alberta Liberal Party’s leadership contest before stepping down to serve as the spokesperson for Sandra Jansen during her brief campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2016 (Jansen had endorsed Naidoo’s federal candidacy in 2015).

Naidoo’s candidacy was approved despite two other candidates having announced their intentions to run for the Liberal Party nomination in this riding.

The riding is currently represented by Independent MP Darshan Kang. Kang is a former two-term Liberal MLA who was elected as a federal Liberal in 2015 before leaving the Liberal caucus in 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment.

Gurinder Singh Gill was recently nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Skyview.

Here are some of the other nomination updates:

  • The Liberals have nominated Ghada Alatrash in Calgary-Signal Hill. She is a Syrian-Canadian writer and holds a PhD in Educational Research from the University of Calgary.
  • Leslie Penny is the nominated Liberal Party candidate in Peace River-Westlock. Penny ran for the provincial Liberal Party in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
  • Ronald Brochu is the Liberal Party candidate in Sturgeon River-Parkland. Brochu has run for the provincial Liberal Party in Edmonton-Gold Bar in 2015 and Drayton Valley-Devon in 2019.
  • Del Arnold has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-Shepard. Arnold is the former vice-president of the Alberta Society of Registered Cardiology Technologists.
  • Tariq Chaudary has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Riverbend. Chaudary was the Liberal candidate in this riding in 2015, where he earned 30 per cent of the vote.
  • Audrey Redman is expected to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Riverbend on September 16, 2019.
  • Gurmit Bhachu is seeking the NDP nomination in Calgary-Midnapore. Bhachu is active with the provincial NDP in Calgary-Fish Creek and briefly considered seeking the nomination in that district before the 2019 provincial election. The nomination meeting is scheduled to take place on September 10, 2019.
  • The NDP will nominate candidates in Calgary-Heritage on September 10 and in Calgary-Nose Hill on September 11.
  • Elke Crosson has been nominated as the Green Party candidate in Lakeland.
  • Alex Boykowich is running in Edmonton-Griesbach for the Communist Party of Canada. Boykowich recently ran as the Communist Party of Alberta candidate in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in the 2019 election.
  • Dougal MacDonald is running in Edmonton-Strathcona as a candidate for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada. MacDonald also ran for his party in this riding in the 2015 federal election.

Federal Green candidate now interim leader of the Green Party of Alberta

Will Carnegie Green Party of Alberta Calgary Forest Lawn

Will Carnegie

Will Carnegie, the federal Green candidate in Calgary-Forest Lawn, is now the interim leader of the Green Party of Alberta following the resignation of Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes.

“I’ve had devastating personal losses and health challenges over the past year, and I need time to step away, focus on family, and heal,” Chagnon-Greyeyes explained in a press release from the party.

Carnegie, who ran for the provincial Greens in Calgary-East in the 2019 election, will remain interim leader until a new leader is elected in early 2020.

This marks the fourth change in Green Party leadership in Alberta since 2017.

Janice MacKinnon

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.

UCP and NDP close in 2019 post-election fundraising reports

Political party fundraising data for the second quarter of 2019 has been released by Elections Alberta and shows the United Conservative Party and New Democratic Party fairly close in their total fundraising during the reported period.

Here’s the breakdown of the combined funds raised by the parties and their constituency associations during the second quarter of 2019:

  • United Conservative Party: $1,593,698
  • Alberta NDP: $1,427,710
  • Alberta Party: $101,382
  • Liberal Party: $38,270
  • Freedom Conservative Party: $5,205
  • Green Party: $3,184

This quarterly disclosure that would normally include all information from April to June does not include funds raised by the political parties or candidates during the election period from March 20 to April 16, 2019. The fundraising results from the 28-day election period will be included in a separate report not yet released by Elections Alberta. It is expected that all the parties, especially the UCP, raised significantly more during the election period.

The second quarter report provides us with a snapshot of the period immediately following the 2019 election. The UCP and NDP raised a fairly similar amount during the immediate post-election period, and despite losing government the NDP donor base continues for the moment to draw in cash for the new official opposition party.

Update: The candidate campaign financial statements from the 2019 provincial general election have now been released


Notley to speak at Sask NDP gala

Alberta NDP leader and former premier Rachel Notley is the speaker and special guest at an upcoming event hosted by the Saskatchewan NDP in Regina on September 14, 2019. The “Tommy’s Big Win” gala is being held to mark the 75th anniversary of the election of Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan – the first time a socialist government was elected anywhere in Canada.

Notley’s trip to Saskatchewan comes just over a month after former NDP caucus chief of staff and government staffer Adrienne King started her new job as Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili‘s chief of staff.

Also in NDP news, it is being reported that former ministerial staffer Brandon Stevens has been hired as that party’s new Provincial Secretary. Stevens replaces Roari Richardson, who filled that role during the party’s time as government.

Shortly after the election, UCP executive director Janice Harrington stepped down and was replaced by long-time conservative operative Brad Tennant.

What the heck is a Wexit?

It’s a silly name and a bad idea, but that isn’t stopping the latest version of Alberta’s separatist movement: Wexit.

Apparently inspired by Brexit, Grexit, Albexit, and a long list of other “-exit” suffix terms that have entered our daily conversations over the past few years, Wexit (Western-exit, I assume) has been holding meetings across the province promoting an agenda for an independent Alberta to “Enhance economic, military, and geo-political cooperation with the United States of America” and for a “Head of state to be an elected President of Alberta with an appointed cabinet.”

Peter Downing Wexit leader

Peter Downing

The Wexit Alberta group appears to be part of something called the “Prairie Freedom Movement,” a group who’s website promotes near identically branded “Wexit Saskatchewan”, Wexit Manitoba, and “Saskatchewan Fights Back” groups.

The Wexit group’s Alberta-branch is led by past Christian Heritage Party candidate Peter Downing, who is also the executive director of Alberta Fights Back, a third party political advertiser responsible for billboards that ask if Canada is headed for a civil war and a recent clash with Edmonton’s nude cyclist community.

One of the largest donors to Alberta Fights Back during Alberta’s 2019 election was Sharon Maclise, a former Wildrose Party candidate and interim leader of the Alberta Freedom Alliance, an unregistered political party promoting Alberta’s separation from Canada.

The Wexit group’s main grievances appear to revolve mainly around Justin Trudeau being Prime Minister, the carbon tax, unemployment levels, and the delay in construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion (which is now owned by the Government of Canada). But the grievances are broader among some of the group’s supporters, including one guest speaker at a recent Wexit meeting in Red Deer who named American billionaire George Soros and Antifa as enemies of Alberta.

It is not clear how many people have actually attended the Wexit meetings, but it is not difficult to understand why separatists in western Canada feel emboldened these days.

Heated political rhetoric coming from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers about the threat posed to Alberta by Trudeau, socialists, Quebec, equalization, and nefarious foreign-funded environmental groups adds fuel to the flames of those who feel Alberta has no place in Canada or would actively campaign for separation. Kenney quickly tried to rebuke any criticism that he is anything but a dedicated federalist, but it is clear that he is stoking regional grievances in order to achieve his short-term political goal of defeating Trudeau’s Liberals in October’s federal election.

Jay Hill (photo credit: Jake Wright)

The Wexit groups also have the support of some of Kenney’s former Ottawa colleagues, including former British Columbia Member of Parliament and former Jim Prentice confidant Jay Hill, who appears to have relaunched his political career as an advocate of Alberta separatism, and former Saskatchewan MP and MLA Allan Kerpan. Hill and Kerpan are the keynote speakers at a pro-separatist event scheduled to be held in Lloydminster on August 24, 2019.

With the exception of a single by-election win for the Western Canada Concept in February 1982, separatist groups like the Independent Alberta Association, West-Fed, Western Canada Party, Western Independence Party, Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, Alberta Advantage Party, Alberta Independence Party and the Freedom Conservative Party have firmly occupied the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.

Downing has announced his plans to run for the leadership of the Alberta Independence Party, which ran 63 candidates in the 2019 election and earned 0.7 per cent of the vote. In a post on Facebook, Downing wrote that he has spoken with Freedom Conservative Party president Stephen Burry about a merger of the two parties. The FCP was known as the Separation Party of Alberta and the Alberta First Party before former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt led it into the 2019 election to earn 0.5 per cent of the vote. 

At this point, the total lack of a viable political party, legitimate plan for separation, and any real electoral support from Albertans for the separatist agenda is a big challenge for those who dream of one-day creating a landlocked prairie petro-republic.

Jason Kenney ramps up the old Tory patronage machine, begins purging NDP appointees from public agencies, boards and commissions

If you’re a conservative lawyer or energy company CEO in Alberta, you should check your email. There’s a good chance you might have been appointed to a public agency, board or commission last week.

A large number of political appointments made last Friday morning included new board chairpersons and directors at eleven post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University and Mount Royal University, as well as Alberta Health Services, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis commission. The UCP appointees replaced a number of high-profile NDP-appointees, including U of A board chairperson Michael Phair, NAIT board chairperson Ray Martin, AHS board chairperson Linda Hughes, and WCB chairperson Grace Thostenson.

The list of appointees is flush with business insiders, corporate executives, and United Conservative Party donors. While partisan and political appointments are expected after any change in government (an occurrence we are just starting to become familiar with in Alberta – and hopefully will continue to be familiar with), this list might even make the old Progressive Conservative establishment blush.

As reported by David Climenhaga at AlbertaPolitics.ca, “At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws.” Progress Alberta is expected to publish a more detailed report soon, but a scan of financing disclosures by executive director Duncan Kinney showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were among the appointees.

Included in the flurry of appointments are a handful of former conservative politicians, activists, and officials with ties to the UCP, the federal Conservative Party, and right-wing lobby groups and think-tanks:

  • The AGLC will now be chaired by defeated UCP star candidate Len Rhodes. Rhodes was parachuted into Edmonton-Meadows following his retirement as president and CEO of the Edmonton Eskimos, but was defeated by NDP MLA Jasvir Deol in the provincial election.
  • Also appointed to the AGLC are Elan Harper, the chief financial officer for the Calgary-Varsity UCP association, and Gerard Curran, the owner of the James Joyce Pub in Calgary and former chairman of Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (now known as the UCP-friendly Restaurants Canada).
  • Former Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of MacEwan University, former MLA and associate cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans was appointed to the board of the Banff Centre, and former Member of Parliament James Rajotte is now on the University of Alberta Board of Governors.
  • Former APPEGA president Kim Farwell, appointed to the board of governors of Keyano College in Fort McMurray, was campaign manager to Conservative MP David Yurdiga and president of the local Conservative Party association.
  • Lydell Torgerson, appointed as a public member of the Board of Directors of Grande Prairie Regional College has acted as the official agent for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin‘s election campaign.
  • Andy Crooks, the former chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson, is now a member of the Municipal Government Board, and Moin Yahya, a U of A law professor and senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, is now a member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
  • Grafton Asset Management, the company run by newly appointed University of Calgary board chairperson Geeta Sankappanavar, donated $25,000 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future political action committee which purchased front-page pro-UCP ads in Alberta’s Postmedia newspapers.
  • Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy and newly appointed chairman of the Mount Royal University board of directors, donated $4,000 to the UCP in 2019.

The biggest outlier when it comes to political donations might be new AHS board chairman David Weyant, the outgoing chairman of the Banff Centre of the Arts, who has donated $1,775 to the Alberta NDP since 2016, including a $550 donation in 2019.

Overall, the appointments send two messages:

  1. The Tory patronage machine is back, and it’s a deep well. While the NDP embraced the oil and gas sector and appointed corporate executives to public boards during their five years in government, Premier Rachel Notley‘s party never had a large political establishment to draw upon for appointees. The NDP also attempted to to professionalize the selection process but holding interviews and expanding the application process to allow a broader cross-section of Albertans to serve on some public boards. The long list of UCP appointees employed as corporate executives and lawyers, as well as the lack of representation from civil society groups, signals a return to something more similar to the old PC Party regime. It also serves as a reminder of the deep well of patronage appointees from the conservative establishment in this province that have made themselves available to the UCP.
  2. Resistance is futile (at least that’s what they want you to think). Serious political resistance at the board level to what are expected to be significant funding cuts to post-secondary education and public agencies like Alberta Health Services is now less likely to be successful. With significant budget cuts expected to be recommended in the “Blue Ribbon” panel report prepared by history professor and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Janice McKinnon, it is likely that the UCP government wanted to install appointees who would be eager to enact the government’s austerity and privatization agenda when the provincial budget is tabled in the fall.

While it is difficult to criticize the qualifications of some of the appointees, some who are highly qualified for the positions they have been appointed to, it is expected that their experience was weighed closely with how compliant they will be with Kenney’s political agenda.

Calgary-Forest Lawn

Federal Nomination Update: Conservatives will choose a Calgary-Forest Lawn candidate on August 29

At least three candidates are actively seeking the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Forest Lawn following the death of seven-term Member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai on August 2, 2019. Obhrai was first elected in 1997 and had already been nominated to run as his party’s candidate in the October 2019 election.

Andre Chabot, Ryan Ellis, and Amrit Rai Nannan, are expected to seek the Conservative Party nomination to succeed Obhrai.

  • Andre Chabot is a former Calgary city councillor and ran for mayor in 2017. He later ran for a United Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-East in 2018. Following allegations that nomination winner Peter Singh engaged in fraud and bribery during the nomination contest, Chabot and his fellow UCP nomination candidates Jamie Lall, Issa Moussa and Matthew Dirk signed a letter asking UCP Leader Jason Kenney and deputy leader Leela Aheer for the results of the contest to be overturned.
  • Ryan Ellis is the CEO of Accelerate Marketing & Web Design and has served as the Vice President of the  Conservative Party association in Calgary-Signal Hill.
  • Amrit Rai Nannan is a teacher in the Rocky View School district and has volunteered as the regional director for the now-defunct provincial Progressive Conservative Party in east Calgary. She was an organizer for Student Vote at the school she teachers at during the 2017 and 2019 elections.

It is unclear whether former PC Party MLA Moe Amery will enter the contest. Amery briefly challenged Obhrai for the nomination but withdrew his candidacy in 2018.

George Clark, known for his part leading the Kudatah against Rachel Notley‘s NDP government, announced on Facebook that he would not seek the nomination.

In other Alberta nomination news:

In Calgary-Skyview, engineer Raj Dhaliwal announced his plans to challenge Jagdish Anand for the Liberal Party nomination.

Brian Gold is expected to be acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Griesbach at a nomination meeting on August 24, 2019. Gold earned 21.6 percent of the vote as  the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Greisbach in 2015, and he later earned 12 percent of the vote in the 2017 Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election.

Three candidates are expected to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Griesbach on August 27, 2019: Mark Cherrington, Abdulhakim Dalel, and Victoria Stevens. The NDP had their second strongest showing in Alberta in this district in 2015, with Janis Irwin earning 34 percent to Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte‘s 39 percent. Irwin was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in the 2019 provincial election.

Peter Nygaard defeated Jule Asterisk to win the Green Party nomination in Peace River-Westlock. Nygaard owns a plumbing and gas fitting company and is a member of Onion Lake Cree Nation.

And Aidan Theroux has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. Theroux is a second-year communications studies student at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

Please contact me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta and I will add them to the list. Thank you!

Episode 39: Wet Hot Albertan Summer

We’re taking a break from our summer vacations to record this special episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

In this episode, Dave Cournoyer and guest co-host Michael Janz discuss Bill 8, the contentious Education Act and its impact on Gay-Straight Alliances, and how the political battles over pipelines, climate change, and the conspiracy theories about foreign-funded interests are shaping the upcoming federal election. And we talk about the big issues facing Alberta’s future and why our politicians aren’t talking about them!

We also dive into the mailbag to answer some of the great questions our listeners sent us.

Thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for helping us put the show together, and a huge thanks to the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, for supporting the show.

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 can get us on Twitter, Instagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We’re going to be taking another bit of a break from the podcast as we continue our vacations with our families this summer. But we’ll be back at it with a regular schedule at the beginning of September. Until then, so long everyone, and thanks for listening!

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Stephen Mandel’s time as Alberta Party leader ends as a footnote in Alberta’s history

The Alberta Party will soon be seeking applications for a new leader.

The party announced through a press release today that on June 30, 2019 Stephen Mandel will step down as leader 15-months after he was elected into the role. The former three-term Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister ran for the leadership in 2018 after MLA Greg Clark was ousted in a successful bid by former PC Party members to take over the Alberta Party.

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta

Premier Jim Prentice and Health Minister Stephen Mandel in 2014.

This was Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback.

He surprised many political watchers when he was appointed to Jim Prentice’s cabinet without a seat in the Legislature in 2014, just over a year after he retired as mayor.

The first comeback was short-lived.

Mandel won a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud in late 2014 but was unseated by popular New Democratic Party candidate Bob Turner in the spring 2015 Orange Wave that swept the province.

Following Jason Kenney’s win in the 2017 PC Party leadership race, a number of moderate conservative partisans left the party over differences with the new leader’s style, history of social conservative activism and drive to merge the party with the Wildrose Party.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Prominent Progressive Conservatives like Mandel, Katherine O’Neill, Dave Quest, Sue Timanson, and Stephen Khan hoped to turn the Alberta Party into a home for former PC supporters disenchanted by what became the United Conservative Party.

Policy direction under Mandel shifted further to the economic-right but the party steadfastly refused to describe itself as conservative, sticking instead to the ambiguous “centrist” label. In a province where many eligible voters self-identify as conservatives, it remains puzzling why a political party run by conservatives and presenting a moderate conservative program would actively distance itself from the description.

The Alberta Party under Mandel increased the party’s vote from 2.2% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019, but failed to win any seats in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike 2015, when the party focused all of its resources to successfully elect Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2019 the Alberta Party spread thin its resources by running a province-wide campaign and a full-slate of candidates.

Mandel was able to attract a slate with credible candidates, including former PC MLA Dave Quest, former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy, former St. Paul mayor Glenn Andersen, former St. Albert city councillor Neil Korotash, anti-violence advocate Manwar Khan, actor Dakota House and well-known former radio host Angela Kokott.

Lorne Dach Edmonton-McClung NDP MLA

Lorne Dach

But the Alberta Party campaign stumbled out of the starting gate early in the campaign, with Mandel and a handful of candidates and chief financial officers being banned from running in the election by Election Alberta after missing their financial disclosure deadlines. The bans were lifted after court challenges by Mandel and the other candidates but it damaged the party’s chances of being seen as a serious contender in an election dominated by the UCP and NDP.

The party earned significant media coverage but struggled to gain traction and hit a ceiling of 12 percent in polling during the campaign. Mandel’s significant of name recognition in Edmonton was not able to help the Alberta Party break the dominance of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the provincial capital city. The NDP won 19 of 20 seats in Edmonton.

Mandel finished third behind NDP MLA Lorne Dach and UCP challenger Laurie Mozeson in Edmonton-McClung, which includes parts of the area he represented on city council before his time as mayor. The party’s two incumbent MLAs, Clark and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. The party’s third MLA, former NDPer Karen McPherson, declined to run for re-election.

The press release announcing Mandel’s departure states that he is pursuing his role as Chancellor of Concordia University of Edmonton, a role he was installed into on November 30, 2017, just over one month before he launched his campaign to win the Alberta Party leadership.

From the very beginning, Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback was a strange endeavour. And despite Mandel’s nine-years as a popular big city mayor with a significant list of accomplishments, his final appearance on the political scene will largely be a footnote in Alberta’s history (unless, of course, this was not his final comeback…).


Alberta Party finances…

The Alberta Party’s financial disclosures from the 2019 election have not yet been released, but the 2018 annual financial disclosures paint a picture of a party in financial disarray. The Alberta Party raised $525,430 in 2018 while running a $137,964 deficit.

In a May 25, 2019 email sent to members explaining the financial situation, the party explained that it had cycled through three CFOs in 2018 and that larger than expected expenses related to the creation of the party’s proprietary Customer Relationship Management database and “too large of an AGM” put the party in a deficit position.

The email told members that “[t]he Party is not broke but will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future.”

Strengthening Canada Reform of Canadas Senate

Once upon a time Alberta MLAs had meaningful ideas about Senate Reform

The introduction of Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act, this week inspired me to pull out an old copy of the Special Select Committee on Senate Reform report, Strengthening Canada, from March 1985. The committee, chaired by Calgary-Currie MLA Dennis Anderson, published a report that led to the creation of the original Senatorial Selection Act in 1989 and subsequent Senate nominee elections in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

Dennis Andeson

The 1980s were heady times for constitutional debaters and Senate reform advocates in Canada. Dozens of reports from various governments, organizations, and think-tanks studied the idea of reforming Canada’s appointed Upper Chamber.

Unlike today, when the majority of Senators sit as Independents, decades of federal Liberal Party governments had led to the 1980s Senate being overflowing with Liberal partisan appointees.

A motion from Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs Jim Horsman on November 23, 1983 led to the creation of the committee, which included 7 MLAs from the Progressive Conservative caucus, including Anderson, Calgary-North West MLA Sheila Embury, Highwood MLA Harry Alger, Calgary-Egmont MLA David Carter, Lacombe MLA Ron Moore, Edmonton-Kingsway MLA Carl Paproski, and Innisfail MLA Nigel Pengelly, and Independent former Social Credit MLA Raymond Speaker. The group spent more than a year consulting and studying the issue in Alberta, Canada and abroad.

The motion to create the committee and the 1985 and 1987 motions to hold Senate elections had cross-partisan support – including from the PC, New Democratic Party and Liberals. This is a marked difference from today, where the NDP are advocates of Senate abolition, the Liberals have their banished Senators from their federal caucus, and Conservatives (at least when they are in government) have largely fallen back into supporting the current appointed Senate model.

An advertisement asking for feedback for the committee.

The committee report tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 1985 included a number of recommendations for reforming the Senate that are much more ambitious than anything being presented by Senate election advocates today.

Unlike the unimaginative Senate Election Act, which is a largely farcical exercise, the Special Select Committee on Senate Reform called for wide-ranging constitutional reforms that would reorganize and increase the democratic accountability of the Upper Chamber.

The 1985 report recommended Senators should be elected using a first-past-the-post system and that they should represent constituencies identical to provincial boundaries. Senators would be elected for the life of two provincial legislatures with staggered elections allowing for three to be elected during each provincial election, with each voter being able to vote for three candidates.

The number of Senators would have been dropped to 64 had the committee had its way, with six representing each province and two representing each territory. This would presumably fulfill the “equal” part of the call for a Triple-E Senate (the other Es being effective and elected).

The report also recommended that “the Senate should be organized on a different basis than any other Upper House in the Commonwealth,” including being organized without the recognition of political parties.

The report argued that “if the role of the Senate is to represent the regions (provinces) of the country, it must be structured to represent those regions’ interests rather than the interest of national political parties.” This is somewhat reflective of the current Senate, where the majority of members sit as Independents rather than members of political parties.

The report recommended that traditional opposition and government roles in the Senate be abolished, including the positions of Government Leader and Opposition Leader, and that Senators should physically be seated in provincial delegations regardless of any party allegiances. Each provincial delegation would select a chairman who would should sit at the pleasure of the provincial delegation and participate in a Senate Executive Council, which would, along with the Speaker, determine the order of business of the Senate.

The report also called for the qualifications for candidates to the Senate to be made the same as those for Members of Parliament, removing minimum 30 years old age requirement of and $4,000 property ownership requirement.

It also noted that “the Senate should not be a forum for inter-governmental negotiations.”

Now a quick look at Bill 13, the Senate Election Act

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

The Senate Election Act introduced by Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer this week would allow the Senate nominee candidates to be chosen through an election but then, if the Prime Minister decides to appoint the winners, which he is not bound to do, they will be able to serve their time in the Senate until the age of 75 without ever having to face re-election.

The biggest flaw with this bill and Alberta’s previous Senate election laws is that there is no real accountability if these elected Senators never have to face re-election.

Bill 13 is being introduced to replace the Senatorial Selection Act, which expired on December 31, 2016. But the bill is largely an extension of United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney‘s campaign against Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of the October 2019 federal election.

The Act introduced this week would have Senate candidates nominated by provincial political parties or as Independent candidate, but list their federal political party affiliation next to their name on the ballot. This is a significant change from the previous Senate nominee elections when candidates were listed under provincial party banners. It is unclear whether the federal political parties will have any say about the candidates who align with them in a provincially-administered Senate election.

Kenney and Schweitzer announced that the next Senate election will take place during the October 17, 2021 municipal elections, which will also be the date of the promised “equalization referendum.” It has been speculated that these events are scheduled on this date in order to boost conservative voter turnout in the municipal elections and fulfill the Conservative Party’s long-time dream of defeating Naheed Nenshi and electing a capital-C conservative into the mayor’s office in Calgary.