Tag Archives: Verlyn Olson

8 candidates who could run for the leadership of the Alberta PC Party

With yesterday’s announcement by Premier Alison Redford that she will resign on March 23, 2014, the Progressive Conservative caucus will need to select an interim premier and the PC Party is required to hold a leadership contest to select a new leader.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock: Interim Premier

Deputy Premier Dave Hancock and Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson have been rumoured as potential choices for interim premier until the party selects a new leader.

UPDATE: Dave Hancock is the new Premier of Alberta until the PC Party is able to hold a leadership vote. Candidates for the interim position are said to have included Doug Griffiths, Frank Oberle, and Verlyn Olson (who declined).

According to section 14.2 of the PC Party constitution, a leadership race must be held between four and six months from the time previous leader resigns. This means the vote will need to be held between July 23, 2014 and September 23, 2014.

Unlike previous PC leadership races, according to recently changed party rules, if no candidate earns a majority of votes on the first ballot, only the first and second candidate move to the second ballot vote. Previously, three candidates would move to the second ballot.

The future of the PC Party could be determined by the candidates who step forward to become its next leader and, for the time being, the next premier of Alberta. As blogger David Climenhaga writes, “[v]ery possibly the quality of the field will be a weathervane for the party’s chances of survival.”

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs

Thomas Lukaszuk

With that in mind, here are some potential candidates who could run for the leadership of Alberta’s PC Party:

Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays)
A former Calgary Alderman and mayoral candidate, Mr. McIver was first elected to the Legislature in 2012. Upon his election he immediately joined cabinet and served as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, becoming a high profile member of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Because of his conservative political leanings, some observers were surprised when he shunned the Wildrose in favour of being a star Tory candidate in the last election.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs)
Until recently, the former deputy premier had become the most recognizable face of the PC government. Serving as the unofficial premier while Ms. Redford traveled the globe on trade missions, his combativeness and growing public profile may have been the reason he was demoted to labour minister in December 2013. It has long been suspected that Mr. Lukaszuk has aspirations to occupy the premier’s office.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert)
Currently the Finance minister, Mr. Horner was first elected as MLA in 2001. He placed third in the 2011 PC leadership race and became an ally of Ms. Redford’s after the leadership race. Born into a political family, his father Hugh Horner was Lougheed-era minister, his grandfather Ralph Horner was a Senator, and three of his uncles served as Members of Parliament.

James Rajotte
Member of Parliament representing south Edmonton since 2000, Mr. Rajotte chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. He is said to be considering his options after he was once again looked over for a spot in the federal cabinet.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity

Donna Kennedy-Glans

Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia)
The current minister of Justice and Solicitor General is relatively young compared to others on this list, but Mr. Denis is a long-time politico. A lawyer and former business partner of federal Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre‎, he could earn the support of his party’s shrinking right-wing. A “Draft Jonathan Denis for Premier” Facebook page has already been created.

Donna Kennedy-Glans (Calgary-Varsity)
The first-term MLA left the PC caucus earlier this week, blasting what she described as a culture of entitlement. A former senior executive in Calgary’s corporate oil sector, Ms. Kennedy-Glans would bring business experience, deep pocketed friends and, now, an independent streak, to a candidacy for leadership.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

Gary Mar
The sure-bet to win the 2011 PC leadership race was quickly whisked away to Hong Kong after losing to Ms. Redford. Since then, the former cabinet minister has been far away from the lime-light while serving as Alberta’s envoy to Asia. It is unclear whether he would try a second time to win his party’s leadership.

Stephen Mandel
Oft-talked about as a potential premier, the retired mayor of Edmonton has not shown any signs he is actually interested in the job. After nine years as mayor of Alberta’s capital city, Mr. Mandel left office in October 2013 as a well-respected civic leader. He has since been critical of Ms. Redford’s government’s policies, but is is unclear why he would want to lead the deeply divided caucus.

Fresh meat and Alberta politics

House of Cards

Words of advice from fictional Vice-President Frank Underwood.

Fresh meat
Last week, he was publicly criticizing Premier Alison Redford for her  over-priced $45,000 trip to South Africa (see below) and faced a threat of expulsion from the Progressive Conservative caucus. This week, coincidentally, Edmonton-Riverview PC MLA Steve Young faces a new set of revelations dating back to his time as a Sergeant with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).

Last week, an RCMP spokesperson told the Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons that they had never conducted a criminal investigation into the decision by the EPS, including Mr. Young, related to the release information about an alleged young offender. This week, the CBC revealed that the RCMP conducted a year-long investigation related to the incident.

The $45,000 trip to South Africa
It’s the story that won’t disappear. People across Alberta shook their heads in disbelief when they learned the government spent $45,000 to send Ms. Redford and her executive assistant, Brad Stables, to attend Nelson Mandela‘s funeral in South Africa. Bringing Mr. Stables added an estimated $20,000 to the cost. It is unclear why he was required to travel with Ms. Redford to South Africa.  Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil made the same trip for less than $1,000. He did not require an executive assistant to accompany him.

Pension changes decreed
Finance minister Doug Horner is proposing significant changes to the province’s public pension plans, which could impact the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Albertans. But you wouldn’t have read about it in the last election. The 2012 PC Party platform, “Alberta by Design,” does not once mention the word “pension.”

A report from Auditor General Merwan Saher this month chastised the government for not properly consulting with stakeholders about the proposed changes that will impact their members. The Local Authorities Pension Plan board has not endorsed Mr. Horner’s proposed changes.

Anti-labour law blocked by the courts
Court of Queen’s Bench Mr. Justice Denny Thomas issued an injunction halting the Redford government’s controversial Bill 46. Rammed through the Assembly in December 2013, the anti-labour law allowed the Tories to circumvent a neutral arbitration process which could have awarded fair salary increase for public sector employees. Bill 46 would have imposed a salary freeze. Advanced Education minister Dave Hancock said the government will appeal the court’s decision.

Grain and trains
Without a single-desk wheat board to coordinate grain sales, transport logistics and the use of port terminal facilities, Alberta’s grain farmers are at the mercy of Canada’s railway corporations.

“Today starts a new era in marketing for farmers,” Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson boasted in a press released in August 2012, as the federal government dismantled the Canadian Wheat Board. This week, Mr. Olson claimed he would push for greater rail system accountability.

The Wildrose opposition has been equally enthusiastic about the Canadian Wheat Board’s demise (one of its MLAs, Rick Strankman, was once charged for violating the board). But not to be outdone by Mr. Olson, Wildrose MLAs Shayne Saskiw and Drew Barnes are now hosting town hall meetings from Streamstown to Spirit River about the challenges of individual farmers are facing dealing with the large railway corporations.

Redford Tories big international travellers in January 2014

Alberta MLA Travel

Since November 2011, Alberta’s cabinet ministers and government MLAs have travelled to 24 countries on official government business. By the end of January 2014, it will be 26.

Alberta’s Progressive Conservative MLAs are kicking off another year of international travel as Premier Alison Redford, cabinet ministers and backbenchers check their luggage and rack up the air mile points with flights touching down at all points across the globe.

Departing on January 9, Ms. Redford will circle the globe on a sixteen day trip that will see her visit New Dehli, Mumbai and Bangalore, India and then to Davos, Switzerland to promote Alberta’s oil. She will be joined at the beginning of her trip by Intergovernmental Affairs minister Cal Dallas, Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj at the Petrotech 2014 conference.

Mr. Bhullar and Mr. Bhardwaj will join Ms. Redford for her trip to India (Update: No public itinerary has been released for Mr. Bhullar and Mr. Bhardwaj’s trip to India, so it is unclear how long they will be travelling through that country), but Mr. Dallas will split off the from the premier with a visit to Singapore. In May 2012, the Alberta government announced plans to open new trade offices in India and Singapore, as well as in Brazil and the United States.

Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk will visit Harbin, Shanghai and Hangzhou, China from January 3 to 10, where he will sign memorandums of understanding with Chinese government science departments and attend the opening ceremony of the Harbin Ice Festival.  It is unclear whether he will learn about the People’s Republic approach to workplace safety and workers rights to fit with his new role as Labour minister.

This will be the fourth visit to Harbin by an Alberta cabinet minister since 2012.

Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson leaves for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma today to attend the Minister at the Legislative Agriculture Chairs Summit. Mr. Olson will be accompanied by Stony Plain MLA Ken Lemke. They are scheduled to return to Alberta on January 6.

Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Dave Quest and Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA David Dorward are heading to sunny San Antonio, Texas to attend a Ports-to-Plains Alliance meeting from January 5 to 8.

Fourth-term PC backbencher Alana DeLong is headed on two trips this month. The Calgary-Bow MLA will attend Pacific North West Economic Region legislative visits in Olympia, Washington and Boise, Idaho from January 13 to 16 and in Juneau, Alaska from January 21 to 23.

The estimated cost for these international trips, including travel, accommodation and meals for politicians and staff in January 2014 is estimated at $218,160.

Map: MLA travel from November 2011 to December 2013


View Alberta Cabinet Minister and MLA Travel November 2011-December 2013 in a larger map

Since my last update in September 2013, government cabinet ministers and MLAs made trips to Istanbul, San Antonio, Washington DC, Shanghai, Harbin, Seoul, Daegu, Beijing, Tokyo, Chicago, Warsaw and London. Since November 2011, Alberta’s cabinet ministers and MLAs have travelled to 24 countries on official government business. By the end of January 2014, it will be 26.

Redford Tories rack up frequent flyer miles, open new overseas offices.

Alison Redford Travel Alberta

Since Alison Redford became Premier in November 2011, cabinet ministers and backbench Tory MLAs have made trips to twenty-one different countries.

The Government of Alberta re-announced plans last week to open new trade offices in Chicago and Singapore, and yet to be announced locations in India, Brazil, and California. The Alberta Government is currently operating trade offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, London, Munich, Mexico City, and Washington D.C.

The re-announcement opening the new offices coincided with the release of the provincial government’s International Strategy document. Reading the document, Albertans can learn how the government is “Taking a Team Alberta approach,” “Strengthening Alberta’s position on the ground” and “Promoting Alberta within the Canada Brand.” Overflowing with buzzwords and jargon, the document reads as if it came fresh off the desk of some high-paid consultant.

Since Alison Redford became Premier in November 2011, cabinet ministers and backbench Tory MLAs have made trips to twenty-one different countries. During that time, cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs have made fourteen trips to Washington D.C., highlighting the importance that the current government is placing on its relationship with the United States and the construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.

Trips to more than a dozen countries in Asia, including twelve trips to Hong Kong (now home to Alberta’s appointed representative and former Tory leadership candidate Gary Mar), also show the importance the government is placing on trade expansion to Asia. Currently, Finance Minister Doug Horner is traveling through China and Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson is visiting Kazakhstan.

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson suggested in a recent column that public funds might be well used by opening up a trade office in Victoria, B.C. to convince newly re-elected Premier Christy Clark to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Here is the updated map showing international travel by Alberta Government cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs since November 2011 (click map to see locations and dates):


View Alberta Cabinet Minister and MLA Travel November 2011-June 2013 in a larger map

‘Building Markets’ and ‘Building Alberta’

Building Markets” and “Building Alberta.” are two slogans that anyone who has read a recent government press releases or listened to recent ministerial speeches will be familiar with. The key words were spoken by government ministers more than 70 times in the recent sitting of the Legislative Assembly. Are regular Albertans noticing? On Twitter, almost the only tweets that include the #buildingmarkets and #buildingalberta hashtags are coming from accounts belonging to Tory MLAs or their paid employees.

Wildrose MLAs stage walk out during dramatic tobacco conflict.

Question Period at Alberta's Legislative Assembly

Another hour of Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Another circus event for political watchers.

Theatric and dramatic antics dominated this afternoon’s hour-long Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.

To start the drama, the official opposition Wildrose Caucus raised a point of personal privilege claiming that Premier Alison Redford misled the Assembly by claiming she did not choose the law firm involved in a $10 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry (the Premier’s ex-husband is a partner at a law firm awarded a government contract in the lawsuit).

Soon after raising the point of privilage, Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky overruled and denied Danielle Smith and her Wildrose MLAs an opportunity to ask any questions related to the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest in the tobacco lawsuit. In response, most of the 17 MLA Wildrose caucus stormed out of the Assembly Chamber in protest (the dramatic effect was lessened when a number of Wildrose MLAs quickly returned to their seats in order to ask questions not related to the tobacco conflict claims).

In a bizarre twist, Speaker Zwozdesky held up a Government of Alberta press release as evidence that the Premier did not mislead the Assembly because the final decision to select the law firm was signed by her successor, then-Justice Minister and current Agriculture Minster Verlyn Olson. The Speaker then declared that it matters not whether the Premier selected the law firm, she did not mislead the Assembly because her successor signed the contract.

(I just had a Bill Clinton flashback).

Gary Bikman Shill

Wildrose MLA Gary Bikman’s handmade signage.

Taking full advantage of the attention of the Twittersphere and the Press Gallery, the Wildrose Party cried foul and complained that the ruling was an affront to democracy (Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman wrote “SHILL” on the back of his notebook, leaving political watchers to suspect the message was directed at Speaker Zwozdesky). Tories claimed the rookie Wildrose MLAs simply did not understand the rules of Westminster-style parliamentary procedure.

Meanwhile, New Democrat leader Brian Mason escalated his party’s call for Premier Redford to step down (a demand which she is unlikely to acquiesce). Liberal leader Raj Sherman clumsily attempted to tie the Premier’s decision not to step down with the suspension of Gary Mar, Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong, earlier this year. Premier Redford suspended Mr. Mar from his duties overseas after allegations that former Tory leadership candidate used his title to raise money to pay-off his political debts (he was reinstated after the election).

Since entering office, Premier Redford has tended to initially respond slowly to political crises confronting her party and respond decisively once the issue has become a political problem. Whether it be the infamous No-Meet Committee, the never ending MLA pay issues, the Allaudin Merali expense fiasco, the Tories default strategy appears to be to ignore the issue in hopes that it will disappear.

It has been five days since CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell first reported on the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest and the Tories are still stumbling through a public relations debacle that should have been easy to resolve.

Whether or not Premier Redford is in an actual conflict of interest, the Tories are doing a good job looking guilty and the opposition is only happy to help them on their way.

Spin, silence, and beef boosterism as company and politicians react to XL Foods beef E.coli.

Cow XL Foods Alberta Beef

Beef.

Until its licence was temporarily suspended on September 27, more than one-third of Canadian beef was processed in the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta. The plant processed 4000 cows a day and produces 3000 steaks each minute. The sheer size of this plant raises serious questions about the centralization of the packing industry in Canada and the implications for food security after E.coli contamination in beef produced at the plant has poisoned 10 Canadians. Meanwhile, new E.coli cases in British Columbia and Hong Kong are reported to be linked to XL Foods.

Verlyn Olson Alberta Agriculture Minister

Verlyn Olson

Premier Alison Redford and Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson spoke out in support of Alberta’s beef industry, but avoided directing questions to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz about why the federal Canadian Food Inspection Agency took more than ten days longer than their American counterparts to identify the problem.

XL Foods and their parent company Nilsson Brothers Inc. have done an incredible job sowing confusion among Canadians by refusing to speak with the media, only releasing a pre-recorded audio statement late last week.

In 2005, Brian Nilsson and Lee Nilsson, co-CEOs of Nilsson Brothers Inc., XL Foods parent company, were selected as Alberta Venture Magazine’s Top 50 Most Influential Albertans for their role as “major players in Alberta’s beleaguered beef industry.” In 2012, it appears that they have reassumed this role, though not as the champions of the beef industry that they were eight years ago.

As Globe & Mail health columnist Andre Picard wrote this week, “transparency is the hallmark of good crisis communication,” and in the case of this E.coli contamination, this is a textbook case of failing to communicate. As Mr. Picard’s wrote in his column, the communications failure is a result of foot-dragging and inappropriate beef boosterism from XL Foods, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Minister Ritz.

“When you’re poisoning people, even unintentionally, a voice message three weeks into the outbreak doesn’t cut it, nor do ministerial blandishments, nor do CFIA press releases whining that “investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness can be complex.” – Andre Picard (Globe & Mail, October 7, 2012).

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012

Danielle Smith

Also ignoring the opportunity to discuss food safety issues in the beef industry is Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, who will be hosting a lunch-hour 100% Alberta beef barbecue on the Legislative Assembly grounds. Ms. Smith, Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Strathmore-Brooks MLA Jason Hale will play the role of champions of Alberta’s beef industry while serving beef burgers at the October 10 lunch (hopefully they will be thoroughly cooked).

New Democrat leader Brian Mason appears to be the only Alberta politician raising questions about the federal government’s role in food safety, questioning recent budget cuts to food inspection.

Some might point to Mr. Mason’s comments as a partisan response, which would not be incorrect, but his is a position not limited to the political left. As was pointed out by Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, Saskatchewan’s conservative Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart has not shied away from demanding answers from the federal government since the E.coli outbreak was first detected.

Premier Redford and Alberta’s legislators should be standing up for the beef industry not by retreating to old populist tendencies, but by demanding answers from XL Foods, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Minister Ritz to ensure that this does not happen again.