Tag Archives: Wildrose Party

Jason Kenney emerges from hiding at Conservative fundraising dinner in Vancouver

As Premier Rachel Notley returns from leading a ten-day economic trade mission to China and Japan, political watchers have been wondering where the recently elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has been? Jason Kenney appeared to go into hiding around a month ago after he sparked controversy with his comments about Gay-Straight Alliances and outing gay kids in Alberta schools during an interview with the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary.

Vancouver-based website TheBreaker reported this week that Kenney was recently spotted in British Columbia speaking at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative Party fundraising event at Hy’s Steakhouse in downtown Vancouver. Kenney tweeted that he was in Vancouver for a conference, but did not mention any other political activities the PC Party leader has been engaged in on the west coast.

The website author, journalist Bob Mackin, alleged that Kenney urged guests at the fundraising dinner to support the BC Liberal Party of Christy Clark in the province’s May 9 general election and that a new conservative  party could be formed in Alberta as soon as this weekend.

Readers will remember that a question first asked on this blog on December 5, 2016 about whether the Alberta New Democratic Party would lend a hand to their BC cousins led to a decree by Notley banning any west coast election-related travel by her government’s political staffers. The BC NDP under the leadership of John Horgan oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, a project that the Notley NDP are firmly in favour of.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted on April 22, 2017, Horgan’s NDP leads Clark’s Liberals 44 percent to 34 percent, with an insurgent Green Party led by Andrew Weaver polling at 22 percent support.

Meanwhile, as the unite-the-right discussions continue, a new poll released by Mainstreet Research asking Albertans who they would prefer as leader of a merged Wildrose-PC party showed Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean leading Kenney with 29 percent to 24 percent support. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose “Someone Else” and 23 percent were unsure, suggesting that there could be appetite for a third or fourth candidate to enter the contest (some Conservative activists have suggested outgoing interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose could fill this void).

Jean has been criss-crossing the province holding town hall meetings ostensibly to collect feedback on the party merger, but in reality he is campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be-named and yet-to-be-merged Wildrose-PC party.

I am told that one of the significant issues of debate between the leadership of the two conservative parties is the timeline for a leadership vote. Jean has firmly said the leader of a new party should be chosen before October 15, 2017 while Kenney has been saying since last year that he wants a founding convention to be held in late 2017 before a leadership vote takes place in early 2018.

Jean’s preferred timeline appears to be more sensible, as it would allow a leader to hold court over a founding convention that could be unruly and filled with bozo-erruptions if a leader is not in place to keep the rowdy membership base in line. Kenney’s preference would buy him more time to compete with Jean in a leadership vote, which he might need now that he has decided to lend himself out to conservative fundraising efforts in British Columbia.

First quarter political party fundraising puts NDP in the lead

Elections Alberta released the financial disclosures showing the results of political party fundraising in the first quarter of 2017.

Combined party and constituency fundraising results show the governing New Democratic Party in the lead in early 2017, having fundraised $373,060.23 between January 1 and March 31, 2017. The Wildrose Party raised $345,125.06 and the Progressive Conservatives raised $226,572.21 in the same period. The Liberal Party raised $47,959.83 and the Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49.

These totals are considerably less than what was raised by the governing and official opposition parties in the fourth quarter of 2016, when the NDP raised $1,985,272.00 and the Wildrose raised $2,063,737.63. Similar to previous years, political fundraising in the first quarter of the year is typically lower than the previous year’s final quarter.

Both the NDP and Wildrose Party fundraised less in this quarter than in the first quarter of 2016, when the NDP raised $398,843.71 and Wildrose raised $448,912.71. The PCs raised more than twice in this quarter than the $105,436.47 the party raised in the first quarter of 2016.

This is the first fundraising quarter to fall under new political finance laws introduced by Democratic Renewal Minister Christina Gray in 2016, which lowered the maximum annual donation limits from $15,000 to $4,000. This followed reforms introduced by the NDP in 2015 that banned corporate and union donations to political parties and candidates.

Here is a quick look at the top donors for each of the five main political parties in Alberta in the first quarter of 2017:

Alberta NDP
Jamie Kleinsteuber – $2,612.50
Amanda Nielsen – $2,287.50
David Mayhood – $2,015
Thomas Dang – $1,976
Brian Malkinson – $1,702.50
Roari Richardson – $1,570

Wildrose
Harvey Aarbo – $4,000
Gordon Elliott – $4,000
Gudrun Schulze Ebbinghoff – $4,000
Robert Such – $4,000
Larry Thompson – $4,000

Progressive Conservative
Maria Binnion – $4,000
John Neudorf – $4,000
Constance Nolin – $4,000
Dennis Nolin – $4,000
Prem Singhmar – $4,000

Liberal Party
Ebrahim Karbani – $4,000
Zulqurnain Abbas – $3,500
Tariq Hussain – $3,300
Israr Ullah – $3,300
Fazal Rehman – $3,000
Saifuddin Syed – $3,000

Alberta Party
James Tererenko – $820.94
Patrick Baillie – $500
Aaron Blair – $500
Greg Clark – $500
Brad Grundy – $500
Brian Mahoney – $500

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.

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

Kenney shifts into Phase Two of Uniting the Right

Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.

Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.

An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.

Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.

Wason Resigns

Troy Wason

Troy Wason

PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.

It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.

Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.

The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is spending much his political retirement on Twitter, posted a photo online showing the PC constituency association in Edmonton-Castle Downs, which he represented in the Assembly from 2001 until 2015, had liquidated its financial assets by donating the funds to local charities.

I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.

Gotfried and the Red Menace

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.

This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman apologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?

Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.

Press Progress unleashed a long list of “abnormal” comments that the 48-year old Kenney has made over the course of his 30ish-year political career. They include comments from his time as an anti-abortion activist at the Catholic University of San Francisco to more recent claims that schools brainwash children with anti-conservative beliefs“bohemian” youths are “unconsciously” promoting communism and marxist professors are working to “suppress” Canada’s “Christian patrimony.”

There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.

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

Not many surprises in Alberta’s stay the course budget

There were few surprises when Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood to table the New Democratic Party’s third budget since forming government in 2015.

What I expect were strategic leaks over the past week revealed some popular highlights included in the budget, giving the government some positive media in the days before the budget was released. The construction, revitalization and renovation of schools and funding for a new hospital in south Edmonton were two of the most notable tidbits to be released in advance of yesterday’s budget speech.

If the leaks were indeed intentional, it was not a bad communications strategy considering the government’s current financial situation. It created a positive distraction from two big numbers that the conservative opposition parties want to focus on – total budget spending and the budget deficit.

But when the budget was tabled yesterday, neither of these numbers were really a surprise. We knew the NDP was not planning to make deep cuts to provincial program spending in this budget. And we knew from Ceci’s third-quarter update from the last fiscal year that the deficit would likely remain over $10 billion – it is projected to be $10.3 billion, down around $500 million from $10.8 billion last year.

The conservative opposition attacked the budget, which was also something we knew would happen. A Wildrose opposition press released called the budget a “a debt-fueled disaster” and the Progressive Conservatives claimed it took Alberta over a “fiscal cliff.” A press release from Alberta Party leader Greg Clark claimed the budget was “uninspired, irresponsible and focused only on the short term.”

Also not surprising was the response from Liberal leader David Swann, who took a more reasoned approach by applauding the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, and then pointing out where the budget failed.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga writes in detail, Rachel Notley‘s NDP government rejected the kinds of conservative fiscal policies that created the infrastructure deficit Alberta has today.

The government continues to make significant investment in public infrastructure, which is long overdue in Alberta. Along with a new hospital in Edmonton, the budget includes funding for renovations at the Misericordia Hospital and new construction at the Royal Alexandra and Glenrose hospitals (which was not previously announced, so that was a surprise).

One question that remains unanswered is how, in the long-term, the government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil. For many years, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old PC government used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but financial irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue.

The NDP took some steps to diversify revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes after they were first elected 2015 but it was nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall (Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada). The positive news is that Alberta still has the advantage of having a low debt-to-GDP ratio, which means at least in the short-term our province should be able to deal with being in a deficit situation.

Overall, I am not surprised about what is and is not included in the 2017 provincial budget. I am encouraged that the NDP is not heeding the calls of the conservative opposition parties to make deep funding cuts to public services and infrastructure investments, which would be detrimental to Albertans’ quality of life during this economic downturn.

Richard Starke’s last push – what happens to the Renew PCers after March 18?

With five days left until Jason Kenney wins the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in a landslide vote, his main rival is marshalling his forces.

Representing PC supporters who want to renew the party, rather than dissolve it, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke has announced a string of endorsements from former PC cabinet ministers and MLAs over the past few days, including former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and former leadership candidate Stephen Khan.

Khan dropped out of the leadership race earlier this year and claimed Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party would lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Starke’s list of endorsers include former MLAs Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths, Thomas Lukaszuk, Mike Allen, Rob Lougheed, Hector Goudreau, LeRoy Johnson, Jack Hayden, Ron Casey, Cal Dallas, Arno Doerksen, Bridget Pastoor, Dave Quest, Teresa Woo-Paw, Ron Ghitter, Verlyn Olson, Genia Leskiw, Iris Evans, Cathy Olesen, Heather Klimchuk, Pearl Calahasen, Ray Danyluk, Jim Horsman, Peter Elzinga, Linda Johnson, and Jacquie Fenske.

It seems like an odd strategy to pull out a list of prominent endorsers after the delegate selection meetings have been held but it could be the last card that Starke’s team had to play. Kenney is an impressive campaigner and his organization solidified a solid lead in the elected delegate count.

Jason Kenney Wildrose Conservative Alberta

Jason Kenney

After party delegates vote to elect Kenney as their leader on Saturday, March 18, 2017, the PC Party will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party. His campaign against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean has essentially already begun.

Starke’s campaign to renew the PC Party released a “Common Sense Plan” in January 2017 which laid out a vague plan to work with the Wildrose Party without merging with them, but even at the time it felt like a last ditch attempt to ward off Kenney’s juggernaut.

It is unclear what Starke and his supporters will do when Kenney wins the leadership in a landslide on March 18, 2017. He and his only supporter in the PC caucus, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale, will have to decide whether they want to remain in a Kenney-led PC Party which could potentially cross over to the Wildrose caucus before the 2019 election.

Maybe they will start a new moderate conservative party, or join another party? Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen left the PC leadership race and joined the NDP caucus in November 2016. Perhaps hoping to gain a caucus-mate, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark has been pushing his ‘Centre Together’ message targeted at centrist Tories unimpressed with Kenney’s Wildrose merger plans.

What comes after a bozo-eruption? A bozo-aftershock. 

Last week I wrote about the “Feminism is Cancer” email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the screening of a Men’s Rights film on International Women’s Day. The Gauntlet, the campus newspaper, reports that the student who the club claimed to have fired as communications director after the incident may have not actually existed. The newspaper was unable to find any student with the name “Robert McDavid” listed with the university’s registrar or the party membership list.

If The Gauntlet report is correct, either the club did not actually fire their director or they fired someone who did not want their name to be publicly associated with the “Feminism is Cancer” email.

Bozo-Eruption Alert: Wildrose campus club email declares “Feminism is Cancer”

Feminism is Cancer” was the subject line of an email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the showing of the film “Red Pill.” The Wildrose club planned to screen the film, which online reviews describe as exploring Men’s Rights issues, on the U of C campus on International Women’s Day.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” and I will assume that the Young Wildrosers who wrote the email were not referring to cancer by its purely medical definition.

The email and the event are offensive and after a swift backlash online, the club responded on twitter that it had fired its director of communications and was no longer co-sponsoring the event.

The federal Conservative Party club also announced it would no long co-sponsor the film screening but the event is still being held by another co-sponsor, a group calling itself the “Canadian Advocates for Freedom and Liberty.” It is bizarre that even a campus political club would be so tone-deaf and insensitive, especially with talk of creating a new conservative party before the next election.

Last month the same Wildrose campus club announced it had endorsed Jason Kenney‘s bid to dissolve the Progressive Conservative Party and lead a new conservative party.

It would be easy to chalk up the “Feminism is Cancer” email to student tomfoolery or immaturity if it were not already part of a trend of Wildrose Party bozo-eruptions that go all the way back to the 2012 election.

The blog post predicting an ‘eternity in the lake of fire’ for gays and lesbians and claims of a caucasian advantage by mostly unknown candidates in that election likely cost the Wildrose Party its chance of forming government in 2012.

Wildrose Feminism is Cancer

A screenshot of the email (click to enlarge)

More recently, nine Wildrose MLAs were called out for signing an op-ed sent to rural newspapers that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933. And there was the incident surrounding Derek Fildebrandt’s “suspension” from the Wildrose caucus, which ended up lasting around 72 hours in total. Weird tirades against the threat of communism and denial of climate change by Wildrose MLAs just add more flames to the [lake of] fire.

Back in 2012, before the Lake of Fire became part of the province’s political lingo, then-party leader Danielle Smith confirmed the existence of a good conduct bonds of $1,000 to be paid by anyone who ran for a Wildrose Party nomination.

Maybe it will be time for Brian Jean and Jason Kenney to increase the good conduct bond to $10,000?

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Looking ahead to the Throne Speech and Spring Session

Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.

To give you an idea of what recent throne speeches have included, here is what the NDP government’s throne speech from March 8, 2016 promised to:

  • diversify energy markets.
  • pursue a coherent and effective economic development strategy.
  • invest in a greener, more sustainable economy.
  • pursue a responsible approach to public finance.
  • pursue ongoing democratic reform to ensure public accountability in all of this work.

The spring session will start just as Premier Rachel Notley returns from Washington D.C. and will mark the half-way mark in the New Democratic Party government’s first term in office.

We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.

We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.

Predictions that the Alberta economy is beginning to recover bodes well for the NDP as they prepare to present their next provincial budget. If the economy does recover and the unemployment rate decreases, they should be praised for not making the massive cuts to critical public services advocated for by, Jason Kenney, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party.

(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).

The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.

I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.

Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.

The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:

“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”

The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.

But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.

Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?

Premier Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of 700 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in downtown Calgary earlier this week.

The Three Alberta’s: Quick thoughts on the latest Mainstreet/Postmedia poll

Some quick thoughts on the Mainstreet/Postmedia poll released yesterday.

The poll showed the Wildrose Party at 38 percent province-wide support, with the Progressive Conservatives sitting at 29 percent and the New Democratic Party with 23 percent. The Liberals and Alberta Party sat at 5 percent each. But the regional breakdown is more interesting.

Support for Rachel Notley’s NDP is at 43 percent in Edmonton with the Wildrose at 26 percent and the PCs at 21 percent. In Calgary, the PCs are at 38 percent with the NDP at 26 percent and the  Wildrose at 22 percent. In the rest of Alberta, a fairly broad term describing rural areas and medium and small urban areas, the Wildrose dominates with 48 percent support, the PCs with 27 percent and the NDP trailing with 16 percent.

The existence of the three political worlds is not new in Alberta politics, but it helps explain the deep political divisions that exist in our province today.

  • If an election were held today, the Wildrose Party might stand a chance at forming a rural-based government without the need to merge with the PC Party. But the poll results support my argument that rural-based Wildrose has limited appeal big urban cities like Calgary, where the PCs still hold a considerable amount of support. As provincial electoral districts are redrawn to reflect population growth in urban areas, the Wildrose might need the PC merger more than PCs need Wildrose.
  • The NDP is traditionally strong in Edmonton and it is not surprising that they have held on to much of their support in the capital city.
  • It is not surprising to see the NDP doing poorly outside Edmonton. The bungled roll-out of Bill 6, the province’s new farm safety laws, salted the earth of NDP support in rural Alberta.
  • NDP support in Calgary was in the low-30 percent range in the 2015 election, so that they have been able to hold on to 26 percent support leaves room for very guarded optimism for the governing party (their traditional level of support in Calgary is around 5 percent). High unemployment levels caused by the drop in the international price of oil is a source of hostility directed at the sitting government but the NDP could have room to rebound in Calgary if competing against a Wildrose-dominated conservative party in the next election.

Fight on the Right

The poll showed 48 percent of Edmontonians opposed the idea of a merger between the PCs and Wildrose parties, with 42 percent supporting the idea. Support for a merger was stronger in Calgary, at 53 percent, and outside the two large cities at 58 percent.

While some sort of new party will likely exist, it is not quite clear if a merger is what will actually take place. Jason Kenney, who is running on a platform of “uniting conservatives,” has at various times promised a merger (which is not legally possible), the creation of a brand new party or possibly preserving the PC Party. Wildrose leader Brian Jean has said any new party should form within the already existing framework of the Wildrose Party. So it remains unclear what the form a “new” conservative party might take in 2019.

Meanwhile, Jean has been holding town hall meetings across the province in his role as leader of the Wildrose Party, but presumably he is campaigning against Kenney for the leadership of a future Wildrose-dominated conservative party (maybe).

It is always important to look at all polls with a grain of salt, as they are a snapshot of individual responses given at a certain time. As we have come to learn in Alberta, voters do change their minds from time to time and what happens during election campaigns does matter.

Will the PC Party finally disqualify Jason Kenney?

He’s not running to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party. He’s running to destroy the party so that he can then form a new party that he’s going to run and become leader of,” Progressive Conservative Party member Jeffrey Rath told CBC Calgary.

The Priddis-based lawyer has filed a complaint with his party alleging that leadership candidate Jason Kenney’s vision runs counter to the party’s constitution and that he should be disqualified.

Kenney is running to dissolve the PC Party, not to merge or unite it with the Wildrose Party.

Despite running under the slogan “Unite Alberta,” Kenney’s goal is to win the leadership and then dissolve the party. If that does not run counter to the party’s constitution, I am not sure what else would.

The PC Party was foolish for allowing Kenney to run in the first place. Facing a lethargic and uninspiring group of “renewal” candidates, Kenney appears to have easily locked up the support of enough delegates to secure a victory at the upcoming convention.

Rath’s complaint is a Hail Mary pass but it could work. It could be difficult for the PC Party executive to disqualify him now but they should if they want their party to exist in a year from now.

The Kenney campaign’s record of flouting the rules has given the PC Party’s executive plenty of reasons to consider disqualification. One of his chief strategists was even suspended from the party for a one-year period. Some moderate conservatives in the PC Party, including former leadership candidate Stephen Khan, believe Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party will lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who had previously endorsed plans for a new party, recently announced that his plans would have conservatives rally behind the current Wildrose Party structure. That’s rebranded Wildrose Party.

Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, who was recently acclaimed as the Wildrose Party candidate in Chestermere-Rocky View, even announced on a Facebook video that she was proud to be running for the Wildrose Party in the 2019 election, with no mention of a new party.

This goes back to my long-held belief that the Wildrose Party needs the PC Party more than the PCs need the Wildrose. In two consecutive elections the Wildrose Party has struggled to break out of its rural Alberta base and might only be able to win an election if the PC Party is completely removed from the picture.

In 2015, the PCs were arrogant, out of touch and deserved to lose the election. But unlike the Wildrose Party, the PCs have a record of 44 years of straight election victories and a brand that many Albertans still respect.

It would not be unimaginable to see the PCs bounce back to win another election. But they won’t be able to win any future elections if they allow Kenney lead them to extinction, as he plans to do.

Setting the stage for Wildrose 2.0: Moderates need not apply

“We must also ensure that a new, united party will be built on a solid foundation of conservative principles and policy. The left-liberal clique that managed to slowly highjack the PC Party must never again be allowed to seize control of Alberta’s conservative movement.”

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

This call for ideological purity came from Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt in an opinion-editorial published by Postmedia earlier this week. Fildebrandt, who sounds as if he is preparing his own leadership bid, has been a vocal supporter of Jason Kenney’s bid to “unite” the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party to form a new consertvative party before the next election.

Fildebrandt’s manifesto reads like a call to create a rebranded Wildrose Party without the moderates, centrists and liberals who once found a home in the old PC Party. Driving this ideological agenda, Fildebrandt would undoubtably be a prominent leader in the new Conservative Party, one that a province-builder like Peter Lougheed might not even recognize.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party appears unstoppable at this time. Along with support from former prime minister Stephen Harper, the Manning Centre, and Wildrose Party members, he appears to have secured a majority in the leadership delegate count.

Kenney’s supporters have succeeded in driving out a number of high profile political moderates from the party.

Former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen quit the leadership race after being harassed and threatened with violence. She later joined the NDP and is expected to be appointed to cabinet sometime this year.

Former MLA Stephen Khan told Postmedia columnist Paula Simons last week that he quit the PC leadership race last week after an ugly race where he was the target of racist and Islamaphobic emails from new party members supporting Kenney.

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

When AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga, well-known for his progressive views, asked him about his political future, Khan replied “I have as much interest in joining the Wildrose 2.0 Party as you do.

Party president Katherine O’Neill has done an admirable and thankless job trying to lead the PCs through the turbulent period. Under siege from conservative hard-liners and Kenney supporters, O’Neill represents urban, centrist and moderate views that could lead to a PC Party revival. Too bad she is not a candidate for the leadership.

One year and eight months after losing the election, the big blue tent that led the PC Party to 44 years of electoral success has collapsed but not folded. The party was ripe for Kenney’s hostile takeover but any plans to dissolve the party will have to address  vendor contracts, party constitutional issues, local and provincial board approvals, legalities around fundraising and bank accounts, and fairly strict legal parameters. Despite his campaign to “unite” the two political parties, it is legally impossible to merge political parties in Alberta.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

All this is occurring at the same time as Rachel Notley’s NDP government looks more moderate and centrist by the day. And with pipeline approvals and some projections of a recovering economy, the NDP might be the sensible option on Albertans’ ballots in 2019. But attacks on the NDP, and on Notley personally, will be harsh.

Last week marked six years since Ed Stelmach announced he would step down as Premier of Alberta. Faced with a revolt by right-wing cabinet ministers and the rise of an insurgent Wildrose Party, Stelmach surprised the province at a Jan. 2011 press conference, where he issued a stern warning about the direction and tone of politics in our province, which is shockingly relevant to today:

“There is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and US style negative, attack politics that is directed at me personally.

The danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focussing on personality – on me personally.

This type of U.S. style wedge politics is coming into Canada, and it comes at our peril.”

Stelmach was a few years early, but he was right.

Candidate nominations begin for Alberta’s next election but the rules have changed

The next election may be more than two years away but that is not stopping eager potential candidates from wanting a head start on the hustings. Both the Alberta Party and Wildrose Party now beginning the process of nominating candidates for the next election.

It may feel like it is too early to start nominating candidates because Albertans are now two years, one month away from when the next provincial election is expected to be called, but we are not far away from the same time parties began nominating candidates before the last election.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview

Leela Aheer

The next election is expected to be called between March 1, 2019 and May 31, 2019, as Alberta’s fixed election legislation suggests.

The Wildrose Party will be holding its first nomination meeting on Feb. 25, 2017 in the Chestermere-Rocky View constituency. It is expected that incumbent MLA Leela Aheer will be nominated but I have heard rumours that she could face a challenge from a former municipal politician. The Alberta Party was the first to nominate a candidate for the next election when Omar Masood was chosen to represent the party in Calgary-Buffalo at a Nov. 2016 meeting.

As I have done in previous elections, I will do my best to keep track of nomination contests as they heat up.

Omar Masood ALberta Party Calgary Buffalo

Omar Masood

Expected changes to the electoral boundaries for the next election could force the parties to hold new nomination meetings, but there is a real advantage in having a candidate campaigning, fundraising and organizing early.

Amendments to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act passed in the fall 2016 sitting of the Alberta Legislative Assembly introduced rules around the business of nominating candidates, something that did not previously exist in our province. Here are a few of the new rules:

  • Candidates running for party nominations must register with Elections Alberta. Within 10 days of the conclusion of a nomination contest, the party or constituency association is required to submit to the Chief Electoral Officer a statement including the full names of the nomination contestants.
  • Section 17(1) of the Act states that a maximum annual donation to a nomination candidate is $4,000.
  • Section 9.3 (1) states that the chief financial officer of the party or constituency association must file a statement informing Elections Alberta of the date of the official call of the nomination contest, the date of the nomination meeting, and any fee or deposit required to be paid by a person as a condition of entering the nomination contest, and the estimated cost for holding the nomination contest.
  • Section 32 (4.2) (a) states that all donors who have contributed more than $250 to a nomination campaign will have their names made public, similar to regular donations to candidates and political parties.
  • Section 41.4(1) states that nomination campaign expenses are limited to 20 percent of a registered candidate’s spending limit for an election in that constituency.
  • Section 43.01 (1) states that within 4 months after the conclusion of a nomination contest, the chief financial officer of a nomination contestant is required to file financial return with Elections Alberta.

 

A Wildrose Party sign spotted outside of Hinton last week.

Today’s Edition of The Fight on the Right

Starke vs. Kenney: the lightweight match

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

Starting the day off, Richard Starke, the soft-spoken veternarian from Lloydminster entered the ring with his “Common Sense Plan” to save the Progressive Conservative Party from Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover plans to merge it right-wing Wildrose Party.

The PC leadership race has largely been devoid of any other real issues or policy discussions and focused almost entirely on Kenney’s takeover bid. Starke’s plan was extremely light on details but here’s what we know: he is open to a coalition between the two parties but he would keep the PC and Wildrose parties separate.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

It is unclear if this means the two parties would not run candidates against each other, but that might be one way of salvaging the estimated $1.5 million currently sitting in the bank accounts of PC constituency associations that would be forfeit if the party was dissolved into the Wildrose Party.

Today’s announcement was likely aimed at dislodging the significant lead Kenney has secured in the delegate selection meetings, but it feels like a desperate last grasp by Starke.

Jean vs. Kenney: The bare-knuckle round

Overshadowing Starke’s plan is Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean‘s shot at Kenney. Jean announced today that he is prepared to step down as leader of his party to contest the leadership of a new conservative party, if one is created before the next election.

Brian Jean

There had been speculation for months that Jean could avoid a messy leadership challenge by running for Mayor of Wood Buffalo in October 2017 instead of fending off a challenge from Kenney, but this appears to settle it. As leader of the Wildrose Party, Jean has been unofficially campaigning for months to bolster his bid to leader the conservative movement in this province by holding town hall meetings with supporters.

Jean took the reigns of his party from the edge of the political abyss after most Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party in 2014. He led the rural-based party to a swift recovery in the 2015 election but has faced challenges within his caucus and party ever since. His party has also been stuck in the mid-30 percent range in public opinion polls over the past year.

It is unclear whether Jean and Kenney would be the only two candidates to run for the leadership of a new Wildrose-dominated conservative party, or whether a third or fourth contender would enter the contest to lead this currently non-existent party.


Khan throws in the towel

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

Former St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan has dropped out of the PC leadership race. The former one-term MLA gave columnist Paula Simons a fairly damning description of the state of conservative politics in Alberta: “I wouldn’t call it a dumpster fire. But I’d call it a destructive circus.”

Here is an excerpt from his statement:

I was confident that this race would be one of ideas and hope for Alberta’s future and I expected it to be a well-run and principled campaign. Instead, it has devolved into vitriol, anger and division. As such, I can no longer participate in this race in good conscience, nor ask my family, volunteers and supporters to do the same on my behalf.

We have seen the reputation of the PC Party damaged so badly over the course of this campaign that our credibility may be beyond repair. More concerning, we have seen volunteers, organizers, leadership candidates, members of the Board of Directors, our party President and even some PC caucus members harassed and threatened. It is clear that there is no room in this race for competing ideas and we have seen more anger and division in the last 3 months than in the half-century legacy of this party.

As I step down, I know other candidates in this leadership race will carry on the fight. I will remain a proud member and volunteer with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Going forward, I will put my support behind Richard Starke and I would ask my supporters to do the same. 

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

The Winter of Discontent over the Carbon Tax

Alberta’s carbon tax, lauded by economists and experts and derided by opposition conservatives, came into force on January 1, 2017.

From photo-ops at gas pumps to outright climate change denial, opposition to the carbon tax has been nothing short of hysterical over the past week.

Don MacIntyre MLA

Don MacIntyre

Don MacIntyre, Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, sidelined his party’s attack on the carbon tax as a ‘tax on everything’ when he dove into climate change denying rhetoric during a January 2, 2017 press conference at the Legislature. “The science isn’t settled,” MacIntyre is reported to have said, despite the existence of overwhelming scientific evidence claiming otherwise.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt marked New Year’s Eve by posting photos of himself filling up his truck and jerrycans to avoid any increase to gas prices caused by the carbon tax on January 1. It is estimated that he may have saved a few dollars, but in many locations across Alberta the price of gas actually dropped after the weekend (gas at the local station in my neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton is six cents cheaper per litre today than it was on Dec. 31).

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney probably levelled the silliest criticism of the carbon tax when he tweeted on January 4 a photo of Tesla charging station in Fort Macleod, which was empty. This was apparently meant to be an argument that the four day old carbon tax was a failure.

Despite claims by opposition Wildrose and PC politicians that they would repeal the tax if elected in 2019, a federal carbon tax dictated by Ottawa would likely be imposed in its absence.

But arguments in favour of the made-in-Alberta carbon tax have been, well, confusing and technical.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips’ statement that the province is “still standing” the day after the carbon tax was implemented was factually correct but probably not the statement most Albertans were waiting to hear. Phillips is one of the government’s smartest cabinet ministers, and has done a good job promoting the flagship Climate Leadership Plan, but the NDP have fallen short when it comes to easing Albertans worries about the cost of implementing the carbon tax during an economic downturn.

Economists like Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach have penned or compiled intelligent arguments defending the carbon tax. Even executives of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies have come out in support of the carbon tax. Many of those executives stood on stage with Phillips and Premier Rachel Notley, along with environmental leaders, when the climate change plan was released in November 2015.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In November 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heaped praise on Notley for Alberta’s climate change plan, which includes the carbon tax, as a key reason for the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement.

But as anyone involved in politics knows, emotion and anger can sometimes trump facts, science and research. The recent presidential election south of the border confirms this.

Advertisements recently released by the Ontario government are, in my opinion, a good example of an emotional argument in favour of a climate change plan.

One of the arguments that I continue to hear is that Alberta and Canada should not implement a carbon tax because Donald Trump does not support a carbon tax. Trump also tweeted that he believes climate change is a conspiracy created by the Chinese government, so I am not confident that he is someone we should be looking to for leadership on this issue.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Overall public opposition to the carbon tax might start to fade in the coming months as many Albertans begin receiving their rebate cheques – around sixty percent of Alberta households will get a rebate, with full rebates for single Albertans earning $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less – but the NDP government will need to work overtime to provide clear evidence of how the carbon tax will benefit Albertans.

Of the funds collected by the carbon tax, the government says $2.3 billion will go towards rebate programs, $3.4 billion will help businesses adjust to the carbon levy, $6.2 billion will go toward energy industry diversification and job creation, $3.4 billion for large scale renewable energy and technology, and $2.2 billion for green infrastructure. As well as $645 million will be directed towards the new provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta and $195 million to assist coal communities, which will be impacted by the phase out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The NDP also cut the small business tax from three percent to two percent, a change that came into effect as the carbon tax was implemented.

Taxes in Alberta remain low, some of the lowest in Canada. Investing in measures that could create a cleaner environment for the next generations is not a burden, it is a responsibility. The carbon tax is a sensible policy, but it could be an uphill battle to convince Albertans to embrace it.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

Wildrose Shuffles Critics, Fildebrandt no longer Public Accounts Committee Chairman

Outspoken Wildrose Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who finds himself frequently at odds with leader Brian Jean, remains in his high-profile role as Official Opposition Finance & Treasury critic after a shuffle of critic portfolios in the Wildrose caucus this week.

Brian Jean

But according to the MLA committee membership list released on Dec. 13, 2016, Fildebrandt is no longer Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, a role he has filled since June 2015. The chair of the financial oversight committee is traditionally filled by an MLA from the Official Opposition. Fildebrandt has been replaced by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.

While relinquishing the chair role could be seen as a demotion caused by conflict with his party’s leadership, it likely means that Fildebrandt, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and aggressive critic of the NDP, can now play a more active and vocal role on the committee.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

The Wildrose shuffle included new assignments for Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes as Energy critic, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao as Health critic, Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer as Education Critic, Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt as Justice & Solicitor General critic, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken as Jobs & Labour critic, and Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider as Agriculture critic. The capable and quick on his feet Nathan Cooper remains House Leader. (See a full list here)

The Wildrose caucus also shuffled their MLA committee membership:

  • Prasad Panda replaces Grant Hunter as a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
  • Glenn van Dijken replaces Dave Schneider as Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future.
  • Leela Aheer replaces Ron Orr as a member of the Standing Committee on Families and Communities
  • Angela Pitt replaces Nathan Cooper as a member of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices
  • Nathan Cooper replaces Derek Fildebrandt as a member of the Standing Committee on Members’ Services
  • Todd Loewen replaces Leela Aheer as a member of the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship
  • Angela Pitt and Glenn van Dijken become members of the Select Special Ombudsman and Public Interest Commissioner Search Committee.