Alberta Legislature Bridget Pastoor Ed Stelmach Ken Kowalski Laurie Blakeman

suiting up for spring session #4: laurie blakeman v. ken kowalski.

Get ready for the clash of two very different political worlds as two of Alberta’s arguably most opposite MLAs vie for the Speakers chair.

In the right corner, you have incumbent Ken Kowalski. As previously mentioned, after 29 years in the Legislature Kowalski is returning for his 9th term as the Tory MLA for the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock area. Kowalski is also the type of rural conservative who campaigns for re-election on hard hitting points like “while human beings can create laws, the laws of God must take precedence” (which is totally appropriate for someone who has been the Speaker of the Assembly since 1997…).

In the left corner, you have the challenger, Laurie Blakeman. Blakeman is the Alberta Liberal MLA for the very urban downtown constituency of Edmonton-Centre. Returning for her fourth-term in the legislature since 1997, Blakeman is tough, outspoken, and a strong advocate of the arts, GLBTQ issues, and women in politics. Blakeman is probably the closest to an anti-thesis to the type of rural politics that Kowalski practices that you can find.

Though it won’t be a surprise when the 71 members of the Tory caucus jump to vote for the good old boy when Ed Stelmach and Kowalski give them the signal, Blakeman will be challenging Kowalski with the express intent of opening new horizons for women MLAs. Bridget Pastoor (Lethbridge-East) will be joining Blakeman in challenging the Tory majority by running for Deputy Speaker.

Alberta Legislature

baby-steps for democracy in alberta.

Last week, the Alberta Legislature moved to create four new all-party committees that are to review legislation referred to it from the Assembly, review regulations, and other issues referred to them.

Though this is a normal sight for most parliamentary democracies, this is something new in Alberta and will hopefully shift more power from the closed-doors of Cabinet to the elected Legislative Assembly. This said, it’s still too soon to tell how much of an impact these committees will have on Legislative Alberta. Hopefully they will prove to be more effective than their broad committee names…

Here’s a list of the committee membership:

Standing Committee on Community Services (11 Members)
Chair – Cindy Ady (PC-Calgary Shaw)
Deputy Chair – Weslyn Mather (Lib-Edmonton Mill Woods)
Tony Abbott (PC-Drayton Valley-Calmar)
Dan Backs (Ind-Edmonton Manning)
Jack Flaherty (Lib-St. Albert)
LeRoy Johnson (PC-Wetaskiwin-Camrose)
Art Johnston (PC-Calgary Hays)
Rob Lougheed (PC-Strathcona)
Thomas Lukaszuk (PC-Edmonton Castle Downs)
Raj Pannu (NDP-Edmonton Strathcona)
Shiraz Shariff (PC-Calgary McCall)

Standing Committee on Government Services (11 Members)
Chair – Harvey Cenaiko (PC-Calgary Buffalo)
Deputy Chair – Mo Elsalhy (Deputy Chair)
Moe Amery (PC-Calgary East)
Neil Brown (PC-Calgary Nose Hill)
David Coutts (PC-Livingstone-Macleod)
Alana DeLong (PC-Calgary Bow)
Heather Forsyth (PC-Calgary Fish Creek)
Richard Marz (PC-Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Brian Mason (NDP-Edmonton Highlands Norwood)
Bridget Pastoor (Lib-Lethbridge East)
George VanderBurg (PC-Whitecourt-Ste. Anne)

Standing Committee on Managing Growth Pressures (11 Members)
Chair – Clint Dunford (PC-Lethbridge West)
Deputy Chair – Dave Taylor (Calgary Currie)
Victor Doerksen (PC-Red Deer South)
Denis Herard (PC-Calgary Egmont)
Ray Martin (NDP-Edmonton Beverly Clareview)
Bruce Miller (Lib-Edmonton Glenora)
Ray Prins (PC-Lacombe-Ponoka)
Dave Rodney (PC-Calgary Lougheed)
George Rogers (PC-Leduc-Beaumont-Devon)
Len Webber (PC-Calgary Foothills)
Gene Zwozdesky (PC-Calgary Mill Creek)

Standing Committee on Resources and Environment (11 Members)
Chair – Denis Ducharme (PC-Bonnyville-Cold Lake)
Deputy Chair – David Swann (Lib-Calgary Mountain View)
Pearl Calahasen (PC-Lesser Slave Lake)
David Eggen (NDP-Edmonton Calder)
Gordon Graydon (PC-Grande Prairie-Wapiti)
Doug Griffiths (PC-Battle River-Wainwright)
Paul Hinman (AA-Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Ty Lund (PC-Rocky Mountain House)
Rick Miller (Lib-Edmonton Rutherford)
Len Mitzel (PC-Cypress-Medicine Hat)
Frank Oberle (PC-Peace River)

Alberta Alliance Alberta Legislature Alberta Tories

in the land of oil.

Come and listen to a story about a man named…

The Calgary Sun is reporting that Alberta PC MLA’s have received over $1,000,000 in extra salary for Government Members committee work over the past year on top of their MLA base salary of $74,000. Here’s a list of some PC MLA’s and their extra collection:

Ray Danyluk – $47,132
Youth Secretariat
Advanced Education Comm.
N. Alberta Dev. Council
Court Workers Program Review

Doug Griffiths – $46,998
Standing Committees of the Legislature
Agenda and Priorities Comm.
Adv. Education Comm.
MLA Task Force to launch Rural Development

Carol Haley – $47,496
Standing Policy Comm.
Treasury Board

Denis Herard – $47,106
Comm. on Workers Compensation
Alberta Mental Health Advisory Comm.
Standing Policy Comm.

Ron Liepert – $40,381
Standing Policy Comm.
Trade and Transp. Comm.
Local Authorities Election Act Review
Regulatory Review Steering Comm.
Public Affairs Bureau Review
Alberta Film Commission

Rob Lougheed – $48,872
Standing Policy Comm.
Council of Status of Persons with Disabilities
MLA AISH Review Comm.
Treasury Board

Richard Magnus – $42,666
Standing Policy Comm.
Alberta Economic Development Authority
Treasury Board

Ivan Strang – $42,407
Standing Policy Committees
Endangered Species Conservation Comm.
Treasury Board

Len Webber – $40,500
P.I. and Security Guard Review
Healthy Aging and Continuing Care Comm.
Task Force on Continuing Care Standards
Alaska-Alberta Bilateral Council

You can take a look at all Government MLA committee appointments here.

This pointed out, I don’t believe that we pay our elected officials enough. With the current base salary looking like so…
MLA Indemnity – $49,836.00
MLA Tax Free Allowance – $24,918.00
(Total) – $74,754.00

…and MLA’s expectations to attend many upon many functions in their ridings and communities during their terms, the $24,000 tax free allowance disappears very fast. This said, I don’t think loading PC MLA’s with committee work or extra perks available only to Government Members is the solution to this problem. I would be very interested to know what type of work many of these committees have produced and if this work is actually worth the extra salary only available to Alberta PC MLA’s.

On a completely different note, the floundering Alberta Alliance held it’s AGM last weekend and elected a new executive headed by a familiar face. Randy Thorsteinson, founding leader of the Alberta Alliance and former leader of the Alberta Social Credit Party, is back as President. Thorsteinson left the Alberta Alliance leadership following his defeat against Innisfail-Sylvan Lake PC MLA Luke Ouellette in the 2004 provincial election. Cardston-Taber-Warner (and lone) Alliance MLA Paul Hinman was elected leader shortly thereafter.

Alberta Legislature


The blogsphere is abuzz about Speaker Ken Kowalski’s decision to eject Liberal MLA Bharat Agnihotri from the Alberta Legislature this week…

From Speaker to Speaker
Answer Bharat’s Question
Not So Honest Ed
Hear no Evil
Open and Transparent?
MLA Tossed from Legislature for Questioning Government
Rules and the Knuckleheads who Break Them
transparent and honest and accountable…tory style
Alberta Tories Eject Liberal For Asking Too Many Questions

And the media buzz…

Alberta Liberal kicked out of legislature for questioning grant funds
Fireworks at the Alberta Legislature
Grit MLA Turfed
Alberta Liberal MLA tossed from Legislature
Booted MLA says sorry
MLA apologizes, allowed back into Legislature

Alberta Legislature

answer the question!

Yesterday afternoon, Assembly Speaker and Tory MLA Ken Kowalski ejected Edmonton Ellerslie Liberal MLA Bharat Agnihotri from the Alberta Legislature for refusing to apologize for asking the following question of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture Minister Hector Goudreau:

Mr. Agnihotri: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Premier, Minister of Finance, Minister of Health, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development all have secret donors to their leadership campaign. Can this minister assure this House that groups receiving this special treatment are not secret friends of top Tories?

Agnihotri probably could have asked a less loaded question, but I shudder to think what Albertans outrage would feel like had this happened to a Conservative MP in Ottawa asking a similar question to a Federal Liberal Minister. Here’s how Kowalski justified his decision:

Speaker: The question from the hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie, the first one, which wasn’t dealt with, basically says, “If a group cannot raise matching funds up to $10,000, it will be considered on a nonmatching basis. However, documents tabled in this Assembly show that this government is breaking its own rules.” Well, that wasn’t even contested. There were no rules that were broken.

…political party matters are not the subject of the question period. Then the question: “Can this minister assure this House that groups receiving this special treatment” – now, the question is: what special treatment? – “are not secret friends of top Tories?” Boy, if that isn’t innuendo, you know, I must have just arrived. I’ve been here 28 years, and this is blatant innuendo.

It seems to me that two main forces collided during this moment: a poorly worded and loaded question, and a harsh ruling by the Speaker (who is also one of the most partisan Tory MLA’s in the Assembly). I think it’s quite fair to say that the Speaker went way too far in this ruling. The simplist way to defuse this question would have been for Minister Goudreau to utter one word in response to Agnihotri’s question: no.

But let’s look at the root of Agnihotri’s question: should internal party and leadership race finances be a matter of public transparency and accountability?

On the Federal level, it is very much a matter of public accountability – both endorsed by the Federal Liberals through their electoral financing legislation and through Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government’s Accountability Act. It’s unfortunate that Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party/Government disagrees with their federal cousins on this issue, because it is an issue of transparency and accountability – something that Premier Ed Stelmach even likes to talk about championing.

On Monday, Elections Alberta released their annual political contribution numbers:

The list of companies donating to the Tories dwarfed that of any other party in Alberta.

Energy and power giants listed include: EnCana ($10,775), TransCanada PipeLines ($12,650), Imperial Oil ($10,000), Nexen ($11,400), Atco Group ($10,650), Talisman Energy ($10,000), Suncor ($7,650), Enmax ($7,925), and Syncrude ($4,250).

Federal legislation passed last year bans contributions from corporations and unions, and caps individual donations at $1,000 to each political party. Ethics watchdogs argued the same should be introduced in Alberta.

“Donations are a means of influence,” said Duff Conacher, the co-ordinator of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch, arguing donations should be disclosed as they’re made to parties, rather than once a year.

“If you want to prevent corruption and waste, then you want to have a system of very restricted donations and full disclosure.”

The NDP received many large union donations totaling several thousands of dollars, which helped generate party revenues of about $625,000. The Alberta Liberals, who received several donations from the oilpatch, last week reported revenues of more than $1 million in 2006.

Though we are able to see contributions to political parties – and see how incredibly large these donations are – Albertans do not have the transparency and accountability in seeing the political contributions in the races that choose their leaders. This leaves Albertans with no transparency or accountability in the races that will decide who will potentially be Alberta’s Premier.

This lack of transparency and accountability leads back to the idea behind the question asked by Mr. Agnihotri: how do Albertans know that undisclosed donors from the PC Leadership campaign aren’t receiving special treatment through this program? Or any other program for that matter?

Alberta Legislature

pse in qp.

I thought I’d post this a series of great questions asked by MLA Gene Zwozdesky (PC-Edmonton Mill Creek) during yesterday’s Question Period in the Alberta Legislature.

Affordability of Postsecondary Education
Mr. Zwozdesky: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Everyone recognizes the value of having a postsecondary education and what a tremendous asset it is in our knowledge-based economy and our knowledge-based society. Earlier today I had a very informative meeting with three representatives from CAUS, the Council of Alberta University Students, who are with us still in the gallery as I speak and who raised several important points that pertain to university students and to those who hope to be university students. My questions are to the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. With essential living costs and all other costs on the rise, what are you doing to reduce or at least address financial barriers that university students, and others for that matter, are facing as they pursue . . .

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Mr. Horner: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Making postsecondary education affordable is a priority for this government – affordability, accessibility. In November of 2006 we released the affordability framework, which had a great deal of consultation not only with students but with other stakeholders in the system. We’ve rolled back tuition to 2004, and we’ve limited increases to the Alberta consumer price index, which I think was something that was supported in large measure by all stakeholders. That’s about 3.3 per cent this year. Without those changes, students would have faced tuition fees anywhere from 6 to 11 per cent this year. An undergrad-uate student would save over $ 3,800 over the four years.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Mr. Zwozdesky: Thank you. When will your ministry return so-called tuition fees principles back to legislation, an action that will surely lessen the load of any possible tuition fee increases in the future?

Mr. Horner: Well, Mr. Speaker, it’s not necessarily true that it would lessen the load of any possible increases in the future because the process would be very similar. What we’re saying is that putting it into the regulation enabled us to do exactly what I just talked about in my previous answer, and it enabled us to do it very quickly. I can commit to the students of this province and I can commit to the stakeholders of this province that we have no intention of making any changes without very extensive consultation with them and with members of government and members of the opposition.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Mr. Zwozdesky: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. To the same minister: from an infrastructure point of view how do you intend to provide a better balance for undergraduate facility improvements and expan-sions and so on in comparison with graduate facilities, research, and advanced research facilities?

Mr. Horner: Well, Mr. Speaker, again, a very good question and, I know, one that is on the minds of the student population. We had a meeting this morning with CAUS, and I’ve met with a number of the stakeholders in the industry or in the system about the Campus Alberta approach. Really, narrowing down into what the roles, responsibilities, and mandates are of each institution within that Campus Alberta approach and managing the growth pressures to build a stronger Alberta and a stronger Campus Alberta for all students and all stakeholders, we will come up with a collaborative, co-operative approach to making sure that we have a balance to our capital in all of those institutions.

Alberta Legislature Equalization


It looks like the Edmonton Journal has finally picked up on the story that Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Lyle Oberg are still on different pages when attempting to determine where the Alberta Tories stand on the equalization issue.

EDMONTON – In the ever-delicate dance of federal-provincial relations, Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Lyle Oberg are having trouble determining who gets to lead.

Both men insisted Thursday they are not out of step with each other on how the Harper Conservatives should fix the so-called fiscal imbalance.

“I’m telling you, there’s no rift,” the premier said Thursday.

However, each lists a different priority on the issue, and lines up with different allies.

Although some would say that this is part of a larger strategy of softening the blow when one-half of the Alberta Tories don’t get what they want from federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget (due to be released on Monday), I tend to think that nearly ANY other strategy would be better.

It hasn’t been uncommon for Lyle Oberg to deliver a message extrememly different than his boss – which lends credence to Don Braid’s observations in today’s Calgary Herald – but in terms of optics, if a Premier and a Finance Minister continue to publicly disagree on an issue that they feel is this important, it doesn’t exactly send out images of a greatly united Alberta PC caucus and cabinet (which may or may not be the case).

On a more legislative note, over 20 peices of legislation have been introduced by the Tories and Liberals in the first week of the Spring 2007 session of the Alberta Legislature.

Alberta Legislature

mixing messages on equalization.

Is this what happens when Cabinet Ministers don’t read their daily Public Affairs Bureau talking points?

Globe & Mail — Signalling a significant shift in tone, Alberta Finance Minister Lyle Oberg says he “won’t object” to a controversial revamp the Harper government has planned for Canada’s equalization formula — a development that could reduce political friction for next week’s federal budget.

Mr. Oberg, a member of new Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s cabinet, said his province will not oppose the new formula, which takes into account resource revenues, as long as Ottawa pledges to fix per-capita transfer payments so that his province gets its fair share — another move expected in the budget.

But wait!

QP – March 12/07 – Mr. Stelmach: Mr. Speaker, we have a letter. When I say we, the Council of the Federation, this is all of the 10 Premiers. This letter was of course written to the then chair, the former Premier Ralph Klein, and again reiterated the position that the federal government will not include natural resource revenue in the calculation of the equalization formula. All we’re doing is that we’re going to hold the Prime Minister to that commitment.

Not that this changes much, it’s just quite surprising that the Premier and the Finance Minister aren’t on the same page on an issue as big as equalization (or big as some would like to make it).

Alberta Legislature

fire up your legislative agendas!

The spring session of the Alberta Legislature began last week and both the Tories and Liberals have put forward their legislative agendas.

Tory Premier Ed Stelmach introduced Bill 1: The Lobbyists Act, which implements a long-needed Lobbyist Registry. Hopefully this means they’ll be less mini-buses picking up and dropping off Tory MLA’s from the Petroleum Club on Wednesday evenings. The Bill introduces strict penalites of up to $200,000 for lobbyists who break the law. Though this is a very positive step for Alberta, as Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch points out, there are still some large loopholes in The Lobbyists Act:

“If you’re friends with a cabinet minister, he can request you to come and give him advice, and then you don’t have to register,” Duff Conacher of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch said. “That has to come out (of the legislation) for sure.”

Once the former Liberal government axed that same loophole from the federal lobbyist registry in 2005, the number of registered lobbyists more than tripled in a single year. In the category of in-house corporate lobbyists, the figure shot from 191 to 1,802.

Justice Minister Ron Stevens, who sponsored the Lobbyist Act, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald quipped that such loopholes suggest the Lobbyist Act must have been drafted by Rod Love or Kelley Charlebois, two former government aides who have been embroiled in past lobbying controversies. “It’s going to be business as usual,” MacDonald said. “This is just a public-relations exercise.”

Kevin Taft‘s Alberta Liberals have put forward Bill 201: Funding Alberta’s Future Act. Bill 201 would create a number of new endowments and increasing the funding to others such as the long ignored Heritage Savings Trust Fund. Bill 201 would invest 30% of Alberta’s resource revenues into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund and other funds into newly created Post-Secondary Education Endowment Fund, a Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts Endowment Fund, and an Oppurtunity Fund while also provding funding to slay Alberta’s massive infrastructure debt.

If Premier Stelmach’s weak performance during last week’s Question Period assaults by the opposition are any indication, it’s going to be a baptism-by-fire for Stelmach in his first session as Premier. I wouldn’t count the Tories out yet, but it’s too early to tell how much Stelmach will get burnt.

Alberta Legislature Alberta Tories Federal Liberals Federal Tories Nominations

in the land of.

Things are moving fast in the land of daveberta and I will have more time for some more quality substancial commentary after the end of this week.

A couple of things…

1. Alberta’s Speech from the Throne is on Wednesday. I’ll be there and will be providing my post-game thoughts following the first Speech from the Throne of the first Ed Stelmach PC government.

2. Ken Chapman and Larry Johnsrude have provided some good commentary on the recent semi-release of PC leadership campaign contributor lists from Ed Stelmach and Dave Hancock. I am in the process of writing a more detailed post about this, so look for it in the near future.

3. Just as the Federal Conservatives have finished nominating their Alberta candidates, the Federal Liberals are now beginning. The Edmonton Centre nomination date has been set for March 24. One of the candidates for nomination happens to be Nicole Martel.

4. Art Spiegelman will be speaking at the University of Alberta on Wednesday night as part of the University of Alberta Students’ Union’s Revolutionary Speakers Series.

5. Finally, on two completely non-political related points, I saw finally saw Borat this weekend and I have tickets to see The Police at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on June 2nd!