In this week’s editions of Edmonton’s SEE Magazine or Calgary’s FFWD Weekly you can read my column on the recent Alberta NDP convention in Edmonton. The column looks at the familiar path taken after advice given by Nova Scotia NDP organizer Matt Hebb and the delegates overwhelming rejection of a motion aimed at election agreements with Alberta Liberals and others.
‘Tiny Perfect Alberta NDP‘ drew a lot of interesting discussion in the comment section, but the most revealing comment was posted by New Democratic Youth of Alberta Co-Chair and blogger Denny Holmwood:
This evening Lou Arab, former Chief of Staff at the NDP Caucus and husband of Rachel Notley sent me a Facebook message criticizing me for daring to critique the party here. He also messaged the party’s table officers.
Apparently Lou does not feel that I should be expressing my opinion about the NDP. He asked the table officers to ask me to retract my posts, or for me to voluntarily do so.
It will be interesting to see if the table officers do in fact ask me to retract my comments, or take other actions against me. If they do, they will be proving the points that I was attempting to make earlier about voices of members being stifled.
I will keep you all posted. Sadly the state of democracy in the party may be worse than I initially thought.
UPDATE: I’ve frozen the comment feature on this section, please click here to read my explanation.
MLAs Brian Mason and Rachel Notley don’t have a hard time getting media attention during legislative sessions, however, one of the biggest challenges facing the Alberta NDP is to become electorally relevant outside of Alberta’s capital city (it has been twenty-years since the NDP elected an MLA outside of Edmonton).
Last year’s election was a disappointment for all of Alberta’s opposition parties, but the third-place NDP have been busy in the year since. While I wouldn’t yet predict an NDP breakthrough in the next election (and by ‘breakthrough,’ I mean a handful of seats), they have been increasing their outreach by holding a number of regional ‘revitalization conferences’ showcasing speakers Matt Hebb (Nova Scotia NDP campaign manager), Libby Davies (MP for Vancouver-East), and Doug O’Halloran (union boss). The NDP are also reaching out to communities of new Canadians, including Edmonton’s decently-sized Somali Community. This may not result in immediate electoral gains, but it will likely boost morale among members and local constituency associations. The spill over effect could also help the federal NDP boost their voter support in the next election to take advantage of the per-vote public funding program.
Mason has declared his intentions to lead the NDP into the next election, which will be his third as leader. Will Mason face a leadership challenge? I have been aware of a growing frustration among some NDP members over the control that a small number of individuals hold over the party’s infrastructure and decision-making process. The fight against the internal status-quo went public when young NDP activist Anand Sharma solidified his position in the inner circle by defeating incumbent Steve Bradshaw for the NDP Presidency in 2008.
Another source of continuing tension within the NDP exists between the environmentalist camp (who want to shut down the tar sands and stop the development of nuclear power plants) and Union camp (whose membership depend on the energy sector for employment). Denise Ogonoski left from her job in Notley’s Edmonton-Strathcona office in 2008 after taking part in a Greenpeace action at a fundraiser for Premier Ed Stelmach. During that year’s convention, delegates from Peace River proposed an anti-Nuclear Power policy, which according to an NDP insider, was widely expected to face opposition from the newly NDP-affiliated IBEW Local 424. The policy was adopted, but as an affiliate member, the IBEW Local 424 exerts sizable financial leverage over the party (affiliate member-Unions donate 15-cents per member per-month to the NDP). Though a major showdown has been avoided, it does have potential to create tension in the future.
While I fail to see a strategic advantage for the actual Union members, the addition of new affiliate Unions (including the IBEW 424 and UFCW 401) gives the NDP a more secure monetary stream than their Liberal Party counterparts. The NDP now have eight party staff members, numbers not seen since the party formed official opposition in the 1980s.
As the Alberta NDP improve their financial and organizational capacities, the global collapse of capitalism could give the left-wing party a perfect opportunity to electorally capitalize on the economic situation. Whether they achieve this will largely depend on if they can successfully give Albertans a compelling reason to trust them with responsibility during the economic downturn.
Central Alberta is becoming a hotbed of political attention this week. Yesterday, Green Party Deputy Leader Edwin Erickson released a statement declaring his departure from the Greens to help build the Alberta Progress Party. In 2008, Erickson was the Green candidate in the central Alberta riding of Drayton Valley-Calmar, where he placed second with 19% of the vote against PC MLA Diana McQueen. Erickson will be on CBC Edmonton’s Radioactive (740AM) at 4:10pm today explaining his move. (h/t AGRDT)
This weekend, the Alberta NDP will be holding a revitalization conference in the central Alberta city of Red Deer. Though “revitalization” may not be the most accurate description, as it’s probably a stretch to say that the NDP have ever actually been ‘vitalized‘ in central Alberta, it does show an understanding of something the Federal Liberals are missing.
It’s unlikely the NDP will be electing swaths of MLAs and MPs in rural Alberta anytime soon, but in the short-term, this is a clear strategy for any party wanting to build a base and increase the funds it receives through the federal campaign finance system (even if this strategy only increases the NDP vote by 1,000 votes in every riding in rural Alberta, it would still be a worthwhile investment of resources for that party). The NDP haven’t elected an MLA in rural Alberta since 1989.
After receiving a substantial beating in last week’s election, I thought it is important to take a look at Alberta’s two opposition parties in the Legislature and make some suggestions on what their next moves should be.
Though there has been talk of leadership change in the opposition parties, I don’t see any need for the Alberta Liberals or New Democrats to rush this decision. The goal of both parties should be stability, and I’m not sure how a leadership change in the short-term will help this (I’m not sure you’d see a mad rush of leadership contenders, either). As both parties will have their opposition budgets slashed, they should look to increase their cooperation in the Legislature and in legislative committees for the sake of a stronger and more united opposition.
The Alberta Liberals lost eight seats in the Edmonton region last week. With three seats in Edmonton, one in Lethbridge, and five in Calgary (where they actually increased their seats from four to five), the Alberta Liberals can take solace in that they are probably in a better position to grow than when they were decimated down to 7 seats in 2001. Though I’m sure the financial situation situation of the party isn’t pretty, a leaner opposition will force the Alberta Liberals to do some soul searching in the meantime.
Having the majority of their seats in Calgary is a changing dynamic that the Alberta Liberals haven’t seen in recent memory, which suggests that the Calgary Alberta Liberal caucus will have more influence on opposition politics than they had before the election.
In terms of Kevin Taft’s leadership, my advice to the party is to not rush any decisions. Internal stability is something that will be very important in the process of preparing for the next election and leadership is something the Alberta Liberals need to be smart about. Holding a leadership race now would be fool hearted and would most likely not draw the types of contenders that the Alberta Liberals would need to lead them into the next election. There’s no rush, so wait a year and let Ed Stelmach’s Tories stumble, then if a leadership race needs to be held, you’ll see more people stepping up to the plate.
Over the next four years, the Alberta Liberals need to take a critical look ‘outside the box’ and decide what kind of party they want to be, including abandoning the traditional party structure and mentality. Everything should be on the table, including more than just a name-change.
Official Opposition MLAs
Kevin Taft, Edmonton-Riverview
Laurie Blakeman, Edmonton-Centre
Harry Chase, Calgary-Varsity
Kent Hehr, Calgary-Buffalo
Darshan Kang, Calgary-McCall
Hugh MacDonald, Edmonton-Gold Bar
Bridget Pastoor, Lethbridge-East
David Swann, Calgary-Mountain View
Dave Taylor, Calgary-Currie
The loss of David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder and Ray Martin in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview means that the New Democrats have lost their official party status in the Alberta Legislature. Also, much like the Alberta Liberals, I’m sure their financial situation isn’t pretty.
With leader Brian Mason’s only caucus mate being rookie Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, it’s pretty clear who the favorite to replace Mason will be. This said, even though I’ve never warmed up to Mason, I think that him handing over the reigns to Notley too early after the election could be a bad move for his party.
As a rookie MLA, Notley should be given some time to learn the ropes and decide whether or not she actually likes being an MLA. As much as some New Democrats I’ve spoken with want Mason to hit the road as soon as possible, putting Notley into the leader’s chair this early could be a risky move (but with only two seats in the Legislature, what do the New Democrats really have to lose?).
It is also probably overdue for the New Democrats take a critical look at the advantages and disadvantages of its joint-at-the-hip relationship with some of Alberta’s big labour unions. Does its close ties to the Alberta Federation of Labour do more harm than good? What does this relationship mean for the New Democrats claim to being a voice for progressives in Alberta?
(Also, for a New Democrat point of view, Shannon Phillips has some interesting post-Eday thoughts on the election in Edmonton and Edmonton-Calder.)
Okay, let’s take a close look at the Alberta NDP this morning…
Fall 2007: NDP leader Brian Mason writes in his Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA newsletter that he supports eliminating corporate and union donations to political parties.
Furthermore, NDP leader Brian Mason said in Calgary yesterday that “Liberals and Conservatives accepted $1.5 million from big oil and other large corporations in 2006, and almost $1.6 million in 2005.” The statement is not just misleading, but wrong.
According to Elections Alberta breakdowns, the Alberta Liberals received roughly $273,000 from all corporate sources in 2005, and $336,000 in 2006. When you actually look at the numbers, lumping the Alberta Liberals together with the Progressive Conservative fundraising totals is disingenuous.
Mason also stated the NDP received $18,000 from unions in 2006. While this is correct, the NDP received over $100,000 in donations from union sources in 2004, an election year.
One wonders how much the NDP raised in 2007, when NDP MLA Ray Martin demanded his $5,000 shakedown…
In what I expect to be a steady stream over the next few months, long-time Tory backbencher Richard Magnus joined the current as he announced that he won’t be seeking a fifth term in office.
That brings the official MLA retirement list to eight:
Progressive Conservative MLAs
Victor Doerksen (Red Deer-South)
Clint Dunford (Lethbridge-West)
Carol Haley (Airdrie-Chestermere)
Denis Herard (Calgary-Egmont)
Rob Lougheed (Strathcona)
Richard Magnus (Calgary-North Hill)
Alberta Liberal MLA
Maurice Tougas (Edmonton-Meadowlark)
New Democrat MLA
Raj Pannu (Edmonton-Strathcona)
On the Tory retirements, comments are abound:
“A lot of MLAs see the writing on the wall that people are not happy with the party and the way it’s run,” says Jim Stevenson, who chaired Alberta Renewal, founded during last fall’s leadership race in an effort to reconnect the party with its grassroots.
“There’s so many things that need to be changed to bring some democracy back into the party and I don’t see that happening.”
David Taras, a political analyst at the University of Calgary, agrees a number of factors affect the decision whether to run again, but says Stelmach has to wear some of the responsibility.
“There are a lot of factors at work here and some are not the kind of factors the premier likes to talk about,” he said. “Klein had enormous coat tails. With those coat tails gone, and the argument that Stelmach has very short coat tails, or none at all, could be a drag on some of these candidates.
“If you do the basic math, some of them could be in tough re-election battles and some could lose.”
EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach admitted Monday that “overzealous” organizers for his Conservative leadership bid wrongly solicited a $10,000 cheque from a municipal garbage agency, money his campaign returned after he won the race.
The premier said the donation last summer from Beaver Regional Waste Management Service’s Commission was legal but clearly unethical, though the Tofield-area body’s records show the cheque was only returned a day before Stelmach’s campaign had officially cleared its debt in February.
It’s the second time Stelmach has blamed his campaigners for questionable practices, months after public outcry forced him to cancel a $5,000-a-ticket fundraising reception billed as a chance to have a private audience with Alberta’s top politician.
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, who made public the $10,000 donation in the legislature Monday, accused Stelmach of developing a “conscience of convenience” once the leader had a campaign surplus and knew his finances faced more public scrutiny.
“It was only after they began to feel they would be watched that they developed a conscience and refunded the money,” Taft told reporters.
And yet some people will tell me that donations to leadership races have no business being public.
UPDATE: Calgary Grit’s take on Stelmach’s ““The donation might have been legal, it certainly was not ethical.” comment.
This is why I chose to stay away from today’s affordable housing rally at the Alberta Legislature:
“Was it a housing rally or a commercial for the New Democratic Party?
Most of the 300 or so on hand for the protest Thursday at noon at the legislature didn’t seem to mind much, but a few weren’t cheering as the third party used the rally to introduce candidates in the next provincial election and slam the oppositon Liberals with as much vigour as the government.
“I didn’t realize the NDP was going to do a rally here, I thought it was for housing. That’s really why I actually came down,” said Dave, a young married guy who wouldn’t give his last name. Dave and his wife have been evicted twice in the last two years for condo conversion and recently saw his rent go up $450.
Dan Backs, the Independent MLA from Edmonton Manning who was kicked out of the Alberta Liberal caucus last November is seeking the Tory nomination in that riding. Backs will be running against former PC MLA Tony Vandermeer for the nomination (Backs narrowly defeated Vandermeer in 2004).
MacEwan College Political Science Professor Chaldeans Mensah described the situation perfectly:
Chaldeans Mensah, who teaches political science at MacEwan College, said Backs is “a bit opportunistic” since his prospects of re-election are slim as an independent.
The Alberta Liberals will soon nominate Edmonton Lawyer Sandeep Dhir in Edmonton Manning. I was actually quite excited when I heard Sandeep was running as I know he will be a great candidate and MLA. His community experience includes serving as President of the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society, and involvement with the Theatre Network Society and the Law Society of Alberta.
Rumour has it that Ward 3 City Councillor Janice Melnychuk is considering carrying the New Democrat flag. But more recent rumours suggest Melnychuk is having second thoughts about jumping to the provincial scene to attempt to join the four-man New Democrat caucus. Melnychuk would be a strong candidate, but I wouldn’t blame her for wanting to stick to City Council.
The area covered by Edmonton Manning has been represented by three parties over the past 21 years. As Edmonton Belmont it elected NDP MLA Tom Sigurdson (1986-1993). Since being created in 1993, Edmonton Manning has elected one Tory MLA – Tony Vandermeer (2001-2004) – and three Liberal MLA’s – Peter Sekulic (1993-1997), Ed Gibbons (1997-2001), and the breifly Liberal Dan Backs (2004-2006). Regardless, Edmonton Manning will be a hard fought race as it will likely be hotly contested by all three parites.
On another note, it’s been rumoured that Alberta Alliance leader Paul Hinman is trying to negotiate his way into the PC caucus…
The individual contribution data isn’t yet available on the Elections Alberta Electoral Finance, but hopefully it will be up soon.
Though the individual contribution breakdown will give us a better idea of where the contributions are coming from, looking at the raw numbers shines a light on some interesting trends.
First, the Tories were still dominant in the money section. This is no surprise. The Alberta PC’s form the current government and have a well established fundraising base in corporate Alberta. Being the last year of the Ralph Klein dynasty, 2006 was an exiciting year for the Alberta PC’s with the attention and funds garnered from their leadership race, this is what I’m assuming a large part of the 1374% increase in “other sources” is about (membership sales, leadership candidate deposits, and the aparatus of this activity).
Second, Kevin Taft’s Alberta Liberals raised over a million dollars last year. This is quite significant since I believe the last time the Alberta Liberals raised over a million was in 1993 (twelve years of inflation aside, it is still nearly 20% higher than their 2005 fundraising numbers, which is a significant sign of growth). The Alberta Liberals have also made a significant dent in their debt (a leftover from their disaterous 2001 election campaign) and have suceeded paying off over $350,000 in just two years.
Third, though the Alberta NDP were only able to raise half of what the Alberta Liberals raised, the NDP continue to attract more contributions from less than $375 crowd than both the Alberta Liberals and Tories. I see this as significant for a number of reasons. Most significantly, when the Federal Liberals introduced Campaign Finance reform before Prime Minister Chretien retired, the Conservatives benifited greatly from having a broadly developed base of supporters who contributed smaller amounts of donations in larger amounts. That said, I’m not convinced that Alberta will see any significant campaign finance reforms before the next election (the numbers also show the NDP running a deficit and an increasing debt).
The Alberta Alliance failed to submit their financial contribution data by the deadline. Does this mean they will be deregistered? I’ll have to find my copy of the Alberta Elections Act and read up…
The Alberta Liberals shuffled their shadow cabinet this week. Big changes include Dave Taylor’s move from Advanced Education to Municipal Affairs & Housing, Mo Elsalhy’s move to Justice & Attorney General, and Bruce Miller’s move to Employment, Immigration & Industry.
Kevin Taft (Edmonton Riverview) – Leader
Dave Taylor (Calgary Currie) – Deputy Leader, Municipal Affairs & Housing
Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton Centre) House Leader, Health and Wellness,
Rick Miller (Edmonton Rutherford) – Treasury Board, Service Alberta and Finance, Caucus Whip
Mo Elsalhy (Edmonton McClung) – Deputy House Leader, Justice & Attorney General, Solicitor General
Bruce Miller (Edmonton Glenora) – Employment, Immigration & Industry, Deputy Whip
Weslyn Mather (Edmonton Mill Woods) – Children’s Services
David Swann (Calgary Mountain View) – Environment
Hugh MacDonald (Edmonton Gold Bar) – Energy, and Agriculture & Food
Bridget Pastoor (Lethbridge East) – Seniors and Community Supports
Bharat Agnihotri (Edmonton Ellerslie) – Tourism, Parks, Recreation & Culture
Bill Bonko (Edmonton Decore) – Sustainable Resource Development and International, Intergovernmental & Aboriginal Relations
Maurice Tougas (Edmonton Meadowlark) – Advanced Education & Technology, and Chair of the Edmonton Caucus
Harry Chase (Calgary Varsity) – Infrastructure & Transportation
Jack Flaherty (St. Albert) – Education
Brian Mason (Edmonton Highlands-Norwood) – Leader, Treasury Board and Service Alberta, Energy, Finance and Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Ray Martin (Edmonton Beverly-Clareview) – Employment, Immigration and Industry, Health and Wellness, Infrastructure and Transportation and International, Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Relations critic areas.
David Eggen (Edmonton Calder) – Education, Agriculture and Food, Environment, Sustainable Resource Development and Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture.
Raj Pannu (Edmonton Strathcona) – Advanced Education and Technology, Justice and Attorney General, Children’s Services and Seniors and Community Supports.
For many newly minted Albertans it’s fairly obvious that the affordability shortage/ridiculously high priced housing market here in Alberta is causing quite the challenge for many residents of Canada’s wealthiest nation. But what are folks to do?
Kevin Taft‘s Alberta Liberals have released a policy paper detailing their plans for an Affordable Housing Strategy. Calgary Currie MLA Dave Taylor, the Official Opposition Critic for Municipal Affairs, announced the Liberals policy paper this week. In brief, the Affordable Housing Strategy recommends:
– changes to provincial regulations concerning secondary (e.g. basement) suites so that they can be quickly used as affordable housing units, while meeting strict provincial health and safety standards;
– portable housing allowances and rent supplements for low-income and fixed-income Albertans;
– giving cities and towns the authority to mandate percentages of affordable housing in new developments;
– incentives to developers to build affordable rental units, and to make home ownership possible for more Albertans;
– providing land through provincial donations and land swaps to make it more financially feasible for local groups to build new affordable housing;
– enacting a Reasonable Rent Increase law to protect tenants from rent gouging.
You can also fill out an online survey.
The Alberta NDP have also released a point pamphlet on Affordable Housing and Poverty calling for the creation of a Ministry of Housing. On Affordable Housing, the NDP are advocating that this new Ministry:
* Build 6000 affordable housing units
* Pressure the federal government to increase funding
* Commit to helping municipalities meet targets
Soon-to-be-newly-minted-Premier-designate-of-Alberta Ed Stelmach released a two-paragraph statement on affordable housing for Albertans with Special Needs during the recent Alberta PC leadership campaign. It looks like Albertans will just have to wait and see where Premier-designate Stelmach stands on this issue.
UPDATE: Stelmach has four more paragraphs on homelessness.