The price of oil is way up and COVID-19 public health restrictions are gone in Alberta.
Premier Jason Kenney and United Conservative Party cabinet ministers have fled the big cities and are hopping across the province making big spending announcements.
Grande Prairie. Red Deer. Acme. Hospitals. Schools. Airports. Childcare centres.
There is almost money for everything again. Unemployment is still high but government coffers are flush with oil revenues.
It feels like election season in Alberta.
The next provincial election is supposed to be just over a year away.
Bill 81 passed last year sets the next election day for the third Monday in May. That’s May 29, 2023. The bill was signed by Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani in December but it hasn’t been proclaimed into law by the Kenney cabinet.
Kenney could call a Hail Mary early election this year but with Rachel Notley’s NDP leading in every poll since November 2020, it would be a big gamble. The UCP could lose big.
Notley’s NDP are recruiting good candidates and have a lot more money in the bank than Kenney’s UCP, which has struggled to fundraise over the past two years.
But an early election would take advantage of high oil prices, boosted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has given Kenney a chance to shift back to talking about oil and pipelines. Plus, Kenney is keen to project a sense of optimism that the COVID pandemic might actually be over (for now, at least).
And a really early election could be a way to avoid that pesky April 9 leadership review in Red Deer.
‘Give all Albertans a chance to vote in the leadership review!’, Kenney could say.
A super early election would let Kenney punt out the growing chorus of opponents in his own caucus and avoid the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election (so long, Brian Jean!).
Kenney would still have a lot to answer for. He’s still sitting on an unpopular coal mining report the government was forced to write after nearly all Albertans rose up against open-pit coal mining in the Eastern Slopes.
Plus the draft education curriculum, a big fight with doctors, abandoned plans to privatize and sell provincial parks, and that $1.3 billion gambled on Donald Trump’s re-election.
New Labour Minister Kaycee Madu is still in cabinet after trying (and failing) to ‘interfere in the administration of justice’ after getting distracted driving ticket. And new Justice Minister Tyler Shandro is facing a code-of-conduct hearing at the Law Society.
While Kenney has callously used the Ukraine crisis as a pitch for Canadian oil, one big country dependent on Russian oil and gas, Germany, is talking about abandoning fossil fuels all together.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner has referred to renewable electricity sources as “the energy of freedom.”
But Kenney’s audience isn’t Germany or investment funds in New York. His primary audience is UCP voters in Alberta.
Back to the early election talk.
Maybe that’s what Pam Livingston is already working on?
The Premier’s chief of staff is on a leave of absence to make sure he wins the leadership review, but with party nominations heating up – notably in ridings held by Kenney loyalists – shifting into election campaign mode might be a natural transition.
City UCP MLAs are worried about the NDP, and rightfully so, but rural MLAs are mostly worried about a challenge from the populist right.
An early election could catch challengers like the Wildrose Independence Party off-guard, robbing them of a full year to organize and recruit candidates.
“But Dave,” you say, an early election call didn’t go so well for Kenney’s conservative predecessor in the Premier’s office.
Premier Jim Prentice led a calcified Progressive Conservative dynasty to get trampled in the 2015 Orange Wave election that broke the mold of Alberta politics. It’s probably a warning Kenney should heed.
The NDP could win big and Notley could become the first Premier in Alberta’s history to return after being defeated. It would be a big deal.
Notice that Kenney’s language has shifted in the past month?
After years of using divide and conquer tactics on almost every issue, the most divisive and unpopular premier in Alberta’s recent history is making a desperate appeal for “unity.”
He needs a big shift – and a big shovel to dig himself out of the giant hole he has spent the past three years digging.
Whether he is actually campaigning for the April 9 leadership review or setting up Albertans for an early election, gambling might be Kenney’s only option if he wants to stay in the Premier’s office. Otherwise he might as well book the U-Haul.
The Battle of Alberta is a term usually reserved for competitions on the hockey rink or football field, but the rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton probably predates our professional sports clubs. While the animosity felt by some sports fans might not be felt the same way among voters, the politics and political divides between the two cities have helped defined Alberta politics since the province was created in 1905. From the decision of where to place Alberta’s capital city to where the province’s first university should be located, the roles played by the two major cities have been a periodic point of tension in provincial politics.
There are many reasons that explain the current political differences between the two cities, from the backgrounds of the settlers who founded the cities to the most recent round of economic convulsions.
As a friend of mine once put it, Calgary is where business decisions get made, Edmonton is where government decisions get made.
Calgary sees itself as the business capital, heavily influenced by connections to the American oil industry in Texas and the home of the braintrust of the federal Conservative movement. Edmonton is the government capital, heavily influenced by a combination of public servants and University employees as well as a base of blue-collar and trades workers with connections to Fort McMurray and northern Alberta.
These are obviously big generalizations that don’t reflect the diversity and complexity of the two cities but it does help explain some of the political differences between the two municipalities.
While I think the political differences between two two cities can sometimes be overstated, a troubling political narrative that has developed over the past six years has been that because Calgary is perceived to have felt the brunt of the economic fallout caused by the drop in the international price of oil, it is now Edmonton’s turn to feel the economic pain (translation: public sector wage rollbacks and job cuts).
There is an old saying in Alberta politics that a party has to win most of the seats in two of the three political regions of the province in order to form government – Calgary, Edmonton or rural Alberta. The “rural Alberta” in this calculation includes the small and medium size cities, which, with the exception of Lethbridge, have in the past four decades mostly voted in sync with the rest of rural Alberta – conservative.
But the calculation is generally correct. With a combined 46 seats in the Legislature, the two large cities represent the majority of Alberta voters (I hope to write more about voting patterns in “rural Alberta” in a future article).
This year marks one year since the United Conservative Party won the 2019 election and five years since the New Democratic Party won the 2015 election, undeniably two of the most important elections in Alberta’s recent political history. The two votes marked the first changes in government in Alberta since 1971, and both highlighted the political differences between Calgary and Edmonton.
The Progressive Conservatives had dominated Calgary since 1971 but in 2015 a combination of a surge of votes and the first-past-the-post electoral system allowed the NDP to elect 15 MLAs with 34 percent of the vote. The PCs earned 31 percent and the Wildrose placed third with 23 percent in Alberta’s largest city.
The 2015 election marked the first time since 1989 that the NDP had elected an MLA in Calgary and the first time since 1967 that a party other than the PCs won a majority of seats in the city.
While many prominent conservative pundits and politicians claimed the NDP breakthrough in Calgary, and much of the rest of Alberta, was a result of a vote-split on the political right, a closer look at that election would support the argument that the vote split was actually between the NDP and Wildrose among voters unhappy with the 43-year governing PC Party dynasty.
Edmonton has earned the nickname Redmonton for its reputation for electing more Liberals and NDP MLAs than anywhere else in the province. But despite the nickname, the capital city is historically more electorally competitive than it is an opposition bastion. Voters in the capital city have swung between parties more frequently than any other region in Alberta, making it one of the few consistently competitive areas of the province.
Led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the NDP swept the city in 2015, earning 65 percent of the total vote and winning every seat. The PCs earned 20 percent and the Wildrose finished with 8 percent in the capital city.
As one local PC Party campaign manager described to me after the 2015 election, their candidate faced “a giant impenetrable wall of orange.”
Four years later in 2019, the NDP maintained its vote share in Calgary but were only able to elect three MLAs as the UCP succeeded in consolidating the large base of PC and Wildrose voters, though a number of UCP candidates earned below the combined totals from the previous election. The NDP earned 34 percent of the vote and the UCP, led by Calgary-Lougheed MLA Jason Kenney, amassed 53 percent and elected 23 MLAs.
The seats won by Calgary NDP MLAs in the 2019 election have a tradition of electing non-conservative MLAs. Calgary-Buffalo and Calgary-Mountain View elected Liberals and NDP MLAs in the 1980s and 1990s, and Calgary-McCall swung to the Liberals in the 2000s.
Although the NDP lost all but one of the suburban surrounding the city, the party maintained its dominance in Edmonton in 2019, winning 53 percent of the vote and holding all but one seat. The UCP elected 1 MLA and earned 35 percent of the vote in the capital city.
The only viable third party in the 2019 election, the Alberta Party, earned 10 percent of the vote in both cities but failed to elect any MLAs. Party leader Stephen Mandel was unsuccessful in his bid for election in Edmonton-McClung and its two Calgary incumbents were defeated.
Past elections in the two cities
The results of these two elections, and how they have shaped Alberta politics in the most recent two election prompted me to take a broader look at voting results in Calgary and Edmonton over the past four decades.
1986: The departure of Peter Lougheed as Premier of Alberta in 1985 clearly had a big impact on Alberta politics, as the economic recession that followed allowed NDP led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin breakthrough in the capital city in the 1986 election.
Calgary remained a PC Party stronghold following Lougheed’s departure, with the NDP and Liberals electing a handful of MLAs between 1986 and 1997, and 2004 and 2012.
The election of Liberal Sheldon Chumir in Calgary-Buffalo in 1986 marked the beginning of a long-line of non-conservative MLAs representing that district. Non-conservative candidates would win in Calgary-Buffalo in nine of the next eleven elections (the district is currently represented by NDP MLA Joe Ceci).
Edmonton became the competitive hotbed of Alberta politics and a deep rivalry developed between Liberal Party and NDP partisans in the capital city.
The competition between the Liberals and NDP in Edmonton during this period generated much discussion around a “unite the left” movement to defeat the PCs, though this perennial debate largely became mute when the NDP formed government in 2015.
1993: In 1993, Premier Ralph Klein further consolidated his party’s electoral grip on Calgary while the Liberals led by former mayor Laurence Decore executed a clean sweep of the capital city. The Liberals were the beneficiaries of a collapsing NDP vote and also a burgeoning group of Reform Party voters wanting change on the provincial and federal levels.
The Liberals would again dominate Edmonton in the 1997 and 2004 elections, though the party began to resemble a group of independents more than the cohesive political organization created by Decore.
Competition between Decore’s Liberals and former Calgary mayor Klein’s PCs led to obvious descriptions of provincial politics as the battle of Alberta.
2001: The 2001 election marked a turn back toward the PC Party in Edmonton, which would then lose most of its seats when the Liberals and NDP rebounded in 2004 before regaining ground in the city in 2008 and 2012. This period marked the beginning of a decline of the Liberal Party in Edmonton after almost two decades as the official opposition party.
The 2001 election also marked the first time since 1982 that the PCs won every seat in Calgary.
2004: The 2004 election marked a breakthrough for the opposition Liberals in Calgary where the party elected three MLAs, the most since 1993. The Liberals would expand its voter base in Calgary and elect four MLAs in 2008 as the party’s fortunes in Edmonton sharply declined after it regained much of its seats in the 2004 election.
2012: The 2012 election marked a significant shift in the political environment in Alberta with the two large cities coalescing behind the PC Party. The opposition Wildrose Party swept much of rural Alberta, forming the first rural based official opposition party since the Social Credit Party in the 1970s. This trend would continue in the 2015 election as the Wildrose Party regained most of its seats following the 2014 floor-crossings.
(Note: Thank you to Shane Smith for sharing the poll level election maps. You can follow Shane on Twitter at @Smith80D).
Four days before Election Day, Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice stood on a stage in front of hall of supporters who paid $500 per plate to attend the evening fundraiser in downtown Edmonton. Mr. Prentice warned his audience of the dire consequences of voting for Rachel Notley’s NDP, which has been his key message since the televised leaders’ debate.
Five polls released on April 29, 2015 show the NDP leading the PC and Wildrose parties across Alberta, and with a massive lead in Edmonton. Most political watchers expected the Mr. Prentice to use the massive PC campaign war-chest to launch a massive negative advertising campaign against the NDP, but it has not materialized.
The PC Party has released some radio ads and its supporters in corporate Calgary, like oil company CEO Brian Ferguson, have spoken out against the NDP proposal to review natural resource royalties. But aside from Mr. Ferguson (and the supporters who paid $500 to hear Mr. Prentice speak last night), I am not sure most voters believe the government should not regularly review royalties to ensure Albertans are getting the best value for their resources.
[The Globe & Mail reported on September 5, 2014 that Mr. Ferguson was among 39 donors who gave Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign between $10,001 and $30,000]
The attacks do not seem to have weakened Ms. Notley, who is an articulate and likeable politician. Her party has presented a moderate platform focused on reinvesting in health care and education, raising corporate tax rates from 10% to 12%, and carefully reviewing royalties collected for the province’s natural resources.
As Mr. Prentice tries to scare conservatives into re-electing his party to a 13th term in government, one poll conducted by ThinkHQ shows most Albertans surveyed said they were more afraid of a re-elected PC government than a Wildrose or NDP government.
“…68% of those interviewed said they would be very or somewhat concerned about Alberta’s future if the PCs were re-elected as government. Meanwhile, 58% would have concerns about a Wildrose government, and only 47% say they would have reservations if the NDP win the election.”
In the 2012 election, conservative voters in rural Alberta abandoned the PCs in favour of the opposition Wildrose Party. The PCs were re-elected with the support of moderate voters, many former Liberal voters, who were both scared of the Wildrose and excited by Alison Redford’s promise of a progressive government.
Fast forward through three years of scandals, controversy and broken promises, and now many of the same voters who saved Ms. Redford’s PC Party in 2012 are now leaning toward voting for Ms. Notley’s NDP.
With trust and accountability having become the defining issues of the election campaign, Mr. Prentice has not presented a compelling reason for Albertans to trust that the PC Party will be any different in the next three years (especially after he called the election one year earlier than the PC Government’s fixed election date).
There is also a feeling among many Albertans that the PCs have mismanaged our province’s vast resource wealth, especially following the drop in oil prices earlier this year.
Despite years of economic prosperity, the PCs have run deficit budgets since 2008 and do not appear to have planned for any economic downturns (even though the price of oil has always been cyclical in nature).
Unlike previous elections that were dominated by the PCs, there is an increasing permissive environment among Alberta voters that it is okay not to support the governing party in this election.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has predicted the election of a PC minority government but said that Albertans should not be afraid of voting for the other parties. Mr. Nenshi has met with all five main party leaders and said any of them would do a “pretty decent job” for Calgary.
“We’re a place of entrepreneurs. We’re a place of risk-takers, yet we don’t take risks in government except in 2010. And I think that one worked out OK for Calgary,” Mr. Nenshi told the Calgary Herald.
In a recent blog post, former Edmonton PC MLA and cabinet minister David King asked “Should Albertans vote for a P.C. candidate, in any constituency, and elect a cog in a machine that is running amuck?”
With NDP support concentrated in urban areas of the province, the PCs also face a major challenge from Brian Jean‘s Wildrose Party in rural Alberta. For the first time in their 44 years in power, the PCs are facing a two front campaign. It is never a safe bet to count the PCs out, but they may be facing their toughest challenge since forming government in 1971.
And with four days left until Election Day, it is still not clear which party will form government on May 5, 2015, but a minority government could be a likely result.
A minority government would breathe new life into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, which has largely become a rubber-stamp for decisions made behind closed doors by PC cabinet ministers and MLAs. A minority government would also, for the first time in Alberta’s history, force the governing party to meaningfully work with the other parties when passing legislation.
Changing our government is not something Albertans should be afraid of. It is something we should probably do on a regular basis.
Albertans are heading to the polls on May 5, 2015 to elect the next Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Like the past twelve elections since 1971, the May 5 vote will almost certainly result in the re-election of the Progressive Conservative Party, Alberta’s natural governing party. But despite the mostly pre-determined outcomes, provincial elections in this province can be interesting and sometimes exciting.
After 43 years as government, the PC Party is not running on its record.
Campaigning under the slogan “Choose Alberta’s Future,” Team Jim Prentice will try to ensure that Albertans are not reminded of the past three years of scandals and broken promises while their party was led by Alison Redford.
Mr. Prentice wants the next 27 days to be an election focused on the latest provincial budget and proposed “ten year plan.” The PCs do not want this election to be a referendum on their record as government, at least not beyond the past seven months since Mr. Prentice became their leader.
Claiming that a vote for his party is not a vote for the status quo, Mr. Prentice took shots at the New Democratic Party and Wildrose Party, and challenged the opposition to unveil their plans for governing the province. As we are entering an election campaign, I am sure the opposition parties will do just that, while also taking every opportunity to remind voters of the PC Party’s record.
Unlike previous elections when the Liberals and NDP would compete in a handful of constituencies in Edmonton to form Official Opposition, there are almost no constituencies in this election where the Wildrose and NDP are both contenders. This could be the first election in a generation where the PCs find themselves facing serious opposition challenges in both rural and urban Alberta.
While it is unlikely that the PCs will lose government in this election, it is possible that both main opposition parties could surprise Albertans by making gains at the expense of the governing party.
Metro Edmonton reports that Edmonton-Mill Woods PC MLA Sohail Quadri filed an expense claim for $5,000 to hold a banquet to celebrate his first year in office. Mr. Quadri replaced controversial former PC MLA Carl Benito in the 2012 election.
Progressive Conservative activist Jamie Lall was unexpectedly disqualified for unknown reasons before his party’s April 1 nomination meeting in Chestermere-Rockyview, allowing Wildrose PC MLA Bruce McAllister to be acclaimed. After months of campaigning, Mr. Lall lashed out at his party and questioned why he was disqualified when an incumbent MLA who plead guilt to prostitution related charges was allowed to be nominated. Mr. Lall is also the President of the PC association in the neighbouring Calgary-McCall, a position he has not been disqualified from.
@metrocalgary Whatever the phantom reason is, it’d better be worse than a solicitation of a prostitute conviction as that’s the bare minimum
According to the PC Party website, Jonathan Dai has been appointed as the party’s candidate in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in advance of the April 11 scheduled nomination meeting. Mr. Dai is the President of the Canada-China Council for Cooperation and Development and was the Liberal candidate in the 2000 federal election in Edmonton-Strathcona, where he placed 5,647 votes behind Canadian Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer. While attempting a rematch with Mr. Jaffer in 2004, he narrowly lost the Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona to Liberal MLA Debby Carlson. Highlands-Norwood is currently represented by NDP MLA Brian Mason.
The PCs are expected to appoint a candidate in Edmonton-Centre after it was unable to nominate a candidate before the March 28 nomination meeting. The PCs last elected an MLA in Edmonton-Centre in 1982.
One of Mr. Jean’s first acts as leader was to dismiss Calgary-South East candidate Bill Jarvis, whose comments about “brown people” embarrassed the party on the night of its leadership announcement.
The Wildrose Party has now nominated at least 47 candidates, including recent nominees Angela Pitt in Airdire, Blaine Maller in Calgary Fish Creek, and Tany Yao in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. Former leader and MLA Paul Hinmanwithdrew from the nomination contest in Cardston-Taber-Warner, leaving three candidates still in the race – Larry Bates, Jon Hood and Grant Hunter.
New Democratic Party
The New Democratic Party has now nominated at least 75 candidates in constituencies across Alberta. The latest nominated candidates include Christina Gray in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Jon Carson in Edmonton-Meadowlark, Emily Shannon in Drumheller-Stettler, Patricia Norman in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, , Karen McPherson in Calgary-Northern Hills, William Pelech in Chestermere-Rockyview, and Lynn MacWilliam in Strathmore-Brooks.
The Alberta Party has nominated 29 candidates, including recent nominees Jim Black in Medicine Hat and Rory Tarant in Grande Prairie-Wapiti.
The Liberal Party has nominated 24 candidates across the province. The latest nominated candidates include Ron Williams in Battle River-Wainwright, Todd Ross in Edmonton-Castle Downs, Bradley Whalen in Edmonton-Decore, Kevin McLean in Grande Prairie-Smoky and Helen McMenamin in Little Bow. Mr. McLean is a city councillor in Grande Prairie.
The Green Party has nominated fifteen candidates and has recently nominated Josh Drozda in Leduc-Beaumont, Peter Meic in Calgary-Cross, Coral Bliss Taylor in Chestermere-Rockyview, and Sandra Wolf Lange in Edmonton-Riverview.
The Communist Party of Alberta plans to field two candidates in the upcoming election. Leader Naomi Rankin will represent her party in Edmonton-Mill Woods and Bonnie Devine will run in Calgary-East. Ms. Rankin has been leader of the Communist Party since 1992 and, according to her Wikipedia biography, has run in every provincial and federal election in Alberta since 1982.
I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.
Initially turned away by Wildrose Party officials, controversial Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Andershas asked the Wildrose Party for a “waiver” to run for the party’s leadership. Having lost bids for federal Conservative nominations in Calgary-Signal Hill and Bow River last year, the controversial Mr. Anders, 42, is scrambling to salvage his 18 year long political career.
Before crossing the floor to the PC Party, former leader Danielle Smith publicly told Mr. Anders that he was not welcome to run for the Wildrose Party. But now with the party weakened and without a leader, Mr. Anders may be in a position to mobilize his legions of social conservatives to win the leadership.
Also said to be considering a run for the Wildrose leadership are former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk (a nominated candidate in Sherwood Park), former lobbyist Derek Fildebrandt (running for a nomination in Strathmore-Brooks) and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.
Can the PC-Wildrose MLAs survive?
It appears that all or most former Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in the final months of 2014 will face strong competitions to win their new party’s nominations to run in the next election.
Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox is facing former Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkleman and businessman Peter Dewit, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle is facing Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood, Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman is being challenged by Taber Reeve Brian Brewin, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Jeff Wilson is being challenged by arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler.
If Olds-Disbury-Three Hills MLA Bruce Rowe decides to seek re-election, he will face a challenge from Olds Town Councillor Wade Bearchell, who is already campaigning for the PC nomination. Medicine Hat MLA Blake Pedersen is also expected to face a strong challenge and Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson has already announced he will not run for re-election.
Immediately following the floor-crossings, Mr. Pedersen told the Medicine Hat News be believed their PC nominations were guaranteed, but that appears to be a key bargaining position the 9 Wildrose MLAs asked for and were denied before they joined the PCs.
Now the question is how many of the Wildrose-turned-PC MLAs can survive to run in the next election? Could a potential cabinet shuffle save their political careers?
What are PC-Wildrose MLAs are saying about being in government?
“You know, it’s a shame to have to say this, but it’s amazing to me the doors that are open since I crossed the floor. I get into ministers’ office(s) and get things done. It’s just – it’s amazing. It’s really not the way it should be, but it is the way it is.”
What are PC MLAs saying about the PC-Wildrose MLAs?
“This shows that was all politics. That’s unfortunate, and we will have to let that go. But I think everybody should understand that when they make accusations like that and then (cross the floor), it’s obvious there was a lot of political motivation there and not a lot of fact,” Mr. Horner said.
“I’d like to see us stop with the unfounded character assassination — and I think that will stop from them.”
“It’s sort of like that neighbour that screams at you all the time and calls the cops on you once in a while now moves into your house,” Mr. Lukaszuk said. “You sort of work around it and make it work. At the end of the day you have to focus on the prize — and that’s representing your constituents and making good decisions as a government.”
I will be taking a short break from blogging for the next week. In my absence, take a look at David Climenhaga‘s excellent blog at AlbertaPolitics.ca.
The past few months have been a sobering reminder that it foolish to underestimate the staying power of Alberta’s 43-year long governing Progressive Conservatives. A year ago the scandal ridden PC Government appeared to be on the verge of collapse. And now, without needing to present a clear vision for Alberta’s future, it looks like the PC Party could once again wipe out its opposition in the next election.
You read it here first, folks. The daveberta.ca decision desk has called a PC majority win in Alberta’s 2015 election. Congratulations, Premier Jim Prentice. You win. We are not worthy.
Yup. It has been another strange week in Alberta politics.
Cabinet Shuffle: Rumours are circulating in political circles that Mr. Prentice could soon shuffle his cabinet with appointments for former Wildrose MLAs Danielle Smith and Kerry Towle. Returning to social media after a recent vacation in Mexico, Ms. Smith apologized to her former party’s supporters for not notifying them before she led the majority of the Wildrose caucus to cross the floor to the PCs in December 2014.
More Right: The Alberta Party appears a little less progressive this week as leader Greg Clark announced that former Wildrose candidate Tim Grover is now the party’s Executive Director. Mr. Grover ran for the Wildrose in the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election and placed third behind NDP candidate Bob Turner.
Uniting Anyway: One local candidate is taking it upon himself to find an alternative to the current progressive vote split. Past Red Deer-North Liberal candidate Michael Dawe announced via email this week that he will “investigate what might be involved, and what might be possible, in creating cross partisan alliances in the next election, in order to ensure that the people who elect us come first, instead of a group of semi-anonymous backroom players, who are always trying to set the agenda, regardless of what the general public might feel.”
“I will be investigating what might be involved in creating cross partisan alliances, cooperation etc.,” wrote Mr. Dawe.
Resignations and Re-Elections: Retirement and re-election announcements continue: Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley PC MLA Hector Goudreau announced his plans to retire. Former NDP leader Brian Mason will seek re-election as MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. Edmonton-Mill Creek PC MLA Gene Zwozdesky, Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, Calgary-Hawkwood PC MLA Jason Luan and Edmonton-South West PC MLA Matt Jeneroux announced they will seek re-election. The PCs picked up a big name candidate today as businessman and Edmonton-enthusiast Chris Labossiere announced he is running for that party’s nomination in Edmonton-Rutherford. The list of nomination candidates has also been updated.
The last provincial General Election was held 2 years, 9 months and 3 days ago on April 23, 2012.
The Election Amendment Act introduced by Wetaskiwin-Camrose Progressive Conservative MLA Verlyn Olson and passed on December 6, 2011 legislated that a General Election would be held between March 1 and May 31, 2012, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, 2016.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Election Amendment Act also stated that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever he is asked to do so by Premier Jim Prentice. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.”
March 10 iswhen the Legislative Assembly is scheduled to reconvene for the spring sitting according to the sessional calendar. March 15 is the PC Party deadline to have candidates nominated in all 87 constituencies. “…by the end of March” is when Justice Minister Jonathan Denis announced the 2015-2016 provincial budget would be tabled in the Assembly. The last four provincial budgets have been tabled on Thursdays. If this trend continues, the budget would be tabled on March 19 or 26, 2015. From March 30 to April 12 the Assembly pauses and MLAs return home for a “constituency break.” May 18 is Victoria Day, a statutory holiday.
The nomination of PC candidates in all 87 constituencies by March 15 suggests the governing PC Party is preparing for an election this spring. Elections Alberta financial disclosure reports show the PC Party raised more than $1.3 million in the final quarter of 2014, meaning the the party has a substantial more funds available than any of the opposition parties.
On January 16, 2015, the Calgary Herald reported that Mr. Prentice said he intends to seek “a clear mandate from the people” to deal with the provincial government’s revenue shortfall. It is hard to speculate this means anything but calling a spring election with the budget as the defacto PC Party platform.
In his media statement on January 15, Mr. Denis said that the “government will present a spring legislative agenda,” which would suggest the Assembly would be required the Assembly to sit for at least two or three weeks to pass new laws before dissolving for an election. Bill 10, the controversial Gay-Straight Alliance law, is the only piece of government legislation remaining from the fall session.
A big question is how soon the PCs will wait after tabling the budget to call an election. In 1997 and 2008, the PCs called an election soon after tabling the budget in the Assembly and used the provincial budget as a defacto campaign platform.
The constituency break from March 30 to April 12 would allow PC MLAs and cabinet ministers to travel the province on government business to test reaction to the budget. The extra few weeks would also allow PC candidates to get organized and allow cabinet ministers to join them at events in their constituencies.
An spring election would also take place before the Official Opposition Wildrose Party is able to choose their new leader. The Wildrose Party has scheduled their leadership vote for June 6, 2015. This means that the Official Opposition Party may not have a permanent leader during the next election (interim leader Heather Forsyth is retiring from politics).
If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 19, the election would be held on Thursday, April 16. If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 26, the election would be held on Thursday, April 23. And if the election is called after MLAs return from their “constituency week,” on Monday, April 13, then an election would be held on Monday, May 11.
But until we know for sure, it is all speculation.
From Lethbridge to Rimbey and Peace River to Cochrane, here is your Saturday morning candidate nomination update:
Airdrie: Mayor of Airdrie Peter Brownannounced this week that he will seek the Progressive Conservative nomination. Mr. Brown was first elected Mayor in 2010. The constituency is currently represented by PC-turned-Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Rob Anderson, who announced his retirement from politics this month.
Banff-Cochrane: Scott Wagner has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate. In 2014, Mr. Wagner made an unsuccessful bid for the federal Conservative Party nomination to run in the Macleod by-election. During that campaign he issued criticized now-MP John Barlow and calling for a judicial inquiry into allegations that RCMP seized privately owned firearms during the High River floods of 2013.
Calgary-Buffalo: Well-known arts community member Terry Rock will seek the PC nomination. The constituency is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is the nominated federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre and is not expected to seek re-election as MLA.
Calgary-Currie: First-term PC MLA Christine Cusanelli announced on Facebook that she will seek re-election. Ms. Cusanelli served as Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation for less than a year before an Olympic travel spending scandal led to her demotion to the backbencher. She is expected to face a challenge for the PC nomination.
Calgary-East: Ali Waissi is the Wildrose candidate in this constituency. In 2012, he was campaign manager for controversial Calgary-Greenway Wildrose candidate Ron Leech. The NDP are expected to choose Robyn Luff as their candidate at a Feb. 8, 2015 nomination meeting. Ms. Luff earned 8.73% of the vote as the NDP candidate in 2012 (her party’s second strongest showing in Calgary in that election).
Calgary-Glenmore: Chris Kemp-Jackson is the Wildrose candidate in this constituency. Mr. Kemp-Jackson is a business and immigration consultant.
Calgary-Hawkwood: The Wildrose have chosen lawyer and constituency association president Jae Shim as their candidate.
Calgary-Klein: Feb 8 Craig Coolahanis expected to be chosen as the NDP candidate at a Feb. 8, 2015 nomination meeting. Mr. Coolahan is a Business Representative with the United Utility Workers’ Association and was the 2012 NDP candidate in Calgary-Elbow.
Calgary-Lougheed: Two-time Mount Everest climber Dave Rodney will seek the PC nomination. Mr. Rodney has also served as the PC MLA for this constituency since 2004.
Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: Retired police officer Kathy Macdonald has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate in this constituency. In 2014, Ms. Macdonald challenged Premier Jim Prentice as the Wildrose candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election.
Calgary-Mountain View: Three-term Liberal MLA David Swann is expected to announce his plans to seek re-election. The Liberals have scheduled a nomination meeting on February 20, 2015. Jean-Sebastien Rioux announced he will seek the PC nomination. Mr. Rioux is the Director, Master of Public Policy program, and Associate Director, International Policy at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy. He also served as Chief of Staff to Mr. Prentice when he was a cabinet minister in Ottawa.
Edmonton-Decore: Two-term PC MLA Janice Sarich announced she will seek her party’s nomination for re-election.
Edmonton-Whitemud: Health Minister Stephen Mandel is expected to seek the PC nomination for re-election. Mr. Mandel was first elected to the Assembly in a by-election in September 2014.
Grande Prairie-Wapiti: PC MLA Wayne Drysdale announced on Facebook that he plans to run for re-election. Mr. Drysdale was first elected in 2008.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake: Mayor of Red Deer County Jim Woodannounced that he will challenge Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Kerry Towle for the PC nomination. During the 2012 election, Mr. Wood endorsed PC MLA Luke Ouellette, who was unseated by Ms. Towle in the Wildrose sweep of central and southern Alberta. Following that election, he raised concerns about how the PC Government would treat rural Alberta constituencies represented by opposition MLAs.
Peace River: Energy Minister Frank Oberle announced on Facebook that he plans to seek the PC nomination and re-election.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: ATB employee Tammy Cote is seeking the PC nomination and may face a challenge from current Independent MLA Joe Anglin. Ms. Cote is the grand-niece of former PC MLA and lieutenant-governor Helen Hunley.
Spruce Grove-St. Albert: Jaye Walter has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate in Spruce Grove-St. Albert. Previous to this nomination he had been seeking to become the candidate in the St. Albert constituency.
I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.
The announcements this week by former Finance Minister Doug Horner and former Health Minister Fred Horne that they are leaving politics did not come as a surprise to anyone watching politics in Alberta.
Once powerful ministers in Premier Alison Redford’s cabinets, the two men were pushed into the backbenches when Jim Prentice ascended to the Premier’s Office in September 2014. They were also two members of the unofficial 4H Club who, along with former ministers Dave Hancock and Ken Hughes, epitomized the last generation of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party elite.
The scion of a genuine political family dynasty, Mr. Horner is the son of former deputy premier Hugh Horner and grandson of Senator Ralph Horner. He was first elected in 2001 and quickly rose in the cabinets of Premier Ed Stelmach and Ms. Redford.
When he ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2011, many believed Mr. Horner to be the most competent choice for the job. But his close association with Mr. Stelmach made him an unpalatable choice. On the second ballot of the vote, of his supporters marked Ms. Redford as their second choice, leading to her victory over front-runner Gary Mar on the final ballot. His appointment as Finance Minister followed shortly after.
Their endorsements of Mr. Prentice’s bid were not enough to keep them in cabinet. After two years of arrogant, entitled and scandal-ridden Tory Government, their removal from cabinet was seen as necessary to distance the new premier from his unpopular predecessor.
The two departures follow the resignations of Mr. Hancock and Mr. Hughes in September 2014, which triggered by-elections in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-West.
Eight MLAs have now announced their plans to not seek re-election in the expected Spring 2015 election:
Alberta MLAs will return to the Legislature for a spring sitting on March 10, 2015, the Progressive Conservative Party plans to have candidates nominated in all 87 constituencies by March 15, 2015 and Finance Minister Robin Campbell is expected to introduce a provincial budget in late March. It would be hard to find stronger indicators that an April 2015 provincial general election is on the horizon.
And as the PC Party plans to hold 35 nomination meetings on a February 21 “Super Saturday,” candidates have already begun to step up to run for nominations. The quickly approaching deadline and impending election will also force incumbent MLAs whether they will seek another term in the Legislative Assembly.
In Lethbridge-East, PC MLA Bridget Pastoorannounced this week that she would not seek re-election. The departure of the three-term MLA, who was elected as a Liberal in 2004 and 2008 before crossing the floor in 2011, will make Lethbridge-East a race to watch in the next election. Before Ms. Pastoor’s floor crossing, the constituency had been represented by Liberal MLAs since 1993.
In the heart of oil sands country, Fort McMurray-Conklin MLADon Scott and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen announced they will once again seek the PC nominations in their constituencies. Mr. Allen may face a nomination challenge following his controversial first term, which included being arrested on prostitution related charges while on a government trip to Minneapolis, USA and his resulting time as an Independent MLA. He was fined $500 plus court costs after pleading guilty and was allowed to rejoin the PC caucus.
In Airdrie, the retirement of PC-turned-Wildrose-returned-PC MLA Rob Anderson has led to speculation that 2012 PC candidate and city councillor Kelly Hegg and Mayor Peter Brown may seek the PC nomination.
In Medicine Hat, Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Blake Pedersen could face two challengers for the PC nomination. Former city councillor John Hamill, 77, has expressed interest in the nomination, as has 2012 PC candidate Darren Hirsch.
“My sense is that people are angry and upset and I know that the people of the constituency want somebody that they can believe in — that they trust,” Mr. Bearchell told the Olds Albertan in response to Mr. Rowe’s floor crossing on Dec. 17, 2014.
Two polls released in the final weeks of 2014 could give an indication of the direction Alberta political might take in 2015.
The polls show Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservatives dominating in Calgary and rural Alberta. And with Wildrose Party support in decline across the province, Mr. Prentice could be tempted to call an election sometime in early 2015.
The polls also show a race for support in Edmonton between the PCs (with 30% in both polls) and Rachel Notley‘s NDP (with 32% and 34% in the two polls).
Edmonton has been a traditional region of support for the NDP and Liberals since the 1980s. All four NDP MLAs and two of five Liberal MLAs, including leader Raj Sherman, represent capital city constituencies.
While NDP candidate Bob Turner‘s strong showing in the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election has contributed to the narrative of NDP growth in Edmonton, the Liberals remain a wild card in city. Liberal support is inconsistent in the two polls (one showing the party with 13% and the other with 28%) and that party’s traditional base of support in Edmonton should not be ignored.
Many New Democrats hope that the disorganization and apparent marginalization of the provincial Liberals will allow their party to make long sought after gains in Edmonton. But it may not be that easy.
As we have recently seen in other provinces, the NDP have a track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
A big challenge for both Ms. Notley and Dr. Sherman is to attract liberal and moderate Edmontonians who voted for Alison Redford‘s PC Party in order to block a Wildrose victory in 2012. Now that most Wildrose MLAs have joined the PC Party, those voters may be looking for a new home.
The potential for vote splitting and a PC Party rout in the next election, with a backdrop of a slowing economy and low oil prices, has reignited the discussion about uniting Alberta’s tiny centrist and progressive opposition parties.
I’ve tried for years and there is no budging. Each party has a core of supporters that believe their party is the best, the one and only. They will never leave or merge. Both still have infrastructure that is very hard to build, but neither can attract the volunteers and donators to be THE government. I think sometimes we spend more effort fighting each other than the PCs or WR.
A snap mid-Summer election returned Jim Prentice’s renamed “Conservative Party of Alberta” to its fourteenth term as government. In an unexpected twist of fate, Finance Minister Danielle Smith was defeated in her home riding by Wildrose Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
But don’t feel sorry for Smith. She was appointed to the Senate in one of Stephen Harper’s last acts as Prime Minister before the Conservatives lost the October federal election. Harper’s applecart was upset when the beautiful, unseasonably warm October weather caused Canadian voters to turn out in droves.
Back on the provincial scene, NDP leader Rachel Notley led her party to a breakthrough in Edmonton to form the Official Opposition with 21 MLAs. Notley’s party won its first seat in Calgary since the 1980s and its first ever seat in Lethbridge.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was the re-election of Wildrose-turned-Liberal MLA Joe Anglin, who won by 3,000 votes in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. As the only Liberal to survive the election, Anglin is now the leader of the party.
“Unlike the 2012 election, 2015 gave Albertans two clear choices in the PCs and NDP,” said Rick Dunderland, a professor of political science at University of Red Deer. “Even though the PCs still won, there is now a difference between the government and official opposition and that will be a good thing for democracy.”
Tough Economic Times behind us
With a return to $120/barrel oil, Premier Prentice praised good economic times ahead for Albertans in the 2016.
“Back to budgeting as usual,” a senior government official said. “Now we don’t have to worry about saving money for the future, because the price of oil is never going to go down again.”
The Prentice Government is facing international criticism for his government’s continued lack of climate change plan. “Alberta’s climate change framework is important and will be a continued focus of our government in 2016,” Energy Environment Minister Rob Anderson said. “Under new management, we are continuing to take the time to ensure the decisions we make are right.”
And big city mayors have a lot to celebrate. The recently negotiated City Charters granting the municipalities new powers are expected to be unveiled in early 2016. A newly released poll showed Mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi with 95% approval among voters.
Palm Springs resident Alison Redford is set to launch a new tell-all book about her time as Premier of Alberta. Driven out by scandal in 2014, Redford has dedicated her time to charity work and has announced all proceeds from the book will go to charity. Not surprisingly, Tory insiders are expecting the wurst about what might be included in the book.
Keystone XL Pipeline
Recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline over a bottle of champagne with President Barack Obama during his first visit to the White House last month. Conservative opposition leader Jason Kenney complained that Canadians should thank former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the pipeline’s success.
In an unexpected gesture, Prime Minister Trudeau named Harper the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine where, unfortunately, the Canadian Ambassador’s residence was burned down last week by a pro-Russian mob.
With the governing Progressive Conservatives selecting their new leader in September 2014, there is growing suspicion that Albertans could be going to polls sooner than expected. While Alberta’s next strange “three-month fixed election period” is not until 2016, a loosely written law may allow the next premier to trigger an early election.
According to Section 38.01(2) of the Elections Act, the next election should take place between March 1 and May 31, 2016, but under 38.01(1), the Lieutenant Governor retains the authority to dissolve the assembly and call an election when he sees fit. This would typically occur when a government loses confidence of the Assembly or when the leader of the government asks him to do so (it would be highly irregular for the Lieutenant Governor to deny this request).
By my reading, what the Elections Act really says is that the next election must be held by May 31, 2016, but it could easily be held before that date. And I bet it will be.
An election in 2015
An early election would allow the next PC Party leader to seek a new mandate from Albertans, highlight new candidates and purge his caucus of deadwood and troublesome MLAs. With expected growth in resource revenues next year, it will be very tempting for the PCs to call an election after tabling a cash-rich provincial budget in Spring 2015.
An early provincial election could also conveniently rid the PCs of three potentially embarrassing by-elections in constituencies soon-to-be vacated by MLAs seeking federal party nominations (these MLAs are Len Webber in Calgary-Foothills, David Xiao in Edmonton-McClung, and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall).
A Jim Prentice By-Election
If the next PC leader is Jim Prentice, who currently has endorsements from 45 of 58 PC MLAs, a by-election would need to be held to provide the new Premier with a seat in the Assembly. In the past, when a party leader does not have a seat in the Assembly, a sitting MLA has resigned in order to trigger a by-election.
When Premier Don Getty was chosen as PC leader in October 1985, Edmonton-Whitemud PC MLA Robert Alexander resigned so that the new premier would win a by-election in December 1985. Mr. Getty later won a May 1989 by-election after he was unseated in the March 1989 General Election.
Wild rumours suggest that Mr. Prentice could wait until the next election to win a seat, perhaps running against popular Liberal MLA David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View (where Mr. Prentice was defeated in the 1986 election). But it is unlikely that he would wait that long or risk challenging a popular incumbent.
It is more likely that Mr. Prentice would follow tradition and quickly seek to run in a by-election. It is plausible that former Premier Alison Redford would resign as MLA to trigger a by-election in Calgary-Elbow.
Opposition Parties gearing up
The Wildrose Party already has candidates preparing to contest nominations across the province. The party has attracted an early high profile candidate in Sherwood Park, where former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk has announced she will seek the Wildrose nomination. In anticipation of an upcoming by-election, retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Elbow.
The NDP will nominate candidates Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West and Chris Nielsen in Edmonton-Decore on June 17, 2014. The NDP was the first party to nominate a candidate for the next election months ago when Lori Sigurdson was chosen in Edmonton-Riverview.
While no Liberal candidates have been officially nominated, MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kent Hehr and Mr.Swann have all indicated they plan on running in the next election.
What do the Alberta Liberals, New Democrats, Alberta Party and Green Party have in common?
None of these parties will form government after the next election.
As Albertans prepare for another electoral showdown between two conservative parties – the long-governing Progressive Conservatives and the opposition Wildrose Party – many non-conservative voters and voters looking for an alternative are left confused and frustrated about their options.
If you are lucky enough to live in one of the nine constituencies already represented by a Liberal or New Democrat MLA, or the small handful of other constituencies they have a realistic shot at winning, your ballot options may be simpler. But if you live in a constituency where the two parties are competing for the same small pool of votes, or more likely their support is almost non-existent, you may not be looking forward to the next election.
The big-tent PC Party rewarded their new electoral coalition of progressive voters by turning on the issues dear to them – slashing funding to colleges and universities, passing drastic anti-labour laws and attacking front-line public sector workers. Since the last election, through their actions or their silence, PC MLAs have done near everything in their power to alienate the very people who saved their political dynasty.
So, unless you are the type of progressive voter who enjoys being punished for your vote, your realistic options for the next election may feel limited. Other than swallowing your pride and voting for the Wildrose Party, what are the options for progressive voters?
But regardless of the good feelings and potential for minor electoral gains, none of these parties are in a position to form government in the next election. And this is a big problem. While the moderate and progressive opposition parties compete in a handful of constituencies in Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton, the two conservative parties are competing in a province-wide campaign.
Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr‘s proposed a party merger in December 2012 and was quickly dismissed by Liberal and NDP stalwarts. A new party could provide an attractive home for long-time PC voters looking for a less conservative alternative to the Wildrose Party. Although this may sound like a sensible option, personality conflicts remain to largest roadblock to a merger.
Some parties have already proposed ideas to help progressive candidates win. Green Party leader Janet Keeping has decided to run in Calgary-Fort rather than challenge Liberal MLA David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View in the next election. This argument assumes that support between parties will automatically carry over to a single candidate, which is not always the case.
It seems that a bigger problem is our winner-takes all first-past-the-post electoral system that creates results that are not a fair reflection of how Albertans voted. For example, in the last election, PC MLA David Dorward was elected in Edmonton-Gold Bar with only 33% of the votes cast in that constituency (49% of the voters in Gold Bar voted NDP or Liberal).
In a province as young, dynamic and prosperous as Alberta, there is little excuse for not having a progressive party able to compete on a province-wide level – for government! If progressive voters cannot rely on the small opposition parties to figure it out on their own, they need to begin demanding an alternative from the parties and their stalwarts who are standing in the way of real progress.