Categories
Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s post-election honeymoon is over

The seasons are changing and it’s not just the weather – the political seasons are changing too.

The first snow has fallen and the cold north winds are blowing across Alberta. The seasons are changing and it’s not just limited to the weather – the political seasons are changing too.

Five months after the 2023 provincial election, Alberta’s politicians will be back in the provincial capital on October 30 to start the first substantial sitting of this Legislative Assembly. MLAs met shortly after the election to choose a Speaker for the new Assembly (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper) but this fall’s session will see Premier Danielle Smith’s re-elected United Conservative Party government introduce its legislative agenda.

Read the rest on the Daveberta Substack.

Sign up for a paid subscription to get access to the Daveberta Podcast and special Alberta politics extras

Categories
Alberta Politics

What UCP cabinet minister mandate letters say about the government’s agenda

Kind of like Aunt Martha’s fruitcake. It keeps coming back at you year after year.

Over the summer months, while most Albertans were focusing on navigating wildfire smoke and intense heat, the provincial government released a steady stream of mandate letters from Premier Danielle Smith to her cabinet ministers.

The mandate letters are meant to provide direction from the Premier to the Ministers on where the departments they are responsible for fit in the government’s agenda.

Publicly releasing ministerial mandate letters provides a certain level of transparency on the surface but the stream of press releases, as conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool mused last year, “turns an important governing process into a communications and stakeholder exercise.”

Read the rest on the Daveberta Substack.

Sign up for a paid subscription to get access to the Daveberta Podcast and special Alberta politics extras

Categories
Alberta Politics

Bringing Jason Nixon and Ric McIver back into cabinet was smart politics

It has been almost two weeks since Alberta Premier Danielle Smith named her new 24-member cabinet and a lot of ink has been spilled dissecting what the appointments could mean for the start of the United Conservative Party’s second term as government and the next four years.

There are big challenges facing the new cabinet, especially for ministers appointed to high-profile positions. But what caught my attention among the appointments was the return of two former cabinet ministers who were pushed into the backbenches when Smith entered the Premier’s Office last October.

Read the rest on the Daveberta Substack.

Sign up for a paid subscription to get access to the Daveberta Podcast and special Alberta politics extras

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP and NDP making their final week pitch to Alberta voters

Election outcome doesn’t appear any clearer today than it did on Day 1

We’re midway through the final week of Alberta’s election campaign and while the most recent poll from Abacus Data points to Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party having an edge over Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP, it will probably come down to ground game – who can get their voters out to the polls.

It feels like the closest election we’ve had in a long time.

Read the rest on the Daveberta Substack. Sign up for a paid subscription to get access to the Daveberta Podcast and special election extras.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Daveberta Podcast: Trisha Estabrooks on public education and Alberta’s election

Edmonton Public School Board trustee and chairperson Trisha Estabrooks joins the Daveberta Podcast for a broad discussion about education, provincial funding, curriculum, charter schools, student mental health and what the 2023 provincial election means for public education in Alberta.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart. This episode was recorded on April 26, 2023.

Subscribe to the Daveberta Substack to listen to this and future episodes of the Daveberta Podcast.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jaelene Tweedle wins NDP nomination in Red Deer-North, Danielle Smith says she won’t call a by-election in Calgary-Elbow

Jaelene Tweedle defeated Craig Curtis to win the Alberta NDP nomination in Red Deer-North.

“I believe without a doubt that Red Deer-North, and all of Alberta, can thrive under the NDP,” Tweedle said in a statement.

“I will work to ensure our community has access to quality healthcare, a world class public education system, long-term job growth and opportunities for our children, supports and dignity for our most vulnerable, and ensure affordability for families with a competent government steering the ship.”

Tweedle is a former oilfield administrator and was a candidate for the Red Deer Public School Board in 2021.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Premier Jason Kenney (Source: Government of Alberta)
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Premier Jason Kenney in 2019 (Source: Government of Alberta)

The riding is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA and Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange. She was elected in 2019 with 60 per cent of the vote.

The riding was represented by NDP MLA Kim Schreiner from 2015 to 2019 and one of its past MLAs was Stockwell Day, who held the riding from 1986 until he jumped into federal politics in 2000.

Rebecca Bounsall is running for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Fish Creek. She was the party’s candidate in 2019 and earned 28 per cent of the vote.

No by-election in Calgary-Elbow?

UCP leadership front runner Danielle Smith is saying she will call a by-election in a safe rural riding if she wins tonight’s leadership vote. But she is not saying which riding that will be.

The former Wildrose Party leader has been running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod but the incumbent UCP MLA Roger Reid appears to be busy campaigning for the nomination.

Smith has also said she will not call a concurrent by-election in Calgary-Elbow, the riding vacated by former UCP MLA Doug Schweitzer last month. The NDP have nominated energy analyst Samir Kayande as their candidate and lawyer Kerry Cundal is running for the Alberta Party. The riding was held by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark from 2015 to 2019.

Lawyer Andrea James has already announced her plans to run for the UCP nomination and there is speculation in political circles that former City Councillor and mayoral candidate Jeff Davison could also seek the nomination.

Calling a by-election in a safe rural seat so a potential future Premier Smith can get into the Legislative while also not calling a by-election in the already vacant riding sounds like a pretty good way of helping the UCP lose the seat in the next election.

The tally

The NDP have now nominated candidates in 55 of Alberta’s 87 electoral districts. As previously noted, it appears as though the UCP have paused the nomination process until after their new leader is selected on October 6. The Alberta Party has nominated three candidates.

See the full list of nomination candidates here.

The Daveberta Substack

A big thank you to everyone who has subscribed and sent feedback about the new Daveberta Substack.

You can read my first post about Danielle Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act here.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Adriana LaGrange wins UCP vote in Red Deer-North, NDP target Nate Glubish on rural broadband internet

Incumbent MLA Adriana LaGrange won the United Conservative Party nomination vote to run for re-election in Red Deer-North. LaGrange faced a nomination challenged from anti-vaccination activist Andrew Clews and according to a source in Red Deer, the vote was close.

LaGrange has been the face of the government’s controversial education system reforms, including the introduction of a new curriculum for kindergarten to grade 12 that many education experts say includes outdated and retrograde terms and ideas.

LaGrange was first elected to the Legislature in 2019 when she unseated NDP MLA Kim Schreiner in a 60.6 percent to 23.1 per cent vote. She previously served as a trustee on the Red Deer Catholic School board from 2007 and 2018 and was president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association from 2015 to 2018.

Former city manager Craig Curtis and recent school board candidate Jaelene Tweedle are seeking the NDP nomination in Red Deer-North. The NDP have not announced a date for the meeting.

NDP candidates target Nate Glubish on rural broadband internet

Edmonton-Manning NDP MLA Heather Sweet joined Strathcona-Sherwood Park candidate Bill Tonita and Morinville-St. Albert candidate Karen Shaw at a press conference to criticize the UCP government for lack of progress on rural broadband internet expansion.

“Access to high-speed, affordable internet is essential for diversifying our economy and creating jobs, but the digital divide is growing under the UCP and hundreds of thousands of Albertans are at risk of being left behind,” said Tonita.

Strathcona-Sherwood Park is currently represented by UCP MLA and Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish, who responded in a tweet saying “…Alberta’s Broadband Strategy is a fully-funded plan to eliminate the digital divide in 5 years. We are making sure we invest tax dollars wisely to achieve the best possible result for rural Alberta.”

Glubish recently made news when he switched his support in the UCP leadership race from Travis Toews to Danielle Smith.

Both Strathcona-Sherwood Park and Morinville-St. Albert are ridings the NDP believes they have a chance of picking up in the next election.

Other nomination updates:

Upcoming nomination meetings

  • September 7 – Calgary-North West NDP
  • September 10 – Edmonton-Ellerslie NDP
  • September 11 – Lethbridge-West NDP
  • September 14 – Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP
  • September 15 – Calgary-Mountain View NDP
  • September 17 – Edmonton-Gold Bar NDP

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(I am launching a Substack. Sign up at  Daveberta Substack)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk’s essay fiasco and getting used to Premier Danielle Smith.

The problem with taking a break from writing about Alberta politics of a few days is that it becomes almost impossible to decide what to write about.

This week is no exception.

So here I go.

Let’s start with the essay contest.

Oh boy.

Someone named S. Silver won the third place prize in the “Her Vision Inspires” essay contest that was championed by Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville UCP MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, now the Associate Minister for the Status of Women.

S. Silver’s award winning essay.

In her award-winning essay, which was given a $200 prize, Silver argued:

“…it is sadly popular to think Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace us, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide…”

“to try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”

“that the best approach would be to reward families for their reproductive service both with financial rewards to offset the financial burden they are taking on and with medals to symbolize their valuable achievement of having 2+ children.”

Whoa. Yeah.

Pretty gross stuff.

After facing a pretty strong public backlash for choosing a racist and sexist essay for the award, Armstrong-Homeniuk issued a written statement saying she disagrees with it and that it shouldn’t have been chosen.

She led the committee that chose it but we don’t know why it was chosen or who else was on the committee with her.

It’s a secret.

UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Angela Pitt told intrepid CBC reporter Michelle Bellefontaine they had nothing to do with it, as did cabinet ministers Adriana LaGrange and Tanya Fir.

We also don’t know how many essays were submitted to the contest or who “S. Silver” even is.

It’s now been removed but we don’t know how the essay was able to be published on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website without raising some giant red flags.

Speaker Nathan Cooper said he didn’t know anything about it.

The whole thing is a big exercise in passing the buck.

Moving on, for now.

Nate Glubish and Danielle Smith (source: Twitter)

“Premier Danielle Smith. Get used to it.”

Those seven words from longtime political writer Graham Thomson seem to sum up how a lot of people are thinking the UCP leadership will end.

It feels like the most unlikeliest of outcomes, but in Alberta politics, the unexpected is sometimes the most likely.

It’s almost as if the past ten years never happened, said one conservative friend of mine, in reference to Danielle Smith’s near-win in 2012, her spectacular fall in 2014, and the massive political realignments – Rachel Notley’s NDP winning in 2015 and the formation of the UCP in 2017 – that have shaped Alberta politics since.

But she’s back and people think she’s going to win.

She’s drawing big crowds to her events, she’s getting media attention and she just stole another MLA endorsement away from Travis Toews.

It’s possible that other candidates are selling more memberships or that the preferential ballots could tally in a way that helps other candidates but the biggest indicator that Smith is in the lead is that all the other candidates are attacking her.

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean, the UCP prince-in-exile, took aim at Smith’s idea to open the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba to oil exports. It’s a perennially bad idea that never happens but never dies.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt announced on social media that she was quitting her volunteer role as Rajan Sawhney’s campaign chair, saying she needs to realign with her constituents. That feels like code for she’s worried Smith is going to win the leadership and her supporters – notably campaign chair and former MLA Rob Anderson – might be interested in challenging Pitt for the nomination in the riding.

Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who is backing Toews, took a swipe at Smith on Twitter after the party’s Medicine Hat leadership debate.

“Non-lawyer cites Wikipedia to explain novel constitutional theory. Danielle Smith is the freeman-on-the-land of this #UCPdebate. And the other candidates’ responses to her clearly show that they understand what dire consequences her success would spell for our movement,” Genuis tweeted on July 27, 2022.

Not naming but clearly targeting Smith in an online video, Rebecca Schulz described the front-runner as “unhinged and unreasonable” and “lighting her hair on fire.”

Schulz’s video announced that Calgary-Midnapore MP Stephanie Kusie has joined Rona Ambrose as campaign co-chair.

Trying to out-co-chair her opponents is an odd strategy, and is a role that is usually left to the backrooms, but it’s pretty clear that Schulz is trying desperately to position herself as the ABD – Anybody but Danielle – candidate in the UCP race – especially for conservatives not enthralled by Toews beige and boring campaign.

Toews’ establishment-favourite campaign appears to be losing steam.

Having to fight back criticisms about Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s six-figure bonus undermined his claim of being fiscally responsible. And he lost the support of another UCP MLA this week when Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, the Minister of Service Alberta, abandoned Toews and switched his endorsement to Smith.

In almost any other mainstream conservative leadership race, even in Alberta, Smith’s promotion of conspiracy theories and snake oil COVID cures, promises to impose unconstitutional laws, and more would probably disqualify her on the ballots of a lot of conservatives.

But this unruly UCP appears to be a very different beast than the old Progressive Conservative Party it absorbed six years ago. And Smith has used her decades of experience in politics and media to fine tune a message that appeals to a motivated chunk of today’s UCP base.

This most unexpected of outcomes is a surprise when you consider the rules of the leadership race were almost designed to quell an insurgent campaign.

The high entry fee ($175,000), signature requirements (1,000) and early membership cut off date (August 12) were designed for an establishment candidate.

Of course this is all about who sells the most memberships, and some candidates might be out there quietly selling a ton of memberships, but the early cutoff date means the days of the “two-minute Tories” who propelled Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford into the Premier’s Office are long gone.

Ideological conservatives hated it, but anybody being able to walk into the voting station on voting day and buy a membership ensured the PC Party constantly reinvented itself as a big tent party – arguably the biggest success of its 43 years of uninterrupted power.

But Smith isn’t campaigning to lead a big tent and a lot of people think she’s going to pull it off.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Adriana LaGrange faces UCP nomination challenge, second NDP candidate enters race in Red Deer-North

United Conservative Party MLA and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange will face Andrew Clews in a nomination vote in Red Deer-North on August 18.

LaGrange was first elected in 2019 with 60 per cent of the vote and previously served as a trustee with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School district. She has served as Minister of Education since 2019 and has championed the UCP’s controversial curriculum rewrite.

Clews is a construction project manager and spoke on behalf of the “Hold the Line” group at an anti-COVID restrictions rally in Red Deer in December 2021.

Jaelene Tweedle is the second candidate to enter the Alberta NDP nomination race in Red Deer-North. Former city manager Craig Curtis declared his candidacy last month.

Tweedle ran for Red Deer Public School board in 2021 and spoke at a pro-choice rally in July 2022. LaGrange is the former president of Red-Deer pro-life and was on the board of directors for Alberta pro-life.

  • UCP members in Camrose will select MLA Jackie Lovely or Beaver County Reeve Kevin Smook in a candidate nomination vote scheduled for August 4, 5, and 6.
  • NDP members in Edmonton-Ellerslie will choose MLA Rod Loyola or challengers Judi Malone and Manpreet Tiwana at a nomination vote on September 10. Loyola was first elected in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 50.9 per cent of the vote.
  • UCP nominations in Calgary-Acadia and Highwood remain open. Nominations in Calgary-North West and West Yellowhead have closed but candidate acclamations or selection meetings have not yet been announced.
  • MLA Marlin Schmidt is currently the only candidate in the running for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Gold Bar scheduled for September 17. Schmidt was first elected in 2015 and served as Minister of Advanced Education from 2016 to 2019.
  • The Alberta Party announced on Twitter that it is preparing to announce several of its candidates for the next election. The party has nominated two candidates so far – party leader Barry Morishita in Brooks-Medicine Hat and Kerry Cundal in Calgary-Elbow.
  • Zak Abdi is running for the Alberta Liberal Party nomination in Edmonton-City Centre. Abdi currently works in the financial services industry as an analyst at a large OEM and has volunteered with the Black-Owned Market in Edmonton (BOM YEG) as finance lead. The riding was represented by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman from 1997 to 2015 but the Liberals failed to run a candidate in the riding in 2019.

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(I am launching a Substack. Sign up at  Daveberta Substack)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Nomination Updates: UCP races in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Camrose, and first NDP race in Central Peace-Notley since 1984

Candidate nominations appear to have slowed down a bit over the summer, but four hotly contest votes are coming up.

Dreeshen challenged in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

Pharmacy owner Onsy Tawadrous will challenge United Conservative Party MLA Devin Dreeshen in a July 20 nomination vote in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

Tawadrous ran for town council in the 2021 Sylvan Lake municipal elections. UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith thanked Tawadrous on Twitter for organizing a 300-person event for her campaign in Sylvan Lake on June 28.

Dreeshen was first elected in a 2018 by-election to replace Don MacIntyre, who resigned after he was charged with sexual assault and sexual interference.

Dreeshen served as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry from 2019 until his resignation in 2021 after facing allegations of excessive drinking in the Legislature by a former ministerial chief of staff. He is the son of five-term Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen.

Sylvan Lake town councillor Kjeryn Dakin announced her candidacy in June but was disqualified by the party when it was revealed she also held memberships in the NDP and Alberta Party.

First NDP race in Central Peace-Notley since 1984 

Environmental scientist, registered agrologist Lynn Lekisch and Northern Alberta Development Council analyst Megan Ciurysek are seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Central Peace-Notley. A vote is scheduled for July 20, 2022.

December 8, 1984 was the last time the NDP held a contested nomination in this riding, well technically in its predecessor riding of Spirit River-Fairview.

At a 400-person meeting, School principal Jim Gurnett defeated Fairview school board chairperson Betty MacArthur, farmer Dave Ross and college instructor Bill Stephenson to win the nomination to replace the current riding’s namesake, Grant Notley, who died in a plane crash in 1984.

NDP nomination candidates in Spirit River-Fairview (Daily Herald Tribune, Nov. 23, 1984)
NDP nomination candidates in Spirit River-Fairview (Daily Herald Tribune, Nov. 23, 1984)

According to a Canadian Press report from Dec. 10, 1984, many delegates at the nomination meeting credited a rousing speech Gurnett delivered for his victory in which he attacked the Tories as “Robin Hoods in reverse.”

“We don’t need a government that increases taxes for ordinary people and then gives it back to the oil companies,” Gurnett said.

Gurnett won the February 1985 by-election for the NDP in a close three-way race that saw the Progressive Conservative and Western Canada Concept candidates as runners-up, but he was narrowly defeated by PC candidate Glen Clegg in the 1986 general election.

The Tories would dominate the riding for the next 29 years, with the exception of near-wins for the Liberals in 1993 and the Alberta Alliance in 2004, until New Democrat Marg McCuaig Boyd won in the 2015 Orange Wave.

Current UCP leadership candidate Todd Loewen unseated McCuaig Boyd in 2019 after the Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley riding was merged with the Grande Prairie-Smoky riding to form the current Central Peace-Notley riding.

NDP race in Calgary-Cross

Gurinder Gill and Denis Ram are seeking the NDP nomination in Calgary-Cross at a July 25 candidate selection meeting.

Gill is a two-time federal NDP candidate in Calgary-Skyview, improving the party’s standing in the north east Calgary riding from 8 per cent in 2015 to 16 per cent in 2021.

Ram is a student-at-law and founder and executive director of the Complete Complaints Foundation. He is also a former intern editorial writer for The Hill Times in Ottawa.

The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Mickey Amery and was held by NDP MLA Ricardo Miranda from 2015 to 2019.

County Reeve challenging UCP MLA in Camrose

Jackie Lovely MLA Camrose UCP
Jackie Lovely

UCP MLA Jackie Lovely will face Beaver County Reeve Kevin Smook in a nomination vote in the Camrose riding on August 4, 5 and 6, 2022.

Lovely was first elected in 2019 after defeating four other candidates to secure the UCP nomination in 2018 and went on to win the 2019 election with 65 per cent of the vote. She previously ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015. 

Smook was the Alberta Party candidate in the riding in 2019.

And here is some more nomination news:

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(And I am launching a Substack this summer. Sign up at  Daveberta Substack.)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is a bad Premier.

There is no doubt that Jason Kenney changed the face of Alberta politics when he jumped into provincial politics in 2017.

He succeeded in leading the merger of the Wildrose opposition with the Progressive Conservatives remanent into the United Conservative Party.

And, for a period, he was able to convince the two warring factions to put aside their differences and focus on a higher goal: winning the 2019 election.

And it worked.

At least it did for a time.

The UCP won a big majority, but quickly discovered that all those things the PCs and Wildrosers didn’t like about each other still existed, but now they were in the same party.

Last night, Kenney announced his plans to step down as UCP leader after getting a weak 51.4 per cent endorsement an acrimonious, divisive and drawn-out leadership review.

How did we get here so fast?

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely derailed Kenney and his party, but that wasn’t his only mistake.

Let’s look back at the chaos of the past three years.

Kenney’s much promoted Open for Summer plan in 2021 alienated a large swath of Albertans who were uncomfortable with removing public health restrictions so quickly and haphazardly just for the Calgary Stampede.

Rachel Notley’s NDP were riding high in the polls and fundraising, and to a lot of Albertans it looked like Kenney was dropping the COVID-19 restrictions to fast to save his party’s fortunes and his own leadership.

But being forced to backtrack and reintroduce restrictions when COVID-19 cases and deaths predictably skyrocketed and hospitals and ICUs overflowed only served to alienate a growing group right-wing populists and Freedom Truckers who were then highly motivated to defeat Kenney in the leadership review.

Despite flirting with right-wing populism before the 2019 election and during his time as Premier, Kenney is not a populist.

Kenney is probably far more comfortable discussing the works of Ludwig von Mises in the salons of the Manhattan Institute than driving a big blue truck around rural Alberta.

He sold Albertans, and conservative activists, a bill of goods that he could not deliver on.

But again, it wasn’t just COVID-19 that sealed his fate in the leadership review

If Kenney had not been so deeply unpopular with Albertans and if the UCP hadn’t been trailing the NDP in almost every poll since late 2020, he would have had a stronger hand to play.

But he didn’t.

Let’s look at why.

Somewhere along the line Kenney and his ministers began to believe that the big electoral mandate they got in 2019 meant they could impose their platform with abandon and, perhaps fatally, not have to listen to Albertans who started pushing back.

While Kenney’s opponents were always going to oppose his plans to privatize health care and schools, it wasn’t just NDP partisans who pushed back.

It was normal Albertans.

And Kenney didn’t seem to realize this.

Kenney and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon’s plans to close and sell more than 140 provincial parks sparked a province-wide lawn sign campaign that crossed the partisan divide.

After months of actively dismissing and attacking opponents of these plans, the UCP government was forced to back down.

The UCP’s eagerness to open the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining produced a similar backlash.

Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage pushed forward, again dismissing the opposition, which included dozens of southern Alberta municipal councils and country music artists like Corb Lund, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark, until they were forced to back down.

Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro picked big fights with nurses and doctors during the pandemic, which almost certainly undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the pandemic.

Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange were almost engaged in daily fights with teachers, even when the safety of children during the pandemic was the biggest concern for almost every Alberta parent.

Alberta can already be a notoriously difficult place to govern, but at times it looked like the UCP was actively trying to make it more difficult.

And then there were the scandals.

The kamikaze campaign.

The RCMP investigation.

Shandro yelling at a doctor in his driveway.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu phoning the chief of police after getting a traffic ticket.

Lawsuits alleging of drinking and sexual harassment of political staff by cabinet ministers.

Alohagate.

The Sky Palace patio party.

Betting and losing $1.3 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

And the theatrics.

The Energy War Room staffed by UCP-insiders.

The late and over budget Allan Inquiry into nefarious foreign interference that found nothing illegal.

A referendum about equalization that was always going to be ignored by Ottawa, and ironically, was ignored by most Albertans.

The never ending legal challenges against the federal government.

And then there’s the curriculum.

Pledging during the 2019 campaign to take ideology and politics out of the draft K-12 curriculum, Kenney’s government injected new levels of weird and outdated ideology.

Panned by teachers, reviled by curriculum experts, and mocked internationally as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills, and rife with plagiarism, is how columnist David Climenhaga described it.

And then there’s that thing about Kenney’s grandfather, Mart Kenney, showing up in the curriculum, which felt like weird pandering by the programme’s authors.

We never got a glimpse into who Kenney really is or anything about his life outside of politics really.

Aside from politics, we don’t really know what makes him tick.

We know he rented a room in mother’s basement, enjoys listening to Gregorian chants and is a devout Roman Catholic, but that’s almost all we were allowed to see.

Not that we are owed any more.

Politicians deserve their privacy but Kenney’s weird blank slate outside of politics probably contributed to him being not very relatable to most Albertans.

So it becomes a trust thing.

Kenney is popular with many white collar conservatives and former staffers in Ottawa who have fond memories of his two decades as a determined opposition critic and hard-working cabinet minister.

Many of them see him a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian Conservatism.

But whatever charm worked inside the Queensway didn’t translate in the Premier’s Office.

Maybe being a trusted lieutenant to Prime Minster Stephen Harper was a quite different job than being Premier of Alberta?

Someone who has known Kenney for a long time once told me that they believed one of his biggest weaknesses is that he still saw Alberta politics through a 1990s lens.

I’m not sure I totally believe that but I think there’s a hint of truth to it.

And it might be why he has misread Albertans so badly over the past three years.

Kenney got his start in Alberta politics in the early 1990s as the founding spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It was a heady time for deficit hawks and social conservatives, and Kenney frequently engaged in very public quarrels with then-Premier Ralph Klein over government expenses.

The young conservative activist with a trademark Nixonian five-o’clock shadow pioneered the CTF soundbite machine with great success.

It’s where he cut his teeth in politics.

Thirty-years later, Kenney will soon be ending the latest phase of his political career in the same building where he started.

But this time he might not be coming back.


Sign up for the Daveberta Substack

I’m trying something new. I’m hoping to share some thoughts on Alberta politics and history on a new Substack and share the platform with some pretty smart people.

Sign up at daveberta.substack.com

Categories
Alberta Politics

MLA Jon Carson not running for re-election in Edmonton-West Henday, NDP nominate former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow

NDP MLA Jon Carson announced today that he will not be seeking re-election in Edmonton-West Henday in the next election.

“Serving the people of Edmonton-West Henday has no doubt been the privilege of a lifetime,” Carson said in a statement posted on social media. “From our small campaign team huddled around the kitchen table in 2015 to the 2019 that was too close to call on election night… I know that our success was never my own, but always because of our strong team dedicated to creating a better future for Alberta families.”

Dave Cournoyer and Jon Carson at the NDP Victory Party on election night in 2015.

Carson has represented west Edmonton since 2015 when he was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

An Electrician by trade, he was one of 9 NDP MLAs under 30 years old elected in Notley Wave of 2015.

Carson was re-elected in 2019 in the newly redrawn Edmonton-West Henday riding in what was the closest race in Edmonton of that election. He finished 518 votes ahead of United Conservative Party candidate Nicole Williams, a former lobbyist who has spent the past 3 years as Chief of Staff to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

Carson is the second NDP MLA to announce they are not running for re-election. Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan announced last month that he would not seek re-election.

The area, which includes parts of the former Edmonton-Calder and Edmonton-Meadowlark ridings, has swung between the NDP, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives over the past 40 years. Notable former MLAs include Liberals Grant Mitchell, Karen Leibovici, Progressive Conservative turned Liberal Raj Sherman, and NDP MLA David Eggen (who now represents Edmonton-North West).

Druh Farrell nominated in Calgary-Bow

Druh Farrell has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Bow. Farrell served on city council for 20 years before retiring from municipal politics last October.

She was a leading progressive voice in Calgary’s municipal debates during her time as Councillor, making her a frequent target of right-wing commentators and political action committees.

Farrell’s nomination has caused some tension with some local NDP organizers, including former president Krista Li, who have complained the party was too heavy handed in allowing the former city councilor to run.

The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA and Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, who was elected in 2019 with 55 per cent of the vote, unseating NDP MLA Deborah Drever, who placed second with 34 per cent.

There’s an NDP race in Central Peace-Notley

There appears to be a contested NDP nomination in the northern rural Central Peace-Notley riding. Megan Ciurysek, a Research Officer at Northern Alberta Development Council, is challenging Fairview resident and Enviro Projects owner Lynn Lekisch.

The riding is currently represented by Independent MLA Todd Loewen, who was kicked out of the UCP Caucus for calling on Premier Jason Kenney to resign. He was elected in 2019 with 75 per cent of the vote.

The riding is not named after Rachel Notley, but after her father. Grant Notley represented Spirit River-Fairview, covering much of the region, in the Alberta Legislature from 1971 to 1984.

It is fairly quiet on the UCP nomination front, with the party largely focused on Kenney’s leadership review. There are a few updates though:

Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is busy campaigning for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, including a recent meeting with the Citizens Supportive of Crowsnest Coal group. Smith is challenging first-term UCP MLA Roger Reid.

In his first piece for CBC, Jason Markusoff breakdowns which ridings current UCP members live in. Unsurprisingly, the three ridings with the most members eligible to vote in the leadership review are Cardston-Siksika and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, where nomination challengers Jodie Gateman and Tim Hoven were disqualified, and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, where former Wildrose leader Brian Jean just won a by-election. All three are actively campaigning against Kenney in the review.

Upcoming nomination meetings

  • Edmonton-North West NDP: May 18, 2022
  • Calgary-Acadia NDP: May 26, 2022
  • Edmonton-Meadows NDP: May 28, 2022
  • Edmonton-Rutherford NDP: May 28, 2022
  • Brooks-Medicine Hat AP: May 25, 2022
  • Calgary-Elbow AP: May 29, 2022
  • Airdrie-Cochrane NDP: May 30, 2022
  • Edmonton-Riverview NDP: June 7, 2022
  • Edmonton-McClung NDP: June 8, 2022
  • Strathcona-Sherwood Park NDP: June 9, 2022
  • Edmonton-South West NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Edmonton-Decore NDP: June 25, 2022

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(And, once again, feel free to sign up for the Daveberta Substack.)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney declares Alberta open for spring and says we need to “Learn to Live with COVID”

If you really want to pressure the Alberta government into changing public health rules, blockade a border crossing. That appears to be one of the lessons learned this week as Premier Jason Kenney rushed to announce the immediate end of two major COVID-19 public health protections – the Restriction Exemption Program and mandatory face masking in schools, two of the key asks of protesters blockading the Canada-United States border crossing at Coutts.

The Restriction Exemption Program, aka the vaccine passport, provided proof for restaurant, bar and coffee shop workers that their customers were vaccinated against COVID-19. It has also provided a big incentive to get vaccinated. The rushed ending of that program at midnight tonight both removes that incentive and could throw many businesses and their workers for a loop tomorrow morning.

The sudden removal of face mask requirements without consulting parents, teachers or schools boards feels like the most cruel announcement today. We have gone from the government distributing free masks and rapid tests to students in schools to no masks allowed in schools in less than a month.

Low vaccination rates among kids 5 to 11 and the absence of a vaccine of any vaccine protection for kids under the age of 5 will mean a lot of parents with a sleepless night trying to decide how best to keep their young kids safe.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange released a statement during Kenney’s press conference declaring that locally elected school boards would not be allowed to implement their own face mask rules for students, despite the government being fine with local trustees having that authority until today.

Seeing his approval rating plummet over the past two years and facing a leadership review on April 9, it has been clear for months that Kenney was planning on removing the restrictions, but it appears as though the pressure from the Coutts blockaders and pressure from a growing number of rural United Conservative Party MLAs pushed the Premier to rush into removing the restrictions.

When Kenney announced that Alberta was Open for Summer and Open for Good back in June 2021, I tried to be cautiously optimistic that it would be okay. It wasn’t.

Today, I don’t really feel optimistic, I just hope for the sake of my family, friends, and neighbours that it works.

While there is no doubt that many Albertans are growing increasingly tired of the pandemic, it felt incredibly counterintuitive for the Premier to be announcing the removal of restrictions on a day when 1,623 Albertans are in hospital with COVID-19, including 129 in Intensive Care Units. The pandemic is not over.

But, this is being driven by politics not public health.

Kenney talked in his press conference about the need for Albertans to “learn to live with COVID” but learning to live with COVID doesn’t mean just going back to how life was in 2019 – it means we must have actually learned something, otherwise we’re just ignoring the lessons of the past two years.

Here are a few of the lessons we could learn from.

Do a big audit. If we are going to indeed need to learn to live with COVID-19, we first need to know what we learned, starting with the release of the six performance audits from the Auditor General into the government’s response to COVID-19 would be a good start. The release of the reports were blocked by UCP MLAs on the Public Accounts Committee in January 2022.

A real Public Inquiry. There should be a real Public Inquiry and investigation into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive outbreaks at workplaces like the Cargill meat packing plan in High River, CNRL’s Horizon oilsands mine, and long term care centres across Alberta. At the very least an real public inquiry will help us prepare for the next pandemic (or the next wave of COVID-19).

Keep promoting vaccinations. Despite praising them a miracle, it really feels like the Alberta government gave up trying to boost vaccinations months ago. Even gone at today’s press conference was the big and bright “GET YOUR BOOSTER SHOT” podium sign that we have become accustomed to seeing at these events.

Alberta’s vaccination rates, especially for booster shots, are lower than other provinces, and much lower when it comes to kids between the ages of 5 and 11. We still need to do better.

People should stay home when they are sick. Instead of returning to a culture that rewards – or more commonly doesn’t give workers the choice of – showing up when you’re feeling ill, encourage people to stay home when they are sick. More paid work days will help people get well and workplaces to stay healthy.

Better ventilation. Improving building ventilation systems, from schools to apartment buildings to shopping centres – the bare minimum standard is not good enough. Our indoor public spaces need the kind of ventilation that does not aid and abet viruses like COVID-19.

Get a union. Working Albertans need stronger workplace health and safety protections. If it’s not something that their employers will volunteer to improve, it’s something that could be demanded through representation from strong labour unions.

Build a stronger public health care system. Health care capacity is something we have heard a lot about during the COVID-19 pandemic, and capacity applies to both hospital beds and health care staff needed to take care of the patients in the beds.

Because of decisions made by governments of past, Alberta’s public health care system has significantly less hospital beds per capita than our province did forty years ago. This was a choice and we can fix it. The government could also work with universities and colleges to educate more nurses, doctors and health care workers and then invest in the public health care system to hire and keep them working in Alberta – and provide them with the proper personal protective equipment!

COVID-19 has brought the health care system to the brink of collapse, but the dedicated and exhausted nurses, doctors and health workers continue to hold it together for Albertans. The public health care system has been there for Albertans. It’s time to build a stronger public health care system.

Rethink private long-term care. We need to rethink our private long-term care system. Not only do the growing number of privately owned long-term care facilities represent one of the biggest examples of theft of generational wealth, but the billion dollar international corporations that own them should be held to account for how COVID-19 was spread into the homes of some of our most vulnerable seniors. The UCP passed a law in 2021 that blocks lawsuits against long term care owners for the deaths of residents in their care during the pandemic. We owe it to our elders to find out what happened and do better.

Take on Facebook. Taking legal action to aggressively challenge the spread of disinformation on social media. YouTube, Twitter and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, need to be held to account for the role their algorithms continue to play in spreading dangerous disinformation about COVID and vaccines that almost certainly cost people their lives and livelihoods. There is probably little that a provincial government can do, but the federal government can and should act.

Learn to show empathy. And maybe one of the most important lessons we need to learn coming out of the pandemic is the need for more empathy. How do we get out of this while showing better understanding of each other? How do we improve our ability to understand or feel what other people are experiencing? How do we learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes? This is so important.

The pandemic is not over and we will still have more lessons to learn. But if we are going to move forward, for better or worse, we can’t forget the mistakes we’ve made and lessons we’ve learned since this thing started two years ago.

Categories
Alberta Politics

When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing

It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.

That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.

It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.

Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.

Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.

Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.

Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.

The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.

Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.

Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.

But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.

Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.

I bet it grows again in a few months.


Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.
Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.

Shuffled around …

Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.

Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.

Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.

New in cabinet…

Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.

Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.

Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.

Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.

Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.

Out of cabinet…

Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.

Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.

Other non-cabinet changes today included:

Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.

After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.

Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.

Categories
Daveberta Podcast

Episode 72: The COVID 18 and the Curriculum Catastrophe

Alberta politics moves at a mile a minute and there’s no time to waste. On this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, we dive into the United Conservative Caucus rebellion against mild public health restrictions to fight COVID-19 and challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, the controversial draft K-6 curriculum, and the government’s toxic relationship with Alberta doctors and public sector unions.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Music featured in this episode: Prairie Soil by Johnny Bomblast and Dave Harris.