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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)

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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.


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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.)

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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.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 70: Who was the most unpopular Premier in Alberta history?

We dive into our mailbag and answer some great questions sent in by Daveberta Podcast listeners. From the possibility of a United Conservative Party leadership review to Premier Jason Kenney’s new health care-friendly talking points to the Alberta Party leadership to the unpopularity of premiers Richard Reid and John Brownlee, you sent us a lot of great questions!

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.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP advisors erase Residential Schools and inject Anglophilia into primary grades’ Social Studies curriculum, show leaked documents

Perhaps it should not be a shock that a government initiative ostensibly aimed at “removing political bias” actually includes a whole lot of bias, but the curriculum advisory panel struck by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appears to be doing just that.

According to draft copies leaked to CBC reporter Janet French, all references to residential schools will be removed from kindergarten to Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum if recommendations from an advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government are accepted.

The authors of the draft copies have deemed residential schools to be “too sad” for younger students, but lighter topics like feudal societies, the Roman Empire and Chinese dynasties were considered appropriate by the panel.

The draft, which appears to be written partially in first-person, is also filled with strange Anglophilia like teaching students to memorize a Gilbert and Sullivan song and recognize the chimes of the Big Ben clock tower in London. It oddly describes Queen Elizabeth II as “Canada’s ruler” and claims that the monarchy represents “unity in diversity,” seemingly sugarcoating the legacy of British colonialism (this does not sound like the model of a modern major education system).

CBC reported the curriculum advisory panel also recommended the removal of all references to “equity” (which was deemed too politically partisan and charged), and that first grade students should learn Bible verses about creation as poetry and fourth grade students should learn that most non-white Albertans are Christians. It is not clear how the injection of a pseudo-religious curriculum would fit into the role of secular public schools, which the vast majority of Alberta students attend.

The handpicked advisory panel includes former political staffer Chris Champion as the Social Studies advisor. Champion was a senior advisor to Jason Kenney during his time in Ottawa from 2007 to 2015 and has been criticized for a 2019 article in which he described First Nations perspectives in school lessons as a fad.

“The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association Staff Officer for Indigenous Education Melissa Purcell in a press release this afternoon.

“The recommendations perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum. These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright,” said Purcell.

This is not the first time someone with close ties to Kenney has been criticized for comments about residential schools. Paul Bunner, who worked as Kenney’s speechwriter from 2019 until this fall once wrote an article dismissing the “bogus genocide story” of Canada’s residential school system.

Both Bunner and Champion are former employees of the Alberta Report, a now defunct conservative weekly news magazine.

Between the early 1880’s and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools operated by church organizations and the Government of Canada.

The children were strictly forbidden from practicing their culture and speaking their language and were forced to assimilate into ‘white Canada.’ The number of school-related deaths is estimated to range from 3,200 to more than 6,000.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and held its final hearing in Edmonton in 2015, recommended that provincial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Residential School survivors, Indigenous peoples, and educators create “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students” and implement “Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools” (Calls to Action 62 and 63).

The TRC final report described the residential school system as cultural genocide, a description that was adopted by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in 2019.

Grande Prairie and District Catholic School Board Chair Michael Ouellette told MyGrandePrairieNow that leaving out residential schools from learning plans is a terrible idea.

“It’s concerning where it’s going, it’s concerning where they’re going with education in this province,” Ouellette said.” “Other provinces are so much further ahead of us with the curriculum.”

Education experts interviewed by CBC described the recommendations included in the draft as “utter nonsense,” “a laughingstock” and out of touch with the past 30 to 40 years of research.


In 2016, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the heart-breaking story of 12-year old Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, whose death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.


COVID hits UCP cabinet

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

It was announced today that Kenney is in self-isolation after Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard contracted COVID-19. Allard was appointed to cabinet last month. Also self-isolating are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie and Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf.

Kenney tested negative for COVID-19 but a statement released by his office says he plans to remain in self-isolation until October 29, 2020.

The total number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta announced today hit 406, a record daily high since the pandemic began.

Despite the emergence of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced last week that the UCP government plans to lay-0ff 11,000 health support workers and Alberta Health Services reiterated its plans to layoff 650 Registered Nurses.

Categories
Daveberta Podcast

Episode 59: The Fiscal Reckoning and Alberta’s 70-year old Revenue Problems

After a very eventful summer in Alberta politics, Dave and Adam tackle big questions about Alberta’s fiscal challenges (and revenue problems) and Premier Jason Kenney’s promised ” fiscal reckoning,” the mini-cabinet shuffle, Erin O’Toole’s win in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, what a return to school during a global pandemic looks like, and more. We also answer some great questions submitted by listeners.

Thank you to everyone who submitted recommendations for the Alberta Politics Summer Reading List. With summer coming to an end, now is time to start thinking about what Alberta politics books you want to read while cozying up next to a warm fire this fall.

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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading/Listening

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Failing Upwards: Kaycee Madu promoted to Justice after disastrous year in Municipal Affairs

Edmonton’s lone United Conservative Party MLA got a big promotion today in a mini-cabinet shuffle. After a year as Minister of Municipal Affairs, Edmonton-South West MLA Kaycee Madu has been appointed as Solicitor General and Minister of Justice.

Madu replaces Doug Schweitzer, who is the new Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, a rebranded Economic Development, Trade and Tourism department. Current EDTT Minister Tanya Fir moves to the backbenches and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard is the new Municipal Affairs Minister.

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

The mini-cabinet shuffle, the first since the UCP formed government in April 2019, is a minor readjustment and not nearly what many had expected, with controversial Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange retaining their cabinet posts.

Madu’s promotion will be a surprise to many of Alberta’s municipal leaders, who watched the junior cabinet minister take a paternalistic approach to municipal affairs by interfering in the construction of major infrastructure projects, overhauling municipal election laws to the point where the AUMA publicly described its relationship with the minister as “broken,” and sparking an uprising by traditionally docile rural municipalities over exemptions to oil & gas taxes.

It was the uproar in rural Alberta that most likely lead to Madu being shuffled. Dozens of rural municipalities have spoken out against the government exemptions for municipal oil and gas taxes.

Rural governments that were already having a difficult time collecting taxes from oil and gas companies said the new changes imposed by the UCP government force them to hike property and business taxes in their counties. And rural MLAs, who make up the majority of the UCP caucus, have been receiving an earful from normally supportive local leaders over the tax changes.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Madu may have spent a year burning bridges with municipalities but he is the only UCP from inside Edmonton city limits and a loyal party soldier, a geographic fact and trait that has now earned him a senior cabinet role. Control of the UCP cabinet and caucus is so firmly held by Premier Jason Kenney and his inner circle of political staff that unflinching loyalty is the key to promotion.

Madu is now expected to oversee changes to the Police Act, and provincial election finance laws proposed by the Select Special Democratic Accountability Committee. He will also oversee the implementation of MLA recall legislation and the Fair Deal report recommendations, the government’s never-ending fight against the federal government over the carbon tax, and the expected referendum on equalization in October 2021.

Doug Schweitzer: This appears to be a demotion for Calgary-Elbow MLA Doug Schweitzer, who has recently been bearing the brunt of the criticism about the public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.

The public inquiry, which has been conducted in complete privacy, is over-budget and behind schedule and has had its mandate changed twice since it was formed, suggesting that the one-man commission is having troubling completing its goal of rooting out the alleged global conspiracy against Alberta.

Tanya Fir MLA Calgary Peigan United Conservative Party Alberta
Tanya Fir

Schweitzer’s move signals that the UCP is desperate to recover the “jobs and economy” part of their election slogan that has been sideswiped by the collapse in the international price of oil and economic shutdown in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Schweitzer will be responsible for the new Invest Alberta crown corporation.

Tracy Allard: The first-term MLA from Grande Prairie and owner of Tim Hortons restaurant franchises in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in Grande Prairie is now the ninth Minister of Municipal Affairs since 2010. Her first order of business will likely be trying to repair some of the many relationships damaged by Madu during his short tenure, and, as Kenney announced in today’s press conference, oversee the creation of a spending report card for municipal governments in Alberta.

Tanya Fir: It is unclear what led to Fir’s demotion to the backbenches. The first-term UCP MLA from Calgary-Peigan appeared to be well-spoken and had not caused much public drama for the government. Fir appears to have avoided controversy but her election campaign manager, long-time conservative activist Craig Chanlder, has never shied from controversy and was recently a featured speaker at a separatist rally.

Who was left out: Not making it into cabinet in this mini-shuffle are a number of UCP MLAs who are rumoured to be cabinet contenders: UCP Caucus chairperson Todd Loewen, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao, Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, and Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo.

Also missing from the shuffle is former UCP finance critic Drew Barnes, now the third-term MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, who was left out of cabinet when the party formed government last year. Barnes recently made comments in support of separation if Alberta fails to get Ottawa’s attention regarding issues brought forward from the Fair Deal Panel.

Categories
Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 58: Summer in Alberta Politics Q & A

You sent us your questions and we answered! In this edition of the annual Alberta politics Q&A episode, Daveberta Podcast host Dave Cournoyer and producer Adam Rozenhart dive into the mailbag to answer listener questions about provincial parks, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the reopening of schools in September, political party fundraising, how previous governments might have handled the COVID-19 pandemic differently, how the government could do a better job convincing more Albertans to wear face masks in public, and much more.

We also chat about your recommendations for the Alberta politics summer reading list, which will be published later this week.

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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney delivers bleak message about COVID-19 but falls into old trope about foreign enemies of Alberta oil

Premier Jason Kenney‘s televised address on April 7 was bleak, but he struck the right tone when warning Albertans about the pandemic.

Kenney warned that by the end of summer, the province could see as many as 800,000 COVID-19 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths. Anyone listening to his speech will have heard loud and clear that this pandemic is serious and all Albertans have a role in stopping its spread.

Kenney presented a number of government measures to flatten the curve, including expanding tracking of COVID-19 contacts, encouraging and facilitating safe use of masks, stronger border screening, and stricter enforcement of quarantine rules through mobile devices.

He also warned that the provincial government’s deficit may increase to $20 billion as a result of the pandemic and economic collapse.

It is fair to say that the combined challenges of a pandemic and economic collapse facing our elected officials today are ones that have not been faced in generations. This may be why Kenney has decided to frequently invoke the words and memory of political leaders from the Second World War.

During his televised speech he quoted former American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, telling Albertans that “the only thing we have to fear but fear itself,” and he and his ministers have frequently referred or alluded to former British prime minister Winston Churchill in their press statements and speeches in the Assembly. The government even named its “Bits and Pieces” program after a Second World War program of the same name.

Our public health care system, government, and society are mobilizing against an “invisible enemy” but while the war-inspired rhetoric is useful for signalling the importance of the situation, it can be taken too far. A public health emergency is not an armed military conflict and fighting a virus is not the same as fighting an invading army – our democratically elected representatives should be reminded of this.

It only took Kenney one breath to shift from warning about the pandemic to returning to his old trope of blaming foreign powers for Alberta’s economic condition.

The Premier repeated his criticisms of Saudi Arabia and Russia for their role in the collapse of the international price of oil on which we continue to over-rely, but then spoke about Alberta controlling its own economic destiny by investing $7.5 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Kenney is trying to project an image that he is in control of the economic situation, but clearly no one is. And his devotion to the oil and gas industry is a position he has refused to waver from during this pandemic and economic crisis.

No one can blame Kenney for the collapsing international price of oil, but he can be criticized for doubling-down on the oil industry at the expense of other sectors, like the technology companies now considering leaving Alberta.

With projections of 25 percent unemployment ahead, it would be easier to understand why his government wants to help create 7,000 trades jobs to build a pipeline if the same government had not cut funding last week that will lead to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs.

Kenney’s pipeline investment can also be seen as an attempt to save one of the three key points his United Conservative Party campaigned on in the April 2019 election. With jobs disappearing and the economy looking bleak, pipelines might be the only one of the three main campaign promises he has a hope of salvaging in the remaining three years of his term in office.