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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

“We win by being more New Democrat, not less,” says NDP leadership candidate Gil McGowan

Longtime labour leader joins the Daveberta Podcast to explain why he’s running for the Alberta NDP leadership

Labour leader Gil McGowan joins the Daveberta Podcast to share why he’s running to succeed Rachel Notley as leader of Alberta’s NDP.

The full interview with Gil McGowan is available to paid subscribers of the Daveberta Substack

McGowan was first elected as President of the Alberta Federation of Labour in 2005 and is an outspoken advocate for working Albertans, especially when it comes to the impact of the incoming energy transition on the province’s workforce. He has been one of the most vocal critics of the United Conservative Party government’s plan to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart. This episode was recorded on April 30, 2024 in comfort of the fully-furnished bank vault-turned-podcast studio in the basement of the Homestead building in beautiful downtown Edmonton.

The full interview with Gil McGowan is available to paid subscribers of the Daveberta Substack

New and recent episodes of the podcast are available to paid subscribers of the Daveberta Substack. Sign up for an annual or monthly subscription to listen to the whole episode.

Extra! Paid subscribers can also read a federal nomination update accompanying today’s podcast about former Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin being acclaimed as the federal Conservative candidate in the new Edmonton Northwest riding.

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Alberta Politics

Here comes Naheed Nenshi

He’s the candidate NDP activists will loathe and NDP voters will love.

The countdown is on.

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is set to enter the Alberta NDP leadership race on Monday, March 11.

Nenshi hasn’t publicly said he’s interested in the race. He’s been busy promoting the novel Denison Avenue by Christina Wong and Daniel Innes on CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2024 this week. Instead, his intentions are being telegraphed through political back channels.

Nenshi left office in 2021 after 11 years as mayor of Alberta’s largest city and barely skipped a beat before jumping back into the punditry that helped vault him into the mayor’s office in the first place. He’s thoughtful, well-spoken, entertaining, and thrives in the political fray. He’s a champion of civic engagement and was named the World’s Best Mayor in 2014.

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Alberta Politics

The race to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP

Choose wisely. Notley’s successor could be the next Premier of Alberta

Rachel Notley has been one of the Alberta NDP’s greatest assets since she took up the reins of the party in 2014. Under Notley’s leadership, the NDP went from a small and scrappy opposition party to form government in 2015 and then solidify itself as a viable political force and the singular opposition to the United Conservative Party after 2019.

And after 9 years as the helm of the Alberta NDP she helped transform, it’s likely she will not lead them into the 2027 election.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Pension Plan games begin. But why?

“More Alberta, less Ottawa”

Alberta’s United Conservative Party government opened up a new front in its fight for more provincial autonomy with a proposal to withdraw Alberta workers from the Canada Pension Plan and create an Alberta Pension Plan.

Premier Danielle Smith joined Finance Minister Nate Horner and pension engagement panel chairperson and former finance minister Jim Dinning on stage to announce a sunshine and apple pie forecast for a new Alberta Pension Plan.

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Alberta Politics

Public inquiry needs to investigate what is happening at Alberta’s meat-packing plants after COVID-19 outbreaks

Before there were “I love Canadian Oil and Gas” posters in the window of the Premier’s Communications Office at the Alberta Legislature there were “I love Alberta beef” stickers on the bumpers of trucks and cars across Alberta.

Devin Dreeshen

Albertans rallied behind the wildly popular ‘I love Alberta Beef’ campaign during the Mad Cow disease outbreak that devastated the industry in the mid-2000s. Albertans flocked to grocery stores and butch shops to buy Alberta beef in support of the ranchers and cattlemen who raise the cattle.

I was reminded of the pro-Alberta beef campaign last week when the Cargill meat-packing plant reopened after weeks of closure after a COVID-19 outbreak. While Alberta’s Conservative politicians can be counted on to jump at the chance to demonstrate their love for Alberta beef, they have done little to show their support for the workers who work in Alberta’s largest meat-packing plants.

The Cargill plant has the dubious distinction of having the largest workplace COVID-19 outbreak in North America, with more than 900 workers infected and more than 500 community infections connected to the factory. Two workers – Hiep Bui and Benito Quesada and one family member of a worker – Armando Sallegue – have died from COVID-19.

An updated version of the well-known Alberta campaign.

Days before the plant was shut down, we are told that workers were reassured by Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw that the factory was safe, despite warnings from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, which represents workers at the Cargill factory.

UFCW Local 401 President Tom Hesse wearing a facemask outside of the Cargill plant. (Source: Twitter)

UFCW 401 has taken legal action to try to stop the plant from reopening and is taking the issue to Alberta’s Labour Relations Board. The union also released a survey of the membership showing a large majority of workers do not feel safe working at the plant.

It was revealed last week that Cargill was not complying with Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety laws when the privately-owned American corporation failed to consult with workers at the plant. It was also revealed last month that the government OHS inspections were not conducted in person but over video chat.

According to a tweet from Alberta Senator Paula Simons today, 18 out of of the 37 Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors assigned to the Cargill plant have been infected by COVID-19.

The safety and health of workers at Cargill, and the JBS meat packing plant in Brooks, remains an ongoing concern. And workplace safety is especially important as restrictions are set to be lifted and business are expected to open tomorrow as part of the government’s “relaunch.”

Senator Paula Simons (source: Senate of Canada)

Citing concerns about infection rates, compliance with public health orders, and vague guidance provided by the government, the Alberta Federation of Labour is urging the government to delay the staged re-opening of the Alberta economy by at least one month.

“We need to use that time to develop and implement enforceable measures that will keep working Albertans safe as they return to their jobs,” said AFL President Gil McGowan in a press release today.

“If we don’t do more to address the government’s blind spot on workplace health and safety, more people will get infected, more people will die and we’ll increase the likelihood of a second wave of infection that will necessitate a return to economically damaging and social demanding lock-down measures,” McGowan said.

The safety of Albertans returning to work should be paramount. Whether they are nurses, physicians, healthcare workers, grocery store employees or truck drivers who have stayed on the job, or workers returning to their jobs at childcare centres, restaurants and hair salons, they should not only be provided with proper personal protective equipment but should be guaranteed paid sick leave and job protection.

Gil McGowan Alberta Federation of Labour
Gil McGowan

Premier Jason Kenney recently travelled to Fort McMurray to survey damage caused by spring flooding in northern Alberta’s oil capital, but he does not appear to have been spotted anywhere near the COVID-19 infected southern Albertan meat packing plants.

A centrepiece of Kenney’s first year in the Premier’s Officer has been his enthusiastic and aggressive support oil and gas workers, though his deference to Imperial Oil after a similar COVID-19 outbreak at its Kearl Lake work camp puts that into question. Another outbreak was declared today at the Horizon Oil Sands work camp operated by Canadian Natural Resources Limited. 

Dreeshen announced financial support for cattle farmers impacted by meat processing delays caused by the COVID-19 outbreak at then plants, but the government has been unwilling to criticize the large meat-packing corporations or workplace conditions that contributed to so many dying and ill workers.

At the very least, the Alberta government should launch a public inquiry chaired by a retired judge who can conduct a fulsome public investigation into what is going on at Alberta’s  meat packing plants. Anything less than a full public inquiry could let the corporations and politicians involved off the hook for the decisions they made that impacted workplace safety at Alberta’s meat-packing plants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Albertans have shown their love for and take pride in Alberta beef. Now it’s time to demand our political leaders show their support for the workers who actually package it before we eat it.

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Alberta Politics

NDP launch “The Truth About Jason Kenney” campaign. Kenney reuses Wildrose Party democratic reform promises

Former New Democratic Party leader Brian Mason took centre stage today to launch his party’s new attack campaign directed at United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s more controversial views on social issues like LGBTQ rights, Gay-Straight Alliances and abortion, how his plans to balance the budget could impact funding to health care and education, and the substantial political baggage he carries after serving 19 years in Ottawa.

The campaign features a video of Albertans reacting to some of Kenney’s more outlandish statements and views on social issues.

That the NDP is focused on the Kenney is no surprise. The UCP behemoth has a significant lead over the NDP in the polls, in fundraising, and party membership, but Kenney’s popularity is much lower that his party’s and his past as a social conservative activist against issues like women’s reproductive rights and gay rights, are issues that will mobilize the NDP’s base of support.

The anti-abortion group the Wilberforce Project recently bragged on their website about the influence it had exerted on the UCP candidate nomination process. It is unclear how much influence the social conservative group has actually exerted but it brought the divisive issue back to the forefront last week.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley

As party leader, Mason was a warhorse of opposition politics in Alberta, so it is not surprising that the NDP decided to employ the retiring MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood to launch this part of the campaign. This also allows the party to distance the negative side of its campaign from its leader, Rachel Notley, and its incumbent MLA who are running for re-election.

Ask any Alberta voter on the street if the like negative advertising in elections and the response will be unanimously negative. But that political parties of all persuasions consistently use them speaks to their effectiveness. Also, we kind of expect parties to act this way now.

The negative focus on Kenney and his unpopular views on social issues is a central part of the NDP’s campaign, but it is overshadowing the positive message the NDP is trying to promote – that Notley and her party are the best choice for Alberta families.

The party’s strongest asset, Notley has been touring the province making a flurry of pre-election announcements over the past month, including promises to upgrade the Red Deer Regional Hospital , build a new interchange in Leduc, expand the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, and invest in Calgary’s tech sector. But the positive side of Notley’s campaign feels almost like a side-show to her party’s constant attacks against Kenney.

Whether a strong focus on Kenney’s more controversial views will be enough to turn around the NDP’s electoral fortunes – and ‘enough’ could be a relative term at this point – remains unclear.

Kenney pledges MLA recall, MLA free votes and floor-crossing ban

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney

UCP leader Jason Kenney announced his party would introduce reforms to Alberta’s elections laws, including MLA recall, free votes, a fixed-election day, and banning floor crossing in the Legislature, mirroring many of the promises made in the Wildrose Party‘s 2015 election platform.

MLA recall is a perennial issue that opposition MLAs, most recently Wildrose MLAs, have frequently called for over the past 25 years. At least 7 attempts have been made by opposition MLAs to introduce MLA recall legislation through private members’ bills since 1993, all of which have failed.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview
Leela Aheer

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, then a member of the Wildrose Caucus, introduced a private members’ bill in December 2015 calling for an MLA recall process that would have allowed 20 percent of voters overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election. The bill died on the order paper.

When Alberta briefly had MLA recall laws, from 1936 to 1937, signatures were required from 66.6 percent of voters to trigger a by-election. The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River district.

Banning floor-crossing by requiring that MLAs resign and seek a by-election before they can change parties was a promise made by the Brian Jean-led Wildrose Party in the 2015 election. This promise plays to the resentment many conservatives felt when Danielle Smith and 11 of the party’s MLAs crosses the floor to Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014, and, more recently, when Sandra Jansen crossed the floor to the NDP.

Kenney also pledged make it illegal for governments to advertise in the run up to an election, similar to a private members’ bill introduced by then-Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman in 2015.

The UCP would also reinstate the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act, with a pledge to hold Senate Nominee elections in 2021, and ban groups affiliated with a political party to register as third party election advertisers, a direct shot at the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is running its Next Alberta campaign.

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Alberta Politics

Partying like it’s 2016! A look ahead at next weekend’s Alberta NDP convention in Calgary

In the past, the media and political watchers would pay little attention to a provincial convention held by Alberta’s New Democratic Party. It is expected that all media and political watchers will be paying close attention to the debate at the NDP’s convention in Calgary next weekend.

Back in 2009, during a stint as a freelance writer, I covered the NDP convention for the now-defunct alt-weekly known as SEE Magazine. I may have been the only media representative actually in attendance at the convention.

That weekend in 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project. The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.

The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates. Seven years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral agreements. They are holding their first convention as Alberta’s governing party after their win in the 2015 provincial election.

Instead of a dingy hotel in downtown Edmonton, this year’s convention will be held on June 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at the swanky Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Along with 54 NDP MLAs in attendance, the convention will feature keynote speeches from the Edmonton Oilers‘ Andrew Ference on Jobs and Diversification, Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham on Climate Leadership, Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh on Diversity and Reducing Inequality, and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Labour issues.

This will be the first NDP convention in recent memory that the mainstream media will pay much attention to and with that in mind, the party’s leadership will do their best to turn the weekend into a celebration of the NDP’s 2015 election win and accomplishments in its first year of government. The weekend includes a $200 a plate banquet and a party at the Glenbow Museum featuring Scenic Route to Alaska, The Northwest Passage and Los Moreno’s.

It feels far from the dim-lit windowless hotel ballroom in downtown Edmonton but that does not mean it will be without its acrimonious moments.

A group of party activists unhappy with NDP MLA’s support of a Wildrose Party motion calling on the federal government to scrap a planned moratorium on tankers on Canada’s Pacific coastal waters are expected to spearhead a debate on whether the motion goes against against a party policy opposing the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passed at a previous convention.

There may also be debate about changing the role of organizational affiliates in the NDP. Unlike other provincial political parties, the NDP allows organizations to affiliate with their party in order to have a greater say in their leadership votes and at conventions.

These affiliates are almost always labour unions but as unions are no longer allowed to donate to political parties or pay for delegates to attend conventions, the previous existing advantages for the party and affiliate no longer exists. I am told that before the NDP banned corporate and union donations in the first law they passed in 2015, affiliated unions donated 15-cents per member per-month to the party.

Delegates will also be voting in elections for the party’s provincial executive. For some reason that is unknown and puzzling, the NDP is the only provincial political party in Alberta that does not list the names of its executive or board of directors on its website. Perhaps this will change now that the NDP is the province’s governing party.

Here is a list of who is running for the party’s four table officer positions:

President: Teacher and president of the party’s Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview constituency association Peggy Wright is the only candidate to have entered the presidential election. The position was made vacant when former president Chris O’Halloran, who had served as president since 2013, stepped down to start a job in the Premier’s Southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

First Vice-President: Two candidates are running for this position: labour activist and United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Officer Jason Rockwell and lawyer and past candidate Anne Wilson. Mr. Rockwell ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding. Ms. Wilson ran as a provincial NDP candidate in 2008 in Banff-Cochrane and 2015 in Calgary-Foothills (against Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice). In July 2015 she ran for the NDP nomination for the Calgary-Foothills by-election but was defeated by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth.

[Note: I work with Jason Rockwell in my day job as Communications Advisor with United Nurses of Alberta. I am not an NDP member, but if I were he would certainly get my vote at this convention.]

Second Vice-President: It appears that Lou Arab may be acclaimed in his bid for re-election. Mr. Arab is a near-legendary campaign manager in NDP circles for his role in the election campaigns of Marlin Schmidt in 2012 and 2015 and Sarah Hoffman in 2010. He is a Communications Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Alberta and also happens to be the husband of Premier Rachel Notley.

Treasurer: Siobhan Vipond, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, is running for re-election and does not appear to be facing any challengers at this time.

I am told that more than 500 delegates have registered to attend the Calgary convention.

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Alberta Politics

Former AUPE president Dan MacLennan now an Alberta Liberal VP

The Alberta Liberal Party held its annual general meeting in Red Deer this weekend where the party elected its executive officers, including a name that will be familiar to government-watchers in Alberta.

While many union leaders have lined up to support the governing New Democratic Party, according to the Liberal Party’s Facebook page former President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Dan MacLennan has been elected as the party’s new Vice-President Constituencies.

Known as ‘Buff‘ by those in the labour movement, the former jail guard served as president of Alberta’s largest union from 1997 to 2006. He led AUPE’s recovery from the brutal public sector job cuts of the mid-1990s and doubled the union’s membership over the course of his nine years as president.

Popular with members and the media and infamous for his friendly relationship with premier Ralph Klein, Mr. MacLennan’s time as president was not without controversy. Raids against other unions led to AUPE’s suspension from the National Union of Public and General Employees in March 2001. The union formally split from the mainstream labour movement in 2006 when it disaffiliated with NUPGE and by association the Canadian Labour Congress and the Alberta Federation of Labour.

In 2009, Mr. MacLennan was one of the eight members of the Progressive Conservative government’s advisory committee on health care policy and, in 2011, it was speculated on David Climenhaga‘s excellent AlbertaPolitics.ca blog that he might be a possible candidate for the Alberta Liberal leadership (he did not run in that year’s race).

Also elected to the Liberal Party executive board were Karen Sevcik as President, David Khan as Executive Vice-President, John Roggeveen as Vice-President Fundraising, Alyssa Moore as Secretary, Greg Springate as Treasurer, and David Gamble as Vice-President Policy.

The Liberals will choose a new leader in 2017 to replace interim leader David Swann, who is currently the party’s only MLA. Province-wide support for the Liberals plummeted to 4.1 percent in the 2015 Alberta election but a strong showing in the Calgary-Greenway by-election and the 2015 federal election has given party loyalists some hope for the future.


Firefighters join the AFL
In other Alberta labour movement related news, the International Association of Fire Fighters and five of its Alberta locals voted last week to join the Alberta Federation of Labour.