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Alberta Politics

Paul Hinman is back, again, maybe! Former Wildrose leader to lead new Wildrose separatist party.

Alberta’s oldest newly rebranded separatist party has a new interim leader, maybe.

Paul Hinman leader of the Wildrose Independence Separatist Party
The tweet from the Wildrose Independence Party announcing Paul Hinman as its interim leader.

A now deleted tweet from the newly renamed Wildrose Independence Party announced that former Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman is the new interim leader of the party. Unless the party’s account was hacked, it would appear that Hinman is launching another attempt at a political comeback.

The press release included with the now deleted tweet said that Hinman would speak to his new role at this week’s Freedom Talk “Firewall Plus” conference, a pro-separatist event organized by former Wildrose candidate and right-wing online radio show host Danny Hozak that features speakers including former arch-Conservative MP Rob Anders, conservative lawyer John Carpay, Postmedia columnist John Robson, and federal Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan.

The newly renamed party is a merger of the separatist Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party, which since 1999 has been known at various times as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party, and the Western Freedom Party. The party’s most recent name was adopted when banished United Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt became leader shortly before the 2019 election.

The name change does not appear to have been approved by Elections Alberta, which still lists the party under its most recent previous name on its official website. But it was reported last week that former Wildrose activist and FCP candidate Rick Northey was the party’s new president. Former Social Credit leader James Albers is also on the party’s executive.

The oldest newest separatist party on Alberta’s right-wing fringe should not be confused with the also recently renamed Independence Party of Alberta (formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party and now led by past UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell), the Alberta Advantage Party (led by former Alberta Alliance Party president Marilyn Burns), and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance (led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise).

Edgar Hinman
Edgar Hinman

The United Independence Party name was also recently reserved with Elections Alberta, presumably by another former Wildrose candidate trying to start another new separatist party.

But back to the new interim leader of the new separatist Wildrose party…

The grandson of former Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman, Paul Hinman’s first foray into provincial electoral politics saw him elected in Cardston-Taber-Warner as the lone Alberta Alliance MLA in the 2004 election. Hinman inherited the leadership of the tiny right-wing party when Randy Thorsteinson (who had previously helped found the Alberta First Party) failed to win his election in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. He endorsed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton in 2006 and led the party through an eventual split and re-merger with a faction branding itself as the Wildrose Party – and thus the Wildrose Alliance was formed. 

Hinman lost his seat in the 2008 election in a rematch with former PC MLA Broyce Jacobs. He announced plans to step down as leader shortly afterward and then surprised political watchers when he won a 2009 by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore, pumping some momentum behind Danielle Smith when she won the party’s leadership race a few months later.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose
Danielle Smith with Wildrose MLA’s Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson in 2010.

In 2010, Hinman was joined by floor crossing PC MLAs Heather Forsyth, Guy Boutilier, and Rob Anderson (who four years later crossed the floor back to the PC Party and now hosts a Facebook video show where he promotes Alberta separatism), but, despite the party’s electoral breakthrough in 2012, Hinman was again unable to get re-elected.

Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman's side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.
Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman’s side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.

He endorsed Brian Jean for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 and announced his candidacy to seek the Wildrose nomination back in his old Cardston-Taber-Warner district in that year’s election but withdrew from the race a month later. Standing by Hinman’s side at this nomination launch was Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, now de facto leader of the UCP separatist caucus.

A year later he mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Conservative Party nomination in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner in 2016 but was defeated by now Member of Parliament Glen Motz.

More recently, Hinman launched a brief bid for the UCP leadership in 2017, announcing a campaign focused on parental rights and conscience rights, but when the Sept 2017 deadline to deposit the $57,500 candidate fee passed, he did not make the cut. Hinman later endorsed Jason Kenney‘s candidacy.

Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.
Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

Now he might be taking over the interim leadership of the fledgeling fringe separatist party at a time when public opinion polls show that Albertans’ appetite for leaving Canada is cooling as memory of the 2019 federal election fades. If historic trends hold, then the desire for separatism will drop if it looks like the next federal Conservative Party leader can form a government in Ottawa.

Separatism is ever-present on the fringes of Alberta politics and is more of a situational tendency than a real political movement with legs but a half-organized separatist party could syphon votes away from the UCP in the next provincial election.

And with next October’s Senate nominee election likely to be a showdown between candidates aligned with the federal Conservative Party led by whoever wins this summer’s leadership race and the federal Wexit Party led by former Conservative MP Jay Hill, expect the UCP to be paying a lot of attention to these fringe separatist groups sniping at its right-flank.

If he actually does become the leader of the oldest newest separatist party, Hinman will provide some profile and credibility in political circles where conservatives are perpetually disgruntled with New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and newly disgruntled with Premier Kenney, presumably for not pushing hard enough for Alberta’s separation from Canada.

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Alberta Politics

UCP raises $1.2 million in first quarter of 2020, UCP executive director joins Wellington Advocacy

The results of political party fundraising for the first four months of 2020 have been released by Elections Alberta.

The United Conservative Party started off 2020 with a strong fundraising result of $1.2 million in the first quarter. The party’s admission that it was feeling some financial strain following last year’s election, including a $2.3 million deficit, likely helped create a sense of urgency among its already vibrant donor base.

The New Democratic Party raised $582,130 in the first quarter of 2020, which is roughly half of what the party raised in the final quarter of 2019.

Here is what the political parties raised during the first four months of 2020:

The Communist Party, Freedom Conservative Party, Pro-Life Alberta Political Association, and Reform Party of Alberta reported no donations during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

UCP executive director joins lobbyist company

Brad Tennant UCP Alberta Wellington Advocacy
Brad Tennant (source: LinkedIn)

It appears as though the UCP will be searching for a new Executive Director. Brad Tennant recently left the position to become a vice-president with Wellington Advocacy, a government relations company co-founded by former UCP campaign manager and UCP caucus chief of staff Nick Koolsbergen shortly after the 2019 election.

Tennant replaced former UCP executive director Janice Harrington in May 2019. Harrington was later appointed as Alberta’s health advocate and mental health patient advocate by Health Minister Tyler Shandro in November 2019.

Political operations director Jeff Henwood is now acting executive director of the party.

Greens choose new leader

Jordan Wilkie was elected as leader of Alberta’s Green Party in an online vote on March 28, 2020. Wilkie earned 71.9 percent,  defeating his only challenger, Brian Deheer. Wilkie is a professional firefighter and holds a Masters degree in Disaster Emergency Management. He is the party’s sixth leader in three years and succeeds interim leader Will Carnegie, who stepped into the role following Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes resignation after the 2019 election.

Evelyn Tanaka, who ran in the 2019 federal election in Calgary-Sheperd, has been appointed deputy leader.

The Green Party nominated 32 candidates and earned 0.41 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.

News from Alberta’s separatist fringe

The tiny far-right Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party will be asking their membership to support a merger and rebrand as the Wildrose Independence Party, according to media reports. As the Wexit group is not a registered political party in Alberta, it is likely the arrangement would result in the FCP applying to Elections Alberta for a name change.

While the Chief Elections Officer has some legal discretion to approve political party names, the Wildrose moniker became available last year when the UCP amended the province’s election laws to allow the formal dissolution of both the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservative parties. Before the change, election laws in Alberta forbid the dissolution of political parties with outstanding debt, which the PC Party still held following the 2015 election.

This would mark the latest name change for the fringe separatist party, which was founded and known as the Alberta First Party from 1999 to 2004 and 2013 to 2018, the Separation Party of Alberta from 2004 to 2013, and the Western Freedom Party from April 2018 until it was renamed the Freedom Conservative Party in July 2018 when former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt became its leader.

The province’s other fringe separatist parties, the Independence Party of Alberta, the Alberta Advantage Party and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance, do not appear to have been invited to the merger.

The FCP nominated 24 candidates and earned 0.52 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.

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Alberta Politics

A look at political party fundraising in 2019 and the state of the parties in 2020

Political party fundraising totals from 2019 were released last month and show that Alberta’s two main provincial parties raised record amounts of money last year.

The United Conservative Party raised $7.37 million as the party continues to demonstrate its fundraising strength. The now official opposition New Democratic Party also raised an impressive $5.5 million.

The total amount of donations raised by the two main parties is significant, especially when you consider how much Alberta’s political parties were raising five years previous. In 2014, the formerly governing Progressive Conservative Party raised $3,387,585.83, and the then fourth place NDP marked a record fundraising year with $482,085.

Political Party Fundraising in Alberta from 2016 to 2019, following the ban on corporate and union donations. Click to enlarge.

Both the NDP and the UCP’s successor predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, spent years cultivating strong bases of individual donors, which meant they were well positioned when corporate and union donations were banned in 2015.

The disclosures suggest that despite losing the election, the NDP remained a financially viable political party in the second half of 2019. The annual fundraising totals for the NDP in 2020 will provide some evidence as to whether the now official opposition party can sustain its fundraising levels outside of government.

Likely to help the NDP’s fundraising efforts in 2020 is Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the party into the next provincial election.

Notley would become the first former Alberta premier to lead their party into an election after they lost government. With Alberta’s long history of political dynasties, there are only a few premiers who had led their parties to lose an election – Charles Stewart, Richard Reid, Harry Strom, and Jim Prentice all resigned following their party’s election defeats.

Not having led a dynastic party, and arguably remaining her party’s strongest asset, Notley is in a different position than some other former premiers. She remains personally popular, and some early polls would suggest her party could remain an electoral force if a vote were held today.

The NDP faces a number of significant challenges, one being its lack of organizational strength in much of rural Alberta and Calgary. The NDP elected 24 MLAs in 2019, but none from rural Alberta and the party lost considerable ground in Calgary, where it had a breakthrough in 2015.

A positive note for the provincial NDP is that attempts to connect Notley to the federal NDP, which has been demonized in Alberta for its opposition to oil pipeline projects, does not appear to have hurt its fundraising bottom line.

But while the lack of federal party presence in Alberta is a mixed blessing for the NDP, it is a strength of the UCP, which shares considerable resources with its federal cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada. The upcoming federal Conservative leadership campaign could also introduce an interesting dynamic into this relationship (more on this comings soon).

The Other Parties

Alberta’s smaller political parties raised considerably less that the big two parties in 2019, with the Alberta Party raising $317,470, the Liberal Party raising $130,519, the Green Party raising $27,999, and the Freedom Conservative Party raising $24,783.

The Alberta Party remains leaderless following Stephen Mandel’s resignation shortly after his defeat in the 2019 election. It is suspected that the party will open a leadership race in the spring, after the UCP government is expected to make significant amendments to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, including rules for leadership races.

Mandel and his predecessor Greg Clark have been appointed to positions by the UCP government. Mandel now serves on the board of directors of Alberta Health Services and Clark is now chair of the province’s balancing pool.

David Khan‘s leadership was “overwhelmingly endorsed” by delegates attending last year’s Liberal Party convention, despite 2019 marking the first time since before 1986 that the party failed to elect any MLAs to the Legislative Assembly.

Delegates to the convention heard from a party committee that was convened to offer recommendations for how the Liberals should move forward in Alberta. The report was not made public.

Green Party members will vote for a new leader on March 28, 2020, following the resignation of Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes in 2019. Brian Deheer and Jordan Wilkie have declared their candidacies. This will be the party’s third leadership race since 2017. 

The Green Party also announced plans to adopt a co-leader system in which two individuals will share leadership responsibilities. This is the first party in Alberta to use a system similar to Green parties in other countries and Quebec solidaire in Quebec.

Alberta’s separatist fringe gets fringier

And there continues to be a flurry of activity on the separatist fringe.

Former UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell has replaced former UCP nomination candidate Todd Beasley as President of the Independence Party of Alberta. The party currently does not have a leader.

Meanwhile, Kathy Flett, who is styled as the former interim leader of the Wexit Alberta separatist group, has joined the board of directors of the right-wing Freedom Conservative Party, which was founded in 1999 as the Alberta First Party and has at various times changed its name to the Separation Party of Alberta, the Western Freedom Party, and again to the Alberta First Party.

It could be that the Freedom Conservative Party is about to change its name once again, this time to the Wexit Alberta Party, or maybe the fringe separatists are continuing to fraction?

According to the Western Standard, a conservative website rebooted by former Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt after his defeat in the 2019 election, current federal Wexit leader Peter Downing claimed he fired Flett for attempting “to steal our trademark.”

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Alberta Politics

Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, NDP critics, and auf Wiedersehen, Derek

It has been a busy week in Alberta politics and here are a few of my thoughts on some recent developments:

Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances

Premier Jason Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews appointed a “Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances” with a mandate to recommend changes limited to Alberta government spending. As others have already pointed out, the narrow mandate is a missed opportunity to actually address the fiscal challenges facing Alberta, which includes issues with revenue ranging from low taxation and over-dependence on oil and gas royalty revenues.

That Kenney, who started his political career as spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, would want to focus purely on spending is not a shock. But it is only part of the challenge facing Alberta.

Appointing an arms-length panel to make these recommendations is politically smart and will give cover to a United Conservative Party government that is already inclined to make significant cuts to funding of public services. The NDP made similar political moves when they appointed arms-length panels to recommend changes to the natural resource royalty structure and to recommend action on climate change, which included the creation of the carbon tax, which Kenney has pledged to repeal.

Kenney’s appointment of history professor and former Saskatchewan New Democratic Party cabinet minister Janice MacKinnon and former Alberta Liberal MLA Mike Percy was a clever move that on the surface mildly disarms its critics. But despite their past political affiliations, both MacKinnon and Percy have in the decades since they left elected office been welcomed in conservative circles because of their fiscally conservative views. MacKinnon was even prominently quoted in the UCP election platform.

Albertans need leaders who will look at the big picture, not just a slice of the problem. Judging by its narrow mandate, it is hard to imagine the blue ribboned panelists recommending anything but cuts, cuts, and more cuts.

NDP critics to be named next week 

The 24 Alberta NDP MLAs who will make up the Official Opposition will be sworn-in on May 13 at the Legislative Assembly. Unlike their UCP colleagues, who will be sworn-in before the Speech from the Throne on May 21, the two dozen NDP MLAs will have an 8-day jump start with access to their Legislative offices and time to prepare for their first week of Question Period. And with a caucus mostly hailing from Edmonton, NDP MLAs will have a hometown advantage of not having to regularly travel long-distances to work in the capital city.

The NDP critic line-up is expected to be announced shortly after NDP MLAs are sworn-in. With 9 cabinet minister in its ranks, the NDP opposition will be well-equipped to question the cabinet of mostly rookie UCP MLAs. There could be a natural temptation to appoint the former cabinet ministers as critics for the ministerial offices they previously held, but it could also compromise the credibility of those critics who in some cases would be watching much of their 4-years of work be dismantled by the UCP.

Look for Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley to place Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Lethbridge-East MLA Shannon Phillips, Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen, and Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci in key critic roles.

The NDP will be tempted to continue their relentless campaign against the UCP on social issues, but treating the post-election period as just an extension of the 2019 election could be a strategic mistake. The NDP need to prepare themselves for how to respond effectively to the aggressive legislative agenda Kenney is expected to implement in the “Summer of Repeal” and to a fall provincial budget that could include deep and short-sighted budget cuts.

auf Wiedersehen, Derek.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.Former Wildrose Party and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt resigned as leader of the Freedom Conservative Party last week after his party’s electoral poor showing and his failure to win re-election in Chestermere-Strathmore in the April 2019 election. Fildebrandt, also a former spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is succeeded by interim leader David White, a former paramedic who ran for the party in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin.

Say what you want about his political views and personal behavior, but Fildebrandt has been one of the most consistently colourful characters in Alberta politics since he burst on to the provincial scene in 2012.

The Freedom Conservative Party is the latest name of a tiny right-wing populist and sometimes separatist party that has existed since 1999. It took its latest form in June 2018 when the Western Freedom Party was renamed the Freedom Conservative Party. The party was originally formed as the Alberta First Party in 1999, renamed the Separation Party of Alberta in 2004 and again renamed the Alberta First Party in 2013 before it became the Western Freedom Party in April 2018.

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Alberta Politics

Derek Fildebrandt joins separatist Freedom Conservative Party, remains a Giant Thorn in Jason Kenney’s side.

Photo: In happier times. Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Derek Fildebrandt has found a new way to become a giant thorn in the side of United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney. The MLA for Strathmore-Brooks has joined the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta, becoming that party’s interim leader and its first MLA.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview
Leela Aheer

The former the boy wonder of Alberta’s conservative movement, Fildebrandt resigned from the UCP caucus in August 2017, was banned from returning , and barred from running for a UCP nomination in Strathmore-Chestermere after a long series of embarrassing scandals, ranging from a hit-and-run incident to renting his government subsidized apartment on AirBNB to being charged with killing a deer on private property without the owner’s permission.

Most Albertans will have never heard of the tiny right-wing separatist party, but as already reported on this blog, the Western Freedom Party was renamed the Freedom Conservative Party in late June 2018. The party was originally formed as the Alberta First Party in 1999, renamed the Separation Party in 2004 and again renamed the Alberta First Party in 2013. It was renamed the Western Freedom Party in April 2018 and again renamed the Freedom Conservative Party in June 2018.

The President of the party is Bob Lefurgey, who had previously reported to be collecting signatures to form another new separatist party that was to be called The Western Independence Party of Alberta.

In August 2017, Lefurgey described his plan to create the Western Independence Party to the Okotoks Western Wheel. “It’s basically to remove Alberta from confederation,” Lefurgey told the Western Wheel. “There’s been an accumulation of things over time and we’re in a perfect storm for separatists right now, with all the things going on – everything from immigration, gun control, equalization.”

Gordon Kesler
Gordon Kesler

Lefurgey was a candidate for the Separation Party of Alberta in the Airdire-Chestermere district in the 2004 election. He earned 394 votes.

Lefurgey is also the current President of the Freedom Conservative Party association in Strathmore-Brooks, the district currently represented by Fildebrandt. It is the party’s only registered constituency association.

The party’s Facebook page still does not yet reflect the June 2018 name change, though someone is continuing to post new content a few times a week, which includes some internet conspiracy theories that are typically seen on the right-wing political fringes of the internet.

In one Facebook post, which sounds like something that might be inspired by the anti-semitic 1935 Social Credit campaign, Fildebrandt’s new party wants to make sure that Albertans “Don’t find yourself waking up one day to find that the World Bank or George Soros and Aga Khan own your financial institutions. You will then understand what you should have done to stop the UN, the Songbird initiative, the Boreal Initiative, Y to Y and the Leap Manifesto and take your country back from the elites!

The last notable leader of a separatist party elected to the Legislature was Gordon Kesler, who was elected as a Western Canadian Concept candidate in the Olds-Didsbury by-election of 1982. Much of Kesler’s activities in the Legislature included opposing official bilingualism and protesting the introduction of the metric system.

As party leader, Fildebrandt could petition to join the mainstream media organized televised leaders debates during the next election. This was a status Kesler was denied when Peter Lougheed refused to debate him on TV. Kesler was defeated in the 1982 general election.

Fildebrandt remains popular in his district and is a formidable political campaigner. We should expect him to face off against UCP MLA Leela Aheer in the new Strathmore-Chestermere district in next year’s election. He might have a shot at winning, and he might not be alone.

Fildebrandt told Postmedia’s Don Braid that his party plans to contest UCP safe seats in the next election. His criticism of the UCP for their last-minute disqualification of perceived front-runner S. Todd Beasley in the neighbouring Brooks-Medicine Hat district could be the first step in a candidate recruitment strategy. It could also be an early sign that the Freedom Conservative Party might be a home for disgruntled and disqualified United Conservatives in the Alberta’s provincial election.

Yep, Derek Fildebrandt is still a giant thorn in Jason Kenney’s side.

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Alberta Politics

Calgary-Lougheed by-election report reveals $885,206.29 in NDP donations not reported in regular quarterly reports

Elections Alberta has released the initial campaign finance reports from political parties during the Calgary-Lougheed by-election held on December 14, 2017.

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney

Due to a strange quirk in Alberta’s election finance laws, all or most donations collected by political parties during the official by-election period between November 16, 2017 and February 14, 2018 were not reported in the regular quarterly financial reports. Those donations are instead included in this by-election report.

The report showed the Alberta NDP raising $885,206.29 in donations during this three month period, which would include the party’s aggressive year-end fundraising appeal.

When combined with the quarterly reports, this means the NDP fundraised more than $1.5 million in the period covering the final quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018.

The Alberta Liberal Party reported raising $79,083.09, the Reform Party reported raising $8,500, and the Green Party reported raising $8,580.00 during the by-election period.

The United Conservative Party did not file a report before the Election Alberta deadline.

The Alberta Party did not file a report because they did not participate in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election.

Phillip van der Merwe

UCP leader Jason Kenney won the by-election with a landslide 71 percent, ahead of New Democrat Phillip van der Merwe with 16 percent and Liberal leader David Khan with 9 percent.

Recent legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly reduces the length of the confusing by-election financial reporting period which these donations fell under.

Introduced by Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal Christina Gray, Bill 16: Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Statutes Amendment Act shortened the by-election financial reporting period from the day the writ is issued to begin the by-election until it ends on voting day.

It is my understanding that the three-month long by-election financial reporting period is a hold-over from when the old Progressive Conservative regime increased maximum donation limits from $15,000 to $30,000 for individuals, corporations or unions during the writ period. The NDP banned corporate and union donations in 2015 and have since lowered the maximum annual donation limit to $4,000.

The top donors to political parties during the Calgary-Lougheed by-election period (November 16, 2017 to February 14, 2018):

New Democratic Party
Renee Katz – $4,000
K Shugarman – $4,000
Brune Sinneave – $4,000
Cody Sater – $4,000
Don Smith – $4,000
Allan Wood – $4,000

Liberal
Dan Hays – $2,500
Bart MacLean – $1,500
Aletha Crowe – $1,500

Reform Party of Alberta
Kathleen Thorsteinson – $4,000
Randy Thorsteinson – $4,000

Green Party
Jill Browne – $2,300
Alan Ernst – $1,000
Richard Willott – $790


Fringe separatist party renames itself, again… 

The Western Freedom Party has been renamed the Freedom Conservative Party, according to Elections Alberta. The party was originally formed as the Alberta First Party in 1999, renamed the Separation Party in 2004 and again renamed the Alberta First Party in 2013. It was renamed the Western Freedom Party in April 2018 and again renamed the Freedom Conservative Party in June 2018.

The party’s Facebook page does not yet reflect the name change, but it wants to make sure that Albertans “Don’t find yourself waking up one day to find that the World Bank or George Soros and Aga Khan own your financial institutions. You will then understand what you should have done to stop the UN, the Songbird initiative, the Boreal Initiative, Y to Y and the Leap Manifesto and take your country back from the elites!

It is not yet known what this fringe party will be named in 2019, but stay tuned.

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Alberta Politics

It’s all about Derek… Speculation mounts that ousted UCP MLA will run as an Independent in 2019

He’s “wasting his time” if he thinks he can run for a United Conservative Party nomination, says party leader Jason Kenney, but that isn’t stopping Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt from being a thorn in his former party’s side.

Jason Kenney

Once considered a rising star in Alberta’s conservative movement, the spectacular implosion of his political career has largely been self-inflicted.

He was refused re-entry into the UCP caucus in February 2018 following an embarrassing string of controversies, including being caught renting his taxpayer subsidized condo on AirBNB, being charged with a hit-and-run, and being charged with illegally killing a deer while he was hunting on private property without the landowner’s permission.

Now as an Independent-Conservative MLA, he sits in the furthest corner of the opposition side of the Legislature, beside sole remaining Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Starke and behind Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. He was recently removed from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which he used to chair, and his motion to cut MLA pay by 5 percent received zero interest from the governing New Democratic Party or the official opposition UCP.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview
Leela Aheer

As I wrote last week, Fildebrandt is agitating in the newly redrawn Chestermere-Strathmore district, essentially accusing his former party of being afraid of an open nomination contest in the district. The theatrical former official opposition finance critic and Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson accused the UCP of “Trudeau-style affirmative action” for not allowing him to run against popular Chestermere-Rockyview UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who has announced her plans to run in the new district.

Playing the victim of political correctness, Fildebrandt is trying to generate populist support for himself in the UCP membership. The strategy is not without merit. It worked two years ago.

When then-Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean attempted and failed to suspend Fildebrandt from the Official Opposition caucus in 2016, an uprising of party activists demanded he be allowed to rejoin. It was a fairly embarrassing 72-hours for the Wildrose Caucus and a clear evidence that Jean might not have had the full loyalty of his party.

But that was then and this is now. With Kenney’s intentions being pretty clear and Fildebrandt’s chances of rejoining the UCP before 2019 next to none, there is mounting speculation that he is preparing the ground to run as an Independent candidate against Aheer in the 2019 election.

Do Independents get elected in Alberta?

Clarence Copithorne

Independent candidates don’t usually get elected in Alberta, but there are exceptions. The last time an Independent MLA was elected in Alberta was in 1982, when two former Social Credit MLAs, Walt Buck and Raymond Speaker, were re-elected in Clover Bar and Little Bow. Previous to that, Clarence Copithorne was elected as an Independent MLA in the Banff-Cochrane district in 1967.

More recently, other MLAs who had been previously elected under party banners and tried to run for re-election as Independent candidates were former PC MLAs Kurt Gessell in Clover Bar-Fort Saskatchewan in 1993, Carl Benito in Edmonton-Mill Woods in 2012, former Liberal Dan Backs in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, and former Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2015. All were defeated.

Fringe separatist party renames itself… again

Alberta First Party has been renamed the Western Freedom Party of Alberta, according to Elections Alberta. The party was formed as the Alberta First Party in 1999 and renamed the Separation Party of Alberta from 2004 until 2013, when it was once again renamed the Alberta First Party.

The President and Chief Financial Officer of the Western Freedom Party are Bob Lefurgey and Heather McDonald Furcho. They were both previously reported to be collecting signatures to form another new separatist party that was to be called The Western Independence Party of Alberta.

Under its various names and forms, this party saw its best electoral results in the 2001 election in Cardston-Taber-Warner with leader John Reil earning 26 percent of the vote (Reil would later run for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party in 2004) and in a 2002 by-election in Wainwright with candidate Jerry Barber earning 25 percent of the vote (Barber is currently listed as the President of the UCP association in the Battle River-Wainwright district).

Update: As of July 3, 2018, the Western Freedom Party has been renamed the Freedom Conservative Party. As of July 18, 2018, Derek Fildebrandt has joined this party, becoming its first MLA.

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Alberta Politics

The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase
Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA
Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections: