Tag Archives: Alberta NDP

Albertans might need a public inquiry into the Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

It was not a banner week for Alberta’s public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.

It was supposed to look into the alleged foreign funding of “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” but the $2.5 million public inquiry created by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government found itself in a credibility crisis this week after it was revealed that inquiry commissioner Steve Allan awarded the Calgary law firm Dentons a $905,000 sole-source contract for legal advice.

Allan’s son is a partner at Dentons’ Calgary office and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer was a lawyer at that firm before he was elected to the Legislative Assembly. Schweitzer said he severed his connections to the firm earlier this year, but Allan’s son’s employment status at the firm raises some serious questions about conflict of interest.

New Democratic Party MLA Heather Sweet wrote to the Ethics Commissioner this week asking for an investigation into the sole-source contract. The Ethics Commissioner responded that she has no jurisdiction to investigate the inquiry’s contract with Dentons.

The inquiry’s business is shrouded in secrecy and it was designed by the government to be exempt from Freedom of Information requests that would allow a certain degree of transparency. For example, the inquiry website states that Allan intended to travel to Vancouver and Washington, DC in September 2019, and the North Coast of BC and Toronto in October 2019, but because the inquiry is exempt from FOIP requests, it is unclear who he met with during his travels.

But that has not stopped the media from digging, and the leaks from leaking.

Allen is being paid $291,000 for his one-year contract, according to information gathered by Alberta Today’s Allison Smith, and will be paid up to $800 per day to provide testimony following the completion of the inquiry’s investigation. The Edmonton Journal reported that the inquiry is hiring a part-time executive director for $108,123.

CBC also reported that Allan donated $1,000 Schweitzer’s campaign for the UCP leadership in 2017, which raises questions about the nature of his appointment as the inquiry’s commissioner.

Much of the basis of the inquiry’s investigation, that foreign-funded organizations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are responsible for secretly financing anti-pipeline and anti-oil groups in Canada, appears to have been discredited by investigative research done by the National Observer’s Sandy Garossino.

Garossino analyzed data on international charitable granting and found that international foundations, mostly American, have granted around $2 billion to Canadian groups over the last decade, but only 2 per cent of those funds (around $40 million) has gone towards pipeline opposition.

Of that $2 billion total in international funds, about 33 per cent came from the United States government. The second largest funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributed $537 million. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund environmental grants, which have been demonized in Alberta’s political and media circles, amounted to “just two dollars per thousand in Canadian foreign grants.”

The Muttart Foundation, a non-profit foundation with a storied history in Edmonton, released a stinging criticism of the inquiry in its 174-page submission to the inquiry.

The Foundation’s submission included a report showing that funding from outside Canada represented 0.85% of total funding received by Canadian charities, and 0.26% of total funding received by charities based in Alberta.

The Foundation harshly criticized the rhetoric, fear-mongering, and false statements used to justify the inquiry and the government orders authorizing its creation.

To even imply that support of the energy industry or even agreement with government could become a criterion for determining whether an organization receives funding comes, we suggest, dangerously close to government direction of speech and thought. Leaving aside the legality of such an action, one could suggest that such a course of action would be contrary to the very principles of democracy.”

The inquiry is due to submit a final report to the Alberta government no later than July 2, 2020. In terms of the public inquiry’s credibility crisis and the damage it and the secrecy surrounding it could cause for our province’s reputation, Albertans might eventually need a public inquiry into the Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

International banks continue to divest from fossil fuels

While Steve Allan’s public inquiry is focused on anti-Alberta energy campaigns, the biggest threat to the oil and gas industry in Alberta might be the free market.

Sweden’s central bank announced this week that it no longer hold bonds issued by local authorities in Canada and Australia with high carbon-dioxide emissions. Bloomberg reported that the Riksbank said it had sold its holdings of securities from Alberta, where greenhouse gas emissions per capita are three times higher than in Ontario and Quebec.

The European Investment Bank, the EU’s financing department, also announced it will bar funding for most fossil fuel projects.

Premier Kenney’s principal secretary, David Knight-Legg, faced criticism this week after it was revealed that the senior political staffer stayed in upscale five-star hotels while travelling to London on Alberta government business. According to financial disclosures, Knight-Legg spent more than $45,000 on travel, including four trips to the British capital since the UCP formed government in April 2019.

The nature of Knight-Legg’s trips to London are not entirely clear, with the Premier’s office saying that he was there to fight defamation of Alberta’s oil and gas sector. The NDP is asking the Auditor General to investigate.

Meanwhile, the private corporation created by the Alberta government to fight defamation of the oil and gas sector has been running on silent. Not a peep has been heard from the $30 million War Room, now renamed the Canadian Energy Centre, since former reporter and defeated UCP candidate Tom Olsen was appointed as its managing director last month.

The War Room is also exempt from Freedom of Information requests.

Alberta is blue, but what else is new?

The results across Canada were a mixed colour of red, orange, green, blue, and bleu as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is returning to Ottawa to form a new Liberal minority government. But the results in Alberta were anything but mixed.

The Conservative Party earned 69.2 percent of the total vote in Alberta in Monday’s federal election, which is 3 percent higher than the party’s previous high-water mark of 66.8 in Alberta in the 2011 federal election.

It is no surprise that the vast majority of Albertans voted Conservative and that nearly all of the province’s elected Members of Parliament are also Conservative. This has happened in virtually every election since I was born, and about 25 years before that too.

Conservative candidates were elected or re-elected in most ridings in ranges from 70 percent to over 80 percent. It appears that Battle River-Crowfoot remains the strongest Conservative voting riding in Canada, with 85 percent of voters in that riding supporting the Conservatives.

Conservatives also dominated in Alberta’s two largest cities, earning 69 percent in Calgary, and 63 percent of the vote in Edmonton, which voted overwhelmingly for the Alberta NDP in the recent provincial election.

The Conservative Party and its predecessor parties have dominated Alberta for decades, and the Conservative have represented the majority of Alberta’s federal ridings since 1958, and have held all of the province’s seats from 1972 to 1977, 1977 to 1988 and 2006 to 2008.

This election has once again reminded Canadians of the regional divides in our country but it should also not be a surprise. Regional division is a feature of Canadian politics and our First Past the Post electoral system exaggerates these divides.

NDP hold Strathcona

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona

Heather McPherson

New Democratic Party candidate Heather McPherson was elected in Edmonton-Strathcona, making her the only non-Conservative MP in Alberta and the only woman elected in the Edmonton area serving in the House of Commons.

While the NDP convincingly held off Conservative challenger Conservative Sam Lilly and Liberal Eleanor Olszewski, this election further exposed fractures between the provincial and federal NDP in Alberta.

McPherson’s opponents delighted in a decision by Rachel Notley to withhold her endorsement of McPherson until days before election day but it appears to have had no impact on the results in the riding. McPherson finished with 47 percent of the vote, four points ahead of now-former MP Linda Duncan‘s results from 2015.

Liberals lost.

Amarjeet Sohi Edmonton

Amarjeet Sohi

Liberal MP and Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi was defeated by Conservative Tim Uppal in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Randy Boissonnault was defeated by Conservative James Cumming in Edmonton-Centre, and Kent Hehr was defeated by Greg McLean in Calgary-Centre, leaving the Liberals with no seats in the House of Commons from Alberta, and likely no representation in the new federal cabinet from Alberta.

The Liberals saw their province-wide vote total in Alberta cut to 13.7 percent, down from 24.6 percent in 2015. The personal unpopularity of Trudeau in Alberta, fuelled by angst and frustration with the current economic situation and the consistently low international price of oil, made it very unlikely that the Liberals would do well in Alberta in 2019.

Despite Sohi’s loss in Monday’s election, the congenial and personally popular politician is frequently named as a potential candidate for Edmonton’s 2021 mayoral election if Don Iveson decides not to seek re-election.

What could a Liberal minority government mean for Albertans?

The prospect of the Liberal minority government influenced by the NDP and Greens could lead to the introduction of new national programs that will benefit Albertans – including universal pharmacare and dental care, and expanded childcare coverage – and the prospect of real electoral reform that could ease some of the rigid political divides we saw in Monday’s election.

Trudeau announced today that his government plans to move ahead with the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, despite delays caused by court challenges from First Nations communities. Because the construction of the pipeline project does not require any votes of Parliament, the minority situation is not likely to impact the construction of the project.

Oil pipeline aside, the Liberals are expected to push forward on their climate change plans, including the introduction of a federal carbon tax in Alberta next year. In what could be a sign of changing times, New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs announced his plans to create a provincial carbon tax, dropping his opposition the federal carbon tax.

Kenney still campaigning…

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is showing no sign he plans to end his campaign against Trudeau, announcing this week that he has sent a letter to the prime minister outlining the Alberta government’s demands, including a plan for a resource corridor and changes to the equalization formula (none of which Trudeau campaigned for ahead of Monday’s election).

Kenney has announced plans to hold a series of town hall meetings to gauge voter frustration following the federal election. This could be similar to the MLA Committee on Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by Ralph Klein and chaired by Edmonton MLA Ian McClelland in 2004, which travelled the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto (the committee’s final report rejected most of the manifesto’s proposals).

The town halls are both a relief valve and a steering wheel that allows people to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney, as Klein would say, to try to keep ahead of the crowd.

Former Alberta MLA defeated in BC

Former Alberta MLA Alana DeLong was defeated in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, finishing second with 25% behind NDP MP Alistair MacGregor. DeLong served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Bow from 2001 to 2015. She ran for the BC Liberals in the 2017 provincial election on Vancouver Island as well.

Is Alberta separatism on the rise? No.

The results in Alberta and bot-driven promotion of the #wexit hashtag on Twitter have fuelled a surge of media interest of Alberta separatism, an idea that has no wide-spread support in this province.

Many Albertans are feeling a real sense of frustration with the federal government, as Monday’s election results demonstrate, but there is no evidence that Albertans are flocking en masse to separatism. None.

Stop saying that Alberta doesn’t matter in this federal election

Alberta doesn’t matter’ is a comment I have heard frequently during this federal election campaign. Alberta does matter in this election, but not for all the most obvious reasons.

With the Conservative Party in a position to once again sweep Alberta, it is no surprise that the party leaders and parties are not spending much time or resources in the country’s fourth largest province.

This lack of electoral competitiveness, partly a result of Albertans’ historical choice to vote loyally for the Conservative Party and partly a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system, means that there is little incentive for the other parties to direct many resources or attention our way during federal elections.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau swung through Alberta on the first day of the election for a rally in Edmonton-Strathcona. Andrew Scheer stopped in Alberta twice, once for a campaign event in Calgary-Skyview and a second-time to share the stage with Premier Jason Kenney at a rally in Edmonton-Centre. Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a climate change “die-in” in Calgary at the beginning of the campaign. And New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh was pressing the flesh with Heather McPherson at the Fringe Festival in Edmonton-Strathcona a few weeks before the election was called.

As a politically astute friend of mine pointed out, by time she leaves Edmonton after tomorrow’s climate strike at the Legislature, 16-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg will have spent more time in Alberta during this election than any of the federal party leaders.

But while the vast majority of ridings in this province will likely elect Conservative candidates on October 21, it is a stretch to say Alberta doesn’t matter. On a national level, Alberta politicians could play a big part in whichever party forms government.

Scenario A: Conservatives form government

If the Conservatives form government in Ottawa, more than 30 Alberta MPs will make up a significant block of the government caucus. Conservative MPs such as Michelle Rempel, Chris Warkentin, Stephanie Kusie, and Shannon Stubbs could play prominent roles in a potential Scheer cabinet.

Kenney, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, will play prominent political roles as key supporters of Scheer in the national Conservative movement. The mood among United Conservative Party MLAs would likely be incredibly jubilant for the remainder of this fall session of the Alberta Legislature.

Efforts will also be made to remove the national carbon tax and climate change initiatives but opposition from Quebec Premier François Legault would likely stall any plans to create a National Energy Corridor for future pipeline projects.

Scenario B: Liberals form government

If the Liberals form government, then any Liberal MPs elected from Alberta would almost certainly be appointed to cabinet. If the Liberals form government without any MPs from Alberta, which was the case from 1972 to 1977 and 1979 to 1984, there would need to be some serious creative thinking about how our province could be best represented in the federal government.

Kenney would likely continue his national campaign against Trudeau and could be widely touted as a potential successor to Scheer, which could kickoff a Conservative leadership race before a future federal election and a UCP leadership race in Alberta.

The UCP government would continue to oppose the federal carbon tax and climate change programs implemented by the federal Liberals. Kenney has also pledged to hold a province-wide referendum on reopening negotiations for the national equalization formula if the Liberals form government, a vote that would be held on the same day as the 2021 municipal elections.

Operating as a provincial-wing of the Conservative Party of Canada, the UCP would likely continue to scramble its MLAs and cabinet ministers across the province and country campaigning with Conservative candidates in vote-rich areas in Ontario and Quebec. The UCP would likely print another round of anti-Trudeau bumper stickers for its supporters to slap on the back of their trucks or cars.

It would be very difficult to imagine Alberta’s UCP government having a productive working relationship with a re-elected Liberal government in Ottawa.

Scenario C: The NDP form government

Maybe one of the more unlikely scenarios in this election, but if Singh leads the NDP to win this election, or if the NDP holds the balance of power in a minority parliament, then every MP, including one from Alberta, could play a big role in the next parliament.

It is difficult to explain the level of political insanity an NDP government in Ottawa would cause in the halls of the Alberta Legislature – in both the UCP and Alberta NDP caucuses. 

The Pipeline and Climate Change

No look at Canadian politics in 2019 is complete without mentioning the pipeline. Almost every realistic scenario in this federal election has the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project being constructed, as it is supported by both the Liberals and Conservatives.

The Trudeau government spent a significant amount of political and real financial capital when it purchased the pipeline project before Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was about to shut it down, but there is no sign of any electoral payoff because of it for the Liberals in Alberta.

The lack of electoral payoff for such a significant investment does not provide much political incentive for future federal governments to make large investments in Alberta’s fossil fuel infrastructure.

The oil pipeline has become a symbol of political frustration in Alberta. Western alienation is a permanent feature of Alberta politics and it tends to ebb and flow depending on which party has formed government in Ottawa. Frustration caused by the decline of the international price of oil in 2014 is real, emotionally driven, and increasingly drawn along partisan lines.

There is a distinct feeling of a lack of urgency about dealing with climate change in Alberta that sets us apart from much of the rest of Canada. Not only do we risk becoming increasingly isolated on the national and international stage, but if our own provincial leaders continue to demonstrate they do not take climate change seriously we risk having solutions imposed on us.

In a House of Commons dominated by Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc Quebecois MPs who were elected on platforms that prominently featured climate change policies, it is hard to imagine that Alberta will not matter.

Alberta matters a lot in this election, and we are probably going to matter a lot more after the October 21 election, whether we like it or not.

WAR ROOM ENGAGE! Kenney hires former UCP candidate Tom Olsen to run the Canadian Energy Centre

The Alberta government’s much talked about energy war room now has its General. Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced yesterday that Tom Olsen has been hired as the managing director of the newly incorporated Canadian Energy Centre. The $30-million publicly funded private corporation is part of the UCP’s “fight back strategy” to counter claims made by critics of the oil and gas industry that Premier Jason Kenney said will target politicians, media and other opinion leaders, and could include satellite offices overseas.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Olsen was most recently the United Conservative Party candidate in the downtown Calgary-Buffalo riding in the 2019 provincial election, where he finished 9 per cent short of unseating former New Democratic Party finance minister Joe Ceci. But despite his recent electoral loss, Olsen has been a fixture of Conservative politics in Alberta for more than a decade.

After years as a columnist and reporter for the large daily newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, Olsen jumped into politics when he was hired as Premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesperson in 2007. (Olsen’s brother, Gordon Olsen, worked in senior roles in the Premier’s Office while Ralph Klein occupied the office).

While some Albertans will remember Olsen for his role in the Northumberland beach photos fiasco, he also oversaw the launch of the first version of the war room.

In 2008, the Alberta government launched a website called “For the Record” that was dedicated to correcting what the government determined was incomplete or incorrect information in the media. “It’s not a forum to argue philosophy and spin. . . it’s not debating the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue. It’s about factual information,”Olsen told the Calgary Herald in December 2008. “I don’t see it as government policing journalists.”

The Alberta Government’s short-lived “For the Record” webpage.

It was the government policing journalists, and it did not last very long. The government website posted six corrections to news stories from various media outlets between November 2008 and December 2010. The website briefly became a source of controversy when Olsen insisted the Globe & Mail be referred to as the Toronto Globe & Mail. The website was later edited to drop Toronto from the newspaper’s name.

Following a wholesale purge of Stelmach’s senior communications staff, Olsen was whisked off to Vancouver to handle the Alberta government’s public relations during the 2010 Winter Olympics, which included the renting of the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train and the distribution of free iPads to journalists and VIPs.

Sonya Savage

Olsen later worked as a lobbyist for groups including the Calgary Residential Rental Association, Greyhound and the national group representing Pay Day Loan companies. He found himself back in the Progressive Conservative Party fold when he became Vice-President of Communications during Jim Prentice‘s brief time as party leader.

Savage, a former pipeline lobbyist and now a member of the war room board of directors along with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said this week that the war room will include a rapid response centre, an energy literacy unit and a data research unit. Former Postmedia columnist Claudia Cattaneo was hired in August 2019 by the government to write the Energy War Room Strategic plan.

Earlier this year, Postmedia hired Kenney’s former chief of staff, Nick Koolsbergen, to lobby the UCP government on ways the Toronto-headquartered newspaper company could be involved with the war room. 

In an interview with the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, Postmedia President and CEO Andrew MacLeod said that the lobby effort was part the company’s effort to find new revenue streams and that it had no relationship to editorial decision-making (meanwhile, the front cover of the Postmedia-owned National Post today featured a paid political advertisement attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

Andrew MacLeod Postmedia CEO President

Andrew MacLeod

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group that represents many of Canada’s oil and gas companies, is also registered to lobby Alberta MLAs, the Minister of Energy and the Premier’s Office to share and advise on best practices for the war room to counter misinformation. 

Postmedia’s past relationship with CAPP is no secret, but these group’s business relationships with the war room could be.

As CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine reported today, as a private corporation the Canadian Energy Centre will be exempt from freedom of information requests, meaning that Albertans might not ever know how much of the $30 million is paid to Postmedia, CAPP or whichever UCP-connected PR firms are hired to work for the publicly-funded private war room.

Regardless of which PR companies or Toronto-based newspaper company gets hired, Olsen will have his job cut out for him. The first order of business for the new Canadian Energy Centre might be playing defence for the Alberta government’s $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-oil campaigns – an effort that has been criticized as a witch-hunt by groups like EcoJustice and the venerable Amnesty International.

While it may be easy for Kenney to dismiss NGOs and suggest that the 4,000 Albertans participating in the climate strike protest outside the Legislature were communist sympathizers, Olsen’s war room will have a harder time dismissing its greatest opponent – the free market.

Many major international oil and gas corporations have withdrawn their investments in Canada’s oilsands over the past five years, and the UCP’s decision to scale back the Alberta government’s climate change commitments certainly will not help how our province is perceived internationally.

Conservatives howled loudly this week as a major Norwegian pension fund withdrew investments in four Alberta-based oilsands companies. The move was described by UCP supporters online as hypocritical, as Norway continues to make investments in its own off-shore oil and gas platforms. The move may have been hypocritical, but those are the types of decisions that countries like Norway can make when they have $1.1 trillion saved in the bank (something for Albertans to think about when they consider how much past governments have squandered our wealth).

Olsen’s biggest challenge might be to prove that the war room is more than a $30-million public relations subsidy to Alberta’s oil and gas companies.

Public attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change are shifting dramatically, and Alberta risks becoming increasingly isolated on energy and climate issues on the national and international stage. Judging from the Alberta government’s numerous high-profile efforts over the past two decades to correct what it saw as misinformation about the oilsands and fight environmental advocates outside the province, the war room might be an example of the UCP preparing to fight the last war.


A short history of Alberta government  advertising campaigns and initiatives aimed at critics of oil and gas companies (I am sure I have missed a few):

2002: the Alberta government announced and later scrapped plans for an anti-Kyoto Accord advertising campaign in Ontario after focus group testing proved the messaging was unpopular among Torontonians.

2008: the Alberta government launched a public relations campaign targeting critics of the oilsands outside of Alberta, which included a 20-page glossy brochure entitled Alberta’s Oil Sands: Balance. Opportunity. This campaign included a North America and European speaking tour by the Premier.

2010: the Alberta government rolled out a slick $25-million “Tell It Like It Is” oilsands promotional campaign that included advertisements in London’s Piccadilly Circus and New York City’s Times Square. The multimedia blitz includes CDs and DVDs about “Alberta’s Clean Energy Future” and “A conversation on oilsands and the environment” – which features commentary from provincial experts.

2012: the Alberta government announced it was spending $77,000 on a pro-Keystone XL Pipeline advertising campaign during the Premier’s visit to Washington DC and hired lobbyists to directly lobby US officials.

2012: the federal Conservative government assigned Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in order to counter campaigns launched by an environmental advocacy groups targeting the oilsands.

2013: the federal Conservative government launched a advertising campaign directed at American politicians ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the United States. The ad campaign described Canada as a “world environmental leader” on oil and gas development.

2018: the Alberta government spent more than $23 million promoting its KeepCanadaWorking advertising campaign in support of the expansion of the Trans Mountain PIpeline from Alberta to British Columbia.

Let the fall session begin – MLAs return to Edmonton on Oct 8

The fall session of the Alberta Legislative Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, with Government House Leader Jason Nixon promising up to 17 new pieces of government legislation to be introduced before MLAs break for the year in December. The Legislature was initially scheduled to return on October 22, the day after the federal election, but MLAs were called back to the capital earlier than expected. As well as new bills, UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews is expected to present an austerity budget on October 24, 2019.

Richard Gotfried MLA UCP Calgary Fish Creek Alberta Election 2019

Richard Gotfried

The tone of the session is already expected to be confrontational, but the results of the October 21 federal election will determine whether the UCP caucus be celebratory (in the case of Conservative Party victory) or antagonized (in the case of a Liberal Party victory) as Toews tables his first budget.

There will also be some changes at the Legislative committee level. According to the Legislative Order Paper, Calgary-Fish Creek United Conservative Party MLA Richard Gotfried appears to have been removed as chairperson of the Standing Committee on the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, replaced as chairperson by Lacombe-Ponoka UCP MLA Ron Orr and as a committee member by Calgary-East UCP MLA Peter Singh. Gotfried also appears to have been removed from the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, where he will be replaced by Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo. Gotfried was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected as a UCP MLA in 2019.

It is not clear what sparked the shuffle, but there has been speculation that Premier Jason Kenney might make some minor adjustments to his cabinet this fall.

NDP wrap up town hall tour, Notley staying put.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP

Rachel Notley (photo from Facebook)

The official opposition New Democratic Party wrapped up a multi-city town hall tour of Alberta focused on the upcoming provincial budget. The NDP likely used these town hall meetings to collect contact information and expand their outreach network while adjusting to their role as opposition after four years as government. The uncertainty created by the expected budget cuts will almost certainly be a central narrative of this legislative session.

Despite rumours of an ambassadorial appointment, NDP leader Rachel Notley told David Climenhaga of AlbertaPolitics.ca that she has no plans on stepping down as leader anytime soon. “I’ve been very clear. I’m staying on until the next election,” Notley said.

Notley’s declaration puts aside rumours of her departure, at least for now, that fuelled speculation about an NDP leadership contest that could include former cabinet ministers and now prominent opposition critics Sarah Hoffman and Shannon Phillips.

Alberta Liberals to report on their future.

The Alberta Liberal Party is holding its annual convention on November 16 in Edmonton. The one-day meeting will include the presentation of a report by the party’s Review Committee,  which was tasked determining potential options for the future of the party. The 2019 provincial election marked the first time since 1982 that the Liberals failed to elect any candidates to the Assembly. The convention will feature a keynote presentation from John Santos, a respected public opinion and political science researcher based in Calgary.

Disqualified UCP nomination candidate now separatist party president.

Todd Beasley is now president of the Alberta Independence Party. Beasley was considered the front-runner in the July 2018 UCP nomination contest in Brooks-Medicine Hat before he was removed from the race for publishing horrible comments about muslims on the internet. He ran as an Independent candidate instead and earned 12.4 per cent of the vote. The party is without a leader since Dave Bjorkman resigned following the 2019 provincial election.

More names added to Elections Alberta’s list of banned candidates

Elections Alberta has added a number of new names to its public list of Individuals Ineligible to Run as a Candidate or Act as a Chief Financial Officer. Names on this list can include election candidates, nomination candidates, and CFOs who have missed deadlines or improperly submitted financial disclosure forms to Elections Alberta.

New additions to the list include Former MLA Ian Donovan, who ran as an Independent candidate in Cardston-Siksika, Jovita Mendita, who was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona, and a number of Alberta Independence Party and Freedom Conservative Party candidates.

Episode 40: Alberta Politics and Federal Election Q&A

We are back from our summer break with a special Question and Answer edition of the Daveberta Podcast. Dave dives deep into our mailbag to answer some of the great Alberta politics and federal election questions our listeners have sent in over the past few weeks.

Thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for helping us put the show together, and a huge thanks to the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, for supporting the show.

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

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You can get us on TwitterInstagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We will be back again in a few weeks! Enjoy!

Recommended reading/listening/events:


Note: In this episode we referred to the investigation into sexual harrassment allegations against MP Kent Hehr’s as being inconclusive. This is incorrect. The third-party report found the claims against Hehr were legitimate, but details of the independent investigation were not publicly released. We apologize for this mistake.

Janice MacKinnon

MacKinnon Report endorses Jason Kenney’s political agenda, doesn’t fix Alberta’s big revenue problems

The report and recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, known widely as the MacKinnon Report, after the panel’s chairperson – former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and history professor Janice MacKinnon – was released yesterday.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney

The report is an endorsement of the United Conservative Party government plan to implement deep cuts to public sector funding, a wide-range of drastic changes to how Alberta’s public services are delivered (or delivered at all), and the use of legislative tools to interfere with the collective bargaining process.

When reading the panel’s report and recommendations, it is important to remember this is not a neutral or academic document. The MacKinnon Report is very much a political document written by political people who were appointed because they share the government’s vision.

Despite her past political affiliation as an NDP cabinet minister in Saskatchewan, MacKinnon’s fiscal conservative views make her more likely to feel welcome in the UCP or the Fraser Institute than in a party led by Rachel Notley or Jagmeet Singh. For decades MacKinnon has been a champion of fiscal conservatism and more recently provided an enthusiastic endorsement that was prominently displayed in the UCP’s election platform.

The MacKinnon Report calls for funding freezes or cuts to public services across the board, including increased privatization of health services, changing the funding formula for Alberta schools (and likely introducing more private and charter schools), increasing government control of post-secondary institutions and lifting the current freeze on tuition fees, and downloading more infrastructure costs on municipalities.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

In yesterday’s press conference announcing the report, MacKinnon suggested that “fewer hospitals” could be a solution to cutting the health care budget, which should raise giant red flags in rural communities across Alberta. During her time as Saskatchewan’s finance minister, 52 rural hospitals were closed as a result of budget cuts.

The report’s suggestion that the government scale back capital investments could also spell trouble for the much-needed new hospital in southwest Edmonton, which was announced by the previous New Democratic Party government in 2017.

The recommended cuts and creation of legislative mechanisms to interfere with the collective bargaining processes are likely designed to create strife with public sector unions whose members would be directly impacted by these cuts – a group that the UCP is eager to pick fights with.

For anyone who grew up or lived in Alberta in the 1990s, it may feel like deja-vu.

When premier Ralph Klein and treasurer Jim Dinning imposed drastic cuts on public services, Albertans were told that balancing the budget and paying down the provincial debt was necessary to get Alberta’s fiscal house in order. At the time, a young anti-tax crusader named Jason Kenney cheered on those cuts, going so far as to tell the Western Report that “Education will be the toughest area to cut, but it will also be the most important. If the government backs down on this one, then the entire Klein revolution will fail.”

Successive governments, both Progressive Conservative and NDP, spent decades trying to fix the damage those short-sighted cuts had on Alberta’s communities, public infrastructure and public services.

The “blue ribbon” panel was created to provide an endorsement of Premier Kenney’s political program, and, if its recommendations are adopted, could be the most radically ideologically conservative agenda Albertans have seen in decades. It is a far cry from the technocratic conservative agenda meticulously implemented by former prime minister Stephen Harper, who Kenney served dutifully in Ottawa.

Unlike Harper, there is no indication that Kenney is interested in half-measures or incrementalism.

Alberta still has a big revenue problem

The narrow mandate of this panel was 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.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP

Rachel Notley

The report briefly mentions that over-dependence on unreliable natural resource revenue is an issue, but the panel was specifically told not to provide recommendations to fix the revenue problem – only spending. Both MacKinnon and Finance Minister Travis Toews repeated the government’s well-used talking points during yesteday’s press conference – that Alberta has a spending problem and not a revenue problem.

The report frequently compares public sector spending in Alberta with British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, but only when it comes to government spending. The big problem with comparing Alberta with our provincial counterparts on the spending side is that our revenue – generated through taxes – is significantly lower than every other province.

If Alberta had the same level of taxation as BC, which is the second lowest in Canada, then Alberta could have no deficit and could be collecting billions of dollars in additional revenue each year. 

By not addressing the revenue challenges faced by the Alberta government, the MacKinnon Report shows it was created to justify the spending cuts and privatization of public services that the UCP was likely already planning to implement. Remember, this is a political document.

It’s hard to criticize the MacKinnon Report without also laying some criticism at the feet of the past PC and NDP governments who did not fix Alberta’s revenue problems when they had the chance. Had the NDP been as aggressive in fixing Alberta’s long-standing revenue problems as the UCP will be in attacking government spending, we might not be reading the MacKinnon Report today.

UCP and NDP close in 2019 post-election fundraising reports

Political party fundraising data for the second quarter of 2019 has been released by Elections Alberta and shows the United Conservative Party and New Democratic Party fairly close in their total fundraising during the reported period.

Here’s the breakdown of the combined funds raised by the parties and their constituency associations during the second quarter of 2019:

  • United Conservative Party: $1,593,698
  • Alberta NDP: $1,427,710
  • Alberta Party: $101,382
  • Liberal Party: $38,270
  • Freedom Conservative Party: $5,205
  • Green Party: $3,184

This quarterly disclosure that would normally include all information from April to June does not include funds raised by the political parties or candidates during the election period from March 20 to April 16, 2019. The fundraising results from the 28-day election period will be included in a separate report not yet released by Elections Alberta. It is expected that all the parties, especially the UCP, raised significantly more during the election period.

The second quarter report provides us with a snapshot of the period immediately following the 2019 election. The UCP and NDP raised a fairly similar amount during the immediate post-election period, and despite losing government the NDP donor base continues for the moment to draw in cash for the new official opposition party.

Update: The candidate campaign financial statements from the 2019 provincial general election have now been released


Notley to speak at Sask NDP gala

Alberta NDP leader and former premier Rachel Notley is the speaker and special guest at an upcoming event hosted by the Saskatchewan NDP in Regina on September 14, 2019. The “Tommy’s Big Win” gala is being held to mark the 75th anniversary of the election of Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan – the first time a socialist government was elected anywhere in Canada.

Notley’s trip to Saskatchewan comes just over a month after former NDP caucus chief of staff and government staffer Adrienne King started her new job as Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili‘s chief of staff.

Also in NDP news, it is being reported that former ministerial staffer Brandon Stevens has been hired as that party’s new Provincial Secretary. Stevens replaces Roari Richardson, who filled that role during the party’s time as government.

Shortly after the election, UCP executive director Janice Harrington stepped down and was replaced by long-time conservative operative Brad Tennant.

Jason Kenney ramps up the old Tory patronage machine, begins purging NDP appointees from public agencies, boards and commissions

If you’re a conservative lawyer or energy company CEO in Alberta, you should check your email. There’s a good chance you might have been appointed to a public agency, board or commission last week.

A large number of political appointments made last Friday morning included new board chairpersons and directors at eleven post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University and Mount Royal University, as well as Alberta Health Services, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis commission. The UCP appointees replaced a number of high-profile NDP-appointees, including U of A board chairperson Michael Phair, NAIT board chairperson Ray Martin, AHS board chairperson Linda Hughes, and WCB chairperson Grace Thostenson.

The list of appointees is flush with business insiders, corporate executives, and United Conservative Party donors. While partisan and political appointments are expected after any change in government (an occurrence we are just starting to become familiar with in Alberta – and hopefully will continue to be familiar with), this list might even make the old Progressive Conservative establishment blush.

As reported by David Climenhaga at AlbertaPolitics.ca, “At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws.” Progress Alberta is expected to publish a more detailed report soon, but a scan of financing disclosures by executive director Duncan Kinney showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were among the appointees.

Included in the flurry of appointments are a handful of former conservative politicians, activists, and officials with ties to the UCP, the federal Conservative Party, and right-wing lobby groups and think-tanks:

  • The AGLC will now be chaired by defeated UCP star candidate Len Rhodes. Rhodes was parachuted into Edmonton-Meadows following his retirement as president and CEO of the Edmonton Eskimos, but was defeated by NDP MLA Jasvir Deol in the provincial election.
  • Also appointed to the AGLC are Elan Harper, the chief financial officer for the Calgary-Varsity UCP association, and Gerard Curran, the owner of the James Joyce Pub in Calgary and former chairman of Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (now known as the UCP-friendly Restaurants Canada).
  • Former Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of MacEwan University, former MLA and associate cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans was appointed to the board of the Banff Centre, and former Member of Parliament James Rajotte is now on the University of Alberta Board of Governors.
  • Former APPEGA president Kim Farwell, appointed to the board of governors of Keyano College in Fort McMurray, was campaign manager to Conservative MP David Yurdiga and president of the local Conservative Party association.
  • Lydell Torgerson, appointed as a public member of the Board of Directors of Grande Prairie Regional College has acted as the official agent for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin‘s election campaign.
  • Andy Crooks, the former chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson, is now a member of the Municipal Government Board, and Moin Yahya, a U of A law professor and senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, is now a member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
  • Grafton Asset Management, the company run by newly appointed University of Calgary board chairperson Geeta Sankappanavar, donated $25,000 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future political action committee which purchased front-page pro-UCP ads in Alberta’s Postmedia newspapers.
  • Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy and newly appointed chairman of the Mount Royal University board of directors, donated $4,000 to the UCP in 2019.

The biggest outlier when it comes to political donations might be new AHS board chairman David Weyant, the outgoing chairman of the Banff Centre of the Arts, who has donated $1,775 to the Alberta NDP since 2016, including a $550 donation in 2019.

Overall, the appointments send two messages:

  1. The Tory patronage machine is back, and it’s a deep well. While the NDP embraced the oil and gas sector and appointed corporate executives to public boards during their five years in government, Premier Rachel Notley‘s party never had a large political establishment to draw upon for appointees. The NDP also attempted to to professionalize the selection process but holding interviews and expanding the application process to allow a broader cross-section of Albertans to serve on some public boards. The long list of UCP appointees employed as corporate executives and lawyers, as well as the lack of representation from civil society groups, signals a return to something more similar to the old PC Party regime. It also serves as a reminder of the deep well of patronage appointees from the conservative establishment in this province that have made themselves available to the UCP.
  2. Resistance is futile (at least that’s what they want you to think). Serious political resistance at the board level to what are expected to be significant funding cuts to post-secondary education and public agencies like Alberta Health Services is now less likely to be successful. With significant budget cuts expected to be recommended in the “Blue Ribbon” panel report prepared by history professor and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Janice McKinnon, it is likely that the UCP government wanted to install appointees who would be eager to enact the government’s austerity and privatization agenda when the provincial budget is tabled in the fall.

While it is difficult to criticize the qualifications of some of the appointees, some who are highly qualified for the positions they have been appointed to, it is expected that their experience was weighed closely with how compliant they will be with Kenney’s political agenda.

Episode 39: Wet Hot Albertan Summer

We’re taking a break from our summer vacations to record this special episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

In this episode, Dave Cournoyer and guest co-host Michael Janz discuss Bill 8, the contentious Education Act and its impact on Gay-Straight Alliances, and how the political battles over pipelines, climate change, and the conspiracy theories about foreign-funded interests are shaping the upcoming federal election. And we talk about the big issues facing Alberta’s future and why our politicians aren’t talking about them!

We also dive into the mailbag to answer some of the great questions our listeners sent us.

Thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for helping us put the show together, and a huge thanks to the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, for supporting the show.

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

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You can get us on Twitter, Instagram, the Daveberta Facebook page, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

We’re going to be taking another bit of a break from the podcast as we continue our vacations with our families this summer. But we’ll be back at it with a regular schedule at the beginning of September. Until then, so long everyone, and thanks for listening!

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Stephen Mandel’s time as Alberta Party leader ends as a footnote in Alberta’s history

The Alberta Party will soon be seeking applications for a new leader.

The party announced through a press release today that on June 30, 2019 Stephen Mandel will step down as leader 15-months after he was elected into the role. The former three-term Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister ran for the leadership in 2018 after MLA Greg Clark was ousted in a successful bid by former PC Party members to take over the Alberta Party.

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta

Premier Jim Prentice and Health Minister Stephen Mandel in 2014.

This was Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback.

He surprised many political watchers when he was appointed to Jim Prentice’s cabinet without a seat in the Legislature in 2014, just over a year after he retired as mayor.

The first comeback was short-lived.

Mandel won a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud in late 2014 but was unseated by popular New Democratic Party candidate Bob Turner in the spring 2015 Orange Wave that swept the province.

Following Jason Kenney’s win in the 2017 PC Party leadership race, a number of moderate conservative partisans left the party over differences with the new leader’s style, history of social conservative activism and drive to merge the party with the Wildrose Party.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Prominent Progressive Conservatives like Mandel, Katherine O’Neill, Dave Quest, Sue Timanson, and Stephen Khan hoped to turn the Alberta Party into a home for former PC supporters disenchanted by what became the United Conservative Party.

Policy direction under Mandel shifted further to the economic-right but the party steadfastly refused to describe itself as conservative, sticking instead to the ambiguous “centrist” label. In a province where many eligible voters self-identify as conservatives, it remains puzzling why a political party run by conservatives and presenting a moderate conservative program would actively distance itself from the description.

The Alberta Party under Mandel increased the party’s vote from 2.2% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019, but failed to win any seats in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike 2015, when the party focused all of its resources to successfully elect Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2019 the Alberta Party spread thin its resources by running a province-wide campaign and a full-slate of candidates.

Mandel was able to attract a slate with credible candidates, including former PC MLA Dave Quest, former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy, former St. Paul mayor Glenn Andersen, former St. Albert city councillor Neil Korotash, anti-violence advocate Manwar Khan, actor Dakota House and well-known former radio host Angela Kokott.

Lorne Dach Edmonton-McClung NDP MLA

Lorne Dach

But the Alberta Party campaign stumbled out of the starting gate early in the campaign, with Mandel and a handful of candidates and chief financial officers being banned from running in the election by Election Alberta after missing their financial disclosure deadlines. The bans were lifted after court challenges by Mandel and the other candidates but it damaged the party’s chances of being seen as a serious contender in an election dominated by the UCP and NDP.

The party earned significant media coverage but struggled to gain traction and hit a ceiling of 12 percent in polling during the campaign. Mandel’s significant of name recognition in Edmonton was not able to help the Alberta Party break the dominance of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the provincial capital city. The NDP won 19 of 20 seats in Edmonton.

Mandel finished third behind NDP MLA Lorne Dach and UCP challenger Laurie Mozeson in Edmonton-McClung, which includes parts of the area he represented on city council before his time as mayor. The party’s two incumbent MLAs, Clark and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. The party’s third MLA, former NDPer Karen McPherson, declined to run for re-election.

The press release announcing Mandel’s departure states that he is pursuing his role as Chancellor of Concordia University of Edmonton, a role he was installed into on November 30, 2017, just over one month before he launched his campaign to win the Alberta Party leadership.

From the very beginning, Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback was a strange endeavour. And despite Mandel’s nine-years as a popular big city mayor with a significant list of accomplishments, his final appearance on the political scene will largely be a footnote in Alberta’s history (unless, of course, this was not his final comeback…).


Alberta Party finances…

The Alberta Party’s financial disclosures from the 2019 election have not yet been released, but the 2018 annual financial disclosures paint a picture of a party in financial disarray. The Alberta Party raised $525,430 in 2018 while running a $137,964 deficit.

In a May 25, 2019 email sent to members explaining the financial situation, the party explained that it had cycled through three CFOs in 2018 and that larger than expected expenses related to the creation of the party’s proprietary Customer Relationship Management database and “too large of an AGM” put the party in a deficit position.

The email told members that “[t]he Party is not broke but will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future.”

Strengthening Canada Reform of Canadas Senate

Once upon a time Alberta MLAs had meaningful ideas about Senate Reform

The introduction of Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act, this week inspired me to pull out an old copy of the Special Select Committee on Senate Reform report, Strengthening Canada, from March 1985. The committee, chaired by Calgary-Currie MLA Dennis Anderson, published a report that led to the creation of the original Senatorial Selection Act in 1989 and subsequent Senate nominee elections in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

Dennis Andeson

The 1980s were heady times for constitutional debaters and Senate reform advocates in Canada. Dozens of reports from various governments, organizations, and think-tanks studied the idea of reforming Canada’s appointed Upper Chamber.

Unlike today, when the majority of Senators sit as Independents, decades of federal Liberal Party governments had led to the 1980s Senate being overflowing with Liberal partisan appointees.

A motion from Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs Jim Horsman on November 23, 1983 led to the creation of the committee, which included 7 MLAs from the Progressive Conservative caucus, including Anderson, Calgary-North West MLA Sheila Embury, Highwood MLA Harry Alger, Calgary-Egmont MLA David Carter, Lacombe MLA Ron Moore, Edmonton-Kingsway MLA Carl Paproski, and Innisfail MLA Nigel Pengelly, and Independent former Social Credit MLA Raymond Speaker. The group spent more than a year consulting and studying the issue in Alberta, Canada and abroad.

The motion to create the committee and the 1985 and 1987 motions to hold Senate elections had cross-partisan support – including from the PC, New Democratic Party and Liberals. This is a marked difference from today, where the NDP are advocates of Senate abolition, the Liberals have their banished Senators from their federal caucus, and Conservatives (at least when they are in government) have largely fallen back into supporting the current appointed Senate model.

An advertisement asking for feedback for the committee.

The committee report tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 1985 included a number of recommendations for reforming the Senate that are much more ambitious than anything being presented by Senate election advocates today.

Unlike the unimaginative Senate Election Act, which is a largely farcical exercise, the Special Select Committee on Senate Reform called for wide-ranging constitutional reforms that would reorganize and increase the democratic accountability of the Upper Chamber.

The 1985 report recommended Senators should be elected using a first-past-the-post system and that they should represent constituencies identical to provincial boundaries. Senators would be elected for the life of two provincial legislatures with staggered elections allowing for three to be elected during each provincial election, with each voter being able to vote for three candidates.

The number of Senators would have been dropped to 64 had the committee had its way, with six representing each province and two representing each territory. This would presumably fulfill the “equal” part of the call for a Triple-E Senate (the other Es being effective and elected).

The report also recommended that “the Senate should be organized on a different basis than any other Upper House in the Commonwealth,” including being organized without the recognition of political parties.

The report argued that “if the role of the Senate is to represent the regions (provinces) of the country, it must be structured to represent those regions’ interests rather than the interest of national political parties.” This is somewhat reflective of the current Senate, where the majority of members sit as Independents rather than members of political parties.

The report recommended that traditional opposition and government roles in the Senate be abolished, including the positions of Government Leader and Opposition Leader, and that Senators should physically be seated in provincial delegations regardless of any party allegiances. Each provincial delegation would select a chairman who would should sit at the pleasure of the provincial delegation and participate in a Senate Executive Council, which would, along with the Speaker, determine the order of business of the Senate.

The report also called for the qualifications for candidates to the Senate to be made the same as those for Members of Parliament, removing minimum 30 years old age requirement of and $4,000 property ownership requirement.

It also noted that “the Senate should not be a forum for inter-governmental negotiations.”

Now a quick look at Bill 13, the Senate Election Act

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

The Senate Election Act introduced by Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer this week would allow the Senate nominee candidates to be chosen through an election but then, if the Prime Minister decides to appoint the winners, which he is not bound to do, they will be able to serve their time in the Senate until the age of 75 without ever having to face re-election.

The biggest flaw with this bill and Alberta’s previous Senate election laws is that there is no real accountability if these elected Senators never have to face re-election.

Bill 13 is being introduced to replace the Senatorial Selection Act, which expired on December 31, 2016. But the bill is largely an extension of United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney‘s campaign against Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of the October 2019 federal election.

The Act introduced this week would have Senate candidates nominated by provincial political parties or as Independent candidate, but list their federal political party affiliation next to their name on the ballot. This is a significant change from the previous Senate nominee elections when candidates were listed under provincial party banners. It is unclear whether the federal political parties will have any say about the candidates who align with them in a provincially-administered Senate election.

Kenney and Schweitzer announced that the next Senate election will take place during the October 17, 2021 municipal elections, which will also be the date of the promised “equalization referendum.” It has been speculated that these events are scheduled on this date in order to boost conservative voter turnout in the municipal elections and fulfill the Conservative Party’s long-time dream of defeating Naheed Nenshi and electing a capital-C conservative into the mayor’s office in Calgary.

Federal candidate nominations slow to start in Alberta ahead of October 2019 election

With the October 2019 federal election fast approaching, it is time to turn my attention to federal candidate nominations in Alberta. I have started a list of candidates who are nominated or running for federal party nominations in Alberta, so please feel free to send me any additions to the list.

Here is a quick look at the state of federal nominations in Alberta:

Julia Bareman Edmonton Strathcona Conservative

Julia Bareman

The dominant Conservative Party, which elected Members of Parliament in 29 of Alberta’s 34 seats in the House of Commons, has nominated candidates in all but two electoral districts in the province.

All of the incumbent Conservative MPs in Alberta were acclaimed for their nominations and there are only two open nominations remaining in the province. The nomination contest between in Battle River-Crowfoot was the topic of my previous post and the other outstanding contest is in Edmonton-Strathcona, where Julia Bareman and Sam Lilly are seeking the Conservative nomination.

Edmonton-Strathcona is the only electoral district where the federal New Democratic Party has nominated candidate in Alberta, with Heather McPherson narrowly defeating Paige Gorsak in November 2018. The district has been represented by NDP MP Linda Duncan since 2008 and the party is expected to face a very tough challenge to hold the seat again in 2019.

The NDP have scheduled a nomination contest in Lethbridge, with Shandi Bleiken expected to be acclaimed.

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona

Heather McPherson

Two former federal NDP candidates from the 2015 election were elected as MLAs in the recent provincial election. Newly elected Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin and Edmonton-Meadows MLA Jasvir Deol were both candidates for the federal NDP in the 2015 election.

It is believed that the federal NDP, as well as the federal Liberals, held off holding nomination contests in Alberta until after the election due to the divided loyalties of their supporters and activists on the provincial level. Many supporters of the federal Liberals in Alberta openly supported Rachel Notley‘s NDP, with others divided between the Alberta Party and the provincial Liberal Party.

At least one former provincial NDP candidate wants to be a federal Liberal candidate in October. Jordan Stein ran for the Alberta NDP in Calgary-Glenmore and is now seeking the federal Liberal nomination in Calgary-Confederation. Stein defeated incumbent MLA Anam Kazim to secure the NDP nomination in the district and earned 32 percent of the vote in the April 2019 election.

Jordan Stein Liberal Calgary Confederation

Jordan Stein

In a note on her Facebook page, Stein lists a number of reasons for her decision to seek the federal Liberal nomination, including climate change. “The climate is indifferent to our partisanship, it’s indifferent to our opinions but it’s effects can be mitigated by the action we take today,” Stein wrote.

The Liberals did not win Calgary-Confederation in the 2015 election, but their candidate in that year’s vote, Matt Grant, earned the most total votes of any Liberal candidate in Alberta. Stein will face Todd Kathol and Larry Ottewell for the nomination in this district.

The Liberals have nominated MP Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre, MP Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre, MP Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods, and candidates Eleanor Olszewski in Edmonton-Strathcona, Kerrie Johnston in Edmonton-West, and Amy Bronson in Lethbridge.

The Green Party has nominated Austin Mullins in Banff-Airdrie, Grad Murray in Edmonton-Centre, Valerie Kennedy in Edmonton-Riverbend, Thana Boonlert in Calgary-Centre, Natalie Odd in Calgary-Confederation, and Catriona Wright in Calgary-Rocky Ridge.

Postmedia gives Albertans one more reason to drink on this May Long

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon announced through press release and a video on YouTube that the “war on fun” being waged by the “nanny state” was coming to an end as the government relaxes alcohol restrictions at festivals and in parks, including lifting the annual ban on liquor in provincial campgrounds over the May long weekend.

Kenney referenced prohibition-era laws in the video, but the May long weekend ban at some provincial campgrounds was only first imposed in 2004, when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. Klein had supposedly sworn-off alcohol by that point in his political career but he could hardly be described as a prohibitionist.

We are confident that this proactive approach will aid in making some of Alberta’s most popular provincial parks safer and more enjoyable places for families to camp on long weekends,” said then-Minister of Community Development Gene Zwozdesky in the press release announcing the temporary liquor ban.

The 2004 government press release reinforced the reason for the ban: “During the 2003 May long weekend, there were a total of 239 recorded liquor-related enforcement action occurrences in Alberta’s 68 provincial parks, including written warnings, charges, arrests and evictions.”

Campers in parks across Alberta will find out quickly whether this or future May long weekends result in a return to the alcohol-fuel chaos that led to the ban in the first place. 

Giving Albertans another reason to drink this weekend is Postmedia Network Inc.

The company that owns the Calgary Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Journal and dozens of other daily and local newspapers in Alberta and across Canada has hired a lobbyist to “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

The registered lobbyist hired by Postmedia is Wellington Advocacy CEO Nick Koolsbergen, who served as United Conservative caucus chief of staff and the party’s campaign director in the April 2019 election. Koolsbergen announced on Twitter days after the election that was leaving the UCP to “to spend some time in the private sector.” He soon after announced he was starting a new lobbyist company with former federal Conservative staffer Rachel Curran.

During the election campaign, Kenney pledged to fund a $30-million “war room” to respond to critics of the oil and gas industry, including environmental groups and Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The energy war room is essentially a $30-million public relations subsidy for some of the wealthiest corporations operating in Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage is reported to have said more information about the war room will be released soon. Criticism of the new UCP government is expected to increase as Nixon moves to repeal the entire Climate Leadership Plan implemented by the previous New Democratic Party government led by Rachel Notley.

It would appear that Postmedia is fishing for a cut of the war room advertising money, likely for its “Content Works” division, which creates advertisements in the style of an editorial or news article. Literal fake news funded by taxpayers. The whole thing stinks.

Postmedia’s conservative editorial bias is well-known. Despite attempts by some local editors-in-chief to maintain local autonomy, the Toronto-based company has in required its newspapers to publish prescribed election endorsements of Conservative parties across the country.

This is not the first time Canada’s largest media company has become involved with oil and gas industry advocacy. In 2014, it was revealed that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers made a pitch to Postmedia Network’s board of directors to create an “Energy Channel Sponsorship” for Postmedia newspapers to “amplify” CAPP’s “energy mandate.”

Some of the largest energy companies have been accused of spending $1 billion to undermine efforts to combat climate change over the past decade.

And as Postmedia is positioning itself for a role in the war room, its CEO Paul Godfrey is one of the key players agitating for funding from a new $595 million federal government media fund.

So this weekend as you relax in your lawn chair in one of Alberta’s beautiful provincial parks, forget about toasting a monarch who has been dead for 118-years, as Kenney and Nixon did in their video. Instead, raise a responsible drink or two for efforts to combat climate change, the freedom of the press, and for those poor reporters working for Postmedia who are just trying to do good journalism despite the best attempts of their bosses in Toronto.

Jason Kenney Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta Finances

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.