The race to replace Mayor Don Iveson got a little more crowded today.
Former city councillor and former federal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi announced his plans to enter the mayoral election this morning on Facebook Live.
After years working as a bus driver with the Edmonton Transit Service, Sohi was elected to City Council in 2007, where he became a vocal advocate for public transit and the sometimes overlooked communities he represented in south east Edmonton.
After being re-elected to council twice, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Edmonton Mill Woods in 2015. As one of four Liberal MPs elected in Alberta that year, Sohi was appointed to the federal cabinet, first as Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and then as Minister of Natural Resources.
As Natural Resources Minister, Sohi was is believe to have been a driving force behind the federal government’s decision to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, saving the project at the moment its private-sector shareholders decided to walk away.
Sohi was defeated in his bid for re-election in the anti-Trudeau wave that swept Alberta in 2019, but the loss was more a reflection of Edmontonians unhappiness with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau than with Sohi himself.
A year and a half later, he dusted himself off and is now in the race to become Mayor.
Sohi is a very unique and compelling candidate, and, as anyone who has met him over the course of his 12 years of public service can attest, he is one of the most sincere, humble, and hard-working politicians in Edmonton.
Oshry represented south west Edmonton on city council from 2013 to 2017. He was rumoured to have considered a run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017 but ultimately declined.
Krushell is back?
After her campaign went silent on social media for an entire month, former city councillor Kim Krushell reappeared online last week. Krushell’s social media accounts went dormant from April 7 to May 4.
Malkinson previously stood as the NDP candidate in Calgary-North West in the 2012 provincial election and in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-West.
Elections Alberta hits former UCP nomination candidate with $8000 fine
Elections Alberta has reported that it has issued a $8,000 fine against former UCP nomination candidate Steve Thompson for violations of three sections of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. The violations are reported to have taken place Thompson’s bid for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-McClung in 2018.
Section 34(1.1) of the EFCDA: Furnished Funds to 3 persons for the purpose of making a contribution,
Section 34(2) of the EFCDA: Knowingly Accepted Funds, from 3 contributors, contrary to section 34(1) E
FCDA Section 46 of the EFCDA: Knowingly Made a False Financial Statement with the CEO.
Also listed as having received administrative penalties from Elections Alberta were Thompson’s chief financial officer, Caroline Thompson, who was issued a $3,500 fine, and three political contributors, Jaimie-Lee Wicentowich, Avaleen Nycz, and Gennady Sergeev. The three contributors were fined $1,500 each for violations of Section 34(1) of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act for “contributing funds to a registered nomination contestant that had been given or furnished to him by another person.”
Former PC MLA running as Conservative candidate on Vancouver Island, again
Continuing the tradition of former Alberta politicians running for elected office in British Columbia, former PC MLA Alana DeLong has been nominated as the federal Conservative Party candidate in the Vancouver Island district of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.
The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.
Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.
Jim Dinning – His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.
Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.
The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.
Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.
While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.
Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.
Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.
Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.
Krushell represented northwest Edmonton’s Ward 2 from 2004 to 2013 but her city hall career began in the mid-1990s when she worked as executive assistant to Councillor Lillian Staroszik and Larry Langley. She left municipal politics in 2013, becoming President of Lending Assist.
While Krushell never ran for provincial political office, she has past ties to the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party. She was the President of the PC Party association in Edmonton-Calder in the early 2000s and later served as Edmonton regional director and budget director for the PC Party until Jason Kenney became party leader in 2017.
Another former city councillor, Michael Oshry, is also said to be assembling a mayoral campaign team, and former councillor and Member of Parliament Amarjeet Sohi is rumoured to be considering a run for mayor.
And a number of new candidates have announced their plans to run for City Council:
Gino Akbari, Gabrielle Battiste and Tony Caterina have announced their plans to run in in the central Edmonton Ward O-day’min.
Caterina is a four-term City Councillor from northeast Edmonton who is running in the new downtown Ward because his current Ward 7 is being heavily redistributed between the new Ward Metis and Ward tastawiyiniwak (ᑕᐢᑕᐃᐧᔨᓂᐊᐧᐠ).
The boundary change puts Caterina in a position where if he did not choose a brand new ward to run in, he could have either run in the north half of his current ward, facing off against Councillor Jon Dziadyk, or in the south side of his current ward, which now stretches south of the North Saskatchewan River to Bonnie Doon and King Edward Park. He previously ran in downtown as the Alberta Alliance candidate in Edmonton-Centre in the 2004 provincial election.
In Ward Metis, which includes the southern half of Caterina’s current ward, Ashley Salvador and Liz John-West have filed their nomination papers. Salvador is an urban planner and President and Chair of YEGarden Suites. John-West is the Regional Service Director for WJS Canada and was a candidate in the 2017 municipal election.
In Edmonton’s south west Ward sipiwiyiniwak, first-term Councillor Sarah Hamilton has announced her plans to seek re-election.
Recently announced candidates in Ward Papastew include student Haruun Ali (who had previously announced his candidacy in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi), DJ and entertainment company owner Tarcy Schindelka, and Byron Vass.
Local celebrity Dan Johnstone has announced his plans to run in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi. Johnstone, who also goes by the nickname “Can Man Dan,” previously ran for city council in Ward 10 in 2013, in Ward 12 in a 2016 by-election, and mounted a brief campaign for the Alberta Party nomination in Edmonton-South ahead of the 2019 provincial election.
Far below the “circuit-breaker lockdown” that had been called for by public health experts, the new plan announced by Kenney is mostly previously made suggestions that are now loosely enforced rules with a lot of exceptions. And they are just as confusing at the previous restrictions.
The new rules are mostly directed at Calgary and Edmonton, with no face-mask requirements or permanent expanded business restrictions in rural areas. Alberta is now the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.
The exemptions for rural Alberta communities, as well as exemptions for indoor social gatherings in churches, suggest the the United Conservative Party government is prioritizing appeasing it’s main political constituencies – rural Albertans, libertarians, social conservatives, and industry lobby groups like Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business – over taking the advice of public health experts.
Kenney frequently frames the government’s options as either “total lockdown” or “the minimum” measures, but as we know from other provinces and countries there are many actions that can be taken that the Alberta government is unwilling to do.
The half-measures announced today are undoubtably the result of political bargaining within a cabinet and caucus that appear unprepared or unwilling to take drastic action to protect Albertans by stopping the spread of the virus. It is hard to imagine any past Alberta government, whether it be Progressive Conservative or New Democrat, making these types of concessions during a public health crisis.
During the press conference, Kenney repeatedly spoke about the need to protect the economy and “the poor,” but the economy is people and any economic recovery won’t happen until the virus is contained. Government has the ability and responsibility to provide financial supports for all Albertans who are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.
True to form, Kenney also took a moment to chastise public sector workers who collect a “public paycheque.” It is notable that none of the measures announced by Kenney were specifically aimed at relieving the pressure on understaffed hospitals and care centres where over-worked frontline nurses, doctors and health workers risk their lives to face the pandemic everyday. In fact, the fiscal update released earlier in the day by Finance Minister Travis Toews actually described public sector workers as a drain on the economy.
The Kenney government had eight months to plan and prepare for a second wave that was widely predicted but it appears that in their eagerness over the summer to shift the political narrative back to pipelines and the economy, Kenney has been caught flat footed.
The UCP government had eight months where it could have supported health care workers and educators, built up contact tracing capacity, and put in place plans for the second wave. But instead the UCP cabinet pulled an all-nighter and threw together a patch-work plan in eight hours.
“This Alberta is a meritocracy” – Jason Kenney (April 30, 2019)
It was first reported this week by the CBC that John Weissenberger has been hired as the Alberta Energy Regulator’s new vice president of its science and innovation branch. Weissenberger is a former adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and manager of geological services with Husky, but it is his deep political connections that raised eyes this week.
Weissenberger is a long-time conservative activist going back to the early days of the Reform Party and was Jason Kenney’s campaign manager during his successful bids for the the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative Party leadership campaigns in 2017. He was also director of the Alberta Victory Fund, the political action committee created to support Kenney’s campaign for the UCP leadership, and has been described as former prime minister Stephen Harper’s best friend.
It has also been reported that Weissenberger is a self-proclaimed ‘climate change skeptic,’ something that is unlikely to help the government’s bid to attract international investment and companies to move to Alberta.
Weissenberger’s wife, Angela Tu Weissenberger, was appointed by the UCP to the board of the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission in November 2019.
“Sherpa Dave” is Kenney’s Man in Texas
Congenial former Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney has been appointed as Alberta’s Agent General in Houston, Texas. Rodney served as the PC MLA for Calgary-Lougheed from 2004 until 2017 when he resigned to allow Kenney to run in a by-election.
Rodney’s reward for stepping down, it would appear, is a pseudo-diplomatic post with a $250,000 annual salary. The former MLA served as a backbencher for all but two of his thirteen years in the Legislature. He served as Associate Minister of Wellness from 2012 to 2014.
And as anyone who has paid close attention to Alberta politics will know, Rodney is the first Canadian to have reached the summit of Mount Everest, twice.
Rodney’s appointment is reminiscent of former Stettler MLA Brian Downey‘s appointment as chairman of the Alberta Grain Commission when he resigned his seat in 1989 to allow Premier Don Getty to return to the Assembly (Getty had lost his Edmonton-Whitemud seat to Liberal Percy Wickman in the 1989 general election).
Rodney’s appointment marks the return of the Agent General title, a term that was widely used by Alberta’s out-of-country representatives until 1996, when the Agent-General Act was repealed and the Managing Director job title was adopted.
At the time the Agent General title was abolished, it had become associated with partisan patronage following a long string of appointments that included former PC MLA Mary LeMessurier to a post in London, former MLA Fred Peacock as the Asia-Pacific Agent General, a political aide in Getty’s office as Agent General in Hong Kong, and Getty’s wife’s cousin’s husband as Agent General in Tokyo.
Tory Patronage Machine Humming
Like the engine of a blue Dodge Ram, the UCP patronage machine has revved up since the party formed government in April 2019. counting donors, which would expand the list substantially, here is a quick list of individuals with connections to Kenney, the UCP and the conservative movement who have been appointed to various agency, board and commission positions:
Len Rhodes was appointed as Chair of the board of directors of the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission. He was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Meadows in 2019.
Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of governors of MacEwan University. Sarich was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Decore in 2019 and represented the district as a PC MLA from 2008 to 2015.
Lily Le was appointed to board of governors of Norquest College. Le was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-City Centre in 2019.
Laurie Mozeson was appointed to the Municipal Government Board. Mozeson was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in 2019.
Karri Flatla was appointed to the Board of Governors of Lethbridge College. She was the UCP candidate in Lethbridge-West in 2019.
Tom Olsen was hired as CEO of the Canadian Energy Centre. He was the UCP candidate in Calgary-Buffalo in 2019.
Bettina Pierre-Gilles was appointed to board of Bow Valley College. Pierre-Gilles ran for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Currie ahead of the 2019 election.
Donna Kennedy-Glans appointed to board of governors of Banff Centre. Kennedy-Glans was the PC MLA for Calgary-Varsity from 2012 to 2015 and briefly ran for the party leadership in 2017. She was also appointed to the Fair Deal Panel.
Janice Harrington was appointed as Alberta’s Health Advocate and Mental Health Patient Advocate. Harrington was executive director of the PC Party and UCP from 2017 to 2019 and was previously involved in PC Party campaigns.
Shelley Beck was appointed to the board of governors of Medicine Hat College. Beck has worked as a constituency assistant to Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes.
Wayne Drysdale was appointed to the Municipal Government Board. Drysdale served as the PC and UCP MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti from 2008 to 2019. He was Minister of Transportation from 2014 to 2015.
Heather Forsyth was appointed to the Alberta Review Board. Forsyth served as the PC and Wildrose MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek from 1993 to 2015. She served as Solicitor General from 2001 to 2004 and Minister of Children’s Services from 2004 to 2006.
Lloyd Snelgrove was appointed to the Board of Governors of Lakeland College. Snelgrove served as the PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster from 2001 to 2012. He served as Minister of Finance and Enterprise from January 2011 to October 2011.
Bill Smith was appointed as member and vice-chair of the Public Health Appeal Board. Smith is the former president of the PC Party and was a candidate for Mayor of Calgary in 2017.
Andy Crooks was appointed to Municipal Government Board. Crooks was chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson in the 1990s.
Richard Casson was appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge. Casson served as the Member of Parliament for Lethbridge from 1997 to 2011.
James Rajotte was appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta. Rajotte served as the MP for Edmonton-South West and Edmonton-Leduc from 2000 to 2015.
Diane Ablonczy was appointed as a member of the Council of the Alberta Order of Excellence. Ablonczy served as the MP for Calgary-North and Calgary-Nose Hill from 1993 to 2015.
Ted Menzies was appointed to the Board of Governors of Olds College. Menzies served as MP for Macleod from 2004 to 2015.
Janice MacKinnon was appointed to the Board of Governors of The University of Alberta. MacKinnon chaired the UCP government’s Panel on Alberta’s Finances in 2019.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brent Wittmeier for the inspiration for the title of this post.
Going through some files last night I rediscovered some screenshots of newspaper advertisements from Alberta’s 1967 election. I posted them on Twitter and Instragam earlier today, but as fast as those social networks flow the images will be lost in the feed before long, so I thought I would share them here as well.
But first, a little bit of background on the significance of the May 23, 1967 general election in Alberta:
It was the seventh and final election in which Premier Ernest Manning led the Social Credit Party, which had formed government since 1935. Social Credit MLAs were elected in 55 of 63 districts but this election marked the first time since 1955 that the party earned less than half of the popular vote. It would be the last time Albertans elected the Social Credit Party to form a government.
It was the first election that Peter Lougheed led the Progressive Conservatives. The party formed official opposition with six MLAs, including future premier Don Getty and former PC Member of Parliament Hugh Horner, who acted as Lougheed’s rural lieutenant. The party had been shut out of the Legislature in the 1963 election.
It was the last time until 1986 that the Liberal Party elected MLAs, three, to the Legislature. Party leader Michael Maccagno was re-elected in Lac La Biche, a district he had represented since 1955. Also standing as Liberal candidates were well-known Calgary Liberal Daryl Raymaker, who ran in Calgary-Queens Park, and J. Bernard Feehan, father of current Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA Richard Feehan, who ran in Edmonton-West
The first New Democratic Party MLA elected to the Legislature in Alberta, Garth Turcott, was defeated. He became an MLA after winning a by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest in 1966. Party leader Neil Reimer succeeded in increasing the party’s vote to 15 per cent, an increase of 6 per cent from the previous election, but the party failed to elect any MLAs.
Future NDP leader Grant Notley was defeated in Edmonton-Norwood. Alderman Ivor Dent was unsuccessful as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-North East but would be elected mayor in the 1968 election.
Defeated PC Party candidates in this election included future Prime Minister Joe Clark, who lost by 461 votes to Social Credit MLA Art Dixon in Calgary-South (Dixon would go on to defeat PC candidate and future Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong in 1971).
This election marked the last time an Independent candidate was elected in a general election. Independent Clarence Copithorne defeated Coalition MLA Frank Gainer in Banff-Cochrane.
As far as my research could find, this was the first election that included an in-person leaders debate. Manning, Lougheed, Reimer and Maccagno gathered at a debate sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience in the packed church. This was the last time party leaders would meet for a debate until the 1993 election.
This was the last provincial election where the voting age was 21 years old and the first which allowed voting by Indigenous people with Treaty Status.
Alberta is used to being a political outlier. And in the first six months of 2020, when governments and opposition parties in most provinces put aside their political differences to face the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown, Alberta remained an outlier as neither the United Conservative Party government nor the New Democratic Party opposition put aside their differences to rally around the flag. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Jason Kenney is unpopular. This is not new and has been a problem that has dogged him and his party since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017. Pulling off a coup by taking over the Progressive Conservative Party and merging it with the Wildrose Party to form the UCP may have solidified his popularity among conservative partisans, but most polls have shown his approval and performance ratings dragging far below the high-water mark of UCP support in the 2019 election.
2.The United Conservative Party government is using the pandemic and economic crisis as cloud cover to continue to implement a divisive political agenda. The UCP campaigned on the slogan of “jobs, economy and pipelines,” but during the pandemic the government has barely skipped a beat in continuing its fight with rural and small town doctors, cutting funding that led to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs and thousands of layoffs at Alberta’s technical colleges and universities, and pushing the privatization and closure of Alberta’s provincial parks. And plans to layoff nurses and health care workers? That has only been delayed.
Barely a day goes by where the UCP does not release a meme or video on social media attacking its opponents. Long gone are the days when the old PC Party government would focus on governing and pretend the opposition parties didn’t exist.
It is perhaps not a surprise that the UCP is now trying to paint the NDP with the same “Team Angry” moniker that the PC Party slapped onto the Wildrose Party a decade ago. But the political landscape in Alberta is drastically different as both parties now exist in a competitive environment where Albertans have a taste for electoral change.
With former premier Rachel Notley at its helm and a front bench of former cabinet ministers in its caucus, the NDP are the first official opposition in decades that can legitimately call itself a government-in-waiting. But in a big way, the NDP needs to start acting like a government-in-waiting and talking confidently about what new ideas it will implement and bad UCP ideas it will repeal if or when it forms government again in 2023.
4. Nothing is actually getting done for Albertans who now face record unemployment levels and a very uncertain economic future.
Time to shut down the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.
“Shoot, shovel, and shut up,” was how former Alberta premier Ralph Klein suggested some of the province’s self-respecting ranchers could deal with the mad cow disease crisis of the mid-2000s. And it is time that Premier Jason Kenney heeded Klein’s words and applied the same advice to the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.
The CEC’s childish tirade of tweets appear to have been posted in response to a Times article about the decision by some of the world’s largest financial institutions to stop investing in oil production in Alberta.
Some international banks, pension plans and financial institutions appear to have included the impact of climate change into their long-term investments plans and have decided to move away from investing in some carbon-intensive resource extraction industries like Canada’s oilsands.
According to the Times, “BlackRock, the worlds largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands.”
The Times article noted that “Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday,” which is a shocking departure from Kenney’s pledge he would use “the persuasive power of the premier’s bully pulpit to tell the truth of our energy industry across the country.”
CEC Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Tom Olsen publicly apologized on Twitter for the unprofessional tweet storm against the Times, a statement that is now being widely reported.
Olsen, a former United Conservative Party candidate and lobbyist, was appointed to the role when the CEC was launched in October 2019. The CEC is a private corporation created by the Alberta government and receives $30-million annually from the Alberta government to ostensibly correct misinformation about the oil and gas industry, but in reality appears to be doing a poor job conducting public relations for the oil and gas industry.
Existing as a private corporation with a board of directors that includes Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, the CEC is not subject to the freedom of information rules that make other government institutions and agencies more transparent to the public and the media. Despite receiving $30-million annually from the government, the CEC appears to have no accountability mechanisms and its internal operations are kept secret.
While Kenney was recently lauded for changing his message about an eventual transition away from of oil (I suspect he is coopting language rather than changing his mind), some of the good for Alberta that his trip to Washington DC last week may have done has at least been partially damaged by the latest PR disaster exploding through the War Room in downtown Calgary.
What started a few months ago as a $30-million annual public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry is starting to become a running joke that might hurt Alberta, and its oil and gas industry, more than it helps it.
As Finance Minister Travis Toews asks Albertans to accept deep cuts to public health care and education and for public employees to take salary rollbacks in his Feb. 27 provincial budget, it will become increasingly difficult to convince Albertans that the CEC’s $30-million annual budget is not a giant waste of money.
In this case, Kenney should take his own conservative free-market advice and let private sector industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the legions of public relations professionals working for Canada’s oil and gas companies handle their own public relations.
As Ralph Klein might suggest, it’s time for Kenney to take the Canadian Energy Centre behind the proverbial barn and stop this embarrassing initiative from doing any more damage to Alberta’s reputation at home and abroad.
It is remarkable how quickly time flies by. Fifteen years ago I was probably sitting on my couch in the living room of my heavily-subsidized and very run-down University of Alberta-owned residence in north Garneau when I first clicked the publish button on my brand new blogspot.com website. That was probably how Daveberta was born.
I was in the fourth year studying an undergraduate degree in Political Science that would be drawn out for a not insignificant number of more years as I threw myself into student union politics and activism, and then provincial politics.
I had no idea that 15 years later this website would still exist, and that it would also spin off into a podcast and lead to hundreds of media interviews, conference panels and speaking engagements, because at the time blogging was a novelty and something that a lot of people were just trying out.
Maybe I am just one of the few who had staying power?
The name Daveberta was inspired, somewhat mockingly, in response to Paulberta t-shirts donned by Paul Martin delegates attending the 2003 Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto (which I was among at the time). I figured Daveberta both sounded better and was more authentic (I am a third-generation Albertan and Martin was not).
A lot has changed in politics over the past fifteen years, for myself and Alberta.
Fifteen years ago I was heavily involved in student politics at the U of A and in Liberal Party politics, mostly at the provincial level. This website certainly had a partisan inclination when it was launched and along with CalgaryGrit.ca and AlbertaDiary.ca (now AlbertaPolitics.ca) became one of the go-to blogs focusing on Alberta politics.
Back then I was a proud a partisan and largely depended on blog aggregators, links from other blogs, and keyword searches to generate website traffic.
Today, I enthusiastically hold no party membership (my political inclinations have also significantly shifted) and depend much more on Facebook and Twitter to reach my readers.
Alberta politics used to be boring, or so I am told, but the past fifteen years have been anything but boring. The political landscape has witnessed a number of political upheavals, and might be a little confusing to someone from 2005. Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that have changed in Alberta politics since Daveberta.ca was launched fifteen years ago:
Then: Ralph Klein was in what would soon be seen as the dying days of his premiership. Klein led the PC Party to win a reduced majority government in the November 2004 election, which was dubbed the “Kleinfeld” campaign because of the lack of central narrative of the PC Party campaign. Klein would be unceremoniously dumped by PC Party members at a leadership review in 2006, and he would resign from office months later and fade into obscurity after hosting a short-lived TV gameshow in Calgary.
Now: Former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney leads a UCP majority government, after successfully staging the merger of the membership of the PC Party and Wildrose Party, and leading the party to victory in the 2019 election. Like Klein, Kenney is hell bent on dismantling the high-quality public services that Albertans depend on each day. But unlike Klein, Kenney appears to committed to a much more ideologically-driven free market agenda.
Leader of the Official Opposition
Then: Kevin Taft had just led the Liberal Party from what appeared to be the brink of oblivion to more than triple the party’s number of MLAs. The Liberals regained most of the seats it lost in the disastrous 2001 election and made a major breakthrough in Calgary, electing three MLAs in Alberta’s largest city.
Now: Rachel Notley became leader of the official opposition after four years as Premier of Alberta. She becomes the first official opposition leader in 48 years to have previously served as premier. Notley announced in December 2019 that she plans to lead the NDP into the next election, expected to be held in 2023.
Now: Fringe politicians rally around the separatist flavour of the week, now known as Wexit, and a former respected newspaper owner and a defeated Toronto politician spoke in favour of separatism at a conservative conference in Calgary. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
It continues to be a wild ride, and a pleasure to share my thoughts on Alberta politics on this website and on the Daveberta Podcast.
There are a few people who I would like to recognize and thank for inspiring and supporting me along the way (this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many people I am thankful for who helped me a long the way):
My family, and my beautiful wife Kyla in particular, have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of this hobby and my indulgences into Alberta politics.
My former boss at the Liberal Party, Kieran Leblanc, who is a dear-friend and someone who I definitely need to make time to meet for lunch with more often.
Adam Rozenhart and Ryan Hastman for helping start the Daveberta Podcast more than two years ago. The podcast continues to be a highlight for me, and a medium that I have enjoying focusing on over the past few years. (The Daveberta Podcast has been nominated in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in this year’s The Canadian Podcast Awards).
And a sincere thank you to everyone who keeps on reading this website and listening to the podcast. I may not still be writing on this website fifteen years from now, but regardless of how much longer it lasts, it has been a great experience.
While there does not appear to be an obvious heir apparent, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s name immediately comes to mind as a potential successor. But is appears as though Kenny could just be a visitor in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.
Kenney told Postmedia columnist Don Braid yesterday he had “absolutely no intention” of running for the leadership and offered what appears to be an early endorsement of former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.
Kenney is respected by Conservative partisans and, as long as he can keep up his winning streak, will remain one of the most prominent leaders of the Conservative movement in Canada.
Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.
Winning as a Conservative in Alberta is a much easier task than winning in other parts of Canada, including populous regions like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario during the federal election resulted in dismal returns for Conservative candidates, and a recent poll shows his approval ratings in Alberta have plummeted by 15-points since his government tabled an unpopular provincial budget, which serves as a reminder that while he is a skilled politician, he is not invincible.
Which is why he might be reluctant to jump back into federal politics.
Being premier of a large province is certainly a more influential office, at least it is in 2019, and comes with more prestige than being leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa. But staying in Alberta means he is not one-step away from becoming Prime Minister of Canada, which many people still speculate is his goal.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
It is perhaps less unusual because the premier in question is Jason Kenney. As a federal cabinet minister he was praised by fellow partisans for his role in expanding Conservative Party’s outreach into New Canadian communities that had previously been the strongholds of the Liberal Party, a strategy that appeared solid until its collapse in 2015.
And while Kenney is currently the Premier of Alberta, he very much remains a national politician and one of the leaders of Conservative movement in Canada, frequently speaking at partisan fundraisers and events hosted by right-wing think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manhattan Institute.
Kenney’s interest in the federal campaign is no surprise. Much of the United Conservative Party campaign in Alberta’s recent provincial election focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Kenney had pledged his efforts to defeat in the October 21 federal election. And it is probably the worst-kept secret in Canadian politics that Kenney still harbours federal leadership ambitions. Ambitions that could be realized sooner than expected if Scheer stumbles in this election.
This is the first federal election in decades that both the federal and provincial Conservative parties in Alberta are marching in lock-step. The creation of the United Conservative Party in 2017 was just as much about the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties as it was creating harmony between the dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties.
This campaign trip to Ontario is not Kenney’s first, but it is much more extensive than his previous visits.
Kenney made an appearance at a fundraiser earlier this year in Brampton-North, where his former ministerial staffer Arpan Khanna is running for the Conservatives. Khanna managed Kenney’s Toronto office during his time as Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of National Defence.
Flying to Ottawa today, Kenney launched his campaign tour with Conservative candidates Brian St. Louis in Nepean and Abdul Abdi in Ottawa-West Nepean.
While Kenney’s Ontario itinerary does not appear to be publicly available, UCP sources tell me that he is scheduled to spend the rest of the weekend canvassing door-to-door with Markham-Stouffvillecandidate Theodore Antony, attending a BBQ for Brampton-Centre candidate Pawanjit Gosal, headlining a rally with Vaughn-Woodbridgecandidate Teresa Kruze, and attending an event at the Canadian Coptic Centre in support of Conservative candidates in Mississauga, among about ten other appearances.
Kenney is not the first Alberta politician to spend some time campaigning in this region of Ontario. Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney was in the area over the summer to campaign with Conservative candidates Sean Weir in Oakville North-Burlington and Ramandeep Singh Brar in Brampton-South.
If the federal Conservatives have any chance of forming government, it is believed that this is the region where that party will need to gain seats from the Liberals.
While Kenney campaigns in Ontario, he is also acutely aware of how this sort of intervention can go awry. Kenny was one of the senior Conservative Party officials who scolded then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein for contributing to his party’s defeat in the 2004 federal election.
Two days after that election was called, Klein publicly mused that his health-care reforms could possibly violate the Canada Health act, a statement which senior officials in the Conservative Party said helped Paul Martin’s Liberal Party shore up support in Ontario.
“There’s pretty much unanimous consensus in the federal party that these remarks weren’t helpful,” Kenney told the Calgary Herald in 2004. “Suggesting the Alberta government was prepared to announce violations of the Canada Health Act two days after an election was giving the Liberals a big fat one over centre plate.”
Few politicians can sustain themselves in a permanent campaign-mode like Kenney can. Anyone who has been paying attention to Alberta politics over the past few years can attest that he hasn’t stopped campaigning since his jumped into provincial politics in 2017. He is a career politician who can probably out-hustle almost any of his peers, but he also carries a few suitcases worth of political baggage on his trip east.
On the issue of gun control, which the Liberals raised at the beginning of the campaign, how will Kenney’s decision to publicly endorse vigilante gun justice in rural Alberta play in suburban Ontario? Kenney will be speaking to crowds of friendly Conservative voters, but I would not be surprised to see the Liberals bird-dog Kenney on this issue during his Ontario tour.
While Kenney is certainly not a separatist, he is trying to do what many past Alberta premiers have done in order to position themselves as the province’s great defender against the political interests of Central Canada.
Stoking western alienation will help solidify Kenney’s support among Conservative voters at home but it could also poison Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa even further if Trudeau’s Liberals are re-elected on October 21. This could help explain why no Alberta premier has parlayed their provincial success to federal politics – something Kenney may want to consider as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario this weekend.
Notley plays coy about her federal vote
Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the official opposition, continues to play coy when asked who she is planning to vote for in the October 21 federal election. “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate’s best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona,” Notley told CBC.
While I would be surprised if Notley did not vote for McPherson on October 21, it does demonstrate the deep distrust between the provincial and federal wings of the NDP in Alberta over issues like the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. While some former NDP MLAs defeated in the April 2019 election have been actively campaigning for federal NDP candidates, Notley and her current 24 NDP MLA caucus remain nowhere to be seen on the federal campaign trail in Alberta.
The kamakaze campaign that just won’t die
CBC investigative reporters have dived deep into the allegations of fraud and misuse of voting kiosks by Kenney’s campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest. According to CBC, the RCMP, which has been tight-lipped on the status and focus of its investigation, will only say it continues to investigate allegations of fraud as it relates to the 2017 UCP leadership race.
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.
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 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.
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.
Date of Alberta’s 2019 election: April 16, 2019 Date of Alberta’s next election: Between March 1 and May 31, 2023 Total number of votes cast in the 2019 election: 1,894,985 Total number of votes cast in the 2015 election: 1,488,248 District with highest voter turnout: 80.2 per cent in Grande Prairie-Wapiti District with lowest voter turnout: 45.8 per cent in Calgary-East Total number of re-elected MLAs: 41 Total number of new MLAs: 46 MLAs in the Government Caucus: 63 MLAs in the Opposition: 24 Number of women in the Government Caucus: 15 out of 63 Number of women in the Opposition Caucus: 11 out of 24 Most votes for a candidate: 20,579 for UCP candidate Jason Nixon in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Highest percentage of votes for a candidate: 81.6 per cent for UCP candidate Jason Nixon in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Longest serving re-elected MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona has served 4061 days since she was first elected in the 2008 provincial election. Closest race: Calgary-Falconridge. UCP candidate Devinder Toor defeated NDP candidate Parmeet Singh Boparai by 96 votes. Youngest elected MLA: Miranda Rosin, 23-years old, in Banff-Kananaskis. Total vote for the United Conservative Party in 2019: 1,040,004 Total vote for the Wildrose Party and PC Party in 2015: 774,121 Total vote for the NDP in 2019: 619,147 Total vote for the NDP in 2015: 604,518 Total vote for the Alberta Party in 2019: 171,996 Total vote for the Alberta Party in 2015: 33,221 Total vote for the Liberal Party in 2019: 18,546 Total vote for the Liberal Party in 2015: 62,153