As 2014 reminded us, politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choice of Premier Jim Prentice, here is a list of a dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2015.
Rob Anderson (Airdrie): The outspoken rookie MLA left the PC Caucus in 2010 to join the upstart Wildrose Party. And in 2014, after two years as a loud and enthusiastic critic of the government, he was one of 9 Wildrose MLAs who crossed to the PC Caucus in December 2014. It is speculated that Mr. Anderson could end up with a cabinet post in early 2015, to the ire of his new caucus colleagues. He thrived in the limelight of the opposition benches but can he survive in the government benches?
Joe Anglin (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre): Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus in November 2014 before his colleagues could vote him out. On his way out, he declared that “an internal civil war” was being waged inside the Wildrose Party. It was recently revealed that Mr. Anglin has been in discussions with the Liberals about forming a legislative coalition that could steal Official Opposition status away from the downsized Wildrose Caucus.
Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway): A rising star in the PC Party. Mr. Bhullar rose in the ranks under premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and became one of Mr. Prentice’s lieutenants during his party’s lacklustre 2014 PC leadership contest. In his current role as Infrastructure Minister, he has a big influence over which public projects get funding.
Laurie Blakeman (Edmonton-Centre): As the longest serving opposition MLA, Ms. Blakeman is a feisty voice in the Assembly. Her Bill 202 reignited the debate around student-led Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools and demonstrated how uncomfortable an issue gay rights remains for many PC MLAs. With the Liberal Party moribund under its current leadership, it is difficult to tell what her political future holds.
Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead): As the price of oil declines, the soft-spoken Mr. Campbell finds himself in a situation where he must deal with his party’s poor long-term financial planning. Unfortunately, the PC Caucus is reluctant to entertain the idea of more stable funding sources like sales taxes, a progressive taxation system or an increase in natural resource royalties. Look to Mr. Campbell to provide a more diplomatic approach to public sector pension changes, an issue that hastened the demise of his predecessor, Doug Horner.
Gordon Dirks (Calgary-Elbow): Missing in Action during the contentious Gay-Straight Alliances debate, Mr. Dirks’ connections to socially conservative Christian evangelical groups is a liability for the PC Party among moderate and liberal voters. He brings experience from his time as a Saskatchewan cabinet minister and a Calgary school trustee, but his religious connections and the accusations about allegedly politically-driven school announcements make him a lightening rod for opposition criticism.
Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek): The interim leader of the Official Opposition is one of the longest serving MLAs in the Legislature. First elected as a PC MLA in 1993, Ms. Forsyth served in the cabinets of Ralph Klein before joining the Wildrose in 2010. Her big challenge is keep the Wildrose Remnant alive and relevant as her party chooses their next leader in early 2015.
Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo): This respected, hard-working MLA is aiming to become the first Liberal Member of Parliament in Calgary since the early 1970s. He is hoping to build on the support earned by Liberal Harvey Locke in the 2012 by-election. His departure from provincial politics will trigger a by-election that will test the popularity of the provincial Liberals in Alberta’s largest city.
Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs): Cast to the backbenches after Mr. Prentice became premier, Mr. Lukaszuk has not gone quietly. His connection to deep funding cuts to universities and colleges earned him many political enemies, including then-mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel. Mr. Lukaszuk turned on Ms. Redford when her star was falling and ran in PC leadership contest as an outsider. He has been outspoken from his spot in the backbenches, leading some political watchers to believe he could be the next Ken Kowalski.
Stephen Mandel (Edmonton-Whitemud): After nine years as Edmonton’s mayor, Mr. Mandel declared he was done with politics in 2013. One year later, he found himself riding to the rescue of Alberta’s 43 year old Progressive Conservative dynasty. As Mr. Prentice’s capital city commodore, Mr. Mandel is responsible for the most politically dangerous government department, Health. He has promised to increase local decision making in health care and is faced with a growing list of aging hospitals and health care centres that have faced decades of neglect by the provincial government.
Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Expectations are high that Ms. Notley will lead Alberta’s New Democratic Party to greatness. The second generation leader of Alberta’s social democratic party is smart, witty and well-positioned to boost her party’s standings in the opposition benches. Her challenge will be to present a viable alternative to the governing PCs while expanding her party’s support outside its traditional enclaves in Edmonton.
Danielle Smith (Highwood): After two years as the leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition, Ms. Smith shocked Albertans in December 2014 when she quit her job and join the Government. It is widely suspected that Ms. Smith will be appointed to cabinet in early 2015, possibly as Deputy Premier. She is a skilled politician but will continue to face heavy criticism in 2015 from her former colleagues for her betrayal.