Categories
Alberta Politics

The Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election and the Alberta Politics Time Machine™

The calm before the storm. The deep breath before the plunge.

Tomorrow is the day.

Tomorrow is by-election day in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

They’ve been overshadowed by Jason Kenney’s leadership review, the occupation of Ottawa, a blockade at Coutts, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but tomorrow the people of northern Alberta’s famed boom town get their say.

They get to choose an MLA.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader
Brian Jean

Brian Jean is the favourite to win.

He’s the former MLA, former MP, and former leader of the Wildrose Party.

He’s Fort Mac’s golden boy.

Now he’s the United Conservative Party candidate.

He’s also Jason Kenney’s worst enemy and if he wins he’ll become an even bigger thorn in the Premier’s side ahead of the April 9 leadership review.

Kenney beat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and is now openly campaigning against him in the leadership review.

Jean isn’t the only anti-Kenney candidate in the race.

Alberta NDP candidate Ariana Mancini in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election
Ariana Mancini

NDP candidate Ariana Mancini is campaigning hard.

The NDP are cautiously optimistic about their chances but it’s a real long shot and know they are the underdog.

Even with the NDP leading the UCP by 15 points in province-wide polls and Kenney’s approval ratings in free fall, there is still a big gap to close in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

The UCP won the riding with 66 per cent of the vote in 2019.

Competing with Jean for disaffected conservative voters is another former Wildrose Party leader, Paul Hinman.

Hinman now leads the separatist Wildrose Independence Party.

He’s another long-shot candidate.

He’s also living proof that by-elections can produce weird and unpredictable results.

What do I mean?

Hop in and join me in the Alberta Politics Time Machine™.

Paul Hinman Wildrose Independence Party MLA
Paul Hinman

One year after Hinman was lost his Cardston-Taber-Warner seat in the 2008 general election he shocked political watchers by winning a by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore in the city’s southwest.

It was a real country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse situation.

But Hinman isn’t the only example of how by-elections can be sometimes have shocking results.

The Liberals stunned political watchers when Craig Cheffins won in the Calgary-Elbow by-election to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark very nearly repeated history in 2014 when he placed a painfully close second to PC cabinet minister Gord Dirks in another Calgary-Elbow by-election.

“But Dave,” you say, “aren’t those just fancy urban Calgary ridings?”

Hold on.

There’s more.

The Liberals won the 1992 by-election in Three Hills.

Yes. That’s right. Three. Hills.

Laurence Decore Alberta Liberal Leader
Laurence Decore

Deficit hawk Liberal leader Laurence Decore recruited farm realtor Don MacDonald in that by-election.

It was a sign of how well the Liberals were doing as much as how poorly the old Progressive Conservatives had tumbled under Don Getty’s beleaguered premiership.

“This is the heartland of Conservative Alberta,” Decore told a boisterous crowd of supporters in Three Hills on the night of MacDonald’s win.

He won with a stunning 2,476 lead over the second place Social Credit candidate.

The PC placed third.

“This is rural Alberta. This is where it’s not supposed to happen. This is where Liberals are supposed to be the anathema of everything that this area stands for,” Decore said. “Not only are we winning but we’re winning handsomely.”

The Liberals even came within a hair of winning a by-election in Little Bow a few months earlier.

Yes. Little. Bow.

That’s the deep south and it’s where conservatives usually win big.

The Reform Party of Canada was on the rise and, just like Three Hills a few months later, Reformers were split between the provincial Liberals and Tories in that by-election.

Reformer-turned-Liberal Donna Graham finished 262 votes behind Reformer-turned-Tory winner Barry MacFarland.

It was a close race.

Gordon Kesler
Gordon Kesler

And then there’s the big by-election win that people always talk about when Alberta separatism periodically peaks in the polls: Western Canada Concept’s Gordon Kesler winning the 1982 Olds-Didsbury by-election.

It was the only time a separatist party candidate has been elected to the Alberta Legislature.

People were mad.

Mad at Pierre Trudeau.

Mad at Peter Lougheed.

And boy did they show it.

But Kesler only had a few months as an MLA before Lougheed shifted gears and steamrolled the WCC into electoral oblivion in the November 1982 general election.

Ok. Buckle up.

Let’s take the time machine back even further.

Young PC candidate Bill Yurko stole the Strathcona East seat vacated by retired Premier Ernest Manning in 1969, foreshadowing the demise of Social Credit only a few years later.

Even the New Democrats have squeaked in a surprise by-election win, though you’ll have to go way back to find it.

Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. 1966.

Garth Turcott becomes the first Alberta NDP MLA in the province’s history.

It was a seat with a proud history of radical coal miner unionism, socialism and communism but like most of Alberta it had been held in the tight grip of the Socreds for over three decades.

Turcott’s team brought in a professional organizer and used new campaigning techniques like “doorknocking.”

Federal NDP leader Tommy Douglas even lent Turcott’s campaign a hand and drew hundreds of people to a by-election rally in the riding.

NDP leader Neil Reimer and first ever NDP MLA Garth Turcott shortly after his 1966 by-election win.

Douglas roasted Premier Ernest Manning for standing in the way of public health care.

“He has been the spearpoint of the attack on medicare,” Douglas said of the Alberta Premier.

It’s probably how Rachel Notley would describe Jason Kenney today. She’d be right.

But that’s for another column.

Slide back to the present. March 14, 2022.

What a wild ride.

I’d love to take the time machine to tomorrow night to see how the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election turns out but our tank is almost empty (and radioactive plutonium almost costs as much as a tank of gas these days!).

So we’ll have to take a big deep breath and wait to see if Brian Jean reclaims his old seat tomorrow night.

It might be a Jean slam dunk, but as we just saw on our little journey through Alberta history – sometimes by-elections can have unexpected results.

Voting stations are open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jack Lowery tried to merge the Alberta Liberals with Social Credit, and it destroyed his leadership

Supporters of the Alberta Liberal Party will gather virtually this weekend for the party’s annual general meeting two years after the party was shut out of the Legislative Assembly for the first time in more than three decades.

Jack Lowery Alberta Liberal Party leader
Jack Lowery

This year also marks 100 years since the Liberal Party lost the 1921 election to the United Farmers of Alberta after governing the province since it was founded in 1905.

The Liberals formed the official opposition for most of the period from their defeat until the 1967 election, when the Progressive Conservatives led by Peter Lougheed knocked the Liberals to third place in the Legislature. 

As the Liberals ponder what it means to be a seatless party in 2021, I took a look back at what happened the last time the Liberals were shut out of the Legislature.

The 1967 election marked the Liberal Party’s poorest showing in decades, and death, defection and resignation would mean the party’s three MLA caucus would not survive the full term.

Michael Maccagno

Party leader and Lac La Biche MLA Michael Maccagno resigned his seat in early 1968 to run in the federal election and later formally resigned as leader in October 1968. Edson MLA William Switzer died of a heart attack in June 1969. And in November 1969 the party’s sole remaining caucus member, Calgary-Glenmore MLA Bill Dickie, crossed the floor to join Lougheed’s PC Party. 

The party was on the decline and faired poorly in the by-elections to replace Maccagno and Switzer, with Liberal candidates finishing third in Lac La Biche and fourth in Edson. 

But that was not where this story of the Alberta Liberal Party’s ends.

Former United Church Minister Jack Lowery, who preached at Calgary’s Southwood United Church without collecting remuneration so he could work full-time as the public relations manager for ATCO Industries Ltd., was chosen as leader on April 26, 1969.

Harry Strom Alberta Premier
Harry Strom

He was also the chief statistician for the Calgary Stampeder Football Club, where he led a team of analysts and technicians who tracked the CFL team’s performance. It is no wonder that Calgary Herald’s Johnny Hopkins described him in 1967 as someone who simply couldn’t find enough activities to fill all his waking hours.

With none of the party’s MLA entering the leadership race, Lowery defeated Town of Manning Mayor Don Branigan (who would later become Mayor of Whitehorse in Yukon), future party leader Bob Russell, and 20-year old University of Alberta political science student Trevor Midgley (who entered the race 8 minutes before the nomination deadline). 

The 39-year old Lowery moved to Alberta after graduating from theology school in Toronto to serve churches in the Hardisty area and described himself as an “issues-oriented pragmatist” with a left-orientated slant on social development philosophy and “small conservative” financial ideas.

Nick Taylor Calgary-Centre Liberal candidate 1968 election Canada
A campaign poster from Nick Taylor’s campaign in Calgary-Centre in 1968.

This was Lowery’s second foray into elected politics, having just the previous year mounted an unsuccessful campaign against oilman and school board trustee Nick Taylor for the federal Liberal nomination in Calgary-Centre (Taylor would go on to lead the Liberals back into the Legislature in 1986).

“It’s been said for a long time that there are those in the Liberal Party who have had a vested interest in defeat,” Lowery told Calgary Herald for the “Personality of the Week” column on May 30, 1969.

“They’ve been quite happy to go directly to Ottawa without having to work in a party structure that could go somewhere. All of these people will be encouraged to become party of the team,” Lowery said.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

Lowery was an outsider who inherited the leadership of a deeply divided and cash poor party that was overshadowed by a flashier and increasingly unpopular federal Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

He was the Liberal Party’s third leader in five years following the resignation of Adrian Berry after nine months as leader in 1966 and the return of Maccagno as leader for a second time before Lowery was chosen.

Early on in his leadership he dismissed the chances of Lougheed’s PCs and pledged to reestablish the Liberals as the alternative to the long-governing Social Credit Party, which he described as “very long on promises and short on implementation.”

The decision by MLA Dickie to join the Lougheed PCs in November 1969 because of what he described as “leftist philosophy” in the Liberal Party meant the party no longer had any representation in Legislature.

“This merely clears the decks so that we can do the kind of building we’ve been wanting to do. I do not agree with him that we have a leftist philosophy,” said Lowery in response his Dickie’s defection.

But it all really started to unravel for Lowery when was revealed the next month that he had reached out to Social Credit Premier Harry Strom to either merge or create an electoral alliance between the two parties.

His fate was sealed.

Pat Mahoney

“We can run candidates in the traditional sense in the next election. We can stand aside and let the Social Credit and Conservative partiee fight it out, or we can work with Social Credit to determine areas of mutual interest,” Lowery told the Calgary Herald on Dec. 30, 1969.

“We are 10 years away from being an effective political force and some form of coalition  in which the Liberal party would retain its identity is one of the alternatives open,” Lowery said.

Calgary-South Liberal Member of Parliament Pat Mahoney, a former President of the Calgary Stampeders Football Club, said the idea should be pursued with an open mind.

“The Alberta Liberals have been unfairly burned by the identification with Ottawa and the necessity of supporting federal policies,” Mahoney told the Calgary Herald. “They have a right to pursue an independent course.”

Hu Harries
Hu Harries

But Mahoney’s federal colleague from Edmonton had a different opinion. Edmonton-Strathcona Liberal MP Hu Harries called the proposal “bloody nonsense” and predicted it will not receive support from the Alberta Liberals membership.

Harries called on Lowery to resign and described talk of a Liberal-Socred alliance as a “selfish, stupid reaction to a complete failure” that was the Liberal Party’s inability to win the by-elections to replace the party’s former MLAs.

Prominent Edmonton Liberal and well-known publisher Mel Hurtig described the idea as absurd and clashed with Lowery at a party meeting in January 1970.

“Liberals are not people who are concerned with developing deals where they sell out their principles,” Hurtig was reported to have said.

Lowery defended his position by arguing that the merger discussions with the Socreds had “provoked interest and has given us an opportunity to delineate what we stand for as Liberals.”

But Harries and Hurtig were not alone. Constituency association presidents from across the province revolted against the idea – and Lowery.

And despite Lowery’s optimism, Strom’s own public response poured cold water on the entire idea of a Socred-Liberal alliance.

“We would be prepared to welcome those members of the Liberal party or any other party, who wish not join and work with us, but we are not at all interest in any deals or mergers,” Strom said.

The other opposition parties took it as an opportunity to welcome disaffected or confused Liberals into their camps.

Alberta New Democratic Party leader Grant Notley said his party would open wide the doors for disgruntled Liberals who wish to join “a genuine alternative to the conservative consensus of the Socreds and Tories.”

And Lougheed said any move toward a Liberal-Socred alliance would benefit his PC party.

“The last provincial election and the last two by-elections indicate that the majority of liberal-inclined voters would prefer to see a new progressive government in Alberta end 35 years of Social Credit control,” Lougheed said. 

On February 16, 1970, only 10 short months after winning the leadership, Lowery resigned as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

He was replaced by the third-place finisher from the previous year’s leadership contest, Bob Russell.

A year later, Lowery re-emerged into the political spotlight to publicly announced he had left the provincial Liberals and was joining the Social Credit Party. He was soon after named the coordinator of the party’s Calgary campaign for the 1971 provincial election.

When the votes were counted on August 30, 1971, Lougheed’s PC Party had unseated the Socreds to form the first new government in Alberta since 1935. It was a political earthquake from which the Socreds would never recover.

And the Liberals remained shut out of the Legislature. The party’s vote dropped to 1.01 per cent and no where in Alberta did a Liberal candidate come close to winning election.

The Liberals would remain in the electoral wilderness in Alberta for the next 15 years.

(For more history about Liberal Party in Alberta during the 1960s and 1970s, check out Darryl Raymaker’s excellent book, Trudeau’s Tango. Alberta meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau).

Categories
Alberta Politics

NOW! 50 years since historic 1971 election that launched Peter Lougheed into the Premier’s Office

On August 30, 1971, the Progressive Conservative Party led by 43-year old Calgary lawyer Peter Lougheed were rocketed into government when they unseated the 36-year old Social Credit government led by 57-year old Harry Strom.

The front page of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.
The front page of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.

It was a shift that, until recently, had happened only once every generation in Alberta: a change in government.

Lougheed’s election represented a generational shift, with the voting age dropping from 21 to 18 years old for the first time, and an urban shift, with a handful of new urban districts added to the electoral map dislodging the disproportionate rural majority that had dominated Alberta’s elections until that point. 

As Ernest Manning’s successor, Strom inherited an aging dynasty that had governed Alberta since 1935. While he appeared open to new ideas, modernizing the long-in-the-tooth Socred government was a tall order.

In contrast, Lougheed embodied new ideas of a younger Alberta – or at least that’s what the mythology of that election tells us. His campaign was made for TV and the telegenic Lougheed could be frequently seen “main streeting” and running from door to door while canvassing for his party’s candidates. 

Social Credit tried to revitalize their look, with go-go girls and live bands at their election rallies, but once voters decided that change was needed it was impossible for Strom to turn that around. And the iconic NOW! slogan of Lougheed’s campaign tapped into that feeling.

The Lougheed PCs were not alone. They had the financial backing of corporate Calgary, including generous support from the Mannix Corporation, which employed Lougheed before he was first elected to the Legislature in 1967.

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Experienced. Respected. A New Kind of Leader. Harry Strom"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad “Experienced. Respected. A New Kind of Leader. Harry Strom”

The PCs won with 49 seats and 46.4 per cent of the popular vote, sweeping out Social Credit, which, with 25 seats and 41.1 per cent of the vote formed the Official Opposition for the first time. While the Social Credit Party would wither in the opposition benches and eventually shrink into a 4 MLA rump that would survive until the early 1980s, Lougheed’s first victory transformed Alberta politics for the next five decades.

The PCs would form commanding majorities until their defeat to Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in 2015.

Also elected in 1971 was NDP leader Grant Notley, who would represent the northern rural district of Spirit River-Fairview until 1984. The NDP narrowly missed out electing a few other MLAs in this election, and Notley would remain the party’s only MLA – and the only social democratic voice in the Legislature – until Ray Martin was elected in Edmonton-Norwood in 1982.

The Alberta Liberal Party, which had formed Official Opposition before Lougheed’s PCs earned the spot in 1967, were wiped off the political map and would remain in the political wilderness until 1986.

In politics timing is everything, and Lougheed lucked out. Massive windfalls in oil and gas revenues led to overflowing government coffers, allowing the PC government to make major investments in public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, universities and colleges. The Lougheed PCs founded the The Banff Centre, the Kananaskis Country recreation area, and even bought an airline – Pacific Western Airlines.

Alberta Progressive Conservative Rally Ad 1971 Election
Alberta Progressive Conservative Rally Ad 1971 Election

Lougheed’s government introduced a Bill of Rights, created the Legislature Hansard, and dissolved the notorious Alberta Eugenics Board.

The difference between Lougheed and some of his successors in Alberta’s Conservative dynasty was his belief that government had a positive role to play in society (a Reform Party Member of Parliament named Jason Kenney once criticized Lougheed’s legacy of “neo-Stalinist make-work projects.”)

Lougheed believed Alberta should behave like an owner of our oil and gas resources and that the government should collect its fair share of revenues. Royalty revenues were much higher than today, peaking at 40 per cent during his time as Premier. The oil companies complained but Lougheed was persistent.

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” Lougheed once said.

Alberta Progressive Conservatives 1971 Election Ad "Peter Lougheed - Now"
Alberta Progressive Conservatives 1971 Election Ad “Peter Lougheed – Now”

Lougheed’s government also negotiated landmark financial investments from the federal government and the Ontario government in the oil sands that kickstarted development of the deposits when private investors would not take the risk. These government investments in Alberta’s oil industry likely helped save companies like Suncor when the international price of oil plummeted in the 1980s.

Relations between Lougheed’s government and Ottawa soured following the introduction of the National Energy Program, creating a political wedge that Conservative leaders have continued to crank ever since. But he always made sure he was seen as advocating for Alberta in a strong Canada and was a key player during the Constitution-making negotiations of the early 1980s.

The Heritage Savings Trust Fund is one of Lougheed’s biggest legacies. Today the trust fund is seen as a visionary move to save money for future generations of Albertans, which it is in a way, but it was also a result of a government that at one point literally had more money that it knew what to do with.

Lougheed commanded the loyalty of his cabinet, caucus and party – which built a political dynasty that would span four decades but also gave him a bit of an autocratic reputation.

PC MLAs would be required to share frequent local membership and fundraising updates with the Premier’s Office and Lougheed was known to make monthly calls with local PC Party association presidents in order to create a system of accountability with his local leaders. And there have also been stories that Lougheed kept undated and signed letters of resignation from his cabinet ministers in order to avoid having to fire anyone who became a political liability.

There is a Camelot-like mythology to Lougheed’s time in office. He towers over Alberta politics in ways that more recently popular leaders like Ralph Klein do not. While Klein was a populist, Lougheed was a builder. The oil money sure helped, but so did having a vision for making this province a better place.

Day Light Saving Time Referendum

Nothing is new under the prairie sun. In 1971, Albertans voted to adopt Daylight Saving Time in a province-wide referendum after voting against DST in a 1967 referendum. This October 2021, Albertans will vote whether to abandon the time change and permanently adopt Daylight Saving Time.

Newspaper Election Ads from 1971

Alberta Progressive Conservative Calgary Candidates 1971 Election Ad "Now is the time for a breakthrough"
Alberta Progressive Conservative 1971 Election Ad “Now is the time for a breakthrough”
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "A New Kind of Leader"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad “A New Kind of Leader”
Alberta NDP 1971 Election Ad "You owe it to yourself"
Alberta NDP 1971 Election Ad “You owe it to yourself”
Alberta Liberal Party Calgary candidates 1971 Election Ad
Alberta Liberal Party Calgary candidates 1971 Election Ad
Alberta Social Credit Rally Ad 1971 Election
Alberta Social Credit Rally Ad 1971 Election
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "We've Changed"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad “We’ve Changed”
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Taking Things for Granted"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad “Taking Things for Granted”
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "It's a Big Decision"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad “It’s a Big Decision”
Categories
Alberta Politics

The United Farmers of Alberta formed government 100 years ago today

“Farmers may not be ready to take over government, but they are going to do it anyway” – Henry Wise Wood, July 8, 1921

A lot of Albertans might recognize the United Farmers of Alberta as a farm-supply retail cooperative with gas stations, fertilizer plants and retail outlets scattered across Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan. But 100 years ago today, the UFA won its first election in Alberta and formed a majority government by shattering the Liberal Party and breaking the mould of provincial politics in the prairies.

UFA Election Declaration

The 1921 election marked the first of only five times Albertans have voted to changes parties in government. The results of that election marked the start of Alberta becoming an electoral testing ground for anti-establishment ideologies and political projects.

It would not be until 1971 that a nationally-mainstream and nationally-affiliated party would again form government in Alberta. 

Founded in 1909, the UFA was an influential farmers’ lobby group that reluctantly entered electoral politics after years of frustration with the establishment Liberal Party that had governed Alberta since the province was formed in 1905.

Part of a broader national progressive cooperative movement, the UFA was the first of the prairie farmers parties to break through and form government. The United Farmers of Manitoba would form government in 1922 and Saskatchewan would buck the trend until the election of Tommy DouglasCooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1944.

Until 1921, the Liberal Party had dominated elections in the three prairie provinces, with the Conservative Party only occasionally forming government. A 16-year old Alberta Liberal Party government already damaged by years of internal power struggles and still reeling from the conscription crisis was shocked to be swept out of office.

Thirty-eight UFA MLAs were elected, with 15 Liberal MLAs, 4 Dominion Labour MLAs, 3 Independents and 1 Conservative forming the opposition (one Dominion Labour MLA, Alex Ross, was invited to join the UFA cabinet and served as Minister of Public Works).

Despite the incumbent Liberals winning 34 per cent of the vote compared to 28 per cent for the UFA, the UFA won 38 seats compared to 15 for the Liberals. The lopsided popular vote was due to a new electoral system which gave voters in Calgary and Edmonton the ability to cast votes for five candidates and voters in Medicine Hat the ability to vote for two candidates. The UFA did not run any candidates in the two largest cities.

Being new to electoral politics, the UFA did not actually have an official party leader at the time they won the election (this would become a trend in Alberta politics, as neither did the Social Credit Party when it won in 1935).

Wanting to do politics differently, the newly elected UFA is said to have approached defeated Liberal Premier Charles Stewart to ask if he would remain in the job. Stewart, who had been a member and supporter of the UFA before they became his political opponent, declined.

UFA President Henry Wise Wood also declined, wanting to stay out of the partisan political side of the organization.

UFA Vice-President Percival Baker was next in line, but died one day after being elected as the MLA for Ponoka from injuries caused by a falling tree.

George Hoadley was considered a potential premier due to his previous experience as leader of the Conservative Party, but it was likely his pre-floor crossing connections that cost him the job.

Herbert Greenfield was named interim vice-president after Baker’s death and was selected by the UFA Caucus to become the next Premier. Without a seat in the Legislative Assembly, Greenfield ran in a December 1921 by-election to become the MLA for Peace River.

The UFA’s election also marked the beginning of a political wave that would sweep over Alberta and the prairies, with the UFA-allied Progressive Party electing 8 Members of Parliament in the December 1921 election and forming official opposition in Ottawa.

It’s record as government in Alberta was mixed. It ended prohibition, formed the Alberta Wheat Pool, founded the first provincial parks, and introduced elements of proportional representation into the provincial electoral system. But it was also responsible for the formation of the Alberta Eugenics Board, marking the start of a dark period in our province’s history.

The UFA’s political fortunes would also suffer from the Great Depression and number of high-profile sex scandals that would dog it until the party’s defeat in 1935 and subsequent retreat from politics.

I will be sharing more thoughts over the next few days about the election of the UFA in 1921 and how it reshaped politics in Alberta for decades to come.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 76: Radical Alberta politics and propaganda in the 1930s

Andrea Hasenbank joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss radical politics and propaganda in 1930s Alberta, one of Dave Cournoyer’s favourite periods in Alberta politics. From the rise of Communist organizations and publications to the election of William Aberhart‘s Social Credit Party, the 1930s was a wild period in Alberta politics as our province became a testing ground for radical political, social and economic theories.

Andrea Hasenbank
Andrea Hasenbank

Andrea Hasenbank holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, focusing on the circulation of print and the reading publics that formed the leftist pamphleteering culture of 1930s Canada.  Between 2015 and 2019, she worked as a political advisor within the Notley government in Alberta.  She teaches courses on media history and the news and consults on learning design. Her new research continues to examine the intersection of print, readers, propaganda, and the state in interwar Canada.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported.

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

This is our last podcast of the season, so we will be taking a break over the next few months to enjoy the Alberta summer. We may pop in with an odd episode or two if there are any big developments over the summer, but otherwise we will return to our regular podcast schedule in the fall.

Thanks for listening. Have a safe and fun summer.

Recommended reading:

Categories
Alberta Politics

NDP clobbers UCP in first quarter fundraising. Notley’s party raised twice as much cash as Kenney’s UCP in the first three months of 2021

The Alberta NDP raised twice as much money as the United Conservative Party in the first quarter of 2021, according to financial documents released today by Elections Alberta.

This marks the third quarter in the last year that Rachel Notley’s NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP. Not only have Albertans been showing their unhappiness with Jason Kenney’s UCP in the polls, they are clearly showing it by voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.

Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the first quarter of 2021:

  • NDP: $1,186,245
  • UCP: $591,597
  • Alberta Party: $48,194
  • Wildrose Independence Party: $36,883
  • Pro-Life Political Association: $33,261
  • Alberta Liberal Party: $31,798
  • Green Party: $5,010.00
  • Independence Party: $1,559.25

Notley’s NDP are on a roll, leading in the polls and continuing to dominate in fundraising. Despite losing government two years ago, the NDP appear to have solidified a larger base of donors who contribute donations in smaller amounts. Sixty-eight per cent of individual donations received by the NDP in the first quarter were in denominations of less than $250, compared to 39 per cent for the UCP.

At first glance, it would appear as though many of the UCP’s wealthier donors, who in previous years contributed a maximum annual donation in the first quarter, have not yet donated this year. This could be a big indication with a growing unhappiness in the direction of the UCP and Kenney’s leadership over the course of the past year.

The Pro-Life Political Association, which was known as the Social Credit Party before it was taken over by anti-abortion activists in 2016, went from raising nothing for the past few quarters to raising more than $33,261 in the last three months. It is unclear why the effectively dormant party that ran only one candidate in the last election and whose previous leader resigned to become a monk is now active.

The Alberta Advantage Party, Communist Party and the Reform Party raised no funds during this period.

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

Categories
Alberta Politics

The Battle of Alberta Politics: How voters in Calgary and Edmonton can sometimes be so different

The Battle of Alberta is a term usually reserved for competitions on the hockey rink or football field, but the rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton probably predates our professional sports clubs. While the animosity felt by some sports fans might not be felt the same way among voters, the politics and political divides between the two cities have helped defined Alberta politics since the province was created in 1905. From the decision of where to place Alberta’s capital city to where the province’s first university should be located, the roles played by the two major cities have been a periodic point of tension in provincial politics.

There are many reasons that explain the current political differences between the two cities, from the backgrounds of the settlers who founded the cities to the most recent round of economic convulsions.

As a friend of mine once put it, Calgary is where business decisions get made, Edmonton is where government decisions get made.

Calgary sees itself as the business capital, heavily influenced by connections to the American oil industry in Texas and the home of the braintrust of the federal Conservative movement. Edmonton is the government capital, heavily influenced by a combination of public servants and University employees as well as a base of blue-collar and trades workers with connections to Fort McMurray and northern Alberta.

Poll by poll results in Edmonton from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)
Poll by poll results in Edmonton from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)

These are obviously big generalizations that don’t reflect the diversity and complexity of the two cities but it does help explain some of the political differences between the two municipalities.

While I think the political differences between two two cities can sometimes be overstated, a troubling political narrative that has developed over the past six years has been that because Calgary is perceived to have felt the brunt of the economic fallout caused by the drop in the international price of oil, it is now Edmonton’s turn to feel the economic pain (translation: public sector wage rollbacks and job cuts).

There is an old saying in Alberta politics that a party has to win most of the seats in two of the three political regions of the province in order to form government – Calgary, Edmonton or rural Alberta. The “rural Alberta” in this calculation includes the small and medium size cities, which, with the exception of Lethbridge, have in the past four decades mostly voted in sync with the rest of rural Alberta – conservative.

But the calculation is generally correct. With a combined 46 seats in the Legislature, the two large cities represent the majority of Alberta voters (I hope to write more about voting patterns in “rural Alberta” in a future article).

This year marks one year since the United Conservative Party won the 2019 election and five years since the New Democratic Party won the 2015 election, undeniably two of the most important elections in Alberta’s recent political history. The two votes marked the first changes in government in Alberta since 1971, and both highlighted the political differences between Calgary and Edmonton.

The Progressive Conservatives had dominated Calgary since 1971 but in 2015 a combination of a surge of votes and the first-past-the-post electoral system allowed the NDP to elect 15 MLAs with 34 percent of the vote. The PCs earned 31 percent and the Wildrose placed third with 23 percent in Alberta’s largest city.

Poll by poll results in Calgary from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)
Poll by poll results in Calgary from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)

The 2015 election marked the first time since 1989 that the NDP had elected an MLA in Calgary and the first time since 1967 that a party other than the PCs won a majority of seats in the city.

While many prominent conservative pundits and politicians claimed the NDP breakthrough in Calgary, and much of the rest of Alberta, was a result of a vote-split on the political right, a closer look at that election would support the argument that the vote split was actually between the NDP and Wildrose among voters unhappy with the 43-year governing PC Party dynasty.

Edmonton has earned the nickname Redmonton for its reputation for electing more Liberals and NDP MLAs than anywhere else in the province. But despite the nickname, the capital city is historically more electorally competitive than it is an opposition bastion. Voters in the capital city have swung between parties more frequently than any other region in Alberta, making it one of the few consistently competitive areas of the province.

Led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the NDP swept the city in 2015, earning 65 percent of the total vote and winning every seat. The PCs earned 20 percent and the Wildrose finished with 8 percent in the capital city.

As one local PC Party campaign manager described to me after the 2015 election, their candidate faced “a giant impenetrable wall of orange.”

Provincial voting results in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.
Provincial voting results in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.

Four years later in 2019, the NDP maintained its vote share in Calgary but were only able to elect three MLAs as the UCP succeeded in consolidating the large base of PC and Wildrose voters, though a number of UCP candidates earned below the combined totals from the previous election. The NDP earned 34 percent of the vote and the UCP, led by Calgary-Lougheed MLA Jason Kenney, amassed 53 percent and elected 23 MLAs.

The seats won by Calgary NDP MLAs in the 2019 election have a tradition of electing non-conservative MLAs. Calgary-Buffalo and Calgary-Mountain View elected Liberals and NDP MLAs in the 1980s and 1990s, and Calgary-McCall swung to the Liberals in the 2000s.

Although the NDP lost all but one of the suburban surrounding the city, the party maintained its dominance in Edmonton in 2019, winning 53 percent of the vote and holding all but one seat. The UCP elected 1 MLA and earned 35 percent of the vote in the capital city.

Provincial voting results in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.
Provincial voting results in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.

The only viable third party in the 2019 election, the Alberta Party, earned 10 percent of the vote in both cities but failed to elect any MLAs. Party leader Stephen Mandel was unsuccessful in his bid for election in Edmonton-McClung and its two Calgary incumbents were defeated.

Past elections in the two cities

The results of these two elections, and how they have shaped Alberta politics in the most recent two election prompted me to take a broader look at voting results in Calgary and Edmonton over the past four decades.

Alberta MLAs elected in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.
Alberta MLAs elected in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.

1986: The departure of Peter Lougheed as Premier of Alberta in 1985 clearly had a big impact on Alberta politics, as the economic recession that followed allowed NDP led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin breakthrough in the capital city in the 1986 election.

Calgary remained a PC Party stronghold following Lougheed’s departure, with the NDP and Liberals electing a handful of MLAs between 1986 and 1997, and 2004 and 2012.

The election of Liberal Sheldon Chumir in Calgary-Buffalo in 1986 marked the beginning of a long-line of non-conservative MLAs representing that district. Non-conservative candidates would win in Calgary-Buffalo in nine of the next eleven elections (the district is currently represented by NDP MLA Joe Ceci).

Edmonton became the competitive hotbed of Alberta politics and a deep rivalry developed between Liberal Party and NDP partisans in the capital city.

The competition between the Liberals and NDP in Edmonton during this period generated much discussion around a “unite the left” movement to defeat the PCs, though this perennial debate largely became mute when the NDP formed government in 2015.

Alberta MLAs elected in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.
Alberta MLAs elected in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.

1993: In 1993, Premier Ralph Klein further consolidated his party’s electoral grip on Calgary while the Liberals led by former mayor Laurence Decore executed a clean sweep of the capital city. The Liberals were the beneficiaries of a collapsing NDP vote and also a burgeoning group of Reform Party voters wanting change on the provincial and federal levels.

The Liberals would again dominate Edmonton in the 1997 and 2004 elections, though the party began to resemble a group of independents more than the cohesive political organization created by Decore.

Competition between Decore’s Liberals and former Calgary mayor Klein’s PCs led to obvious descriptions of provincial politics as the battle of Alberta.

2001: The 2001 election marked a turn back toward the PC Party in Edmonton, which would then lose most of its seats when the Liberals and NDP rebounded in 2004 before regaining ground in the city in 2008 and 2012. This period marked the beginning of a decline of the Liberal Party in Edmonton after almost two decades as the official opposition party.

The 2001 election also marked the first time since 1982 that the PCs won every seat in Calgary.

2004: The 2004 election marked a breakthrough for the opposition Liberals in Calgary where the party elected three MLAs, the most since 1993. The Liberals would expand its voter base in Calgary and elect four MLAs in 2008 as the party’s fortunes in Edmonton sharply declined after it regained much of its seats in the 2004 election.

2012: The 2012 election marked a significant shift in the political environment in Alberta with the two large cities coalescing behind the PC Party. The opposition Wildrose Party swept much of rural Alberta, forming the first rural based official opposition party since the Social Credit Party in the 1970s. This trend would continue in the 2015 election as the Wildrose Party regained most of its seats following the 2014 floor-crossings.

(Note: Thank you to Shane Smith for sharing the poll level election maps. You can follow Shane on Twitter at @Smith80D).

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vintage campaign ads from the 1967 Alberta Election

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.
Ernest Manning Social Credit Alberta 1967 election
A Social Credit Party ad featuring Premier Ernest Manning.
An ad for Peter Lougheed leader of the Progressive Conservatives and candidate in Calgary-West.
An ad for Peter Lougheed leader of the Progressive Conservatives and candidate in Calgary-West.
An ad for Michael Maccagno, leader of the Liberal Party and MLA for Lac La Biche.
An ad for Michael Maccagno, leader of the Liberal Party and MLA for Lac La Biche.
An ad for Dave Russell, the PC Party candidate in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An ad for Dave Russell, the PC Party candidate in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An ad promoting the Social Credit Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta's 1967 election.
An ad promoting the Social Credit Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta’s 1967 election.
An ad promoting New Democratic Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta's 1967 election.
An ad promoting New Democratic Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta’s 1967 election.
An ad for Liberal Party candidate R.J. Gibbs in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An ad for Liberal Party candidate R.J. Gibbs in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An NDP ad in Alberta's 1967 election.
An NDP ad in Alberta’s 1967 election.

All of these ads were found in the Calgary Herald. If you liked these, check out some of the ads from Alberta’s 1971 general election.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Once upon a time Alberta had a provincial police force. Fair Deal report could recommend we have one again.

While much of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta focused on Canadian politics, one of my favourite courses covered a topic far away from the prairies – the Habsburg Monarchy. It was a combination of an unfamiliar topic and a passionate professor that made this course memorable. So my interest was piqued when the words “South Tyrol” began circulating in Alberta political circles this week.

Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province? South Tyrol has” asked Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post linking to a website showcasing facts about the autonomous province in northern Italy.

While most of the separatist fever that swept Alberta following the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in October 2019 appears to have subsided, the United Conservative Party government is expected to release the final report of the “Fair Deal Panel” when the province-wide state of emergency expires on June 15.

Unless she was planning a post-COVID vacation to the Dolomites, this is likely the reason why South Tyrol was on Pitt’s mind.

“Autonomous-province” sounds similar to the “sovereignty-association” historically promoted by some sovereigntists in Quebec but it is unclear whether in practice Alberta actually has more autonomy in Canada than does South Tyrol does in Italy. Canadian provinces already have incredible amounts of autonomy to do things like form parole boards, establish police forces (more on this in a moment), conduct adventures in foreign affairs and abdicate responsibility for approving oil sands development to unelected and unaccountable boards.

Much of South Tyrol’s status appears to be a result of it having a German-speaking majority population in a country where most people speak Italian. The former princely county of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was annexed by Italy after the First World War.

Charles I, the last Habsburg Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia.
Charles I, the last Habsburg Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia.

I expect many German-speaking South Tyroleans would probably prefer to re-join their linguistic cousins in Austria than remain in Italy.

I am not sure which other province or region Alberta would join if we adopt what might be Pitt’s version of an autonomous-province. Perhaps Frederick Haultain’s dream of a Province of Buffalo could be finally be realized if Alberta merged with its smaller cousin to the east, Saskatchewan? Or maybe British Columbia’s Peace Country will finally be released to unite with its northwestern Alberta cousins?

But Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is certainly whittling down the number of possible candidates.

Stephan apologized to the Legislative Assembly this week after describing other Canadian provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” in a speech about federal fiscal policies and equalization program.

The rookie MLA and sole UCP backbencher appointed to the powerful Treasury Board committee also claimed that “Alberta must liberate itself from this mess.”

While Alberta is not going to separate from Canada, the final report from the government-appointed Fair Deal Panel will include recommendations to increase provincial autonomy from Ottawa.

Jason Stephan (source: Facebook)
Jason Stephan (source: Facebook)

The Fair Deal panel was announced by Premier Jason Kenney at last November’s gathering of Alberta conservatives at the Manning Centre conference in Red Deer.

The panel and its open-mic town hall meetings were both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep control of the latest burst of separatist fervour. The separatist fervour from Alberta’s right-wing fringe, despite the media attention it generated, now appears to have mostly died out.

The panelists included former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, Peter Lougheed‘s son Stephen, and perennially disgruntled UCP backbencher MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat and fellow backbenchers Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis and Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. The panel was tasked with making recommendations on topics including withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency, opting out of federal programs like pharmacare, forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer, and forming a provincial police force.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Kenney already announced plans to appoint a Chief Firearms Officer, one of the recommendations the panel was tasked with studying, and there has been speculation by Postmedia columnist Don Braid that the report could urge the creation of a provincial police force to replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta.

Once upon a time, Alberta, like most other provinces, had a provincial police force.

The Alberta Provincial Police was formed in 1917 after the North West Mounted Police hastily withdrew from policing in Alberta.

The NWMP had been created in 1873 and was part of the federal government’s suppression of the North West Rebellion in 1885, but, by 1917, Ottawa’s attention was focused on the First World War and there was little federal interest in enforcing provincial prohibition laws that had been enacted in 1916.

The APP merged into the RCMP in 1932 following negotiations between the provincial and federal governments during the Great Depression. The agreement to offload the costs associated with policing to the RCMP stipulated that former provincial police officers who transferred to the federal police would maintain their seniority and be eligible to receive pensions in accordance with their years of service.

When officers hung up their blue APP uniforms on April 15, 1932, it was reported in the Calgary Daily Herald that it took more than a month for the red RCMP uniforms to arrive in Alberta. So during the short period following the return of the federal police, RCMP officers worked in civilian clothes or, for those who worked as police in Alberta before 1917, wore the uniforms of the old NWMP.

RCMP Take Over Policing of Alberta, Calgary Daily Herald, April 15, 1932
RCMP Take Over Policing of Alberta, Calgary Daily Herald, April 15, 1932

While Alberta politicians have generally expressed pleasure with contracting policing responsibilities to the federal government, there have been several attempts to reinstate a provincial police force. 

A resolution at the United Farmers of Alberta convention of 1935 called for the re-instatement of the APP, but the UFA were swept away from Alberta politics when the party lost all its seats in that year’s election.

The next notable attempt to reinstate the APP came in 1937 from Edson MLA Joseph Unwin, the Whip of the Social Credit government caucus. Unwin introduced a motion to abolish the RCMP in Alberta and replace it with an Alberta Provincial Police Force.

Unwin argued that it was preferable that “the police force in the province should be indisputably at the exclusive orders of the attorney general.” Given this comment and the context of the time, it is fairly safe to speculate that Unwin was hoping to create a police force that would enforce the Social Credit ideological and political agenda in Alberta.

Joseph Unwin
Joseph Unwin

Unwin introduced the motion the same week he was arrested on charges of libel and counselling to murder in what would become known as the Bankers’ Toadies scandal.

Unwin and British Social Credit expert George Frederick Powell were arrested when police raided the party headquarters following the printing of a pamphlet advocating the “extermination” of nine prominent Edmontonians. The nine men, labelled as “Bankers’ Toadies,” included Conservative Party leader David Duggan and Senator and former mayor William Griesbach.

Unwin was sentenced to 3-months hard labour for the libel charge, which was later overturned on appeal. He did not resign as an MLA when he went to jail and his return to the Legislature was celebrated by Social Credit MLAs with a “snake dance” on the floor of the Assembly.

Unwin was defeated by Labour Party candidate and United Mine Workers president Angus Morrison in the 1940 election.

Various PC MLAs called for the creation of a provincial police force during the 1980s and early 1990s but most of those calls were quickly discredited because they were usually followed closely by racist comments about RCMP officers wearing turbans or speaking French.

Ted Morton MLA
Ted Morton

Anti-oil patch activist Wiebo Ludwig called for the creation of a provincial police force during his brief run for the Social Credit Party leadership in 2000 before having withdraw from the race after a judge refused to waive the conditions of his bail.

Motions recommending the creation of a regional police force or to make public studies conducted to assess the creation of a provincial police force were introduced by Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in 2003 and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol in 2004 were debated in the Legislature but gained no real traction.

But perhaps the most infamous call for the reinstatement of a provincial police force in Alberta came in the Firewall Manifesto in January 2001, signed by Conservative luminaries Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan, Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff, Andrew Crooks and Ken Boessenkool.

In 2006, Morton, then a candidate for the leadership of the PC Party, called for the creation of a provincial police force, a proposal mocked by outgoing premier Ralph Klein. “We studied it and it was rejected,” Klein said. “Thus far, we’re getting a pretty good deal with the RCMP.”

Premier Ed Stelmach defeated Morton in the leadership race and signed a 20-year agreement with the federal Conservative government that would have the RCMP continue as Alberta’s police force until March 31, 2032.

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

“This is wonderful news for the province and for Albertans,” Stelmach said in an August 2011 press release. “This agreement makes good financial sense for Alberta and strengthens a valuable relationship with a partner who continues to play a key role after more than a century keeping Alberta communities safe.”

In 2006, the Alberta Sheriffs Branch was created from the Courts and Prisoner Security branch.

The Fair Deal report will have to be publicly released before we know for sure what it recommends, but a move to create a new provincial police force in 2020 would face two powerful political factors

First, systematic racism and police violence against people of colour in the Canada and the United States has led to mounting calls to “defund the police.” Massive protests calling out systematic racism have taken place across the country, including a 15,000-strong rally outside the Legislature in Edmonton and similar rallies in Calgary and around the province. City councils and police commissions are now facing increased public pressure to reign in budgets and address systematic racism in the civilian police forces.

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

And most shockingly, video footage of RCMP officers assaulting Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam has made international headlines.

Second, Kenney has said that a great reckoning is coming for Alberta’s finances, which will likely mean more massive job cuts in the public sector across Alberta. If the Kenney is laying-off teachers and nurses, it will be difficult for him to explain to Albertans that he needs to spend money on creating a brand new police force. A lack of finances was the main reason why the provincial police were disbanded in 1932.

For Kenney there is also the inconvenience of the RCMP’s investigation into whether a “kamikaze” campaign for the leadership of UCP in 2017 defrauded donors. That investigation is being guided by a special prosecutor from Ontario.

Creating a new provincial police force in this context would be incredibly tone deaf and completely unnecessary. But like many political decisions being made in Alberta lately, the world appears to be moving in one direction and our government moving in another. It kind of reminds me of those Habsburgs just over a century ago.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Who might and might not be invited to the Leaders’ Debate in Alberta’s 2019 election?

Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.

We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.

Most readers of this website will remember Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice‘s infamous “math is difficult” rebuttal to New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley during the 2015 debate. The comment was viewed by many as sexist and the embodiment of a 44-year old political dynasty way past it’s best before date.

Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.

Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.

Stephen Mandel: Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel will almost certainly be invited to join the debate even though he is not currently an MLA. Mandel served as a PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from October 2014 to May 2015 and was defeated by NDP MLA Bob Turner in 2015. The Alberta Party elected one MLA in 2015 – Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark – and now has three MLAs due to floor-crossings by former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and UCP MLA Rick Fraser.

David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.

The Derek Fildebrandt Question: Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.

Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.

Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.

As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.


A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections

Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:

1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.

The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”

At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.

1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.

1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.

An alternative debate that included leaders of smaller parties was also televised. That debate included the leaders of the Communist Party, Confederation of Regions, Alliance Party and Green Party. Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson refused to participate, arguing that the Social Credit party should have been included in the main leaders debate.

1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts. 

2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.

2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.

The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.

2008 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast on Global, CTV and CBC: PC Party leader Ed Stelmach, Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman. Hinman was the Alberta Alliance Party’s sole elected MLA in the 2004 election before the party changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance (he would be defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008).

The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election). 

2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Smith was invited to join the debate despite her party not having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The Wildrose Party was represented in the Assembly by four MLAs when the election was called. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore and Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier were elected as PC candidates in 2008 before crossing the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.

Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.

2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.

The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Three candidates jump into Green Party of Alberta leadership contest, Pro-Life Political Association of Alberta seeks new leader

Photo: Matt Leviki, Brian Deheer, and Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes.

Four months after party leader Romy Tittel resigned, the Green Party of Alberta has announced that three candidates have stepped forward to seek the party’s leadership ahead of a September 22, 2018 vote.

Tittel was chosen as leader in November 2017 and stepped down in March 2018. She released a statement on claiming her resignation was a result of troubling internal party decisions and personality conflicts with party activists. She was succeeded by interim leader Coral Bliss-Taylor.

The three candidates running for the party leadership are:

Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes is an indigenous and social justice activist. She currently works as an Administrative Coordinator at the Native Centre at the University of Calgary. She is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 in Saskatchewan.

Brian Deheer is a resident of Lac La Biche and is the chairperson of the Athabasca Watershed Council. He was a 2017 leadership candidate and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.

Matt Levicki is a resident of Lamont with a background in media and broadcasting. He was a candidate for the Evergreen Party in the 2012 provincial election in the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville district, where he earned 1.35 percent of the vote.

The Green Party ran candidates in 24 constituencies in the 2015 election and earned a total 7,321 votes across the province.

The Green Party’s best ever showing in a provincial election took place in 2008, when the party earned 43,222 votes, or 4.5 percent of the province-wide vote. In that election, property rights activist Joe Anglin earned 22 percent of the vote in the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency. Anglin led the party for a short period until it was dissolved in 2009 (it was reformed in 2011) and was later elected as a Wildrose Party candidate in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, where he served as MLA until 2015.

Meanwhile, the Pro-Life Political Association of Alberta, formerly known as the Social Credit Party of Alberta, will choose a new leader on August 17, 2018. The party name was changed following a takeover of the calcified old party by anti-abortion activists in 2016. The Social Credit Party formed government in Alberta from 1935 until 1971.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Before David Suzuki there was the William Aberhart honorary degree scandal at the University of Alberta

The decision by the University of Alberta Senate to grant environmentalist, scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki an honorary degree has the university community tied in knots. University President David Turpin responded to criticism with an open letter today, but criticism from Dean of Business Joseph Doucet and Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes gives the impression of an open revolt (or at least an attempt to appease unhappy donors from the oil and gas sector).

David Suzuki University of Alberta Honorary Degree
David Suzuki

But the Suzuki controversy of 2018 is nothing compared to the slight created when the Senate refused to grant an honorary degree to Alberta Premier William Aberhart in 1941.

What should have been a routine exercise erupted into a full blown controversy in 1941 when members of the University Senate voted against granting Aberhart an honorary degree after he had already been informally notified of the honour by University President William Kerr.

A Senate committee’s recommendation that Aberhart be given an honorary degree was rebuked with one week left until convocation.

Until that point in history, three of Aberhart’s predecessors, Alexander Rutherford, Arthur Sifton, and John Brownlee, had received honorary degrees from the University during their time as elected officials.

The committee’s recommendations were said to be based on Aberhart’s record as an educator and his role in reforming the school system, including certifying teachers into a professional class and introducing a teachers’ pension system.

But it would have been hard for members of the Senate to ignore the rest of Aberhart’s record as Premier.

Alexander Rutherford University of Alberta
Alexander Rutherford

During its first decade in government, Aberhart’s Social Credit Party implemented a radical agenda that followed a fringe economic theory created by Major C.H. Douglas, tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales. It is also well known that many early Social Credit MLAs harboured deep anti-semitic and racist attitudes rooted in the belief of a global banking conspiracy.

It was a strange time in Alberta’s political history.

Scrambling to deal with the huge political problem the rejection might cause the University, the Senate quickly passed a motion that no honorary degrees would be granted that year.  It was possibly, “the first time in the university’s history that no address will be given at convocation,” an Edmonton Journal report speculated on May 14, 1941.

Presiding over that year’s convocation on May 19, 1941 at McDougall Church was University Chancellor Alexander Rutherford, who had served as Alberta’s first premier from 1905 until he was forced out of office by a railway scandal in 1910. President Kerr resigned the following day.

John Robinson MLA Medicine Hat
John Robinson

An editorial published in the Edmonton Bulletin on May 14, 1941 stated that “…there is an affront to dignity of the University in this sorry affair. There is an affront to Dr. Kerr who was unwittingly made the instrument of what could only have been a calculated insult to Alberta’s self-respect. There is an affront to the the people of Alberta who are made ridiculous throughout Canada.”

Aberhart responded to the slight the next year by introducing Bill 57: An Act to amend and consolidate The University Act, which reorganized university governance and stripped the Senate of much of its powers, with the exception of its responsibility of selecting honorary degree recipients.

“The citizens of Alberta are now looking to the legislature to see to it that never again will it be possible for the senate of the University of Alberta to present a display as petty, so childish, so humiliating,” said Medicine Hat Social Credit MLA John Robinson told the Bulletin on Feb. 3, 1942.

The University Senate’s behaviour was “political prostitution,” Robinson told the Calgary Herald on Feb. 4, 1942.

Reportedly expressing pain at at Aberhart’s failure to obtain an honorary degree from the U of A, Willingdon Social Credit MLA William Tomyn told the Herald on Feb 3, 1942 that “never in the history of any nation was there a greater scandal.”


(Note: Most of the historical material included in this post was found in Walter H. Johns’ excellent book A History of the University of Alberta 1908-1969, and through the Alberta Legislature Library Scrapbook Hansard and the Google Newspaper Archive).

Categories
Alberta Politics

Threat of Soviet bombers (and the United Nations) a concern of Alberta MLAs during the Trans Mountain Pipeline debate of 1952

The current debate around the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline centres around political posturing, provincial jurisdiction, investment priorities, climate change, coastal protection and consent by First Nations communities, but when the pipeline was originally being built in 1952, civil defence and the threat of war with the Soviet Union was a going concern.

According to reports by the Edmonton Journal and Canadian Press, Liberal Party leader Harper Prowse stood in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on March 27, 1952 to question whether the Trans Mountain Pipeline terminus east of Edmonton could represent a concentrated target for Soviet bombers in the event of a war.

Prowse questioned the wisdom locating the eastern terminus of the Trans Mountain Pipeline near three refineries, a new chemical plant and two other pipeline terminals, the area many Albertans now know as ‘Refinery Row.’

The minister in charge of civil defence, Clarence Gerhart, was reported to have said that “every consideration” had been given to the situation and that asking companies to relocate their operations elsewhere would be an insult and lead the companies to invest in other provinces.

Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald was reported to have declared “this business of companies being ‘touchy’ about going somewhere else can be over-emphasized. Too many companies come into the province thinking they know everything and telling local authorities what they can do and what they can not do. We shouldn’t be too much impressed by their threats.”

While the debate began on the topic of strategic location in the event of World War Three, the debate shifted as MLAs began debating whether the United Nations as a bulwark against communist world domination or part of a conspiracy to form a world government.

Social Credit MLA for Leduc, Ronald Ansley, a frequent critic of the UN, argued that a third world war would results in “world dictatorship” by either Communism or the UN. Prowse responded to Ansley’s remarks by arguing that the UN represented an attempt to bring to the nations of the world a chance to bring about the rule of law instead of the rule of force.

“Nothing would make the communist world happier than if the Western nations should adopt the idea there is something sinister about the United Nations and that the free countries should go their way alone,” said Prowse, who was first elected in the 1944 Army, Navy and Air Force election.

“Even in peace-time we in Canada are losing some of our national sovereignty through the United Nations. Those who want world dictatorship have two arms working for them,” Ansley is reported to have replied. “Communism on the one hand and the United Nations on the other.”

“Not only our democracy but the whole of Christendom is at stake,” Ansley said.

CCF MLA Aylmer Liesemer argued that the UN was not infallible, “but to me it is the best hope of mankind to voice the horrible holocaust that would result from another war.”

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Alberta Politics

Social Credit Party renamed the Alberta Pro-Life Political Association

The Alberta Social Credit Party is no more. Taken over by a group of anti-abortion activists in 2016, the party has officially changed its name to the Alberta Pro-Life Political Association. According to Elections Alberta, the name change became official on May 3, 2017.

While the Social Credit Party has sat on the conservative fringe of Alberta politics for much of the past four decades, the party fundamentally reshaped the politics of our province when it formed government from 1935 to 1971.

Inspired by the Social Credit teachings of British Major CH DouglasWilliam Aberhart‘s Social Credit Party swept the 1935 Alberta election in a populist wave, going from zero to 56 seats during the height of the Great Depression.

Upon learning of the election victory in 1935, the Social Credit Greenshirts in London were reported to have marched around the Bank of England Building holding torches and blowing their trumpets – no doubt inspired by the Battle of Jericho. (this was a period in western history when it was not uncommon for political parties to have official uniforms).

During its first decade in government, Aberhart’s radical administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales. The Social Credit Party also introduced the province’s short-lived MLA recall law and a provincial sales tax.

In response to what they claimed to be a “world plot” by “socialists and world finance” (which is coded language for Jewish) the Alberta government-funded Social Credit Board proposed in 1947 that the secret ballot and political parties be abolished. “The obvious remedy for the evils of party politics is the abolition of political parties dominated at the top as we know them today,” the report argued.

Ernest Manning abolished the Social Credit Board in 1948.

It really was a bizarre time in Alberta politics.

Under Manning’s leadership from 1943 to 1968, the Social Credit Party evolved into a generic conservative governing party, albeit with a social conservative bent.

Perhaps the most important lasting legacy of the Social Credit government today is the continued existence of the Alberta Treasury Branches, which was founded in 1938 after the federal government thwarted attempts by Aberhart to impose government control over banks operating in Alberta.

The party was defeated in 1971 and last elected an MLA to the Legislature in 1979. Leader Randy Thorsteinson, led the party to win 6.8 percent of the vote in the 1997 election and later formed the Alberta Alliance Party (which later became the Wildrose Party). He is now the leader of the Reform Party of Alberta.

The Social Credit Party ran six candidates in the 2015 election, earning a total 832 votes.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta’s overseas Army, Navy and Air Force Election of 1945

Months before the end of the Second World War, the largest global conflict in human history, the Alberta government conducted a vote of Alberta-residents serving in the three branches of the Canadian armed forces. The vote was held to elect representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force to serve as Members of the Alberta Legislature. Tens of thousands of Albertans were serving in the Canadian forces across the globe at the time.

Elmer Roper
Elmer Roper

The Soldier vote, also known as the Serviceman vote, was the second phase of the 1944 election that took place in 1945 and was sanctioned through Orders-in-Council from the provincial cabinet of Premier Ernest Manning. The cabinet order temporarily increased the number of seats in the Assembly from 57 to 60. A bill was passed through the Assembly after the vote in order to legally create the three new MLA positions.

Pressure from the opposition, including CCF MLA Elmer Roper, convinced the governing Social Credit Party to allow the servicemen vote and create the three MLA positions.

There men are fighting for all we hold dear in democracy and political expediency is a sorry excuse for depriving people, particularly soldiers, the right to vote,” Calgary Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald told the Legislature in March 1943, according to Edmonton Journal reports.

A similar vote was held following the 1917 provincial election, which elected two MLAs representing overseas servicemen and nurses, including Alberta’s second-ever woman MLA, Roberta MacAdams.

Roberta MacAdams
Roberta MacAdams

Voting conducted overseas was counted in England and sent to Edmonton by telegraph. In total, 7,985 votes were cast by servicemen (6,125 army votes, 1,207 air force votes, and 653 navy votes).

When the votes were counted, Captain James Harper Prowse was elected as the Army MLA, Wing Commander Frederick C. Colborne was elected as the Air Force MLA, and Chief Petty Officer Loftus Dudley Ward was elected to represent the Navy. They served as Independent MLAs until their terms expired in 1948.

Once in the Assembly, the MLAs raised issues ranging from housing, employment and education for veterans who returned to Alberta after the war ended.

Harper Prowse Liberal MLA Alberta
Harper Prowse

Two of the MLAs continued their political careers after their terms ended in 1948, Mr. Prowse as a Liberal MLA from Edmonton until 1959 and Mr. Colborne as a Social Credit MLA from Calgary until 1971.

Mr. Colborne served in numerous cabinet positions, including Minister of Public Works and Minister of Municipal Affairs. He represented the Calgary-Centre constituency from 1959 until 1971. He was defeated in his bid for re-election in the new Calgary-Currie constituency in 1971.

Mr. Prowse served as Liberal Party leader from 1947 to 1958 and leader of the Official Opposition from 1952 to 1958. He would run for Mayor of Edmonton in 1959, finishing second to Mr. Roper, one of the strongest proponents of the Soldier vote. He was later appointed to serve in the Canadian Senate.


Saskatchewan also had a Soldier Vote
A similar vote was held in the Saskatchewan election of 1944, which saw three MLAs elected from geographic region of service (1 MLA for soldiers serving in Great Britain, 1 for soldiers serving the Mediterranean Theatre, and 1 for soldiers serving in Canada outside of Saskatchewan).