Categories
Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 47: If you ain’t oil, you ain’t much. A deep dive into Alberta’s oil well liability crisis.

Oil well liability became a big issue in Alberta politics this month when rural municipal politicians raised giant red flags about the estimated $173 million in unpaid municipal taxes as a result of some oil and gas companies nearing insolvency and many more companies just believing paying taxes is voluntary.

Tina Faiz and Regan Boychuk joined Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the growing issue of oil well liability, and the political and policy repercussions created in its wake.

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and political strategist based in Edmonton and Regan Boychuk is the lead researcher and oilfield liability expert with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening!

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Johnson, Anglin, Nenshi and Butler. Who said Alberta politics is dull in the summer?

Justin Trudeau Naheed Nenshi Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede begins this week, drawing politicians from across the land and from all stripes. In this photo, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi poses with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his children (photo from @JustinTrudeau).

Premier Dave Hancock is standing behind Jeff Johnson, even after the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled that the embattled education minister broke Alberta’s privacy laws by sending a direct message to the personal email addresses of thousands of teachers during their contract negotiations.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA
Jeff Johnson

In any other job, breaking the law would likely be cause for dismissal, but this does not appear to be the case if you are a cabinet minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government.

NDP leadership candidate MLA David Eggen, himself a teacher, chimed in on Mr. Johnson’s actions, saying “(It) shows a lack of respect for the teachers and a lack of respect for the law.”

Mr. Johnson, who appears to be intent on dragging the professional credibility of Alberta educators through the mud, also turned his attention to school board administrators this week by demanding they hand over all complaints against teachers from the past ten years. Tory MLAs are expected to discuss Mr. Johnson’s reign of terror at this week’s annual “Stampede Caucus Meeting” in Calgary.

Joe Anglin unleashed
Rabble-rouser MLA Joe Anglin was defeated in his bid to be a Wildrose candidate in the next election. The first-term MLA was defeated by local constituency president Jason Nixon in a controversy-ridden party nomination contest in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. Mr. Nixon’s brother, Jeremy Nixon, is the nominated Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Klein.

Mr. Anglin now has some decisions to make before the next election. He could quietly complete his term as a Wildrose MLA and retire at the next election, or he could run for another party or as an Independent candidate (given his style, this may be the likely option). A property rights activist and former leader of the Alberta Greens, Mr. Anglin sparked a political wildfire in central Alberta before the 2012 election over widespread opposition to electrical transmission line construction.

Mike Butler Alberta LIberal Party
Mike Butler

Nenshi calls out paid political agitator
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called out the untransparent Canadian Taxpayers Federation after its spokesperson was invited to speak at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference. Mr. Nenshi has been in a prolonged public feud with the special interest group’s paid political agitator, Derek Fildebrandt. While the Taxpayers Federation preaches transparency for government, it refuses to make public a list of its own financial backers.

Liberal VP jumps to the Alberta Party
Mike Butler
, the vice-president communications of the Alberta Liberal Party, announced on his Facebook page this week that he has quit Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals and joined the Alberta Party. In his open-letter, Mr. Butler said that “…I am no longer surrounded by those who stand for democracy and fair debate.

This is at least the second time Mr. Butler has switched parties in recent years. Before joining the Liberals, he ran as an NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford in the 2008 provincial election and in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2008 federal election. He was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2011 federal election and in Edmonton-Mill Creek in the 2012 provincial election.