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Alberta Politics

Into the Wilderness. Nobody wants to lead the Alberta Liberal Party

“This Leadership Race is an exciting opportunity to build our party, debate ideas, discuss strategy and reach out to Albertans,” wrote Alberta Liberal Party president Helen Mcmenamin in a June 13 statement on the party website.

“They are looking for leadership they can trust to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow.”

Albertans might be looking for leadership to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow but they won’t find it from the Alberta Liberal Party, at least not right now.

Last Friday’s 5:00 p.m. deadline for candidates to enter the leadership race came and went without any announcement. Anyone who was watching assumed there were just no candidates in the race.

That proved to be the case. 

Mcmenamin issued another statement yesterday. 

“As no candidates have stepped forward the Leadership race has concluded with no permanent Leader being selected,” she wrote.

It’s a blow to an already much diminished political party.

It’s not something I take pleasure writing about. It’s actually kind of sad.

Some current and former Liberal activists I’ve reached out to over the past few days point to in-fighting and a party executive controlled by a small group of people. Some say the current group is too loyal to the former leader and not open to new ideas. Some say they will just appoint a new interim leader of their choice.

The smaller the stakes the bigger the fight, right?

The Liberals have no MLAs and got less than 1 per cent of the province-wide vote in 2019. 

That’s the party’s worst result since 1940, and even then they managed to elect 1 MLA.

They have struggled raising money and have been without a permanent leader since David Khan resigned in 2020.

Being leader of the Alberta Liberal party right now is not even a thankless job, it’s whatever the next level is after thankless.

And the party has really been without a purpose for a while.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition in Alberta. This was the party of Nick Taylor, Laurence Decore, Grant Mitchell and Kevin Taft. And it’s MLAs included Bettie Hewes, Sheldon Chumir, Mike Percy, Gary Dickson, Frank Bruseker, Howard Sapers and Laurie Blakeman – people who’s impact on politics is still felt today.

The space occupied by the Liberals shifted quite a bit over the decades.

Decore’s Liberals witnessed the party’s greatest success in 75 years when it came within a whisker of forming government in 1993. A record 32 Liberal MLAs formed the largest official opposition in Alberta history.

But an informal alliance with socially conservative Reform Party activists and its deficit hawk policies made for an awkward transition to an opponent of some of those same policies when they were implemented by Klein in the mid-1990s.

The party recalibrated under Mitchell in 1997 and was able to hold on to its seats in Edmonton, but 2001 represented a major blow when the party then led by Klein rival Nancy MacBeth was reduced to 7 MLAs and saddled with a million dollar debt.

The party rebounded under Kevin Taft’s leadership in 2004 when they regained much of their support in Edmonton and made important breakthroughs in Calgary.

Albertans were tiring of Klein and shopping around.

Despite winning an important by-election in Calgary-Elbow in 2007, the Liberals lost a lot of ground when facing Ed Stelmach’s PCs in 2008. It turned out the PCs brilliant “Change that works for Albertans” message did a better job of capturing the Obama-theme than “It’s Time.”

It was all downhill for the Liberals after that election.

By this point the Alberta Liberal Party had become less of a cohesive political party and more a coalition of independent-minded and locally popular MLAs. 

Former PC MLA turned Liberal leader Raj Sherman was squeezed out of 2012’s two way race between Alison Redford’s PCs and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose.

Liberal voters flocked to the PC Party.

Then they flocked to the NDP in Orange Wave of 2015.

Party leader David Swann survived on the strength of his personal popularity but the Liberals were washed out.

And today any political territory the Liberal Party once occupied is now held by Rachel Notley’s NDP and, to a much lesser extent, the Alberta Party.

It’s hard to point to any laws or policies passed by Notley’s NDP in government and now proposed in opposition that would be meaningfully different from what the Liberals (and in some cases from the old PCs) would do.

And most federal Liberals in Alberta are supporting Notley or have abandoned provincial politics entirely. 

It’s difficult to see how the Liberals can dig themselves out of their current hole, at least in the foreseeable future.

Maybe they are waiting for the NDP to collapse?

They might have to wait a while and every day they wait they sink into further irrelevance.

The Liberals are in the wilderness now.


Note: I was a member of the Alberta Liberal Party from 1999 to 2009. I sat on constituency association boards, I organized fundraisers, I knocked on a lot of doors, and worked for the party in various roles, including as Communications Coordinator from 2006 to 2008. During the 2008 election I worked with a group of MLAs and former cabinet ministers who were preparing the Liberal Party’s transition plan to form government (we were nothing if not optimistic). 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk’s essay fiasco and getting used to Premier Danielle Smith.

The problem with taking a break from writing about Alberta politics of a few days is that it becomes almost impossible to decide what to write about.

This week is no exception.

So here I go.

Let’s start with the essay contest.

Oh boy.

Someone named S. Silver won the third place prize in the “Her Vision Inspires” essay contest that was championed by Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville UCP MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, now the Associate Minister for the Status of Women.

S. Silver’s award winning essay.

In her award-winning essay, which was given a $200 prize, Silver argued:

“…it is sadly popular to think Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace us, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide…”

“to try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”

“that the best approach would be to reward families for their reproductive service both with financial rewards to offset the financial burden they are taking on and with medals to symbolize their valuable achievement of having 2+ children.”

Whoa. Yeah.

Pretty gross stuff.

After facing a pretty strong public backlash for choosing a racist and sexist essay for the award, Armstrong-Homeniuk issued a written statement saying she disagrees with it and that it shouldn’t have been chosen.

She led the committee that chose it but we don’t know why it was chosen or who else was on the committee with her.

It’s a secret.

UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Angela Pitt told intrepid CBC reporter Michelle Bellefontaine they had nothing to do with it, as did cabinet ministers Adriana LaGrange and Tanya Fir.

We also don’t know how many essays were submitted to the contest or who “S. Silver” even is.

It’s now been removed but we don’t know how the essay was able to be published on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website without raising some giant red flags.

Speaker Nathan Cooper said he didn’t know anything about it.

The whole thing is a big exercise in passing the buck.

Moving on, for now.

Nate Glubish and Danielle Smith (source: Twitter)

“Premier Danielle Smith. Get used to it.”

Those seven words from longtime political writer Graham Thomson seem to sum up how a lot of people are thinking the UCP leadership will end.

It feels like the most unlikeliest of outcomes, but in Alberta politics, the unexpected is sometimes the most likely.

It’s almost as if the past ten years never happened, said one conservative friend of mine, in reference to Danielle Smith’s near-win in 2012, her spectacular fall in 2014, and the massive political realignments – Rachel Notley’s NDP winning in 2015 and the formation of the UCP in 2017 – that have shaped Alberta politics since.

But she’s back and people think she’s going to win.

She’s drawing big crowds to her events, she’s getting media attention and she just stole another MLA endorsement away from Travis Toews.

It’s possible that other candidates are selling more memberships or that the preferential ballots could tally in a way that helps other candidates but the biggest indicator that Smith is in the lead is that all the other candidates are attacking her.

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean, the UCP prince-in-exile, took aim at Smith’s idea to open the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba to oil exports. It’s a perennially bad idea that never happens but never dies.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt announced on social media that she was quitting her volunteer role as Rajan Sawhney’s campaign chair, saying she needs to realign with her constituents. That feels like code for she’s worried Smith is going to win the leadership and her supporters – notably campaign chair and former MLA Rob Anderson – might be interested in challenging Pitt for the nomination in the riding.

Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who is backing Toews, took a swipe at Smith on Twitter after the party’s Medicine Hat leadership debate.

“Non-lawyer cites Wikipedia to explain novel constitutional theory. Danielle Smith is the freeman-on-the-land of this #UCPdebate. And the other candidates’ responses to her clearly show that they understand what dire consequences her success would spell for our movement,” Genuis tweeted on July 27, 2022.

Not naming but clearly targeting Smith in an online video, Rebecca Schulz described the front-runner as “unhinged and unreasonable” and “lighting her hair on fire.”

Schulz’s video announced that Calgary-Midnapore MP Stephanie Kusie has joined Rona Ambrose as campaign co-chair.

Trying to out-co-chair her opponents is an odd strategy, and is a role that is usually left to the backrooms, but it’s pretty clear that Schulz is trying desperately to position herself as the ABD – Anybody but Danielle – candidate in the UCP race – especially for conservatives not enthralled by Toews beige and boring campaign.

Toews’ establishment-favourite campaign appears to be losing steam.

Having to fight back criticisms about Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s six-figure bonus undermined his claim of being fiscally responsible. And he lost the support of another UCP MLA this week when Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, the Minister of Service Alberta, abandoned Toews and switched his endorsement to Smith.

In almost any other mainstream conservative leadership race, even in Alberta, Smith’s promotion of conspiracy theories and snake oil COVID cures, promises to impose unconstitutional laws, and more would probably disqualify her on the ballots of a lot of conservatives.

But this unruly UCP appears to be a very different beast than the old Progressive Conservative Party it absorbed six years ago. And Smith has used her decades of experience in politics and media to fine tune a message that appeals to a motivated chunk of today’s UCP base.

This most unexpected of outcomes is a surprise when you consider the rules of the leadership race were almost designed to quell an insurgent campaign.

The high entry fee ($175,000), signature requirements (1,000) and early membership cut off date (August 12) were designed for an establishment candidate.

Of course this is all about who sells the most memberships, and some candidates might be out there quietly selling a ton of memberships, but the early cutoff date means the days of the “two-minute Tories” who propelled Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford into the Premier’s Office are long gone.

Ideological conservatives hated it, but anybody being able to walk into the voting station on voting day and buy a membership ensured the PC Party constantly reinvented itself as a big tent party – arguably the biggest success of its 43 years of uninterrupted power.

But Smith isn’t campaigning to lead a big tent and a lot of people think she’s going to pull it off.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Friday Night Action in Alberta Politics – Doug Schweitzer’s out, Rod Shaigec and Sonya Savage are in.

There’s rarely a dull Friday night in Alberta politics!

Doug Schweitzer resigns from UCP cabinet and is leaving politics

Doug Schweitzer announced he is resigning as Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and later this month will resign as MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Despite running for the United Conservative Party leadership in 2017, Schweitzer bowed out of this year’s race after endorsing Premier Jason Kenney in the June leadership review. He announced soon after that he would not seek re-election as MLA but his sudden resignation announcement at least eight months ahead of the next election comes as a surprise – and opens the possibility of a by-election in Calgary-Elbow before the next general election.

It would be the third by-election in Calgary-Elbow in the last 16 years – the others being held because of the resignations of former MLAs (and premiers) Ralph Klein in 2007 and Alison Redford in 2014.

The 2007 by-election shocked political watchers when Liberal Craig Cheffins won, and in 2014, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark narrowly lost to Calgary school trustee and former Saskatchewan MLA Gordon Dirks. Clark defeated Dirks in the election the following year but was defeated by Schweitzer in 2019.

Already seen as a possible pick-up in the next election, the Alberta NDP nominated energy analyst Samir Kayande and have poured resources and volunteers into the riding to support his bid.

The Alberta Party has chosen lawyer and former Liberal Party leadership candidate Kerry Cundal to carry their banner, and her candidacy will be a test of how much of the party’s support in 2015 was a credit to Greg Clark’s personal popularity.

Lawyer Andrea James announced her plans to seek the UCP nomination back in June.

Mark Calgary-Elbow down on your list of ridings to watch.

Former Mayor running for NDP nomination in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain

Former Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec is the second candidate to enter the NDP nomination contest in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain. Shaigec joins former Spruce Grove City Councillor and mayoral candidate Chantal Saramaga-McKenzie in the race.

“We need responsible and accountable government that puts Albertans and communities first. We need an honest, hard-working leader whose integrity is beyond reproach – that leader is @RachelNotley,” Shaigec wrote on Twitter

Shaigec served three-terms as Mayor of Parkland County from 2010 to 2021, and chose not to run for re-election last year to give himself time to recover from a traumatic tractor accident in 2020.

The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Searle Turton, who is already nominated to run for his party in the next election.

Sonya Savage acclaimed in Calgary-North West

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage releases the final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage releases the final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

Sonya Savage has been acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Calgary-North West. Savage was first elected in 2019, succeeding NDP MLA Sandra Jansen, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and 2015 but crossed the floor to the NDP in 2017 and became Minister of Infrastructure. Jansen did not run for re-election in 2019.

Savage has served as Minister of Energy since 2019 and is co-chair of Travis Toews’ leadership campaign. 

Before her election, Savage was known as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association but many years before that she was a PC Party activist. 

“The philosophy we’re looking for is somebody who’s very conservative, less government, more individual responsibility, but also somebody who is progressive who’s backing the unity deal. We want to hear how they’re going to renew and urbanize the party,” said Savage, then known as Sonya Nerland, to Calgary Herald reporter Joan Crockatt on Sept. 19, 1992.

Savage ended up backing Energy Minister Rick Orman in the 1992 leadership race, along with future premier Jim Prentice, who was Orman’s campaign chair.

Orman placed third in the race and dropped out before the Dec. 2, 1992 second ballot to endorse Nancy Betkowski.

Savage would later co-chair Orman’s second campaign for the PC Party leadership in 2011. Orman dropped out after placing fifth on the first ballot and endorsed Gary Mar, who was then defeated by Alison Redford (who was the PC Party Youth President ten years before Savage).

(Am I the only one who’s starting to feel like Alberta politics is just a rotating cast of 20 characters?)

Three candidates – Michael Lisboa-Smith, Lesley MacKinnon, and Shiraz Mir – are running for the yet to be scheduled NDP nomination in Calgary-North West.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Doug Schweitzer’s out. Senior UCP Minister not running for leadership or re-election.

Doug Schweitzer is not running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party and not running for re-election as MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

The first-term MLA and former UCP leadership candidate issued a Victoria Day statement announcing that he will be stepping out of elected politics when the next election is called. He is the first UCP cabinet minister to announce plans to leave office in 2023.

Doug Schweitzer's statement announcing he will not run for re-election.
Doug Schweitzer’s statement announcing he will not run for re-election.

Largely shying away from social conservative issues embraced by some of his colleagues, he was widely named as someone who could take up the mantle of the business conservative-style candidate for the UCP leadership.

Schweitzer was first elected in 2019 by defeating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. He won with 44 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for Clark and 23 per cent for Alberta NDP candidate Janet Eremenko (who is now nominated as the NDP candidate in the neighbouring Calgary-Currie).

Samir Kayande Alberta NDP Nomination Calgary-Elbow
Samir Kayande (source: Pembina Instittute)

Premier Jason Kenney chose him as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General when the first UCP cabinet was sworn-in and shuffled him to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation in 2020.

While he was involved in some UCP controversies, like the creation of the Energy War Room and the Allan Inquiry, I think it’s fair to say it appears he will walk away from politics largely untarnished by the political games that recently brought down Kenney.

The former downtown Calgary lawyer and past CEO of the Manitoba PC Party was Jim Prentice‘s campaign manager in 2014 and very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and soon after ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest with 7.3 per cent of the vote.

This leaves an open race for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, a riding that is considered competitive in the next election.

Kerry Cundal Liberal Calgary
Kerry Cundal

The NDP are putting their hopes in energy analyst Samir Kayande and lawyer and former federal Liberal Party candidate Kerry Cundal recently announced she will be running for the Alberta Party nomination on May 29.

The riding has been somewhat of a swing-riding for the past 15 years after Liberal Craig Cheffins won the 2007 by-election to replace former premier Ralph Klein, who had represented the south west Calgary riding since 1989.

Clark almost won a 2014 by-election to replace another former premier, Alison Redford, and went on to win in the 2015 election.

More nomination news

  • Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita was nominated as his party’s candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat at a May 17 meeting, which was pushed up from a previously scheduled May 25 meeting.
  • Registered Nurse Diana Batten is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Acadia on May 26.
  • Edmonton-Meadows MLA Jasvir Deol will be nominated as his party’s candidate on May 28. He was first elected in 2019.
  • Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse will be nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford on May 28. She succeeds two-term MLA Richard Feehan, who is not seeking re-election.
  • Shiraz Mir is the second candidate to announce their candidacy for the NDP nomination in Calgary-North West.
  • Jeff Manchak is the third candidate to enter the NDP race in Sherwood Park. Already in the race are former MLA Annie McKitrick and solar energy expert Kyle Kasawski.

And here are the upcoming candidate nomination meetings:

  • Calgary-Acadia NDP: May 26, 2022
  • Edmonton-Meadows NDP: May 28, 2022
  • Edmonton-Rutherford NDP: May 28, 2022
  • Calgary-Elbow AP: May 29, 2022
  • Airdrie-Cochrane NDP: May 30, 2022
  • Edmonton-Riverview NDP: June 7, 2022
  • Edmonton-McClung NDP: June 8, 2022
  • Strathcona-Sherwood Park NDP: June 9, 2022
  • Edmonton-South West NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Red Deer-South NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Edmonton-Decore NDP: June 25, 2022

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(And, I know I’ve said this before but feel free to sign up for the Daveberta Substack.)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Energy analyst Samir Kayande running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, the riding currently represented by UCP Minister Doug Schweitzer

Energy analyst and strategy consultant Samir Kayande has announced he is seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Elbow.

Samir Kayande Alberta NDP Nomination Calgary-Elbow
Samir Kayande (source: Pembina Instittute)

“Enhancing our already-enviable quality of life in the face of worldwide commitments to reduce pollution requires foresight, creativity and vision,” Kayande said in a press release. “Albertans must protect what we have while preparing for the future.”

“Sadly, the UCP government has failed to deliver on their promise of economic prosperity,” Kayande said. “A strong, caring Alberta with an NDP government will attract and keep high-paying jobs, and my expertise can help build that future.”

Kayande has a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Alberta and a Master of Business Administration from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. According to his press release, he has advised institutional money managers—pension funds, mutual funds, private equity—on their energy portfolios.

He is also a director on the board of the Pembina Institute and this year wrote a number of articles for CBC Calgary – We’ve mourned the Keystone XL pipeline, now it’s time to move on and Strategizing a way forward for a post-hydrocarbon Alberta.

Doug Schweitzer UCP MLA Calgary-Elbow
Doug Schweitzer

If successful in the nomination, Kayande would likely face United Conservative Party MLA Doug Schweitzer in the next provincial election. Currently serving as Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, Schweitzer ran for the UCP leadership in 2017 and is considered by many to be a potential leadership candidate if Premier Jason Kenney resigns before the next election.

Schweitzer was first elected in 2019 after unseating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. Clark had won the seat from Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in 2015 after narrowly losing the 2014 by-election held to replace former Premier Alison Redford, who had represented that seat since 2008.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA
Greg Clark

Redford was first elected after defeating Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins, who had won the seat in a 2007 by-election to replace former Premier Ralph Klein, who had represented the riding since 1989.

Klein’s first provincial election saw him win in a close race against Liberal candidate Gilbert Clark, the father of future MLA Greg Clark.

The NDP candidate from the 2019 election, Janet Eremenko, is currently challenging former MLA Brian Malkinson for the nomination in the neighbouring Calgary-Currie riding. Eremenko recently posted a photo on social media showing her campaigning for the nomination with the support of former City Councillor Evan Woolley

The NDP have not announced a date for the Calgary-Elbow nomination meeting.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner running for Senate, former NDP MLA Annie McKitrick running for Mayor, UCP MLA Recall law MIA

Former cabinet minister Doug Horner is planning to run in Alberta’s Senate Nominee elections happening on October 18, 2021. The former Deputy Premier and Finance Minister quietly announced on his LinkedIn page that he is collecting signatures to make his candidacy official.

“I have also thought long and hard about the idea of running as a candidate with the endorsement of a political party,” Horner wrote on LinkedIn. “I believe that the Senate should have a strong degree of independence as well as representing Albertans and not parties, as such I will be going as an independent.”

“In my view the Senate can serve a very important purpose to review, advise, and give input to the Federal Government on legislative initiatives from the perspective of their experience and representation of their regions,” wrote Horner.  

Horner was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA after unseating two-term Liberal MLA Colleen Soetaert in Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert in 2001. He was re-elected in 2004 after facing a spirited challenge from Liberal Ray Boudreau and re-elected by large margins in 2008 and in 2012 in the redistributed Spruce Grove-St. Albert district.

Between 2004 and 2014 he served as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance. 

He placed third in the 2011 PC Party leadership, with most of his votes shifting to help Alison Redford defeat frontrunner Gary Mar on the the third ballot. He resigned as an MLA in January 2015 after he was dropped from cabinet by Jim Prentice.

Horner is the scion of a genuine Western Canadian political family dynasty. He is the son of former Deputy Premier Hugh Horner, nephew of former MPs Jack HornerAlbert Horner and Norval Horner, and grandson of Saskatchewan Senator Ralph Horner. Drumheller-Stettler United Conservative Party MLA Nate Horner is his first cousin once removed.

The Conservative Party of Canada has already announced its endorsement of lobbyist and former United Conservative Party president Erika Barootes, UCP activist Pamela Davidson, and Canadian Ukrainian Free Trade Agreement Association president Mykhailo Martyniouk in the Senate Nominee elections. While he has not yet formally endorsed Barootes, Premier Jason Kenney was spotted at a Calgary Stampede event wearing one of her campaign buttons. 

Also running are Progress Alberta executive Director Duncan Kinney, emergency medicine doctor Sunil Sookram, retired lawyer Randy Hogle, former Western Barley Growers Association president Jeff Nielsen, and Chad Jett Thunders Sauders. 

Former NDP MLA running for Mayor

Annie McKitrick
Annie McKitrick

Former NDP MLA Annie McKitrick is running for mayor of Strathcona County. McKitrick served as MLA for Sherwood Park from 2015 to 2019.

“I am deeply committed to inclusion and planning for the future through more sustainable social, economic and environmental outcomes,” McKitrick wrote in a post on Facebook.

“As our community, Alberta, Canada and the rest of the world adjusts to what is often called the “new normal” we need a Mayor with the experience and knowledge to provide leadership in collaboration with other elected officials and with resident input.”

McKitrick will be challenging incumbent mayor and past Liberal candidate Rod Frank and former Strathcona-Sherwood Park PC MLA and past Alberta Party candidate Dave Quest. 

UCP MLA Recall law is MIA

It has been 88 days since Bill 52: Recall Act received Royal Assent but it still hasn’t been proclaimed into law by the Kenney government. When proclaimed, the law would allow Albertans to collect signatures to hold a vote to recall their MLA from the Legislature and trigger a by-election to replace them.

Political scientist Duane Bratt recently speculated on Twitter that “One theory is that there is a red zone of six months before an election, so it will be proclaimed in another year. This will prevent recalls until 18 months after 2023 election.”

I am sure the UCP’s poor standing in the polls and Kenney’s plummeting approval ratings have nothing to do with this law not yet being enacted.

Categories
Alberta Politics

When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing

It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.

That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.

It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.

Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.

Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.

Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.

Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.

The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.

Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.

Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.

But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.

Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.

I bet it grows again in a few months.


Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.
Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.

Shuffled around …

Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.

Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.

Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.

New in cabinet…

Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.

Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.

Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.

Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.

Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.

Out of cabinet…

Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.

Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.

Other non-cabinet changes today included:

Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.

After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.

Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.

Categories
Alberta Politics

What lies ahead for Alberta’s political parties in 2021

With 2020 on its way out here is quick look at what might await Alberta’s political parties in 2021:

United Conservative Party: The UCP will continue pushing through a legislative agenda and ideological project that includes mass privatization of public services and public land, and big job losses for public sector workers.

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

The UCP’s inability to pivot off its agenda has been demonstrated clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic as Health Minister Tyler Shandro continued his fight against Alberta doctors, planned layoffs of thousands of nurses and health care workers, and schemed to privatize large swaths of the public health care system.

Kenney’s inconsistent approach to the pandemic has likely alienated him from both Albertans who would like to see more serious public health measures taken and those who think being required to wear a face-mask in public spaces is too far.

A federal election in 2021 might distract Albertans from the UCP’s mismanaging of the COVID-19 pandemic, so expect the UCP to ramp up attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. Increasing attacks of the federal government and next year’s promised referendum on equalization and Senate nominee election could also serve as a distraction from poor economic growth and the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit by incoming United States President Joe Biden.

Kenney’s approval ratings took a big hit in 2020 and the UCP has dropped considerably in the polls since 2019. If their leader looks like he has become a liability for re-election in 2023 then expect a change at the top. Conservative parties in Alberta are ruthless with leaders who stop looking like winners, just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

The good news for Kenney is that he is only two years into his government’s four year term in office which leaves him with some time to turn around his political fortunes. But the clock is ticking and the tire-kickers could soon be kicking.

Alberta NDP: It is not often that political leaders in Canada are given a second chance, but despite losing the 2019 election Rachel Notley remains in firm control of her New Democratic Party.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Notley’s moderate NDP is leading or tied with the UCP is three of the four recent voter intention polls released during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and has maintained competitive fundraising levels, but the next election is still more than two years away.

The potential for strikes by public sector workers in 2021 could test the NDP’s political coalition. The NDP’s opponents will inevitably try to use any major labour disputes as a wedge between the party’s union activist wing and its more moderate and centrist supporters.

The key to an NDP victory in 2023 will be a breakthrough in Calgary, smaller urban centres like Lethbridge and Red Deer, and a small handful of suburban and rural ridings scattered across Alberta. The NDP swept those regions in 2015 and Notley has already signalled through her constant visits and social media posts that her focus in 2021 will be Calgary, Calgary, and more Calgary.

Alberta Party: Finding a new permanent leader should be the top focus of this tiny moderate conservative party. The Alberta Party has become home to a small group of disenchanted former Progressive Conservatives unhappy the combative tone and social conservative politics of the UCP. The party lost all its seats in 2019 but continues to poll around 10 per cent support in most surveys. In a two-party political environment, the Alberta Party needs to give Albertans a reason to vote for it that is beyond just not being the UCP or NDP.

Alberta Liberal Party: The Liberals not only need to find a new leader, they need to find a reason to exist. After forming Official Opposition for 19 years, the Liberal vote collapsed in 2012, saw almost all of its supporters migrate to Notley’s NDP in 2015 and lost its only seat in the Assembly in 2019. With the NDP now comfortably occupying the space held by the Liberals in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals need a raison d’être in Alberta.

Green Party: Yes, Alberta has a Green Party. The Greens have been issuing a steady stream of press statements that plant the party firmly to the left of the moderate NDP on climate change, the environment and pipelines. It seems unlikely that the party will make any electoral breakthroughs in the near future, but they could put pressure on the NDP to remember that it still has a progressive wing.

Wildrose Independence Party: Also looking for a new leader in 2021, the child of a merger between the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit group in 2020 is now led by former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

While separatist sentiment appears to be waining the further time passes from the last federal election, Hinman has clamped on to the anti-mask and anti-COVID restrictions groups as his focus, appearing at demonstrations in the two cities.

A number of UCP MLAs have expressed similar views, leading some political watchers to believe that one UCP MLA in particular – Drew Barnes – could be auditioning for Hinman’s job if his public comments become too much for the UCP.

The other fringe separatist parties: The Alberta Advantage Party and Independence Party of Alberta are also looking for new leaders. Advantage Party leader Marilyn Burns, a former Wildrose supporter, resigned in the fall amid a leadership challenge and has announced plans to run for the position again. Former Wildrose constituency president Lenard Biscope is now interim leader.

Communist Party of Alberta: Carry on, Comrades.

Thoughts? What do you think awaits Alberta’s political parties in 2021?

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney introduces Alberta’s not-a-lockdown lockdown

Amid a month-long spike in new COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced increased measures and restrictions on businesses that include closing casinos, bar and in-person dining in restaurants, and a province-wide mandatory face-mask requirement. The measures are necessary but come after weeks of feet-dragging by provincial leaders.

Weaker measures introduced two weeks ago proved ineffective but you will not hear Premier Jason Kenney admit it, and you will not hear him call the new measures a lockdown.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Despite loud warnings from physicians, public health professionals and health care unions over the past month that the government was not taking serious enough action to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, Kenney’s government attacked and mocked those calling for some of the same measures he introduced today.

At times it has seemed as as though Kenney was more concerned with not doing anything that might alienate elements of his political base than he was in taking measures to actually stop or slow the spread of the virus. This concern about his voter base appears to also include an avoidance of the word “lockdown,” despite it being an appropriate description of what the government has implemented.

The government’s new measures still fall short of the “circuit-breaker” lockdown proposed by health care professionals and the more comprehensive plan proposed by New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley.

As of today, there are 20,388 active cases province-wide and have been 640 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Still no federal app

The measures announced by Kenney still did not include the activation of the federal CovidAlert app in Alberta. The federal app has become one of the latest targets of partisan attacks against Ottawa, with cabinet minister Jason Nixon referring to it as the “Trudeau Tracing App.”

Despite the adoption of the ABTraceTogether App early in the pandemic, it has proven ineffective and is reported to have only been effectively used 19 times since it was launched in the spring.

Unlike Alberta’s app, the federal app allows contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 across provincial boundaries.

Schweitzer shows a little humanity, some leadership potential

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Along with Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the press conference announcing the increased measures featured Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.

Engaging in a bit of mischief-making, Lethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips mused about Schweitzer’s performance and potential leadership ambitions. While Phillips’ commentary was certainly designed to create mischief, she may have a point.

Compared to Kenney, who remains robotic, unemotional and prone to partisan outbursts, and Shandro, who appears to perpetually carry a giant chip on his shoulder, Schweitzer sounded like a real human being. While he does have a serious ‘dude bro’ vibe and his comments today were weighed down by business jargon, he was a much clearer and sympathetic communicator than his two colleagues.

Shannon Phillips NDP MLA Lethbridge West
Shannon Phillips

Kenney has displayed almost complete command and control over the United Conservative Party and Caucus since taking over as leader in 2017, but he has clearly failed to demonstrate leadership during the biggest crisis in a generation. Recent polls show Kenney’s leadership approval ratings have continued to plummet, the NDP are leading in province-wide support, and only 25 per cent of Albertans approve of how the UCP government has responded the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenney may be in complete control of his party today, but history shows that Conservative parties in Alberta can be ruthless towards leaders who become liabilities at the ballot box. Just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta Budget 2020: This is no way to run a household.

It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.

But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.

The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.

The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.

Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.

The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.

The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.

With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.

While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.

Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.

If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.

This is no way to run a household.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 48: An urban big city agenda in Alberta. Municipally Speaking with Mack Male

More than half of Albertans live in Calgary and Edmonton, so why does it feel like big city issues are an afterthought for the provincial government?

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

Mack Male joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of local media in Edmonton, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu’s paternalistic approach to municipal relations, the review of the Local Authorities Election Act and how it might change the rules of the 2021 municipal elections, and whether there is hope for ever getting a real urban agenda for Alberta (plus free transit and gondolas).

Mack is a co-founder of Taproot Edmonton and co-host of the Speaking Municipally podcast, which focuses on Edmonton City Council and municipal issues in Alberta’s capital city.

A big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for making this episode sound so good.

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:

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney’s Alberta Autonomy Panel given questions answered 15 years ago by Klein’s Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation Committee

Things are getting pretty weird in Alberta.

Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.

Preston Manning
Preston Manning

But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.

Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.

Kenney’s panel is both a continuation of his personal political campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s Liberal Party was re-elected with a large minority government, and a reaction to the frustration felt by many of the 70 per cent of Albertans who voted for Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party.

While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.

Panel members include former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (who has openly warned about separatism), former one-term Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans (who recently wrote a blog post asking if Trudeau has committed treason), current UCP MLAs Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao, Fraser Institute senior fellow and University of Alberta academic Moin Yahya, Canada West Foundation board chair Oryssia Lennie, former Alberta Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Jason Goodstriker, and Peter Lougheed’s son Stephen Lougheed.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity
Donna Kennedy-Glans

The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:

  • withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
  • replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
  • ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
  • opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
  • forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
  • creating an Alberta Constitution.

The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.

The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.

The panel’s mandate and the questions it is being tasked with asking are remarkably similar to the questions asked by the MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by premier Ralph Klein in November 2003.

Chaired by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Ian McClelland (a former Reform Party Member of Parliament) and co-chaired by Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, members of the committee included Calgary-Fort MLA Wayne Cao, Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk, Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths, Calgary-Currie MLA Jon Lord, Calgary-North Hill MLA Richard Magnus, St. Albert MLA Mary O’Neill, and Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk.

The MLA committee was created in the wake of the infamous 2001 Firewall Letter, signed by right-wing luminaries Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, Andy Crooks, Ken Boessenkool, and future prime minster Stephen Harper, and in response to small but loud fringe groups like the Alberta Independence Party and the Separation Party of Alberta.

And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government. 

Ian McClelland

The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.

The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:

Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommends that Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)

Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required). By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)

Mary Anne Jablonski

Police Force: The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)

Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)

Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)

Our Future:The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)

The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.

This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.


Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again

In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.

The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.

In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.

Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.

(Photo source: Facebook)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Notley is the Alberta NDP’s strongest asset. Don’t expect to see ‘Team Kenney’ logos on UCP lawn signs.

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley delivered a pre-campaign speech at a rally in downtown Calgary today (photo credit: @SKGreer on Twitter)

As has been widely reported this week, the Alberta New Democratic Party has purposely shifted the focus of their political material onto their greatest asset, Premier Rachel Notley. The NDP began replacing the NDP logo with a Rachel Notley logo on their social media images back in April 2018, but the party recently highlighted this focus with the launch of their new RachelNotley.ca campaign website.

The move has been attacked by critics of the NDP, who claim the party is nefariously attempting to distance itself from its unpopular federal cousins. The NDP are probably trying to distance itself from the Jagmeet Singh-led federal NDP, but there is nothing nefarious about it. Campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Rachel Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Jason Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.

Putting the focus on party leaders is nothing new in Alberta politics.

A PC Party advertisement from the 1971 Alberta election.

In 1971, much of the Progressive Conservative Party’s advertising and messaging revolved around Peter Lougheed. The “Lougheed Team” focused on the party’s young and dynamic leader and the impressive slate of candidates that surrounded him.

While Alberta politics have certainly changed since the 1970s, Notley frequently evokes the memory of popular Lougheed in her media statements and campaign speeches.

Ralph’s Team’ was a slogan the PC Party used in the 1990s, putting the focus on their popular party leader, Ralph Klein. And the federal Liberal Party attempted a similar move when they placed ‘Team Martin’ logos on their campaign signs and material during the 2004 election.

As Postmedia columnist Keith Gerein wrote last week, the two main party leaders have divergent popularity among their parties own supporters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley remains wildly popular among NDP voters.

United Conservative Party has a massive lead in the polls, but party leader Jason Kenney is much less popular than the party he now leads, which which is why Albertans will probably not spot any “Team Kenney” logos when the election is called this spring.

Almost all NDP MLA’s should know they have Notley’s leadership to thank for their electoral fortunes in the 2015 election, the same might not be said of UCP candidates and their leader in 2019. If the UCP’s strong support holds, many of that party’s candidate could be elected despite their leader’s lower approval ratings.

Any leader who’s popularity falls below that of the party they lead inevitably becomes vulnerable to leadership challenges and caucus revolts, as Don Getty, Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, and in the dying days of his premiership, Ralph Klein, discovered. Conservatives in Alberta have been ruthless with their party leadership and rarely tolerate weaknesses that could jeopardize electoral success.

It is yet to be seen whether Kenney will fall into this category, which will probably depend on what the UCP caucus looks like after Election Day. If the UCP caucus is large, Kenney’s leadership could be secure. But as Stelmach and Klein discovered, large caucuses are impressive but can be unruly and difficult to manage. If he does fall into the traps sprung by previous Conservative premiers, look to UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Nathan Cooper, Leela Aheer and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean to be eyeing the Premier’s chair.

Rachel Notley on the other hand might not be as vulnerable, even if the NDP is defeated in 2019. If her party does better than expected in 2019, even electing 25 or 30 MLAs, the NDP caucus and members may come to the conclusion that Notley remains their strongest asset and could be their best bet at returning to government in 2023. They could encourage her to remain party leader.

As an opposition leader, Notley would be fierce and lead an actual government-in-waiting, not something Albertans are used to having. It would also signal whether the NDP will remain in its centre-leftish position or embrace a more aggressive progressive agenda advocated by some members.

While Notley remaining in the party leadership beyond a 2019 loss may go against some of the common popular opinion about former premiers, past NDP premiers Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan and Dave Barrett in British Columbia both led their parties into elections following defeats. Barrett even went on to have a career in federal politics and nearly became leader of the federal NDP in 1989.

I am probably getting ahead of myself, as this year’s election has not even been officially called, but scenarios like these are certainly something that many political watchers are thinking about.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Former Speaker Gene Zwozdesky has died at age 70. The “Wizard of Zwoz” started as a Liberal and became the PC Party’s charm machine.

Gene Zwozdesky, the former Speaker of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, has died of cancer at the age of 70.

Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.

Gene Zwozdesky Alberta MLA
Gene Zwozdesky’s official MLA portrait photo in 1997.

A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.

Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes castLed by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.

He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.

Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.

In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed to cabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.
Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.

As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive. 

Only three weeks into the job he’s the Wizard of Zwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.

In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.

He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.

While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision. 

He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.

Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.

Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.

Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)

Categories
Alberta Politics

When is Alberta Election 2019? What We Know versus Speculation

What we know:

The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.

According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.

Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.

In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.

Speculation:

There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.

One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.

Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform. 

In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.

Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.

Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.

But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.

Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.

A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65. 

On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.

Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?

Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics. 

There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise. 

According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.

The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.

Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.

Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.

The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.


Today on 630CHED I joined Ryan Jespersen, Catherine Griwkowsky, and John Brennan to talk about the latest news in Alberta politics, including when the next election might be held.