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

Race to replace Jason Kenney takes shape – Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz join the fray. Will Michelle Rempel Garner and Raj Sherman be next?

Hey there politics fans!

The United Conservative Party released its leadership race rule book!

UCP members will choose a replacement for Premier Jason Kenney on October 6, 2022.

It will cost $150,000 to enter the race, plus an extra $25,000 good behaviour deposit.

Low rollers need not apply.

It’s not just a race to replace Kenney.

It’s a race to save the UCP from defeat against Rachel Notley‘s resurgent Alberta NDP.

And the race is starting to take shape.

The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.

Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.

Just ask Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.

It was a strong kick-off.

Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.

Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.

Angela Pitt MLA Airdrie-East UCP
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.

It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).

Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.

This time she’s backing Sawhney.

Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow. 

Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.

The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.

He’s met half his goal so far.

Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.

For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.

The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt. 

She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Facebook)

First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.

Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”

She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. 

The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.

The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who was ousted from cabinet for calling on Kenney to resign, is in and wants to “defeat the machines.”

“I think Albertans will defeat the machines. They understand what the machine is. They’re frustrated with the machine,” she told reporters.

She’s also facing a strong nomination challenge in her Chestermere-Strathmore riding.

Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.

But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy. 

Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.

Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”

Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray. 

Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor. 

He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.

So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

And there could be more.

We’ll know soon enough.

July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.

The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.

August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.

No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.

The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.

Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.

It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.


Liberal Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.

Former party leader David Khan stepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.

Party stalwart John Roggeveen has filled the spot as interim leader since March 2021.

The race has no candidates as of yet. The second place finisher from the 2017 leadership race, Kerry Cundal, is running for the Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.


And don’t forget to sign up for my Substack at daveberta.substack.com.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Buckle up, Alberta. The UCP leadership review results are coming.

Buckle up, Alberta. It’s going to get bumpy.

The results of the United Conservative Party leadership review will be released tomorrow.

The fate of Premier Jason Kenney hangs in the balance.

Kenney says he’s confident he will win. He says 50%+1 support is enough to stay on as leader.

His opponents are confident he will lose. They’ve already planted seeds of doubt in the results.

A recent survey shows the majority of Albertans think Kenney should lose the review.

Only a slim majority trust the leadership review process.

One UCP constituency president says he won’t accept a Kenney win.

“We will not believe that result. We will not accept it, but we won’t even believe it, because our own polling here within our constituency is 72 per cent against Premier Kenney,” Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills president Rob Smith told CTV.

There’s a whole cabal of UCP MLAs who probably share Smith’s cynicism.

If Kenney wins he’ll have to decide the fate of his biggest critics in his own party.

What happens to Brian Jean? Leela Aheer? Angela Pitt? Jason Stephan? Peter Guthrie?

Cast them out and they’ll form another conservative party.

And then the UCP might as well drop the U.

So there’s the problem. Even if Kenney wins he still loses.

It’s a win-lose or lose-lose scenario.

It’s going to be a wild ride.


The UCP leadership review is probably going to take up most of the political oxygen in Alberta over the next few days, so I just wanted to note a few candidate nomination developments:

  • Former federal Liberal candidate and provincial Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundal is running for the Alberta Party nomination in Calgary-Elbow. She ran for the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2017 and joined the Alberta Party shortly afterward. A nomination meeting is scheduled for May 28, 2022.
  • Former cabinet minister David Eggen will be acclaimed as the Alberta NDP candidate in Edmonton-North West on May 18. Eggen is the second longest serving MLA currently in the Legislature, having represented Edmonton-Calder from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2019, and Edmonton-North West from 2019 to the present.

The NDP now have 23 candidates nominated in 87 ridings. The UCP have nominated 21 candidates.


 

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Categories
Alberta Politics

The biggest question in Alberta politics: Will Jason Kenney win the UCP leadership review?

“Hey Dave, is Jason Kenney going to win the leadership review?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot these days.

My answer?

I don’t know.

Anyone who tells you different probably has a personal or career stake in the game.

What was supposed to be a big in-person vote in Red Deer back in April turned into a province-wide mail in vote. And that loud swooshing sound you heard wasn’t the sound of a late winter Chinook but the sound of the goal posts moving.

And there’s strong feelings on both sides of this fight.

Kenney’s opponents are outspoken. Especially the ones inside his own United Conservative Party caucus.

MLAs Brian Jean, Leela Aheer, Angela Pitt, Peter Guthrie, Jason Stephan, and Dave Hanson.

Plus Drew Barnes, Todd Loewen and friends.

They all want Kenney gone. They think the UCP is going to lose the next election to Rachel Notley’s NDP if he stays on as leader.

His former central Alberta organizer David Parker is leading Take Back Alberta, a group dedicated to defeating Kenney in the leadership review.

His former spokesperson Blaise Boehmer has become one of his biggest critics.

One former staffer has even taken him to court.

But the loyalists working in the Premier’s Office in Edmonton think his critics are bunch of clowns.

It’s a gong show.

Kenney says of his recent interactions with normal Albertans: “100% of the people who came up to me unprompted say things like: We’re behind you Jason, keep up the good work.”

Yeah, ok there, Mr. 22-per cent Approval Rating.

He spins a lot of yarn.

Kenney once claimed that he didn’t impose stricter COVID-19 public health restrictions because of a crying Venezuelan refugee who claimed the fled socialism.

The Venezuelan woman who believed she was used as part of Kenney’s argument remembers her encounter with the premier as much less dramatic.

But Kenney’s staffers loudly trumpet his good deeds.

Three loyal cabinet ministers – Ric McIver, Jason Nixon and Doug Schweitzer – told Kenney’s critics that they have to fall in line if he wins.

That’s doubtful.

If Kenney had the ability to silence his critics and re-unite his “United” Conservative Party he would have done that two years ago.

That ship has sailed.

Scratch that. The ship is leaking.

But is it going to sink?

Even if Kenney is a hot mess of a premier, he’s a still skilled campaigner, and that’s basically what he’s been doing for the past few months – campaigning.

He can even be, dare I say, dangerously charming on the campaign trail.

Kenney does get public support from some conservatives outside Alberta.

They see him as a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian conservatism.

Conservative pundit Sean Speer wrote a long defence of the beleaguered Kenney in the National Post praising his policy agenda.

But commentary by out-of-Alberta conservatives, who probably have fond memories of Kenney’s two decades in Ottawa, almost always omit how intentionally and aggressively divisive he has been since stepping into the Premier’s Office.

Albertans who oppose, or even just dare to criticize, his government’s policies have been routinely derided and attacked by Kenney.

Are you an Albertan who opposed closing and selling provincial parks?

Then you’re a radical urban eco-marxist.

Did you oppose open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains?

Then you must be a radical urban eco-marxist who votes NDP (can you imagine telling that to a 5th generation cattle rancher from southern Alberta?).

You get the drift.

So, do Albertans see Kenney as the conservative philosopher king that his out-of-province admirers do?

Lol. No.

Do normal UCP members?

Definitely not.

Will Kenney win on May 18?

Will he get more than 50 per cent of the vote?

Your guess is probably as good as mine.

Will the deep divisions inside the UCP be healed?

Not a chance.

As veteran political columnist Graham Thomson signed off in a recent column, “No matter what happens that day, Alberta’s already wild politics will just get wilder.”


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Categories
Alberta Politics

Brian Jean is back. The thorn in Kenney’s side wins Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

Brian Jean is back.

The former Wildrose Party leader will be returning to the Alberta Legislature after winning a landslide victory in today’s by-election in Fort McMuray-Lac La Biche.

He’s a UCP MLA-elect and he’s one of the biggest thorns in Premier Jason Kenney’s side.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney United Conservative Party AGM
Jason Kenney

Jean beat Kenney’s favoured candidate in the UCP nomination contest and the former MLA and MP used the by-election as a platform to campaign hard against Kenney.

He has been openly organizing against Kenney ahead of the April 9 leadership review in Red Deer.

Now he’s the newest member of Kenney’s UCP Caucus.

What I would do to be a fly on the wall when Jean’s strolls into the UCP Caucus Office in Edmonton tomorrow morning.

He’s not alone.

UCP MLAs Leela Aheer, Dave Hanson and Angela Pitt have openly spoken out against Kenney. So have Independent MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen.

It was a big win for Jean tonight. But that’s about it.

The by-election results are disappointing for the NDP, who have been polling ahead of the UCP province-wide, and whose candidate, Ariana Mancini, campaigned hard.

But in this by-election, Fort McMurray’s favourite son was both the UCP candidate and the most vocal anti-Kenney candidate, which is a bizarre situation for the opposition NDP to be in.

Paul Hinman and his separatist Wildrose Independence Party placed a distant third. The other five candidates had distant finishes.

Now with the by-election over, all the players are going to be focused on April 9 and Kenney’s leadership review.

This is going to be something to watch.


With 61/61 polls reporting, here are the unofficial results of the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election:

  • Brian Jean, UCP 3,714 (63.6%)
  • Ariana Mancini, NDP 1,801 (18.5%)
  • Paul Hinman, WRIP 628 (10.8%)
  • Abdulhakim Hussein, Liberal 211 (3.6%)
  • Michelle Landsiedel, Alberta Party 98 (1.7%)
  • Brian Deheer, Independent 56 (1.0%)
  • Marilyn Burns, Alberta Advantage 25 (0.4%)
  • Steven Mellott, Independence Party 24 (0.4%)
Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 82: Best of Alberta Politics with Adrienne King and Matt Solberg

Adrienne King and Matt Solberg join the Daveberta Podcast for our year-end episode of 2021. We delve into Premier Jason Kenney‘s leadership challenges, the fireworks at the end of Alberta’s longest legislative session on record, and the upcoming Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

Adrienne King works for the Now Group, and is the former Chief of Staff to Alberta NDP Leaders Rachel Notley and Brian Mason, and Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili.

Matt Solberg is a Partner at New West Public Affairs and is a former Wildrose and UCP staffer who has worked at various times along-side Paul Hinman, Danielle Smith, Brian Jean, and Jason Kenney. 

Best of Alberta Politics 2021

We also launched the fifth annual Best of Alberta Politics Survey and asked Adrienne and Matt for their picks the best of 2021:

Best Cabinet Minister
Adrienne: Travis Toews, Minister of Finance
Matt: Jason Copping, Minister of Health

Best Opposition MLA
Adrienne: Shannon Phillips, NDP MLA for Lethbridge-West
Matt: David Shepherd, NDP MLA for Edmonton-City Centre

Up and Comer to Watch in 2022
Adrienne: Rakhi Pancholi, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud
Matt: Nate Horner, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry

Submissions for the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 Survey are open until Dec. 16, 2021 at 12:00 pm and the top three choices in each category will be included in a round of voting starting later that day. Voting for the top 3 will be open until Dec. 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm and the winners will be announced shortly afterward.


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

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

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

Recommended reading/listening

And, as promised on the podcast, here is the infamous and hilarious NDP Caucus Press Gallery Christmas Party video from 2010:

Categories
Alberta Politics

A look at this weekend’s UCP AGM as the formerly One-Big-Happy-Conservative-Family gathers for its first in-person convention since 2019

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s good news week ahead of this weekend’s United Conservative Party annual general meeting was largely overshadowed by a slow motion rebellion in his party.

While the Premier wanted to talk about childcare and the economy, a disgruntled group of UCP constituency presidents announced Monday morning that they had convinced 22 constituency associations to pass identical motions calling for a review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved before March 1, 2022.

The leadership review had been pushed to April 2022 from fall 2022 after Kenney averted a caucus revolt over the summer.

a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.
a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.

According to recent polling, Kenney is the least popular Premier in Canada, sitting at 22 per cent approval among Albertans, and his party has floundered in the polls and fundraising for the past year.

Rachel Notley would be Premier once again if an election were held today, which will surely be a future on the minds of many UCP activists this weekend.

Kenney’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the problem, but so to is his cabinet’s decision to wage a multi-front war against everyone from Alberta’s parks, nurses and teachers while trying to open the Rocky Mountains up to open-pit coal mining.

A party that famously promised “Jobs, Economy and Pipelines” in the 2019 election has delivered everything but.

When the business of the meeting begins, special resolutions will only be able to be brought to the floor of the AGM by Kenney and one resolution being introduced by the Kenney-friendly UCP association in Edmonton-North West would increase the number of constituency associations needed to trigger an early leadership review from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

A list of of the 22 constituency associations who passed the motion calling for an early review shows that this is largely a rural revolt against Kenney’s leadership, likely from the unruly rural Wildrose-side of the party, which has never been satisfied to subjugate itself to to the kind of centralized leadership that the Premier would have been comfortable with in Ottawa.

The first signatory of the letter from the 22 was a name that would be quite familiar to Kenney – Jack Redekop – the current president of the Calgary-Fish Creek UCP and former president of Kenney’s won former federal electoral district association in Calgary-Midnapore.

One of the common criticisms of Kenney is that he has become detached from the party’s organization and local leadership since his election as Premier in 2019. Wildrosers who don’t like a centralized party leadership are unhappy, as are former Progressive Conservatives, who might be accustomed to more attention and access to their leadership.

The two groups have also discovered that all the things they disliked about each others politics when they were two parties are still there, except now they are in the same party.

The revolt hasn’t been limited to the party membership.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer in happier time (source: YouTube)

Four MLAs – Chestemere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – have either publicly called for Kenney to resign or have openly criticized his leadership. And while most of their colleagues have avoided making public comments about Kenney’s leadership, the unhappiness among UCP MLAs and their staff is palpable.

There has been a steady stream of high-profile political staffers leaving their positions in the UCP government for jobs in the private sector. This past month saw the departure of press secretary Blaise Boehmer, who levelled some pretty heavy criticisms against Kenney, and UCP Caucus executive director Brittany Baltimore, who both recently took jobs with government relations companies.

Guthrie levelled allegations to the UCP Caucus this week that Political Action Committees supporting Kenney were paying the delegate fees of supporters in order to stack the votes in favour of the Premier during the AGM.

Peter Guthrie MLA Airdrie-Cochrane UCP Communism
Peter Guthrie

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in his most recent column that a private company was organizing to send delegates in order to curry favour with UCP cabinet ministers if Kenney survives his leadership challenges.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen , who was kicked out of the UCP Caucus earlier this year for calling on Kenney to resign, and Edmonton-South NDP MLA Thomas Dang wrote letters to the Chief Elections Officer asking his office to investigate the allegations.

Albertans, and UCP members, are angry at Kenney, but aside from former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean who is running for the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, there is no obvious heir apparent inside the UCP for his opponents to rally around.

Cynthia Moore has been acclaimed as President and Sonia Kont acclaimed as Vice President of Fundraising, but there are races for the Secretary and Vice President of Communications positions.

Central Peace-Notley UCP President Samantha Steinke, who has publicly called for an early leadership review, is challenging incumbent Ruven Rajoo for VP Communications. Red Deer-South constituency President Janis Nett and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo President Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense are running for the Secretary position, which was made vacant when former Secretary Cathy Smith resigned earlier this year.

A number of candidates are contesting regional director positions, including Sundre-resident Heidi Overguard, who was appointed by the UCP government to the Board of Directors of Alberta Health Services in Nov. 2019.

Meanwhile, UCP members will be lining up at the microphone to debate policies about cancel culture, private health care, private schools, and hydrogen, among other issues. The CBC reported that Kenney’s office instructed staffers to vote down policies “introducing a provincial sales tax, relocalizing 911 dispatch, a moratorium on new coal exploration and development on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and creating a revenue-neutral Alberta carbon tax to replace the federal backstop.”

This weekend’s convention will be a much different affair from the party’s last in-person annual general meeting after it’s big win in the 2019 election.

Kenney will surely be focused on rallying the party to give him one more chance ahead of next spring’s review, but don’t expect to hear many of the celebratory rallying cries we heard two years ago. The party no longer feels like it is united and it is certainly not the one big conservative happy family that Kenney helped establish in 2017.

The UCP AGM starts at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary on Friday, Nov. 19 and will wrap up on Sunday, Nov. 21.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Bozo Eruption! UCP MLAs back “Free Alberta Strategy” as ICUs fill up and separatists get trounced in federal election

Alberta’s Intensive Care Units and hospitals are full of COVID-19 patients and the province now has more than half of the active cases of the deadly disease in Canada. School boards like the Edmonton Public School Board are reporting hundreds of young students have contracted the virus, forcing dozens of schools to shut down in-person classes and move to virtual classrooms. And 34 more Albertans died because of COVID-19 yesterday.

But what was the most important issue for a group of Alberta MLAs this week?

Alberta separatism.

Yep. That’s right.

Rob Anderson former MLA Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Former MLA Rob Anderson

With help from the libertarian Alberta Institute, former Progressive Conservative-turned-Wildrose-turned Progressive Conservative MLA and online talk show host Rob Anderson launched the “Free Alberta Strategy,” announcing a manifesto that declares Alberta a “sovereign jurisdiction” and, among other things, would allow the province to just ignore federal laws it doesn’t like.

Anderson was joined at the online press conference by United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt (who is also the Deputy Speaker of the Legislature) and Jason Stephan, and Independent MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen. The latter two MLAs were ejected from the UCP Caucus in May 2021 after losing confidence in Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, a sentiment that Pitt echoed during this press conference.

The Alberta Institute is led by former New Zealand political activist and Manning Centre researcher Peter McCaffrey. He also happens to be married to the institute’s former director of operations and past UCP nomination candidate Megan McCaffrey, who is now working as the Chief of Staff in Barnes’ and Loewen’ UCP Caucus-in-exile.

Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan

Legislative Assembly Speaker Nathan Cooper was also in attendance but was described as being an observer rather than a participant in the press conference.

Calling for a type of sovereignty-association with the rest of Canada, Anderson brought up a number of perennial ideas like an Alberta police force and pension plan, but then connected them to a whole swath of bad ideas that would either create needless bureaucracy or just be plain unconstitutional.

The group pled with reporters not to describe their group as separatists, but it is hard not to think of it as anything else. 

Independent MLA Todd Loewen Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Independent MLA Todd Loewen

It is hard to think of a more tone deaf time to fly the separatist flag in Alberta.

The actual separatist party earned 1.3 per cent in Alberta in the federal election held last week and the UCP government last week sent out a desperate plea for health care support from Ottawa and other provinces to deal with the COVID-19 fourth wave.

Just as tone deaf is Kenney’s province-wide referendum on October 18 asking Albertans to vote yes if they want the equalization formula removed from Canada’s constitution – a referendum that no one is talking about because of the COVID-19 crisis.

William Aberhart University of Alberta Honourary Degree
William Aberhart

The one person who wasn’t at the online press conference, but who might as well have been there in spirit (literally), was Premier William Aberhart, who himself pushed through unconstitutional laws in the 1930s that would nationalize banks and force newspapers to publish government propaganda.

When the Lieutenant Governor at the time refused to sign one of his unconstitutional laws, Aberhart chained the doors and evicted the vice-regal representative from of his official residence in Government House.


UCP MLA backs down on criticism of AHS, Kenney faces leadership review and offers no new plan to stop COVID

  • UCP vice-president Joel Mullan was fired by the board yesterday after calling for Kenney to face a leadership review, which has now been scheduled for April 2022.
  • Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson back pedalled on his attempts to shift blame for the overcapacity ICUs on Alberta Health Services President Dr. Verna Yiu, likely as a ploy to push more privatization of the public health care system.
  • Kenney joined Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu yesterday not to announce further public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 but to announce the government will ban protests outside of hospitals in reaction to anti-vaccine and COVID-19 conspiracy theorist rallies that were held two weeks ago.With none of these rallies having been held in weeks, some political watchers are wondering if the protest ban is actually being aimed at health care workers who could take job action in the coming months.

We are through the looking glass, Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics

More turmoil in Kenney’s Caucus: UCP MLA Richard Gotfried resigns as chair of the Calgary Caucus and criticizes “hypocrisy” in government leadership

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.

According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”

“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.

Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.

Richard Gotfried United Conservative Party MLA Calgary-Fish Creek
Richard Gotfried’s statement on Facebook

The timing of Gotfried’s statement follows the release of the final report of the Facility-based Continuing Care Review that Gotfried led, which was almost completely overshadowed by the boozy Sky Palace patio party and Kenney’s ill-timed lecture in defence of Sir John A Macdonald.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Gotfried is the sponsor of Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act, a government bill designed to shield owners of long-term care centers from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

He was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 under the UCP banner. He endorsed Kenney in the 2017 PC Party leadership race.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.

Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen were ejected from the UCP Caucus three weeks ago after Loewen called on Kenney to resign as leader of the party.


Notley leads only united party left in AlbertaRachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.

The convention included the usual debate over policy positions and motions and a host of panels featuring Democratic strategists from Arizona and municipal politicians from rural Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney’s reaction to boozy Sky Palace patio party photos sparks another UCP Caucus rebellion

Any appearance that Premier Jason Kenney had regained control over his United Conservative Party caucus three weeks ago when rebel MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen were ejected was shattered this weekend.

A handful of UCP MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, are now publicly calling on the Kenney to apologize for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions by hosting a boozy Sky Palace patio party that was caught on camera.

The photos of Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, and senior political staff dining at a booze filled table atop the penthouse patio of the notorious Sky Palace circulated on social media this week.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Kenney and company were clearly breaking the government’s own public health restrictions. But, instead of admitting they made a mistake and moving on, the Premier’s political staff jumped on social media to aggressively attack anyone who criticized their leader, claiming they did not break any rules.

But some UCP MLAs remain pretty unconvinced.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, a leader of the UCP’s COVID-18, posted on Facebook that it was clear that Kenney and the senior cabinet ministers were breaking public health restrictions.

“Looking at these photos it seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated,” wrote Pitt.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills UCP MLA David Hanson posted on Facebook that he agreed with Pitt. “I’m with you Angela. Albertans are angry, again, and rightly so, disappointing,” Hanson wrote.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer (source: YouTube)

And today, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, who also serves as Deputy Leader of the UCP and Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women, called on Kenney to “sincerely apologize” for breaking public health rules.

Aheer also took Kenney to task over his long-winded lecture defending Sir John A. Macdonald and claims that critics of Canada’s first Prime Minister are engaging in “cancel culture.”

Kenney’s comments were incredibly insensitive in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Residential School in Kamloops. Kenney’s comments prompted strong responses from the Confederation of Treaty Six First Nations and the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.

Jason Kenney Rajan Sawhney Calgary North East
Jason Kenney and Rajan Sawhney (source: YouTube)

Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, the UCP MLA for Calgary-North East, also called on Kenney to apologize for his boozy Sky Palace patio party.

“If they have committed a mistake, they must accept it openly. (The) photo clearly speaks,” Sawhney said on RED 106.7 FM in Calgary.

Meanwhile, Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is calling on the Kenney government to launch a public inquiry into the cost of its public health restrictions.

In this case, the attempted coverup was probably worse than the crime. Most Albertans would probably have accepted a quick apology from Kenney and his senior cabinet ministers for the rule breaking that so obviously occurred in the photos.

Kenney’s inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his staff’s overly aggressive attacks on anyone who pointed out what was clearly happening in the photos, has only given his opponents in the UCP caucus another reason to publicly criticize him.

This is certainly not the type of criticism that a Premier with a 16 per cent approval rating should be courting.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is the King of Not Managing Expectations

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London.” 

That was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s response on April 11, 2020 that the Legislative Assembly should stop meeting in-person to avoid spreading COVID-19 to MLAs, staff and their families.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

Unlike Parliament in Ottawa, other provincial legislatures, and most school boards across Alberta, our Legislature did not shift to online sessions when the pandemic began, instead continuing to meet in-person with a pre-arranged limited attendance by MLAs.

That Churchillian resolve to keep the Legislature in session abruptly disappeared on Sunday morning when Government House Leader Jason Nixon issued a press release announcing that the Legislative Assembly would be suspended for at least the next two weeks.

The press release states this is in response to the third wave of COVID-19, which has arrived in Alberta with a vengeance. And with almost 23,000 current active cases in the province, things look bleak.

Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state. (source: Trevor Tombe)
Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state in North America. (source: Trevor Tombe)

The business of Assembly committees will continue through the traditional conference call system, but the regular business of the Assembly will stop instead of doing what many other Albertans  in a similar situation have done for the past 14 months – go on Zoom.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley quickly disputed Nixon’s claims that the opposition was consulted, saying instead they were just told what was going to happen.

“The first item on the agenda for Monday must be an emergency debate on Jason Kenney’s failing pandemic response,” Notley said her own Sunday morning press release.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

The surprise suspension of the in-person Spring session is probably a good idea, and a practice that should have been adopted a year ago.

Our legislators, including a growing group of UCP MLAs who are publicly critical of public health restrictions, spent last week in their constituencies could risk unknowingly bringing the virus back to the Legislature with them (it was revealed two weeks ago that staff in the Premier’s Office had tested positive for COVID-19).

But why now, 14 months after the pandemic started?

That’s where this feels like politics played into this last minute decision to lockdown the Legislature.

It is a big departure from Kenney’s chest puffing at the beginning of the pandemic, when he would frequently quote and evoke the memory of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Great Britain through the Second World War.

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London,” Kenney said as the pandemic began to spread last April.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Churchillian is not how most people would describe Kenney’s leadership since the pandemic began. His start-stop half-measures approach to COVID has proved ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus. It has also annoyed Albertans and made his United Conservative Party look not so united.

Suspending the Legislature means Kenney will not have to answer hard questions from the media and the NDP opposition about his government’s response to the third wave of the pandemic, paid sick leave for working Albertans, or the recently announced unpopular $90 annual fee to enter Kananaskis Country.

It also puts some physical distance between Kenney and his critics inside the UCP.

In normal times, it would make sense for the Premier to want MLAs in Edmonton where his staff could keep a watchful eye and hold a tight leash, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference anymore.

Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)
Angela Pitt

Kenney won’t have to answer tough questions about Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, who recently walked back comments about vaccinations, and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who issued another public statement criticizing the government’s public health measures. It is starting to feel like Kenney’s critics in the UCP Caucus are driving the government’s agenda.

Probably meaning to channel Churchill, Kenney was all big talk last year when the UCP government passed laws clamping down on protesters who would block bridges, pipelines, or anything the cabinet deems as “critical infrastructure.”

He had no shortage of words to denounce protesters in Montreal who decapitated a statue of Sir  John A. Macdonald.

He even launched a much-hyped public inquiry to investigate alleged enemies of Alberta’s oil industry.

But when it came to the 2,000 Albertans openly violating public health rules by attending the “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” in Bowden over the weekend, Kenney could only muster a string of strongly worded tweets.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Facing the biggest challenge of his premiership, Kenney is clearly out of his depth. While he may be a successful political tactician during election campaigns, he has consistently been unable to rise to the occasion as leader of a government during this pandemic crisis.

Two weeks ago, he said Alberta was on track to beat the COVID variants that are now sky-rocketing across the province. Last year, he downplayed COVID by comparing it to the flu. And just last month he repeatedly said that this summer would be Alberta’s best ever.

If he wore a crown, Kenney would be the King of Not Managing Expectations.

Maybe someone can ask him about it if he returns to the Legislature in two weeks?

Categories
Daveberta Podcast

Episode 72: The COVID 18 and the Curriculum Catastrophe

Alberta politics moves at a mile a minute and there’s no time to waste. On this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, we dive into the United Conservative Caucus rebellion against mild public health restrictions to fight COVID-19 and challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, the controversial draft K-6 curriculum, and the government’s toxic relationship with Alberta doctors and public sector unions.

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

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

Music featured in this episode: Prairie Soil by Johnny Bomblast and Dave Harris.

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP backbenchers revolt against mild public health restrictions as COVID third wave hits Alberta

New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and the third wave of the global pandemic is hitting Alberta, but that did not deter a group of nearly 20 United Conservative Party MLAs from publicly speaking out against the provincial government’s implementation of mild public health restrictions in response.

Like the virus, the group of COVID critics inside the UCP Caucus has grown exponentially from the original six-pack of MLAs who publicly spoke out against public health measures at the beginning of March. The public letter signed by 15 UCP MLAs criticized Premier Jason Kenney for moving back to Step 1 of the province’s mild public health measures in response to the spike in new cases, which is largely a result of a vicious new variant of the deadly virus.

The group of 15 includes Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who made an unusual move for a Speaker of the Assembly to publicly criticize the government, and already open COVID critics Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt, who recently split from the national End the Lockdown Caucus after Ontario MPP Randy Hillier posted a social media meme comparing public health restrictions to the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The UCP group also includes Tracy Allard, whose Christmas vacation to Hawaii cost her her job of Municipal Affairs Minister.

The letter signed by the 15 MLAs was soon after endorsed by Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell and West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, who also serves as the parliamentary secretary for small business. Also signalling support for the letter’s intentions was Calgary Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel-Garner, who serves as the Official Opposition Health Critic in Ottawa.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams, a long-time Kenney acolyte from Ottawa, did not endorse the letter but posted a video on social media criticizing the decision by Alberta Health Services to close down the rebel GraceLife Church, which had been holding in-person services in defiance of the government’s public health orders. He was joined in this call by Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the federal Conservative caucus for his extreme social conservative views.

Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)
Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)

That the leaders of the UCP caucus mutiny appear to largely be from the former Wildrose caucus, or Wildrose-wing of the party, is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

It was also clear during Kenney’s press conference on Tuesday that he expected a negative reaction from his caucus. A significant portion of Kenney’s lecture was dedicated to managing MLAs expectations and acknowledging the differences of opinion in his caucus. Difference of opinion is one thing, but this is something entirely different.

The public health restrictions that Alberta fell back to earlier this week are nothing close to what restrictions have looked like in jurisdictions that have actually implemented lockdowns. Alberta schools are still open for in-person classes, and Albertans can still gather with up to 10 people outside, go shopping for non-essential items, get a haircut or a massage, dine or have drinks on a restaurant patio, and exercise at a gym with a personal trainer.

Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney on April 6, 2021.

There is no doubt a lot of Albertans are frustrated about how the provincial government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kenney government has not helped itself by releasing a string of confusing and inconsistent public health measures and messaging to Albertans about the government’s response.

While public opinion polling suggests many Albertans would like the government to impose stronger measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus, there is a loud minority who want to see the current restrictions lifted.

It is yet to be seen whether the revolt will extend beyond this strongly worded letter, but there is little doubt these MLAs are actively undermining the work being done by public health professionals and health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The caucus revolt is probably a reflection of deepening regional and partisan divides in Alberta, with most of the COVID Caucus MLAs representing largely rural and small town districts. It is notable that no UCP MLAs from Calgary, so far the hardest hit in the third wave, have publicly joined the revolt.

It also suggests that the United Conservative Party is not as united as its leader would like Albertans to believe.

Kenney’s personal approval ratings and support for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic plummeted over the past 13 months, and his party has floundered in the polls, finishing behind Rachel Notley’s NDP in a handful of recent voter opinion polls. The rise of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party in rural Alberta has some backbench UCP MLAs nervously looking over their right shoulders.

In some ways, the revolt probably serves as a welcome distraction to some in the UCP from the never ending string of scandals and policy failures, most recently the failure to stop the Carbon Tax at the Supreme Court, the loss of $1.5 billion of public money when the Keystone XL Pipeline was cancelled, the failure to sign a new contract with Alberta doctors, the retreat on open-pit coal mining, and the open rebellion by parents against the draft K-6 curriculum.

Under normal circumstances it would be hard to believe that this kind of caucus revolt would happen on a day when more than 1,300 new cases of COVID were reported and doctors are calling for a circuit breaker response, but in today’s world of Alberta politics, it would be harder to believe this would happen if the UCP were not floundering so deeply in the polls.

The original 15 UCP MLAs who signed the letter

  • Tracy Allard, MLA Grande Prairie
  • Drew Barnes, MLA Cypress-Medicine Hat
  • Nathan Cooper, MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • Michaela Glasgo, MLA Brooks-Medicine Hat
  • Dave Hanson, MLA Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul
  • Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler
  • Todd Loewen, MLA Central Peace-Notley
  • Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka
  • Angela Pitt, MLA Airdrie-East
  • Roger Reid, MLA Livingstone-Macleod
  • Miranda Rosin, MLA Banff-Kananaskis
  • RJ Sigurdson, MLA Highwood
  • Mark Smith, Drayton Valley-Devon
  • Jason Stephan, Red Deer-South
  • Glenn van Dijken, Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock
Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP advisors erase Residential Schools and inject Anglophilia into primary grades’ Social Studies curriculum, show leaked documents

Perhaps it should not be a shock that a government initiative ostensibly aimed at “removing political bias” actually includes a whole lot of bias, but the curriculum advisory panel struck by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appears to be doing just that.

According to draft copies leaked to CBC reporter Janet French, all references to residential schools will be removed from kindergarten to Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum if recommendations from an advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government are accepted.

The authors of the draft copies have deemed residential schools to be “too sad” for younger students, but lighter topics like feudal societies, the Roman Empire and Chinese dynasties were considered appropriate by the panel.

The draft, which appears to be written partially in first-person, is also filled with strange Anglophilia like teaching students to memorize a Gilbert and Sullivan song and recognize the chimes of the Big Ben clock tower in London. It oddly describes Queen Elizabeth II as “Canada’s ruler” and claims that the monarchy represents “unity in diversity,” seemingly sugarcoating the legacy of British colonialism (this does not sound like the model of a modern major education system).

CBC reported the curriculum advisory panel also recommended the removal of all references to “equity” (which was deemed too politically partisan and charged), and that first grade students should learn Bible verses about creation as poetry and fourth grade students should learn that most non-white Albertans are Christians. It is not clear how the injection of a pseudo-religious curriculum would fit into the role of secular public schools, which the vast majority of Alberta students attend.

The handpicked advisory panel includes former political staffer Chris Champion as the Social Studies advisor. Champion was a senior advisor to Jason Kenney during his time in Ottawa from 2007 to 2015 and has been criticized for a 2019 article in which he described First Nations perspectives in school lessons as a fad.

“The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association Staff Officer for Indigenous Education Melissa Purcell in a press release this afternoon.

“The recommendations perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum. These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright,” said Purcell.

This is not the first time someone with close ties to Kenney has been criticized for comments about residential schools. Paul Bunner, who worked as Kenney’s speechwriter from 2019 until this fall once wrote an article dismissing the “bogus genocide story” of Canada’s residential school system.

Both Bunner and Champion are former employees of the Alberta Report, a now defunct conservative weekly news magazine.

Between the early 1880’s and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools operated by church organizations and the Government of Canada.

The children were strictly forbidden from practicing their culture and speaking their language and were forced to assimilate into ‘white Canada.’ The number of school-related deaths is estimated to range from 3,200 to more than 6,000.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and held its final hearing in Edmonton in 2015, recommended that provincial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Residential School survivors, Indigenous peoples, and educators create “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students” and implement “Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools” (Calls to Action 62 and 63).

The TRC final report described the residential school system as cultural genocide, a description that was adopted by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in 2019.

Grande Prairie and District Catholic School Board Chair Michael Ouellette told MyGrandePrairieNow that leaving out residential schools from learning plans is a terrible idea.

“It’s concerning where it’s going, it’s concerning where they’re going with education in this province,” Ouellette said.” “Other provinces are so much further ahead of us with the curriculum.”

Education experts interviewed by CBC described the recommendations included in the draft as “utter nonsense,” “a laughingstock” and out of touch with the past 30 to 40 years of research.


In 2016, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the heart-breaking story of 12-year old Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, whose death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.


COVID hits UCP cabinet

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

It was announced today that Kenney is in self-isolation after Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard contracted COVID-19. Allard was appointed to cabinet last month. Also self-isolating are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie and Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf.

Kenney tested negative for COVID-19 but a statement released by his office says he plans to remain in self-isolation until October 29, 2020.

The total number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta announced today hit 406, a record daily high since the pandemic began.

Despite the emergence of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced last week that the UCP government plans to lay-0ff 11,000 health support workers and Alberta Health Services reiterated its plans to layoff 650 Registered Nurses.

Categories
Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Unwin
Joseph Unwin

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

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

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

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

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

Ted Morton MLA
Ted Morton

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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