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 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.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, 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.
The leadership review had been pushed to April 2022 from fall 2022 after Kenney averted a caucus revolt over the summer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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 Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
Submissions will close on Dec. 8, 2019 at 6:00 pm and the top three choices in each category will be included in a round of voting starting on Dec. 9, 2019. Voting will be open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end edition of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.
Legislative Assembly Speaker Nathan Cooper initiated the first ever Alberta MLA awards to give MLAs an opportunity to vote for their colleagues in a number of categories. MLAs Tracy Allard, David Eggen, Nate Horner, Shane Getson, Janis Irwin, Martin Long, Angela Pitt, Rajan Sawhney, and Travis Toews were recognized by their peers for extraordinary work in service of the people of Alberta. More than half of the 87 MLAs returned the anonymous ballots, according to a report by Canadian Press reporter Dean Bennett.
When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the new Legislature today, the first piece of business they were required to conduct was the election of a Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who will preside over debates and ensure that the established rules of behaviour and procedure are followed.
The Speaker is elected by MLAs through a secret ballot held at the beginning of each legislative session. Candidates are nominated by their colleagues on the floor of the Assembly and voting takes place immediately afterward.
It has been fairly well known in most political circles that Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper has had his eye on the Speaker’s Chair. Cooper made his intentions known shortly after the election and as former interim leader of the United Conservative Party and opposition house leader, he was well positioned to take on the role. His lack of appointment to the UCP cabinet earlier this month was a pretty definite signal that he would have the support of Premier Jason Kenney and most or all of the UCP caucus in this election.
As has become the norm in recent years, the opposition also nominated a candidate for the Speaker’s Chair. Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray nominated her New Democratic Caucus colleague, Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet in the election. Sweet had served as Deputy Chair of Committees during the previous Assembly.
The election of a Speaker through a secret ballot is a relatively new invention in Alberta politics. Before 1993, when the first secret ballot vote took place, the Premier’s choice for Speaker was typically acclaimed by the Assembly.
An exception that I discovered was in 1922, when a United Farmers of Alberta MLA surprised the Assembly when he nominated a Conservative opposition MLAs to challenge Premier Herbert Greenfield’s chosen candidate for Speaker. The Conservative MLA declined the nomination and Greenfield’s choice was acclaimed.
Here is a look at a few of the contested Speaker elections held since 1993:
2015: When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the legislature following the 2015 election, Medicine Hat NDP MLA Bob Wanner was elected as Speaker. Wanner faced Calgary-Lougheed Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney. The Wildrose opposition attempted to nominate others challengers in a strange attempt to disrupt the process. Wildrose MLAs Angela Pitt and Leela Aheer nominated NDP MLAs Stephanie McLean and Marie Renaud and PC MLA Sandra Jansen, all who declined their nominations.
2008 and 2012:Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was nominated by her Liberal caucus colleagues in the 2008 and 2012 Speaker elections and was defeated by incumbent Speaker Ken Kowalski in the first election and Edmonton-Mill Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Gene Zwozdesky in the second election.
1997:Barrhead-Westlock PC MLA and former deputy premier Ken Kowalski was elected as Speaker on the second round of voting over Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg after Highwood MLA Don Tannas was eliminated on the first ballot. Liberal leader Grant Mitchell nominated then-Liberal MLA Gene Zwozdesky as a candidate for Speaker, but he declined to stand.
It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Kowalski’s over Clegg, who was seen as Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice. Kowalski’s comeback happened a short three years after he had been unceremoniously booted from Klein’s cabinet.
Speaker punches newspaper publisher over wife-swapping allegations, 1935
A glance through the history of Speakers of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reveals some fascinating stories. One story really stuck out.
In 1935, Speaker OranMcPherson is reported to have engaged in a heated argument at the top of the rotunda’s grand staircase with Edmonton Bulletin publisher Charles Campbell, who McPherson accused of spreading lies about his divorce. McPherson punched Campbell and he hit a railing and banged his head on a pillar.
It had been reported that McPherson was arranging a “wife-swap” with the aide-de-camp to the serving Lieutenant Governor.
In the southwest district of Calgary-Glenmore, Jordan Stein defeated MLA Anam Kazim to win the NDP nomination. Stein is a former coffee shop owner, flight attendant with WestJet and employee engagement consultant with Air North.
Kazim was first elected in 2015 with a 6-vote margin of victory over Progressive Conservative MLA Linda Johnson. Kazim was one of 9 NDP candidates under the age of 30 to be elected in 2015.
Calgary-Foothills: Sameena Arif is active with the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association. A teacher who immigrated from Pakistan to Canada with her family in 2004, Arif’s story was highlighted in an article on one of the Government of Alberta’s official websites in 2012.
Calgary-Hays: Tory Tomblin is a primary care paramedic with Alberta Health Services and was a candidate for the Calgary Board of Education in Wards 12 & 14 in the 2017 election.
Camrose: Morgan Bamford is the Acting Supervisor of Indigenous Relations with the City of Edmonton and is the co-founder of Bamford & Henbest Research and Consulting Partners Ltd. He is vice-president of the board of directors of Volunteer Alberta.
The NDP have scheduled candidate selection meetings in Calgary-North on February 4, 2019, in Edmonton-Whitemud on February 7, 2019, and in Calgary-West, Cypress-Medicine Hat, and Edmonton-South West on February 9, 2019.
The contested NDP nomination race between Melissa Byers and Todd Russell in Grande Prairie was initially scheduled to take place on February 3, 2019 but has been rescheduled to February 19, 2019.
Alberta Advantage Party
The Wildrose Party-offshoot Alberta Advantage Party has nominated former Wolf Creek School Division trustee Paula Lamoureux as its candidate in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. This is considered one of the most conservative voting areas in Alberta and is currently represented by UCP MLA Jason Nixon.
Marilyn Burns, the leader of the small right-wing party, will be holding a series of town hall meetings in Pincher Creek, Brooks, and Calgary in February 2019.
Freedom Conservative Party
RickNorthey has been nominated as the Freedom Conservative Party candidate in Airdrie-East. Northey is the former president of the Airdrie UCP and Wildrose Party associations. Heresigned from that UCP board in June 2018, saying he was unhappy with what he maintained was a secretive cash transfer of $16,000 from the local Wildrose Party association to the Alberta Fund political action committee in late 2017. Nothey accused UCP MLA Angela Pitt of “outright intimidation” in trying to get him to stop asking questions about it. He will now face Pitt in the provincial election.
Valerie Keefe has withdrawn plans to seek the FCP nomination in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.
The FCP has opened nomination contests in Airdrie-Cochrane, Calgary-North West, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, and Leduc-Beaumont.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at email@example.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
There are three scheduled nomination meetings being held this week:
November 5, 2018 – 2015 Wildrose Party candidate Terry Devries, Amoriza Gunnink, Nicholas Milliken, past federal Conservative nomination candidate Dan Morrison, and Bettina Pierre-Gilles are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Currie. Anthony Parker’s candidacy was not accepted by the UCP. Gunnink has been endorsed by Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Pierre-Gilles has been endorsed by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.
November 6 & 7, 2018 – Former Morinville town councillor and 2015 Wildrose Party candidate Joe Gosselin, Legal town councillor Trina Jones, Dale Nally, and former Sturgeon County mayor and 2015 Wildrose nomination candidate Don Rigney are seeking the UCP nomination in Morinville-St. Albert.Gibbons town councillor Amber Harris withdrew her candidacy for the nomination on November 2, 2018. Rigney’s endorsements page on his website appears to have been reused from his 2013 mayoral re-election campaign, including a testimonial from now deceased former Social Credit MLA Keith Everitt.
November 8, 2018 – NDP MLA Barb Miller is expected to be acclaimed for her party’s nomination in Red Deer-South. Miller was elected in 2015 with 35.9 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
Calgary-Falconridge – Raman Gill is seeking the UCP nomination. Happy Mann’s candidacy appears to have been rejected by the UCP. Mann was alleged to have been involved in a incident where a local reporter was assaulted. Mann was the Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-McCall in the 2015 election and Calgary-Cross in the 2012 election.
Calgary-Mountain View – Long-time radio journalist Angela Kokott has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate. Many Calgarians will know Kokott as the host of Calgary Today on NewsTalk 770. She is the third 770 host to jump into provincial politics in recent history, following Dave Taylor, who served as the MLA for Calgary-Currie from 2004 to 2008 (as a Liberal, then an Independent and Alberta Party MLA), and Mike Blanchard, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-Buffalo in 2012.
Calgary-North – Melanie Wen has withdrawn her candidacy for the Alberta Party in this district. She had been nominated on October 4, 2018.
Edmonton-Manning – Keli Tamaklo is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Edmonton-North West– Emerson Mayers is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Mayers was recently a candidate for City Council in Ward 4. He ran for the Progressive Conservative Party in Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2012 election and previously sought the Liberal Party nomination in Edmonton-Manning in 1997, the PC nomination in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, the PC nomination in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in 2012, and the PC nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2015.
Edmonton-Rutherford – Richard Feehan is seeking the NDP nomination for re-election in 2019. Feehan was first elected in 2015, earning 63.9 percent of the vote. He now serves as Minister of Indigenous Relations and Deputy Government House Leader.
Edmonton-Strathcona – It was never in doubt, but Premier Rachel Notley has officially announced her plans to seek re-election in the district she has represented since 2008. Notley was re-elected with 82.4 percent of the vote in 2015. With the exception of one-term from 1993 to 1997, this district has been represented by the NDP since 1986.
Guthrie is a former owner of a Mr. Lube franchise in north east Calgary and a former co-owner of a ranch near Castor. He was endorsed by former sportscaster and recent Airdrie-East UCP nomination candidate Roger Millions and former Rocky View County councillor and Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Eric Lowther. Stiff had been endorsed by Airdrie UCP MLA Angela Pitt, who is running for re-election in the neighbouring Airdrie-East district.
Banff-Kananaskis: Miranda Rosin defeated Scott Wagner and Michael Zubkow to secure the UCP nomination in this mountain and foothills district west of Calgary on October 27, 2018. Rosin was endorsed by UCP MLAs Leela Aheer, Drew Barnes, Angela Pitt, MP Blake Richards, developer Cal Wenzel, and Canmore town councillor Rob Seeley.
Calgary-Acadia: Former city councillor Brian Pincott will be nominated as the New Democratic Party candidate in this district on October 25, 2018. Pincott represented Ward 11 on Calgary City Council from 2007 to 2017.
Shandro had the blessing of Calgary’s conservative political establishment with the endorsements of UPC MLAs Ric McIver, Nathan Cooper, Jason Nixon, Mike Ellis, city councillors Sean Chu, Jeff Davison, Ward Sutherland and Peter Demong, MPs Ron Liepert and Len Webber, and former Progressive Conservative MLAs Harvey Cenaiko, Jim Dinning, Karen Kryczka, Donna Kennedy-Glans, and Rick Orman.
Nicolaides was endorsed by UCP MLA Richard Gotfried, Nathan Cooper, Calgary MP Stephanie Kusie, Ontario MP Pierre Pollievre, and Calgary-Buffalo UCP candidate Tom Olsen and Calgary-Glenmore candidate Whitney Issik. Davis was endorsed by UCP MLA Mike Ellis.
Calgary-Cross: Farhan Baig’s candidacy in the UCP nomination contest has not been accepted by the UCP.
Calgary-Currie:Lindsay Luhnau was nominated as the Alberta Party nomination in this district. Past candidate Tony Norman withdrew from the contest before the vote.
Calgary-East: Robert O’Leary’s candidacy in the UCP nomination contest has not been accepted by the UCP.
Calgary-Elbow: Janet Eremenko was nominated as the NDP candidate on October 18, 2018. Eremenko was a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 11 in the October 2017 election where she finished third with 20 percent of the vote.
Calgary-Glenmore: Scott Appleby is seeking the Alberta Party nomination
Calgary-North East: Jerry Gautreau and Manjit Jaswal have withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in this district.
Calgary-Shaw: Rebecca Schulz defeated past Wildrose Party candidate Mark Mantei, party activist and party activist and past federal Conservative nomination candidate Jack Redekop, and Daniel McLean to win the UCP nomination on October 20, 2018.
Schulz is the director of marketing and communications at the University of Calgary and until 2016 was the director of communications for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. She was endorsed by MP Stephanie Kusie, UCP MLAs Nathan Cooper and Jason Nixon, and former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood: Educator and community advocate Janis Irwin was acclaimed at a nomination meeting on October 23, 2018. Irwin currently works as a Director of Stakeholder Relations in the Office of the Premier and previously worked on the curriculum changes being implemented by the Department of Education. She ran as the federal NDP candidate in Edmonton-Greisbach in the 2015 federal election, placing a strong second behind Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte.
With exception of a brief period from 1993 to 1997, most of this district has been represented by the NDP since 1986. Irwin is succeeding former NDP leader Brian Mason, who has represented the district since 2000 and is retiring when the next election is called.
Edmonton-Manning: Harjinder Grewal is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-Riverview: Katherine O’Neill is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. O’Neill was the PC Party candidate in Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2015 election. She later served as president of the PC Party and left the party shortly after Jason Kenney won the leadership in 2017. Before entering politics, O’Neill was a reporter for the Globe & Mail.
Edmonton-West Henday:Nicole Williams defeated Leila Houle on October 22, 2018 to secure the United Conservative Party nomination in the newly redrawn Edmonton-West Henday district. A third candidate, Lance Coulter, was disqualified after comments made following a week long fiasco involving the three candidates posing for photos with members of the anti-immigration white nationalist Soldiers of Odin vigilant group.
Williams is a senior associate with Canadian Strategy Group and previously worked as an assistant to various MLAs and cabinet ministers in the old Progressive Conservative government.
Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche: Rookie UCP MLA Laila Goodridge defied rumours of an impending defeat by securing the UCP nomination on October 26, 2018. Goodridge defeated former Lac La Biche County councillor Gail Broadbent-Ludwig and former Wood Buffalo mayoral candidate Allan Grandson.
Lesser Slave Lake – John Middelkoop is seeking the UCP nomination.
Lethbridge-East/Livingstone-Macleod: Nathan Neudorf has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in Lethbridge-East and is now seeking the UCP nominaton in Livingstone-Macleod.
Morinville-St. Albert: Shane St. Arnault has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest. St. Arsenault is the owner of Shane’s Guardian Pharmacy in Redwater.
Red Deer-North: Catholic School Board trustee Adriana LaGrangedefeated former Wildrose Caucus staffer Cole Kander and Red Deer City Councillor Lawrence Lee to secure UCP nomination on October 27, 2018. LaGrange has been endorsed by Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis and former Red Deer-North PC MLA Mary Anne Jablonski. Kander had been endorsed by Conservative MP Dane Lloyd, and UCP MLAs Drew Barnes, Scott Cyr, Grant Hunter.
On October 3, 2018, LaGrange hosted an event for the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, an advocacy group that has been a vocal opponent of student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in Alberta schools.
Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright: Jenelle Saskiwis seeking the UCP nomination. Saskiw served as the mayor of the Village of Marwayne and currently works as a senior advisor to Alberta Counsel, an Edmonton-based lobbyist and legal firm founded by former Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw and lawyer Jon Wescott.
Note: The Alberta Party nominated a whole batch of candidates immediately before their recent annual general meeting. I am trying to get the list of those candidates straight, so I will try to include those candidates in my next nomination update.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add them to the list. Thank you!