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Alberta Politics

The UCP field is set. Diving into the leadership race on the Cross Border Interviews Podcast.

The United Conservative Party leadership race is heating up!

I joined Chris Brown on the Cross Border Interviews Podcast this week to dive into the UCP leadership race and what the candidates and campaigns are up to.

Is Danielle Smith really the front-runner?

Does establishment-favourite Travis Toews need to catch up?

Why is Brian Jean running such a sleepy campaign?

Will Rajan Sawhney or Rebecca Schulz break through the noise?

What are Leela Aheer and Todd Loewen doing?

Did Raj Sherman really think they would let him on the ballot?

We break it all down.

Download and subscribe to the Cross Border Interviews Podcast on Apple and Spotify, or watch the interview on YouTube below.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith is making sure Alberta doesn’t have a boring political summer

Popular opinion would have that summer is a quiet and boring time in politics, but not so in Alberta.

I can’t remember there was a boring political summer in Alberta?

Last year was the Best Summer Ever disaster and the summer before that was the first COVID summer. Before that was the Summer of Repeal. And so on.

This summer, the most unexpected political comeback might be happening before our eyes.

In almost every aspect, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is defining what the United Conservative Party leadership race is about.

Following her “Alberta First” campaign slogan, Smith declared plans to introduce an Alberta Sovereignty Act to let Alberta MLAs vote on which federal laws they want the province to follow.

The other candidates responded.

Even Finance Minister Jason Nixon, a staunch Jason Kenney-loyalist, stepped in to pooh-pooh Smith’s idea (Nixon was nominated as Wildrose candidate back when Smith was still party leader).

Her campaign chair, Rob Anderson, is founder of the Free Alberta Strategy and was one of two Progressive Conservative MLAs to cross the floor to Smith’s Wildrose in 2010 (he later crossed the floor back to the PCs with Smith in 2014).

Smith declared Alberta will never ever have a lockdown again (we never *really* had a lockdown).

The other candidates responded.

She made wild statements about any cancer before Stage 4 is a result of poor personal choices.

Everyone responded.

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote that her “dabbles in quackery” are sometimes almost funny but “this one is dangerous.”

When Smith hosted a popular radio talk show she promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure to COVID-19. She even touted ivermectin as a treatment. Now she wants to appoint chief medical officers of alternative medicine.

Quackery is putting it politely.

It’s the realm of internet pseudoscience.

As my friend David Climenhaga opined, it is the Donald Trump strategy of saying outrageous stuff that appeals to the base voters and damn the consequences.

And it might be working.

Smith has now nabbed 4 MLA endorsements.

Airdrie-Cochrane’s Peter Guthrie, Calgary-Falconridge’s Devinder Toor, Lethbridge-East’s Nathan Neudorf, and Lesser Slave Lake’s Pat Rehn, who dropped his endorsement of establishment favourite Travis Toews to support Smith.

But it’s not exactly the crème de la crème of the UCP Caucus.

Toor was fined $15,000 by Elections Alberta for breaking political finance laws in 2018 and 2019, and was allegedly part of group who bullied and harassed a food truck owner in northeast Calgary.

Rehn was briefly expelled from the UCP Caucus in 2021 after taking a hot holiday to Mexico while most Albertans respected the government’s own COVID-19 travel advice and stayed home, and local municipal leaders called on him to resign after spending more time in Texas than his own riding.

Kenney said Rehn would not be allowed to run for the UCP nomination in the next election but he was quietly allowed to rejoin the UCP Caucus last summer. But now Kenney is on his way out.

Some might say I’m playing into the Smith-comeback narrative by writing this article, but she’s the only candidate saying anything interesting – even if it’s quackery.

She’s drawing crowds and appears to be hitting the right notes with a motivated segment of the UCP base, which says a lot about who the membership of the UCP is today.

This isn’t your father’s Progressive Conservative Party, folks.

The other candidates in the UCP race better get their acts together, because the membership sales deadline is on August 12.

That’s just 16 days away.

The final 7

Smith might be getting the most attention but she’s not the only candidate in the race. Leela Aheer, Brian Jean, Todd Loewen, Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz and Travis Toews also made the cut. Bill Rock dropped out to endorse Jon Horsman, who dropped out, and, as expected, Raj Sherman was not allowed to run (his old job as Liberal Party leader is open though).

More separatist drama

Danielle Smith Paul Hinman Daveberta Wildrose United Conservative Party
Paul Hinman and Danielle Smith in 2010. (source: Dave Cournoyer)

If there’s one thing we can depend on Alberta’s cottage industry of fringe right-wing separatist parties to deliver, it’s drama.

It looks like Paul Hinman has been ousted as leader of the Wildrose Independence Party. The ouster comes shortly after the Independence Party of Alberta announced that merger talks with WIP broke off.

Hinman has been replaced by Jeevan Mangat, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-Fort in 2012 and 2015.

The WIP was created in 2020 through the merger of the Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party (which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party of Alberta and the Western Freedom Party). The party has struggled with fundraising and Hinman placed a distant third in the recent Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

Before his time as WIP leader, Hinman served as a Wildrose MLA from 2004 to 2008 and 2009 to 2012, and as leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party immediately before Danielle Smith was chosen as leader in 2009.

Meanwhile, the IPA is still looking for a new leader. Past federal Liberal candidate Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race, so far.

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Alberta Politics

Calgary Stampeding: It looks like Danielle Smith is making a big comeback in the UCP leadership race

There’s not much of anything that is constant in Alberta politics these days, maybe except for the Calgary Stampede.

At least in some non-pandemic years, it’s the Northern Star of Alberta politics. It’s the must attend event for political aspirants of all stripes, from Prime Ministers to aspiring future Premiers.

The Stampede is back in full force this year, with last year’s disastrous “Best Summer Ever” disaster unfortunately an almost distant memory, even though its a big reason why we are where we are today in Alberta politics.

And for anyone watching the Stampede, even this writer from his perch in Edmonton, the race to replace Jason Kenney as Premier and leader of the United Conservative Party was on display as urbanites of all stripes dusted off their cowboys hats and plaid shirts for the week of pancake breakfasts and beer tents.

The big talk of the town this week is Danielle Smith’s unexpectedly strong comeback in the UCP leadership race.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Most political watchers will remember her downfall after a treacherous floor-crossing nearly destroyed the Wildrose Party and helped created the conditions for Rachel Notley to lead her NDP to sweep the province in 2015. (Real political nerds will remember her time on the disastrous Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999, but that’s for another column).

But what we politicos may have missed is that a lot of Albertans, including the thousands who have signed up to support her and are showing up to her campaign events in droves, remember her from her more recent role as the host of a popular talk radio show.

Smith has always been a talented political communicator, despite some high-profile flameouts.

She knows how to talk to conservatives, and it just happens there are a lot of those in Alberta.

Danielle Smith United Conservative Party leadership event Airdrie
Danielle Smith speaking to a crowd at a campaign event in Airdrie (source: Twitter)

It’s not clear how many UCP MLAs support her separatist-leaning “Alberta First” campaign or her dipping into COVID conspiracy theories, but she has nabbed at least one endorsement from the governing caucus – Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.

Smith hasn’t held a seat in the Legislature sine 2015 but she’s challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. And recently she said she would reopen nomination contests some party activists believe were unfairly stacked in favour of Kenney loyalists, a move that is unlikely to endear her to most current UCP MLAs.

Her comeback would be the political story of the year, and while Premier Danielle Smith is far from a sure thing, she is certainly driving the narrative of the UCP leadership campaign. She’s tapped into a motivated group of Alberta conservatives unhappy with the status-quo.

Those are probably the people Kenney referred to as “lunatics.”

And they might just be the mainstream of the UCP right now.

Even the perceived frontrunner is responding to Smith.

Travis Toews (source: Twitter)
Travis Toews (source: Twitter)

Establishment favourite Travis Toews followed Smith’s lead with a milquetoast “Enough is Enough” social media meme opposing COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s not clear what message he was trying to telegraph.

It was the kind of vague response you would expect from a frontrunner campaign, wanting to respond and not offend but failing at both.

Toews also released a list of autonomist policies that read like they were copied and pasted from 2020’s Fair Deal Panel report.

Smith and Toews aren’t alone.

Brian Jean is hitting the same notes, though he’s running a sleepier than expected campaign. Still, Fort McMurray’s Golden Boy shouldn’t be underestimated.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen is also hitting the same notes on separatist and anti-COVID health measures but his chances of winning appear much less likely than the others in this pack.

Rachel Notley and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud at the Calgary Stampede.
Rachel Notley and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud at the Calgary Stampede. (source: Twitter)

Smith’s extreme positions are probably leaving Rachel Notley’s NDP salivating at the opportunity to run against an extremist right-wing UCP that would leave a lot of Albertans alienated.

Two months ago, Notley’s victory in Alberta’s next election looked like a sure bet, but Kenney’s resignation announcement gave his party a bump in the polls and now it’s a race.

Notley and her MLAs have basically decamped to Calgary for the summer, showing up at every event and taking every chance to door knock with their growing slate of local candidates that includes former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow, energy analyst Samir Kayande in Calgary-Elbow, sustainable energy expert Nagwan Al-Guneid in Calgary-Glenmore. Canadian Forces veteran Marilyn North Peigan in Calgary-Klein, and physician Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity.

It’s probably the closest thing Calgary has seen to a Progressive Conservative slate since 2015 but the NDP still have a lot of hard work ahead of them to convince Calgarians to vote for them en masse in 2023.

But the UCP leadership candidate the NDP might fear the most so far hasn’t been playing the same cards as Smith, Toews, Jean and Loewen.

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

Rebecca Schulz is one candidate to watch.

The first-term MLA from Calgary-Shaw and former children’s service minister had already nabbed an endorsement from Rona Ambrose but the former interim Conservative Party leader is now chairing her campaign.

Schulz also released an endorsement from former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Tim McMillan, who joined former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in supporting her.

Schulz and her husband were political staffers in Wall’s government before moving to Calgary seven years ago and her husband worked for McMillan as VP Communications of CAPP.

It’s hard to tell where her politics are. Schulz seems more moderate than the rest of the pack, which isn’t saying much, but how much more moderate is not clear.

Along with her political establishment connections, Schulz might become a pretty appealing candidate if there are enough UCP members left who don’t want to fight the next election on COVID conspiracy theories and Alberta separatism.

At the very least, there might actually be enough Saskatchewan expats alone living in Alberta to win a leadership race.

And I would be remise if I failed to mention the other candidates who are also busy yahooing their way through the Stampede.

Rajan Sawhney is running an outsiders campaign, leaning on her years of business experience. She is also a candidate to watch.

Leela Aheer appears to be running for the leadership of a completely different party, but that hasn’t saved her from dirty tricks. Someone bought LeelaAheer.ca and is pointing it to an old Daveberta article about the nasty nomination contest she faced in 2018 (I don’t own the domain name, I swear).

Raj Sherman showed up at the Stampede with a decal-clad pickup truck and his campaign has been making robo-calls, despite being told he won’t be allowed to be on the ballot.

Former bank executive Jon Horsman is running.

And, to no one’s surprise, Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock dropped out, citing the high $175,000 candidate entry fee.

It’s a dog’s breakfast, and really could be anyone’s race to win.

There’s strategy at play, for sure, but as one experienced campaign strategist said to me last week, when it comes to leadership campaigns, a lot more depends on dumb luck than people think.

The UCP has announced it plans to hold Official Leadership debates in Medicine Hat on July 27 and Edmonton on August 30.

Categories
Alberta Politics

The race for UCP leader on the Cross Border Politics Podcast

As the United Conservative Party leadership race begins to take shape, I joined Chris Brown on his Cross Border Interviews Podcast to talk about the race, the declared and prospective candidates, and what impact it will have on Alberta politics.

Cross Border Interviews with Chris Brown · Episode 393 – The Race For The UCP Leadership

It appears that the UCP will allow Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner to enter the leadership race, if she chooses, even though she has not had a current party membership for the full past six months as required (there is no doubt she is a committed Conservative partisan).

A similar request for an exemption by former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman was denied.

Kenney’s caretaker cabinet shuffle

Outgoing Premier Jason Kenney announced a cabinet shuffle to fill in the spots left by ministers leaving to run in the race to replace him.

Changes to the caretaker cabinet, which will be in place until a new Premier takes office after the October 6 UCP leadership vote, include:

  • Minister of Environment and Parks and Acting President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Jason Nixon becomes President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.
  • Associate Minister of Status of Women Whitney Issik becomes Minister of Environment and Parks.
  • Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones becomes Minister of Children’s Services.
  • Minister of Infrastructure Prasad Panda becomes Minister of Transportation.
  • Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
  • Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women.
  • Deputy Government Whip Brad Rutherford becomes Chief Government Whip and Minister without Portfolio.

Unsurprisingly, everyone on the list is considered a loyalist, and a few, notably Issik, Milliken, and Rutherford, are considered vulnerable to strong NDP challenges in the next election.

Issik, Jones and Armstrong Homeniuk have publicly endorsed former finance minister Travis Toews for the UCP leadership, who is widely considered the establishment favourite in the race.

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

The First Four: Travis Toews, Brian Jean, Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen enter the United Conservative Party leadership race

The race has started.

Four candidates have filed their intent with Elections Alberta to join the race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party:

Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose
Brian Jean during his 2017 bid for the United Conservative Party leadership.

Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.

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

Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.

These four have registered others are expected.

Rajan Sawhney

Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.

“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.

Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.

Government House leader and chief Kenney lieutenant Jason Nixon is rumoured to be thinking about running.

So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.

And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.

The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.

UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.

Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.