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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 79: Everything you wanted to know about Equalization * But were afraid to ask

University of Alberta political scientist Dr. Jared Wesley joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast for a deep dive into Alberta’s October 18 Equalization Referendum, why it is being held, what Premier Jason Kenney hopes to accomplish (and why he’s been absent on the campaign trail), and what the ramifications of the vote could be for Alberta and Canada.

We also answer some great listener questions about Equalization and dive into the history of Alberta’s low-key Senate Nominee Elections and more.

The Daveberta Podcast is 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 listening/reading

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems

Twenty-nine more Albertans died of COVID-19 yesterday and nearly 1,000 Albertans are in hospital because of the virus, including more than 220 people in intensive care units.

Premier Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems.

Kenney swapped Health Minister Tyler Shandro with Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping in an apparent hope that this might salvage his leadership amid growing calls for his resignation.

Shandro has been a lightning rod as Health Minister, but that was by design. Every decision he made had Kenney’s stamp of approval. He was doing as he was told.

Swapping Shandro for Copping in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is more about politics than good governance.

The blow to Kenney’s leadership after the failure of his Open for Summer plan that led to a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is not going to be fixed with a cabinet shuffle. 

Kenney’s plummeting popularity probably helped cost Erin O’Toole his chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2021. And the Premier almost certainly contributed to a sharp decline in Conservative support in Alberta that cost his federal cousins four seats in the province.

A few months ago it was almost unimaginable that the Conservatives would actually lose seats in Alberta in this federal election. But the NDP picked up an additional seat and the Liberals might have won two. 

But Kenney’s political woes are not all recent.

Since becoming Premier he has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time.

His party’s financial health has also been hit hard. There have been three straight financial quarters in a row when Kenney’s UCP fell short of Rachel Notley’s NDP in fundraising. The Alberta NDP has been in the lead in every public poll since November 2020.

Calls for a leadership review are growing from UCP constituency associations and party executives like vice-president Joel Mullen. Even former deputy leader Leela Aheer has publicly questioned why he hasn’t stepped down. And the right-wing Western Standard website has reported on a rumour that country music star and two time Conservative candidate George Canyon might run for the party presidency on the platform of forcing a vote on Kenney’s leadership.

The UCP Caucus is holding a mandatory in-person meeting tomorrow, where, I imagine the growing number of disgruntled MLAs will have a lot to say about their leader’s future.

UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help

Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who is in charge of Alberta’s Emergency Management Office, waited until the day after the federal election to send a letter to federal minister Bill Blair requesting help from the Ottawa to deal with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCP government waited until after Sept. 20 to request help because they didn’t want to embarrass the federal Conservatives during the election. Let that sink in.

The government’s plea for help from the federal government and other provinces will almost certainly undermine Kenney’s argument that Alberta is being treated unfairly by the rest of Canada, a key part of the reason for a province-wide referendum in October to ask for the equalization formula to be removed from the Constitution.

New Senate Nominee candidates

The nomination deadline passed at 12:00 pm yesterday for candidates to enter the Senate Nominee Election, which is being held in conjunction with two province-wide referendums and municipal elections on October 18, 2021.

Recent People’s Party of Canada candidates Ann McCormack, Kelly Lorencz, and Nadine Wellwood filed their papers to run as Senate Nominee candidates before the polls closed in the federal election in which they were defeated.

Also recently joining the Senate Nominee Election are Town of Ponoka Mayor Richard Bonnett, who ran for the Liberal Party in the 2004 federal election, and former Slave Lake Mayor and physician Karina Pillay.

Brian Jean’s favourite hobby is trolling Jason Kenney on the internet

With a provincial by-election expected to be called in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next five months, Kenney’s arch-enemy, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, is musing online that he might run as a candidate. Jean asked for feedback from his followers on Facebook about whether he should run in the by-election in the area he represented as an MLA from 2015 to 2018.

Since leaving elected office in 2019, Jean has flirted with Alberta separatism and recently publicly mused about running for the leadership of the Alberta Party, which he did not. He has also called on Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

The by-election will be held to replace former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, who was elected as the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the Sept. 20 federal election.

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Alberta Politics

Erin O’Toole comes to Alberta amid Fort McMurray revolt against Laila Goodridge

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole is making a campaign stop in Edmonton-Centre on August 21 as part of his Western Canada tour. O’Toole’s will hold an event at the Winnifred Stewart Foundation tomorrow morning, likely with local candidate James Cumming who is facing a challenge from former Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault and former public school board trustee Heather Mackenzie, who is running for the NDP.

Laila Goodridge Fort McMurray-Cold Lake
Laila Goodridge

O’Toole’s first stop in Alberta during the election campaign will come a day after the board of directors of the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative association released a public letter disagreeing with the party’s decision to appoint Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche United Conservative Party MLA Laila Goodridge as the district’s candidate following MP David Yurdiga’s writ day decision to not seek re-election. Yurdiga had already been nominated as the Conservative candidate earlier this year but decided to withdraw because of health reasons.

The unsigned letter titled as an “Official Board Press Statement” states that “The Fort McMurray-Cold Lake EDA does not support or recognize the undemocratic appointment of the current candidate. This appointment severely undermines the fundamental values of conservatives and everyone’s constitutional right to democracy. Our constituents were cheated of the opportunity to democratically select their candidate and were FORCED by the by the party on who will represent them. Many qualified candidates were not given the opportunity to apply not were their conservative views vetted by the local Board.”

The statement from the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative Electoral District Association.
The statement from the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative Electoral District Association.

Conservative sources say that the nomination rules permit the party to appoint a candidate after an election is called and that an expedited nomination meeting was not possible due the vacancy in the regional organizer position. It was expected that a nomination race in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, even a rushed one, would be highly competitive and attract many voting members, requiring significant logistics and organizational support from the party.

The sources say the party has reached out to the disgruntled local board but has not received a response.

Goodridge is currently only facing Maverick Party candidate Jonathan Meyers,  People’s Party candidate Shawn McDonald, and Green Party candidate Brian Deheer. The Liberals and NDP have not yet named candidates in the north east Alberta district.

Jason Kenney Andrew Scheer Alberta Election
Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney at a campaign rally in Edmonton-Centre in 2019.

Meanwhile, back in Edmonton, it does not look like O’Toole will be joined tomorrow by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Kenney was one of O’Toole’s most enthusiastic supporters during the 2020 Conservative leadership race but has uncharacteristically gone “on vacation” during the first week of the federal election.

Kenney last appearance at a public event was a government announcement in La Crete on August 10 ahead of a UCP “town hall” fundraiser in support of Peace River UCP MLA Dan Williams that featured a the Premier and a handful of cabinet ministers.

The Alberta Premier’s plummeting popularity has made him a punching bag in this federal campaign, with both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh criticizing Kenney during campaign stops in Alberta yesterday. Kenney’s absence also means he avoids any questions from reporters about the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard speaking out against the province’s new draft K-12 curriculum, or former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans being removed from the board of the Banff Centre.

This is a big contrast from the 2019 federal election, when Kenney spent a week campaigning for Conservative candidates in Ontario and Manitoba and appeared hand in hand with then-leader Andrew Scheer on stage at a rally outside of Cumming’s Jasper Avenue campaign office.

Brian Jean is still around too

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

The local revolt against Goodridge’s nomination comes the day after former Fort McMurray MP and MLA Brian Jean unleashed a 23 tweet thread calling for the creation of something resembling the Saskatchewan Party. It has been rumoured that Jean may be considering seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party.

City of Brooks Mayor and former AUMA President Barry Morishita announced his candidacy for the Alberta Party leadership last week.

New candidates

  • Donna Lynn Smith has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Manning.
  • The Rhinoceros Party has nominated Travis Jones in Edmonton-Manning and Lucas Rhinocerotidae Anderson in Edmonton-Riverbend.
  • Kim Siever is running as an Independent candidate in Lethbridge.
  • Catriona Wright is running for the Green Party in Calgary-Rocky Ridge.

I am maintaining an updated list of nominated federal election candidates in Alberta. Please drop a comment below if I am missing anyone. Thank you.

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Alberta Politics

MLA Laila Goodridge jumps into federal politics, leaving an opening for Brian Jean to run in a Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche United Conservative Party MLA Laila Goodridge has been appointed as the federal Conservative Party candidate in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake following MP David Yurdiga’s decision to withdraw his candidacy on the day the election was called for September 20, 2021.

David Yurdiga MP Fort McMurray-Cold Lake
David Yurdiga

Yurdiga has represented the northern Alberta district since running in a 2014 by-election to replace former MP Brian Jean.

Goodridge has represented the northern Alberta district since running in a 2018 by-election to replace former MLA Brian Jean.

Goodridge was appointed parliamentary secretary responsible for Alberta’s francophonie in June 2019. Before her by-election win she worked as a political staffer in Fort McMurray and Ottawa and ran for the Wildrose Party in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in the 2015 election.

Her sudden entry into federal politics and almost certain election to parliament in this very safe Conservative seat (neither a Liberal or NDP candidate have been nominated yet – but the Maverick Party has a candidate) means that a provincial by-election will be triggered in the next six months.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

This will be the first by-election since Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP formed government in April 2019. Amid Kenney’s plummeting approval ratings, his party’s drop in the public opinion polls and lacklustre fundraising, a by-election in what should be a safe UCP riding will be interesting litmus test for the Premier.

Rachel Notley’s NDP are likely eager to contest a by-election, but they probably hoped their first chance would be in Calgary or a friendlier locale. The NDP didn’t win this seat in the Orange Wave of 2015 and their candidate, Wood Buffalo municipal councillor Jane Stroud, placed a distant second in the 2018 by-election and 2019 general election.

Expectations of an NDP win in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in 2021 would be low – though winning this by-election would be a big win for the NDP and a massive blow for the UCP – and Kenney.

A provincial by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will also offer Brian Jean a chance to leave the sidelines after four years of sniping at Kenney on social media and the Postmedia opinion pages. Jean left elected politics after Kenney and a kamikaze campaign defeated him in the 2017 UCP leadership race but he has remained a harsh critic of Kenney’s leadership and has publicly flirted with Alberta separatism.

Todd Loewen, former MLA Wayne Anderson, Brian Jean, and Drew Barnes at the Calgary Stampede BBQ in July 2021. (Source: Facebook)
Todd Loewen, former MLA Wayne Anderson, Brian Jean, and Drew Barnes at the Calgary Stampede BBQ in July 2021. (Source: Facebook)

Jean is rumoured to be considering running for the Alberta Party leadership and was spotted at the Stampede BBQ hosted by UCP MLAs-in-exile Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen last month in Calgary. He called on Kenney to resign in June, but it did not spark the rebellion that he may have hoped his words would have inspired.

A Brian Jean win in a Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election could be the ultimate blow to Kenney that Jean is hoping to deliver.

A by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will need to be called before February 16, 2022.


The federal Liberal Party continues to nominate candidates in Alberta following yesterday’s federal election call, including the following candidates who were nominated yesterday:

  • Scott Forsyth in Calgary-Heritage
  • Zarnab Zafar in Calgary-Midnapore
  • Olumide Adewumi in Red Deer-Mountain View
Categories
Alberta Politics

It’s an open rebellion. UCP MLA Todd Loewen calls on Jason Kenney to resign

Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen has resigned as chair of the United Conservative Party Caucus and is calling on Premier Jason Kenney to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign
Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign
Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign
Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign

In a letter posted on his Facebook page at  11:52 p.m. last night, Loewen, a former Wildrose Party MLA who was first elected in 2015 and supported Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race, announced his resignation as chair and explained the reasons for his calling on Kenney to step down.

Loewen was one of 18 UCP MLAs who openly criticized the government’s COVID-19 health restrictions, so it was surprising that the reasons listed in his letter were not related to the government’s response to COVID-19. Instead, Loewen criticized Kenney for his handling of negotiations with physicians, plans to expand open-pit coal mining in the Rockies and losing the trust of Albertans.

“We did not unite around one man,” Loewen wrote, taking a direct shot at Kenney’s leadership.

Kenney has always had lower approval and popularity ratings than his party, but over the last year his approval ratings have plummeted and he has begun to drag his party down with him. The UCP has polled behind Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP in every public poll since November 2020 and the NDP raised twice as much money as the UCP in the first three months of 2021.

Challenges to Kenney’s leadership have been growing.

UCP constituency presidents and activists have signed a letter calling on Kenney to resign and for a leadership review to be held, and there have been rumblings of major unhappiness in the UCP caucus for months, but this is the first time a UCP MLA has called on the Premier to step down.

There is now an open rebellion against Kenney in the UCP caucus.

The Premier has no choice but to now remove Loewen from the government caucus. If he doesn’t, it will show that he has clearly lost control of his caucus and the loyalty of his MLAs.

As I have written before, the UCP Kenney helped create is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be led.

Now we wait to see how Kenney reacts.


Update: David Hanson, the UCP MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, has posted on Facebook that he supports Loewen’s letter calling on Kenney to resign. Hanson was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 and was one of the 18 UCP MLAs who publicly criticized the government’s COVID-19 health restrictions. He also endorsed Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race.

MLA David Hanson's Facebook post supporting Todd Loewen's letter calling on Jason Kenney to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party.
MLA David Hanson’s Facebook post supporting Todd Loewen’s letter calling on Jason Kenney to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Update: The UCP Caucus virtual meeting, which was scheduled to take place at 9:00 a.m. today has been cancelled.

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Alberta Politics

Who could replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party?

With all the talk of challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s embattled leadership of the United Conservative Party, his and his party’s plummeting approval ratings and lacklustre fundraising in the first three months of 2021, there has been surprisingly little talk about who might be in a position to succeed Kenney if he is pushed out of office.

Here is a quick list of a few conservative politicians who could possibly be in the running to replace Kenney as leader of the raucous UCP:

Drew Barnes – First elected in the Wildrose sweep of southern rural Alberta in 2012, Barnes refused to cross the floor with his colleagues in 2014 and was re-elected as the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat in 2015.

The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.

Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.

Using social media Cooper has helped demystify the Office of the Speaker through informative and humourous videos. But many felt he stepped over the line by taking positions on politically charged issues, something the Speaker is traditionally expected to avoid. Earlier this month he was called out by Kenney and was forced to back down after signing a public letter with 14 other UCP MLAs calling for public health restrictions to be lifted just as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta.

Jim Dinning His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.

Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.

Brian Jean – Jean won the leadership of the Wildrose Party on the eve of the 2015 election and helped save the party from oblivion. But there wasn’t much room left for him in the UCP after losing the leadership race to Kenney in 2017.

The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.

Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.

While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.

Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer – The current Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and former Minister of Justice, Schweitzer was first elected as the UCP MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2019 after unseating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. The former downtown Calgary lawyer and former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and later ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest.

Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.

Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The  accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.

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Alberta Politics

Kenney is the closest thing the Conservatives have to a “Svengali-like genius”

Six weeks after the federal election, Andrew Scheer has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, raising instant speculation about who might enter the contest to replace him.

Rona Ambrose
Rona Ambrose

While there does not appear to be an obvious heir apparent, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s name immediately comes to mind as a potential successor. But is appears as though Kenny could just be a visitor in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.

Kenney told Postmedia columnist Don Braid yesterday he had “absolutely no intention” of running for the leadership and offered what appears to be an early endorsement of former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

In response to rumours of his federal ambitions, Kenney told Postmedia’s  Stuart Thomson that “I should be flattered that they think I’m some kind of Svengali-like genius.” The thing is, Kenney is probably the closest thing to a Svengali the Conservatives have. Whether you believe he a brilliant political operator with good intentions or a sinister political beast plotting to smash his growing list of enemies likely depends on whether you are his ally or opponent (ask Rachel Notley and Brian Jean). But there is no doubt he is a skilled career politician.

He also checks a whole bunch of boxes on the list of Conservative constituency groups.

Kenney started his political career as a social conservative anti-abortion activist at a private Roman Catholic university in San Francisco. He returned to Canada to become a founder of the anti-tax Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He spent 19 years in Ottawa as a Member of Parliament and, after briefly losing some favour with the party during Stockwell Day‘s disastrous time as leader of the Canadian Alliance, proved to be a loyal solider to Stephen Harper and worked his way into a senior cabinet role. And he has deep connections to conservative think-tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (recently merged with the Fraser Institute) and New York City-based Manhattan Institute.

In less than two years, Kenney commandeered Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party and merged its membership with its decade-old bitter enemy, the Wildrose Party, by winning the United Conservative Party leadership. He then led the party to win the 2019 election. Plus, he, or his closest advisors, were not above testing the limits of what was acceptable in order to win. And since entering the Premier’s Office, he has been a master of sowing chaos and creating crisis in order to implement his political program.

Kenney is respected by Conservative partisans and, as long as he can keep up his winning streak, will remain one of the most prominent leaders of the Conservative movement in Canada.

Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.

Winning as a Conservative in Alberta is a much easier task than winning in other parts of Canada, including populous regions like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario during the federal election resulted in dismal returns for Conservative candidates, and a recent poll shows his approval ratings in Alberta have plummeted by 15-points since his government tabled an unpopular provincial budget, which serves as a reminder that while he is a skilled politician, he is not invincible.

Which is why he might be reluctant to jump back into federal politics.

Being premier of a large province is certainly a more influential office, at least it is in 2019, and comes with more prestige than being leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa. But staying in Alberta means he is not one-step away from becoming Prime Minister of Canada, which many people still speculate is his goal.

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Alberta Politics

Panel discussion on CBC’s The Current: Alberta’s election and the Kenney-Callaway scandal

I was thrilled to join pollster Janet Brown, columnist Catherine Ford and host Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current on CBC Radio this morning to discuss Alberta politics, Rachel Notley’s chances of re-election this spring, and recent developments in the Jason Kenney-Jeff Callaway collusion scandal.

In case you missed it on the radio this morning, you can listen to the panel discussion online or download The Current podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.


The Jeff Callaway story took another twist this morning when Jen Gerson published this new report in Maclean’s Magazine:

“[Cameron] Davies said he received a transfer from a corporate entity of $60,000 into his personal bank account that, he alleges, was then re-distributed to Callaway’s campaign account to pay the candidate’s entry fee to the leadership contest. He said the origin of the money was then obfuscated, in part through fake donors whom he helped to obtain. Personal bank documents obtained by Maclean’s confirm the $60,000 payment to Davies.”

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Alberta Politics

The Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal erupts days before an expected election call in Alberta

What did Jason Kenney know and when did he know it?

A treasure trove of emails and documents released by CBC investigative reporters Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell yesterday show that Jason Kenney‘s campaign for the United Conservative Party leadership provided Jeff Callaway’s campaign with resources ranging from “strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”

This comes a day after CBC broke the story that Alberta’s Election Commissioner has turned over to the RCMP its investigation into allegations of irregular political contributions involving Callaway’s so-called “kamikaze” campaign.

CBC reports that current UCP Caucus deputy chief of staff Matt Wolf, then director of issues management for Kenney’s campaign, communicated regularly with Callaway’s communications manager Cameron Davies, and at times Randy Kerr, who was working as Callaway’s campaign manager.

As director of issues management, Wolf was responsible for advising Kenney on the day-to-day campaign tactics and strategy of the leadership campaign.

Callaway’s withdrawal was something that wasn’t necessarily negotiable,” Davies told CBC. “It was something that had been decided in a meeting in mid-July between Callaway and the Jason Kenney leadership team.”

The Star Edmonton reporters Kieran Leavitt and Emma McIntosh reported that Davies said that ‘Kenney had first hand knowledge of the Callaway kamikaze campaign, and attended a meeting at Callaway’s house where it was discussed in July 2017.’

Kenney has repeatedly denied allegations that Callaway was a stalking horse candidate and he most recently denied knowledge of collusion. He told reporters at a press conference on Friday that that he asked his staff in late 2018 whether they had any knowledge of the the Callaway campaign allegations. “The result of those inquiries was that no one was aware of, had heard anything about or had in any way participated in such activity,” Kenney said.

And Clare Clancy has reported that Postmedia has obtained an email from Wolf to the UCP Caucus sent today in which he writes that “I’ve made no secret about that for those who have asked.”  The same Postmedia report says that Wolf has “gone home” and is not available for comment.

It is not clear whether “gone home” means Wolf was just not in the office at that minute or whether he has “gone home” to somewhere without wifi or cell phone signals for the duration of the election campaign.

Having one of Kenney’s senior advisors apparently leave on the eve of a provincial election call is not exactly the statement of confidence that UCP candidates and supporters will have been looking for today.

Collusion between the two leadership campaigns at this level is not illegal, but it is definitely not normal, certainly unethical and potentially a violation of the UCP’s Code of Conduct.

And as David Climenhaga noted on AlbertaPolitics.ca, U.S. Senator Howard Baker once said of a more famous political scandal, “it is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.”

The questions of legality surround the sharing of campaign resources and donations made by individuals to Callaway’s campaign, and where that money could have originated, which is why the RCMP have been asked to investigate. It has been alleged that some donors were not donating their own money, which is a violation of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. One donor to Callaway’s campaign has already been fined $3,500 by the Commissioner for violating the Act.

The whole Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal is bizarre mostly because, as anyone who was paying attention to Alberta politics in 2017 can attest, Kenney was the clear frontrunner in the UCP leadership race.

With 20-years of experience as an Ottawa politician and the strong backing of Canada’s Conservative establishment, Kenney had the networks, support, and money to win a race against Jean on his own, without Callaway.

But it appears that it may of not been enough for Kenney to just defeat Jean in the UCP leadership contest. Maybe Kenney’s campaign felt they needed Callaway in the race in order so that he could win so decisively that his position as leader of the UCP would be unquestionable in the face of a frequently unruly and fractious conservative movement in Alberta?

We do not have an answer to that question – and Kenney’s silence on the topic over the past two days is deafening.

Categories
Alberta Politics

One Big Happy Conservative Movement: Kamikaze campaigns, Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Derek Fildebrandt, Scott Moe, and the RCMP

Alberta politics can be a wild ride.

With an election expected to be called in a matter of days or weeks, Alberta’s Election Commissioner has turned over to the RCMP its investigation into allegations of irregular political contributions involving the so-called “kamikaze” campaign of United Conservative Party leadership contender Jeff Callaway, according to a report by CBC investigative journalists Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell.

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney
Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

It has been alleged that that the UCP leadership campaign of Jason Kenney supported a “kamikaze mission“ by Jeff Callaway to target former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson has already issued fines of $15,000 against Callaway’s campaign manager and former UCP nomination candidate, Cameron Davies, and $3,500 against donor Karen Brown. And last week, UCP executive director Janice Harrington announced that Calgary-Beddington candidate Randy Kerr had been removed because he “was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.

Scott Moe and Jason Kenney
Scott Moe and Jason Kenney

The story comes the day after heavy-hitters from western Canada’s Conservative establishment, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former prime minister Stephen Harper, rallied around Kenney following rumours that Jean was preparing to jump back into politics – with the Alberta Party or Freedom Conservative Party.

It turns out that Jean was either actually working with the Freedom Conservatives, as party leader Derek Fildebrandt claims, or was clumsily trying to position himself as a UCP leader-in-waiting in case Kenney’s leadership collapsed following the news of a potential RCMP investigation. 

Jean has provided copies of emails and text messages showing that he contacted the UCP board of directors, Kenney and Harper months ago to raise concerns about Callaway situation, only to receive no response from Kenney.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean's Facebook Page).
Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean’s Facebook Page).

As Premier Rachel Notley noted to the media today, if the leader of another major political party was tied up in such an investigation, the UCP would be calling for their resignation. Notley is right, but do not expect Kenney to step aside anytime soon.

With the conservative political establishment rallying to Kenney’s defence, barring criminal charges being laid or Kenney-connected UCP organizers being perp walked in handcuffs, it is unlikely he would step aside because of or even during the course of this potential RCMP investigation. And even if Kenney did step aside, Jean now seems like a very unlikely choice to replace him. The role of interim leader would be a better fit for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who ably filled the role as interim leader during the UCP leadership contest.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)
Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

An RCMP investigation is serious business and would take time before coming to a resolution, meaning that it would likely not be until after the election that Albertans learn the results of an investigation. I have heard some calls for Notley to delay the election call until after this potential investigation is concluded, pushing beyond Alberta’s unique three-month fixed election window, which seems unlikely but not impossible.

Even with a significant lead in most public opinion polls, the timing of this announcement is bad news for the UCP. It is without a doubt that we will hear leaders and candidates from the other parties use the words “UCP” and “RCMP” in the same sentence very frequently over the next few weeks.

NDP put health care on their pre-election legislative agenda

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell is scheduled to read the Speech from the Throne on Monday, March 18, and the New Democratic Party government is expected to introduce health care legislation as a flagship bill in what is expected to be a short spring session of the Legislature.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora
Sarah Hoffman

The Throne Speech and Bill 1: Protecting Public Health Care Act, could be the last big pre-election opportunity for the NDP to push forward an election narrative on an issue that plays to their strengths.

Public health care is traditionally a strong issue for the NDP and stability in the health care system has been a hallmark issue for the NDP government. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has steered the public health care system clear of the perpetual lurch from crisis to crisis that happened under the old Progressive Conservative governments.

It is unknown how many days or weeks the NDP plan to take for this spring session, but I am told that many NDP staffers and organizers are already “on vacation” from their day jobs working hard on campaigns across the province. 


UPDATE!

CBC has released a report report with new information related to the collusion between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns during the 2017 UCP leadership contest: The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Brian Jean running for the Alberta Party? Not strangest thing to happen in Alberta politics, but it would be up there.

It might not be the strangest thing to happen in Alberta politics, but it’s up there.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Just over a year since he resigned as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is said to be making a big announcement later this week – and the rumour mill is churning hard with news that Jean could jump back into Alberta politics as the Alberta Party candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district in the upcoming election.

A former MLA and MP for northeast Alberta, Jean has remained a vocal critic of United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney since his departure from the Legislature following his defeat in the 2017 UCP leadership contest. In a recent op-ed in Alberta’s Postmedia newspapers, Jean described Kenney’s economic campaign promises as “fiscal fairy tales.”

And there are all the allegations that Kenney supported a kamikaze mission by Jeff Callaway targeting Jean during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

His recent proclamations that “Canada is broken” and “Albertans are furious” at the state of Confederation makes Jean sound like he might be more at home at Yellow Vest protest or in Derek Fildebrandt‘s Freedom Conservative Party than in the caucus of the centre-rightish Alberta Party, but the third-place party led by former Edmonton mayor and briefly Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Mandel has already recruited a few strange bedfellows.

While rumours of Jean joining the Alberta Party are not new, Mandel’s recent change in tone with the new slogan “fiercely Albertan” feels tailor-made to recruit the former Wildrose Party leader.

Laila Goodridge United Conservative Party
Laila Goodridge

The Freedom Conservatives would seems like more natural home for Jean, if it were not for his stormy relationship with Fildebrandt, another former UCP MLA. But as I have already alluded, political can make strange bedfellows.

Running in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche would mean Jean would be challenging his successor in the legislature, UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, a former political staffer who worked  as an organizer during his 2017 UCP leadership campaign.

While Goodridge’s party is riding high in the polls as she faces a rematch with New Democratic Party candidate Jane Stroud, a Wood Buffalo Municipal Councillor, it is not hard to imagine Jean turning what should have been a locked down district for the UCP into a competitive race. Jean represented the region in the House of Commons from 2006 to 2014 and in the Alberta Legislature from 2015 to 2018.

If Jean actually does make the jump, it would not be the first time a defeated conservative leadership candidate jumped to a new party in hopes of rebooting a political career. Many Albertans will remember when defeated 1992 PC Party leadership candidate Nancy Betkowski returned to the political stage to win the Liberal Party leadership in 1998 as Nancy MacBeth. (Spoiler: it didn’t turn out great).

All this said, let’s remember the last time Brian Jean hyped up political watchers into tuning in to his special announcement. Maybe Jean’s special announcement this week will actually be to tell us all that his newborn baby has slept through the night for the first time? (and if so, congratulations!).

Categories
Alberta Politics

Big Day in Beddington: UCP drop Randy Kerr over Callaway donation, Alberta Party MLA Karen McPherson decides not to run for re-election

United Conservative Party executive director Janice Harrington released a statement this evening announcing that Randy Kerr has been removed as the party’s candidate in the new Calgary-Beddington district. Here is an excerpt from Harrington’s statement:

Calgary-Beddington Alberta Map
Calgary-Beddington (Click to enlarge)

“Effective immediately, Mr. Randy Kerr has been removed as the UCP’s candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Beddington.

“In the last 48-hours, new information has come to our attention indicating Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”

“To be clear, the Party is not making any allegations against Mr. Kerr regarding the legitimacy of his contribution to the Callaway Leadership, not against Mr. Callaway or his Campaign. This is not the Party’s rule to judge, and the Party does not in any way oversee financial contributions to leadership campaigns.

“However, it is our conclusion that Mr. Kerr was not sufficiently forthcoming with the Party’s earlier inquiries, and for that, he has been removed as a candidate.

“The Party has also proactively provided this new information to the appropriate office – that of the Elections Commissioner. Given that the matter is now with the Commissioner, it is inappropriate for us to comment further.

Josephine Pon United Conservative Party Calgary Beddington
Josephine Pon

According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, Kerr donated $4,000 to Callaway’s leadership campaign in 2017. The disclosure was released months ago, so it is unclear what Harrington meant when she wrote that “Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”

Kerr’s removal as a candidate comes on the same day it was revealed a lawyer representing the UCP sent a cease and desist letter to Independent MLA Prab Gill, who has been at the forefront of accusations of misconduct and alleged illegal activities that took place during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Earlier this week, UCP staffer posted a creepy video online of Gill meeting with an NDP staffer in an apparent attempt to discredit him. Kenney later accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP.

The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.

Harrington also announced that the UCP has appointed Josephine Pon as their candidate in this district. Pon had been defeated by Kerr in the August 2018 nomination contest.

Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark, Karen McPherson and Rick Fraser.
Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark, Karen McPherson and Rick Fraser.

Meanwhile, Karen McPherson, one of three Alberta Party MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, announced on social media today that she has decided against running for re-election when the provincial election is called.

McPherson had already been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Beddington, which replaces much of her the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill district she currently represents. She was first elected as an New Democratic Party MLA in 2015 in, unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Neil Brown, and left the NDP in 2017 to sit as an Independent and later joined the Alberta Party caucus.

The NDP have nominated Amanda Chapman as its candidate in Calgary-Beddington.

Non-Beddington related news

The Alberta Party has announced two new nominated candidates: Wayne Rufiange in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock and Jason Beekman in Taber-Warner. Rufiange recently sought the Alberta Party nomination in Morinville-St. Albert, but was defeated by Neil Korotash. Rufiange is principal of R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock.

The Liberals have nominated a handful of new candidates: Robin Macintosh in Calgary-Elbow, Michael Macdonald in Calgary-Klein, and Wilson McCutchan in Calgary-Lougheed. McCutchan was the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-West in the 2012 election, where he earned 7.4 per cent of the vote. And Shirley Ksienski has replaced previously nominated candidate Rork Hilford in Calgary-Glenmore.

The Green Party has announced Brian Deheer will be that party’s candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district. Deheer was a candidate for the leadership of the party in 2017 and 2018, and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.

Four more candidates affiliated with the Alberta Independence Party have filed their papers to run as Independent candidates: John Morton in Edmonton-City Centre, Kenneth Morrice in Calgary-Hays, Todd Wayne in Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ben Maddison in Lethbridge-West.

Currently operating as an unregistered political party, Alberta Independence Party will need 44 candidates approved by Elections Alberta in order to gain official party status in the upcoming election.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP staff post creepy video of NDP staffer and Independent MLA leaving a room. Kenney defends it by alleging a secret conspiracy against him.

The 51-second video is grainy, black and white, and recorded in slow motion to look like security camera footage. It is March 4, 2019. A man walks out of room into a lobby and waits for an elevator. Text appears at the bottom of the screen to tell us that he is “Jeremy Nolais, Senior Notley Advisor.” He has a pen in his mouth and looks at the person recording the video as he waits for the elevator. The video fades to black and new text appears to tell us that 10 minutes has passed as we watch Prab Gill, the Independent MLA for Calgary-Greenway, leave the same room and walk to the same elevator, giving the thumbs up to whoever is sitting behind the camera.

https://twitter.com/UniteAlberta/status/1102768192798121985

The creepy video appears to have been recorded inside the Federal Building, the recently renovated art deco fortress located on the north side of the Legislature Grounds where most Alberta MLAs have their Edmonton offices. The video was presumably recorded and edited on a mobile phone by someone with access to the building, like a United Conservative Party Caucus staffer.

The video was posted online by the “@UniteAlberta” Twitter account on on March 4 at 8:10 p.m. @UniteAlbeta is the Twitter account managed by United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s staff, but it is widely believed that UCP Caucus Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf is its principal tweeter.

Viewers of the video are not told what Nolais and Gill were doing in that room, but the purpose of the video is to suggest they were plotting something nefarious and sinister. The video is clearly meant to discredit Gill, a former UCP MLA who has been at the forefront of accusations of misconduct and alleged illegal activities that took place during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Gill has sent letters to the Elections Commissioner and RCMP asking for them to investigate his allegations.

The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.

The Elections Commissioner recently levelled $15,000 in administrative penalties against Cameron Davies, campaign manager for Jeff Callaway’s alleged “kamikaze mission.” Davies’ offence was listed as a violation of Section 45 of the Election Finances and Contribution Disclosure Act, “Obstruction of an investigation.” 

Callaway campaign donor Karen Brown was fined $3,500 for violating Section 34(1) of the Act by contributing “$3,500 to Jeff Callaway, registered UCP leadership contestant, with funds given or furnished by another person.

The video released by the UCP was juvenile and contradicts Kenney’s oft-repeated pledge to mount a “respectful, policy-based debate during the upcoming election campaign. Kenney frequently dismisses the NDP as an “anger machine,” but stalking your opponents and video recording them inside government offices is not an example of Kenney practicing what he preaches. Whether it was intended or not, the video definitely sends a chilling message to opponents, or “enemies,” of the UCP.

In an interview with Global Edmonton’s Jen Crosby, Kenney claimed he had not seen the video that was posted online by his staff but he accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP. Without providing any evidence to back up his claims, Kenney doubled down when he later told Postmedia that “I think it’s now pretty obvious he’s channeling attacks from the NDP, it’s dirty politics at its worst…

Gill told the media that he was speaking with Nolais about an issue with a school in his district.

This is the latest example of the remarkable hubris demonstrated by the leader of a party that most polls show to be sitting somewhere between 15 per cent and 24 per cent ahead of the New Democratic Party only a few weeks before an expected election call. 

While videos on social media are probably not enough to win an election, online gaffes can definitely hurt a party’s electoral prospects.

It can be difficult to see even a narrow path to victory for the NDP in Alberta’s current political climate without Kenney making a series of major gaffes, or his staff continuing to post creepy videos of their political opponents on the internet. But it would not be the first time a political party blew a 20 point lead. Just ask Adrian Dix.

Categories
Alberta Politics

NDP launch “The Truth About Jason Kenney” campaign. Kenney reuses Wildrose Party democratic reform promises

Former New Democratic Party leader Brian Mason took centre stage today to launch his party’s new attack campaign directed at United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s more controversial views on social issues like LGBTQ rights, Gay-Straight Alliances and abortion, how his plans to balance the budget could impact funding to health care and education, and the substantial political baggage he carries after serving 19 years in Ottawa.

The campaign features a video of Albertans reacting to some of Kenney’s more outlandish statements and views on social issues.

That the NDP is focused on the Kenney is no surprise. The UCP behemoth has a significant lead over the NDP in the polls, in fundraising, and party membership, but Kenney’s popularity is much lower that his party’s and his past as a social conservative activist against issues like women’s reproductive rights and gay rights, are issues that will mobilize the NDP’s base of support.

The anti-abortion group the Wilberforce Project recently bragged on their website about the influence it had exerted on the UCP candidate nomination process. It is unclear how much influence the social conservative group has actually exerted but it brought the divisive issue back to the forefront last week.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley

As party leader, Mason was a warhorse of opposition politics in Alberta, so it is not surprising that the NDP decided to employ the retiring MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood to launch this part of the campaign. This also allows the party to distance the negative side of its campaign from its leader, Rachel Notley, and its incumbent MLA who are running for re-election.

Ask any Alberta voter on the street if the like negative advertising in elections and the response will be unanimously negative. But that political parties of all persuasions consistently use them speaks to their effectiveness. Also, we kind of expect parties to act this way now.

The negative focus on Kenney and his unpopular views on social issues is a central part of the NDP’s campaign, but it is overshadowing the positive message the NDP is trying to promote – that Notley and her party are the best choice for Alberta families.

The party’s strongest asset, Notley has been touring the province making a flurry of pre-election announcements over the past month, including promises to upgrade the Red Deer Regional Hospital , build a new interchange in Leduc, expand the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, and invest in Calgary’s tech sector. But the positive side of Notley’s campaign feels almost like a side-show to her party’s constant attacks against Kenney.

Whether a strong focus on Kenney’s more controversial views will be enough to turn around the NDP’s electoral fortunes – and ‘enough’ could be a relative term at this point – remains unclear.

Kenney pledges MLA recall, MLA free votes and floor-crossing ban

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney

UCP leader Jason Kenney announced his party would introduce reforms to Alberta’s elections laws, including MLA recall, free votes, a fixed-election day, and banning floor crossing in the Legislature, mirroring many of the promises made in the Wildrose Party‘s 2015 election platform.

MLA recall is a perennial issue that opposition MLAs, most recently Wildrose MLAs, have frequently called for over the past 25 years. At least 7 attempts have been made by opposition MLAs to introduce MLA recall legislation through private members’ bills since 1993, all of which have failed.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview
Leela Aheer

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, then a member of the Wildrose Caucus, introduced a private members’ bill in December 2015 calling for an MLA recall process that would have allowed 20 percent of voters overturn the results of a free and fair democratic election. The bill died on the order paper.

When Alberta briefly had MLA recall laws, from 1936 to 1937, signatures were required from 66.6 percent of voters to trigger a by-election. The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River district.

Banning floor-crossing by requiring that MLAs resign and seek a by-election before they can change parties was a promise made by the Brian Jean-led Wildrose Party in the 2015 election. This promise plays to the resentment many conservatives felt when Danielle Smith and 11 of the party’s MLAs crosses the floor to Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014, and, more recently, when Sandra Jansen crossed the floor to the NDP.

Kenney also pledged make it illegal for governments to advertise in the run up to an election, similar to a private members’ bill introduced by then-Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman in 2015.

The UCP would also reinstate the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act, with a pledge to hold Senate Nominee elections in 2021, and ban groups affiliated with a political party to register as third party election advertisers, a direct shot at the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is running its Next Alberta campaign.

Categories
Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

A PC Party advertisement from the 1971 Alberta election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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