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Alberta Politics

Alberta Election Week 1: The Economy and Corporate Tax confusion

Recent polls show a three-way split in support between the Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic and Wildrose Parties have generated some interest in Alberta’s provincial election campaign but with 24 days left until voting day we can expect a lot to change. Here is a quick review of what the politicians were saying and political parties were spinning in the first week of this election campaign.

Progressive Conservatives
PC leader Jim Prentice launched his party's election campaign in Edmonton.
PC leader Jim Prentice launched his party’s election campaign in Edmonton.

Campaigning on issues related to the March 2015 provincial budget, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice spent most of his week travelling around rural Alberta in his party’s campaign bus.

Mr. Prentice targeted his opponents as extremists while moderating his own tone around Alberta’s economy. Before the election was called, Mr. Prentice’s repeated doom-and-gloom messages led opposition critics to name him “Grim Jim.” The PCs are attempting to present Mr. Prentice as the balanced (a.k.a. safe) candidate, as opposed to the extremist (a.k.a. dangerous) leaders of the opposition.

The PCs promised to double the $17.4 billion Heritage Fund as part of a ‘ten year plan’ and Mr. Prentice repeated his pre-election statement that he would remove the provincial government’s dependence on natural resources revenues.

PC Social Media blitz
PC Social Media blitz

The recent provincial budget included almost sixty tax and fee increases, including increases to personal taxes but no increases to corporate taxes, which appears to have been a political miscalculation on the part of the PCs. The government’s own budget survey results showed 69% of Albertans support a corporate tax increase, a point the NDP has stressed.

PC MLAs and candidates took to social media to post different variations of a message that 8,900 jobs would be lost if corporate taxes were increased by 1%. It is unclear what study the 8,900 jobs number originates from.

Creating more confusion around corporate tax increases, a PC press release from April 9 stated ‘Prentice pointed out that more than 95% in Alberta are small businesses, employing fewer than 50 people, and questioned those who would put those jobs at risk with a corporate tax increase.” This is a good talking point, if not for the issue that small businesses do not pay corporate tax rates.

According to the Department of Finance website, small businesses earning $500,000 of less profit each year pay a separate 3% small business tax, not the 10% corporate tax applied to companies earning more than $500,000 in profit annually. The PCs dropped the corporate tax rate in Alberta from 15% in 2001 to the current 10% in 2006.

Edmonton Police are investigating bribery allegations made during the Edmonton-Ellerslie PC nomination contest and disqualified Edmonton-Decore PC nomination candidate Don Martin is suing the PC Party for $124,000 over bribery allegations. Dismissed nomination candidate Jamie Lall declared that he is running as an Independent candidate against PC MLA Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rockyview.

New Democratic Party
NDP leader Rachel Notley with Calgary candidates on April 8, 2015.
NDP leader Rachel Notley with Calgary candidates on April 8, 2015.

NDP leader Rachel Notley launched her party’s election campaign in Edmonton and travelled to Calgary and Lethbridge to campaign with candidates in those cities. It is notable that the NDP are focusing resources on candidates outside of Edmonton, where the party has traditionally been weak. Calgary-Fort candidate Joe CeciCalgary-Varsity candidate Stephanie McLean and Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips were prominently placed at Ms. Notley’s side during photo-ops at these stops

NDP messaging in the first week of the campaign focused on the economy. Ms. Notley announced the creation of a Job Creation Tax Credit for businesses as the first NDP election promise, providing balance from their calls for corporate tax increases. The credit sounds reasonable, but much like the PC Party’s 8,900 job loss argument, I am skeptical about this credit creating 27,000 new jobs. The NDP also announced that in-province refining and upgrading is also a top priority. Before the election was called, Ms. Notley’s unveiled her party’s plans to create a Resource Owners’ Rights Commission.

The NDP responded to Mr. Prentice’s “extremist” claims with an “extremist of the week” press release quoting former Premier Peter Lougheed’s support of increased corporate taxes and former Deputy Premier (and current PC candidate) Thomas Lukaszuk support for in-province refining and upgrading.

Ms. Notley was also a guest on this week’s #abvote Google Hangout.

Wildrose Party
Wildrose leader Brian Jean
Wildrose leader Brian Jean

Focusing on rural Alberta, Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned in southern Alberta and his Fort McMurray constituency this week. While the campaign trail in Strathmore-Brooks, Mr. Jean and candidate Derek Fildebrandt cleverly walked around town with a giant arrow in hand pointing out services and commodities, like alcohol and gas, which became more expensive due to tax increases in the recent provincial budget.

Mr. Jean released his party’s “Five Priorities” that include positions on taxes, health care, education, democracy and rural Alberta. Part of the Wildrose plan to balance the budget by 2017 without raising taxes includes cutting 3,200 management jobs, including 1,600 in Alberta Health Services and 1,600 in the Government public service.

The Wildrose announced they would sell the Kananaskis Golf Course, a publicly owned and privately-operated golf course that the provincial government had paid millions of dollars to repair after it was damaged by floods in 2013.

Mr. Jean backtracked on comments made about Mr. Prentice undermining Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Wildrose Party also nominated new candidates this week including City Councillor Buck Buchanan in Red Deer-North, past mayoral candidate Shelley Biermanski in St. Albert, Don Koziak in Edmonton-Glenora and Ian Crawford in Edmonton-Riverview.

Liberals
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, interim leader David Swann and Edmonton Liberal candidates unveil the party's pay equity proposal.
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, interim leader David Swann and Edmonton Liberal candidates unveil the party’s pay equity proposal.

The Liberal Party announced they would introduce pay equity legislation, increase funding to Family and Community Support Services and reinstate the Charitable Donation Tax Credit, which was decreased in the recent budget. Interim leader David Swann , who is running for re-election in Calgary-Mountain View, received an endorsement from Senator and retired Lieuteant General Romeo Dallaire. Receiving the 2015 Calgary Peace Prize this week, Mr. Dallaire called Mr. Swann a “true humanitarian.”

Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson wrote that the Liberal Party might need “a ballot box miracle” in order to save themselves from political oblivion.

Alberta Party 

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark released his party’s policy platform and Economic Recovery Plan. Most of the party’s focus is on electing Mr. Clark in Calgary-Elbow, where he placed a strong second to PC MLA Gordon Dirks in a 2014 by-election. Mr. Clark’s campaign is using DirksRecord.ca to target Mr. Dirks’ record.

The party also grabbed media attention for scooping up the domain names choosealbertasfuture.ca and .com after the PC campaign slogan was unveiled earlier this week.

Green Party 

The Green Party published a media release criticizing the PC Government’s record on environmental regulation, describing it as a “fake, not authentic, regulation and thus an insult to the intelligence, dignity and trusting nature of Albertans.”  The release takes issue with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and calls on the government to create a regulator that understands the impact of proposed activity and puts rules in place to prevent any unacceptable impacts.

Other Groups

The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) launched a campaign to increase voter turnout among university students in this election. “We are going to sign up thousands of students and make sure they turn out on Election Day,” CAUS chairperson Navneet Khinda said in a press release.

The Parkland Institute released a new report looking at political values of Albertans. Public Interest Alberta released its “Priorities for Change” report as a resource for political candidates in this election And Change Alberta has returned to rank the progressive candidates most likely to win in constituencies across Alberta.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta’s 2015 election could be more interesting than expected!

Albertans are heading to the polls on May 5, 2015 to elect the next Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Like the past twelve elections since 1971, the May 5 vote will almost certainly result in the re-election of the Progressive Conservative Party, Alberta’s natural governing party. But despite the mostly pre-determined outcomes, provincial elections in this province can be interesting and sometimes exciting.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

After 43 years as government, the PC Party is not running on its record.

Campaigning under the slogan “Choose Alberta’s Future,” Team Jim Prentice will try to ensure that Albertans are not reminded of the past three years of scandals and broken promises while their party was led by Alison Redford.

Mr. Prentice wants the next 27 days to be an election focused on the latest provincial budget and proposed “ten year plan.” The PCs do not want this election to be a referendum on their record as government, at least not beyond the past seven months since Mr. Prentice became their leader.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

Claiming that a vote for his party is not a vote for the status quo, Mr. Prentice took shots at the New Democratic Party and Wildrose Party, and challenged the opposition to unveil their plans for governing the province. As we are entering an election campaign, I am sure the opposition parties will do just that, while also taking every opportunity to remind voters of the PC Party’s record.

NDP leader Rachel Notley says she wants to form a government, while Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is aiming for a more modest post as Official Opposition leader. Liberal leader David Swann is also aiming for opposition and the Alberta Party is focused on electing Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, where he placed a close second in a 2014 by-election.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader
Brian Jean

Unlike previous elections when the Liberals and NDP would compete in a handful of constituencies in Edmonton to form Official Opposition, there are almost no constituencies in this election where the Wildrose and NDP are both contenders. This could be the first election in a generation where the PCs find themselves facing serious opposition challenges in both rural and urban Alberta.

While it is unlikely that the PCs will lose government in this election, it is possible that both main opposition parties could surprise Albertans by making gains at the expense of the governing party.


Metro Edmonton reports that Edmonton-Mill Woods PC MLA Sohail Quadri filed an expense claim for $5,000 to hold a banquet to celebrate his first year in office. Mr. Quadri replaced controversial former PC MLA Carl Benito in the 2012 election.

 

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Pre-Election 2015: Thursday Candidate Nomination Update

Progressive Conservative activist Jamie Lall was unexpectedly disqualified for unknown reasons before his party’s April 1 nomination meeting in Chestermere-Rockyview, allowing Wildrose PC MLA Bruce McAllister to be acclaimed. After months of campaigning, Mr. Lall lashed out at his party and questioned why he was disqualified when an incumbent MLA who plead guilt to prostitution related charges was allowed to be nominated. Mr. Lall is also the President of the PC association in the neighbouring Calgary-McCall, a position he has not been disqualified from.

It’s like we’ve become House of Cards,” is how one PC Party member described this year’s round of PC nominations, which have been riddled with controversy. Bribery allegations led to the resignation of cabinet minister Naresh Bhardwaj as the candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie and candidate disqualifications in Edmonton-Meadowlark and Edmonton-Decore, as well as disorganization in Bonnyville-Cold Lake have grabbed media attention.

According to the PC Party website, Jonathan Dai has been appointed as the party’s candidate in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in advance of the April 11 scheduled nomination meeting. Mr. Dai is the President of the Canada-China Council for Cooperation and Development and was the Liberal candidate in the 2000 federal election in Edmonton-Strathcona, where he placed 5,647 votes behind Canadian Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer. While attempting a rematch with Mr. Jaffer in 2004, he narrowly lost the Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona to Liberal MLA Debby Carlson. Highlands-Norwood is currently represented by NDP MLA Brian Mason.

The PCs are expected to appoint a candidate in Edmonton-Centre after it was unable to nominate a candidate before the March 28 nomination meeting. The PCs last elected an MLA in Edmonton-Centre in 1982.

Brian Jean Wildrose
Brian Jean

Wildrose Party

New Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean announced that he will run in Fort McMurray-Conklin, which was part of the federal constituency he represented in Ottawa from 2004 to 2014. Mr. Jean will face incumbent PC MLA Don Scott, the Minister of Advanced Education, and NDP candidate Ariana Mancini, a grade 1 teacher and Alberta Teachers’ Association activist. Mr. Scott narrowly defeated Wildrose candidate and former Wood Buffalo mayor Doug Faulkner by 470 votes in the 2012 election.

One of Mr. Jean’s first acts as leader was to dismiss Calgary-South East candidate Bill Jarvis, whose comments about “brown people” embarrassed the party on the night of its leadership announcement.

The Wildrose Party has now nominated at least 47 candidates, including recent nominees Angela Pitt in Airdire, Blaine Maller in Calgary Fish Creek, and Tany Yao in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. Former leader and MLA Paul Hinman withdrew from the nomination contest in Cardston-Taber-Warner, leaving three candidates still in the race – Larry Bates, Jon Hood and Grant Hunter.

New Democratic Party

The New Democratic Party has now nominated at least 75 candidates in constituencies across Alberta. The latest nominated candidates include Christina Gray in Edmonton-Mill Woods, Jon Carson in Edmonton-MeadowlarkEmily Shannon in Drumheller-Stettler, Patricia Norman in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, , Karen McPherson in Calgary-Northern Hills, William Pelech in Chestermere-Rockyview, and Lynn MacWilliam in Strathmore-Brooks.

Alberta Party

The Alberta Party has nominated 29 candidates, including recent nominees Jim Black in Medicine Hat and Rory Tarant in Grande Prairie-Wapiti.

Warren Kinsella Edmonton Liberal
Warren Kinsella

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party has nominated 24 candidates across the province. The latest nominated candidates include Ron Williams in Battle River-Wainwright, Todd Ross in Edmonton-Castle Downs, Bradley Whalen in Edmonton-Decore, Kevin McLean in Grande Prairie-Smoky and Helen McMenamin in Little Bow. Mr. McLean is a city councillor in Grande Prairie.

It appears that celebrity political strategist Warren Kinsella is headlining a $159.00 per ticket fundraiser for Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal Dan Bildhauer and Edmonton-Manning Liberal Adam Mounzer on April 11 at the Courtyard Edmonton West hotel.

Green Party

The Green Party has nominated fifteen candidates and has recently nominated Josh Drozda in Leduc-Beaumont, Peter Meic in Calgary-Cross, Coral Bliss Taylor in Chestermere-Rockyview, and Sandra Wolf Lange in Edmonton-Riverview.

Following the lead of Edmonton Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, Red Deer-North Liberal candidate Michael Dawe has also accepted the Green Party nomination in his constituency.

Communist Party

The Communist Party of Alberta plans to field two candidates in the upcoming election. Leader Naomi Rankin will represent her party in Edmonton-Mill Woods and Bonnie Devine will run in Calgary-East. Ms. Rankin has been leader of the Communist Party since 1992 and, according to her Wikipedia biography, has run in every provincial and federal election in Alberta since 1982.


I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

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Alberta Politics

#abvote Google Hangout with Wildrose leadership candidates

It has been a rough seven months for the Wildrose Party of Alberta. After losing four by-elections in September 2014, the party was decimated when eleven Wildrose MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to the governing Progressive Conservatives.

Now, with an election call expected within weeks, the opposition conservative party is searching for new leader.

Three leadership candidates – Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, former Member of Parliament Brian Jean, and former Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk – are running for the leadership. Party members are already voting and the results will be released on March 28.

The candidates joined us on the latest #ABVote Google Hangout to talk about their campaigns, the state of conservative politics and respond to Premier Jim Prentice‘s televised address to the province. [Following a death in Mr. Jean’s family, Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt is standing in for the candidate in the final week of the leadership campaign].

Check out our past hangout with Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman.

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Alberta Politics

Bill 45 deserved to die. Kudos to Prentice for killing it.

One year ago, the PC Party was on verge of meltdown as Alison Redford resigned as leader and Premier. Since then, the political landscape has shifted so dramatically that the only significant thing that remains the same is the PC Party is still in government and will almost certainly extend its 44 year reign in the upcoming spring election.

Alberta Legislature Building Alison Redford
Thousands of Albertans protested the Redford Government’s anti-labour laws in November 2013.

Jim Prentice is being praised as a saviour by conservatives for turning around his party’s electoral fortunes, but he is no magician. Like each of his predecessors over the past 44 years, Mr. Prentice’s goal is to ensure the PC Party remains in government. And also like these predecessors, he is succeeding.

Most of Mr. Prentice’s success has been based on his ability to reverse many of Ms. Redford’s most unpopular decisions. And this week, with an election expected to be called soon, he announced the government would repeal the unpopular Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

Introduced into the Assembly by former minister Dave Hancock, the unnecessary and probably unconstitutional Bill 45 was part of Ms. Redford’s attack on public sector workers. The bill was passed with the support of 33 PC MLAs and one Wildrose MLA in December 2013 but was never proclaimed into law (five Wildrose MLAs, two New Democrats and one Liberal voted against it). If made into law, it would have significantly increased the fines for public sector strikes and made it illegal for any person to publicly suggest that government employees take job action.

The bill also appeared to give significant powers to the Minister of Human Services to issue fines to government employees if there has even been a hint of discussion about an illegal strike or strike threat.

Robin Campbell Alberta Finance Yellowhead
Robin Campbell

When the bill was passed in December 2013, one constitutional law expert told the National Post it was “ripe for challenge” to the Supreme Court of Canada. Athabasca University professor Bob Barnetson suggested that because free speech is protected by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unlikely that these sections Bill 45 would survive a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada (court challenges had already been launched by United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees).

Killing Bill 45 is only one step in repairing the government’s damaged relationship with its front-line workers. Five months ago, Mr. Prentice said he found low morale and high turnover in the public service “shocking.” But with Finance Minister Robin Campbell warning of 9 percent across the board funding cuts in next week’s provincial budget, it is difficult to see how Mr. Prentice plans to change this situation.

It remains embarrassing that so many of our elected officials supported this bill, but today Mr. Prentice deserves some kudos for committing to repeal Bill 45.


Wildrose Leadership Candidates
Wildrose Party leadership candidates Brian Jean, Linda Osinchuk and Drew Barnes.

Wildrose Party leadership candidates Drew Barnes, Brian Jean and Linda Osinchuk will be guests on the next AbVote Google Hangout on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Tune in to abvote.ca at 7:00 p.m. and ask questions to the candidates using the #abvote hashtag on Twitter.

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Alberta Politics

Rob Anders still lurking around the Wildrose Party

Twice denied an opportunity to run for the leadership of the Wildrose Party, controversial Conservative Party Member of Parliament Rob Anders is still lurking in the shadows of the deflated Alberta conservative opposition party.

As reported by the Medicine Hat News, Mr. Anders has been making personal phone calls to conservatives in Medicine Hat in support of Wildrose nomination candidate Dustin Nau.

Here’s a recording of the phone message left by Mr. Anders:

In the recorded phone message, Mr. Anders described Mr. Nau as “a good guy” and a “good solid social conservative” who did two tours in Iraq with the United States military. Mr. Anders says he believes Mr. Nau will would be a real asset for the Wildrose Party going forward in the next election.

Speaking to the Medicine Hat News, Mr. Nau denied knowing Mr. Anders personally and denied ever serving in the U.S. military. He was not able to answer why Mr. Anders was making phone calls in support of his campaign.

After failing to secure federal Conservative nominations in Calgary-Signal Hill and Bow River, Mr. Anders unsuccessfully appealed to the Wildrose Party executive to allow him to run for the leadership. Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, before she crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in December 2014, said Mr. Anders was not welcome to run for the party in the next election.

Late last year, Mr. Anders publicly mused about starting his own conservative think-tank once his 17-year career as an MP ends in 2015.

Mr. Anders is well-known for his controversial conservative views in Ottawa, having called Nelson Mandela a terroristinsulting Canadian veteranscalling for war against Russia, and blaming Thomas Mulcair for hastening the death of former NDP leader Jack Layton.

The 17-year Conservative MP was recently featured in a YouTube video, where controversial Calgary street preacher Art Pawlowski, flanked by Gospel Elvis, dedicates a prayer to Mr. Anders. (Cabinet minister Ric McIver took heat for his support of Mr. Pawlowski’s activities, including the anti-gay March for Jesus, during the 2014 leadership contest).

New Wildrose leader on March 28
Linda Osinchuk Wildrose Sherwood Park Leadership
Linda Osinchuk

Anticipating a provincial election within weeks, the Wildrose Party executive decided to push forward the date of its leadership contest to March 28, 2015. A 12-day phone-in vote will take place from March 18 to 28, 2015.

Candidates for the leadership include former Fort McMurray-Athabasca Conservative MP Brian Jean, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose
Shayne Saskiw

Ms. Osinchuk is already nominated as the party’s candidate in Sherwood Park and Mr. Barnes has secured the nomination in Cypress-Medicine Hat.

Rumours have been circulating that Mr. Jean could run in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills if current Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw decides to leave provincial politics. The provincial constituency is located in the southern half of the federal riding Mr. Jean represented from 2004 to 2014 in the House of Commons.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Politics Round-Up: Redford and the Opposition

Premier Alison Redford Alberta
Premier Alison Redford

An investigation into former Premier Alison Redford‘s use of government airplanes has been closed and no charges will be laid, the RCMP announced yesterday. In 2014, Premier Dave Hancock and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis asked the RCMP to investigate findings made by the Auditor General that Ms. Redford and her staff had misused government aircraft.

Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the Progressive Conservatives in March 2014 after facing a caucus and party revolt against her scandal-plagued administration.

Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party
Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party
Greg Clark

The never-ending dance between the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party continued last week as party leader Greg Clark presented another “cooperation” offer to the Liberal Party. Not surprisingly the offer was declined by interim Liberal leader David Swann, who was chosen by his party’s executive because he did not share MLA Laurie Blakeman‘s pro-cooperation stance.

The Alberta Party is hosting its Annual General Meeting this weekend, an event that will feature guest speakers Stephen Carter and Dave Taylor (former Liberal and Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Currie from 2004 to 2012).

Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by former Liberal Party executive director Corey Hogan shows that both parties could be shut out of Calgary’s inner-city constituencies in the next election. If defeat is not a powerful motivator to cooperate, I do not know what else would be.

NDP nab a big candidate in Calgary
Joe Ceci NDP Calgary Fort
Joe Ceci

Rachel Notley‘s NDP have grabbed their biggest name candidate in decades – former five-term Alderman and Homeless advocate Joe Ceci announced this week that he will seek the NDP nomination in Calgary-Fort. Mr. Ceci supported the Liberal Party when it was led by Kevin Taft and endorsed Mr. Swann when he ran for the party’s leadership in 2008.

Calgary-Fort has been represented by PC MLA Wayne Cao since 1997. Mr. Cao is not seeking re-election.

Three candidates have stepped up to run for the PC nomination: Christopher PrimeauBeverly DeSantis and David Aftergood.

Mr. Aftergood recently appealed to the CBC Ombudsman for the removal of an article reporting his jail sentencing in 2007 for improper handling of ballots in the 2004 Calgary municipal election. According to the CBC, Mr. Aftergood was sentenced to 14 days in jail in May 2007 but never served out the sentence, because upon appeal, he was granted a new trial and the charge against him was stayed in January 2010.

Much of the area was represented by NDP MLA Barry Pashak from 1986 to 1993. The NDP have not elected an MLA in Calgary since 1989, but Ms. Notley has said she hopes her party can increase its support in the next election.

Former Tory MP eyes Wildrose leadership
Brian Jean
Brian Jean

Former Fort McMurray-Athabasca Conservative MP Brian Jean is considering a run for the leadership of the Wildrose Party. The crossword loving former Ottawa politician served as MP from 2006 to 2014. He retired in 2014 to return to private life.

Although Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier was unseated in the 2012 election, he and former Mayor Doug Faulkner were only narrowly defeated in Fort McMurray’s two provincial constituencies.

Former Strathcona County Mayor Linda Osinchuk confirmed on Facebook yesterday that she plans to run for the Wildrose Party leadership.

Seven PC nominations today

The Progressive Conservatives will be holding candidate nomination contests today in Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Calgary-Fish Creek, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-North West, Medicine Hat, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and Spruce Grove-St. Albert.

#ABvote Google Hangout

With a provincial election expected in the coming month, we kicked off the first #AbVote Google Hangout last night. Watch the archived version online at abvote.ca.

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Alberta Politics

Top 10 moments in Alberta Politics in 2014

In my nearly ten years writing about politics in Alberta on this blog, 2014 was easily the most exciting. The sheer number of scandals, controversies, fumbles and resignations made for new content on a daily basis. If I had the time and resources, I could have easily written three or four posts a day for most of the year. As this year comes to an end, I took a look through this year’s posts and compiled a list of the top ten political moments in Alberta of 2014. Thank you for reading and enjoy the list.

Rob Anders Bow River Conservative MP
Rob Anders

10. Take a hike, Rob Anders
After 17 years as one of the most hyper-conservative politicians in Ottawa, Member of Parliament Rob Anders was finally shown the door by Conservative Party members. In April 2014, Mr. Anders lost a hotly contested Conservative Party nomination race in Calgary-Signal Hill to former Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Liepert. His second attempt at a nomination was in the rural riding of Bow River outside Calgary, where Mr. Anders was defeated by Brooks Mayor Martin Shields.

Merwan Saher
Merwan Saher

9. Auditor General on Climate Change
A July 2014 report from Auditor General Merwan Saher found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy, which was first implemented in 2008. The report uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy. Mr. Saher’s report found that the total emissions reductions from the CCS program was expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated. The Auditor General also reported that Alberta was unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

8. Gay-Straight Alliances debate
What if politicians could stop school kids from starting clubs? A motion supporting Gay-Straight Alliances introduced by Liberal Party MLA Kent Hehr was defeated in April 2014 and a private members’ bill introduced by Liberal Laurie Blakeman in November 2014 derailed the PC agenda for the fall sitting. The debate showed rifts in the PC and Wildrose caucus and Jim Prentice’s ill conceived Bill 10 in response to Ms. Blakeman’s Bill 202 led to his first big fumble as Premier.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

7. Dave Hancock appointed Premier
Long-time PC cabinet minister Dave Hancock was appointed Premier and interim leader of the PC Party following the resignation of Alison Redford in March 2014. A self-described policy-wonk, Mr. Hancock may have flourished under more agreeable circumstances, but most of his short time as premier was focused on undoing the damage inflicted by his predecessor. During his six months in office, Mr. Hancock’s government oversaw major collective agreement settlements with the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and invited the R.C.M.P. to investigate Ms. Redford’s travel habits. A surprising amount of his time in office was overshadowed by a silly and politically motivated plan to remove the “Wild Rose Country” slogan from Alberta’s license plate.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

6. Ready for Rachel
After ten years as leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party, Edmonton MLA Brian Mason announced he would step down from the party’s top job. A leadership race ensued and MLA Rachel Notley won a decisive victory over fellow MLA David Eggen and labour activist Rod Loyola. Expectations are high for the new NDP leader, as polls show her party’s support has surged in Edmonton in recent months.

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta
Kyle Harrietha

5. Liberal near win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca
What should have been a sleepy federal by-election in the heart of Alberta’s Oil Belt turned into a race when Liberal Kyle Harrietha challenged Conservative David Yurdiga for the June 30, 2014 vote to replace retiring MP Brian Jean. Running an energetic campaign, Mr. Harrietha increased his party’s support from 10% in 2011 to 35.3%, placing less than 1,500 votes behind Mr. Yurdiga. The Liberal also defeated his Tory challenger in Fort McMurray, no small feat in the land of the oil sands. The two candidates will face off once again in the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding when the next federal election is held in 2015.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

4. The October mini-election
Four by-elections on October 27, 2014 provided Albertans with a mini-election less than two months after Mr. Prentice became premier. Triggered by the resignations of former premiers Ms. Redford and Mr. Hancock and PC MLAs Ken Hughes and Len Webber, the votes allowed Mr. Prentice to win a seat in the Assembly along with PC candidates Stephen Mandel, Gordon Dirks and Mike Ellis. The opposition Wildrose had hoped to win at least two of the by-elections, but were upstaged by the NDP in Edmonton-Whitemud and an insurgent Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

3. Jim Prentice becomes Premier
After a first-ballot victory in a lack-lustre and uninspiring leadership contest, Jim Prentice started his time in office with a bang. After being sworn-in, Mr. Prentice implemented a swift de-Redfordization agenda, with daily announcements undoing some of his predecessors more unpopular policies and decisions. Purging Redford era cabinet ministers, selling the government’s fleet of aircraft, keeping the Michener Centre open, backing down from controversial changes to public sector pension plans and cancelling the botched license plate redesign were all no-brainers, but they projected an image of the new premier as a competent chief executive in command. Arguably, Mr. Prentice’s only missteps in his first few months in office were his aborted Gay-Straight Alliances bill and the unease caused after he tactfully dismantled the Official Opposition (see #2 below). Despite his success in distancing himself from Ms. Redford, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same as hers.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA
Danielle Smith

2. Wildrose floor crossings
For four years, PCs told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. But in November and December 2014, Mr. Prentice’s PC Caucus accepted 11 Wildrose MLAs into their ranks, including Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. The caucus merger, which was either in negotiations for months or sparked by the Wildrose by-election loss (depending on which story you believe), was encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning (Mr. Manning later apologized for his role). The floor crossing gutted the Official Opposition, left with 5 MLAs and enraged Wildrose supporters, who started a “Recall Danielle” campaign in her Highwood constituency. Five-term Calgary MLA Heather Forsyth stepped in as interim leader until a permanent leader can be chosen in 2015.

Alison Redford Premier of Alberta resigns 1
Alison Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta on March 23, 2014.

1. The spectacular fall of Alison Redford
Mistakes were made” were some of the last public words Albertans heard from premier Alison Redford before she resigned as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in August 2014. Albertans have never seen a political career crash and burn this badly. A $45,000 flight to South Africa, use of the government plane to return from Palm Springs, alleged fake passenger bookings to ensure her and her staff had the planes to themselves, a secretly constructed private penthouse known as the Skypalace, and long trips to exotic destinations overseas are just some of the allegations of misuse of power she faced prior to her resignation. Months after her resignation, the Auditor General reported the existence of an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office.”

Alberta’s first woman premier started her time in office with great promise and many Albertans believed she signalled the beginning of a new, more progressive, era in our province. Ms. Redford quickly proved those believers wrong with deep funding cuts to colleges and universities and attacks on public sector workers and their collective bargaining rights.

In the end, plummeting fundraising returns, bad polling numbers, MLA defections, and a caucus and party on the verge of revolt forced Ms. Redford to step down as Premier of Alberta and Leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014.

Have I missed any of your top 10 moments in Alberta politics? Please share what made your list in the comment section.

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Alberta Politics

A closer look at the Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod by-elections

Conservative candidates were elected in two federal by-elections yesterday in Alberta. This is an event which would normally not be a source for much commentary, but there are some interesting points to be made from the outcome of these two by-elections.

Fort McMurray Athabasca Federal By-Election Results 2014
Unofficial results of the 2014 federal by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca.

Conservatives hold, but support shrinks
In Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Conservative David Yurdiga was elected with 5,945 votes (47% of the vote), significantly lower than the landslide 21,988 votes (71.8% of the vote) earned by former MP Brian Jean in the 2011 general election. The regional breakdown of the votes could provide some interesting insight into this by-election, as Mr. Yurdiga hails from the voter-rich southern limits of this large rural riding.

In Macleod, John Barlow was elected with 12,394 votes (68%), only slightly lower than the 77% earned by MP Ted Menzies in 2011.

Liberals back in second place
The Liberals dislodged the official opposition New Democratic Party as the main challenger to the Conservatives in both ridings. Strong local campaigns as well as a boost from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who visited the ridings numerous times during the by-elections, likely contributed to these results.

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal Kyle Harrietha placed a strong second with 35.3% of the vote (4,491 votes), up from his party’s 10% in the 2011 general election. While the Liberals were not able to pull off a win, they should not be disappointed with their level of support. Percentage wise, this is the strongest a non-conservative candidate has placed in this riding since 1980.

In Macleod, Liberal Dustin Fuller earned 17% of the vote (3,062 votes), up from his party’s distant 3.6% fourth place finish in the 2011 general election.

Macleod federal by-election results 2014
Unofficial results from the 2014 federal by-election in Macleod.

Low voter turnout
Voter turnout was abysmally low. Only 15.19% of registered voters cast a ballot in Fort McMurray-Athabasca and 19.59% voted in Macleod. Although by-elections traditionally attract low voter turnout, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice to schedule the voting day between a weekend and Canada Day likely contributed to the low participation.

On Canada Day, we should reflect on how voter participation strengthens our democracy and the consequences of ignoring our country’s political and electoral process.

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Alberta Politics

A Liberal win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca would send shockwaves to Ottawa

Kyle Harrietha Justin Trudeau Fort McMurray Athabasca Liberal
Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha with Justin Trudeau.

On Monday, June 30, voters in four federal ridings across Canada, including Alberta’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod, have an opportunity to choose their next Member of Parliament. Paying close attention to a by-election campaign may not be the most thrilling activity to occupy your time during the summer months, but it is an important one.

Voters in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding are expected to march into the ballot box and elect Conservative John Barlow as their next MP, but the race in the vast northern riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca could produce much more interesting results after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

While the opposition parties have written off the area in the past, it is hard to make that argument in 2014. Kyle Harrietha has run the strongest Liberal campaign the riding has seen in a generation, and has been boosted by leader Justin Trudeau, who has visited the riding three times since Conservative MP Brian Jean resigned in January 2014.

Lori McDaniel Linda Duncan NDP Fort McMurray Athabasca
NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair had been scheduled to visit the riding and campaign alongside Lori McDaniel during the by-election but cancelled his planned trip to attend the funeral of the three murdered R.C.M.P. officers in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was nowhere to be seen during this by-election.

While national issues like the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the ongoing environmental debates about climate change and the impact of Oil Sands development, are sure the play a role in how voters decide to cast their ballots, Tip O’Neill‘s well-known saying “all politics is local” will certainly be a factor in this by-election.

Fort McMurray is a booming community where there are serious concerns about the lagging pace of infrastructure investment from the provincial and federal governments. The pace of economic growth sparked a huge influx of diverse migrants from across Canada and the globe.

While the region is an economic engine for the country, residents I have spoken with feel their community has been forgotten, or just plain ignored, by the higher levels of government.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week.
Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray in May 2014.

Conservative candidate David Yurdiga has played a peekaboo campaign, skipping all-candidates debates and not engaging with voters on social media (he has been accused of “blocking” local voters who have criticized him on Twitter). He hails from the voter-rich southern reaches of the riding in Athabasca County, which faces some similar and many different issues than the industrial oil capital to the north.

In the south, Mr. Yurdiga has received the endorsements of Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw and embattled provincial Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

As Canadians have witnessed many times in the past, by-elections pose a risk to incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a strong message of approval or disapproval to Ottawa without changing who is in power.

Former Conservative MP Mr. Jean was re-elected in 2011 with a 17,935 vote margin of victory over his closest challenger. If Mr. Yurdiga is elected with even a significantly smaller margin, voters will send a message that will quickly be forgotten in Ottawa. If voters in this riding elect Mr. Harrietha tomorrow, they will send shockwaves through the comfortable Conservative establishment in the nation’s capital.

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Alberta Politics Canadian Politics

Underdog Liberal has a shot in Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election

Kyle Harrietha Fort McMurray Athabasca By Election Liberal
Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha stands with his first sign of the Vote Harrietha campaign in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. (Photo from Kyle Harrietha’s Facebook Page)

Four federal by-elections will be held across Canada on June 30, 2014, including in Alberta’s Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca ridings made vacant by the retirements of Conservative Members of Parliament Ted Menzies and Brian Jean months ago.

While most general elections in Alberta can be counted on to result in broad Conservative sweeps, Albertans have shown themselves to be a more unpredictable when an uncommon by-election is held.

Last year’s by-election in Calgary-Centre, a riding represented by Conservatives for nearly fifty years came within a sliver of being won by Liberal Harvey Locke. And in 1989, the spark that led to a Reform Party sweep of the West four years later was lit when Deborah Grey won a by-election in Beaver River.

This year’s by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca is expected to be particularly interesting. Home of Canada’s Oil Sands, this riding is Ground Zero for the international debate about climate change, pipelines and the future of the energy industry. This riding is also demographically different than southern Alberta’s Macleod or most other rural Alberta ridings.

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Federal Election Results 2006 2008 2011 by-election 2014

Home to a young and transient population that includes Aboriginals, New Canadians and Canadians from across the country (and many temporary foreign workers), the industrial nature of employment in the riding means it also has a higher percentage of labour union membership than most rural Alberta ridings. Low levels of voter turnout in recent general elections (40% turnout in 2011) could contribute to an unpredictable by-election result.

While much of the northern half of the riding benefits from an industrial boom, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo faces the incredible challenge of keeping up with the pressures that accompany this type of fast growth – transportation infrastructure (and Highway 63), housing, public services, etc.

Some local Fort McMurray-ites I have spoken with feel that federal government has not contributed its fair share in helping their community deal with these pressures – something that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga is likely to hear about at the doorsteps.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week.
Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week. (Photo from Ms. Leitch’s Twitter page @KellieLeitch)

Mr. Yurdiga hails from the vote-rich southern portion of the riding, where he is a councillor in the County of Athabasca (the area he represents on County Council will not be part of the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding, which will be created at the next federal election).

The regional divide between the northern and southern parts of this riding are relevant and the large geographic distances can present a significant challenge in organizing an effective campaign.

Mr. Yurdiga will face a strong challenge from well-organized Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha, who has been bolstered by Justin Trudeau, who has become a frequent visitor to the community over the past year.

Mr. Harrietha also draws on the support of an extensive network that includes provincial Progressive Conservatives, community organizers (he was a campaign manager for Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake) and the Metis community, who he works for as executive director of General Manager of Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935. 

While Mr. Harrietha is certainly the underdog in this race, resentment toward the former MP and a lacklustre Conservative nomination race could help him make gains in this by-election (and now would be a good time for Mr. Trudeau to make sure Ottawa-South MP David McGuinty does not stray off message).

NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan (Photo from Lori McDaniel's Facebook Page).
NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan (Photo from Lori McDaniel’s Facebook Page).

The New Democrats have nominated Suncor employee and Unifor Local 707A health and safety representative Lori McDaniel as their candidate. This by-election will be an important test for the official opposition NDP, who have been criticized by Conservatives for leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments last year.

In a gesture of pan-Canadianism, it perhaps would not be a bad idea for Mr. Mulcair to fly his party’s large contingent of first-term MPs from Quebec to campaign alongside Ms. McDaniel in the by-election in our nation’s new industrial capital. It would probably help her campaign and expand the horizons of opposition MPs who are sometimes too eager to criticize those who work in Canada’s energy industry.

Federal by-elections in Alberta have proven to be unpredictable events and if the trend continues, as I sense it might, the results of the Fort McMurray-Athabasca vote could be very interesting on June 30.

Next post… a by-election in Cowboy Country (aka Macleod)… yah hoo.

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Alberta Politics

Neil Young, the oil sands and shifting political loyalties in Fort McMurray

Pundits from across the country are waxing and waning over comments made by rock n’ roll icon Neil Young about Canada’s oil sands. Mr. Young’s inarticulate criticisms of the oil sands (and comparing Fort McMurray to Hiroshima) have not helped the discussion around the impact of natural resource development in Canada, but he does deserve some credit for raising awareness about high cancer rates in the northern community of Fort Chipewyan.

Oil is a dirty business. And when it spills it can make a big mess. But natural resources drive our economy and the jobs of most people living in Alberta depend on the natural resource sector, either directly or indirectly. How do we reconcile this?

With plans for increased oil sands development and federal and provincial governments focused on promoting pipeline export, a federal by-election to be called within the next six months could increase national attention on the region.

By-election within six months

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Member of Parliament Brian Jean announced last week that he will resign from parliament on January 17.  After ten years as MP for the region and as a quiet government backbencher in Ottawa, it is easy to understand why Mr. Jean decided it was time to move on.

The departure is expected to draw a crowd for the Conservative Party candidate nomination. While the Tories have dominated in previous elections – winning 73% of the vote in the 2011 federal election – some local political watchers are expecting a strong fight from the Liberals.

Could Justin Trudeau-mania put the Liberals in a position to make gains in northern Alberta’s energy capital?

Top Fort Mac Tory has “crossed the floor” to the Liberals 

A prominent Fort McMurray Conservative announced last week that he was switching allegiances to the federal Liberal Party.

In a note on his Facebook page, Jeffery Cromwell, president of the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Progressive Conservatives announced that he has left the Conservative Party of Canada and joined the Liberals. Until recently, Mr. Cromwell was a board member of the local federal Conservative electoral district association.

Jeff Cromwell PC Liberal Fort McMurray
A screenshot from Jeffery Cromwell’s Facebook page.
Categories
Alberta Politics

Fort McMurray MP Brian Jean resigns

Brian Jean
Brian Jean

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Conservative Member of Parliament Brian Jean announced his resignation today in a written statement to the media. Mr. Jean was first elected in 2004. He was re-elected in 2011 with 71.8% of the vote.

His departure will trigger a second federal by-election in Alberta in 2014. In late 2013, Macleod MP Ted Menzies resigned.

In late 2013, Mr. Jean faced ridicule from critics who questioned his decision to include a crossword puzzle about himself in a constituency newsletter.

Here are exerts from Mr. Jean’s resignation letter:

“In every job, there is a right time to move on. For me, that time has come. I’ve spent the past ten years fighting for the priorities of Northern Albertans in Ottawa and now I feel I’m needed more right here at home in Fort McMurray,” says MP Jean. “This decision has not been an easy one and I am extremely grateful to my family, my outstanding staff, and my constituents for their constant support. I would also like to thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his leadership and for allowing me the opportunity to publically serve the greatest people and place in Canada.”

“When I was first elected, I made a commitment to my constituents that I would serve seven to ten years and work towards a number of goals including: a strong Canadian economy, the protection of individual rights, the elimination of the long barrel firearms registry, fiscal responsibility of government, and responding to all constituents’ concerns. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve done for my constituents and for Northern Alberta,” says Jean. “I’m also proud of the accomplishments achieved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and our Conservative Government, with our success being evident in the strong performance of Canada’s economy over our time in Government. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it but look forward to contributing in other ways to making Northern Alberta the best place in which to work, live and raise a family.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

The Brian Jean crossword puzzle

The MP Brian Jean Crossword Puzzle
The MP Brian Jean Crossword Puzzle

How well do you know your Member of Parliament? Fort McMurray-Athabasca Conservative MP Brian Jean takes a unique approach to this question in his latest mail-out to constituents.

Mr. Jean’s latest taxpayer-funded mail-out doesn’t included a crossword puzzle about the bustling community of Fort McMurray, or the wealth of natural resources in the riding, or even what the duties of an MP are. In what I can only suspect was inspired by Oprah Winfrey‘s O Magazine, Mr. Jean’s crossword puzzle is all about Mr. Jean.

Here is a sample of a few questions included in the crossword:

Eight across, four letters: “Brian’s inaugural election year: in Roman numerals.”

Four down, four letters: “Brian’s favourite colour.”

Seven down, three letters:  “How many grandchildren does Brian have”

Twenty down, three letters: “Colour of Brian’s hair”

(Thanks to a reader for passing this image along)