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spring session of the alberta legislature cut short.

Alberta's Legislative Assembly Building in Edmonton.

The 2010 Spring session of the Alberta Legislature wrapped up yesterday with little fanfare. Ending a month and a half earlier than the increasingly pointless Legislative calendar had scheduled, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs seemed happy to cut short one of their roughest sessions in decades. Here are some thoughts on how each of the parties fared during the 2010 Spring session:

Progressive Conservatives
Entering their 39th year in office, the Progressive Conservatives caucus appeared to list from left to right and back again during this session. The massive cuts expected in the 2010 budget never emerged (and the cuts that did take place were largely overshadowed by funding to health care and education). Their flagship bill, the Competitiveness Act, is already becoming largely forgotten in the minds of most political watchers and did not have the public splash impact that was likely intended.

Premier Ed Stelmach
Premier Ed Stelmach speaking to students and staff at the University of Alberta.

The PCs faced criticism over sending junkets of Cabinet Ministers to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games while the Assembly was in session to hobnob with international business leaders on the Alberta Olympic Train. The PCs also made changes that lowered the amount of resource royalties collected by the provincial government, effectively undoing in one day the long process of industry consultation, economic study, and public relations that they had undertaken prior to the 2008 election.

Their political machinery is still well-financed, but the PC Party leadership appears disconnected from mainstream Albertans. Premier Stelmach’s weak public speaking skills were crutched by some of the cabinet ministers who were shuffled into new positions in February and have made an impact this Spring. Most notably, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Finance Minister Ted Morton, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, and Solicitor General Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau have performed fairly well in their new roles. In the Health Care file, Minister Zwozdesky appears to have spent much of the past three months travelling the province attempting to extinguish the fires set by his predecessor (now -Energy Minister Ron Liepert). While his style has brought a much friendlier tone to his position, there are still remains unanswered questions around issues ranging from seniors’ pharmacare to the future of Alberta Hospital Edmonton.

Finance Minister Ted Morton delivered his first budget in March 2010.

As criticisms have increased from outside the Legislature, it appears that a few PC backbenchers are increasingly unwilling to read the puff-ball questions that they regularly line up for. Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA George VanderBurg, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen, and Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale have asked some pretty tough questions and have noticeably got under the skin of some cabinet ministers during Question Period.

Premier Stelmach and his cabinet ministers will undertake a province-wide tour over the summer to talk with Albertans (and try to win back the hearts and minds of PC supporters who have flocked to the Wildrose Alliance). The optimist in me hopes that the tour will actually be effective in reconnecting our elected government officials with Albertans.

Liberal leader David Swann and MLAs Bridget Pastoor, Laurie Blakeman, Kevin Taft, Hugh MacDonald, Kent Hehr, and Harry Chase.

Liberals
With the exception of Health critic Kevin Taft and Calgary International Airport-tunnel advocate Darshan Kang, the Official Opposition Liberals struggled to focus during this session. David Swann‘s rag-tag Liberal caucus gained some attention after releasing a new oil and gas policy, but have had a difficult time finding a role in the new and increasingly dominant political narrative being developed between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance.

The very public departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and his verbal lashing of Dr. Swann in the media seemed to be the most memorable moment for the Liberals during this session, though internally, they are probably better off without Mr. Taylor. The Liberals won a reprieve from negative attention when a motion by backbench PC MLA Verlyn Olson temporarily removed the independence of Public Accounts Committee chairman Hugh MacDonald. While I believe Dr. Swann’s performance actually improved after Mr. Taylor’s departure, similar to their federal counterparts, the provincial Liberals biggest weakness is their focus on daily tactics, rather than long-term strategy to form government.

Danielle Smith with Wildrose Alliance MLAs Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson.

Wildrose Alliance
With the addition of former PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, the WRA caucus was boosted to third-party status for the first time. Ms. Forsyth’s Mandatory Reporting of Child Pornography bill was passed on third reading (I cannot remember any time that an opposition MLAs private members bill was passed into legislation). The Wildrose Alliance was faced with the challenge of not becoming the NDP of the right and have been strategic in what issues they chose to focus on (ie: opposing the centralization of regional health authorities into Alberta Health Services).

With three MLAs in the Assembly, seatless leader Danielle Smith has spent the majority of her time during this session criss-crossing the province, speaking to town hall meetings, trade shows, chambers of commerce, and anyone interested in meeting with the newly anointed Dauphine of Alberta politics (a very smart decision in my mind).

NDP MLA Brian Mason in a media scrum at the Alberta Legislature.

New Democrats
The NDP caucus of Brian Mason and Rachel Notley did what they do well this session: get media attention. Rather than striking out on their own when their position in the Question Period line-up was in jeopardy, they joined with the Liberals and Wildrose Alliance at the press gallery podium to present a united front against this change. On the policy front, the NDP released a report on Health Care that was generated after a series of town hall meetings.

Outside the Legislature, the NDP appear to be stalled in the polls and have not been able to capitalize on the destabilization inside the Liberal Party. At their 2009 convention, Nova Scotia NDP organizer Matt Hebb advised his Alberta cousins to build a bigger tent of supporters and to act like a party of government by taking a pragmatic and constructive approach to politics. “Act like a party of government, don’t talk about it,” was Mr. Hebb’s message. Judging by the daily outrage and ankle bitting during Question Period, it does not appear that the two MLAs have heeded Mr. Hebb’s advice.

Independent MLAs now include Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor.

Independents
Independent MLAs Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor now share the lonely northwest corner of the Assembly floor. It was suspected that Mr. Boutilier might join the Wildrose Alliance caucus (his 2008 campaign manager has joined the WRA), but he may be too much of a wildcard for a party that is riding high in the polls and posturing to form the next government. More recently, there have been rumors floating that Mr. Taylor would like to acquire the leadership of the newly reorganized Alberta Party and reshape it into his own image (knowing the people involved in the Alberta Party, this might not be a welcoming prospect).

Floor-crossings
Since the 2008 election, five of 83 MLAs have forced the changing of seating arrangements on the Assembly floor. There has not been this much movement across the Assembly floor between elections since the early 1990s, which saw some significant Liberal by-election victories, a New Democrat cross to the PCs, a PC leave to sit as an Independent, and a handful of right-leaning Liberals cross to the PCs. It is also the first time since 1989 that an opposition party other than the Liberals or NDP have had more than one MLA in the Assembly (the Representative Party elected two former Social Credit MLAs in 1986).

Press Gallery
This was the final session for long-time Canadian Press reporter Jim MacDonald, who will be retiring from his role in May. After 27 years working for Canadian Press, Mr. MacDonald has become an institution in the Press Gallery. During my time as a spokesperson for the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, Mr. MacDonald was always the most nerve-racking reporter in a media scrum – always asking the toughest questions and not taking spin for an answer. He will be missed.

On a final note, I feel the need to recognize Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who is normally a very good columnist, but during this spring session has written some excellent columns about politics in Alberta.

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tory backbenchers sat silently, then voted to gag the public accounts committee.

Don Braid has published an excellent column in today’s Calgary Herald on the decision by Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson and six other PC MLAs to vote in favor of weakening the power of the Public Accounts Committee to be a financial watchdog.

As I wrote last week, the powers of the committee were curtailed when PC MLAs voted to create a new rule forcing Committee Chairman MLA Hugh MacDonald to have all future committee correspondence approved by Deputy Chair PC MLA Dave Rodney. When the issue was raised by opposition MLAs in Question Period, Premier Ed Stelmach, Education Minister Dave Hancock, and Deputy Premier Doug Horner have scoffed at the complaints, citing how powerless they are when it comes to influencing their backbench MLAs.

As shown in Hansard transcripts of the April 14 Public Accounts Committee meeting, Only Mr. Olson and Mr. Rodney  spoke in favor of the motion. Both Liberal Harry Chase and New Democrat Brian Mason spoke and voted against the motion. Not one of the five other PC MLAs at the meeting spoke to the motion. Edmonton PC MLAs David Xiao, Tony Vandermeer, Peter Sandhu, Doug Elniski, and Red Deer MLA Cal Dallas all sat silently until it was time to vote on Mr. Olson’s motion and they all voted in favor of it.

UPDATE: After significant public pressure, it appears that Mr. Olson might introduce a new motion to withdraw his original motion at tomorrow’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.

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edmonton public school closures.

Parents and students protest the closures of inner city schools.

Last night, I attended the Edmonton Public School Board meeting where Trustees voted to close five Edmonton schools (Parkdale, McCauley, Eastwood, Capilano, and Fulton Place schools will close at the end of June 2010).

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald speaks at the demonstration before the meeting.

The meeting was preceded with a demonstration where over 200 parents and students rallied against the closures and welcomed community leaders, including MLAs Hugh MacDonald and Brian Mason, to speak to the crowd. After the demonstration, the crowd poured into the meeting hall (and thanks to the Edmonton Journal the meeting was live-streamed online so that people across the City could watch).

As the meeting began, it was clear that it would be a very tense evening. At one point during the meeting, as Trustee Sue Huff called out fellow Trustee Ken Shipka for not speaking to the motion to close one of the schools (Mr. Shipka would only say that he was voting for the closure), Board Chair Don Fleming snapped at Huff “RELAX!” It was an out of line comment from Trustee Fleming and only increased the thick intensity in the room.

Trustee Sue Huff defended the importance of schools in inner city communities.

I shared some thoughts on the inner city school closures a couple of weeks ago and I continue to believe that many of the challenges facing inner city schools have been caused by the lack of smart urban planning in Edmonton. As Edmonton continues to sprawl and spawn new neighborhoods in each direction, it has become increasingly difficult for the school board to plan the future of its schools. This is an issue of urban planning and coordination between City Councillors and School Board Trustees that needs to be addressed. Both Councillors and Trustees are doing Edmontonians a disservice when they do not work together.

Trustees George Rice, Gerry Gibeault, and Ken Shipka listen to citizens speak against the school closures.

I also feel that the Public School Trustees could be more creative with how they use the space available in these undercapacity schools. Could renting out unused space to non-profit, community, or public health groups help cover the costs of keeping these schools operating at such low capacities? Maybe this would not save every school from closure, but it might allow consolidation of two into one. I got the district feeling at last night’s meeting that most Trustees may had not considered these kind of ideas. It is my observation that there are only three Trustees who have been willing to look out of the box since the last election (Trustees Huff, Dave Colburn, and Catherine Ripley have caught my attention).

Over 200 concerned parents and students packed the School Board meeting.

Last night the meeting room was packed with over 200 engaged and irritated citizens. Hopefully they will continue to stay engaged and challenge incumbent Trustees who continue to think inside the box when it comes to options for under-capacity schools. A growing number of these citizens have helped form groups like ARTES and understand that the election is only six months away.

Check out Flickr for more photos.
Read the Tweets from last night’s meeting at #EPSB

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Brian Mason Corey Hogan Kieran Leblanc Patricia Godkin Sandra Houston Vitor Marciano

turnover at the alberta ndp office.

Word on the street is that Alberta NDP Executive Director Sandra Houston is resigning to pursue an job in Islamabad, Pakistan involving women and democracy. Ms. Houston has held the position for a couple of years and is considered a close ally of leader Brian Mason, something that has frustrated many reform-minded New Democrats that I have spoken with.

The Wildrose Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party have also had recent turnover in their offices leading to the hirings of new Executive Directors Vitor Marciano and Patricia Godkin. In September 2009, Corey Hogan became Executive Director of the Liberal Party after filling a vacancy left after the resignation of long-time Executive Director Kieran Leblanc in 2008.

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Brian Mason Danielle Smith David Climenhaga David Swann Edwin Erickson Kevin Taft Randy Thorsteinson

perfesser dave’s five paths to obscurity.

In his most recent blog post and column in the Saint City News, David Climenhaga (aka Perfesser Dave) pointed out five main challenges that the new Alberta Party faces in becoming relevant in the 2012 election. It is a good list and these challenges do not face the new Alberta Party alone. Mr. Climenhaga is also accurate in describing the challenges facing the other opposition parties in Alberta.

While the Wildrose Alliance, now led by Danielle Smith, has been successful in raising piles of cash through their oil and gas sector bankrollers, both the Liberals and New Democrats have had a difficult time raising the kind of funds needed to compete with the near 40-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. In 2007, the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft raised over $1 million, but it remained a miniscule amount compared to the PC Party’s multi-million dollar war chest.

For all the talk of vote-splitting among the opposition parties, the political field is really not that crowded. In 2008, over 60% of Albertans stayed away from the polls, which signals that Albertans are hardly overflowing the polling stations to split votes. Even the electoral equations provided by the Democratic Renewal Project show that a merger of Liberal and NDP votes in recent elections would only create a moderately-sized opposition. It is true that the new Alberta Party leader, Edwin Erickson, is not high profile and is unlikely to be the next Premier of Alberta, but once you step out of the political echo chamber or away from the Dome, all the parties become irrelevant. For all their hard work, show a picture of David Swann or Brian Mason to a random person on the street, and you will likely get a puzzled look.

Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)
Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Mr. Climenhaga claimed that the Alberta Party is a group of “self-important yuppified professionals who would like to go straight into power.” I have met with some of the organizers of the new Alberta Party and some of them are even good friends of mine. I can attest that while they are ambitious (and perhaps a bit naive), they are not what Mr. Climenhaga describes.

I have spoken with many Liberals and New Democrats who remain befuddled as to why anyone would attempt to start something new, rather than join the ranks of the already assembled politicos. On many levels, the people behind the new party are looking for a cultural shift in Alberta politics. Although they may agree with some of the policies promoted by the traditional political parties, they see the culture of these traditional parties as part of the problem. The Alberta Party organizers appear to be fully aware of the risks of failure and that they are stepping beyond the political comfort zones of many people already involved in other parties.

I know many jilted Liberals and jolted New Democrats who have resolved to bask in the glory days of Pierre Trudeau or Laurence Decore and Tommy Douglas or Grant Notley. I somewhat admire their political stamina and strength (or madness) in the face of adversity, but I also completely understand why a group of young politically ambitious reformers would want to chart their own course. Joining a group that has become content with spending decades in the relative obscurity of the opposition benches is hardly attractive if you are serious about changing government policy.

Building a new political party from the ground up is hard work. The current leadership of the Liberals and New Democrats inherited a base of support and network that has existed for decades. Considering that the party was formed only eight years ago, the growth of the Wildrose Alliance is impressive (recognizing that it did have roots in the mini-resurgence of the Randy Thorsteinson-led Social Credit Party in 1997). It will be interesting to see whether the people involved with the new Alberta Party can actually build something different.

Contrary to what you may sometimes read on this blog, I do not always enjoying pointing out the flaws of Alberta’s opposition parties. I wish they would do better. I wish for opposition parties that were not uncompetitive in half the constituencies represented in the Assembly. I wish for a competitive election in 2012 that will attract Albertans back to the ballot booths. If the current polling trends continue, it looks like it may be competitive, but it remains to be seen who will actually be the contenders.

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Brian Mason Hugh MacDonald

closing inner city schools in edmonton.

The threat of proposed school closures in inner city Edmonton has once again riled opposition MLAs into a frenzy on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Declining student enrollment has led to Edmonton Public School Board to propose the closure of 11 inner city schools in January 2010 (Delton, Eastwood, John A. McDougall, McCauley, Norwood, Parkdale, Spruce Avenue, Capilano, Fulton Place, Gold Bar and Hardisty). It is difficult not to sympathize with the pleas of these MLAs’ constituents, but each time that an opposition MLA rises to demand an answer from the Minister of Education about these closures the issue gets more muddied.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to ignore the politically charged and conspiracy driven accusations of opposition MLAs and focus on specific comments from two Edmonton MLAs:

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason:

“many schools in the inner city are in danger of being forced to close as the number of schools in Edmonton’s suburbs expand.”

The proposed school closures have very little to do with the provincial government or the Department of Education and more to do with how our cities have grown over the past forty years. Edmonton’s Public School Trustees are ultimately responsible for the fate of these schools and the reality is that young families are not moving into the inner city in the numbers needed to keep these schools operating. They are moving to the suburbs and to the outlying municipalities in the Capital region, which have experienced unbridled urban sprawl in recent decades. The reality is that there is a market demand for single-dwelling residential properties (contributed to by both cost and the desire to have a detached home with a yard).

Having grown up in one of Edmonton’s outlying communities, I can testify that it was a great environment to be raised. As someone who has lived in the urban core since moving to Edmonton, I know that there are some areas that I would not want to raise my children. This said, continued urban sprawl is not a solution to Edmonton’s growth challenges. The further our city sprawls, the more expensive it will be to provide the kind of services that are idealized. Urban sprawl is unsustainable.

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald:

“If the city of Edmonton increases population density in the central neighbourhoods as planned, we will need the student spaces now being considered for closure.”

Inner city communities, like Alberta Avenue, have taken exceptional steps to challenge stereotypes and create more family friendly environment in their neighbourhoods. New residential and commercial development in downtown Edmonton as well as the development of the City Centre Airport lands over the next 20 to 30 years could create an inner city renaissance that could breath new life into Edmonton’s inner city schools.

If Edmonton’s urban core does witness a population density increase that attracts more young families, it is very likely that these school buildings, could be available to be reopened. As far as I am aware, it is undetermined what would be done with these proposed closed schools. Kevin Kuchinski has written a blog post on the potential usages for these schools if closed.

Well-funded special interests like the Katz Group have been focusing their energies on convincing Edmontonians that the urban core would be revitalized through the public funding of a new arena. A new arena could have some economic benefits to the downtown core, but it does not address the larges societal issues facing the core or how our cities are growing. If urban sprawl is unsustainable, what are our municipal leaders doing to create an inner city that is friendly and welcoming to young families? Urban sprawl is the root cause of the school closures decision facing our elected School Board Trustees.

When School Trustee and City Council candidates start knocking on doors before the October 18, 2010 elections, Edmontonians who care about the future of our inner city neighbourhoods should remember that the school closures are not the result of a nefarious political agenda, but a result of how we have let our city to grow.

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Brian Mason Dave Taylor David Swann Don Iveson Ed Stelmach Gary Mar Gene Zwozdesky Hugh MacDonald Kent Hehr Luke Ouellette Naheed Nenshi Ric McIver Stephen Duckett

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

– Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren’t literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
– Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city’s transportation infrastructure.
– The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
– AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on “pay for performance” and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
– With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor’s Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIverNaheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 – Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor’s organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
– A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party’s nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 – Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 – I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald – who accused to the group’s participants of being “elitist.” Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean‘s suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

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Brian Mason Laurie Blakeman Paul Hinman

does question period really matter?

You may be forgiven if you turned off your radio or closed your web browser when you heard or read about the curfuffle raised by two of Alberta’s opposition parties over the amount of questions in Question Period, but if you had taken a second look, you would have seen something edging on the bizarre. This morning, Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman and NDP MLA Brian Mason held a joint media conference (and in an even more bizarre twist, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman would later join them).

Although the three MLAs raised some legitimate questions about their situation, I believe that there is a larger and much more important question: Does Question Period really matter?

Anyone who has watched Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly can easily observe that most Government MLAs use their allotted time to read positive pre-written questions to Ministers, who then respond with pre-written softball answers. From another angle, some Government MLAs have been known to act as a faux-opposition, asking questions crafted to dilute the questions asked by actual Opposition MLAs.

Across the aisle, Opposition MLAs use much of their time to launch loaded questions crafted to illicit embarrassing responses from Government Ministers. Question Period is the bread and butter of Opposition MLAs. It is where they get the chance to score political points fit for the 6pm news. Some MLAs, including Mr. Mason and Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, have become particularly effective at crafting made for television moments in Question Period.

During their news conference today, the NDP Opposition released a chart (see above) comparing the amount of time that Opposition MLAs get to ask questions in Assemblies across Canada. I was not aware that most Assemblies allot Opposition MLAs the entirety of Question Period. While this appears to make sense to me, I wonder if this difference makes Question Period any more relevant to the general public in other provinces? Would the debate in our Assembly be more relevant to ordinary Albertans if Opposition MLAs were able to ask 18 questions instead of 7? Is Question Period theatre without an audience?

In a better world, Question Period would matter, but the issue raised by the Opposition MLAs today points to the larger problems facing our traditional governing structures and the increasing disconnect between citizens and their democratic institutions.

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Brian Mason Danielle Smith David Swann Ed Stelmach Heather Forsyth Rob Anderson Sarah Palin

danielle smith’s free-ride.

Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithLet's Make it Happen

Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party’s policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith’s only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.

Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party’s upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.

Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as “draconian,” but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier’s reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith’s party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).

An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as “a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP” and suggested that her “delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best.” I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.

The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge’s One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer’s Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.

Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.

With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?

UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga’s list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.

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Brian Mason Dave Taylor David Swann Ed Stelmach Rachel Notley Ron Liepert Yvonne Fritz

setting the tone.

It only took two days into the fall session before the offensive hyperbole started to fly and the rotten culture inside Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is now out in full force. Sixth Grade students visiting the Assembly may easily mistake the men in dark suits as grown ups, but that description is harder to believe when you hear some of the words coming out of their mouths.

Health Minister Ron Liepert has mocked Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, claiming that she doesn’t understand the health care system. Premier Ed Stelmach has referred to the Liberal caucus as “these people” and even ridiculed the attendance at Liberal Party conventions. 

This afternoon, following a question from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason about H1N1 vaccinations, Stelmach responded:

“I’ll take the word of this nurse [Minister Yvonne Fritz] over the word of a bus driver any day”

On April 30, 2009, Stelmach took issue with comments by Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and wrote a letter to Liberal leader David Swann, calling for “civil debate in the Assembly.” Stelmach may have apologized for his comments this afternoon, but that doesn’t excuse the negative tone that the the Premier has already helped set on the floor of our elected Assembly.

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Brian Mason David Eggen Deron Bilous Lewis Cardinal Linda Duncan Rachel Notley

notes from the alberta ndp convention.

After spending one evening this week at the Wildrose Alliance leadership forum, I’ve spent a good part of this weekend at the other end of the political spectrum as a media observer at the 43rd annual Alberta NDP convention in Edmonton. I will post some more detailed thoughts soon, but until then, here are some notes from the convention:

Nova Scotia NDP campaign manager Matt Hebb spoke on Friday evening about the electoral situation that led to the current NDP majority government led by Premier Darrell Dexter. I took some notes from Hebb’s talk and will include my thoughts in a future post.

– The Democratic Renewal Project has made their presence known at the convention. A policy resolution directing the party leader to initiative public negotiations with the leaders of the Alberta Liberals and Green Party to conclude a tactical electoral alliance has proposed by the Edmonton-Rutherford and Edmonton-Whitemud NDP Associations. It will be debated on Sunday morning and will likely be defeated.

– Leader Brian Mason took a direct shot at the DRP in his Saturday afternoon speech to delegates by challenging the assumption that vote splitting is not the reason the NDP does not have more MLAs in the Legislature. Mason announced intentions for the NDP to run a full slate of candidates and a plan to target resources on 12 ridings between now and the next election.

– Mason also announced the NDPs plans to hold a number of health care forums across Alberta starting on September 29 in Calgary and September 30 in Lethbridge. Other forums are expected to be held in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Fort McMurray.

Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan spoke about NGOs, the environment, and partisan politics at the Olga Blogheim luncheon this afternoon. Attendees included Mason, MLA Rachel Notley, former MLA David Eggen, federal candidate Lewis Cardinal, and provincial candidate Deron Bilous.

– According to delegates I’ve spoken to (and blogs I’ve read) there seems to be little movement behind a twitter account and blog supporting Notley to become NDP leader.

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Brian Mason Bridget Pastoor David Swann Ed Kent Hehr Kevin Taft Kyle Fawcett Laurie Blakeman Rachel Notley

bill 44 debate an all-nighter.

The debate over Bill 44 is going late into the night at the Alberta Legislature. You can follow the debate online through video or by following the Twitter hashtags #ableg and #bill44.

So far, Opposition Liberal and NDP MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kevin Taft, Brian Mason, Bridget Pastoor, Kent Hehr, David Swann, and Rachel Notley have spoken against Section 9 of Bill 44 (the controversial education opt-out), and Calgary-North Hill PC MLA Kyle Fawcett has spoken in support of the Bill as it is.

I have pledged to buy lunch for and write nice things about the first PC MLA to rise and speak against Bill 44 as it currently stands. Earlier today, Premier Ed Stelmach pledged to allow the PC caucus a free vote on tonight’s/tomorrow morning’s vote.

UPDATE: It’s now 8:01am on Wednesday May 27 and after having been whipped in line for a month, no PC MLA took advantage of the last minute ‘free vote’ they were awarded on Bill 44 amendments. I keep my lunch money.

While they didn’t succeed in getting their amendments to Bill 44 passed, congrats to opposition MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kent Hehr, Rachel Notley, and Kevin Taft for their particularly well-spoken and colourful contributions to last night’s/this morning’s debates.

On another point, I wonder if any other provincial legislature watchers in Canada have a Twitter hashtag as active as #ableg?