The rally featured Neal Bernard “The Roughneck” Hancock removing his shoes and throwing them at the doors of the Legislature, former federal cabinet minister Chris Alexander appearing to nod as protesters chanted “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, and climate change denying, anti-gay and anti-immigration messages on signs and pamphlets.
While the crowd certainly included Albertans who are frustrated and angry at the economy and the government, the bizarre program and assortment of weird fringe groups distracted from any anti-carbon tax message they hoped to send.
Government House leader Brian Masonmused to reporters that the New Democratic Party government was considering scrapping the committee when its deadline to make submissions is reached this week. Although the committee was tasked with reviewing four Acts, it only met fifteen times over the past year.
Regardless of the future of this committee, changes need to be made to Alberta’s elections and elections finance laws. Even if the committee is scrapped, the government could introduce changes to Alberta’s elections laws in the spring legislative sitting.
The NDP should lower the maximum annual amount that individuals can donate to provincial political parties. The current maximum annual donation limits in Alberta is $30,000 during election periods and $15,000 outside of election periods. The current maximum annual donation for federal political parties in Canada is $1,525.
The NDP should also implement maximum limits to how much candidates, political parties and third-party groups can spend during the election period, as already exist for candidates in federal elections. The limits should be reasonable and could easily be tied to the number of eligible voters in each constituency, as is the case in federal elections.
One potential change that has not been discussed, at least not much in public, is the possibility that the government could scrap Alberta’s fake fixed-election law. Introduced in 2011, the law states that an election be called every four years between March 1 and May 31. Alberta is the only Canadian province with a fixed-election law that does not actually include a fixed-election day.
The Legislative Assembly should grant the committee the time extension it has requested when MLAs reconvene on October 31, 2016. But it is difficult to imagine that both the NDP and opposition MLAs on the committee, especially Wildrose MLAs eager to embarrass the government, will conduct themselves any differently than they have in the past year since the Ethics and Accountability Committee was formed.
Days after the Alberta New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government in 2015, I wrote a column outlining the promises made in the party’s election platform to improve ethics in government. One year later, here is a look at those six platform points and whether the NDP have kept their promises to implement them.
(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.
(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.
A promise made by Premier Rachel Notley at a campaign stop in Calgary on April 17, 2015. An NDP press release at the time said that “[t]he list will indicate how projects are prioritized, including the standards used to make the decisions, and will identify when and how changes are made to those priorities.”
Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason said in July 2015 that a list would be released soon but by November 2015 he told reporters that an “artificial order” of priority might create too much animosity between municipalities. The NDP still have until 2019 to implement this promise but I suspect they have decided the political blowback from municipal governments and school boards would cause more trouble than it is worth for the provincial government.
(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.
(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.
This could be included in the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability recommendations expected to be completed in September 2016. A private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankmanin 2016 that would ban government advertising during election periods was referred to this committee.
(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.
Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act was introduced by Ms. Ganley on November 5, 2015 and came into effect on December 11, 2015. This bill extended the sunshine list to require compensation disclosure for certain employees who work for agencies, boards and commissions, public post-secondary institutions, Offices of the Legislature and provincial health authorities.
(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.
This is a perennial pledge made by opposition politicians that in practice is difficult to prove when the party forms government. When the NDP won a majority government on May 5, 2015, they also won a majority majorities on the all-party committees of the Legislature. Like all majority governments, they are using their majority to push forward their agenda at the committee level.
As long as our legislative system is dominated by the government leadership it is unlikely that MLAs committees will actually be independent of influence from the Premier’s Office. There is little evidence to suggest that MLA committees are now controlled any more or any less than they were under the previous PC Party government.
Funding for the eight Offices of the Legislature has decreased by $26,300,000 from $152,407,000 in 2015-2016 to $126,107,000 in 2016-2017, largely due to a decrease in funding for the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (because the next election is not expected to be held until 2019).
Ethics Commissioner Complaints
Responding to a request by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler investigated allegations that two fundraisers attended by Ms. Notley were in violation of the Conflicts of Interest Act. Ms. Trussler’s report concluded that Ms. Notley was not in breach of the act with respect to either of Mr. Nixon’s complaints.
The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.
It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Twopolls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.
Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.
May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.
The tone of government had changed.
The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.
‘Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.
A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.
The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.
Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.
The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.
The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.
The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.
Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.
The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.
On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.
The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.
Considering the incredible political change that has taken place in Alberta in the past few years, it is almost difficult to believe that it has only been four years since Alberta’s political parties were rolling out their campaigns on the first day of the 2012 provincial election.
Like most campaigns, the issue that defined the first week of the campaign was old news by the end of the campaign. By day 28 of the campaign, most Albertans had stopped paying attention to Tory corruption and incompetence, and instead were focusing on the bozo-eruptions coming from the Wildrose Party’s social conservative base.
When the votes were counted, Fortress Rural Alberta, a key part of the PC Party’s governing coalition since the 1975 election, was firmly occupied by the Wildrose Party. But Alberta’s urban centres, shocked by the Wildrose Party’s social conservative streak, flocked to the PCs. Ms. Redford’s message of ‘no tax increases and no service cuts‘ resonated among liberals and moderate conservatives but it was a promise the PCs could not deliver.
The PCs would form their final consecutive majority government since 1971 with 61 seats in the Legislature. The Wildrose Party formed Official Opposition for the first time by electing 17 MLAs. The Liberals lost Official Opposition status for the first time since 1993 after only five MLAs were elected. The NDP doubled their opposition caucus with four MLAs. The Alberta Party had hoped to make a breakthrough in that election but would have to wait until 2015 to elect its first MLA.
Four years later, each of Alberta’s major political parties from that election have undergone a leadership change. Where are those former leaders now?
Raj Sherman is practicing family medicine at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, according to his listing on the College of Physicians and Surgeons website. Dr. Sherman stepped down as Liberal Party leader in January 2015 and did not run for re-election. He instead served as his party’s campaign manager in the 2015 election.
Brian Mason is the only one of the four who is still an MLA. Mr. Mason is Alberta’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation and Government House Leader in the Legislative Assembly. The feisty opposition MLA led the New Democratic Party from 2004 until 2014, when he was succeeded by Rachel Notley. Ms. Notley would soon after lead her party to form its first ever majority government in May 2015.
Glenn Taylor stepped down as leader of the Alberta Party in late 2012. Mr. Taylor previously served as Mayor of the Town of Hinton from 2004 to 2012.
PC leader Alison Redford kicked-off her party’s 2012 re-election campaign outside of Heather Klimchuk‘s campaign office in the Edmonton-Glenora constituency. Here is video of her speech from that event:
Over the course of the 2012 campaign, Alberta NDP staffer John Alan Ashton produced a series of amusing YouTube video interviews with party notables. Here is his interview with leader Brian Mason on March 31, 2012:
School board representatives could face another round of debate about protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and staff. The Edmonton Public School Board will introduce a motion at the meeting for the ASBA to create a policy that protects all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities.
“I think tone at the top is very important, and it is important for the Alberta School Boards Association to take an active stance against the bullying and marginalization of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students. I think this will send a very important signal across school boards that we do support inclusion, we do want to support our students,” EPSB chairperson Michael Janz told the Edmonton Sun.
The motion has been proposed as emergent by EPSB and will be introduced on the first full day of the meeting. Delegates will be asked whether it should be added to agenda and debated at the meeting.
Debate at the ASBA’s general meeting in 2012 attracted national attention when 62 percent of the delegates voted down a proposal to protect gay students and staff from discrimination, similar to a policy passed by EPSB in 2011.
Recent debates at the Edmonton Catholic School District about creating safe environments for transgender students have degenerated into public scenes of crying and shouting. “I expect a higher standard from all elected officials here, generally in Alberta, and specifically with Edmonton Catholic,” Education Minister David Eggen said following the debates.
Mr. Eggen has directed all Alberta school boards to have a policy supporting LGBTQ students in place by March 31, 2016. It has been reported that only 13 out of 61 school boards currently have stand alone policies protecting rights of LGBTQ students and staff.
The result of the debate about whether to adopt a policy protecting all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities will likely set the tone for an important breakfast event being held for trustees and MLAs on the final day of the meeting. Twenty-eight NDP, Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs are scheduled to attend the breakfast, including cabinet ministers Brian Mason, Joe Ceci, and Oneil Carlier. Mr. Eggen scheduled to deliver an address at the breakfast.
What the Education Minister has to say in his address will likely depend on if Alberta’s elected school trustees choose to rise above the closed mindedness and ignorance that has dominated these debates in past years. Protecting students and staff is not optional.
Here is the motion that the EPSB plans to introduce:
That the Alberta School Boards Association support its members school boards in establishing and maintaining welcoming, inclusive, safe and healthy learning and working environments for all members of the school community, including sexual orientation and genders minority students, staff and families. This includes provision of support with policy development and related resources.
EPSB rationale for the motion:
Issues with regard to publicly funded education and supporting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity students, staff and families have been in the news this year. The ASBA has been silent on these issues, both in policy and presence. It is proposed by the Committee that we take a second attempt at moving forward the 2012 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy to the ASBA.
The Committee believes it is important for the ASBA to clearly take a policy position in support of students, staff, and families in alignment with provincial legislation and our Strategic Plan outcome to provide welcoming, inclusive, safe caring and healthy learning and work environments. Research has shown that sexual minority youth experience more bullying, harassment, alienation, and suicide ideation than do their heterosexual peers and; therefore, boards are encouraged to counter pervasive cultural biases against sexual minorities through proactive and specific policy and regulation to ensure that all sexual orientation and gender identity minority individuals are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in all of their schools.
Previous ASBA fall general meetings have been webcast. I will post a link to the website once I have confirmed this meeting will be live streamed online.
The Wildrose appear to have succeeded in turning the tables on the NDP, who, while in opposition criticized the old conservative government of an ideological obsession with privatization of laboratory services. All of a sudden, the government is being accused of being too ideological for protecting Alberta’s public health care system.
Like the old Progressive Conservative government, I am sure the Wildrose would like to increase privatization of the health care system. The NDP could have framed this debate as one of protecting Alberta jobs and an Alberta-based company, rather than just about cancelling a contract with a giant Australian company (it was later announced that an appeal panel determined that Alberta Health Services breached its duty of procedural fairness in the RFP process in a substantive manner).
Premier Rachel Notley‘s three-month old NDP government need to understand that the Wildrose Party is running a permanent negative campaign, and their track record as an attack-based opposition is impressive. The Wildrose Party can lay claim to playing a central role in ending the careers of PC Party premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice.
And while the Wildrose Party’s purpose for existence was momentarily questioned during the infamous MLA floor crossings, the demise of the PC government and rise of the Alberta NDP has given the party a new lease on life and a new target to attack. And the conservative opposition has many right-wing allies in its fight against the new government spanning from the editorial pages of the Financial Post to the far corners of the internet.
While Brian Jean is party leader, one of the real brains behind the operation is the venerable press secretary Vitor Marciano. Perhaps the largest mistake that Mr. Prentice and Danielle Smith made during the floor crossings was not to secure Mr. Marciano in a government job where the PCs could keep a close eye on him.
After retreating into political exile for a few months, the veteran political operator returned with a vengeance to lead the Wildrose election campaign that brought the party from the depths of the abyss to 21 MLAs, more than they won in 2012.
But despite the Wildrose’s part in destroying the PC dynasty, they lost 81,814 votes in the recent election, while the NDP gained an astonishing 477,441 and formed government.
The Wildrose is attempting to tie the new government to economic conditions caused by the decline of the international price of oil, but the Alberta NDP was elected on a moderate progressive platform and have moved swiftly to implement it. Funding was returned to health care, education and human services, two panels studying climate change and natural resource royalties were struck, corporate taxes were increased, a 3-year minimum wage increase was implemented, and a provincial budget is expected to be tabled in the fall.
There is no doubt the new government faces challenging economic and revenue challenges but after a summer of reading briefing binders and moving into new offices, the NDP need to reengage in the political debate.
When the legislature returns on October 26, the twenty-one Wildrose MLAs will have a daily platform in Question Period to target government ministers. The NDP can learn from some of the major communications mistakes made by the PC Party and respond promptly to the Wildrose attacks, otherwise the opposition and its conservative allies will set the agenda.
Here are a few examples of Wildrose attacks in recent press releases:
August 20, 2015 “Bad economic policies from the NDP continue to harm Alberta’s economy…”
August 19, 2015: “…the NDP government must move away from their risky, ideological experiments that will drive jobs out of Alberta…
August 18, 2015: “…Ms. Hoffman wants Albertans to believe she made the decision based on a lack of information, but it’s clear she made it based on ideology.
August 14, 2015: “…the actions this government decides to take cannot keep kicking our economy while it is down.”
August 13, 2015: “While Albertans are losing jobs by the thousands with the NDP piling on with damaging economic policies…”
August 13, 2015: “…driven by ideology and not evidence-based decision making…”
August 13, 2015: “…NDP government has contributed directly to uncertainty and job losses…“
August 13, 2015: “…more ideologically driven experiments from the NDP and career politicians…”
During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, tried to nationalize the banking system and banned alcohol sales.
“The Tories have bet $2 billion taxpayer dollars and our oil and gas industry’s sustainability on CCS. There’s no scientific consensus that the technology is safe in the long term. Any report of a failed CCS project should have the Tories thinking twice about their lopsided reliance on CCS.” – Rachel Notley, NDP MLA Edmonton-Strathcona (January 11, 2011)
“Ed Stelmach has no trouble handing out billions of real tax dollars for carbon-capture to his friends in the oil and gas sector. But when it comes to a plan that could create jobs and improve our environment, the money’s just not there.” Brian Mason, NDP MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (June 22, 2010)
I want to remind the House that this government has chosen to spend $1.3 billion on an unproven, unfounded technology, carbon capture and storage, and on other priorities of theirs. There’s money for them. Yet when it comes to supporting Alberta families and Alberta’s hardest workers, this government couldn’t be bothered to support or to find the money. – Deron Bilous, MLA Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview (December 3, 2013)
This whole idea of investing, giving industry so much money for carbon capture and storage – right? – is an absolute waste of money. We know full well that this is just another way for enhanced oil recovery. It’s another way for large energy corporations to receive public funding, and there’s very little evidence that this very expensive public investment will pay any significant returns either to our environment or to the original plant to which it was intended. – David Eggen, MLA Edmonton-Calder (April 17, 2014).
In opposition, NDP MLAs were harshly critical of the governing Progressive Conservatives investments in the private energy projects (see the quotes listed above).
During the recent election, the NDP platform pledged to end the carbon capture contracts during the recent election campaign, proposing to reinvest hundreds of millions of dollars into public transit programs.
We will end the PCs’ costly and ineffective Carbon Capture and Storage experiment and reinvest the 2015/16 component of this project into construction of public transit, which will help reduce families’ transportation costs and reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. – NDP 2015 election platform, page 18.
Originally marketed as part of the provincial government’s 2008 climate change plan, the Auditor General reported in July 2014 that “the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.” The technology is unproven and unlikely to actually reduce carbon emissions in Alberta.
Ms. McCuaig-Boyd said in a statement that no further funding for carbon capture and storage is planned beyond the existing projects, but regardless of future plans, the NDP needs to better communicate why it is not fulfilling their promise to cancel the contracts.
If the financial penalties are too steep or investments already made are too large to justify cancelling the contracts, then Ms. McCuaig-Boyd should explain to Albertans how large these penalties would be or what the cost of withdrawing from the projects would be.
If the old Progressive Conservative government negotiated contracts for carbon capture and storage projects that were not in the best interest of Albertans, then the new government should say so.
After forty-four years of Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, it still feels surreal to believe that another party has been elected into government. Two and a half months after the NDP victory, Premier Rachel Notley is putting her stamp on Alberta politics. But Alberta’s new government is left to deal with some of the more unhelpful legacies created by the previous government. Here is a look at a few of the Progressive Conservative scandals that continue to haunt Alberta politics.
CBC reports that it has obtained documents showing how the Alberta Funeral Service Association pressured former minister Jonathan Denisand the Department of Justice to reopen a contract and abandon earlier efforts to control spending. CBC reports the contract was reopened and revised against the advice of a government lawyer and chief medical examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau.
The rushed sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes led to a $5 million loss for Albertans. This contradicts claims by former PC premier Jim Prentice that the sale of the planes netted $6.1 million for the government. The planes were sold after Ms. Redford and PC MLAs faced harsh criticism for alleged misuse of the government air fleet for personal and partisan activities.
Public Sector Pensions
Alberta public sector pension liabilities dropped by more than $400 million last year, suggesting evidence that changes planned to the funds by former premier Alison Redford and finance minister Doug Horner were not necessary. The attacks on public sector pensions alienated thousands of public sector workers in Alberta, many who voted for Ms. Redford’s PC Party in the 2012 election. The PC government’s planned changes to the pension plan were scrapped after Ms. Redford resigned as premier in early 2014.
The auditor general reported that the government has been forgoing an estimated $25 million in annual revenue by not limiting surface rights compensation paid by the energy companies to holders of provincial grazing leases. The report states the province does not track which leases have oil and gas activity on them or how much was paid to the leaseholders for access to the natural resources.
“Current legislation allows an unquantified amount of personal financial benefit to some leaseholders over and above the benefits of grazing livestock on public land,” the report says.
The government’s large investments in carbon capture and storage development has not paid off, according to a July 2014 report from the auditor general. Marketed as a key piece of the PC government’s climate change plan, the auditor general reported that “with only two carbon capture and storage projects planned, the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.”
The NDP pledged to end the carbon capture contracts and instead reinvest hundreds of millions of dollars into public transit programs, but high cost of cancelling binding contracts with private sector corporations developing the projects could solidify this PC legacy.
When premier Peter Lougheed created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976, the government dedicated 30% of annual revenues into the rainy day fund “to save for the future, to strengthen or diversify the economy, and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.” The PC government halted non-renewable resource transfers to the fund in 1987, when it was worth $12.7 billion. Investments into the fund were only started again in 2004.
Despite Alberta’s immense natural wealth, the fund is now only worth an estimated $17.4 billion.
Banning corporate and union donations: Check. Restoring funding to health, education and human services: Check. Increasing corporate taxes: Check. Introducing a new climate change strategy: Coming soon. Phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage: Coming soon. Reviewing Alberta’s natural resource royalty framework: Coming soon.
Progress is the order of business in Canada’s so-called Conservative heartland as Premier Rachel Notley’s newly elected Alberta NDP government begins implementing the main promises from their winning election platform. Leaders of the previous PC regime, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, styled themselves as Progressive Conservatives, their actions rarely matched their words. The NDP proposed a fairly moderate progressive agenda and it is refreshing to see it take action so quickly after the election.
Revenue and tax reform was a big issue before and during the recent election, with Mr. Prentice and the opposition argued over how best to remove Alberta from the oil revenue roller coaster. It remains clear that Alberta cannot continue to rely on revenues generated from oil and gas royalties to fund the provincial operating budget. Both the PCs and NDP proposed tax increases in the recent election, but Mr. Prentice’s refusal to increase corporate taxes, even symbolically, was a huge miscalculation.
While conservatives preach doom and gloom, our province still has corporate and personal tax rates lower than when Ralph Klein was premier, no provincial sales tax, and huge reserves of oil and gas. Alberta will now have the same corporate tax rate as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Apologizing for previous governments lack of action to stop residential schools and calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women was absolutely the right step to take but action needs to follow. Justice and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley needs to show through government policy that this apology is more than just political posturing.
The government also announced it will soon take action to improve Alberta’s record of poor environmental management and lack of action of climate change, which has helped fuel international opposition to pipeline expansion and the oil sands. On climate change, the PCs lost the public relations battle years ago. Now the challenge will fall to Ms. Notley, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd to win the policy war on climate change.
I do not have enough room in this post to even begun to discuss the challenges facing Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Education Minister David Eggen(which will be included in a series of future posts).
As the new government moves forward with what in most other provinces would be considered a moderate progressive agenda, Canada’s conservative outrage industry is gearing up its attacks on the Alberta’s new government.
Ms. Notley and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason moved quickly to quell criticism of their fiscal plan by announcing last week that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge will be advising the Premier on infrastructure investment issues. Hiring Mr. Dodge is a smart move and shows a willingness to bring in talent from outside traditional NDP circles.
Aside from the angry conservatives, the new government appears to still enjoy popular support from Albertans, who tossed out the scandal-ridden and tone deaf Tories on May 5. Recent polling shows Ms. Notley, still in her honeymoon period, enjoying the approval of 53% of Albertans, making her the second most popular premier in Canada next to Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.
The NDP need to be careful not to cut short their honeymoon by making small mistakes. They have already faced criticism for hiring too many provincial outsiders and the media is poking around the perceived influence of Ms. Notley’s husband. These are minor issues that I am sure most Albertans will look past today but the small mistakes can pile up quickly if the new government is not careful.
If the NDP can continue to limit their missteps, focus on implementing their popular platform, and remember why Albertans endorsed Ms. Notley’s charismatic leadership, they will enjoy a warm welcome on the summer political barbecue and parade circuit.
Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds for the swearing-in ceremony of Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta’s first NDP Cabinet. This marked the first time in 44 years that a party other than the Progressive Conservatives were sworn-in to office and the event felt more like an outdoor festival than a protocol-ruled government ceremony. The hot weather, live music, free ice cream, food trucks and wading pools helped contribute to this atmosphere, but there was an unmistakable feeling of excitement and optimism in the sea of onlookers. It was really unlike anything I have experienced in my ten years writing about politics in this province. This crowd was cheering for Alberta.
Along with serving as Premier, Ms. Notley is also responsible for the Ministry ofInternational and Intergovernmental Relations, a double role that her predecessors Ralph Klein and Jim Prentice also took responsibility for. The three other incumbent NDP MLAs, Brian Mason, Deron Bilous and DavidEggen, were appointed to senior roles and first-term Edmonton MLAs Sarah Hoffman and Lori Sigurdsonwere also named to cabinet.
The new 12-member cabinet has an equal number of women and men, and while half of its MLAs represent Edmonton constituencies, ministers from rural Alberta, Lethbridge and Calgary have been given important responsibilities.
Former Calgary Alderman Joe Ceci is Finance Minister and Treasury Board President, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kathleen Ganley is Justice Minister, Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips is Environment Minister, Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley MLAMarg McCuaig-Boyd is Energy Minister, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA Oneil Carlier is Agriculture and Forestry Minister, and Calgary-McCall MLA Irfan Sabir is Minister of Human Services.
The new cabinet will hold its first meetings in Calgary on May 27 and 28.
It was reported on social media this weekend that the NDP Caucus will nominate Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker of the Assembly when MLAs convene to replace Speaker Gene Zwozdesky on June 11. Mr. Wanner is the former commissioner of public services at the City of Medicine Hat and worked as a professional mediator before he was elected. The Speech from the Throne will be read by recently appointed Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell on June 15.
Here is a list of the new cabinet ministers:
Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona): Premier of Alberta and Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations
Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood): Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Government House Leader
David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder): Minister of Education, Minister of Culture and Tourism
Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Service Alberta, Deputy Government House Leader
Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort): President of Treasury Board, Minister of Finance
Marg McCuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley): Minister of Energy
Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Minister of Health, Minister of Seniors
Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo): Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Minister of Aboriginal Relations
Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview): Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education, Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour
Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne): Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development
Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Minister of Parks and Recreation, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Deputy Government House Leader
Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall): Minister of Human Services
Tory requests Judicial Recount in Glenmore
The last outstanding race of the May 5 provincial election will face a judicial recount. The election in Calgary-Glenmore was tied on election night and the official count showed NDP candidate Anam Kazimsix votes ahead of Progressive Conservative candidate Linda Johnson. Ms. Johnson, who served one-term as an MLA after her election in 2012, has requested a judicial recount.
Two days later it is still hard to believe. The New Democratic Party won an election in Alberta? The NDP won a majority government in Alberta? Rachel Notley is the next Premier of Alberta? Get used to it, because Albertans have spoken.
A change in government is a good thing for Alberta. It was desperately needed.
As I wrote on election night, it would be a mistake to believe this election signals Albertans have shifted to the political left.This election was never about ideology and Albertans remain largely politically moderate. This defining narrative of this campaign was trust and accountability, and on this issue Albertans turned away from Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservatives and embraced Ms. Notley’s moderate and progressive Lougheed-esq platform. The “time for a change” narrative was too strong for the PCs to survive.
But it could still be a while before it stops sounding totally strange. I have never seen another party form government in Alberta until this week. The PCs were first elected 12 years before I was born. My parents were in junior high school when Peter Lougheed became Premier. And this week that dynasty, which governed Alberta for forty-four straight years, collapsed in a spectacular fashion.
Only one week ago, days before their defeat, the Tories revved up their impressive fundraising machine with a $500 per plate dinner in downtown Edmonton that raised around $800,000 in one night. A similar fundraising dinner, which I am told was sold out, is scheduled to be held on May 14 in Calgary.
But now electorally demolished, on their way out of government and without a leader following Mr. Prentice’s election night resignation, will the PC Party go on? Who will show up for the pricy dinner now that there will be no Premier at the podium or cabinet ministers to dine and wine with? What is the future of the PC Party, now that it is no longer in government?
Albertans wanted a change and they sent a message loud and clear.
On Tuesday night, 74 new MLAs were elected. Forty-nine of those new MLAs will sit in the government benches and 20 will be in opposition, including 18 in the resurgent conservative Wildrose Official Opposition led by Brian Jean. The average age of Alberta’s MLAs also tumbled from 52 years old to 36 40 years old after this election and almost half of the NDP caucus will be made up of women MLAs.
The government and opposition now hold differing political views, a difference from the past legislature which could help create an atmosphere of real debate in the Legislative Assembly. This marks a seismic change in a Alberta’s political environment that has been dominated by one party for four decades.
Any new government can be expected to make lots of rookie mistakes, but the incoming Premier has spent the days following the election to set a pragmatic and moderate tone for the new government.
Ms. Notley made a point of using her first days after the election to set a positive tone with Alberta’s energy industry leaders, many who are also likely seeing their first change in government in Alberta. Ms. Notley has repeatedly made clear what Albertans already know: that energy industry is key to our economy. And the NDP Government’s proposed royalty review and modest increase to corporate taxes will ensure the role of Energy Minister remains very important in the new cabinet.
Energy Minister could be a role so important that Ms. Notley takes it on the responsibility herself, as Mr. Prentice took on the extra roles of Aboriginal Relations and Intergovernmental Affairs when he became Premier in September 2014.
While some fear-mongeringconservatives, still bitter from their first electoral loss in 44 years, are predicting that the entire energy industry will pack up and leave because Albertans voted in a new government, there is an opportunity for corporate leaders to create a respectful working relationship with the new Alberta Government. And for Albertans, it could be refreshing change to have a government that acts like a partner with the energy industry rather than a wholly owned subsidiary of the energy industry. Albertans want to ensure they are getting their fair share of the wealth collected from their natural resources and industry, quite fairly, wants to know they will be treated fairly by the new government.
As Ms. Notley’s NDP Caucus transitions into their new role as government, the first time this has happened in 44 years, there are still a lot of unknowns. When will a new budget be tabled? When will the Legislative Assembly sit next? Will there be any major changes in the senior ranks of the public service? Will Alberta’s position on major national issues drastically change? Who will be appointed to cabinet?
We can expect incumbent NDP MLAs Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Deron Bilous to be at the cabinet table. Other possible cabinet appointments could include Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman (former Edmonton Public School Board chair), Calgary-Fort MLA Joe Ceci (former Calgary Alderman), Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips (policy analyst), Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner (former Public Services Commissioner for Medicine Hat), Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Bob Turner (Doctor), St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud (non-profit executive director), and Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley MLA Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (former Vice-President of Grande Prairie College), Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kathleen Ganley (labour lawyer), Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette (university instructor) and Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean (criminal defence lawyer). And while their critics have focused on the perceived inexperience of new MLAs, we should not be surprised to see some of these unlikely politicians excel in their new roles.
There will be a lot of unknowns in Alberta politics in the coming months and years. This is not a bad thing. In most provinces it is completely normal. We live in a democracy and can expect, from time to time, that voters will decide it is someone else’s turn to govern.
Change is good. And while it still might be a while before it is easy to believe, Albertans sent a clear message on May 5 that they wanted a change in Edmonton, and they got it.
On Wednesday morning I joined Ryan Jespersen and Steven Dollansky on 630 CHED to talk about this week’s historic NDP election win in Alberta, the Wildrose resurgence and the collapse of the 43-year old PC dynasty.
Now that the great orange chinook has finally put an end to 44 years of Progressive Conservative dominance, the hard job of governing Alberta has begun in earnest for Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party. Among the many tasks the new MLAs face, one of their first and most important will be to choose a new speaker of the Alberta legislature. Notley’s caucus is filled mostly with newcomers, but that gives her a unique opportunity to reach beyond party lines for an experienced and steady hand to oversee the chamber: Liberal Leader David Swann.
Pundits have already written extensively about the political inexperience of many of the 49 newly-elected NDP MLAs, though this group nevertheless boasts some very impressive talent, from Joe Ceci (a former 15-year Calgary alderman) to Sarah Hoffman (chair of the Edmonton Public School Board) to Bob Wanner (Public Services Commissioner for Medicine Hat). But it’s still fair to point out that the NDP ranks include only four MLAs with experience in the Legislative Assembly (counting Notley herself), and Notley will need all of them to assume top leadership positions in her cabinet.
At the same time, the speaker of the Assembly must possess an intimate knowledge of the rules of the house, which is why the role is usually held by a veteran MLA and would not be appropriately handed to a freshman lawmaker. That poses a problem for Notley, since she’d rather not have to stretch her already thin senior ranks by nominating any of her most seasoned caucus members to serve as speaker.That’s where Swann comes in. After the NDP’s Brian Mason, Swann, who was first elected in 2004 and is now entering his fourth term, is the second-longest serving member of the legislature (along with PC MLA Dave Rodney). Aside from allowing Notley to hang on to her most experienced allies, there are a number of good reasons for the NDP to tap Swann:
Swann’s 10 years of experience makes him well-qualified for the job, and his long record serving Albertans as a physician and human-rights activist suggests he’d offer a measure of humility and compassion that the legislature sorely needs.
By going outside her own party, it would signal that Notley is planning a less partisan approach to governance, which would offer a welcome contrast to four decades of polarizing Tory rule.
At the same time, it would be seen as an inclusive gesture to the province’s many Liberal voters, some of whom—even those who switched allegiances this time—undoubtedly have placed the NDP on probation. Notley’s crew will face a re-election battle sooner or later, and ensuring these voters become (or remain) part of the NDP’s coalition is a key goal.
Not only would it be a magnanimous gesture on behalf of a longtime MLA who is about to represent his party as a caucus of one, it would place Swann in a neutral role where it would be difficult for him to act as an NDP critic. You can bet that the traditional media is eager to write their first stories about the “left in disarray”; this helps forestall that.
Notley’s NDP has already made history in more ways than one: by becoming the first left-of-center party to win an Alberta election in 85 years; by electing the largest-ever number of women to the legislature; and by ending the longest reign of a political party in Canadian history. During those four decades, the Tories never once picked a speaker from outside of the PC ranks. That means Notley can add to her impressive list of firsts by selecting David Swann. It would be good for the NDP, good for the legislature, and above all, good for the province—and Alberta could certainly stand for that.
James Lambert is an Edmonton-based writer and lawyer by training. He is a contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections, a past political campaign staffer, and currently works in the field of alternative dispute resolution as an adjudicator.
Date of Alberta’s 2015 election: May 5, 2015
Date of Alberta’s 2016 fixed-election: Between March 1 and May 31, 2016
Total number of votes cast in the 2015 election (unofficial results): 1,486,877 Total number of votes cast in the 2012 election (unofficial results): 1,290,223 Constituency with highest voter turnout: 68.07% in Drayton Valley-Devon Constituency with lowest voter turnout: 40.8% in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Total number of re-elected MLAs: 13* Total number of new MLAs: 74* Newly elected MLAs in the Government Caucus: 49 Newly elected MLAs in the Opposition: 20 (18 Wildrose, 1 PC and 1 Alberta Party) Number of women in the Government Caucus: 25* out of 53 MLAs (47% of the NDP Caucus) Number of women in the Opposition Caucuses: 3* Number of MLA resignations since May 5, 2015: 1 (Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills) Number of tied races: 1 (*Calgary-Glenmore, pending a recount) Most votes for a candidate: 15,350 for the NDP’s Marlin Schmidt in Edmonton-Gold Bar Highest percentage of votes for a candidate: 82.4% for Rachel Notley in Edmonton-Strathcona Longest serving re-elected MLA: Brian Mason, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood first elected in 2000. Closest race that is not a tie: Little Bow with a margin of 12 votes (recount pending) Youngest elected MLA: Thomas Dang, 20 years old, was elected in Edmonton-South West. Total vote for the NDP in 2015: 603,461 Total vote for the NDP in 2012: 126,752 Total vote for the Wildrose Party in 2015: 360,101 Total vote for the Wildrose Party in 2012: 442,429 Total vote for the PC Party in 2015: 412,955 Total vote for the PC Party in 2012: 567,312
Total vote for the Liberal Party in 2015: 62,171
Total vote for the Liberal Party in 2012: 127,645 Total vote for the Alberta Party in 2015: 33,867
Total vote for the Alberta Party in 2012: 16,959
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.
@metrocalgary Whatever the phantom reason is, it’d better be worse than a solicitation of a prostitute conviction as that’s the bare minimum
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.
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 Hinmanwithdrew 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-Meadowlark, Emily 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.
The Alberta Party has nominated 29 candidates, including recent nominees Jim Black in Medicine Hat and Rory Tarant in Grande Prairie-Wapiti.
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.
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.
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.