Postmedia’s two main political columnists in Alberta’s daily newspapers blasted Premier Jason Kenney for his weak response to UCP MLAs who ignored government recommendations to stay home and cancel all non-essential international travel to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
At least four UCP MLAs, including Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, hopped on planes and jetted off to hot holiday destinations this December. Kenney’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, also travelled to the United Kingdom to visit family.
While most of us were painfully isolating ourselves from family and friends, trying to decide if we should even risk the grocery store, these people were heading to Hawaii, Mexico the U.K. and the U.S.
By Saturday morning there were seven confirmed UCP politicians and officials who jumped ship for holiday, the latest being MLAs Tanya Fir and Jeremy Nixon.
Maybe Kenney can’t fire any because there are so many. This is a genuine scandal that shows no sign of fading away.
Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.
A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.
Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes cast. Led by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.
He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.
Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.
In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed tocabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.
Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.
As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive.
“Only three weeks into the job he’s the WizardofZwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.
In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.
He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.
While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision.
He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.
Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.
Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.
Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)
Last weekend, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms president John Carpay told a crowd at a gathering of conservative activists in Calgary:“How do we defeat today’s totalitarianism? Again, you’ve got to think about the common characteristics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hammer and sickle for communism, or whether it’s the swastika for Nazi Germany or whether it’s a rainbow flag, the underlying thing is a hostility towards individual freedoms.”
Carpay quickly apologized for the comments, but drawing the connection between the rainbow pride flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and LGBTQ social movements, and the hammer and sickle and swastika flags, symbols of oppressive and totalitarian regimes, was a step too far.
Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in the Calgary Herald that Carpay’s comments were “disgusting, demeaning and dangerous.”
This is notthe first bozo-eruption to dog the UCP leader, but it appears to be the first made by someone with strong political ties to Kenney. The UCP leader spoke at a JCCF event in 2017 where he is reported to have compared Carpay’s work to that of civil-rights activist Rosa Parks.
Carpay and Kenney are social conservative activists from Calgary and have been in the same political circles for decades. Carpay is known for staking out controversial positions popular among social conservatives, whether it be in opposition to abortion or gay rights or, more recently, to student-led anti-bullying clubs known as Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools.
As a delegate at the UCP’s policy conference earlier this year he spoke in support of a policy that would allow teachers to inform parents when students participate in GSAs, a policy that would out some students to their parents. “This is about parental rights. The only societies and governments that trample on parental rights are totalitarian ones,” Carpay was reported to have said at the May 2018 UCP policy meeting.
Kenney was quick to pounce on Strashok, declaring that he had ordered party officials to cancel his membership. But Kenney appears to be less eager to dish out a similar fate to Carpay.
The UCP leader’s soft-peddling in response to Carpay is puzzling to many UCP supporters, including some who attended today’s sold-out Edmonton Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where Kenney spoke to a packed ballroom. Speaking to attendees before and after Kenney’s speech, I have the impression that while the UCP’s economic message resonated with the crowd there was an unease and discomfort with Kenney’s social conservative baggage.
Attendees to today’s luncheon may not be alone in their unease. A recent survey released by Abacus Data shows Kenney’s approval ratings are far below support for the party he leads, suggesting that many Albertans like the idea of a UCP government much more than they like the idea of Premier Jason Kenney.
Kenney’s slow response to the most recent bozo-eruption is likely because social conservative activists, like those who support anti-abortion groups Right Now and the Wilberforce Project, anti-GSA Parents for Choice in Education, and Carpay’s JCCF, are key players in the political coalition that Kenney has built during his almost three decades in politics.
Kenney has never hesitated to take hard-line stances against opponents like Premier Rachel Notley, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, environmentalists Tzeporah Berman and David Suzuki, and even actor Jane Fonda. It is now time for Kenney to prove to Albertans that he can also take an equally hard-line against the social conservative forces that are embarrassing his own party.
Photo: Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer and former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who she endorsed in the 2017 UCP leadership contest (source: Facebook)
The contest for the United Conservative Party nomination in the new Chestermere-Strathmore district turned nasty this week when it was revealed that MLA and UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer attempted to seek a restraining order against one of her opponents.
The Calgary Herald reported that Aheer discontinued the action against David Campbell the day before the application was to be heard in court. The dispute was apparently the result of a confrontation between Aheer and Campbell at a June 14 meeting of the local UCP association. The application had asked for a court order keeping Campbell 200 metres away from her and her home.
The Calgary Sun later reported that Campbell was in Court of Queen’s Bench seeking legal costs in the case he described as an effort to shut him out of the nomination process.
“In actual fact, “win at all cost” cronyism may be worse today than in the past, led disappointingly by former Wildrosers who are close to smelling the sweet scent of leadership, influence, and authority,” Campbell wrote.
The UCP has set June 28 as the deadline for candidates to enter the nomination contest in Chestermere-Strathmore. A nomination meeting has been scheduled for July 19, 2018. Declared candidates include Aheer, Campbell, Mark Giesbrecht, and Pamela Hilton.
Amid political gong-show, Postmedia shuts down local newspaper
And as real political news worth reporting is happening in their community, it was announced today that the Strathmore Standard is one of the latest victims of Postmedia’s budget axe. The Standard was founded in 1909 and its departure will leave a big gap in news coverage in the community of more than 13,000 residents east of Calgary.
Also being shuttered by Postmedia is the Camrose Canadian, which first started publishing in 1908. The High River Times will now publish one edition per week, down from twice weekly.
The documents mostly include generic and predictable partisan conservative policy proposals with a focus on repealing many of the laws and policies implemented by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government since 2015. But not surprisingly, a number of policies submitted from the right-wing fringe of the UCP make it into this list.
Introduction of more private schools and increased parental control in education (code for undermining student-led Gay-Straight Alliances), removing funding for abortion services, cutting the size of the public service and public sector employee pay, allowing MLA recall votes, and defining family as the union of a man, a woman and their offspring are among the controversial proposals included in the list submitted by UCP members.
While many of the policies included in this document will not actually become official party policy, the list of proposed policies provides a glimpse into the priorities of the UCP membership in 2018. As noted in Braid’s column, a “final list of resolutions, about 250, won’t be disclosed until members and journalists get their convention packages on Friday.” Those policies will be debated by members at this weekend’s UCP meeting.
Premier Jim Prentice announced this week that five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield would be appointed as Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Mr. Merrifield’s resignation from the House of Commons means that a federal by-election will need to be called in the Yellowhead riding by March 17, 2015. This would be the fourth federal by-election in Alberta since the 2011 general election.
Media have been banned from attending the forums of the Conservative nomination forums in the Bow River riding. This is no doubt to spare the Conservative Party of the embarrassment of having Mr. Anders on their ballot in that riding.
Last week, the Medicine Hat News reported an embarrassing exchange at a forum in that riding’s nomination contest which saw two social conservative candidates debating gay-rights and women’s access to abortion.
Local Conservative member Brian De Jontold the Brooks Bulletin that there has been “no substance” at the Bow River forums anyway.
An “Anybody But Xiao” (ABX) campaign is heating up in this new west Edmonton riding. With candidate Brad Rutherford dropping out and throwing his support behind Kelly McCauley, a group of local Conservatives are trying to prevent Edmonton-McClung Progressive Conservative MLA David Xiao from winning the nomination.
But Mr. Xiao has his supporters. Former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed provincial health minister Stephen Mandel, former Premier Ed Stelmach, Justice minister Jonathan Denis and Infrastructure minister Manmeet Bhullar have all pledged their endorsements to Mr. Xiao.
Conservative candidate Joan Crockett sent a shot across the bow of popular Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign last week. In a column in the Calgary Herald, Ms. Crockatt claimed that Mr. Hehr has done little as an MLA to help with flood recovery in Calgary’s central neighbourhoods (also naming him in the same sentence as disgraced former Premier Alison Redford).
Mr. Hehr, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding told the told Herald reporter James Wood that “it’s politics.” “Joan and I are going to have a lot of time to discuss the issues and she’s just getting an early jump on it,” Mr. Hehr said.
Most Edmontonians probably would not have noticed when Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and 96 New Democratic Party MPs descended on the city for their caucus meeting earlier this month. But while the NDP MPs did appear to spend most of their time behind closed doors, they did take a notable break to help out a local candidate in east Edmonton’s new Griesbach riding.
Confirming what many believed to be inevitable, six-term Conservative MP Peter Goldring announced that he will not seek re-election. Mr. Goldring has endorsed Omar Tarchichi over former mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte in the nomination contest to replace him. Curiously, for a governing party’s candidate, Mr. Tarchichi’s campaign has chosen “Rise Up” as its slogan. It is unclear what Mr. Tarchichi plans to rise up against.
Two candidates have stepped forward to run for the Conservative nomination in the new Lakeland riding after three-term backbencher Brian Storseth announced he was retiring from federal politics.
Shannon Stubbs is a former Wildrose caucus staffer and ran for the party in the 2012 provincial election (collecting 5,800 votes in the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville riding). She is also the wife of popular Lac La Biche-Two Hills-St. Paul Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw(they were married today – congratulations!)
Ms. Stubbs will face Lewis Semashkewich, an Aspen View Public School Board trustee. The Athabasca Advocate reported that Mr. Semashkewich is calling for the construction of a new oil refinery in that corner of the province.
Lawyer Tom O’Leary is seeking the Liberal nomination in the new Edmonton-Riverbend riding.
Edmonton-Strathcona Len Thom will carry the Conservative banner against NDP MP Linda Duncan in the next election. The lawyer of and provincial PC Party constituency president was acclaimed at a nomination meeting this week.