Alberta Politics

City Council needs to get it right on Northlands Coliseum redevelopment

It has been about 10 years since the City of Edmonton seriously began studying the concept of funding the construction of a downtown arena, and 6 years since City Council voted to approve a financial deal with the Edmonton Oilers and its billionaire owner, Daryl Katz, to construct a new arena.

But despite the years of attention paid to the new arena, not much focus was given to the arena that housed the Edmonton Oilers since 1974. When the shiny new Rogers Place arena opened downtown in 2016, there was still no real plan for the future of the old arena, now known again as Northlands Coliseum.

The implications of the Oilers move downtown was huge for the Coliseum and Northlands and a non-compete clause agreed to by the City crippled the already disadvantaged older arena. Without the revenue generated from NHL hockey games or large concerts, the Northlands organization was placed in a dire financial situation.

Better late than never, Northlands released a Vision 2020 proposal in 2016. The plan focused on the entire Northlands property and proposed the Coliseum be renovated into a six-rink hockey arena. The idea was later considered financial untenable by City Council.

City Council has since cannibalized much of the Northlands operations and voted to close the Coliseum.

Now sitting empty and unused, the question facing City Councillors meeting at City Hall this week is what to do with the closed building.

As a resident of the area (I live a 10 minute walk away from the Coliseum in the Bellevue neighbourhood), it is frustrating to feel like this area of the city was an afterthought. But while it is important to recognize past mistakes made by the City on this issue, it is also helpful to look for solutions for the future.

Community input and engagement should play a critical role in determining the future of the Coliseum and the Northlands property. But the engagement should be meaningful. Meaningless buzz-phrases, like we saw included in a recent press release from the City of Edmonton on this issue are not helpful (ie: “tap[ping] into the magnitude of the opportunity for transformation”).

Meaningful engagement is important, because residential neighbourhoods and commercial districts in the area will be directly impacted by any future plans, just as they had by the past expansion of Northlands.

It was only a short 15 years ago that City Council approved the Northlands Redevelopment Plan, which allowed Northlands to bulldoze the four block single detached residential area known as West Bellevue and three blocks of North Cromdale. The 2003 Northlands ARP literally paved West Bellevue into the parking lot that sits on the west side of Wayne Gretzky Drive.

I am not sure what the best new use of the land would be, but I do not know anyone who thinks leaving the Coliseum boarded up and abandoned would be good for the neighbourhood. But an empty and abandoned lot fit for gravel and Used Car Dealerships is also not ideal.

The $15.5 million to $25 million projected cost to demolish the Coliseum may give some Councillors sticker shock, but it is pennies compared to the public funds invested into the downtown Roger Place arena.

As recent city council candidate Kris Andreychuk and University of Alberta professor John McCoy wrote in the Edmonton Journal on Oct. 20, 2017:

“Allowing the Northlands site to sit idle and empty will not only create an eyesore in a storied area of the city — the arena where we became the City of Champions — it will also stimulate a host of community-safety issues and drive away the small business owners who are the lifeblood of the community.

These are not easy times in Edmonton. But what cannot be denied is the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of Edmontonians and their ability to find solutions to our collective challenges. Northlands is a test for the City of Edmonton and local developers — there is much at stake and we need to get it right.”

Alberta Politics

PC Party patronage machine grinds to a halt, future of appointees unknown

After 44 years as government, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party built an impressive patronage machine. For many decades, there very likely has not been a board with provincially appointed members that did not enjoy the presence of a PC Party member. That political machine ground to a halt on May 5 when Albertans swept Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party into office.

As the NDP transition into office is the first real change of power since 1971, we can expect that many PC-connected appointees on numerous agencies, boards and commissions will exit or not have their terms renewed in the next few years. The same can be said for a slew of ideologically-based advocacy groups that have enjoyed generous funding from the PC Government in recent years.

While having a PC Party membership should not automatically preclude an individual from serving on a public board in the future, as many honest Albertans have held a membership in that party over its four decades in power, it will no longer be a golden ticket into the corridors of power in Alberta.

Here is a quick look at some prominent PC Party members, supporters and former MLAs and cabinet ministers who are currently serving in government appointed roles at colleges and universities:

Here are a number of other high-profile PC supporters who are serving in government appointed roles:

The last Social Credit Party education minister, Robert Clark, currently serves as chair of the Board of Governors of Olds College. Mr. Clark was elected as Social Credit MLA for Olds-Didsbury in 1960 at the age of 23 and served until 1981. He was Leader of the Official Opposition from 1973 to 1980.

Alberta Politics

The future of Rexall Place without the Edmonton Oilers

Northlands Rexall Place Edmonton Oilers Arena
Northlands’ Rexall Place is the current home of the Edmonton Oilers.

In the great rush to relocate the Edmonton Oilers to Daryl Katz‘s new downtown arena district, there appears to have been little serious thought or planning focused on what to do with the professional hockey team’s long-time current home, Rexall Place.

Located north east of downtown on the Northlands Exposition Grounds, Rexall Place is an aging facility and, unlike the planned entertainment district surrounding the new downtown arena, the current arena is located inside a concrete no-man’s land surrounded by residential neighbourhoods.

Once known as “Northlands Coliseum,” the arena opened on November 10, 1974 and initially housed the World Hockey Association Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers joined the National Hockey League in 1979. According to Wikipedia, the arena is the third oldest NHL arena behind Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which opened in 1968 and 1972.

As a homeowner in the Bellevue neighbourhood directly east of the Northlands Grounds, I am naturally interested in the future of Rexall Place, which could both impact the future quality of the area neighbourhood and the property value of my home. In fact, part of the current Northlands Grounds were once part of Bellevue, before the blocks of houses were demolished to make way for an expansive parking lot.

Northlands has named a 17-person strategy committee to help determine the future of Rexall Place. While it is a good sign that Northlands is now weighing its options, it is concerning that the committee does not appear to include any residents of the neighbourhoods surrounding the arena.

As a neighbour who has politely lived through the lively crowds of KDays, has not complained publicly about the sounds of SONiC BOOM, and who chooses to recycle the empties deposited on our lawn after hockey games, it is my hope that the committee will seriously consider what the implications of their decisions will be on the local community.

I hope that Northlands will listen to the advice and ideas of the residents living in the neighbourhoods surrounding the soon to be former arena. While Northlands provides venues for the entire city and northern Alberta, the people living with the arena in their backyard deserve to be given significant input into the decision making process.

I worry that in the rush to compete with the new downtown arena district, Northlands may miss bigger opportunities.

Northlands would be wise to look to the revitalization of 118th Avenue (also known as Alberta Avenue) to its west and become part of the ongoing renewal. Although large parts of the area are still rough around the edges, the area has come a long way. Drive down 118th Avenue on a Saturday morning and you will discover bustling locally-owned butcher shops, bakeries, cafes and grocery stores.

The redevelopment of Borden Park, south of the Northlands Grounds, could provide inspiration for the future of the current concrete expanse that surrounds Rexall Place. A friendlier and greener area would certainly be more welcoming than the current expanse of concrete walkways and parking lots.

Northlands should also consider the success of the nearby Commonwealth Community Rec Centre, adjacent to Commonwealth Stadium (home to the Edmonton Eskimos), in providing value for residents in this area of the city. Rather than just being a venue for travelling carnivals, conferences and cattle shows, Northlands should look at ways the arena space can become more relevant to the communities that surround it.

Given the opportunities available to the Northlands committee and future developers, the worst thing that could happen would be to leave the arena as it is; devoid of street interaction, free of community building activities and unfriendly to better development.

The departure of the Edmonton Oilers from Rexall Place presents a unique opportunity for Northlands to engage the residents living in the area. Just as the arena district is reshaping the area north of downtown Edmonton, the redevelopment of the arena could present a positive opportunity for residents north east of downtown.

I am pleased to report that has been shortlisted as a nominee for a 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards in the Politics category. Also nominated are John Ibbitson’s Blog, The New Age of Uncertainty, Wealth and International Politics, and Gender Focus.

Thank you to everyone who reads, leaves comments, shares links, and provides a wealth of feedback through email and direct messages. You make it worth writing.

Alberta Politics

PC Party opts for a short and expensive leadership campaign

Ken Hughes MLA PC leadership Race Calgary
Cabinet minister Ken Hughes has launched an “exploratory committee” to investigate a leadership bid.

In 2006, it was $15,000, in 2011, it was $40,000, and in 2014, the fee to become a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race is $50,000.

Senior officials from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party gathered in Red Deer last night to discuss timelines, entry fees and the rules that will help shape their party’s 2014 leadership race.

The first ballot vote will be held on September 6, 2014 and, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on that ballot, the top two candidates will compete on a second ballot held on September 20, 2014.

The combination of a short campaign period (5 months and 18 days) and a high entry fee could limit the number of candidates able to enter the race.

Gary Mar Alberta Representative to Asia
Gary Mar’s campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million in his 2011 bid for the PC leadership.

In order to run a campaign, candidates will need to raise significant amounts of funds in a very short period in addition to the cost of the entry fee. In 2011, Gary Mar‘s frontrunner campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million on his leadership bid (collecting more than $200,000 in debt). Alison Redford‘s campaign spent $1.3 million.

It is not known whether the PCs will limit the amounts that individual campaigns are allowed to spend or if they will require the disclosure of financial donors to the leadership campaigns.

The practical reality for the PC Party is that they needed to consider high entry fees in order to help finance the organization and promotion of the leadership campaign. As leadership candidates  sap funds that would normally fill party coffers, the party needs to quickly recuperate the costs of the leadership race after in order to prepare for a general election in 2016 (or sooner).

Leadership candidates emerge, kind of…

Defying expectations that cabinet ministers should resign their posts when running in a party leadership race, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, 60, launched a public “exploratory committee” website at a press conference yesterday. A “serious” person, according to quotes on his website, Mr. Hughes does not appear to be serious about whether he should be a candidate in this race.

Other cabinet ministers, including Thomas Lukaszuk, Jonathan Denis, Doug Horner and Diana McQueen are rumoured to be considering leadership bids.

A website was launched yesterday to draft Senator Scott Tannas into the PC leadership race. Mr. Tannas is the founder of Western Financial Group and the son of Klein-era MLA Don Tannas. He was involved in a minor scandal related to $24,000 in questionable travel expenses as a Senator, which may turn off a few PC Party members still recovering from Ms. Redford’s travel expense scandals.

On the peripheries of public attention, it appears as though Stephen Mandel, 68, could be preparing to come out of retirement. The recently retired three-term mayor of Edmonton is rumoured to be preparing a campaign team to test the waters. Mr. Mandel will be 70 years-old by the time the next election is called.

Also said to be interested in mounting a leadership bid is former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice. The former Calgary Member of Parliament is currently serving as a Senior Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He recently accepted a role as Enbridge’s envoy to northern British Columbia’s First Nations communities in their bid to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat.

Liberal leader makes fundraising pitch

Raj Sherman 2010
Raj Sherman

In a fundraising email sent yesterday, the Liberal Party announced that leader Raj Sherman will match all donations made to the party before March 31, 2014. According to Alberta’s political finance laws, individuals can only donate a maximum of $15,000 each year.

As a physician, Dr. Sherman has also frequently made donations to the Liberal Party through his professional corporation, raising his limit to $30,000. And as the Daryl Katz-PC Party donation fiasco taught us in 2012, you can always depend on family members or employees to make donations as well.

The Liberals fell behind the other major parties in fundraising in 2013, only raising a small $339,540 (the NDP raised $623,763 in the same period).

Alberta Politics

In Alberta, the billionaire walks and the working man gets the shaft.

The billionaire walks…

There was little surprise among the cynical pundit class yesterday as Elections Alberta announced that it had found billionaire Daryl Katz and his Katz Group broke no laws when the company delivered a donation in the form of a $430,000 bank draft to Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservative Party during last year’s provincial election.

Daryl Katz

Even though the maximum donation limit during an election period is $30,000, according to Elections Alberta the $430,000 donation was legitimate because it was accompanied by a paper trail of 17 individuals and professional corporations who wished to receive tax-receipts in amounts of $30,000, $25,000, $20,000, and $15,000. Tax-receipts were issued for Mr. Katz, members of his family, and senior employees of his company.

Only the portion of the donation assigned to Mr. Katz’s Chief Financial Officer, Paul Marcaccio, was ruled inappropriate because he is not an ordinary resident of Alberta. The PC Party announced that it returned the $25,000 that was assigned from Mr. Marcaccio.

Even if the Katz Group donation was found to be legal, it certainly goes against the spirit of the law and demonstrates how easy Alberta’s flimsy political finance laws are to circumvent.

The $430,000 donation represented 26% of the money raised by the PC Party during last year’s election period. It could be speculated that this is the reason the PC Party reneged on a promise to reveal their list of donors in the final week of the campaign.

…and the working man gets the shaft.

Corrections Officers on strike last weekend.
Corrections Officers on strike last weekend.

One day after ending a 5-day wildcat strike spurred by serious concerns about safety in the workplace, Corrections Officers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) claim they are being threatened with punishment by senior managers in the Solicitor General’s department. This goes against an agreement to end the strike reached by AUPE President Guy Smith and the government’s front-man on the issue – Premier Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk – that union members would not be punished for going on strike.

Front-line Corrections Officers at the new Edmonton Remand Centre began a wildcat strike last week after they felt serious safety concerns were not being addressed by their management. The wildcat strike quickly spread across the province as Corrections Officers at other jails walked off the job in a show of solidarity with their colleagues in Edmonton.

Having avoided making any public comments on the issue until the strike was over, Premier Redford emerged at a press conference in Calgary to announce the government would take legal action against AUPE to recoup any costs to the government caused by the strike.

Meanwhile, in a move that could unravel the one-day labour peace, Solicitor General Jonathan Denis announced the province wants to suspend AUPE’s rights to collect dues from all government employees for a six-month period.

The government’s request to the Labour Relations Board would withhold dues of tens of thousands of AUPE members who had no connection to the striking Corrections Officers and is a move that is certainly meant to cripple, and poison the government’s relationship, with the union of 80,000 Government of Alberta employees. The Public Service Employee Relations Act allows for suspension of dues only for individual union locals, not for an entire union membership.

Alberta Politics

Bad planning: Edmonton Arena funding and Calgary urban sprawl.

Top Priority: The Wayne Gretzky statue.
Top Priority: The Wayne Gretzky statue.

While too much media attention was focused this week on the fate of a statue of a hockey player who left Edmonton twenty-five years ago for sunny southern California (and piles of money), City Council desperately tried to draw up a Plan B (or Plan C) to fund the proposed downtown arena.

The unrealistic Plan A, a financial framework approved by City Council and billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz‘s company months ago, included a large funding gap of $114 million that Mayor Stephen Mandel was adamant that the provincial government would fill.

Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affair Minister Doug Griffiths have been clear that no direct funding for the arena is coming. Ever. And after Mayor Mandel’s harsh-criticisms of the province’s cuts to post-secondary education, it now seems even more unlikely that the provincial politicians would be willing to kowtow to the Mayor’s desperate demands.

Two weeks ago, a split council vote decided that the city would borrow $45 million against expected future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding, meant for public infrastructure construction and maintenance, to put towards the arena. This still leaves a $55 million gap that the provincial government has said it is not interested in filling.

As Councillors scramble to find a solution to a problem they should have solved months ago, it is now being suggested that more funds from the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) be directed toward the arena, looting funds already promised for other downtown projects.

Sprawl Cabal Cal Wenzel
Cal Wenzel

Meanwhile in Calgary, an awkwardly long press conference was held by the Sprawl Cabal’s Cal Wenzel to respond to accusations that wealthy developers are aiming to unseat aldermen who believe urban planning is better than the current near-unrestrained urban sprawl.

Despite being caught in a leaked video plotting to use Preston Manning‘s Calgary-based Municipal Governance Project to free city council from “the dark side,” Mr. Wenzel uncomfortably tried to downplay the evidence exposed by Global Calgary this week.

As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, Mr. Wenzel “would have been better to say: ‘You’ve seen the tape. Judge for yourself what I meant. Now get lost!'”

Alberta Politics

Tories versus Wildrose: Year One in Alberta’s new political game.

Alison Redford Campaign Bus
Premier Alison Redford hops of her campaign bus onto Edmonton’s 124 Street during the 2012 election.

On April 23, 2012, Alberta’s most hotly contested election in decades culminated with the re-election of the twelfth consecutive Progressive Conservative majority government since 1971. Despite holding the large majority elected MLAs, the popular vote showed Albertans were closely divided between Alison Redford‘s Tories who finished with 44% compared to an impressive 34% showing for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

The first year of Premier Redford’s mandate has been rough for her governing party. Scandals bubbling up from now-defunct health authorities, accusations of a personal conflict-of-interest, and allegations that her party accepted up to $400,000 in illegal campaign donations from billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz have dogged her government.

Despite being branded as a policy-wonk, Premier Redford’s cabinet has implemented a confused domestic agenda that has resulted in public spats with popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Stephen Mandel and unnecessary conflicts with teachers and doctors. Recent budget cuts, blamed on a deflating bitumen bubble, also threaten to unravel the coalition of moderate voters who carried her party to victory one year ago.

The mixed bag that is Premier Redford’s cabinet could help explain some of this confusion. Younger cabinet ministers, like Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Education Minister Jeff Johnson and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, constantly talk off the cuff and appear to sometimes be making government policy on the fly. Other ministers, like Finance Minister Doug Horner, Health Minister Fred Horne and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, have shown restraint and maturity that comes with years of cabinet experience.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

Premier Redford has been exceedingly strong on the national and international stage as she has travelled extensively over the past year lobbying for a Canadian Energy Strategy, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and to open new markets for Alberta’s oil sands. She appears to be less interested or willing to play the political game, which will become increasingly difficult in the face of an aggressive official opposition.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith could have been celebrating her first year as Premier had it not been for late election bozo-erruptions that exposed an offensive social conservative element in her party. Comments about caucasian advantages and a Lake of Fire drove many moderate conservatives, liberals, and even some New Democrats, to vote PC in last year’s election.

Despite the disappointment of not defeating Alberta’s long-governing PC dynasty, Ms. Smith has grown into her role as Leader of the Official Opposition. Borrowing aggressive tactics from the federal Conservatives in Ottawa, who are organizationally tied at the hip with the Wildrose, Ms. Smith’s party is leading the most aggressive and partisan official opposition in recent memory. Her party has groomed a front-bench that dominate the media and have, in many cases, driven the government agenda from across the aisle. Rarely a week goes by where Ms. Smith, Rob Anderson, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Bruce McAllister, or Heather Forsyth have not grabbed a headline or a prime time news story.

The Liberals, still led by former Tory MLA Raj Sherman, are still adjusting to their new role as the third-party in the Assembly after being bumped out of Official Opposition by the Wildrose. Accustomed to stealing the spotlight from the now-former Official Opposition Liberals, the four-MLA New Democrat caucus spent the past year figuring out how to play the same tricks on the Wildrose. Acclimatizing to the new political environment, Brian Mason’s NDP were overshadowed by Ms. Smith’s new team for most of last year. With some of the ‘progressive’ shine coming off Premier Redford’s Tories, the NDP are starting to find their footing again.

The Tories have broken more than a few election promises in the first year of this mandate, including pledges to balance the budget and provide stable funding for health, education, and municipalities. Despite the rough first year, Premier Redford’s Tories still have at least three years left until the next election to fulfill the promises made and mend fences with the bloc of moderate voters who saved their party from defeat one year ago today.

Alberta Politics

Funding Edmonton’s Downtown Arena, the strange comedy of errors continues.

The strange comedy of errors that has become Edmonton’s Downtown Arena project continued this week as City Council scrambled to fill a $100 million gap in a funding plan they approved months ago.

Stephen Mandel
Stephen Mandel

Despite repeated claims by Mayor Stephen Mandel that provincial government money would fill the $100 million gap, anyone who has paid any attention over the past year will know the province had no plans to provide funding for Edmonton’s Downtown Arena project. Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths have been consistent in their public comments on the topic: “no.”

In response to the lack of never-promised funding in last month’s provincial budget, the Mayor and seven Councillors voted to withdraw a $45 million loan to be paid back through future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding that the city could receive over the next twenty-years. In response to the decision, Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons reminded her readers this week, “[t]he clear intent of the original council resolution was that no deal would go ahead without $100 million in new provincial money.”

Daryl Katz

In a display of common sense against what has become Mayor Mandel’s increasingly embarrassing obsession, five Councillors – Don IvesonBen HendersonLinda SloanKerry Diotte, and Tony Caterina – voted against the motion to dedicate future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds to the proposed Arena.

Problematic for many reasons, this decision still leaves a $55 million gap in funding and Daryl Katz – the billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers – said he is not interested in renegotiating the financial arrangement agreed to months ago. Mayor Mandel claims this loan will convince the provincial to fill a smaller $55 million funding gap – something the province has said it has no interest in doing.

The Municipal Sustainability Initiative was created by Premier Ed Stelmach’s government in 2007 to provide funding to municipalities for public infrastructure projects. Municipalities have discretion over how this provincial money is spent and they have typically been used to fund public transit, libraries, community halls and utility infrastructure. Using these funds to build a new hockey arena to house a privately-owned business like the Edmonton Oilers would use funds that could be used for other much-needed community infrastructure projects.

A concern for City Councillors should be that, like all funding transfers from other levels of government, there is no assurance that the Municipal Sustainability Initiative will exist over the next twenty-years. Its continued existence is based on three factors the City of Edmonton has no control over: population growth, provincial revenue, and the continued desire of provincial politicians to continue the program.

Will the provincial government change its tune and provide $55 million in direct funding? Not very likely. Mayor Mandel’s warpath against post-secondary funding cuts will have left many already unsympathetic provincial politicians now even less-willing to contribute to the project.

Also problematic for the provincial government is the ongoing is the investigation by Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer into allegations that Mr. Katz violated the Elections Finances Act by donating more than $400,000 to the Progressive Conservative Party in the 2012 provincial election (the individual donation limit is $30,000).

Alberta Politics

Alberta Tories confused about illegal donations.

Alberta Tories ConfusedCaught having accepted 45 prohibited donations from municipalities and publicly-funded institutions since 2009, the Progressive Conservative Association spent the past few days sending mixed messages whether it would or already had repaid the full amount of illegals funds as requested by Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer .

Party officials previously stated the funds would be repaid, but during a conference call to PC constituency presidents last month, executive director Kelley Charlebois laid out laid out plans to not repay the funds.

“Repaying the money does us no good in the court of public opinion” – PC Party executive director Kelley Charlebois

PC Party president Jim McCormick told the Edmonton Journal last week that he felt the orders from the elections office to repay illegal donations were unfair. Mr. McCormick later downplayed his public comments in an email to PC Party supporters in which he stated his party had “fully and willingly complied and repaid the dollars [the Chief Elections Officer] asked us to.”

Mr. McCormick then stated that talks between the PC Party and the elections office would continue and his “argument is not relative to the dollar amount but rather a request for clarification on the legislation.” There is some irony in that some of the prohibited donations were made to now-Justice Minister Jonathan DenisCalgary-Egmont constituency association.

2012 PC campaign manager Susan Elliott jumped to her party’s defence on Facebook, claiming that party officials had no way of knowing that many of the donors were being reimbursed by municipalities or public institutions for money spent at party fundraisers.

I am mystified by the Chief Electoral Officer’s conclusion that a political party is responsible if an individual illegally expenses a political donation to a prohibited organization. So Joe Smith buys a fundraising ticket using a personal cheque or credit card. That’s OK. He collects the tax receipt personally. That’s OK. But later, he submits the cost on his expense claim. He has now done something illegal. The prohibited organization does something illegal by paying it. But how is it the political party is supposed to anticipate Joe’s actions, learn about them later, prevent them or correct them? Since they can do none of those things, why are they the ones cited?

The 45 cases of illegal donations identified in the investigation were all made to the PC Party, not to any of the eight other registered political parties in Alberta.

In some cases Ms. Elliott’s argument may hold water, but in other cases the PC constituency organizers may have directly or indirectly solicited funds from these individuals through their places of employment in municipalities or public institutions.

In one case, which is not being investigated because it took place before the arbitrary 2009 cut-off date set by the elections office, a PC constituency official was actually employed by the organization that the donation was made by. In the former Athabasca-Redwater constituency, the local PC President was the head of the Athabasca University secretariat, which approved the financial contributions.

As was the case with the long list of municipalities that were named in the investigation, they were encouraged to purchase tickets to PC Party fundraisers as a means of lobbying provincial politicians. Over its 42 years in power, the PCs have fostered the creation of a culture where the lines between government business and party business are sometimes blurred.

The elections office is also investigating allegations that pharmaceutical industry billionaire and Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz made a $430,000 donation to the PC Party in the 2012 election, blowing away the $30,000 annual contribution limit stipulated in the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosures Act.

Alberta Politics

What the Heck? Tory tied to donation controversy now head of Alberta Economic Development Authority.

Via the Edmonton Journal:

Conservative linked to Katz donation named chairman of the Alberta Economic Development Authority


EDMONTON – Premier Alison Redford has given a provincial political appointment to a veteran Conservative insider who allegedly brokered a $430,000 donation from Oilers owner and billionaire Daryl Katz.

Media reports quoting unnamed sources suggested Wednesday that Calgary businessman Barry Heck is the party fundraiser who persuaded Katz to make the donation now under investigation by Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer.

Redford has named Heck chairman of the Alberta Economic Development Authority.

Heck has declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

On another election finance related note, Progressive Conservative President Jim McCormick has also asked Chief Electoral Officer O. Brian Fjeldheim to reverse orders mandating that the party repay thousands of dollars in illegal donations tied to post-secondary institutions and local governments

Alberta Politics

Three investigations kick-off 2013 in Alberta politics.

Despite winning a large majority in last spring’s provincial election, Alberta’s long-governing Progressive Conservatives had a rough ride in the media and on the floor of the Assembly last year. If Tory MLAs hoped for a reprieve in 2013, they may be disappointed.

Starting off the year are three investigations that are direct results of political scandals and controversies from 2012:

Queue-Jumping Investigation

After a disappointing start late last year, the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry continued this week with testimony from former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill.

Fred Horne

Today, former Capital Health Board Chair Neil Wilkinson (now Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner) and Health Minister Fred Horne will be questioned. On Friday, Calgary Flames team doctor Jim Thorne and former Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes (now an MLA and Energy Minister) will be appear as witnesses before the inquiry.

Anyone looking for a Watergate-type scandal that directly connects politically-influenced queue-jumping to the Premier’s office will likely be disappointed.

Elections Alberta investigates billionaire’s donations to PC Party

Global Edmonton:

“…retired Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Ernest Marshall has been appointed Director of the investigation, and Don Vander Graaf and Dave Davies have been retained as independent investigators.”

Daryl Katz

Elections Alberta will investigate a large donation allegedly made by pharmaceutical industry billionaire Daryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers, to the Progressive Conservative Party during the 2012 election. Mr. Katz is alleged to have made a $430,000 donation to the PC Party by funnelling funds through his family and employees. Under Alberta’s elections finance laws, maximum individual donations during an election period are limited to $30,000.

While to election finance laws introduced last year by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis allow for more disclosure of donors, the new laws did not further restrict the amount that an individual or corporation can donate to a political party.

Ethics Commissioner investigates tobacco conflict allegations

Premier Alison Redford Alberta
Premier Alison Redford

Ethics Commissioner Mr. Wilkinson will investigate alleged conflict-of-interest in a decision by the government to award a lucrative tobacco lawsuit contract to a firm where Premier Alison Redford‘s ex-husband works as a lawyer.

The official decision to choose the firm was made after the Premier had resigned as Justice Minister in 2012, but the recommendation of which law firm to choose was made during her tenure in the position.


Communications shift

Jay O’Neill, Director of Communications for Premier Redford is leaving his position. Globe  & Mail journalist Josh Wingrove noted on Twitter yesterday that over the last few months, along with Mr. O’Neill, four other staff have departed from Premier Redford’s communications office at the Assembly (Mr. O’Neill, Nikki Booth, Kim Misik, Tammy Forbes, Tracy Balash).

While it is difficult to speculate whether these departures were voluntary or not, it does appear that the Premier’s office may be taking steps to improve its communications and issues management strategy (especially in light of the investigations noted above).


Could Chinese “stadium diplomacy” save Daryl Katz’s downtown arena dream?

Chairman Mao Katz Arena
An artist’s drawing of the Chinese Government’s “Friendship Arena” in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown core.

Did Canada miss an opportunity when the federal government acquiesced to a Chinese Government owned company purchasing Alberta energy company Nexen for $15 billion? Did we miss an opportunity when Canadian energy companies agreed to build a pipeline exporting raw oilsands bitumen to China? Perhaps we are not driving a hard enough bargain.

To the legions of Edmonton Oilers fans yearning for a new palace of worship, a three-term city mayor looking for a signature legacy monument, and billionaire hockey team owner seeking a financial subsidy, perhaps the Chinese Government could offer a solution to Edmonton’s never ending downtown arena debate.

As reported by Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish:

From the copper mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the natural gas holdings of Turkmenistan, a giant octopus extends its tentacles, trading finished products for natural resources. In South America 90 per cent of exports to China are unprocessed or barely processed natural resources. The proportion is about the same for Africa. China not only extracts, it also constructs. In what the authors call ‘stadium diplomacy’, dozens of ‘friendship stadiums’ are presented as gifts to countries around the world. Critics characterise them as Trojan horses used to conquer local markets.

Alberta Politics

Wildrose KENO-Arena lottery gambles with future of charities and non-profits.

Wildrose Keno Alberta
Alberta’s new Wildrose lottery.

Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith re-injected herself into the latest round of news coverage about how to fund the Katz Group’s on-again, off-again arena north of Edmonton’s downtown.

At a press conference this afternoon, Ms. Smith proposed that the provincial government should examine using the “KENO gambling model” to generate revenue for the proposed downtown arena in Edmonton and a future new hockey arena in Calgary.

The Wildrose press release states that KENO gambling “raised just over $3.1 million in revenue last year in Alberta where it is featured in 88 bingo halls, casinos and gaming rooms.” The release notes that in British Columbia, “the gambling model generated nearly $235 million in revenue last year and is played in about 4,000 locations, including sports bars and pubs.”

A big question about the Wildrose’s proposed idea is whether the expansion of a KENO gambling model will dilute funds generated through already existing lotteries. Many Alberta charities, volunteer groups, and not-for-profits depend on already existing lottery funds to operate and, under a KENO-Arena gambling model, might have to compete with a lottery created to subsidize the funding of a new hockey arena for a privately-owned professional sports team.

Through the Alberta Lottery Fund in 2011-2012, the provincial government allocated $1.44 billion to public initiatives, foundations and grant programs across the province. In British Columbia, even with an expanded KENO gambling model, total government revenues from gaming were about $1.11 billion. The cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Katz Group arena has been estimated to be $450 million.

Finance Minister Doug Horner responded to the Wildrose proposal and let slip news of a potential government lottery plan:

Horner said Premier Alison Redford’s government is looking at another proposal to pool lottery money that could be used by all municipalities to help fund what he called cultural and recreational infrastructure projects.

“The problem with Keno is that it doesn’t raise as much money as would be required to fund that kind of infrastructure,” he said.

Horner said the government is considering a lottery that would allow people to bet on teams such as the Edmonton Oilers and put the proceeds in a separate fund for building projects, but he cautioned that work on the idea is still very preliminary.

While Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel has repeatedly be quoted in the media telling of oncoming provincial funds, Premier Alison Redford, Minister Horner, and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths had previously denied any intention to fill the $100 million gap in the (now-formerly agreed upon) funding formula between the Katz Group and the City of Edmonton.


According to the Keno entry on Wikipedia, the odds of a full-payout for someone playing Keno are slim:

The probability of a player hitting all 20 numbers on a 20 spot ticket is approximately 1 in 3.5 quintillion (1 in 3,535,316,142,212,180,000 to be exact). If every person now alive played one keno game every single second of their lives, there would be about one solid 20 jackpot-winning ticket to date. If all these possible keno tickets were laid end to end, they would span the Milky Way galaxy—and only one of them would be a winner. To this day, there are no reports of a keno player lucky enough to match all 20 numbers.

Alberta Politics

Edmonton Mayor swipes at NDP, Wildrose over Katz arena funding.

“Danielle Smith will probably yell and scream. Brian Mason will yell and scream. They really don’t care about the City of Edmonton, I guess, but I would hope they would be wise enough to see it’s about Edmonton.” – Mayor Stephen Mandel (December 18, 2012)

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel
Stephen Mandel

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel took swipes at NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith as the latest saga of the never-ending debate over Edmonton’s downtown arena entered a new phase. The two provincial party leaders have been vocal critics of the proposed downtown arena funding formula and the Mayor’s proposal for the provincial government to provide $100 million in funding.

While his eight-year occupancy in the city’s executive office has generally been positive, Mayor Mandel has become known for making hot-headed abrasive comments about his critics (see the quote at the top of this post). Perhaps the most notable example was when Mayor Mandel admonished Members of Parliament after the federal government denied funding for Edmonton’s poorly communicated Expo bid in 2010.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader 2012 Election
Brian Mason

As for yesterday’s comments directed towards the two provincial leaders, Mayor Mandel previously sparred with Ms. Smith when the rookie politician from Calgary waded into the heated City Centre Airport debate in advance of the 2010 municipal election. In an interview with the Edmonton Journal, Ms. Smith, who has been a harsh critic of provincial government spending, said she will propose a new lottery funding model for Mr. Katz’s arena in the new year.

Mr. Mason, a former City Councillor, is a veteran of Edmonton’s Peter Pocklington-era and appears to have enjoyed the opportunity to jump into the Katz funding fray.

The latest phase in the never-ending downtown arena saga

After the Katz Group surprised Edmontonians in September 2012 by rejecting a generous funding formula that had been agreed to earlier this year, an envoy representing billionaire pharmaceutical baron Daryl Katz, owner of the locked-out Edmonton Oilers, informed City Council of Mr. Katz’s desire to restart negotiations to fund the new arena.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012
Danielle Smith

Last week, the Katz Group’s envoy appeared with a request to appear before City Council, which they did last Wednesday. It is suspected that Mr. Katz is beginning to see his window of opportunity may be closing. With a municipal election being held next fall, Mr. Katz could lose one of his strongest allies, Mayor Mandel, who is considering seeking re-election. If a new agreement is not reached before next summer, Mr. Katz’s costly venture risks becoming a defining issue of the October 2013 vote, which might not play out to his benefit (the Katz Group was strategically silent during the 2010 election).

Yesterday, Mayor Mandel once against began pressing the downtown arena issue, saying that a new deal must be reached within the next six weeks (keep in mind that this issue has been simmering for years).

One of the biggest flaws of the original mega-deal between the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group was the absence of $100 million in funding. Mayor Mandel has been adamant that the provincial government will fill the revenue gap, despite continued assurances from Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, that this will not happen. With the provincial budget likely to be the largest political battle of 2013, the cards are likely not to be dealt in Mayor Mandel’s favour.

The Wildrose Party’s candidate for Mayor?

On another topic, while the Wildrose Party continues its permanent negative campaign against the provincial Tories into the new year, a party organizers tells me that a a group of Wildrose Party supporters in Edmonton are quietly searching for an ideologically-sympathetic candidate to run in next year’s mayoral election (he suggested that right-wing Councillor Kerry Diotte would suitably fit into the Wildorse Party mould).

Alberta Politics

A case for finance reform: Reclusive billionaire allegedly donated $430,000 to PC Party.

Canadian Money

Mr. Katz declined requests for comment” was probably the least surprising sentence printed in the Globe & Mail this week as the national newspaper published reports that reclusive billionaire Daryl Katz had allegedly donated $430,000 to Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party during the recent provincial election. The maximum contribution limits allowed under elections financing laws are $30,000 during the election, which makes these allegations against Mr. Katz and Premier Alison Redford‘s governing party absolutely shocking.

Daryl Katz

Initial reviews of the recently released Elections Alberta financial disclosures from the election period showed that Mr. Katz, his wife, his parents, his company and its top executives donated a combined $300,000 to the PC Party. This number was increased yesterday when the Globe & Mail reported that a source close to the PC alleged that “Mr. Katz provided a cheque for $430,000 to the PCs, a donation that was broken up into smaller pieces.” If true, Mr. Katz’s donations would represent a significant amount of the $1,522,581 raised through donations by the PC Party during the recent election.

Mr. Katz, the billionaire pharmaceutical retail company magnate and owner of the Edmonton Oilers, had previously only made small contributions to the PC Party and the Wildrose Party. In 2007, Mr. Katz’s company donated $15,000 to Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s re-election campaign.

This debacle comes only weeks after Mr. Katz’s attempted to renegotiate through the media the rich deal his company had already negotiated with the City of Edmonton to fund construction of a new sports arena. When City Councillors justifiably asked Mr. Katz to meet with them to discuss his new demands, the billionaire refused and then claimed through the purchase of an expensive full-page advertisement in a local newspaper that Councillors were being unreasonable.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

One of the big sticking points of the original funding agreement between the City and the Katz Group was the $100 million missing from the proposed funding formula. While Mayor Mandel has been reported as saying he was confident the provincial government would fill the funding gap, Premier Redford, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, and Finance Minister Doug Horner have been firm in their comments that the province would not provide the $100 million (likely due to similar funding demands that would emerge from Alberta’s other major urban centres).

Mr. Katz’s past donations to provincial political parties, which have been relatively small, makes these large donations suspect. Did Mr. Katz believe that these contributions would help his company’s chances of receiving funding from the provincial government for their proposed sports arena? Alberta’s opposition politicians seem to believe so.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason, who was a city councillor when Edmonton’s last cherished (sic) sports team mogul, Peter Pockington, threatened to move the Oilers unless the municipal government caved to his demands, has been speaking out for the past few years against provincial funding for the arena.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader Election 2012
Brian Mason

Mr. Mason, official opposition leader Danielle Smith, and Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson questioned Premier Redford and her cabinet ministers in Question Period yesterday. Not surprisingly, Premier Redford downplayed the allegations, saying that her party would cooperate with any investigation into the matter and that the PC victory in the recent election showed Albertans had confidence in her government.

In the months before the provincial election, Premier Redford’s Tories were criticized for accepting donations from municipalities and public institutions, which are banned under political finance laws. The slow response and lack of transparency of the investigations carried out by Elections Alberta made a strong case for stronger enforcement and reform of Alberta’s election finance laws. Mr. Katz’s alleged donations makes the case even stronger.

Who raised how much?

Elections Alberta released the financial disclosures this week, giving Albertans a chance to view how well funded Alberta’s political parties were during the recent election.

Raj Sherman‘s Liberals raised $112,407 in individual and corporate donations during the election campaign, the New Democrats raised $517,165, the Alberta Party raised $36,967, and Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party raised a staggering $2,935,008 and spent more than $3 million during that period.

The governing Progressive Conservatives only raised $1,522,581 in financial contributions during the election period and spent $4,663,202, running a deficit of more than $3 million.

It is important to note that these disclosures only include the funds raised by the political parties during the election. Individual candidates raised significant amounts during the election campaign.