Turner’s victory in 2015 was not an anomaly in Edmonton, as the New Democratic Party swept every seat in the city and region, but it was his strong second place finish in the October 27, 2014 by-election that foreshadowed the rise of the NDP in Edmonton. The by-election was held after long-time PC MLA and former deputy premier Dave Hancock was abruptly shown the door when Jim Prentice became premier in 2014.
In a statement released earlier this week, Turner described his main goals and achievements since becoming an MLA. “From the beginning, I spoke about the need to move forward in building Nellie Carlson School, with upgrading the Misericordia Hospital and eliminating flavoured tobacco,” Turner wrote.“I’ve been proud to see all of these goals accomplished.”
A respected hematologist and oncologist at the University of Alberta Hospital and Cross Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine and Oncology at the University of Alberta, Turner was the perfect fit for this district, which includes some of Edmonton’s most affluent neighbourhoods. His departure is not shocking, as Turner turned 70 years old this year, but his retirement does mean this could be one battleground district to watch in next year’s election.
Rakhi Pancholi, a lawyer with McLennan Ross LLP, plans to seek the NDP nomination to run in Edmonton-Whitemud in the next election. Pancholi’s legal experience includes working as the staff lawyer for the Alberta School Boards Association and as a Solicitor with the Government of Alberta before joining McLennan Ross, which is known in the world of labour relations as an employer-friendly law firm.
Pancholi is the former director and adoptions coordinator for the Humane Animal Rescue Team and has volunteered with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre and the Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town, South Africa.
Pancholi already has the support of a popular progressive elected official representing the area, Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz. It was rumoured that the NDP were courting Janz to run for the provincial nomination following his landslide re-election in October 2017. But he is now expected to endorse Pancholi in her bid to become the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud.
A date for the NDP nomination meeting has not yet been announced.
With an election expected to be called in spring 2019, the NDP have begun to announce what is expected to be a flurry of nomination meetings to be held in the first few months of 2019.
NDP members will select candidates in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin on January 8, 2019, Morinville-St. Albert, Spruce Grove-Stony Plain, and Sherwood Park on January 10, 2019, Calgary-Cross on January 17, 2019, Calgary-Peigan on January 19, 2019, Edmonton-Castle Downs on January 23, 2019, Calgary-Bow, Calgary-Shaw and Highwood on January 26, 2019, Airdrie-Cochrane on January 31, 2019, Camrose and Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville on February 2, 2019, and Cypress-Medicine Hat on February 9, 2019.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was dancing up a storm in front of thousands of Edmontonians at the capital city’s Pride Festival Parade on Saturday. The annual march travels down Whyte Avenue in the heart of Notley’s Edmonton-Strathcona district.
Notley was joined by dozens of Alberta NDP MLAs and Olypmian Jen Kish. Kish was captain of Canada’s Women’s Sevens Team at Rio 2016 where they won bronze in the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament.
The United Conservative Party held its own event a few blocks away. After being declined a spot to march in the parade, UCP leader Jason Kenney announced that instead of attending the parade or other pride events, his party would hold its own event. The event featured speaker Lorne Mayencourt, an openly gay politician who represented downtown Vancouver in the BC Legislature from 2001 and 2009 and was a federal Conservative candidate in 2008.
As a professional politician Kenney is a master at schmoozing his way into all kinds of events, so it is unlikely he did not show up just because he was not allowed to march in the parade. Kenney is a social conservative whohasspentmuchof his 21-year long career in elected office opposing LGBTQ rights in Canada and he appealed to social conservatives in order to win the leadership of the UCP last year.
Perhaps not surprisingly, even though he did not attend the event, Kenney has strong opinions about the Pride Festival Committee deciding not to include police and military in future parades.
With an election coming up in early 2019, and Kenney’s UCP holding a solid lead in the polls, it might be unlikely we’ll see another Premier dancing in the streets anytime soon.
The bill pulls ‘Political Action Committees’ under the Election Finances and Contribution Disclosure Act by expanding the activities covered in the Third Party Advertisers section beyond just advertising. If passed, the law would now cover typical PAC activities, such as selling memberships, fundraising, collecting or compiling information about voters, and other administrative activity for a party, candidate, leadership contestant or nomination contestant.
The bill would limit individual PAC spending to $150,000 on political activities in the three months ahead of Alberta’s fixed election period and to $150,000 during the election period. Only $3,000 of the $150,000 would be able to be used to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in any one electoral district.
“Simply put, our bill is a better bill and will do a better job of getting dark money out of politics,” Khan said in a press release responding to Bill 32.
As an expanded list of PAC-type activities now fall under the province’s election finance laws governing third party advertisers, it is my understanding that all donations to registered PACs will be disclosed to Elections Alberta, eliminating the ‘dark money‘ element of PACs in Alberta.
Bill 32 also makes a number of amendments to the Election Act, including the ability of Elections Alberta to collect information of 16 and 17-year-olds in order to automatically register them to vote when they turn 18, extend advance voting by one day, and improve mobile voting stations.
Gray’s Bill 32 also incorporates some changes around government advertising during election periods that were included in a private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman in 2015.
With only three days remaining in the Legislative session, it is expected this bill will pass third-reading before MLA’s break for the holiday season on Thursday, December 7, 2017.
Alberta Party leadership race extended
We have heard a lot of talk but have not seen much activity in the Alberta Party leadership race since current leader Greg Clark announced he would step down 25 days ago. The party released the rules of its leadership race on December 4 and, perhaps realizing the clock is ticking, moved the date of the leadership vote from February 7 to February 27.
– The Wildrose Party constituency association in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hillspassed a motion calling for Brian Jeanto face a leadership review at the party’s annual meeting in Red Deer on October 28 and 29, 2016. That constituency is represented by MLA Dave Hanson, who was one of the 9 Wildrose MLAs who signed an article comparing carbon pricing to genocide. Postmedia reports that Mr. Hanson was present at the constituency meeting where the motion was debated but did not speak in Mr. Jean’s defence or vote on the resolution. Similar motions are expected to be proposed by a number of other Wildrose constituency associations.
Late last month, pressure from party activists and MLAs inside his caucus forced Mr. Jean to back down from his attempt to suspend Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus.
Mr. Jean received 78 percent support in a leadership review following last year’s provincial election, which appears to mean little now as elements within his party are openly challenging his leadership.
– The Progressive Conservatives will be choosing a new leader before April 30, 2017. Party President Katherine O’Neill will chair the leadership race and former premier Dave Hancock will act as a senior advisor to the Leadership Election Committee. Cynthia Williams and Krista Balsom will co-chair the Delegate Convention & Debates Subcommittee. A motion introduced by Ms. Williams at the PC Party’s recent convention led to the adoption of a delegate system to choose the new leader.
– The Alberta Liberal Party executive board appointed Calgarian Nirmala Naidooand Edmontonian Kevin Feehan as the co-chairs to oversee their leadership campaign scheduled for 2017 (Mr. Feehan is the brother of Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA and Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Feehan). The next Liberal Party leader will be selected by a system that counts votes through a constituency-based point system. Calgarian Russell Scantlebury appears to be the only candidate openly campaigning for the position.
– The Alberta Party is holding its annual general meeting on June 11 to elect a new board of directors and debate constitutional amendments. One proposed amendment would limit future leadership candidates to those who have been a “member in good standing of the Party for at least one (1) year prior” to the candidate nomination deadline. The amendment would allow the board of directors to waive this requirement by a super-majority vote.
– It is not a leadership change or challenge but this motion might set off some fireworks at this weekend’sNew Democratic Party convention in Calgary. Members of the Edmonton-Calder NDP association in the constituency represented by Education Minister David Eggen‘s are expected to introduce the following motion for debate: Be it resolved that the Alberta NDP urges the Provincial Government to discontinue advocacy or promotion of specific pipeline projects while stakeholders such as First Nations communities,Metis settlements, farm owners, and municipalities have expressed objections to a pipeline project being built through or terminating on their land.
Since entering office last year, Premier Rachel Notley has become a strong advocate for oil pipelines and has taken a more diplomatic approach to pipeline advocacy than her predecessors.
One key moment was an April 14, 2015 rally held for Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice at a community hall in the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency, where PC MLA Stephen Mandel was running for re-election. The area had been a Tory stronghold since the 1997 election, when Dave Hancock was first elected, and voters in the area had chosen former mayor Mr. Mandel in a by-election only five months earlier.
The mid-afternoon event was well-organized and attracted a respectable crowd of about 250 supporters, candidates and party stalwarts into a hall in an affluent southwest Edmonton neighbourhood. It was a fairly typical political event, but it was an exchange at the tail-end of the rally convince me that the PC Party’s once-mighty campaign machine was running on fumes.
After a fairly unremarkable speech about his party’s commitment to fixing the problems it created in the health care system, Mr. Prentice remained on stage to take questions from the media. There had already been big signs of trouble on the campaign trail but his answer and the crowd’s response to the final media question convinced me that the PC campaign machine was running on fumes.
Over the course of the campaign Mr. Prentice had been harshly critical of the NDP election promise to review Alberta’s natural resource royalty structure and raise corporate taxes from 10 percent to 12 percent.
When asked if he would ever review royalties [note: the question was about either royalty rates or the corporate tax structure, I can’t remember for sure], Mr. Prentice delivered the most politically-mushy and non-commital answer I have ever heard: [paraphrased] ‘perhaps maybe sometime in the future my government might consider reviewing the structure.’
As soon as he delivered his response a forced cheer erupted from the party staffers in the back of the room and spread through the crowd of supporters, drowning out any further media questions and signalling an end to the official event program.
The crowd’s cheer was completely unenthusiastic. It was not the kind of answer that anyone would actually cheer. And it was undoubtably the wrong note on which to end a political rally.
If the PCs were unable to rally enthusiasm into a crowd of supporters in Edmonton-Whitemud, arguably the most loyal conservative area of the capital city, it was clear that Mr. Prentice’s party was in deep trouble in Edmonton.
On May 5, 2015, the NDP swept the Edmonton region, and Bob Turnerdefeated Mr. Mandel with 12,805 votes to 7,177 votes.
Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede is a must-stop destination for political leaders of all stripes and all levels of government. The event also provides a good historical marker of how quickly the political winds of change can sweep through Alberta.
Now to this year’s Stampede, Rachel Notley is Premier of Alberta and there are 53 NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislative Assembly (including 15 from the Calgary area), a former Member of Parliament named Brian Jean leads the Wildrose Official Opposition, former Calgary alderman Ric McIver leads a 9-MLA PC Caucus, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark is an MLA, and Mr. Prentice has disappeared from the political landscape.
The changes that took place between the two Stampedes are an important reminder about how quickly political change can happen, even in a province that is known for turning political parties into governing dynasties.
With the October 19 federal election less than four months away, it is also an important reminder to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper that even voters in the Canadian conservative movement’s spiritual homeland cannot be taken for granted. That thought must have crossed Mr. Harper’s mind as he met with Ms. Notley for the first time this week in Calgary.
The provincial election win has boosted the NDP’s credibility and organizational strength, especially in Edmonton, but it is not clear how this will translate in the federal election. Ms. Notley’s win has created opportunity for the federal NDP in Alberta, especially for candidates like Janis Irwin in Edmonton-Griesbach and Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona. As Tom Mulcair‘s federal NDP focus their resources in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, it is to their advantage to put the Conservatives on the defensive in Alberta, a situation that has not happened very often.
The Conservatives are still expected to hold most of Alberta’s ridings in the upcoming federal election but the NDP and Liberals could make gains in the major urban centres.
The truth is that federal Conservatives have always taken Alberta voters for granted, and they have had reason to. Albertans have not elected more than 2 non-conservative MPs in any federal election since 1993. The Conservatives even held all 28 of the province’s federal ridings between 2006 and 2008.
With a federal election fast approaching and and increasingly stale government approaching ten years in Ottawa, the Conservatives may need to spend more time campaigning in Alberta in the next few months, or else there could be a whole new cast of federal politicians wearing plaid shirts and cowboy boots at next year’s Calgary Stampede.
One year ago, the PC Party was on verge of meltdown as Alison Redford resigned as leader and Premier. Since then, the political landscape has shifted so dramatically that the only significant thing that remains the same is the PC Party is still in government and will almost certainly extend its 44 year reign in the upcoming spring election.
Jim Prentice is being praised as a saviour by conservatives for turning around his party’s electoral fortunes, but he is no magician. Like each of his predecessors over the past 44 years, Mr. Prentice’s goal is to ensure the PC Party remains in government. And also like these predecessors, he is succeeding.
Introduced into the Assembly by former minister Dave Hancock, the unnecessary and probably unconstitutional Bill 45 was part of Ms. Redford’s attack on public sector workers. The bill was passed with the support of 33 PC MLAs and one Wildrose MLA in December 2013 but was never proclaimed into law (five Wildrose MLAs, two New Democrats and one Liberal voted against it). If made into law, it would have significantly increased the fines for public sector strikes and made it illegal for any person to publicly suggest that government employees take job action.
The bill also appeared to give significant powers to the Minister of Human Services to issue fines to government employees if there has even been a hint of discussion about an illegal strike or strike threat.
Killing Bill 45 is only one step in repairing the government’s damaged relationship with its front-line workers. Five months ago, Mr. Prentice said he found low morale and high turnover in the public service “shocking.” But with Finance Minister Robin Campbell warning of 9 percent across the board funding cuts in next week’s provincial budget, it is difficult to see how Mr. Prentice plans to change this situation.
It remains embarrassing that so many of our elected officials supported this bill, but today Mr. Prentice deserves some kudos for committing to repeal Bill 45.
Wildrose Party leadership candidates Drew Barnes, Brian Jean and Linda Osinchuk will be guests on the next AbVote Google Hangout on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Tune in to abvote.ca at 7:00 p.m. and ask questions to the candidates using the #abvote hashtag on Twitter.
The Progressive Conservatives held their first “Super Saturday” on Feb. 21, 2015, during which contested nominations were held in seven constituencies. The handful of contested PC nominations have been overshadowed by the nearly forty acclamations by incumbent PC MLAs across the province.
The Liberal Party, still without a permanent leader after Raj Sherman‘s abrupt resignation in Jan. 2015, has opened candidate nominations in all 87 constituencies and have made notice on their website that all Liberal nominations must be complete by March 1, 2015. If the Liberals are actually able to nominate candidates in all 87 constituencies in the next seven days, it will be a busy week on this blog.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland defeated former Wildrose nomination candidate Dixie Dahlstedt in the PC nomination. Some local party members complained about the lack of multiple voting locations in the rural constituency and the police were called to the voting station after an allegedly intoxicated man caused a disturbance. A Municipal District of Bonnyville councillor told the Cold Lake Sun that alleged he was the man removed by the RCMP and he was not intoxicated. Current PC MLA Genia Leskiw is not seeking re-election.
Calgary-Buffalo: Lawyer David Khan will seek the Liberal nomination in this downtown Calgary constituency. Buffalo is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Centre, and has elected Liberals in six of the eight elections held since 1986. Mr. Khan was his party’s candidate in the 2014 Calgary-West by-election where he earned 8.5% of the vote.
Calgary-Bow: David Gamble is seeking the Liberal nomination. According to his Facebook Page, Mr. Gamble is the President and CEO of Dandly Writing and Communications.
Calgary-Cross: Seven candidates are seeking the PC nomination in this northeast Calgary constituency – Dan Singh Sidhu, Mohamed El-Rafih, Jesse Minhas, Manjit Jaswal, Hardeep Rai, Hirde Paul, and Bill Kahlon. The constituency has been represented by PC MLA Yvonne Fritz since 1993. She is not seeking re-election.
Calgary-Currie: Pat Murray is seeking the Liberal nomination. Mr. Murray was the Liberal Party candidate in Calary-Currie in the 2001 election and Calgary-North Hill in 2004 and 2008 elections. He also ran as a federal PC candidate in Calgary-Nose Hill in the 1997 federal election.
Calgary-Foothills: Electrical engineer Ali Bin Zahid is seeking the Liberal nomination to run against Premier Jim Prentice in the next election.
Calgary-Glenmore: David Waddington is the nominated Liberal Party candidate.
Calgary-Hawkwood: Beth Barberee has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Calgary-McCall: Realtor Avinash Khangura is seeking the Liberal nomination. The constituency is currently represented by Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is now the federal Liberal candidate in the Calgary-Skyview constituency.
Calgary-Mountain View: Former MLA Mark Hlady defeated Mr. Prentice’s former Chief of Staff Jean-Sebastien Rioux and Lynn Moen in the PC nomination. Mr. Hlady was the MLA from 1993 until 2004, when he was unseated by the current Liberal MLA, David Swann.
Calgary-North West: First-term PC MLA and former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen defeated past city council candidate Blair Houston in the PC nomination.
Calgary-Varsity: Stephanie McLean was nominated as the NDP candidate in this northwest Calgary constituency. Ms. McLean was the NDP candidate in the recent Calgary-Elbow by-election and is also her party’s federally nominated candidate in Calgary-Confederation. Paramedic Pete Helfrich is the nominated Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Helfrich ran for the Liberals in Banff-Cochrane in the 2012 election.
Chestermere-Rockyview: Jamie Lall is challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Bruce McAllister for the PC nomination. Mr. Lall was his party’s 2012 candidate in the Calgary-Buffalo constituency.
Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview: First-term NDP MLA Deron Bilous has been acclaimed as his party’s candidate in the next election.
Edmonton-Calder: Ministerial Chief of Staff Tom Bradley has been acclaimed as the PC candidate in this northeast Edmonton constituency current represented by NDP MLA David Eggen. Mr. Bradley is currently the Chief of Staff to Infrastructure Minister Manmeet Bhullar and also served as Base Commander for CFB Edmonton from 2009 to 2011 and Chief of Operations for Task Force Kandahar in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008.
Edmonton-Meadowlark: Steve Benson is challenging former Globe & Mail reporter Katherine O’Neill for the PC nomination. Former Catholic School District Trustee Debbie Cavaliere is said to been collecting signatures to contest the Liberal nomination. In 2008, Ms. Cavaliere challenged Raj Sherman in the Meadowlark PC nomination contest before withdrawing, switching parties and unsuccessfully running against him in that year’s election as the Liberal candidate. Dr. Sherman, who joined the Liberals in 2011 after becoming leader, is not seeking re-election.
Edmonton-Strathcona: NDP leader Rachel Notley has been acclaimed as her party’s candidate in the next election. Former NDP MP Olivia Chow is scheduled to speak at Ms. Notley’s nomination meeting on March 1, 2015.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Tracy McKinnon, chairperson of the Fort McMurray Catholic School District, is challenging first-term PC MLA Mike Allen for that party’s nomination. Mr. Allen achieved national notoriety in 2013 when he was charged in a prostitution sting while on government-funded trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He pleaded guilty to the charge in December 2013 and paid a $500 fine and court costs. Following the incident, he sat as an Independent MLA until July 2014, when PC MLAs voted to allow him to rejoin the Government Caucus.
Medicine Hat: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Blake Pedersen defeated former city councillor John Hamill and realtor Jeff Lanigan. Mr. Pedersen faced harsh criticism form his opponents in a recent nomination debate. “I will die on my sword before I cross the floor… people who cross the floor have no honour,” Mr. Hamill said of Mr. Pedersen.
Peace River: Debbie Jabbour is seeking the NDP nomination.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Tammy Cote defeated former Lacombe County Reeve Terry Engan in the PC nomination contest. Ms. Cote is the grand-niece of former PC MLA and lieutenant-governor Helen Hunley.
Spruce Grove-St. Albert: Rus Matichuk defeated former St. Albert city councillor Neil Kortash and government spokesperson Kathleen Range to become the PC candidate. The constituency was formerly represented by former Finance Minister Doug Horner, who resigned as MLA on Jan. 31, 2015.
Seven more PC MLAs have been acclaimed, bringing the total number of acclaimed PC candidates to 39: Moe Amery in Calgary-East, Dave Rodney in Calgary-Lougheed, David Dorward in Edmonton-Gold Bar, Steve Young in Edmonton-Riverview, Jacquie Fenske in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Greg Weadick in Lethbridge-West and Richard Starke in Vermilion-Lloydminster.
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.
Sending a strong message that he just might not trust his party’s MLAs to act unsupervised, Premier Jim Prentice held a press conference shortly after the vote and publicly ordered his PC MLAs to backtrack on their decision to reinstate the Auditor General funding. This move served to redirect the public focus from cuts to the Child and Youth Advocate and on the cuts to the Auditor General.
Mr. Prentice’s directive removes the thin veneer of “committee independence.” It was always assumed that PC MLAs received their marching orders from the Premier’s Office, but typically those types of dispatches are sent from the 3rd floor before the committee meetings, not after the votes have already been counted.
Not one of the Progressive Conservative MLAs on the committee, including former Wildrose MLAs Gary Bikman and Jeff Wilson, had the fortitude to defend the decision they made last week. Only NDP MLA David Eggen and Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman voted against the funding cut.
And now, because of Mr. Prentice’s orders, both the Auditor General and Child and Youth Advocate will face budget cuts this year.
Looking past the thick-rhetoric of “tough economic times,” the Office of the Auditor General is probably the last office of the Legislature that should have its funding cut. As Mr. Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell plan to impose a 9% across the board budget cut, the Auditor General should have the funding available to audit the financial statements and the systems of government.
With an election expected within weeks, the 43-year long governing PCs are likely cautious of any further scandals or critiques that a fully-funded Auditor General could uncover.
This is not the first time the PCs have cut funding to the Auditor General.
In 2009, then-Auditor General Fred Dunn announced the delay or cancellation of 27 out of 80 planned system and financial audits due to lack of financial resources. At the time, backbench PC MLA Jonathan Denis (now Justice Minister) was quoted as justifying the lack of funding to the Auditor General by defending that year’s one-year MLA pay freeze. [editor’s note: Alberta is always in tough economic times]
The announcements this week by former Finance Minister Doug Horner and former Health Minister Fred Horne that they are leaving politics did not come as a surprise to anyone watching politics in Alberta.
Once powerful ministers in Premier Alison Redford’s cabinets, the two men were pushed into the backbenches when Jim Prentice ascended to the Premier’s Office in September 2014. They were also two members of the unofficial 4H Club who, along with former ministers Dave Hancock and Ken Hughes, epitomized the last generation of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party elite.
The scion of a genuine political family dynasty, Mr. Horner is the son of former deputy premier Hugh Horner and grandson of Senator Ralph Horner. He was first elected in 2001 and quickly rose in the cabinets of Premier Ed Stelmach and Ms. Redford.
When he ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2011, many believed Mr. Horner to be the most competent choice for the job. But his close association with Mr. Stelmach made him an unpalatable choice. On the second ballot of the vote, of his supporters marked Ms. Redford as their second choice, leading to her victory over front-runner Gary Mar on the final ballot. His appointment as Finance Minister followed shortly after.
Their endorsements of Mr. Prentice’s bid were not enough to keep them in cabinet. After two years of arrogant, entitled and scandal-ridden Tory Government, their removal from cabinet was seen as necessary to distance the new premier from his unpopular predecessor.
The two departures follow the resignations of Mr. Hancock and Mr. Hughes in September 2014, which triggered by-elections in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-West.
Eight MLAs have now announced their plans to not seek re-election in the expected Spring 2015 election:
In my nearly ten years writing about politics in Alberta on this blog, 2014 was easily the most exciting. The sheer number of scandals, controversies, fumbles and resignations made for new content on a daily basis. If I had the time and resources, I could have easily written three or four posts a day for most of the year. As this year comes to an end, I took a look through this year’s posts and compiled a list of the top ten political moments in Alberta of 2014. Thank you for reading and enjoy the list.
10. Take a hike, Rob Anders
After 17 years as one of the most hyper-conservative politicians in Ottawa, Member of Parliament Rob Anders was finally shown the door by Conservative Party members. In April 2014, Mr. Anders lost a hotly contested Conservative Party nomination race in Calgary-Signal Hill to former Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Liepert. His second attempt at a nomination was in the rural riding of Bow River outside Calgary, where Mr. Anders was defeated by Brooks Mayor Martin Shields.
9. Auditor General on Climate Change A July 2014 report from Auditor General Merwan Saher found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy, which was first implemented in 2008. The report uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy. Mr. Saher’s report found that the total emissions reductions from the CCS program was expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated. The Auditor General also reported that Alberta was unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.
5. Liberal near win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca
What should have been a sleepy federal by-election in the heart of Alberta’s Oil Belt turned into a race when Liberal Kyle Harrietha challenged Conservative David Yurdiga for the June 30, 2014 vote to replace retiring MP Brian Jean. Running an energetic campaign, Mr. Harrietha increased his party’s support from 10% in 2011 to 35.3%, placing less than 1,500 votes behind Mr. Yurdiga. The Liberal also defeated his Tory challenger in Fort McMurray, no small feat in the land of the oil sands. The two candidates will face off once again in the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding when the next federal election is held in 2015.
4. The October mini-election Four by-elections on October 27, 2014 provided Albertans with a mini-election less than two months after Mr. Prentice became premier. Triggered by the resignations of former premiers Ms. Redford and Mr. Hancock and PC MLAs Ken Hughes and Len Webber, the votes allowed Mr. Prentice to win a seat in the Assembly along with PC candidates Stephen Mandel, Gordon Dirks and Mike Ellis. The opposition Wildrose had hoped to win at least two of the by-elections, but were upstaged by the NDP in Edmonton-Whitemud and an insurgent Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.
3. Jim Prentice becomes Premier
After a first-ballot victory in a lack-lustre and uninspiring leadership contest, Jim Prentice started his time in office with a bang. After being sworn-in, Mr. Prentice implemented a swift de-Redfordization agenda, with daily announcements undoing some of his predecessors more unpopular policies and decisions. Purging Redford era cabinet ministers, selling the government’s fleet of aircraft, keeping the Michener Centre open, backing down from controversial changes to public sector pension plans and cancelling the botched license plate redesign were all no-brainers, but they projected an image of the new premier as a competent chief executive in command. Arguably, Mr. Prentice’s only missteps in his first few months in office were his aborted Gay-Straight Alliances bill and the unease caused after he tactfully dismantled the Official Opposition (see #2 below). Despite his success in distancing himself from Ms. Redford, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same as hers.
2. Wildrose floor crossings
For four years, PCs told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. But in November and December 2014, Mr. Prentice’s PC Caucus accepted 11 Wildrose MLAs into their ranks, including Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. The caucus merger, which was either in negotiations for months or sparked by the Wildrose by-election loss (depending on which story you believe),was encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning (Mr. Manning later apologized for his role). The floor crossing gutted the Official Opposition, left with 5 MLAs and enraged Wildrose supporters, who started a “Recall Danielle” campaign in her Highwood constituency. Five-term Calgary MLA Heather Forsyth stepped in as interim leader until a permanent leader can be chosen in 2015.
1. The spectacular fall of Alison Redford
“Mistakes were made” were some of the last public words Albertans heard from premier Alison Redford before she resigned as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in August 2014. Albertans have never seen a political career crash and burn this badly. A $45,000 flight to South Africa, use of the government plane to return from Palm Springs, alleged fake passenger bookings to ensure her and her staff had the planes to themselves, a secretly constructed private penthouse known as the Skypalace, and long trips to exotic destinations overseas are just some of the allegations of misuse of power she faced prior to her resignation. Months after her resignation, the Auditor General reported the existence of an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office.”
Alberta’s first woman premier started her time in office with great promise and many Albertans believed she signalled the beginning of a new, more progressive, era in our province. Ms. Redford quickly proved those believers wrong with deep funding cuts to colleges and universities and attacks on public sector workers and their collective bargaining rights.
On October 7, 2011, Alison Merrilla Redford stood in front of a large crowd of her peers and power-brokers in the Legislature Rotunda as she was sworn-in as Alberta’s 14th Premier.
Having won the October 1, 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest with 37,101 votes to 35,491 for second-place Gary Mar, Ms. Redford became Alberta’s first woman Premier and fifth consecutive PC Party Premier. Leadership candidate Doug Horner, who would serve as her Finance Minister, played a large role in directing his supporters to vote for Ms. Redford on the final ballot vote.
There is little doubt that October 7, 2011 was a proud day for Alberta and one that, for many Albertans, represented hope for positive change in our province’s politics. We were told to expect immediate action on critical and a new style of government from the long-governing PC Party.
What a difference 2 years and 167 days can make.
Amid scandal, broken promises and a caucus revolt, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014 and as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow on August 6, 2014. She was replaced by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, who served until Jim Prentice was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014.
Liberals announce by-election candidates
In more recent news, the Liberal Party announced its candidates in two Alberta by-elections. Robert Prcic will be that party’s candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election and David Khan in the Calgary-West by-election. Mr. Prcic was his party’s 2012 election candidate in Calgary-North West, where he earned 6% of the total vote.
A recent email from the Liberal Party revealed the party was prioritizing their resources behind candidates in two other by-elections – Susan Wright in Calgary-Elbow and Donna Wilson in Edmonton-Whitemud.
With provincial by-elections in Alberta’s two biggest cities expected to be called soon, opposition parties are gearing up to challenge two unelected cabinet ministers running under the Progressive Conservative banner.
Dates for the by-election votes have not been scheduled and a third by-election for Premier Jim Prentice is also expected to take place. Mr. Prentice is expected to run in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.
By-elections are risky for incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a message without changing government. These votes will provide the first indications whether Albertans are satisfied with Mr. Prentice’s ability to rebrand the scandal-plagued 43-year old PC Party Government.
Trigged by the resignation of former Premier Alison Redford, this by-election has been described as “ground zero” by the opposition Wildrose Party. Many of the neighbourhoods in this constituency were devastated by last year’s floods and I am told that many locals remain disappointed with the provincial government’s response in repairing the damage. Not surprisingly, many residents also remain very disappointed with the performance of their former PC MLA.
Newly appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, has been acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Mr. Dirks is a former Calgary school trustee and Saskatchewan PC MLA. His appointment to cabinet was a surprise to most political watchers.
Conservative activist Pat Walsh had announced plans to seek the PC nomination, but stepped aside last week to clear the way for Mr. Dirks’ acclamation. But this week, in a strange move, Mr. Walsh has endorsed Wildrose candidate John Fletcher.
Mr. Fletcher is a retired Canadian Forces Colonel and is a candidate the Wildrose believes can defeat the unelected Education minister.
The Liberals are looking to candidate Susan Wright to regain some of their former support in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberals won the constituency in a 2007 by-election to replace Mr. Klein, but lost it Ms. Redford the following year. While the Liberals have had a strong base of support in the constituency in previous elections, the party’s support plummeted in 2012. This by-election will test whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are a viable political force in Calgary.
This will be Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s second time running as a candidate in Calgary-Elbow, but this time he will have the support of celebrity political strategist Stephen Carter (formerly of the PC Party) and former Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan. The Alberta Party briefly held a seat in the Assembly before the 2012 election, when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-Currie, joined their ranks. Mr. Clark hopes that he can become his party’s second-ever MLA.
Sure to cause a stir among die-hard New Democrats is Ms. McLean’s endorsement of popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign to become the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre.
I am told that the Green Party of Alberta has decided not to run a candidate in this by-election. It is unclear why they are sitting it out.
Constituency Association Net Assets, Calgary-Elbow, 2013 Progressive Conservative: $207,972.97 Wildrose: $72,625.47 Liberals: $540.79 NDP – $0 Alberta Party: $2,465.16
The PC Party’s longest-held constituency in Edmonton, Edmonton-Whitemud was represented by former Premier Dave Hancock from 1997 until his resignation last week.
Newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69, has been acclaimed as the PC candidate. The former three-term Edmonton Mayor remains popular among many Edmontonians and it is unclear whether he will face any serious challengers.
So far, the only candidate to step up to challenge him is Alberta Party President Will Munsey. An amiable character, Mr. Munsey ran under his party’s banner in the Leduc-Beaumont constituency in the last provincial election and as a Green Party candidate in Vegreville-Wainwright in the 2011 federal election.
The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate, but I am told that the party is working hard to recruit a former Edmonton Liberal MLA to run in the by-election. Similar to Elbow, the Whitemud by-election will test whether Dr. Sherman’s Liberals can regain their former strength in Edmonton.
As far as I am aware, no candidates have publicly declared their intentions to seek the Wildrose or NDP nominations at the time this column was published.
UPDATE: In the comment section of this blog, Dr. Bob Turner announced that he will be the NDP candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.
Constituency Association Net Assets, Edmonton-Whitemud, 2013 PC = $32,366.72
Liberal – $1,528.40
NDP – $286.77
Alberta Party: $1,171.76
Alberta politics fact: While located in two different cities, the constituencies of Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud both include some of Alberta’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Both have also been represented by two Premiers (Elbow by Ralph Klein and Ms. Redford, and Whitemud by Don Getty and Mr. Hancock).
The strength of any long-ruling political party is the ability to reinvent itself under new leaders and changing circumstances. After 43-years in power, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association has successfully rebranded itself under five leaders, in many cases by attacking the political record of its previous leadership.
Alberta’s seventh PC Party Premier, Jim Prentice, set about this week distancing himself from some of the more unpopular decisions made by the government when it was led by his predecessor, Alison Redford.
Former Premier Dave Hancock resigned from the Legislature, instead risk spending his final years in office without a seat at the cabinet tables.
Selling the fleet of government planes, a symbol of the entitlement of the previous regime, was a political no-brainer. Use of the government planes by the former Premier to fly from a vacation home Palm Springs and to long-weekends in Jasper, as well as ‘false passengers,’ shocked even the most cynical Albertans.
Forcing MLAs and government staff to use commercial airlines frees the government of reporting its own public flight logs, but does not solve the root problems of political entitlement inside the current government.
Cancelling the botched license plate redesign was an easy win. An obvious political ploy to remove the long-standing ‘Wild Rose Country‘ slogan from the back of every vehicle in Alberta, the great license plate debate was a strange distraction from the summer’s MLA travel and Skypalace scandals.
On the international front, Redford appointee Gary Mar, who was named Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong after losing the 2011 PC leadership contest, is being replaced when his contract expires next year. Career diplomat Ron Hoffman will replace him.
But despite campaigning to “end entitlements”, Mr. Prentice has chosen former Ottawa colleagues Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill as Alberta envoys abroad. Mr. Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. and Mr. Hill, a Calgary-based lobbyist and co-chair of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign, will be Alberta’s “Senior Representative in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North and to the New West Partnership.”
Proroguing the Legislature for a new fall session of the Legislature allows for a new Speech from the Throne and provided an opportunity for the government to ditch the unpopular Bill 9 and Bill 10.
The two bills, introduced by Mr. Horner, would have imposed without consultation, an overhaul Alberta’s public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers rallied against the bills, making backbench Tories nervous about the next election.
Next on the list, Mr. Prentice is expected to make an announcement about the status of Red Deer’s Michener Centre today. Given the theme of this week’s announcements, it would not be surprising to hear the new leader reverse, or slow down, the facility’s closure.
Undoing some of the previous leader’s unpopular policies will steal away some of Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith‘s key talking points, but it will not be enough. CBC reported yesterday that Alberta’s chief medical examiner, Anny Sauvageau, is alleging political and bureaucratic interference in the independence of her office. And questions remains about irregularities in the PC leadership vote that selected Mr. Prentice on September 6.
And, despite the attempts to distance himself from the previous leader, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same.
White-washing Ms. Redford’s time in office might be enough to help the Tories win the next election, but, like other world parties that have held near uncontested power for decades, many of the serious problems facing the PC Party and its government are deeper than any one leader.
As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.
But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.
Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.
Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.
As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.
Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).
How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.
Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.
During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.
Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.
The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.
On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.
Unelected Cabinet Ministers
Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.
Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skinwhen he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.
Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.
It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.
Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?
Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).
Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.
The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.