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Alberta Politics

How the Heritage Fund was launched

It was 1975 and Lougheed’s PCs were swimming in oil money like Scrooge McDuck

The Heritage Savings Trust Fund was front and centre in Premier Danielle Smith‘s pre-budget televised speech last week, so there’s a good chance Albertans are going to hear a lot about it when Finance Minister Nate Horner rises in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon to table the provincial government’s annual budget.

In her 8-minute address to Albertans, Smith said she wants to funnel oil and gas royalty revenues into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to increase it to between $250 and $400 billion by 2050. A report to the Standing Committee on the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund reported the fund had a market value of $21.6 billion in 2023.

Many Albertans know the patriotic version of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund story – a visionary rainy day bank account created in the 1970s by former premier Peter Lougheed meant to preserve Alberta’s oil wealth for future generations. But like many political stories that reach legendary status it is missing a lot of relevant historical context.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta NDP leadership candidates consider splitting from the federal NDP

NDP members should remember there is no easy fix. Just ask the Alberta Liberals.

This action reflects the isolationist politics of Alberta, but more importantly it is the result of the deep, deep malaise at the top end of the federal party. There is the little Toronto power group which throws the ball back and fourth to each other – they feed off each other.

That was a quote from an Alberta Liberal activist attending the party’s convention in Calgary where members of the seatless party voted two-to-one to break ties and declare provincial independence from the Liberal Party of Canada led by Prime Minister Trudeau.

That was in February 1977.

Fast forward to today and, although the circumstances are different, you might hear something similar come from the mouth of an Alberta NDP member when talking about the provincial party’s relationship with the federal NDP in Ottawa.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s transgender youth policy isn’t really about parental rights

“Parental rights” has a long history in Alberta and it’s not what it sounds like

When you write about politics for long enough you begin to notice certain themes and issues that pop up perennially year to year.

So when Premier Danielle Smith’s office released a 7-minute video last week laden with messages about parental rights, my mind immediately wandered back to the first time I heard that term in 2006.

Those were heady days to be a political writer in Alberta. The Ralph Klein era was coming to an end and there was a whiff of change in the air.

From the Progressive Conservative backbenches came a private members’ bill that, under the guise of parents rights, would force schools to notify parents anytime school material included a mention of same-sex marriage and that no student be required to attend or teacher be required to teach that part of the course. This was less than one year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta NDP announces pre-Calgary Stampede leadership vote

Race to replace Rachel Notley starts on Feb. 5, new leader to be named on June 22. Yahoo!

If you had told me ten years ago, on January 30, 2014, that the perceived frontrunners for the Alberta NDP leadership race in 2024 would be the MLAs for Calgary-Mountain ViewEdmonton-Glenora and Edmonton-Whitemud, I probably would have laughed. Ten years ago today, Rachel Notley was nine months away from becoming NDP leader and none of these ridings would have even been on that party’s radar as winnable at that point.

Probably the most believable prediction from a decade ago might have been that then-Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith would be Premier in 2024, but there’s no way anyone back then could have predicted her path to the Premier’s Office today.

It’s hard to imagine a modern NDP in this province without Notley at its helm. She took the party from the fourth place fringe to government and solidified it as a political force in Alberta. As the NDP prepares to choose her successor, it’s even hard to compare the current version of the NDP to its pre-Notley version.

That’s a reality that NDP members from across Alberta are having to come to terms with after debating and discussing the leadership race at Red Deer Polytechnic last weekend.

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Thank you.

Thank you to everyone who has read, subscribed and shared my Daveberta Alberta politics columns.

I truly appreciate the support and feedback I’ve received from readers and subscribers since I first started publishing my Alberta politics column on Substack last year.

I’m excited to announce that we will be launching Season 7 of the Daveberta Podcast in the next few weeks with some exciting guests. I’m looking forward to returning the podcast to a regular monthly schedule in 2024.

And, in case you missed it, be sure to read my recent columns about the 10 things I’m watching in Alberta politics in 2024 and how Rachel Notley made the NDP relevant in Alberta politics.

Thanks again,

Dave

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Alberta Politics

10 things I’m watching in Alberta politics in 2024

From the price of oil to the influence of right-wing populist groups to the NDP leadership race and more

January is usually a quiet month in politics, making it a good time to look ahead at what to expect in the year to come. Here are ten things I will be watching that could have a big impact on Alberta politics in 2024:

1. Price of oil

Alberta is probably the only province where the international price of oil is at the top of the Premier’s daily briefing notes. The price of oil not only has a big impact on a lot of Albertans’ jobs, but also the provincial government’s revenue stream.

Relying heavily on the price of oil to pay for the day to day operations of public services, the Alberta government’s 2023/2024 budget projected as much as 25 percent of its revenue will come from oil and gas royalties.

If we go into this coming fiscal year starting April 1 with $72 per barrel, that might put the government into a situation where they either have to revise their spending plans or face a modest deficit,” University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe told CBC.

In Alberta, governments live and die by the price of oil.

2. Influence of right-wing populist and separatist groups

Without a doubt the influence of populist and separatist groups has grown in Alberta politics in recent years. Nowhere is this more pronounced than inside the governing United Conservative Party since Danielle Smith became Premier in October 2022 after riding the wave of populist discontent that pushed out former premier Jason Kenney.

In the closing months of 2023, newly elected UCP President Rob Smith spent nearly two hours on a livestream hosted by Alberta Prosperity Project CEO Chris Scott and past Independence Party of Alberta candidate Kerry Lambert.

The APP has advocated for the creation of a Republic of Alberta and is currently calling for a referendum on Alberta’s independence from Canada. Scott gained notoriety in conservative circles during the COVID-19 pandemic when his restaurant in the central Alberta hamlet of Mirror remained open in contravention of public health rules.

Also, in the final days of 2023, the UCP highlighted an endorsement from University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper in its year-end fundraising pitch on social media. Cooper has compared Alberta to pre-revolutionary colonial America in 1775 and has called for a referendum on separation from Canada. He is also a co-founder of the Free Alberta Strategy, an autonomist documentchampioned by Premier Smith’s Chief of Staff Rob Anderson.

And, on January 24, Smith will host and interview American media personality and conspiracy theorist Tucker Carlson at an event in Calgary that has been promoted by the APP and other influential right-wing groups like Alberta Proud, and Take Back Alberta (which is reported to be under investigation by Elections Alberta).

3. The race to replace Rachel Notley

It is hard to imagine the modern Alberta NDP without Rachel Notley, but she announced last week that she will not lead the NDP into the 2027 election and will step down as leader when her successor is chosen, likely later this year.

The leadership race jockeying has already begun, with at least five MLAs sending signals that they plan to run: Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, and Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse.

The NDP Provincial Council will meet on January 27 to discuss timelines and rules for the leadership race. The winner of the race will lead the 38-MLA NDP Caucus into 2025 and the party into the 2027 provincial election.

I am planning to write a lot more about this leadership race in the weeks and months to come.

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Alberta Politics

Rachel Notley made the NDP relevant in Alberta

Notley announces she won’t lead the NDP into the next election, kicking off a leadership race

It’s the end of an era in Alberta politics. Former premier Rachel Notley announced today that she will not lead the Alberta NDP into the next election.

Alberta politics hasn’t been the same since Notley won the leadership of the NDP almost ten years ago.

When the 3,589 votes were counted on October 18, 2014, Notley won 70 percent of the vote and assumed the leadership of a party that was in fourth place with 4 MLAs and hadn’t won a seat outside of Edmonton in 25 years.

That all changed in Spring 2015, when Notley and her NDP slayed the 44-year old Progressive Conservative dynasty and shattered the mould of Alberta politics.

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Alberta Politics

Janis Irwin voted Best Alberta MLA for fourth year in a row

Advanced Education minister Rajan Sawhney voted best cabinet minister

With thousands of submissions and votes cast over the past two weeks, the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2023 Survey have been selected.

Best Alberta MLA: Janis Irwin

Always a fan favourite, for the fourth year in a row Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin has been voted the Best Alberta MLA.

A savvy communicator, Irwin (and her internet famous cat, Oregano) has a huge social media following and is widely considered one of the hardest working constituency MLAs in the province.

Her reputation has led to invites to speak at NDP conventions across the country, including at the recent federal NDP convention in Hamilton and the BC NDP convention in Victoria.

After Irwin was re-elected to a second term last May, she took on a new role as housing critic in the expanded 38-MLA official opposition caucus, which has placed her on the forefront of one of the biggest political issues of the year.

“Across the province, I hear from single parents, young professionals, seniors, students and dual-income families who are struggling to afford 20, 30, even 50 per cent increases to their rent,” Irwin recently wrote in the Calgary Herald.

Responding to the huge spike in rental costs in Alberta, she introduced Bill 205: Housing Statutes (Housing Security) Amendment Act, 2023, which would establish a two-year temporary rental cap at 2 per cent, followed by a two-year rental cap tied to inflation, and increase reporting requirements to ensure the government is meeting its intended housing targets.

“Everyone deserves a place to call home,” Irwin said at the press conference announcing the private member’s bill. “However, many Albertans are experiencing the impacts of the housing crisis, reflected in the steep increases to rental costs across the province.”

Just this past week she walked the talk on housing when she spoke compassionately against the Edmonton Police Service’s plans to forcibly decamp hundreds of Edmontonians just days before Christmas in what is likely the city’s largest encampment sweep ever. Many of the people who live in those camps are constituents in the inner city riding she represents.

“The UCP government must be able to guarantee a safe place for every person impacted before police take action,” Irwin said. “We must stop criminalizing poverty as a province and a community. We can’t enforce our way out of the housing crisis.”

Best Alberta Cabinet Minister: Rajan Sawhney

Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney (source: Rajan Sawhney / Facebook)
Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney (source: Rajan Sawhney / Facebook)
For a second year in a row Rajan Sawhney has been voted Best Alberta Cabinet Minister.

Sawhney was new to politics when she was first elected in 2019 but quickly distinguished herself as a strong performer in a largely rookie cabinet and surprised many political watchers when she launched a campaign for the leadership of the United Conservative Party in 2022. She was eliminated after the second ballot but that didn’t end up hurting her political prospects.

After initially bowing out of the recent election after one term as MLA for Calgary-North East, she jumped back into the campaign when cabinet minister Sonya Savage announced she wouldn’t run again in Calgary-North West.

Sawhney’s decision to run again played a big role in helping the UCP hold on to the seat, and her cabinet experience ensured a significant role for her in the re-elected but reduced UCP government.

Now, as Minister of Advanced Education, she has proved herself to be competent and skilled at calming a ministry that caused considerable controversy during her UCP predecessor’s time in the role.

Sawhney also demonstrated independence from the UCP’s most radical wing by pushing back when delegates at the recent United Conservative Party annual general meeting voted in favour of government cutting financial support to post-secondary institutions that refuse to eliminate offices of diversity, equity, and inclusion (frequently referred to as DEI).

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Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2023

You shared your picks. It’s now time to vote for the top 3.

With more than a thousand submissions made in the annual Best of Alberta Politics survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote for the top 3 choices in each category.

Voting for the top 3 will be open until Dec. 17 at 8:00 p.m. and the winners will be announced on December 19.

This is the seventh annual edition of this survey and it is all about celebrating the best in Alberta politics, so if there is a person who doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories who deserves some kudos, please send me an email and let me know.

Thank you and good luck.

Dave

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Alberta Politics

Best of Alberta Politics 2023 survey

It’s that time of year again. I am thrilled to launch the seventh annual Daveberta Best of Alberta Politics survey. It has been a big year in Alberta politics so I am excited to hear from you about the big political players and issues of 2023.

Submit your choices in seven categories.

  • Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2023?
  • Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2023?
  • Who was the best Opposition MLA of 2023?
  • Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2024?
  • What was the biggest issue of 2023?
  • What was the best political play of 2023?

And this year I am pleased to reintroduce a special post-election category:

  • Who was the best candidate who didn’t win in the 2023 election?

Submissions will close on Dec. 10, 2023 at 8:00 p.m. and the top three choices in each category will be included in a round of voting starting on December 12. Voting for the top 3 will be open until Dec. 17 at 8:00 p.m. and the winners will be announced on December 19.

This survey is all about celebrating the best in Alberta politics, so if there is a person who doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories who deserves some kudos, please send me an email and let me know.

Thank you and good luck.

Dave

PS. Check out the winners of the six annual Best of Alberta Politics Surveys going back to 2017.

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Alberta Politics

The race to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP

Choose wisely. Notley’s successor could be the next Premier of Alberta

Rachel Notley has been one of the Alberta NDP’s greatest assets since she took up the reins of the party in 2014. Under Notley’s leadership, the NDP went from a small and scrappy opposition party to form government in 2015 and then solidify itself as a viable political force and the singular opposition to the United Conservative Party after 2019.

And after 9 years as the helm of the Alberta NDP she helped transform, it’s likely she will not lead them into the 2027 election.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith hosts Alberta’s largest call-in talk show: the United Conservative Party

Any good talk radio host understands that the show doesn’t belong to the host, it belongs to the listeners. And if this past weekend’s annual general meeting is any indication, talk radio host-turned-Premier Danielle Smith might be taking a similar approach as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Aside from a nod to protecting parental rights during her keynote speech, Smith largely stood out of the way as more than 3,700 delegates packed into Calgary’s BMO Centre to vote on party policy and elect a new executive board. It was an impressive crowd and probably the largest provincial political convention in Alberta’s history.

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Alberta Politics

Nate Horner’s hooked on a pension feeling

More confusing messaging about the Alberta Pension Plan

As Alberta’s United Conservative Party government continues its big $7 million advertising push to convince Albertans to leave the Canada Pension Plan and start a separate Alberta Pension Plan, Finance Minister Nate Horner told CTV’s Vassy Kapelos that the province’s decision on whether or not to hold a referendum on leaving the CPP will be based on a “high level feeling from many sources.”

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s post-election honeymoon is over

The seasons are changing and it’s not just the weather – the political seasons are changing too.

The first snow has fallen and the cold north winds are blowing across Alberta. The seasons are changing and it’s not just limited to the weather – the political seasons are changing too.

Five months after the 2023 provincial election, Alberta’s politicians will be back in the provincial capital on October 30 to start the first substantial sitting of this Legislative Assembly. MLAs met shortly after the election to choose a Speaker for the new Assembly (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper) but this fall’s session will see Premier Danielle Smith’s re-elected United Conservative Party government introduce its legislative agenda.

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Alberta Politics

Look who’s running in the UCP AGM Board elections

What to make of Take Back Alberta, the Unity Slate, and everybody else on the ballot.

With the United Conservative Party’s November 3 and 4 Annual General Meetingfast approaching, the party’s Board of Director elections are a major focus of attention.

The UCP board is the governing body of the organization and is made up of seventeen elected directors, party leader Premier Danielle Smith, and two non-voting MLAs who serve as Caucus liaisons. The two MLA spots, which are chosen through a vote of UCP MLAs, are currently filled by Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely and Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson.

Half of the UCP director positions are up for election this year and the sweeping success of the slate of candidates backed by the social conservative Take Back Alberta group at last year’s AGM has fuelled a lot of speculation about what might happen in this election.

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Alberta Politics

Net-zero a no-go for Alberta’s UCP government

Never a dull week in Alberta politics

Fresh from launching a pro-Alberta Pension Plan advertising campaign, the Alberta government has launched another advertising campaign asking Canadians to email their Member of Parliament to encourage them to oppose the federal government’s draft Clean Electricity Regulations (most Alberta MPs are Conservatives, so they are probably already opposing it).

The government’s “Tell the Feds” ad campaign warns that electricity prices could quadruple and Albertans could face blackouts during -30C temperatures if the draft federal regulations are adopted.

Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz, MLA for Calgary-Shaw and 2022 UCP leadership race candidate, has been the government’s point-person in opposing the draft federal regulations.

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