Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita has been acclaimed as leader of the Alberta Party.
“As a compassionate leader and experienced community builder, I believe that a new, fresh approach to politics is what Albertans need right now and that the Alberta Party is the vehicle to drive that positive change,” Morishita said in a press statement released by the party.
Morishita was first elected to Brooks City Council in 1998 and became Mayor of Brooks in 2016 after previous mayor Martin Shields was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bow River.
He was elected President of the Alberta Urban Municipality Association in 2017 and was a vocal critic of the United Conservative Party government’s overhaul of municipal election laws, going so far as to describe relations between municipalities and then-Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu as “broken.”
This is not his first foray into provincial politics. Like other leaders of the Alberta Party, Morishita’s past political experience was as a member of another political party.
He ran for Nancy MacBeth‘s Alberta Liberals in Strathmore-Brooks in 2001, placing second with 15.5 per cent of the vote behind Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Lyle Oberg. He had previously been active with the Liberal Party as a delegate to the convention that chose Laurence Decore as party leader in 1988.
He also made a $300 donation to the PC Party in Strathmore-Brooks in 2014.
The small moderate conseravtive political party broke through into the Legislature in 2015 when leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in his youth, was elected in Calgary-Elbow. Despite growing its popular vote, the party was shut out of the Legislature in 2019 under the leadership of former Edmonton mayor and PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel.
The Alberta Party has languished in obscurity since the 2019 election, with interim leader Jacquie Fenske, a former PC MLA from Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, holding the reins until a permanent leader was named.
According to a report from the Morinville News, former Morinville Mayor and past AUMA President Lisa Holmes and former Battle River-Wainwright PC MLA Doug Griffiths are part of Morishita’s transition team.
The challenges facing Morishita and his party are steep:
Make his party relevant. Rachel Notley‘s NDP have led in the polls since November 2020 and have a commanding lead in fundraising. It is going to be challenging for the Alberta Party to convince Albertans who want Jason Kenney out of the Premier’s Office that they are the credible alternative.
Winning a seat in the next election and getting his party back into the Legislature. Brooks-Medicine Hat will be the natural place for Morishita to run but it will be an uphill climb to win in the lopsidedly conservative voting district currently represented by UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo.There will also be a by-election held in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next six months following the resignation of Laila Goodridge, who is running in the federal election.
While much of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta focused on Canadian politics, one of my favourite courses covered a topic far away from the prairies – the Habsburg Monarchy. It was a combination of an unfamiliar topic and a passionate professor that made this course memorable. So my interest was piqued when the words “South Tyrol” began circulating in Alberta political circles this week.
“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province? South Tyrol has” asked Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post linking to a website showcasing facts about the autonomous province in northern Italy.
I expect many German-speaking South Tyroleans would probably prefer to re-join their linguistic cousins in Austria than remain in Italy.
I am not sure which other province or region Alberta would join if we adopt what might be Pitt’s version of an autonomous-province. Perhaps Frederick Haultain’s dream of a Province of Buffalo could be finally be realized if Alberta merged with its smaller cousin to the east, Saskatchewan? Or maybe British Columbia’s Peace Country will finally be released to unite with its northwestern Alberta cousins?
But Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is certainly whittling down the number of possible candidates.
Stephan apologized to the Legislative Assembly this week after describing other Canadian provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” in a speech about federal fiscal policies and equalization program.
The rookie MLA and sole UCP backbencher appointed to the powerful Treasury Board committee also claimed that “Alberta must liberate itself from this mess.”
While Alberta is not going to separate from Canada, the final report from the government-appointed Fair Deal Panel will include recommendations to increase provincial autonomy from Ottawa.
The panel and its open-mic town hall meetings were both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep control of the latest burst of separatist fervour. The separatist fervour from Alberta’s right-wing fringe, despite the media attention it generated, now appears to have mostly died out.
The panelists included former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, Peter Lougheed‘s son Stephen, and perennially disgruntled UCP backbencher MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat and fellow backbenchers Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis and Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. The panel was tasked with making recommendations on topics including withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency, opting out of federal programs like pharmacare, forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer, and forming a provincial police force.
The NWMP had been created in 1873 and was part of the federal government’s suppression of the North West Rebellion in 1885, but, by 1917, Ottawa’s attention was focused on the First World War and there was little federal interest in enforcing provincial prohibition laws that had been enacted in 1916.
The APP merged into the RCMP in 1932 following negotiations between the provincial and federal governments during the Great Depression. The agreement to offload the costs associated with policing to the RCMP stipulated that former provincial police officers who transferred to the federal police would maintain their seniority and be eligible to receive pensions in accordance with their years of service.
When officers hung up their blue APP uniforms on April 15, 1932, it was reported in the Calgary Daily Herald that it took more than a month for the red RCMP uniforms to arrive in Alberta. So during the short period following the return of the federal police, RCMP officers worked in civilian clothes or, for those who worked as police in Alberta before 1917, wore the uniforms of the old NWMP.
While Alberta politicians have generally expressed pleasure with contracting policing responsibilities to the federal government, there have been several attempts to reinstate a provincial police force.
The next notable attempt to reinstate the APP came in 1937 from Edson MLA Joseph Unwin, the Whip of the Social Credit government caucus. Unwin introduced a motion to abolish the RCMP in Alberta and replace it with an Alberta Provincial Police Force.
Unwin argued that it was preferable that “the police force in the province should be indisputably at the exclusive orders of the attorney general.” Given this comment and the context of the time, it is fairly safe to speculate that Unwin was hoping to create a police force that would enforce the Social Credit ideological and political agenda in Alberta.
Unwin introduced the motion the same week he was arrested on charges of libel and counselling to murder in what would become known as the Bankers’ Toadies scandal.
Unwin and British Social Credit expert George Frederick Powell were arrested when police raided the party headquarters following the printing of a pamphlet advocating the “extermination” of nine prominent Edmontonians. The nine men, labelled as “Bankers’ Toadies,” included Conservative Party leader David Duggan and Senator and former mayor William Griesbach.
Unwin was sentenced to 3-months hard labour for the libel charge, which was later overturned on appeal. He did not resign as an MLA when he went to jail and his return to the Legislature was celebrated by Social Credit MLAs with a “snake dance” on the floor of the Assembly.
Various PC MLAs called for the creation of a provincial police force during the 1980s and early 1990s but most of those calls were quickly discredited because they were usually followed closely by racist comments about RCMP officers wearing turbans or speaking French.
Anti-oil patch activist Wiebo Ludwig called for the creation of a provincial police force during his brief run for the Social Credit Party leadership in 2000 before having withdraw from the race after a judge refused to waive the conditions of his bail.
Motions recommending the creation of a regional police force or to make public studies conducted to assess the creation of a provincial police force were introduced by Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in 2003 and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol in 2004 were debated in the Legislature but gained no real traction.
Premier Ed Stelmach defeated Morton in the leadership race and signed a 20-year agreement with the federal Conservative government that would have the RCMP continue as Alberta’s police force until March 31, 2032.
“This is wonderful news for the province and for Albertans,” Stelmach said in an August 2011 press release. “This agreement makes good financial sense for Alberta and strengthens a valuable relationship with a partner who continues to play a key role after more than a century keeping Alberta communities safe.”
The Fair Deal report will have to be publicly released before we know for sure what it recommends, but a move to create a new provincial police force in 2020 would face two powerful political factors
First, systematic racism and police violence against people of colour in the Canada and the United States has led to mounting calls to “defund the police.” Massive protests calling out systematic racism have taken place across the country, including a 15,000-strong rally outside the Legislature in Edmonton and similar rallies in Calgary and around the province. City councils and police commissions are now facing increased public pressure to reign in budgets and address systematic racism in the civilian police forces.
Second, Kenney has said that a great reckoning is coming for Alberta’s finances, which will likely mean more massive job cuts in the public sector across Alberta. If the Kenney is laying-off teachers and nurses, it will be difficult for him to explain to Albertans that he needs to spend money on creating a brand new police force. A lack of finances was the main reason why the provincial police were disbanded in 1932.
Creating a new provincial police force in this context would be incredibly tone deaf and completely unnecessary. But like many political decisions being made in Alberta lately, the world appears to be moving in one direction and our government moving in another. It kind of reminds me of those Habsburgs just over a century ago.
Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.
But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.
Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.
While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.
The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:
withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
creating an Alberta Constitution.
The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.
The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.
Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.
And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government.
The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.
The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:
Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommendsthat Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)
Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required).By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)
Police Force: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)
Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)
Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)
Our Future: “The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)
The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.
This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.
Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again
In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.
The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.
In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.
Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.
Mandel became leader of the centre-right Alberta Party in February 2018. He previously served as Mayor of Edmonton from 2004 to 2013 and as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and Minister of Health from 2014 to 2015.
The ban also applies to Mandel’s CFO, Brian Heidecker, who previously served as CFO for numerous PC Party candidates and for Doug Griffiths’ campaign during his 2011 bid for that party’s leadership.
Sources in the party tell me this decision was a result of missed deadlines or improperly submitted paperwork filed by the candidates and their CFOs with Elections Alberta following their nomination meetings.
If the court overturns the Elections Alberta decision, this is still a pretty embarrassing situation. But if the court does not overturn the ban, the Alberta Party may be scrambling to find a new leader with only a few weeks before an election call.
NDP CFO on the banned list
Also recently included on the list is the New Democratic Party‘s Director of Operations Will Gammon, who serves as Chief Financial Officer for 9 of the party’s nominated or soon-to-be nominated candidates and 18 of the party’s registered constituency associations. Gammon’s appearance on the list appears to a result of his role a CFO for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake by-election candidate Nicole Mooney, who is also now ineligible to run as a candidate for the next 5 years.
Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”
Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.
Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.
Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.
“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”
A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”
Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.
There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.
Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.
Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.
Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.
It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.
Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.
Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.
Voting for the UCP nomination will take place on October 25 and 26, 2018, only days before the fall session of the Legislative Assembly begins on October 29, 2018.This will mark first time Goodridge, and fellow rookie MLA Devin Dreeshen of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, will sit in the Assembly as MLAs.
The electoral boundary changes in northeast Alberta are significant. When the election is called, Fort McMurray-Conklin will be dissolved and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will be created, increasing the population of the district from around 26,000 to 44,166.
Richard Starke is considering running for re-election, but it is not clear whether the Independent MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster would run as an Independent candidate or join a political party before the election was called. Starke was elected as a Progressive Conservative in the 2012 and 2015, and would be expected to run for re-election in the new Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright district.
“I have not decided yet whether I will seek a third term as MLA,” Starke wrote when contacted. “If I run, it could be as an independent or I may seek a nomination for one of the parties. That decision will be made in due course; I have no timeline for any announcement.”
Starke is recognized by Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner as a Progressive Conservative MLA, but that recognition does not mean much outside the Legislative Grounds in Edmonton. He declined to join the UCP Caucus when the remaining PC Party MLAs joined the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus to form the new party in July 2017.
The remnant of the PC Party, which governed Alberta from 1971 to 2015, is now legally controlled by the UCP board of directors. This means, if he does decide to run for re-election, there is little to no chance Starke will be listed as a PC Party candidate on the ballot in the next election.
Starke would face at least seven challengers for the UCP nomination in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, including his Wildrose Party challenger from the previous two elections, the wife of a retiring UCP MLA, and another past PC Party candidate. It seems unlikely that he would cross to the NDP, but stranger things have happened.
One of Starke’s former colleagues, Doug Grittiths, will be delivering the keynote speech at the Alberta Party annual general meeting, being held on October 19 and 20, 2018 at the Edmonton Expo Centre.
Griffiths served as PC MLA for Wainwight from 2002 to 2004 and Battle River-Wainwright from 2004 to 2015, and served in cabinet with Starke as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Service Alberta. Griffiths endorsed Starke in the March 2017 PC Party leadership contest, as did former PC cabinet minister and current Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel.
The Alberta Party has seen its legislative caucus expand from 1 to 3 MLAs over the past year with the addition of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser, but the party has struggled to generate excitement among voters. Four public opinion polls released since April 2018 show support for the Alberta Party ranging from 5.1 percent to 11 percent province-wide.
Mandel has had a bit of a rough few weeks ahead of this annual meeting, first scrambling to explain to his party’s membership why he agreed to meet with the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, disqualifying Yash Sharma as the party’s nominated candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie, and defending a poorly delivered and tone-deaf comment about women in politics.
kd lang named to the Alberta Order of Excellence
Singer and song-writer kd lang has finally received the recognition she deserved this week as she was awarded to the Alberta Order of Excellence. The honour granted to to lang was praised by Premier Rachel Notley, who tweeted that she is “a trailblazer, opening doors and bravely championing many causes, including LGBTQ2S+ rights.” Notley’s congratulatory comments are a far cry from the backwards attitudes and actions of some Alberta MLAs twenty-five years ago.
In January 1993, Alberta PC MLAs blocked a motion to congratulate lang on her musical awards and achievements. Some rural PC MLAs were said to be annoyed at anti-beef comments she had made a few years before, but that was not the only reason. The Globe & Mail reported in January 1993 that some backbench PC MLAs said they did not support sending a message of congratulations to the singer because she had openly declared she is a lesbian.
“Frankly, it makes them look very bad,” said William Roberts, the Edmonton-Centre NDP MLA who introduced the motion to congratulate lang. “I think people would say there are a lot of narrow-minded people in Alberta.”
lang had only a short, cryptic message for her detractors at the time: “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”
Former party leader Greg Clark succeeded in generating significant media attention for the Alberta Party after the last election but the party struggled to raise money under Clark’s leadership. The party raised just over $50,400 in 2016 and $171,411 in 2017, compared to $1.7 million raised by the NDP in 2017.
As a well-known politician with strong ties to Edmonton’s business community, fundraising is not likely to be one of Mandel’s weaknesses. In his bid re-election as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud in 2015, Mandel’s campaign raised $268,965. And, if one upcoming fundraising event suggests, his network of supporters includes some big fundraising names from the old PC Party network.
Former PC Party fundraisers John Chomiak and Brian Heidecker, along with multi-party donor Marc de La Bruyère are the names included in a recent fundraising email soliciting the sale of $200 tickets to a reception with Mandel on April 11 in Edmonton.
Chomiak is an experienced fundraiser with deep ties to the now-defunct PC Party and past leadership candidates Ed Stelmach and Gary Mar. Heidecker served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership. de La Bruyère has made significant contributions to multiple parties in the past. According to Elections Alberta records, de La Bruyère donated $6,000 to the PC Party in 2015, $1,500 to the Liberal Party in 2016, and $4,000 to the Alberta Party in the final quarter of 2017.
The results of the first quarter of fundraising for 2018 should be released by Elections Alberta before the end of April.
Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.
In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.
With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.
Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.
As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.
According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.
With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.
Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.
McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.
Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.
Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).
As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:
Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.
Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.
The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.
Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.
Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.
Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.
“Rat-free, PST-free and Liberal-free” has been a Conservative mantra in Alberta since the reign of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But is this trifecta now in jeopardy?
The decline of government revenues caused by the drop in the price of oil has once again sparked the discussion around resource diversification and tax increases in Alberta. And with talk of economic doom and gloom, Premier Jim Prentice is managing expectations and preparing Albertans for the upcoming provincial budget and likely a Spring provincial election.
Will the budget include deep funding cuts or tax increases? Under most circumstances, deep budget cuts would be the natural choice for the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, but there is growing speculation that Mr. Prentice could be softening the ground for the introduction of a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) in Alberta.
At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government. Diversifying income sources with a five or six per cent sales tax could help soften the blow of the dreaded $7 billion gap that Mr. Prentice has warned will face the provincial budget if oil prices do not increase by next year.
Late last year, Mr. Prentice declared in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he would not consider introducing a PST, but the Premier has changed his tune in 2015, saying that everything is on the table.
In the aftermath of the last major economic downturn in June 2008, when the price of oil dropped from a high of $145 per barrel in July to a low of $30 per barrel in December 2008, PC cabinet ministers like Doug Griffithsopenly mused about PST. When prices increased, resource royalties once again poured in provincial coffers and Alberta’s political class moved away from the PST discussion.
Facing a decline in the price of oil in 1984, Premier Peter Lougheed publicly mused about introducing a sales tax, but did not act on it.
The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, introduced by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995, states that a referendum must be held before a Provincial Sales Tax can be introduced. The PCs have shown in the past that they have no problem sweeping away old laws like this one. In 2009, the PC government amended their much touted Fiscal Responsibility Act which prohibited deficit budgets in order to pass a deficit budget.
Relying on a boom-bust economy, a real lack of long-term financial planning has been the biggest weakness of the 43-year governing PC Party.
The introduction of a PST would be a bold and courageous move – one that could land Mr. Prentice in Alberta’s history books beside statesmen like Mr. Lougheed and Ernest Manning. And while under normal circumstances this would be a kiss of death to a Premier’s political career, we may now be witnessing a once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a sales tax.
The Wildrose Opposition is both leaderless and in complete disarray, and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals could have a difficult time protesting a move that could majorly diversify the government’s revenue stream. And with the departure of Derek Fildebrandt late last year, the local Tax Outrage Industry is lacking a major spokesperson.
As reported on David Climenhaga‘s blog, Conference Board of Canada chief economist Glen Hodgson also weighed in on Alberta’s tax dilemma: “Not having a provincial consumption or sales tax is highly popular and has been great politics, but it denies the provincial government a steady and stable source of revenue through the business cycle.”
To get a grasp of how embarrassingly low our tax rates current are in Alberta, Kevin Taft in his 2012 book, Follow the Money, says that Alberta could increase its tax rates by $11 billion and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.
Critics will argue that a sales tax would unfairly penalize low income Albertans, and they are right. The government should also scrap the short-sighted flat tax and return to a real progressive income tax system. Alberta is currently the only province with a Flat Tax, the odd-ball brain child of former Treasurer Stockwell Day.
While Albertans look with envy at Norway’s $900 billion petroleum fund, it could be decades before our government imposes meaningful increases in natural resource royalties. The PCs bowed to political pressure from the oil and gas industry and paid a significant political price when trying to implement meaningful increases to resource revenues in the late 2000s.
The strongest opposition to the introduction of a PST may come from inside the PC caucus. Many PC MLAs are said to be unconvinced that Albertans would support a PST, and the presence of 11 anti-tax former Wildrose MLAs in the government caucus could stiffen the opposition from within. Skeptical MLAs would probably be correct that they will receive a blowback from Albertans in the short-term, but the right decisions are not necessarily the most popular when they are initially implemented. And without a credible government-in-waiting, now could be the the only time the PCs could implement a PST.
Alberta should strive to remain rat-free forever, but on the revenue front, we need to break our dependency on resource revenues that cripple our provincial government each time there is a hiccup in the market.
The Progressive Conservatives gave hints today that they could be preparing for a Spring 2015 provincial election.
Reported by the Calgary Herald and confirmed by sources close to this blogger, the PC Party has set a deadline for candidates to be nominated in all 87 provincial constituencies by March 15, 2015. The Herald also reports that the PC Party has scheduled a “large number” of nominations to take place on February 21, 2015. The early nominations would put the PCs in a position to call an election in Spring 2015, and demonstrates the folly of the province’s fixed election laws.
The news of an updated nomination schedule was preceded by news that the PC Party was extending the expiry dates of all party memberships purchased in 2014 to December 31, 2015. In an email from PC Party president Terri Beaupre, party supporters were told that Wildrose supporters can now exchange their memberships for PC Party memberships. The PC Party is said to have sold just more than 40,000 memberships during its lacklustre 2014 leadership contest.
The quick nomination deadline will showcase the PC Party’s impressive organizational capacity, especially in the wake of the mass defection of Wildrose MLAs on December 17, 2014. By extending the membership expiry dates by one year, Albertans who purchased memberships last year will not need to be convinced to renew in order to vote in the 2015 candidate nomination contests.
March 15 will come quickly for some PC MLAs, especially the Wildrose floor crossers, who have barely had time to introduce themselves to their new local party members. Some new PC MLAs, like Danielle Smith, who is currently on vacation in Mexico, are expected to face strong nomination challenges from annoyed PC Party supporters in their constituencies.
It is suspected that former cabinet ministers, such as Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths and Fred Horne, can expect to be nudged aside in order to make room for new candidates as Mr. Prentice attempts to rebrand the long-governing PC Party in his own image.
The early election call will put the opposition parties in a tough situation.
Fresh from their own leadership contest, Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats have only nominated ten candidates in 87 constituencies. The Liberals and Alberta Party have not yet started their candidate nomination process. The Liberals had originally planned to hold their first nomination meeting for January 24 in Edmonton-Mill Woods, but cancelled the event soon after it was scheduled.
Numerous Wildrose candidates have withdrawn their candidacies, leaving the party with 16 nominated candidates since the floor crossings.
The March 15 date is also perilously close to the earliest date the leaderless Wildrose Party has set to select its new leader, March 17. Rumours circulated on social media today that offensive conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders is considering running for the official opposition party’s leadership. Mr. Anders candidacy would be a blessing for the PCs and a deathblow for the Wildrose.
Financial disclosures submitted to Elections Alberta are expected to be released in the coming weeks and will reveal the financial situation of Alberta’s political parties. The Tories will report to have raised a considerable sum of money in 2014, as will the Wildrose Party, which is said to still have $300,000 in their election war chest.
With March 15 less than two months away, Mr. Prentice may seek to use the Spring provincial budget as an election platform, as the PC Party has in the past. Relying on a disorganized opposition and using hyperbole to fan fears of an economic downturn, Mr. Prentice is in a strong position to lead his party to win its 14th consecutive election.
This is a stunning turnaround from six months ago, when the PCs were rocked by an endless string of scandals and were trailing the Wildrose Party in the polls and in fundraising. The PC Party’s apparent recovery serves as an important reminder to political watchers not to underestimate the 43-year governing PC Party.
The mass-floor crossing, encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning, could increase the likelihood of an early 2015 general election. Now with 72 MLAs, the PCs are in a position to quickly nominate candidates across the province and take advantage of an opposition in disarray by calling a snap election early in the new year.
With Premier Jim Prentice increasingly warning of Alberta’s tough economic times, it is not far fetched to believe the PCs could seek a new mandate earlier than the 2016 fixed-election period. There is suspicion that Mr. Prentice wants to take advantage of the low price of oil in order to impose budget cuts before the price exits the “price trough” and begins to rise.
NDP MLA Brian Mason and blogger David Climenhaga suggest a snap election could be called in early January 2015, but it could be more likely the Tories would wait until February or March.
In their 43 years in government, it has been common for the PCs to table a provincial budget in February or March and then immediately drop the Writ of election in order to use the budget as their de-facto campaign platform. This timeline would also allow for an early 2015 cabinet shuffle to make room for floor-crossers Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, and allow the Tories time to build their message around a “tough economic times” budget/campaign platform.
Mr. Prentice may also want to hold an election before more information is released by the R.C.M.P. regarding their investigation into Ms. Redford and her staff. The CBC reported on November 4, 2014 that a Justice Department internal review concluded Ms. Redford could face criminal charges if allegations about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.
The possibility of an early election should be a wake-up call for Alberta’s fractious non-conservative opposition parties, who are mostly contained within Alberta’s two largest cities. The lack of conservative vote split that the New Democrats, Liberals and Alberta Party had hoped to capitalize on may have vanished the moment Ms. Smith crossed the floor.
One potential speed bump to an early election could be dissent within the PC Caucus to the Wildrose MLA floor-crossing. I am told that more than a few PC MLAs are not pleased with their new colleagues of convenience, who have spent the past two years attacking and embarrassing them as the opposition. If Mr. Prentice suspects this internal dissent is potentially explosive, he may decide to hold off an election until tensions inside the PC Caucus cool down.
It is yet to be seen if the hostility to the PC-Wildrose Caucus merger – including the RecallDanielle campaign – will die down or whether it will manifest itself into a real backlash at the polls. This could have a big impact on whether an early election is held. The defection has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Albertans, but the political maneuver removes the most likely alternative that voters had to send a message to the Tories.
Despite having the luxury of a government-in-waiting for the past two years, it appears that the PC Party are once again are on a trajectory to form another massive majority and extend the their 43-year reign.
Many of the party’s now-former MLAs were already nominated to run under the Wildrose banner in the next election. Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and Rick Strankman have been nominated to run in the next election.
And Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw‘s intentions remain unknown. It is suspected that Mr. Saskiw was waiting until after the Lakeland federal Conservative nomination to make a decision about staying in the Wildrose Caucus. His wife, past Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs, won the nomination late last week.
It is also likely that some of the already nominated Wildrose candidates will re-think their decision to run under that party’s banner in the next election. I am told that Edmonton Catholic School District Trustee Laura Thibert dropped out as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods earlier this month.
The NDP have nominated 10 candidates, not including their four MLAs and the Liberals have not yet started their candidate nomination process. Two Liberal MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, are leaving provincial politics to run as federal Liberal candidates in next year’s federal election.
Of the floor-crossers, none have publicly declared their plans to run for re-election as PC candidates, but many will try. And despite Mr. Prentice’s promised pledge of endorsement for their candidacies, the new PC MLAs could still face nomination challenges from their former opponents on the constituency level.
In Calgary-Shaw, arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler has already announced plans to seek the PC nomination, challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson.
ATTN #wrp Calgary Shaw members. You are welcome to help on my nomination campaign to defeat Jeff Wilson in the #pcaa nomination #ableg
Wikipedia defines a Gay-Straight Alliance as student-led organizations that are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.
Here is a simple timeline following the ongoing provincial debate around these student clubs in Alberta schools:
“Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
A coalition of 31 Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs vote down Motion 503. Nineteen Liberal, NDP and PC MLAs, including PC anti-bullying Minister Sandra Jansen vote in favour of the motion.
October 15, 2014: Liberal MLA Laurie Blakemanannounces plans to introduce a private members’ bill to mandate school boards to develop policies to support students who start a gay-straight alliance in their schools by offering meeting space and benefits given to other clubs.
November 15, 2014: At the party’s annual policy convention, Wildrose members reject a ‘definitive’ statement on equality. Party members voted against adopting as policy a statement affirming the rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences.
November 22, 2014: Attending the annual Gay-Straight Alliances conference at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson speaks in favour of Bill 202. “People don’t all come in the same shapes and sizes, colours and genders so it is important that a space everyone is compelled to go to as part of their education makes space for everyone,” Mr. Iveson told reporters.
November 27, 2014: At a hastily called press conference, Mr. Prentice declares that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he plans to introduce his own bill dealing with Gay-Straight Alliances. Arguing in favour of ‘parental rights,’ Mr. Prentice says his bill will allow school boards to decide whether GSAs should be allowed. If students are turned down, Mr. Prentice says they can take legal action against their school boards. It is suspected that Mr. Prentice’s bill was not yet written at this time.
December 2, 2014: Bill 10 passes second reading and procedurally removes Bill 202 from the legislative order paper. Forty-two PC and Wildrose MLAs vote in favour and 9 opposition MLAs, including Ms. Blakeman, Ms.Smith, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman, vote against the bill.
Only one PC MLA, Thomas Lukaszuk, votes against it. “I simply do not believe in incremental granting of human rights,” Mr. Lukaszuk told the media. “We didn’t give women half a vote, we gave them a full vote during the suffrage debate.”
Ms. Jansen introduces an amendment that opposition parties say will simply segregate gay students and move their support groups out of schools entirely. “That student now does not have to go to the court, they come to the Alberta ministry of education and we provide that GSA for them, and hopefully within the school environment,” Jansen said in the Assembly. “But if that is impossible, we’ll make sure they get that GSA regardless.” Education Minister Mr. Dirks was silent during this debate and Mr. Prentice was not in attendance.
The amendment passes with the support of 38 PC MLAs, including Mr. Dirks. PC MLAs Doug Griffiths, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Lukaszuk join with 14 opposition MLAs and vote against the amendment. PC MLA Jason Luan spoke against Bill 10, but was absent during the vote on the amendment.
December 4, 2014: Former PC MLA and Senator Ron Ghittertells the Calgary Herald he is disappointed in the “backwards” legislation put forward by Mr. Prentice’s government to deal with the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools.
BT Edmonton host Ryan Jespersen uses his platform on the popular morning television program to castigate PC MLAs for their support of Bill 10.
Popular artists Tegan and Sarah published a post on their blog against Bill 10 and well-known Canadian entertainer Rick Mercer also takes aim at Mr. Prentice’s Bill 10 and his position on gay rights.
“Rights are never absolute,” Prentice told reporters. Nice ring to it Jim maybe that should be on the licence plate. #Bill10#cdnpoli
A number of PC Party members announce their resignations from positions in their party in opposition to Bill 10. Calgary-Bow PC association President Josh Traptowannounced he resigned in order to speak out against Bill 10. Former Calgary City Council candidate Chris Harper announced on Twitter that he left the PC Party and resigned from his local PC constituency association. And Brenda Meneghetti, campaign manager for former leadership candidate Ken Hughes, announced she has left the PC Party because of Bill 10.
After facing four-days of widespread opposition and condemnation, Mr. Prentice announces at a hastily arranged press conference that he is putting Bill 10 on hold and that is postponing the third reading vote on the controversial bill.
“Bill 10 has added to, rather than resolved these divisions, and I accept personal responsibility for that as the premier,” Mr. Prentice told reporters. Following Mr. Prentice’s backtrack on Bill 10, Ms. Blakeman announced plans to ask the Legislature to resurrect her original Bill 202.
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.