Despite running for the United Conservative Party leadership in 2017, Schweitzer bowed out of this year’s race after endorsing Premier Jason Kenney in the June leadership review. He announced soon after that he would not seek re-election as MLA but his sudden resignation announcement at least eight months ahead of the next election comes as a surprise – and opens the possibility of a by-election in Calgary-Elbow before the next general election.
It would be the third by-election in Calgary-Elbow in the last 16 years – the others being held because of the resignations of former MLAs (and premiers) Ralph Klein in 2007 and Alison Redford in 2014.
The 2007 by-election shocked political watchers when Liberal Craig Cheffins won, and in 2014, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark narrowly lost to Calgary school trustee and former Saskatchewan MLA Gordon Dirks. Clark defeated Dirks in the election the following year but was defeated by Schweitzer in 2019.
Already seen as a possible pick-up in the next election, the Alberta NDP nominated energy analyst Samir Kayande and have poured resources and volunteers into the riding to support his bid.
The Alberta Party has chosen lawyer and former Liberal Party leadership candidate Kerry Cundal to carry their banner, and her candidacy will be a test of how much of the party’s support in 2015 was a credit to Greg Clark’s personal popularity.
Mark Calgary-Elbow down on your list of ridings to watch.
Former Mayor running for NDP nomination in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain
Former Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec is the second candidate to enter the NDP nomination contest in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain. Shaigec joins former Spruce Grove City Councillor and mayoral candidate Chantal Saramaga-McKenzie in the race.
“We need responsible and accountable government that puts Albertans and communities first. We need an honest, hard-working leader whose integrity is beyond reproach – that leader is @RachelNotley,” Shaigec wrote on Twitter.
Sonya Savage has been acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Calgary-North West. Savage was first elected in 2019, succeeding NDP MLA Sandra Jansen, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and 2015 but crossed the floor to the NDP in 2017 and became Minister of Infrastructure. Jansen did not run for re-election in 2019.
Savage has served as Minister of Energy since 2019 and is co-chair of Travis Toews’ leadership campaign.
Before her election, Savage was known as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association but many years before that she was a PC Party activist.
“The philosophy we’re looking for is somebody who’s very conservative, less government, more individual responsibility, but also somebody who is progressive who’s backing the unity deal. We want to hear how they’re going to renew and urbanize the party,” said Savage, then known as Sonya Nerland, to Calgary Herald reporter Joan Crockatt on Sept. 19, 1992.
Savage ended up backing Energy Minister Rick Orman in the 1992 leadership race, along with future premier Jim Prentice, who was Orman’s campaign chair.
Orman placed third in the race and dropped out before the Dec. 2, 1992 second ballot to endorse Nancy Betkowski.
Savage would later co-chair Orman’s second campaign for the PC Party leadership in 2011. Orman dropped out after placing fifth on the first ballot and endorsed Gary Mar, who was then defeated by Alison Redford (who was the PC Party Youth President ten years before Savage).
(Am I the only one who’s starting to feel like Alberta politics is just a rotating cast of 20 characters?)
Lawyer Andrea James is running for the United Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Elbow.
James holds law degrees from the University of Calgary, the University of Houston, and a master’s degree in Tax Law from the Osgoode School of Law at York University. She is a founder and principal of Jamesco LLP, a boutique corporate and tax law firm.
Current UCP MLA Doug Schweitzer has announced he will not seek re-election. The NDP nominated energy analyst Samir Kayande and the Alberta Party named lawyer Kerry Cundal as its candidate. Before Schweitzer’s election in 2019, the riding was represented by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark.
Former County Councillor challenging MLA Michaela Frey in Brooks-Medicine Hat
Nesbitt is a former County of Newell councillor, constituency assistant for a former MLA Lyle Oberg and is a member of the UCP board of directors in the southeast Alberta riding. Nesbitt was defeated by Arno Doerksen in a bid for the Progressive Conservative Party nomination in Strathmore-Brooks in 2008.
The NDP nominated retired teacher Gwendoline Dirk and the Alberta Party nominated its leader and former Brooks mayor Barry Morishita.
Prasad Panda nominated in Calgary-Egmont
Prasad Panda secured the UCP nomination in Calgary-Egmont. The newly appointed Transportation Minister first entered cabinet in 2019 and was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in the Calgary-Foothills by-election held after former premier Jim Prentice resigned on election night in 2015. He was re-elected in the redrawn Calgary-Egmont in 2019.
Panda previous ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Northern Hills in 2012 and 2015.
The NDP nominated Julia Hayter as its candidate.
Horsman and Sherman jump into UCP leadership race
There are two more candidates declaring their plans to enter the UCP leadership race: former Alberta Treasury Branches Vice President Jon Horsman and former PC MLA and Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman.
The first-term MLA and former UCP leadership candidate issued a Victoria Day statement announcing that he will be stepping out of elected politics when the next election is called. He is the first UCP cabinet minister to announce plans to leave office in 2023.
Largely shying away from social conservative issues embraced by some of his colleagues, he was widely named as someone who could take up the mantle of the business conservative-style candidate for the UCP leadership.
Schweitzer was first elected in 2019 by defeating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. He won with 44 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for Clark and 23 per cent for Alberta NDP candidate Janet Eremenko (who is now nominated as the NDP candidate in the neighbouring Calgary-Currie).
Premier Jason Kenney chose him as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General when the first UCP cabinet was sworn-in and shuffled him to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation in 2020.
This leaves an open race for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, a riding that is considered competitive in the next election.
The NDP are putting their hopes in energy analyst Samir Kayande and lawyer and former federal Liberal Party candidate Kerry Cundal recently announced she will be running for the Alberta Party nomination on May 29.
The riding has been somewhat of a swing-riding for the past 15 years after Liberal Craig Cheffins won the 2007 by-election to replace former premier Ralph Klein, who had represented the south west Calgary riding since 1989.
Clark almost won a 2014 by-election to replace another former premier, Alison Redford, and went on to win in the 2015 election.
More nomination news
Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita was nominated as his party’s candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat at a May 17 meeting, which was pushed up from a previously scheduled May 25 meeting.
Registered Nurse Diana Batten is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Acadia on May 26.
Edmonton-Meadows MLA Jasvir Deol will be nominated as his party’s candidate on May 28. He was first elected in 2019.
Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse will be nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford on May 28. She succeeds two-term MLA Richard Feehan, who is not seeking re-election.
Shiraz Mir is the second candidate to announce their candidacy for the NDP nomination in Calgary-North West.
Jeff Manchak is the third candidate to enter the NDP race in Sherwood Park. Already in the race are former MLA Annie McKitrick and solar energy expert Kyle Kasawski.
And here are the upcoming candidate nomination meetings:
Kenney stunned political watchers by announcing he is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after getting the support of only 51.4 per cent of members in the leadership review.
He had claimed last week that 50%+1 was enough for him to stay, but that obviously wasn’t enough.
It wouldn’t have worked.
It was the weakest of mandates.
Winning by such a narrow margin was probably the worst case scenario for Kenney.
With 51.4 per cent there is no way Kenney could have confidently walked into tomorrow morning’s UCP Caucus meeting and commanded the loyalty of the party’s MLAs.
There’s no way he could have demanded his opponents fall in line or leave the party.
So, he’s resigning.
The UCP is deeply divided and the leadership race was and acrimonious end to Kenney’s three years in the Premier’s Office.
But he might have been the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the party moving forward in any positive way with one year left before the provincial election.
The aggressive and in-your-face reactions from Kenney and his political staff to any criticism of his agenda has made him deeply unpopular with almost every single voting demographic in Alberta.
And it dragged down his party.
Kenney leaving avoids the inevitably showdown between him and his opponents in caucus that would have likely divided the party even further.
He’ll leave that showdown to someone else.
Now the UCP will have to choose a new leader.
It’s not clear whether Kenney will resign immediately and be replaced by an interim leader or whether he will stay on as Premier until a leadership race is held.
We’ll find out soon.
Names that immediately come to mind for potential interim leaders are Nate Horner, Sonya Savage, Nathan Neudorf, Ric McIver, Rajan Sawhney and Nate Glubish – all MLAs who probably won’t run for the permanent job.
And that’s where things get interesting, or troubling, depending on your point of view.
While Kenney was unpopular across the board, his biggest critics inside his party come from the unruly political-right – and they are mostly unhappy with how he handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenney called them “lunatics.”
Former Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith and exiled UCP MLA Drew Barnes probably fall pretty neatly into this column.
They both want the job.
Then there’s the Kenney loyalists.
Doug Schweitzer endorsed Kenney last week. He’s expected to run.
Jason Nixon is Kenney’s chief lieutenant. He’s said to be eying the job.
Travis Toews is also in Kenney’s inner circle. He’s said to have supporters who have been quietly preparing a run for months.
And then there’s Members of Parliament Shannon Stubbs and Michelle Rempel Garner. They haven’t said they’d run, but their names get mentioned when you talk to UCP supporters.
There will be others.
Kenney didn’t specifically say he wouldn’t try to reclaim his job in a leadership race. But even if his political career isn’t over, it seems unlikely right now that he’d try to reclaim the UCP leadership.
It’s an unceremonious result for the popular former federal cabinet minister and darling of movement conservatives who jumped into provincial politics six years ago to build a new conservative party.
It is a big change from three years ago, when Kenney led the newly minted UCP to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and win a big majority government.
On that election night he looked unstoppable.
Long gone are the days when anyone in Alberta politics is unstoppable.
I’m trying something new. I’m hoping to share some thoughts on Alberta politics and history on a new Substack and share the platform with some pretty smart people.
“Hey Dave, is Jason Kenney going to win the leadership review?”
It’s a question I get asked a lot these days.
I don’t know.
Anyone who tells you different probably has a personal or career stake in the game.
What was supposed to be a big in-person vote in Red Deer back in April turned into a province-wide mail in vote. And that loud swooshing sound you heard wasn’t the sound of a late winter Chinook but the sound of the goal posts moving.
And there’s strong feelings on both sides of this fight.
But commentary by out-of-Alberta conservatives, who probably have fond memories of Kenney’s two decades in Ottawa, almost always omit how intentionally and aggressively divisive he has been since stepping into the Premier’s Office.
Albertans who oppose, or even just dare to criticize, his government’s policies have been routinely derided and attacked by Kenney.
Are you an Albertan who opposed closing and selling provincial parks?
Then you’re a radical urban eco-marxist.
Did you oppose open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains?
Then you must be a radical urban eco-marxist who votes NDP (can you imagine telling that to a 5th generation cattle rancher from southern Alberta?).
You get the drift.
So, do Albertans see Kenney as the conservative philosopher king that his out-of-province admirers do?
Do normal UCP members?
Will Kenney win on May 18?
Will he get more than 50 per cent of the vote?
Your guess is probably as good as mine.
Will the deep divisions inside the UCP be healed?
Not a chance.
As veteran political columnist Graham Thomson signed off in a recent column, “No matter what happens that day, Alberta’s already wild politics will just get wilder.”
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I’m trying something new. I’m hoping to share some thoughts on Alberta politics and history on a new Substack and share the platform with some pretty smart people.
Former Sturgeon County Councillor Karen Shaw defeated high school teacher James Grondin to win the Alberta NDP nomination in Morinville-St. Albert, a rurban riding located just north of Edmonton.
“This community is Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, and I know the importance of this area not only to Alberta but to all of Canada,” Shaw said.
“I believe that Rachel Notley and Alberta’s NDP will put Alberta on the world stage for all the right reasons, and I want to make sure that Morinville-St Albert has strong representation on that stage,” she said.
Shaw served on County Council from 2007 to 2021, representing the rural areas surrounding the Town of Redwater. She and her family run a cattle farm in the Redwater area.
The riding is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA and Associate Minister of Natural Gas Dale Nally. Nally was first elected with 50 per cent of the vote in 2019, defeating then-NDP candidate Natalie Birnie who placed second with 33.1 per cent.
Denis Ram second candidate to enter NDP race in Calgary-Cross
Denis Ram is the second candidate to enter the NDP nomination race in Calgary-Cross. Ram is a student-at-law and founder and executive director of the Complete Complaints Foundation. He is also a former intern editorial writer for The Hill Times in Ottawa.
Whoever wins the NDP nomination will probably face first-term UCP MLA Mickey Amery, who is running for his party’s nomination for re-election. The candidate entry deadline for the UCP nomination is May 3, 2022.
Open UCP nominations in Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Foothils, Calgary-Peigan and Sherwood Park have a candidate entry deadline of May 3, and in Spruce Grove-St. Albert the deadline is set for May 5. It is unclear whether the incumbent UCP MLAs representing these ridings will face any challengers.
Alberta Party opens nomination race in Calgary-Elbow
It also appears that the Alberta Party has scheduled their first nomination meeting for this election cycle – in Calgary-Elbow on May 29.
The riding was the first and to-date only riding to elect an Alberta Party MLA when, in 2015, party leader Greg Clark unseated Progressive Conservative Education Minister Gordon Dirks.
After the popular Clark was pushed out of the leadership and replaced by Stephen Mandel in 2018, he was unable to win re-election in 2019. Soon after the election, Clark was appointed by the UCP as board chair of Alberta’s balancing pool.
Energy analyst and strategy consultant Samir Kayande has announced he is seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Elbow.
“Enhancing our already-enviable quality of life in the face of worldwide commitments to reduce pollution requires foresight, creativity and vision,” Kayande said in a press release. “Albertans must protect what we have while preparing for the future.”
“Sadly, the UCP government has failed to deliver on their promise of economic prosperity,” Kayande said. “A strong, caring Alberta with an NDP government will attract and keep high-paying jobs, and my expertise can help build that future.”
Kayande has a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Alberta and a Master of Business Administration from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. According to his press release, he has advised institutional money managers—pension funds, mutual funds, private equity—on their energy portfolios.
If successful in the nomination, Kayande would likely face United Conservative Party MLA Doug Schweitzer in the next provincial election. Currently serving as Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, Schweitzer ran for the UCP leadership in 2017 and is considered by many to be a potential leadership candidate if Premier Jason Kenney resigns before the next election.
On Oct. 26, 2021, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was having a rare good day. He got the result he argued he was looking for from the province-wide Equalization Referendum and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave him the gift of appointing long-time environmental activist Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Kenney’s good day lasted less than 24 hours.
In what can only be described as a bombshell story, the CBC first reported today that a former ministerial Chief of Staff is suing the Premier’s Office, “saying she suffered from a toxic workplace culture and was fired as retribution for speaking out about the problems she saw there.”
The allegations in Ariella Kimmel‘s lawsuit include sexual harassment and heavy drinking by ministers and staff in legislature offices, as well as claims that senior staff in the premier’s office fabricated rumours about her contributing to her termination, reported CBC journalist Elise von Scheel.
The CBC reported that Kimmel has filed a lawsuit against the Kenney’s office for alleged sexual harassment and defamation.
Kimmel was Chief of Staff to Minister Doug Schweitzer until February 2021 and before that worked as Director of Community Relations in the Premier’s Office and as the United Conservative Party’s Director of Outreach before the 2019 election.
Kimmel had previously worked for Kenney during his time in Ottawa as executive coordinator for multiculturalism when he was Minister of Employment and Social Development and as an assistant during his time as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
The statement of claim, which is reported in detail by CBC, makes serious allegations against numerous officials and staffers in the UCP government, including Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen.
Responding to a question in the Assembly today from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Janis Irwin, Kenney said that his office was appointing an independent review to make recommendations to revise human resource practices for political staff.
Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried called on the government to not wait for a review and instead immediately adopt the Respect in the Workplace program promoted by Respect Group Inc.
While none of the allegations have been proven in court, the conditions described are probably not uncommon in political offices across Canada. Kimmel’s lawsuit shines a big spotlight on a toxic workplace culture in the Legislature that needs to change immediately.
Aheer is having none of it
Chestermere-Strathmore UCP MLA Leela Aheer responded to the allegations by calling on Kenney to resign and drawing comparisons to disgraced Calgary City Councillor Sean Chu. A A former cabinet minister and UCP deputy leader, Aheer was dropped from cabinet after criticizing the UCP’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Standing at a podium in the Legislature Rotunda today, Aheer refused to stand down and appeared to be daring Kenney and her MLA colleagues to remove her from the UCP Caucus.
UCP MLAs voted to remove Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA DrewBarnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen from the caucus in June following Loewen’s call for Kenney to resign.
Kenney avoided a caucus revolt and non-confidence vote last month when he agreed to push up his leadership review from fall 2022 to April 2022. That move was successful in appeasing the disorganized opposition inside the UCP Caucus, but not the party, as numerous UCP constituency associations continue to push for Kenney’s review to be held before March 1, 2022.
Kenney’s approval rating dropped to an abysmal 22 per cent last month and leaked poll results showed that 75 per cent of Albertans disapprove of the UCP government, one of the strongest disapproval ratings for an Alberta government in recent memory.
To be very clear, I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization. No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech. – Page 596 of the Final Report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns
A key part of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy” against perceived enemies of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the public inquiry was launched in July 2019 with a political promise to unearth the vast conspiracy of wealthy international foundations and environmental activists who were working together in the shadows to undermine Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
It was these secretive groups and their dark money, Albertans were lead to believe, who were blocking oil pipelines and were the source of our economic woes. This public inquiry was meant to intimidate those critics.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters on the night of the United Conservative Party’s victory in the 2019 election, Premier Jason Kenney declared he had a message for the “foreign funded special interests who have been leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province.”
“To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, to the Tides Foundation, to the LeadNow, to the David Suzuki Foundation, and to all of the others, your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended,” Kenney decreed.
More than two years and $3.5 million later, Commissioner Steve Allan’s final report does not detail a vast conspiracy, because a vast conspiracy doesn’t exist. It turns out that most of the information he was looking for is already public and the devious activity he was sent to uncover was totally legal.
In fact, Allan’s final report released by Energy Minister Sonya Savage says that “[w]hile anti-Alberta energy campaigns may have played a role in the cancellation of some oil and gas developments, I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays or cancellations.”
The pretence of the report and the boogeymen created to blame for the cancellation of oil pipeline projects completely leaves off the hook the large oil companies and the Alberta government, with their own near bottomless pockets of money and resources to combat any advertising campaign launched by environmental groups.
Unlike the press conference that launched the inquiry, during which Kenney, Savage, Allan, and then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer stood together on stage, Savage stood alone at the podium this week as she was given the unenviable task of releasing the report and trying to justify its results.
Kenney was nowhere to be seen (he currently has a 22 per cent approval rating), Schweitzer is no longer Justice Minister, and Allan has presumably been relieved of his duties.
The over-budget and thrice-extended public inquiry was conducted almost completely in secret, with no actual public hearings, leaving the inquiry to instead hold “hearing by correspondence.”
The confusingly organized 657 page report details how Environmental Non-Profit Groups wrote grants to receive funding for environmental advocacy in Canada, but there is no suggestion of wrong doing or that anything illegal happened.
But that hasn’t stopped Savage and her UCP MLA colleagues from bandying around a $1.2 billion number, which is the amount the report says it found foreign donors provided in grant funding to Canadian environmental organizations between 2003 and 2019.
But the report found that, of the $1.2 billion, around $554 million went to well-known and respected conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited Canada, which does not participate in “anti-Alberta” campaigns (Ducks Unlimited Canada is run by CEO Larry Kaumeyer, who until recently was employed as Kenney’s Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary), and only somewhere between $37.5 to $58.9 million was specifically granted to anti-oil and gas campaigns in Canada.
In fact, the most interesting result of Allan’s final report are his criticisms of the other left foot of Kenney’s Fight Back Strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre.
The CEC, known to most Albertans as the “War Room,” was created in 2019 and is run by former UCP candidate Tom Olsen.
Established as a Crown Corporation with a $30-million annual budget, the Canadian Energy Centre essentially operates as a publicly-funded public relations agency for the oil and gas industry.
Buried on the last page of Allan’s report is a list of criticisms of the Canadian Energy Centre, including an observation that “it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair.”
Allan wrote that the way the War Room was established, as a Crown Corporation, with three provincial cabinet ministers as its board of directors (Savage, Schweitzer and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon) has “seriously compromised” the organization’s credibility.
“There may be a need for a vehicle such as this, assuming proper governance and accountability is established, to develop a communications/marketing strategy for the industry and/or the province, but it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair,” Allan wrote.
While Savage deflected from questions from reporters about what was accomplished by the $3.5 million inquiry by denouncing foreign-funded campaigns and demanding transparency from ENGOs who run campaigns in Alberta, the FOIP-exempt War Room recently purchased billboards in Washington D.C. and New York City’s Times Square.
War Room CEO Olsen issued a statement in response to the Public Inquiry’s criticisms but the statement had to be resent soon afterward because of typos. (I’m not making this up).
So, the great Alberta witch hunt is over and no witches have been found.
Now that this embarrassing public inquiry is over, the other part of Kenney’s failed strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre – should be scrapped.
If the public inquiry taught us anything, it is probably that our leaders should be focused on figuring out how Alberta is going to survive the massive shifts happening in world energy markets and not wasting precious time making empty threats and settling vendettas with critics of the oil and gas industry.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage will be back next month to release the report of the committee investigating open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.
Amplifying the loud public opposition to open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, a group of country music artists released a new version of the popular song, This Is My Prairie. The song features Corb Lund, Terri Clark, Brett Kissel,, Sherryl Sewepagaham, Paul Brandt, Armond Duck Chief, Katie Rox and Brandi Sidoryk.
Alberta’s municipal election is only 14 days away.
When you think of municipal elections, you might immediately think about roads, libraries, sidewalks, pools, traffic, playgrounds, potholes, public transit, bike lanes and snow removal. And while these are some of the more high-profile responsibilities of municipal governments, the amount of information being thrown at voters in this year’s election has muddied the water about what the ballot issues on October 18 might be.
As if there weren’t already are a lot of challenges facing municipalities, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Alberta hard and municipal governments are bearing the brunt of many of those health, social and economic challenges.
Municipalities also face a hostile provincial government that has not hesitated to interfere in local issues, in some cases leaving Albertans with a choice between candidates who agree with the provincial government interference, candidates who want to keep their heads down in hopes for a change of provincial government in 2023, or candidates who will stand up for their communities and challenge the United Conservative Party government.
Senate Nominee Election
When you vote on Oct. 18 or in the advance polls you will probably be handed a few different ballots. One of them will ask you to choose up to three candidates in this year’s Senate Nominee Election.
Senate Nominee elections are a uniquely Alberta activity dating back to 1989. The elections are held to choose a list of names for the Premier to recommend to the Prime Minister for appointment to the Senate if vacancies occur.
Unfortunately for the candidates running in this election, they are not going to be appointed unless the Prime Minister is a member of the Conservative Party, the only major party that recognizes the elections as legitimate. The Liberal Party has created a new application process for Senate appointments, dismantling the old partisan patronage machine, and the NDP believe the Upper Chamber should be abolished.
One of the major flaws of the Senate Nominee election is that winning candidates who might eventually be appointed to the Senate never ever have to face re-election, so there is no opportunity for voters to hold these “elected” Senators accountable for their decisions. In fact, they can stay in the Senate until they turn 75-years old if they decide to.
Another major flaw is that a province-wide election in a province of 4.3 million people makes it impossible for the Senate candidates to meaningfully reach many voters. I doubt most Albertans could name a candidate running in year’s Senate Nominee election, but here they are:
Physicians Dr. Sunil Sookram. and Dr. Karina Pillay (also the former Mayor of Slave Lake), Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett, former Western Barley Growers Association President Jeff Nielsen, and former deputy premier and finance minister Doug Horner are running as Independent candidates are are the more serious candidates with real public service experience.
Then there are the three People’s Party endorsed candidates who filed their papers to run in the Senate Nominee election only hours before they were defeated as candidates in the Sept. 20 federal election – Nadine Wellwood, Kelly Lorencz, and Ann McCormack.
And finally there are the three UCP loyalists endorsed by the Conservative Party of Canada – lobbyist and former UCP President Erika Barootes, right-wing activist and failed municipal candidate Pam Davidson, and Ukrainian-Canadian trade association president Mikhailio Martyniouk.
The three UCP/Conservative Party candidates, who appear to have less comparable actual public service experience than many of the Independent candidates on the ballot, are still probably going to win. But like previous Senate Nominee elections, the turnout will be low and number of spoiled ballots will be high.
Alberta’s Senate Nominee election should be a serious affair, but it will probably end up being a joke or an afterthought for most Albertans who will have no idea who to vote for.
Plebiscites and Referendums
Depending where you live in Alberta you could also be handed one, two or three additional ballots to cast your vote for referendums and plebiscites, though there is a good chance you haven’t heard much about them during this election.
Even if the Equalization formula was removed from the Constitution, Albertans wouldn’t actually notice any change. We would still pay federal taxes the same as we do now, but the federal government would not be obligated to distribute funds collected through federal taxes to the provinces through an Equalization formula as currently required by the Constitution.
The Equalization referendum is all about the politics of grievance and saving Jason Kenney’s leadership of the UCP. A yes vote won’t accomplish much and a no vote will probably hurt Kenney’s chance of remaining in the Premier’s Office for much longer (Kenney’s approval rating has dropped to 22 per cent according to a recent poll from ThinkHQ).
In this referendum, a no vote is a vote to continue the annual time change and a yes vote is a vote for darker mornings and lighter evenings in the winter. If I understand correctly, it could also mean that from March to November each year Alberta’s timezone will be two hours ahead of the times observed in much of British Columbia. The result of the vote on this question is binding on the provincial government.
At least in Edmonton, candidate endorsements have become a mini-story.
This year’s city council election has seen a string of high-profile endorsements of city council candidates from Mayor Don Iveson, mayoral candidate Mike Nickel and some individual NDP MLAs across the city. While it is not unheard of for incumbent City Councillors to endorse candidates in a municipal election, the number of endorsements in this year’s election is significantly higher than usual.
Just like City Councillor endorsements, it is not unheard of for MLAs to endorse candidates, but this year the number of MLAs endorsing municipal candidates is higher.
The decision by some NDP MLAs to endorse candidates has flustered some political watchers who for some reason believe municipal politics should exist in a vacuum outside of provincial and federal politics, the endorsements appear to be a choice made by individual MLAs rather than a decision made by the party.
And in at least one case, NDP MLAs have endorsed different candidates. In Ward tastawiyiniwak, for example, the NDP endorsements appear to be split, with Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd endorsing Ahmed Knowmadic Ali and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous endorsing Cody Bondarchuk.
While it has certainly made Edmonton’s political establishment uncomfortable, it is positive to see progressive groups organizing to support candidates. With traditional low turnout, low interest and high-incumbent re-election, municipal politics in Edmonton could use a bit of disruption.
The new rules make it legal for wealthy people to donate up to $5,000 each to as many candidates as they want in any municipal or school board election across the province, effectively removing the cap on individual donations. While municipal political donors do not receive the generous tax credits they get from provincial or federal donations, there are wealthy Albertans with the ability to financially influence candidates across the board.
The UCP also removed the requirement for candidates to disclose their list of donors ahead of Election Day, which would have allowed voters to see who is financially supporting candidates before they go to the ballot booth. Many candidates will already do this on their own but many won’t because they are not required to by law.
The new rules introduced by the UCP also allow Third Party Advertisers, colloquially known as political action committees, to spend up to $500,000 on advertising during the referendums, up from the previous $150,000 limit. Third Party Advertisers that spend less than $350,000 on advertising during a referendum are not required to file financial statements with Elections Alberta, which means those groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donor lists.
Janet Eremenko is running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Currie, kicking off a contested nomination race in the south west Calgary district. Eremenko will face former MLA Brian Malkinson at a yet to be scheduled nomination vote.
“Jason Kenney was elected on a promise of delivering jobs and economic growth, and over half-way through his mandate, he has failed to deliver on any of his promises,” Eremenko said in a press release.
“Rachel Notley has a positive vision for Alberta’s future. One that diversifies our economy and creates jobs for Albertans while taking action on climate change and protecting the environment,” Eremenko said. “I want to make sure Calgary-Currie is a part of that vision, and a part of defeating Kenney in the next election.”
Eremenko was the NDP candidate in the neighboring Calgary-Elbow in the 2019 election, where she placed third with 23 per cent of the vote behind United Conservative Party candidate Doug Schweitzer and Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark.
She was also a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 11 in the October 2017 election.
Eremenko will face Malkinson, who represented Calgary-Currie from 2015 until his narrow defeat to UCP candidate Nicholas Milliken in 2019. Malkinson was Alberta’s Minister of Service Alberta from 2018 to 2019.
Before Malkinson’s election in 2015, the district was represented by Progressive Conservative MLA Christine Cussanelli from 2012 to 2015 and Dave Taylor from 2004 to 2010 as a Liberal MLA and 2011 to 2012 as an Alberta Party MLA.
The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.
Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.
Jim Dinning – His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.
Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.
The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.
Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.
While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.
Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.
Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.
Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.
Move aside Bigfoot Family, there’s a new cartoon on the block. Meet Billy Briquette!
The Canadian Energy Centre is launching a new cartoon series to educate young Albertans about the virtues of open pit coal mining in the Alberta Rocky Mountains.
“We’re taking our campaign against Sasquatch Family to the next level,” said CEC CEO Tom Olsen, who appeared at a Thursday morning press conference standing beside a life-sized Billy Briquette mascot.
The 100-episode cartoon series will feature Billy Briquette as he joins his friends Nixy the Wild Horse and Bobby Bitumen as they use teamwork to stop villains ranging from local town councils and country music stars to eco-left European bankers and coal dictators. Billy will also be joined in Episode 37 by his Australian cousin, Hector.
“My friends, for a long time oil has been in the crosshairs of the radical-urban-eco-bohemian-marxist-left and now they are targeting our democratic coal,” said Premier Jason Kenney, also standing uncomfortably close to the smiling life-sized piece of coal.
“Let me be clear, Alberta’s ethical mountain top removal of coal needs a champion and that’s why we’re introducing you to Billy today,” Kenney said.
The cartoon series also received praise from senior Alberta cabinet ministers.
“Changes to the Film and Television Tax Credit make productions like Billy Briquette possible,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and director of the Canadian Energy Centre.
“I’m thrilled that productions like Billy Briquette will help drive diversification and provide customers to open pit coal mines across Alberta,” Schweitzer said.
“Alberta – with large coal reserves – is perfectly positioned to continue to offer investment in a stable and ethical democracy,” said Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
“Billy Briquette will showcase this to young Albertans and the investors across the world,” said Savage, who is also serves on the War Room’s board of directors.
Along with a wide variety of branded merchandise, bumper stickers and a theme song performed by Tom Olsen and the Wreckage, the life-sized lump of coal mascot is expected to visit more than 100 Alberta elementary schools in the next year. The cartoon series will be integrated into the new provincial Social Studies curriculum and be mandatory viewing for students in Grades One through Six.
After Netflix declined a proposal to stream the series, it was decided that the $25 million animated production will be viewable exclusively on the Canadian Energy Centre YouTube page.
Author’s note: Readers will note that today is April 1 and, as the Canadian Energy Centre is exempt from FOIP, we are unable to confirm that plans for the Billy Briquette cartoon series and associated merchandise are in the works.
With the Legislative Assembly returning to start the spring session at the end of the month, there was another big shuffle of ministerial chiefs of staff at the Legislature today.
In the Premier’s office, Pam Livingston is now Deputy Chief of Staff. Livingston recently served as Chief of Staff to Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon and was executive assistant to Justice Minister Verlyn Olson and Seniors and Community Supports Minister Greg Melchin.
There has been significant turnover in Premier Jason Kenney’s office over the past six months, with his three most senior advisors departing – Howard Anglin to Oxford, David Knight Legg to Invest Alberta, and Jamie Huckabay as a result of last month’s hot holiday scandal. The departure of these three is said to have created no shortage of chaos in Kenney’s office at a time when internal stability should be essential.
Livingston will be replaced in Nixon’s office by Megan Griffith, who previously served as Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan’s Minister of Rural & Remote Health.
Janet MacEachern, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister of Labour & Immigration Jason Copping since 2019, is the new Director of Talent in the Premier’s Office, replacing Amber Griffiths who will be taking maternity leave.
Ariella Kimmel, Chief of Staff to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, is leaving and will be replaced by Jonah Mozeson, who currently works as Chief of Staff to Minister Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu.
Riley Braun, who currently serves as Senior Advisor to Madu, will replace Mozeson as Acting Chief of Staff.
Also leaving is Robyn Henwood, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney and previously served as Director of the United Conservative Party Caucus.
Henwood will be replaced by Kulshan Gill. Gill was acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2019 provincial election after an unsuccessful bid to win the party nomination in Edmonton-Manning.
Veteran political communicator Jerry Bellikka is replacing Mat Steppan as Chief of Staff to Energy Minister Sonya Savage. Bellikka recently returned to the Legislature to work as Press Secretary for the Minister Community and Social Services.
Also apparently departing Savage’s office is Press Secretary Peter Brodsky, who only recently joined the Energy Minister’s office after previous Press Secretary Kavi Bal joined the Premier’s Office as Director of Strategic Planning.
Steppan is now Chief of Staff to acting Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, who was appointed to the dual role following Tracy Allard’s return from a Hawaiian vacation last month.
Jonathan Koehli, McIver’s current Chief of Staff for the dual role, will now become Chief of Staff to Copping in Labour & Immigration.
Before he returned to work at the Legislature in January 2020, Koehli previously served as Chief of Staff to Finance Minister Robin Campbell before the Progressive Conservative Party’s defeat in the 2015 election.
Amid a month-long spike in new COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced increased measures and restrictions on businesses that include closing casinos, bar and in-person dining in restaurants, and a province-wide mandatory face-mask requirement. The measures are necessary but come after weeks of feet-dragging by provincial leaders.
Weaker measures introduced two weeks ago proved ineffective but you will not hear Premier Jason Kenney admit it, and you will not hear him call the new measures a lockdown.
At times it has seemed as as though Kenney was more concerned with not doing anything that might alienate elements of his political base than he was in taking measures to actually stop or slow the spread of the virus. This concern about his voter base appears to also include an avoidance of the word “lockdown,” despite it being an appropriate description of what the government has implemented.
As of today, there are 20,388 active cases province-wide and have been 640 deaths caused by COVID-19.
Still no federal app
The measures announced by Kenney still did not include the activation of the federal CovidAlert app in Alberta. The federal app has become one of the latest targets of partisan attacks against Ottawa, with cabinet minister Jason Nixon referring to it as the “Trudeau Tracing App.”
Despite the adoption of the ABTraceTogether App early in the pandemic, it has proven ineffective and is reported to have only been effectively used 19 times since it was launched in the spring.
Unlike Alberta’s app, the federal app allows contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 across provincial boundaries.
Schweitzer shows a little humanity, some leadership potential
Along with Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the press conference announcing the increased measures featured Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.
Compared to Kenney, who remains robotic, unemotional and prone to partisan outbursts, and Shandro, who appears to perpetually carry a giant chip on his shoulder, Schweitzer sounded like a real human being. While he does have a serious ‘dude bro’ vibe and his comments today were weighed down by business jargon, he was a much clearer and sympathetic communicator than his two colleagues.
Kenney may be in complete control of his party today, but history shows that Conservative parties in Alberta can be ruthless towards leaders who become liabilities at the ballot box. Just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.