The Alberta NDP leads the pack with 75 candidates nominated across the province. NDP leader Rachel Notley will be nominated as her party’s candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona at a pre-election rally at the big NDP campaign training school in Edmonton on March 11. And two candidates – Venkat Akkiraj and Kim Wagner – are vying for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Lougheed on March 14.
The remaining NDP vacancies without scheduled nomination meetings are in the ridings of Cardston-Siksika, Drayton Valley-Devon, Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Grande Prairie, Grande Prairie-Wapiti, Highwood, Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin, and Taber-Warner.
These are mostly ridings where the NDP is seen as having little chance of winning, though NDP MLAs did represent Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville and parts of Maskwacis-Wetaskwin from 2015 to 2019.
Nominations votes are scheduled for Livingstone-Macleod (March 9, 10, 11), Calgary-Lougheed (March 13), Lethbridge-West (March 14), Cypress-Medicine Hat (March 16), and Leduc-Beaumont (March 18).
That leaves unscheduled or unannounced UCP nominations in Grande Prairie and Grande Prairie-Wapiti (where Finance Minister Travis Toews has not announced his intentions to run for re-election), and the central Edmonton ridings of Edmonton-City Centre, Edmonton-Glenora, Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, Edmonton-Riverview and Edmonton-Strathcona (which are all among the safest NDP ridings in Alberta).
The United Conservative Party announced the nominations of incumbent MLAs Peter Guthrie in Airdrie-Cochrane, Angela Pitt in Airdrie-East, Jason Copping in Calgary-Varsity, and Todd Loewen in Central Peace-Notley.
Calgary-Elbow: Lawyer Chris Davis defeated past city council candidate Cornelia Weibe and lawyer Andrea James to win the UCP nomination. Recent UCP leadership candidate Jon Horsman had announced his candidacy in the race but did not appear on the ballot. The riding not been represented in the Legislature since former UCP MLA Doug Schweitzerresigned on August 31, 2022.
Calgary-Lougheed: Former premier Jason Kenney has resigned as MLA for the southwest Calgary riding. Kenney was first elected as MLA in a 2017 by-election and was re-elected in 2019.
Drayton Valley-Devon: Real estate agent Andrew Boitchenko defeated former constituency president Carol Vowk and Brazeau County Councillor Kara Westerlund to secure the UCP nomination. Boitchenko ran for the UCP nomination in 2018 but was defeated by UCP MLA Mark Smith. Smith is not running for re-election in 2023.
Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview: Felix Amenaghawon, Lana Palmer and Luke Suvanto are seeking the UCP nomination. A nomination vote is scheduled for December 20.
Edmonton-Mill Woods: Raman Athwal has been nominated as the UCP candidate.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: MLA Tany Yao is facing Zulkifl Mujahid and construction association CEO Keith Plowman in the UCP nomination in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. Voting for the nomination closes at 9:00 p.m. tonight. UPDATE: Mujahid defeated Yao and Plowman to win the UCP nomination.
St. Albert: Past mayoral candidate Angela Wood defeated ministerial press secretary Melissa Crane to win the UCP nomination.
And as noted in the Alberta Today newsletter, Ontario political staffer Pierçon Knezic has been hired as the UCP’s Director of Election Readiness.
Livingstone-Macleod: Conservationist and author Kevin Van Tighem was nominated as the Alberta NDP candidate in Livingstone-Macleod. Van Tighem is the former Superintendent of Banff National Park and he has been an outspoken critic of the UCP government’s plans to allow open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.
The Green Party has nominated Catriona Wright in Calgary-South East and Ernestina Malheiro in Edmonton-Gold Bar, Kristina Howard in Edmonton-West Henday, Taylor Lower in Lacombe-Ponoka, and Tegra-Lee Campbell in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright.
Upcoming nomination meetings
Here are the scheduled upcoming nominations:
December 4 – Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo UCP
December 8 – West Yellowhead NDP
December 9 & 10 – Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock UCP
December 10, 11, 12 – Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul UCP
The United Conservative Party has announced candidate nomination votes happening in St. Albert on November 26, and Drayton Valley-Devon on December 2 and 3.
In the St. Albert riding located just north of Edmonton, former mayoral candidate Angela Wood and political staffer Melissa Crane are seeking the UCP nomination. Crane is the press secretary for Minister of Technology & Innovation Nate Glubish.
The winner will challenge NDP MLA Marie Renaud in the next election. Renaud was first elected in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 46.2 per cent of the vote.
UCP members just southwest of Edmonton in the Drayton Valley-Devon riding will choose from real estate agent Andrew Boitchenko, former constituency association president Carol Vowk, and Brazeau County councillor Kara Westerlundto become their next candidate.
The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Mark Smith, who announced in September that he would not run for re-election. Smith was first elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019 with 71 per cent of the vote.
Brad Rutherford not running for re-election
Leduc-Beaumont MLA Brad Rutherfordannounced on Facebook that he will not run for re-election. The first term MLA currently serves as Government Caucus Whip and Minister without Portfolio.
Serving the families and businesses of Leduc-Beaumont has been the honour of a lifetime. Together, we have accomplished so much for our community.
A new high school in Leduc and a new Francophone K-12 school in Beaumont will support students and families for generations to come.
The 65 Avenue Interchange will create jobs and bolster economic development and growth throughout Leduc County, Leduc and the Edmonton International Airport.
Changes to the AVPA regulations will give Leduc homeowners more choices over their private property and enhance the City of Leduc’s ability to grow its downtown sector, as well as build new neighborhoods and housing opportunities.
Grants for local community groups, playgrounds, family support centres, mental health counselling services and the food bank will ensure that Leduc-Beaumont is a constituency where all Albertans can put down roots and feel supported.
I am also deeply proud of my work as Military Liaison, where I advocated for support groups, mental health research and housing for veterans. I was also happy to assist HiMARC at the University of Alberta with obtaining funding to support PTSD research and resiliency training, along with funding for Homes for Heroes transitional housing and funding for peer support groups. And through legislation, we improved job protected leave for reservists and lifted the cap on training days.
I share the success of all these initiatives with municipalities, constituents and my peers in the provincial government, as it takes buy-in from many to achieve positive outcomes.
As a police officer and as an MLA, I have dedicated my life to public service. I strongly believe that public service positions should be challenging – it’s what makes them so fulfilling. In an effort to spend more time with my young family and pursue new challenges moving forward, I have decided not to seek a second-term as MLA. I will cherish the relationships I have made with so many residents and colleagues; I know we will continue to reconnect in the future as we keep working together to build a stronger community, province and country.
I am very proud of the work our government has done to implement our platform, balance the budget and restore jobs and investment. The economy is growing, and although there are always challenges, I am optimistic about the future. I am also encouraged to see Premier Danielle Smith pursue her vision for a freer and even more prosperous Alberta, and support her in those efforts.
Thank you to my family and to all the residents of Leduc-Beaumont.
The NDP have nominated paramedic Cam Heenan as their candidate in the riding directly south of Edmonton.
The NDP leads in Edmonton with 57 per cent compared to 31 per cent for the UCP, and, in Calgary, the NDP holds 40 per cent to the UCP’s 40 per cent. Outside of the two big cities, the UCP leads with 44 per cent to the NDP’s 36 per cent.
Aheer was vague about whether she would run as an Independent or for another party, but it became increasingly clear that she would have a very difficult time winning the UCP nomination in her riding.
The second-term MLA placed last in the recent UCP leadership race and is facing a strong nomination challenge from Chantelle De Jonge. The former MP constituency assistant has stressed her conservative political credentials in contrast to Aheer’s more moderate conservative positions on social issues like abortion and public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
De Jonge’s recent endorsement from Bruce McAllister, who Aheer unseated as MLA in 2015 and now serves as Premier Danielle Smith‘s executive director at the McDougall Centre, sent a pretty clear message that there isn’t room for Aheer in the UCP.
McAllister is only one of the former Wildrose Party MLAs who crossed the floor with Smith to the Progressive Conservatives in 2014 to reemerge in the new Premier’s orbit.
Former Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson is Smith’s Transition Team Chair and Executive Director of the Premier’s Office, and former Strathmore-Brooks MLA Jason Hale was appointed last week as the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation.
New NDP candidates
The Alberta NDP have nominated Caitlyn Blake in Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, lawyer Andrew Stewart in Calgary-Hays, and teacher Liana Paiva in Peace River. The NDP now have 63 candidates nominated to run in the next election.
UCP nominees emerge
Since Smith won the party leadership, the party has opened up nominations in a handful of ridings. The deadline to enter nominations in Drayton Valley-Devon, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, Livingstone-Macleod, St. Albert and Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright is October 31, and in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock, Airdrie-Cochrane, Airdrie-East, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-South and Taber-Warner is November 7, and Calgary-Elbow is November 10.
A number of prospective UCP nominees have recently announced their plans to run:
Martine Carifelle is seeking the UCP nomination in Lesser Slave Lake. She is incumbent UCP MLA Pat Rehn‘s former constituency manager. Rehn has not publicly announced if he is running for re-election.
Tunde Obasan is running for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-South. He was the party’s candidate in the riding in 2019 and ran for the federal Conservatives in Edmonton-Strathcona in 2021. Saad Siddiq and Karen Stix are also seeking the nomination.
Angela Wood is seeking the UCP nomination in St. Albert. Wood placed second in the St. Albert mayoral election in 2021.
The other parties
The Green Party has nominated Zak Abdi in Edmonton-City Centre, Chitra Bakshi in Edmonton-Mill Woods and Carl McKay in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock.
Interim party leader John Roggeveen announced in an email to Alberta Liberal Party supporters they has opened up applications for people to run under the party’s banner in the next election.
I’ll start with the by-election in Brooks-Medicine Hat.
Brooks-Medicine Hat by-election
A November 8 by-election has been called in Brooks-Medicine Hat and Premier Danielle Smith is running as the United Conservative Party candidate. She will face Alberta NDP candidate and retired teacher Gwendoline Dirk and Brooks mayor-turned-Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita.
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips was on hand to help Dirk’s kick off her campaign this week. Dirks is a retired high school teacher and Medicine Hat College instructor. She ran for a seat on the Medicine Hat Public School Board in 2021 and is a member of the Medicine Hat Police Commission. Her partner Peter Mueller was the NDP candidate in the neighbouring Cypress-Medicine Hat riding in the 2019 election.
This is Morishita’s first time running in an election as the leader of the Alberta Party but he is a veteran of elections in the City of Brooks. He served on Brooks City Council from 1998 to 2003 and 2010 to 2016, and was Mayor from 2019 until 2021.
This is not Morishita’s first time running in a provincial election. In 2001, he ran for the Liberals against Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Lyle Oberg, earning 15.5 per cent of the vote.
The deadline for candidates to enter the nomination is October 21 and it’s looking like it won’t be a crowded race.
Buffalo Party leader John Holberg and party president Raman Bains announced that the recently formed right-wing party would not put forward a candidate to run in the by-election. “We wish the Premier the best of luck in the Brooks-Medicine Hat by election,” the statement declared.
Independence Party of Alberta leader and Calgary street preacher Artur Pawlowski is hosting information sessions on Oct 17 in Medicine Hat on Oct. 17 and Brooks on Oct. 19 but the party hasn’t publicly named a candidate. UPDATE: Bob Blayone has been named as the Independence Party candidate.
Now to other candidate nomination news from across Alberta:
Two-term MLA David Shepherd was nominated as the NDP candidate Edmonton-City Centre. Shepard was first elected in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 66 per cent of the vote.
Dawn Flaata was nominated as the NDP candidate in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright at an October 15 meeting. Flaata is a local author with a long history of involvement in the chamber of commerce in Vermilion and was a Constituency Assistant to former Conservative MP Leon Benoit.
Communications consultant Amanda Chapman defeated firefighter Jason Curry to secure the NDP nomination in Calgary-Beddington.
Liana Paiva running for the NDP nomination in Peace River with a nomination meeting scheduled for Friday, October 28, 2022.
Lawyer Denis Ram is running for NDP nomination in Calgary-Peigan at a November 8 nomination meeting. Ram placed second in the NDP nomination in Calgary-Cross in July 2022.
United Conservative Party
Jon Horsman is the second candidate to declare plans to run for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow. Horsman is a former bank vice-president and briefly was a candidate for the leadership of the UCP. Lawyer Andrea Jamesannounced her candidacy in June 2022.
Brazeau County Councillor Kara Westerlund is the third candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in Drayton Valley-Devon. Westerlund has served on county council since 2010 and is a Vice President of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta. She joins Carol Vowk and Andrew Boitchenko.
The NDP have now nominated candidates in 58 of Alberta’s 87 electoral districts. As previously noted, it appears as though the UCP have paused the nomination process until after their new leader is selected on October 6. The Green Party has 15 candidates nominated and the Alberta Party has named three candidates.
Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried has announced he will not run for re-election. Gotfried was the only rookie Progressive Conservative MLA elected in 2015, stealing the south Calgary seat from the Wildrose Party after long-time MLA Heather Forsyth retired from elected politics.
Former Calgary Economic Development vice-president Court Ellingson was nominated as the Alberta NDP candidate in Calgary-Foothills.
Calgary Transit Operator Raj Jessel was nominated as the NDP candidate in Chestermere-Strathmore.
Lawyer Cheryl Hunter Loewen was nominated as the NDP candidate in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.
Lawyer Andrew Stewarthas announced his plans to seek the NDP nomination in Calgary-Hays. A nomination meeting is scheduled for October 26. The riding has been represented by UCP MLA Ric McIver since 2012.
Upcoming nomination meetings
Former Red Deer City Manager Craig Curtis and past school board candidate Jaelene Tweedle are on the ballot as NDP members in Red Deer-North choose their next candidate on October 5.
MLA David Shepherd is expected to be nominated to run for re-election in Edmonton-City Centre on October 11.
More NDP nomination meetings are scheduled in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright (October 15), Calgary-Beddington (October 17), Lacombe-Ponoka (October 19), and Calgary-Hays (October 26).
The NDP have now nominated candidates in 54 of Alberta’s 87 electoral districts. As previously noted, it appears as though the UCP have paused the nomination process until after their new leader is selected on October 6. The Alberta Party has nominated three candidates.
United Conservative Party MLA Mark Smith has publicly confirmed that he will not seek re-election in Drayton Valley-Devon. He made the announcement while speaking at an event for UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews in Devon on Sept. 9.
Smith was first elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015 and was re-elected under the UCP banner in 2019. The former social studies teacher was the center of controversy during the 2019 election over comments he made about gay people.
Despite the controversy, Smith was re-elected with 71 per cent of the vote.
Carol Vowk and Andrew Boitchenko are already seeking the UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon, located southwest of Edmonton, and rumours have been circulating in political circles for months that Enoch First Nations Chief Billy Morin could seek the nomination. Morin has endorsed Toews for the UCP leadership and previously endorsed Pierre Poilievre in the federal Conservative Party leadership race.
NDP members acclaimed Kathleen Ganley in Calgary-Mountain View and Marlin Schmidt in Edmonton-Gold Bar. Both MLAs were first elected in 2015 and served as cabinet ministers during the NDP’s time in government.
“This is sure to be a pivotal election for Alberta, and I am honoured that my community has put their trust in me to continue being their representative,” Ganley said in a statement. “I hear from folks every day about how they don’t trust the UCP, and how their families are struggling more now because of them.”
MLADavid Shepherd is seeking the NDP nomination to run for re-election in Edmonton-City Centre at an October 11 nomination meeting. Shepherd was first elected in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 66 per cent of the vote.
Also in Edmonton-City Centre, Zak Abdi announced on Twitter that he is no longer running for the Liberal Party nomination and will instead will seek to become the Green Party candidate in Edmonton-City Centre.
And in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, Dawn Flaata running for NDP nomination at an October 15 meeting. Flaata is a local author with a long history of involvement in the chamber of commerce in Vermilion. She is also a former Constituency Assistant to former Conservative MP Leon Benoit. Vermilion Public Library.
Upcoming nomination meetings:
September 20 – Edmonton-Castle Downs NDP
September 24 – Calgary-Shaw NDP
September 24 – Edmonton-South NDP
September 25 – Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP
September 27 – Spruce Grove-Stony Plain NDP
September 28 – Sherwood Park NDP
September 29 – Chestermere-Strathmore NDP
October 1 – Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills NDP
October 2 – Calgary-Foothills NDP
October 5 – Red Deer-North NDP
October 11 – Edmonton-City Centre NDP
October 15 – Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright NDP
University of Calgary law professor Shaun Fluker defeated union activist and past candidate Steven Durrell to win the Alberta NDP nomination in Airdrie-Cochrane.
“People want a government that funds public health care and actually encourages doctors to work in Alberta, so that the people of Airdrie-Cochrane do not have to rely on urgent care centres as walk-in clinics,” said Fluker in a statement released after his nomination won.
”We also want a government that will adequately fund K-12 education so that our kids aren’t forced into overcrowded classrooms in overcrowded schools,” he said.
Fluker practiced law starting in 1996 and began teaching at the U of C in 2007. He served as Executive Director of the U of C’s Public Interest Law Clinic until 2019.
The riding located north of Calgary is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA Peter Guthrie, who was first elected in 2019 with 65 per cent of the vote. Guthrie has been a vocal critic of Premier Jason Kenney and openly called on him to resign as UCP leader.
Boitchenko enters Drayton Valley-Devon UCP race
Real estate agent Andrew Boitchenko is the second challenger to announce plans to join the UCP nomination contest in Drayton Valley-Devon.
Boitchenko joins Carol Vowk in the nomination contest.
Incumbent UCP MLA Mark Smith has not yet public declared his intentions but it is widely believed that the two-term MLA will not run for re-election.
Lawyer and past federal Liberal candidate Kerry Cundal was nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow. The riding was represented by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark from 2015 to 2019, and he was on hand to endorse Cundal at the meeting.
First-term NDP MLA Jasvir Deol was nominated in Edmonton-Meadows. He was elected in 2019 with 49 per cent of the vote.
Indigenous advocate and past Assembly of First Nations Chief candidate Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse was nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford.
While none of the details are clear, Notley said she believed the search was related to a Department of Health data breach that Dang reported to the government in Sept. 2021.
Dang issued a statement in response in which he reiterated Notley’s comments, saying that he believed the warrant was executed in relation to vulnerabilities of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination records website.
“In September, a concern was raised to me as a Member of the Legislative Assembly about the security of the vaccination record system,” Dang wrote. “I tested these concerns and found a security flaw did exist.
“I immediately notified Alberta Health with the relevant information so that the vulnerability could be corrected. It was resolved shortly thereafter,” wrote Dang, who studied Computing Sciences at the University of Alberta before his election as MLA in 2015.
Notley said that Dang, who was in the mountains skiing, voluntarily left the NDP Caucus until the police investigation was complete. Dang is the Official Opposition critic for Democracy and Ethics.
First elected as the NDP MLA for Edmonton-South West in 2015 and ran for re-election in the redistributed Edmonton-South in 2019.
Carol Vowk running for UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon
Carol Vowk has filed papers with Elections Alberta signalling her intention to run for the UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon. Vowk is Treasurer of the Drayton Valley Health Foundation and has volunteered with the Drayton Valley Air Cadets, Brazeau Snowmobile Club, and Drayton Valley Soccer.
The central Alberta riding is currently represented by Mark Smith, who was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015. Smith was the centre of controversy during the 2019 election with the release of an audio recording of a church sermon he delivered which included some gross comments about “homosexual love.”
Smith was re-elected in 2019 with 71.1 per cent of the vote. He has not publicly announced whether he plans to run for re-election in 2023.
Brian Jean *is* the UCP candidate in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche
New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and the third wave of the global pandemic is hitting Alberta, but that did not deter a group of nearly 20 United Conservative Party MLAs from publicly speaking out against the provincial government’s implementation of mild public health restrictions in response.
Like the virus, the group of COVID critics inside the UCP Caucus has grown exponentially from the original six-pack of MLAs who publicly spoke out against public health measures at the beginning of March. The public letter signed by 15 UCP MLAs criticized Premier Jason Kenney for moving back to Step 1 of the province’s mild public health measures in response to the spike in new cases, which is largely a result of a vicious new variant of the deadly virus.
The letter signed by the 15 MLAs was soon after endorsed by Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell and West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, who also serves as the parliamentary secretary for small business. Also signalling support for the letter’s intentions was Calgary Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel-Garner, who serves as the Official Opposition Health Critic in Ottawa.
Peace River MLA Dan Williams, a long-time Kenney acolyte from Ottawa, did not endorse the letter but posted a video on social media criticizing the decision by Alberta Health Services to close down the rebel GraceLife Church, which had been holding in-person services in defiance of the government’s public health orders. He was joined in this call by Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the federal Conservative caucus for his extreme social conservative views.
That the leaders of the UCP caucus mutiny appear to largely be from the former Wildrose caucus, or Wildrose-wing of the party, is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.
It was also clear during Kenney’s press conference on Tuesday that he expected a negative reaction from his caucus. A significant portion of Kenney’s lecture was dedicated to managing MLAs expectations and acknowledging the differences of opinion in his caucus. Difference of opinion is one thing, but this is something entirely different.
The public health restrictions that Alberta fell back to earlier this week are nothing close to what restrictions have looked like in jurisdictions that have actually implemented lockdowns. Alberta schools are still open for in-person classes, and Albertans can still gather with up to 10 people outside, go shopping for non-essential items, get a haircut or a massage, dine or have drinks on a restaurant patio, and exercise at a gym with a personal trainer.
There is no doubt a lot of Albertans are frustrated about how the provincial government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kenney government has not helped itself by releasing a string of confusing and inconsistent public health measures and messaging to Albertans about the government’s response.
While public opinion polling suggests many Albertans would like the government to impose stronger measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus, there is a loud minority who want to see the current restrictions lifted.
It is yet to be seen whether the revolt will extend beyond this strongly worded letter, but there is little doubt these MLAs are actively undermining the work being done by public health professionals and health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The caucus revolt is probably a reflection of deepening regional and partisan divides in Alberta, with most of the COVID Caucus MLAs representing largely rural and small town districts. It is notable that no UCP MLAs from Calgary, so far the hardest hit in the third wave, have publicly joined the revolt.
It also suggests that the United Conservative Party is not as united as its leader would like Albertans to believe.
Kenney’s personal approval ratings and support for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic plummeted over the past 13 months, and his party has floundered in the polls, finishing behind Rachel Notley’s NDP in a handful of recent voter opinion polls. The rise of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party in rural Alberta has some backbench UCP MLAs nervously looking over their right shoulders.
In some ways, the revolt probably serves as a welcome distraction to some in the UCP from the never ending string of scandals and policy failures, most recently the failure to stop the Carbon Tax at the Supreme Court, the loss of $1.5 billion of public money when the Keystone XL Pipeline was cancelled, the failure to sign a new contract with Alberta doctors, the retreat on open-pit coal mining, and the open rebellion by parents against the draft K-6 curriculum.
Under normal circumstances it would be hard to believe that this kind of caucus revolt would happen on a day when more than 1,300 new cases of COVID were reported and doctors are calling for a circuit breaker response, but in today’s world of Alberta politics, it would be harder to believe this would happen if the UCP were not floundering so deeply in the polls.
Another MLA Recall bill has been introduced into the Alberta Legislative Assembly, and this one looks like it will actually pass and become law.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu introduced Bill 52: Recall Act in the Assembly for first reading today. If it becomes law, the bill would allow for a by-election to be called in a provincial electoral district where the signatures of at least 40 percent of the eligible voters are collected. Unlike previous Recall efforts, Madu’s bill expands recall to municipal councillors and school board trustees.
Forty percent is likely a high enough threshold to avoid frivolous, or maybe any, actual Recall by-elections. While there are certainly some circumstances where constituents are united in unhappiness with their elected officials, this bill seems to be more of a signal that the United Conservative Party has checked off a box on its to-do list than actually create a mechanism to improve democracy in Alberta.
Instead of being fearful of a revolt by their own voters, it is more likely that MLAs will be concerned that well-funded special interest groups, like the the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, could swoop into their district with a legion of paid volunteers to rabble-rouse and cause trouble for local representatives.
It might be more proactive to limit recall, like they have in the United Kingdom, to politicians who are convicted of criminal offenses or providing false or misleading expenses claims while in office.
Our democratic institutions do need to be tinkered with and improved, but so much of the focus of efforts like MLA Recall are focused on punishing elected officials rather than empowering them to do a better job. So rather than finding new ways to fire politicians, which Albertans have done a fairly consistent job in the past two elections, we should be creating ways they can do better jobs for us.
Being a backbench MLA in a government caucus is not a glamorous job. They are told where to be and how to vote on most issues. Most rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate meaningful independence without facing the wrath of the Caucus Whip or the Leader’s Chief of Staff. And, when time comes for re-election, their nomination papers require the ultimate endorsement of the party leader.
One way that individual MLAs could empower themselves would be to change the standing orders to allow MLAs who are not in cabinet an increased opportunity to introduce private members bills. Right now MLAs earn the ability to introduce private members bills through a lottery, meaning that some MLAs will never have the chance to introduce a law into the Legislature.
And private members’ bills are only debated on Monday’s, severely limiting their ability to get attention and get passed into law.
Accountability of democratic officials is important, and that is why we have elections every four years. And as Albertans have enthusiastically demonstrated over the past two elections, they will not hesitate to dramatically unseat MLAs and governments if they feel the need.
It would be better for democracy in Alberta if we focused on ways to empower MLAs to better represent Albertans inside and outside the Assembly, rather than creating new ways to punish them.
History of Recall Legislation in Alberta
Madu’s Bill 52 marks the eleventh MLA Recall bill to be tabled in the Assembly since 1936.
1936: Bill No. 76 of 1936: A Bill Providing for the Recall of Members of the Legislative Assembly was introduced by the Social Credit government and passed after their surprising win in the 1935 election. The bill required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election.
1937: The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River constituency.
1993: Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Gary Dickson introduced Bill 203: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill was defeated in a 42-34 vote in the Legislature.
1995:Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici introduced Bill 224: Parliamentary Reform and Electoral Review Commission Act, which would have created a commission to study a handful of issues, including recall. The bill passed first reading but was never debated.
1996:Lethbridge-East Liberal MLA Ken Nicol introduced Bill 206: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. This bill was defeated in a 37-24 vote in the Legislature.
1997: Bill 216, Recall Act was introduced by Edmonton-Manning Liberal MLA Ed Gibbons but was never debated in the Legislature. If passed into law, the bill would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one
2010: Calgary-Glenmore Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman introduced Bill 208: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 33 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. Reached second reading but was not debated further.
2015: Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer introduces Bill 206: Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election if 20 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill passed first reading and died on the order paper.
2016: Drayton Valley-Devon Wildrose MLA Mark Smith introduces Bill 201: Election Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election is 66 per cent of the electorate’s signatures from the previous general election was collected in 60 days on a sanctioned petition. The bill was defeated in second reading.
2019: Drayton Valley-Devon United Conservative Party MLA Mark Smith introduces Bill 204: Election Recall Act, which would allow Albertans to trigger a by-election in a riding where 40 per cent of registered voters have signed a petition recalling their MLA. The bill died on the order paper after it passed second reading.
These bills are part of a series of election bills that are expected to also include future bills allowing for the recall of MLAs, municipal politicians and school trustees, citizen initiated referendums, and major changes to provincial election laws.
The three bills introduced this week provide more opportunities for Albertans to vote for candidates and on issues, but they also claw back important transparency and accountability rules implemented by the previous New Democratic Party government less than two years ago.
It has almost been 50 years since the last time a province-wide plebiscite was initiated by the Alberta government. Bill 26 would allow the provincial government to hold referendums on non-constitutional issues, like creating an Alberta Pension Plan or deciding if we should remain on Daylight Saving Time. Providing an opportunity for Albertans to cast ballots on important issues can be a powerful tool to engage voters, but the timing and wording of such votes can also be intentionally manipulative.
The bill allows third-party groups, colloquially known as political action committees, to spend up to $500,000 on advertising up from the current $150,000 limit. Third-party groups that spend less than $350,000 on advertising during a referendum would not be required to file financial statements with Elections Alberta.
Schweitzer did not hold a press conference to announce the bill, so it is unclear why he chose to include such a massive gap in transparency.
Changes to municipal election laws included in Bill 29 are being framed by Madu as helping “level the playing field” for new candidates running for municipal councils and school boards by not allowing incumbents to carry over campaign war chests between elections and increasing the amount candidates can spend ahead of the election period from $2,000 to $5,000.
Bill 29 raises the election period donation limit from $4,000 back up to $5,000 and allows candidates to self-finance their campaign up to $10,000, reversing a number of changes made by the NDP government in 2018 that have not had a chance to be tested in a municipal election campaign.
Madu’s bill would also make it legal for wealthy individuals 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.
Eliminating the ability of incumbents to store campaign surpluses in war chests for future elections might lower the amount of cash on hand at the beginning of an election campaign. But in Edmonton at least, only two city councillors – Sarah Hamilton and Ben Henderson – reported having surpluses of more than $10,000 at the end of the 2017 election, suggesting that war chests are not necessarily a significant issues in the capital city.
Raising the donation limit could strengthen the advantage of incumbents with name recognition and developed political networks running against challengers who may be seeking political office for the first time.
The advantage of name recognition that helps incumbents get re-elected in large numbers at the municipal level is a feature that predates any of the changes to municipal election finance laws introduced by the previous NDP and Progressive Conservative governments over the past decade. The incumbent advantage even existed when there were no donation limits.
Bill 29 removes the requirement that candidates disclose their donors ahead of election day, which allows voters to see who is financially supporting candidates before they head to the ballot box.
The bill also removes spending limits for third-party groups before the start of the election period, allowing groups like Calgary’s infamous Sprawl Cabal of land developers free reign to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertising before May 1, 2021.
Madu’s Bill 29 introduces big money back into municipal elections under the guise of fairness and without creating any of the structural changes required to design a real competitive electoral environment at the municipal level.
Bill 29 also removes all references to the Election Commissioner, a housekeeping item necessitated by the controversial firing of the Commissioner by the UCP government in November 2019. In its place, the bill creates a Registrar of Third Parties, though it is unclear if the person holding this title would have the legal investigative authority of the now defunct Election Commissioner.
In past elections many municipalities simply did not have the resources available to enforce municipal election finance rules, so in some cases complaints were simply left uninvestigated.
Some of these changes were expected and were included in the UCP’s 2019 election platform, others were necessitated by inconsistencies in the changes made by the NDP in 2018, and some have come completely out of left-field.
Alberta’s election laws should be dynamic and designed to encourage and facilitate participation by voters and candidates, not to hide the identities of those who would spend money influencing election campaigns.
Overall, these bills could probably be summed up as one step forward for democracy and two steps back for transparency and accountability.
Changes coming to provincial election laws
These changes are likely a taste of what is to come from the recently appointed Select Special Democratic Accountability Committee. Chaired by Cardston-Siksika UCP MLA Joseph Schow, the committee will review Alberta’s Election Act and the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act within the next six months and has be tasked with answering a series of questions submitted by Schweitzer within four months.
Along with Schow, the committee membership includes Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci, Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Laila Goodridge, Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, Highwood MLA R.J. Sigurdson, Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith and Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet.
Public education advocate and school trustee Michael Janz joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of public education in Alberta and how cuts in the United Conservative Party‘s first provincial budget will impact the education system in our province. We also discuss what is behind the UCP’s drive to expand private and charter schools, and why the New Democratic Party did not cut the 70% subsidy for private schools in Alberta while they were in government.
We also opened the mailbag to answer some of the great Alberta politics questions sent in by our listeners, and announce the launch of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey which starts later this week.
A huge thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, who tried to keep us on track during this episode.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
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Photo: Mark Smith, UCP MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon (source: Facebook)
A private members’ bill introduced by Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith would, if passed, create a law to allow Albertans to trigger a by-election in a riding where 40 per cent of registered voters have signed a petition recalling their MLA.
This is the second time Smith has introduced a private members’ bill calling for what is known as MLA recall. The first recall bill introduced by Smith, then a Wildrose Party MLA, was defeated in second reading in April 2016. His latest attempt, Bill 204: Election Recall Act, passed second reading today and stands a strong chance of passing third reading and becoming law.
MLA Recall is nothing new in Alberta. Bill 204 marks the eighth time since 1993 that Alberta MLAs have debated recall in the Legislature, and Alberta even briefly had an MLA recall law in the 1930s.
An law passed in 1936 by the newly elected Social Credit government of Premier William Aberhart required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election. The law was repealed by the government in 1937 when a recall campaign in Aberhart’s Okotoks-High River was gaining momentum and expected to trigger a by-election.
Smith’s bill would create a threshold of 40 per cent of eligible voters needed to trigger a recall by-election, which is significantly higher than previous versions of the bill, including one introduced in 2015 by Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer that set the bar at a low 20 per cent of eligible voters.
Mark Smith’s bill has a number of concerning weaknesses
Removing a democratically-elected MLA from office through recall is a very serious action, and one that should be done only in certain serious circumstances.
Bill 204 places limits on when recall can take place, starting 18 months following a provincial election, but it does not place limits why it can be triggered.
A custodial prison sentence of a year or less—longer sentences automatically disqualify MPs without need for a petition;
Suspension from the House of least 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, following a report by the Committee on Standards;
A conviction for providing false or misleading expenses claims.
If there is going to be a recall law in Alberta, it should be fair and should only be allowed to be triggered under certain circumstances, otherwise it could be used to punish MLAs who make unpopular decisions or break from their party on high-profile political issues.
Because Bill 204 appears to be silent on how political parties and third-party political groups, widely known as political action committees, can engage in the recall process, it seems possible that they could play a role in collecting petition signatures through coordinated campaigns.
Bill 204 does not appear to address the role of political parties in funding, supporting, or organizing recall petitions, meaning that the UCP, New Democratic Party, or another political party might be able to actively support a recall campaign against its political opponents.
While political parties and third-party political groups would still be required to report their financial disclosures, it is not clear how their activities or interference during the recall process would be monitored.
It is not far-fetched to believe that third-party groups, of both conservative and progressive persuasions, could start collecting signatures to trigger recall elections in ridings where MLAs were elected by narrow margins in 2019, like NDP MLAs Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West and Jon Carson in Edmonton-West Henday or UCP MLAs Nicholas Milliken in Calgary-Currie and Kaycee Madu in Edmonton-South West.
Empower MLAs rather than punish them
Being a backbench MLA in a government caucus is not a glamorous job. They are told where to be and how to vote on most issues, and rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate meaningful independence without facing admonishment from the Caucus Whip.
In many ways, the Legislative Assembly has become subservient to the Premier’s Office, and serves as a body that exists to pass government legislation introduced by cabinet, rather than debate legislation introduced by individual MLAs. This is not unique to Alberta and it is a problem that plagues legislative bodies across Canada (and likely the world).
One way that individual MLAs could empower themselves would be to change the standing orders to allow MLAs who are not in cabinet an increased opportunity to introduce private members bills. Right now MLAs earn the ability to introduce private members bills through a lottery, meaning that some MLAs will never have the chance to introduce a law into the Legislature. And private members’ bills are only debated on Monday afternoons, severely limiting their ability to get attention and get passed into law.
Accountability of democratic officials is important, and that is why we have elections every four years. And as Albertans have demonstrated over the past two elections, they will not hesitate to dramatically unseat MLAs and governments.
It would be better for democracy in Alberta if we focused on ways to empower MLAs to better represent Albertans in the Legislative Assembly, rather than creating new ways to punish them.
UPDATE: Smith’s private members’ bill did not pass third reading and died on the Order Paper when the 2019/2020 session of the Alberta Legislature ended. It is expected a Government Bill on MLA Recall could be introduced in Spring 2021.
Photo: federal candidates Jasraj Singh Hallan, Nirmala Naidoo, Joe Pimlott, and Gurinder Singh Gill
With a federal election expected to begin sometime in the next nine days, some of Canada’s major political parties are scrambling to fill their slate of candidates in Alberta. At the time this update was published, the Liberal Party had 17 candidates nominated in Alberta’s 34 ridings, the NDP had nominated candidates in 9 ridings, and the Greens had candidates in 21 ridings. The Conservative Party and People’s Party had nominated full-slates of 34 candidates.
The regionally dominant Conservative Party is already expected to sweep most of the federal races in Alberta on October 21, 2019, but it is still a bit shocking that the other major political parties are still so far behind in their candidate selection process. It sends a pretty strong signal that those parties will be spending most of their resources in other provinces that are seen as more competitive, with the exception of a few Alberta ridings – Edmonton-Strathcona for the NDP and Calgary-Centre, Edmonton-Centre and Edmonton-Mill Woods for the Liberals.
Former UCP candidiate Hallan wins Conservative nomination in Calgary-Forest Lawn
Nirmala Naidoo has been acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Skyview. The former television broadcaster was the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in the 2015 election. She briefly served as co-chair of the Alberta Liberal Party’s leadership contest before stepping down to serve as the spokesperson for Sandra Jansen during her brief campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2016 (Jansen had endorsed Naidoo’s federal candidacy in 2015).
Naidoo’s candidacy was approved despite two other candidates having announced their intentions to run for the Liberal Party nomination in this riding.
The riding is currently represented by Independent MP Darshan Kang. Kang is a former two-term Liberal MLA who was elected as a federal Liberal in 2015 before leaving the Liberal caucus in 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment.
The Liberals have nominated Ghada Alatrash in Calgary-Signal Hill. She is a Syrian-Canadian writer and holds a PhD in Educational Research from the University of Calgary.
Leslie Penny is the nominated Liberal Party candidate in Peace River-Westlock. Penny ran for the provincial Liberal Party in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Ronald Brochu is the Liberal Party candidate in Sturgeon River-Parkland. Brochu has run for the provincial Liberal Party in Edmonton-Gold Bar in 2015 and Drayton Valley-Devon in 2019.
Del Arnold has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-Shepard. Arnold is the former vice-president of the Alberta Society of Registered Cardiology Technologists.
Tariq Chaudary has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Riverbend. Chaudary was the Liberal candidate in this riding in 2015, where he earned 30 per cent of the vote.
Audrey Redman is expected to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Riverbend on September 16, 2019.
Gurmit Bhachu is seeking the NDP nomination in Calgary-Midnapore. Bhachu is active with the provincial NDP in Calgary-Fish Creek and briefly considered seeking the nomination in that district before the 2019 provincial election. The nomination meeting is scheduled to take place on September 10, 2019.
The NDP will nominate candidates in Calgary-Heritage on September 10 and in Calgary-Nose Hill on September 11.
Elke Crosson has been nominated as the Green Party candidate in Lakeland.