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Danielle Smith Dave Taylor David Sands Ed Stelmach Edwin Erickson Gene Zwozdesky Jerry Toews Jim Gurnett Joe Anglin Ralph Klein Ron Liepert Tom Olsen

upside-down week.

Shuffling the deck.

Long-time Government spokesperson Jerry Bellikka replaces Tom Olsen as spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach (Olsen now becomes Alberta’s Olympic Spokesperson in Vancouver). Former MLA Jim Gurnett replaces Jerry Toews as Chief of Staff at the NDP caucus. Instead of laughing at satire, PAB blogger David Sands leaves Twitter altogether. Taking a more open approach to the media than his predecessor, Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdeskys cell phone number is now showing up on Government media releases.

Not your father’s NEP

With new Energy Minister Ron Liepert‘s mandate to reclaim PC dominance over energy sector support from Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals do not want to be left out. Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leading his party’s 180-degree policy change from their previous position that resource royalties are too low. On the policy change, Mount Royal University Professor Bruce Foster told FFWD:

“It seems as if the Liberals didn’t take the lead on this or didn’t distinguish themselves and now they’re playing catch-up,” he says.

Calgary Grit has more.

Alberta Party of Alberta

Former deputy leader of the now-defunct Alberta Green Party Edwin Erickson is now leader of the Alberta Party. In the last election, Erickson placed second with 19% of the vote against Tory Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Erickson and Joe Anglin led the fight against Bill 50 and Erickson had publicly mused about creating the Progress Party of Alberta. The Alberta Party has existed in a number of forms since 1986, but has never been competitive (highest support: leader Mark Waters earned 1,200 votes in Calgary-Currie in 1993).

Ralph University

Olds College has re-named their Community Learning Centre after former Premier Ralph Klein and not everyone in Olds is enamoured with the decision.

Categories
Brian Mason Danielle Smith David Swann Ed Stelmach Heather Forsyth Rob Anderson Sarah Palin

danielle smith’s free-ride.

Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithLet's Make it Happen

Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party’s policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith’s only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.

Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party’s upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.

Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as “draconian,” but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier’s reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith’s party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).

An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as “a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP” and suggested that her “delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best.” I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.

The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge’s One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer’s Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.

Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.

With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?

UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga’s list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.

Categories
Ed Stelmach Gene Zwozdesky George Groenveld Janis Tarchuk Jonathan Denis Ron Liepert Ted Morton

alberta, this is your cabinet.

Finance Minister Ted Morton has compared Alberta to a buffet.

Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky wants a family unit (think: it’s a family affair…)

Housing & Urban Affairs Minister Jonathan Denis wants to send a message to people who use social housing.

He remains Minister of Education, and Dave Hancock faced brutal criticism from +500 of his constituents this week.

Former Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld admits (tongue and cheek) that he was getting “a little long in the tooth.”

Energy Minister Ron Liepert wants to limit growth in the oil sands.

Calls to Janis Tarchuk‘s office were not returned.

Premier Ed Stelmach is already eying the next cabinet shuffle and also talking about sending funds to Haiti… or not? Wait, yes, they are.

Opposition leaders thought the shuffle was akin to shuffle lounge chairs on the Hindenburg, re-shuffling of deck chairs, and re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Creativity points all around.

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Dave Hancock. Jonathan Denis Ed Stelmach Fred Lindsay Gene Zwozdesky George Groenveld Iris Evans Janis Tarchuk Lloyd Snelgrove Luke Ouellette Mel Knight Ray Danyluk Ron Liepert Ted Morton

alberta cabinet shuffle: a lot of hype.

I am not going to write a lot about today’s cabinet shuffle, as there really is not much substance to write about. While three new MLAs have been appointed to the cabinet, the problems facing Premier Ed Stelmach are much larger than anything a minor cabinet shuffle can solve. Today’s cabinet change was hardly the dramatic change that it was hyped to be.

Going political and trying to head off the insurgent Wildrose Alliance at the hard-conservative pass was one goal of today’s shuffle. This explains the appointment of Ted Morton as Finance Minister. If he can survive in Finance, Premier Stelmach may have just anointed Morton as his unofficial successor. Minister Morton will have a high-profile new role, but much of the Government’s financial levers will remain held by Stelmach-loyalist and Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove.

Newly appointed Housing and Urban Affairs & Housing Minister Jonathan Denis is known as nice guy, but also as a pretty comfortable hyper-partisan. Some people I have spoken with expect him to fulfil a political role similar to his former business partner, Pierre Poilievre.

Loyalty was big. Stelmach confidants Luke Ouellette, Ray Danyluk, Iris Evans, and Mel Knight all remain in cabinet. George Groeneveld, Janis Tarchuk, and Fred Lindsay were rightfully bumped out of the cabinet. Not surprisingly, Ron Liepert‘s departed Health & Wellness to Energy. Where, as Paula Simons suggested that “he’ll use his unique brand of charm to win new friends and influence more people.” His successor, Gene Zwozdesky will likely bring a more easy going face to one of the more heavy-lifting portfolios in government.

Look for more substantive content in the Ministerial Mandate Letters later this week and the February 9 Provincial Budget.

Categories
Alberta Cabinet Shuffle Dave Hancock Diana McQueen Doug Horner Ed Stelmach Fred Horne George Groenveld Iris Evans Jack Hayden Mel Knight Rob Renner Ron Liepert Ted Morton

alberta cabinet shuffle.

With a cabinet shuffled expected in the near future (possibly as early as tomorrow), there is no shortage of speculation about who will be shuffled in, out, and around. A cabinet shuffle will put a new face on the tiring PC cabinet that has weathered a brutal public beating on issues ranging from unpopular health care restructuring, Bill 44, resource royalty tinkering, international attention on the oilsands, a by-election defeat, a seismic drop in the polls, and MLA defections.

As I wrote in December 2009, It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. One of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s greatest challenges is that his government doesn’t have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

Iris EvansRon Liepert

Finance Minister Iris Evans may keep her job, but there are strong rumors about a comfy patronage appointment as Alberta’s Representative in London, UK. With a strong political pedigree, Doug Horner is a key candidate for promotion – to Finance, or more likely, Health & Wellness. His father, Hugh Horner, served as an MP, MLA, and cabinet minister between 1958 and 1979, including as Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture of Alberta.

The rumor mill appears to have come to an unlikely consensus that Minister Ron Liepert will relieve Minister Mel Knight of his position in Energy. Delicate as a wrecking ball, Minister Liepert oversaw the haphazard dissolution of Alberta’s regional health authorities and centralization under the Alberta Health Services ‘Superboard.’ I am sure that the energy sector will love him.

Iris EvansLindsay Blackett

As the Godfather of Edmonton PC MLAs, Dave Hancock is expected to remain Education Minister, not interrupting the ongoing School Act review. Also expected to remain in their job is Environment Minister Rob Renner, who has proved his ability to deliver a respectful media performance on dirty files like climate change and the oilsands. 

First-term MLA Diana McQueen wooed PC delegates in her introduction of Premier Stelmach at their 2009 leadership review convention. McQueen could be a strong addition to a weak cabinet. After playing interference for Premier Stelmach on the Alberta Hospital Edmonton bed closures, another rookie MLA, Fred Horne, has been rumored to be a candidate for Minister of Health, but more recently has been rumoured to replace Minister Horner in Advanced Education. Horne served as Executive Assistant to Minister Hancock, who also he served in the portfolio.

Long-time Stelmach confidants Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk, and Lloyd Snelgrove will likely stay rewarded for their loyalty, but may be shuffled. Ted Morton is clearly enjoying his current role as Sustainable Resource Development Minister, but columnist Don Braid has suggested that he may be moved to the Treasury Board position. Weak Ministerial performers Lindsay BlackettJanis Tarchuk, Heather Klimchuk, and George Groenveld are also prime targets for being shuffled.

After taking another look at the rumoured shuffle, it does not appear to be much of a change after all. We shall wait and see.

Categories
Doug Griffiths Ed Stelmach Fred Horne Hugh MacDonald Ken Kowalski Kevin Taft Kyle Fawcett Rachel Notley Ron Liepert Stephen Duckett

year in review 2009: alberta mla edition.

As is tradition here at daveberta.ca, I have created an annual list of Alberta MLAs who have caught my eye over the past year (see the 2008 MLA review). Due to a large grouping of MLAs who through sheer numbers appear almost indistinguishable as they sit in the backbenches of the 72  70 MLA Progressive Conservative caucus, this list focuses on the handful of MLAs who caught my attention for various reasons:


Kyle Fawcett: (PC Calgary-North Hill) I am really puzzled by this one. In February 2009, backbench MLA Fawcett was one of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s proudest cheerleaders, evangelizing the Premier on the floor of the Legislature as:

…a man of extraordinary vision, someone who fails to fall into the trap of regressive thinking during challenging times. He is a steady hand at the wheel of the ship in turbulent times. When others retreat, he has the optimism to search for the light at the end of the tunnel, the beacon of hope that all Albertans aspire to. He has the dogged determination to push forward to establish this province’s place in the new world paradigm when the negativity of others is enough to stop progress dead in its tracks.

Eight months later, Fawcett took a complete 180 degree turn and criticized Premier Stelmach for doing “very little, I believe, to instil confidence in at least people in Calgary that he has the leadership capabilities to lead this province.” He soon after apologized and was quietly punished for his outspoken behaviour. It appears that Fawcett wants to be the class rebel and the teachers pet at the same time, but has ended up wearing the dunce cap instead.

Doug Griffiths: (PC Battle River-Wainwright) A year of lateral moves from being shuffled from parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to parliamentary assistant to the Solicitor General makes me wonder if the PCs are blind to talent. Griffiths knows how to use social media effectively by actually providing value and allowing citizens outside the Legislature to get a peek at what personal beliefs and driving motivations have led him to seek office. With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.

Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock) As Speaker Kowalski celebrated 30 years as an MLA, he also demonstrated his political vintage by outright banning MLAs from using social media such as Twitter and Facebook during Question Period. While I agree that MLAs should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, rather than outright banning the medium, Kowalski had the opportunity to explore how new technologies could be used to reconnect citizens to their democratic institutions. I offered to help Speaker Kowalski better understand the uses of social media, but I did not receive a response.

 #fail

Ron Liepert (PC Calgary-West) Minister Liepert is a blunt instrument. He and Premier Stelmach have continued to defer much of their public responsibility for health care restructuring to the unelected CEO of Alberta Health Services, Stephen Duckett, but it has not stopped the Minister from planting his foot firmly in his mouth. PC MLAs are growing weary of this political arrangement and the Calgary Herald called for Minister Liepert’s resignation after he blamed Albertans for the administrative mishandling of the H1N1 vaccinations. Odds are favouring Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne to replace Minister Liepert early in the new year.



Hugh MacDonald (Liberal Edmonton-Gold Bar) Last year, I characterized MacDonald as “obsessed with discovering scandal,” and this year I say the same, but with a slightly more endearing tone. While he does come off as a little nuts, MacDonald is easily one of the hardest working MLAs in the Legislature – spending countless hours digging through files in the Legislature Library and as Chair of the Public Account CommitteeAIMco, AHS, and PC MLA extra pay and bonuses have been among MacDonald’s targets in 2009, but I am still not sure if he would know what to do if he uncovered a scandal that stuck.

Len Mitzel (PC Cypress-Medicine Hat) Haven’t heard of Len Mitzel? Not surprising. The backbench MLA has found his niche as the PC caucus’ designated American conference attendee. Over the past year, Mitzel has attended conferences on behalf of the Government of Alberta in Montana (again and again), San AngeloLaredo, Denver, and Boise, meaning that he likely understands more than most MLAs the important economic relationship that our province has with the western United States.

Rachel Notley: (NDP Edmonton-Strathcona) Notley has proven to be a consistently good parliamentarian. She is intelligent, articulate, and has worked hard to provide a clear voice for her constituents on the floor of the Legislature (on a wide range of issues). Lord only knows why NDP members have not demanded that she become the leader of her party.

Kevin Taft (Liberal Edmonton-Riverview) Freed from the burden of leading Alberta’s Liberal Party, Taft has returned to a more familiar role as Official Opposition Health Critic. Having written and researched extensively about public health care in Alberta in his pre-political life, Taft has proven to be a formidable opponent to Premier Stelmach and Minister Liepert over the past year.

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Danielle Smith Dave Hancock David Swann Doug Horner Ed Stelmach Janis Tarchuk Laurence Decore Lindsay Blackett Mel Knight Preston Manning Ron Liepert

premier stelmach’s problems are bigger than a cabinet shuffle.

There has been a lot of chatter about what Premier Ed Stelmach can do to reverse the Progressive Conservatives downward spiral in recent polls. According to these recent polls, the PCs now sit at 25% province-wide and in third place behind Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance and David Swann‘s Liberals in Edmonton and Calgary. Another recent poll framed Premier Stelmach as the least popular Premier in Canada with a 14% approval rating.

Sheila Pratt has written an interesting article in today’s Edmonton Journal about the PCs current misfortune and the new groups of Albertans like Reboot Alberta and Renew Alberta that have emerged. Even Preston Manning is interested in starting something new. Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?

Will finally ending the disastrous reigns of Children & Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk and Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert change Premier Stelmach’s position in the polls? Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost their numbers? Will moving Energy Minister Mel Knight to another portfolio halt the Calgary energy sector support that is flowing towards the Wildrose Alliance? Will promoting Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner to Finance Minister improve their image? Will relocating Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett bring back the PC supporters who were offended over the embarrassment of Bill 44?

Will rearranging the deck chairs change the course of the ship? It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. As I said during an interview with Calgary Today’s Mike Blanchard this week, one of Premier Stelmach’s greatest challenges is that his government doesn’t have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

In his recent book, Rich Vivone accurately pointed out that when Premier Ralph Klein declared Alberta to be debt free in 2004, the PCs began to drift. Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by Laurence Decore‘s Liberals in the 1993 election and it was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. In many ways, Premier Klein’s 55.4% approval in 2006 reflected the drift.

Premier Stelmach is far from an amazing orator or political strategist, but one of his greatest strengths is that he is constantly underestimated by his opponents and the media. No one expected him to defeat Jim Dinning and Ted Morton in the PC leadership race or lead his party to win a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election. The recent polls may spell demise for the near 40-year governing PCs, but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.

Categories
Alison Redford Brett Wilson Dave Hancock. Jonathan Denis Don Getty Doug Horner Ed Stelmach Jim Prentice Ted Morton

what’s going to happen at the pc leadership review?

Barring a stealth insurgency campaign, I anticipate that around 85% of Progressive Conservative convention delegates will support Premier Ed Stelmach in the leadership review vote this weekend. Why so high, you ask? Because this is a vote by dedicated partisans from Alberta’s PC Party. Premier Stelmach has his detractors, but I expect that the kind of party members who would pay hundreds of dollars to spend two days in Red Deer will predictably rally around the PC Party brand.

Seeking to revive fond memories a past era, the slogan chosen for this convention was also the PCs 1979 election slogan. Now… more than ever, which was chosen thirty years ago over the wrath tempting 79 in ’79, is meant to remind party faithful of the glory days and to put aside their feelings about more recent political baggage. 

With at least two or three years until the next election, Premier Stelmach has at least twelve months to pull his party’s support up again before he faces the kind of internal opposition that forced Don Getty into retirement. Similar to Getty’s time in office, Premier Stelmach is governing during an economic slowdown under the shadow of a popular predecessor. Getty’s administration was marred with scandals and internal dissent and so far, Premier Stelmach has demonstrated an ability to avoid taking personal responsibility for his government’s missteps. Getty retired in 1992 as Laurence Decore‘s Liberals were riding a wave of discontent that mirrored the rise of the Reform Party on the federal stage. While they are currently rising in recent polls, it remains to be seen whether Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance can sustain their support until the next election. It also remains to be seen whether David Swann can re-energize the Liberals to take advantage of a potential split on the political right.

Also uncertain is who would contest a 2010 leadership race if PC delegates voted to sack the Premier. Ted Morton, Brett WilsonJim Prentice, Dave Hancock, Jonathan Denis, Ray DanylukAlison Redford, and Doug Horner are names that I have heard bandied around, but it is too soon to tell who is actually prepared to step up to the plate.

Billed as a policy convention, a quick look at the policy booklet reveals a fairly dry agenda for debate. It is likely that the liveliest excitement of the weekend may come from outside the convention where the AUPEthe Friends of Medicare, and other public sector groups are busing hundreds of supporters from around the province to a huge Stop the Cuts rally only blocks away from the convention.

On Saturday night, PC archetypes will herald the convention as a success of the grassroots, but I expect that little will change after the convention concludes. Regardless of potential icebergs on the political horizon, a strong showing of support in the leadership review will certainly solidify the resolve of Premier Stelmach and his supporters that they are steering their party, and the Government of Albertans, in the right direction. “Rearrange the deck chairs…

Recommended Reading: 
Alex Abboud: State of Alberta: At a Crossroads
Calgary Grit: This week in Alberta – All good things…
Ken Chapman: Is Alberta about to enter an empire illusion stage politically?
Chris Labossiere: Run up the middle… to right of centre
Duncan Wojtaszek: Red Deer
Live Gov: PC AGM

Categories
Brian Mason Dave Taylor David Swann Ed Stelmach Rachel Notley Ron Liepert Yvonne Fritz

setting the tone.

It only took two days into the fall session before the offensive hyperbole started to fly and the rotten culture inside Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is now out in full force. Sixth Grade students visiting the Assembly may easily mistake the men in dark suits as grown ups, but that description is harder to believe when you hear some of the words coming out of their mouths.

Health Minister Ron Liepert has mocked Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, claiming that she doesn’t understand the health care system. Premier Ed Stelmach has referred to the Liberal caucus as “these people” and even ridiculed the attendance at Liberal Party conventions. 

This afternoon, following a question from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason about H1N1 vaccinations, Stelmach responded:

“I’ll take the word of this nurse [Minister Yvonne Fritz] over the word of a bus driver any day”

On April 30, 2009, Stelmach took issue with comments by Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and wrote a letter to Liberal leader David Swann, calling for “civil debate in the Assembly.” Stelmach may have apologized for his comments this afternoon, but that doesn’t excuse the negative tone that the the Premier has already helped set on the floor of our elected Assembly.