The political history of Alberta is filled with larger than life characters. I read a lot about Alberta history, and while politicians like William Aberhart, Ernest Manning, Peter Lougheed, and Ralph Klein dominate the history books, I have frequently come across some really interesting lesser known characters. I thought it would be interesting to share are a few of those names with you today.
United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith and Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley will face each other at 7:00 pm tonight in the only televised leaders debate of Alberta’s election campaign.
This is the first time Alberta has had a TV debate featuring only two party leaders, but both people taking the stage have experience doing this before.
This is Notley’s third televised debate since 2015 and it’s Smith’s second.
The calm before the storm. The deep breath before the plunge.
Tomorrow is the day.
Tomorrow is by-election day in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.
They’ve been overshadowed by Jason Kenney’s leadership review, the occupation of Ottawa, a blockade at Coutts, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but tomorrow the people of northern Alberta’s famed boom town get their say.
They get to choose an MLA.
Brian Jean is the favourite to win.
He’s the former MLA, former MP, and former leader of the Wildrose Party.
He’s Fort Mac’s golden boy.
Now he’s the United Conservative Party candidate.
He’s also Jason Kenney’s worst enemy and if he wins he’ll become an even bigger thorn in the Premier’s side ahead of the April 9 leadership review.
Kenney beat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and is now openly campaigning against him in the leadership review.
Jean isn’t the only anti-Kenney candidate in the race.
NDP candidate Ariana Mancini is campaigning hard.
The NDP are cautiously optimistic about their chances but it’s a real long shot and know they are the underdog.
Even with the NDP leading the UCP by 15 points in province-wide polls and Kenney’s approval ratings in free fall, there is still a big gap to close in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.
The UCP won the riding with 66 per cent of the vote in 2019.
Competing with Jean for disaffected conservative voters is another former Wildrose Party leader, Paul Hinman.
Hinman now leads the separatist Wildrose Independence Party.
He’s another long-shot candidate.
He’s also living proof that by-elections can produce weird and unpredictable results.
What do I mean?
Hop in and join me in the Alberta Politics Time Machine™.
One year after Hinman was lost his Cardston-Taber-Warner seat in the 2008 general election he shocked political watchers by winning a by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore in the city’s southwest.
It was a real country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse situation.
But Hinman isn’t the only example of how by-elections can be sometimes have shocking results.
The Liberals stunned political watchers when Craig Cheffins won in the Calgary-Elbow by-election to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.
Alberta Party leader Greg Clark very nearly repeated history in 2014 when he placed a painfully close second to PC cabinet minister Gord Dirks in another Calgary-Elbow by-election.
“But Dave,” you say, “aren’t those just fancy urban Calgary ridings?”
The Liberals won the 1992 by-election in Three Hills.
Yes. That’s right. Three. Hills.
Deficit hawk Liberal leader Laurence Decore recruited farm realtor Don MacDonald in that by-election.
It was a sign of how well the Liberals were doing as much as how poorly the old Progressive Conservatives had tumbled under Don Getty’s beleaguered premiership.
“This is the heartland of Conservative Alberta,” Decore told a boisterous crowd of supporters in Three Hills on the night of MacDonald’s win.
He won with a stunning 2,476 lead over the second place Social Credit candidate.
The PC placed third.
“This is rural Alberta. This is where it’s not supposed to happen. This is where Liberals are supposed to be the anathema of everything that this area stands for,” Decore said. “Not only are we winning but we’re winning handsomely.”
The Liberals even came within a hair of winning a by-election in Little Bow a few months earlier.
Yes. Little. Bow.
That’s the deep south and it’s where conservatives usually win big.
The Reform Party of Canada was on the rise and, just like Three Hills a few months later, Reformers were split between the provincial Liberals and Tories in that by-election.
Reformer-turned-Liberal Donna Graham finished 262 votes behind Reformer-turned-Tory winner Barry MacFarland.
It was a close race.
And then there’s the big by-election win that people always talk about when Alberta separatism periodically peaks in the polls: Western Canada Concept’s Gordon Kesler winning the 1982 Olds-Didsbury by-election.
It was the only time a separatist party candidate has been elected to the Alberta Legislature.
People were mad.
Mad at Pierre Trudeau.
Mad at Peter Lougheed.
And boy did they show it.
But Kesler only had a few months as an MLA before Lougheed shifted gears and steamrolled the WCC into electoral oblivion in the November 1982 general election.
Ok. Buckle up.
Let’s take the time machine back even further.
Young PC candidate Bill Yurko stole the Strathcona East seat vacated by retired Premier Ernest Manning in 1969, foreshadowing the demise of Social Credit only a few years later.
Even the New Democrats have squeaked in a surprise by-election win, though you’ll have to go way back to find it.
Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. 1966.
Garth Turcott becomes the first Alberta NDP MLA in the province’s history.
It was a seat with a proud history of radical coal miner unionism, socialism and communism but like most of Alberta it had been held in the tight grip of the Socreds for over three decades.
Turcott’s team brought in a professional organizer and used new campaigning techniques like “doorknocking.”
Federal NDP leader Tommy Douglas even lent Turcott’s campaign a hand and drew hundreds of people to a by-election rally in the riding.
Douglas roasted Premier Ernest Manning for standing in the way of public health care.
“He has been the spearpoint of the attack on medicare,” Douglas said of the Alberta Premier.
It’s probably how Rachel Notley would describe Jason Kenney today. She’d be right.
But that’s for another column.
Slide back to the present. March 14, 2022.
What a wild ride.
I’d love to take the time machine to tomorrow night to see how the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election turns out but our tank is almost empty (and radioactive plutonium almost costs as much as a tank of gas these days!).
So we’ll have to take a big deep breath and wait to see if Brian Jean reclaims his old seat tomorrow night.
It might be a Jean slam dunk, but as we just saw on our little journey through Alberta history – sometimes by-elections can have unexpected results.
On August 30, 1971, the Progressive Conservative Party led by 43-year old Calgary lawyer Peter Lougheed were rocketed into government when they unseated the 36-year old Social Credit government led by 57-year old Harry Strom.
It was a shift that, until recently, had happened only once every generation in Alberta: a change in government.
Lougheed’s election represented a generational shift, with the voting age dropping from 21 to 18 years old for the first time, and an urban shift, with a handful of new urban districts added to the electoral map dislodging the disproportionate rural majority that had dominated Alberta’s elections until that point.
As Ernest Manning’s successor, Strom inherited an aging dynasty that had governed Alberta since 1935. While he appeared open to new ideas, modernizing the long-in-the-tooth Socred government was a tall order.
In contrast, Lougheed embodied new ideas of a younger Alberta – or at least that’s what the mythology of that election tells us. His campaign was made for TV and the telegenic Lougheed could be frequently seen “main streeting” and running from door to door while canvassing for his party’s candidates.
Social Credit tried to revitalize their look, with go-go girls and live bands at their election rallies, but once voters decided that change was needed it was impossible for Strom to turn that around. And the iconic NOW! slogan of Lougheed’s campaign tapped into that feeling.
The Lougheed PCs were not alone. They had the financial backing of corporate Calgary, including generous support from the Mannix Corporation, which employed Lougheed before he was first elected to the Legislature in 1967.
The PCs won with 49 seats and 46.4 per cent of the popular vote, sweeping out Social Credit, which, with 25 seats and 41.1 per cent of the vote formed the Official Opposition for the first time. While the Social Credit Party would wither in the opposition benches and eventually shrink into a 4 MLA rump that would survive until the early 1980s, Lougheed’s first victory transformed Alberta politics for the next five decades.
The PCs would form commanding majorities until their defeat to Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in 2015.
Also elected in 1971 was NDP leader Grant Notley, who would represent the northern rural district of Spirit River-Fairview until 1984. The NDP narrowly missed out electing a few other MLAs in this election, and Notley would remain the party’s only MLA – and the only social democratic voice in the Legislature – until Ray Martin was elected in Edmonton-Norwood in 1982.
The Alberta Liberal Party, which had formed Official Opposition before Lougheed’s PCs earned the spot in 1967, were wiped off the political map and would remain in the political wilderness until 1986.
In politics timing is everything, and Lougheed lucked out. Massive windfalls in oil and gas revenues led to overflowing government coffers, allowing the PC government to make major investments in public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, universities and colleges. The Lougheed PCs founded the The Banff Centre, the Kananaskis Country recreation area, and even bought an airline – Pacific Western Airlines.
Lougheed’s government introduced a Bill of Rights, created the Legislature Hansard, and dissolved the notorious Alberta Eugenics Board.
The difference between Lougheed and some of his successors in Alberta’s Conservative dynasty was his belief that government had a positive role to play in society (a Reform Party Member of Parliament named Jason Kenney once criticized Lougheed’s legacy of “neo-Stalinist make-work projects.”)
Lougheed believed Alberta should behave like an owner of our oil and gas resources and that the government should collect its fair share of revenues. Royalty revenues were much higher than today, peaking at 40 per cent during his time as Premier. The oil companies complained but Lougheed was persistent.
“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” Lougheed once said.
Lougheed’s government also negotiated landmark financial investments from the federal government and the Ontario government in the oil sands that kickstarted development of the deposits when private investors would not take the risk. These government investments in Alberta’s oil industry likely helped save companies like Suncor when the international price of oil plummeted in the 1980s.
Relations between Lougheed’s government and Ottawa soured following the introduction of the National Energy Program, creating a political wedge that Conservative leaders have continued to crank ever since. But he always made sure he was seen as advocating for Alberta in a strong Canada and was a key player during the Constitution-making negotiations of the early 1980s.
The Heritage Savings Trust Fund is one of Lougheed’s biggest legacies. Today the trust fund is seen as a visionary move to save money for future generations of Albertans, which it is in a way, but it was also a result of a government that at one point literally had more money that it knew what to do with.
Lougheed commanded the loyalty of his cabinet, caucus and party – which built a political dynasty that would span four decades but also gave him a bit of an autocratic reputation.
PC MLAs would be required to share frequent local membership and fundraising updates with the Premier’s Office and Lougheed was known to make monthly calls with local PC Party association presidents in order to create a system of accountability with his local leaders. And there have also been stories that Lougheed kept undated and signed letters of resignation from his cabinet ministers in order to avoid having to fire anyone who became a political liability.
There is a Camelot-like mythology to Lougheed’s time in office. He towers over Alberta politics in ways that more recently popular leaders like Ralph Klein do not. While Klein was a populist, Lougheed was a builder. The oil money sure helped, but so did having a vision for making this province a better place.
Day Light Saving Time Referendum
Nothing is new under the prairie sun. In 1971, Albertans voted to adopt Daylight Saving Time in a province-wide referendum after voting against DST in a 1967 referendum. This October 2021, Albertans will vote whether to abandon the time change and permanently adopt Daylight Saving Time.
Newspaper Election Ads from 1971
Andrea Hasenbank joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss radical politics and propaganda in 1930s Alberta, one of Dave Cournoyer’s favourite periods in Alberta politics. From the rise of Communist organizations and publications to the election of William Aberhart‘s Social Credit Party, the 1930s was a wild period in Alberta politics as our province became a testing ground for radical political, social and economic theories.
Andrea Hasenbank holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, focusing on the circulation of print and the reading publics that formed the leftist pamphleteering culture of 1930s Canada. Between 2015 and 2019, she worked as a political advisor within the Notley government in Alberta. She teaches courses on media history and the news and consults on learning design. Her new research continues to examine the intersection of print, readers, propaganda, and the state in interwar Canada.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
This is our last podcast of the season, so we will be taking a break over the next few months to enjoy the Alberta summer. We may pop in with an odd episode or two if there are any big developments over the summer, but otherwise we will return to our regular podcast schedule in the fall.
Thanks for listening. Have a safe and fun summer.
- In Blunderland (Andrea Hasenbank, June 13, 2021)
- Police swing billy clubs to break up hunger march on Legislature (Edmonton Journal, December 20, 1932)
- Social Credit Board
- What is Social Credit? (Published by the Social Credit Board, 1945)
- Bankers’ Toadies Incident
- 1937 Social Credit Backbenchers’ Revolt
- Accurate News and Information Act
- Before David Suzuki there was the William Aberhart honorary degree scandal at the University of Alberta (Daveberta.ca, April 25, 2018)
- Nothing new under the Prairie Sun: Alberta’s Social Credit Invasion of Saskatchewan (Daveberta.ca, November 1, 2016)
- Once upon a time Alberta had a Provincial Sales Tax (Daveberta.ca, January, 14, 2015)
- The Social Credit Phenomenon (Alvin Finkel, University of Toronto Press, 1989)
Anderson was a shop steward with the United Steelworkers and a technician for Telus when he was first elected as MLA for Leduc-Beaumont in the 2015 Orange Wave. He served as Minister of Municipal Affairs from 2017 until his defeat in the 2019 election to United Conservative Party candidate Brad Rutherford.
Anderson announced last year that he and his family had moved back to his hometown of Duncan on Vancouver Island.
In an interview with Alberta View Magazine in 2018, Anderson recalled how growing up in the Cowichan Valley shaped his politics:
So where I grew up, the Cowichan Valley, is a big resource area. My dad’s in forestry, as are a lot of people I know. And when I was born, in 1975, Tommy Douglas was our MP for one term—which I didn’t know until I got elected. So it makes sense why we were usually NDP. We were labour and blue collar, right? That said, my parents always told me, “Get informed. It doesn’t matter who you vote for but make sure you understand why.”
If successful in his nomination bid, Anderson would face Green Party MP Paul Manly when the next federal election is called. Manly was first elected in a May 2019 by-election and is the son of former NDP MP James Manly.
Anderson continues the long-tradition of Alberta politicians jumping into electoral politics in British Columbia.
- Former Calgary-Bow Progressive Conservative MLA Alana DeLong was the BC Liberal candidate in Nanaimo-North Cowichan in the 2017 provincial election and the Conservative candidate in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford in the 2019 federal election.
- Former cabinet minister and Red Deer-North PC MLA Stockwell Day ran in Okanagan-Coquihalla after becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance and served as MP until 2011.
- One-time St. Albert NDP candidate Michelle Mungall served as the NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston from 2009 to 2020 and in various cabinet roles during this period.
- Michael Charrois, who ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Castle Downs in the 2001 election, was the federal NDP candidate in North Vancouver in 2008 and 2011 and the BC NDP candidate in North Vancouver-Seymour in 2017.
- Former Edmonton-Belmont NDP MLA Tom Sigurdson ran for the BC NDP nomination in Burnaby-Willingdon ahead of the 2005 provincial election.
- Former Edmonton-Glengarry PC MLA Rollie Cook currently serves as an elected member of the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District.
- Former Slave Lake mayor Val Meredith served as the Reform Party MP for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley and Surrey—White Rock—South Langley from 1993 to 2004. Meredith has since moved to Calgary and is now leading the candidate selection committee for the separatist Maverick Party.
- Former Edmonton mayor Vincent Dantzer served as the PC MP for Okanagan North from 1980 to 1988.
- Macleod MP Ernest Hansell was Alberta Premier Ernest Manning‘s handpicked choice to lead the Social Credit Party into British Columbia’s 1952 election. When the Socreds unexpectedly won the election, Hansell remained an Alberta MP and W.A.C. Bennett was chosen to become Premier.
Summer has finally arrived and what is better than sitting in the warm Alberta sun, cracking open a cold beverage and flipping open your favourite book about Alberta politics? To quench that thirst for more knowledge, I asked readers of this website and listeners of the Daveberta Podcast to share their recommendations for the Alberta Politics Summer Reading List.
Thank you to everyone who shared their picks. If there is an Alberta politics book that you just can’t put down that didn’t make the list, share it with us in the comment section below.
ALBERTA POLITICS SUMMER READING LIST
Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta edited by Duane Bratt, Keith Brownsey, Richard Sutherland, and David Taras (2019)
The first scholarly analysis of the unprecedented NDP victory in the 2015 Alberta Provincial Election, paying special attention to the details of party campaigns and economic and social factors unique to Alberta politics.
Grant Notley: The Social Conscience of Alberta by Howard Leeson (2015)
Written by his former executive assistant, this biography provides a look into the compelling life story of Grant Notley, the father of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 until his death in 1984. His passion for our province and social democratic politics is a refreshing reminder of a level of respect that used to exist among political opponents and adversaries in our province.
Alberta Politics Uncovered: Taking Back our Province by Marc Lisac (2004)
In Alberta Politics Uncovered Mark Lisac delivers a clear message that Albertans must stop believing in money and the myth of western alienation and start believing in balanced leadership. In this concise and highly readable explanation of Alberta’s government policies, Lisac examines the “balanced budget,” and other current issues, and reminds Alberta voters that we all have the responsibility to hold our government accountable.
Where the Bodies Lie by Mark Lisac (2016)
An enjoyable mix of politics and intrigue make this fictional murder mystery a must-read for political watchers in Alberta. “Lisac’s backdrop may be the political scene, but his story is in the heart of his main characters, their flaws and aspirations. He is an elegant and efficient writer and sets lovely scenes and characters, creating a murder mystery with twists and engaging characters,” wrote Samantha Power in Vue Weekly.
A prequel to this book, titled Image Decay, is expected to be released in September 2020.
Democracy in Alberta: Social Credit and the Party System by CB MacPherson (1962)
Democracy in Alberta was the first book by influential political scientist C.B. Macpherson. Macpherson examines the distinctive quasi-party political system that emerged in Alberta in the first half of the twentieth century, represented by the United Farmers of Alberta and Social Credit governments and the movements behind them. This classic is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the broader historical context of Alberta politics.
King Ralph: The Political Life and Success of Ralph Klein by Don Martin (2002)
Don Martin’s investigative biography is a candid look at former Alberta premier Ralph Klein. In his research for King Ralph, Martin was afforded unconditional interviews with Klein, his family and colleagues, and allowed access to previously confidential files kept by Klein’s staff during his terms both as Calgary’s mayor and Alberta’s premier.
The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil by Larry Pratt (1976)
Hard to find but worth the read, this 1976 book provides a thorough background background to the politics and economics that led to the creation of the Syncrude project and development of the Athabasca oil sands. A review by ActiveHistory.ca describes the book as an essential text on the history of Alberta’s tar sands. Used copies can be found on amazon.com.
Also from Pratt and John Richards: Prairie Capitalism: Power and Influence in the New West (1979)
Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country by Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid (2016)
Calgary author Sydney Sharpe and Postmedia columnist Don Braid look at how decades of one-party rule, right-wing discontent and a growing progressive streak in Alberta led to the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in our province’s historic 2015 election.
Why have democratic governments failed to take serious steps to reduce carbon emissions despite dire warnings and compelling evidence of the profound and growing threat posed by global warming?
Most of the writing on global warming is by scientists, academics, environmentalists, and journalists. Kevin Taft, a former leader of the opposition in Alberta, brings a fresh perspective through the insight he gained as an elected politician who had an insider’s eyewitness view of the role of the oil industry. His answer, in brief: The oil industry has captured key democratic institutions in both Alberta and Ottawa.
Also from Taft: Shredding the Public Interest (1997), Democracy Derailed (2007), Clear Answers: The Economics and Politics of For-Profit Medicine, co-authored by Gillian Steward (2000), and Follow the Money: Where Is Alberta’s Wealth Going? (2012).
The Patch: The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands by Chris Turner (2017)
The Patch is the story of Fort McMurray and the oil sands in northern Alberta, the world’s second largest proven reserve of oil. But this is no conventional story about the oil business. Rather, it is a portrait of the lifecycle of the Patch, showing just how deeply it continues to impact the lives of everyone around the world.
- First World Petro-Politics: The Political Ecology and Governance of Alberta edited by Laurie Adkin (2016)
- God’s Province: Evangelical Christianity, Political Thought, and Conservatism in Alberta by Clark Banack (2016)
- Alberta in the 20th Century by Ted Byfield (2005)
- Edmonton Stories and More Edmonton Stories by Tony Cashman
- Green Oil: Clean Energy for the 21st Century? by Satya Das (2009)
- The Social Credit Phenomenon by Alvin Finkel (1989)
- Peter Lougheed: A Biography by Alan Hustak (1979)
- Political Realignment: A Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians by Ernest Manning (1967)
- Running on Empty, Alberta After the Boom by Andrew Nikiforuk (1987)
- The Aberhart Summer by Bruce Allen Powe (2000)
- Banksters and Prairie Boys: A Culture of Corruption in Alberta by Monier M. Rahall (1997)
- Triple Crown: Winning Canada’s Energy Future by Jean-Sébastien Rioux and Jim Prentice (2017)
- Cracking the Canadian Formula: The Making of the Energy & Chemical Workers Union by Wayne Roberts (1990)
- Into the Abyss: How a Deadly Plane Crash Changed the Lives of a Pilot, a Politician, a Criminal and a Cop, by Carol Sheban (2013)
- The Lougheed Legacy by David G. Wood (1985)
Going through some files last night I rediscovered some screenshots of newspaper advertisements from Alberta’s 1967 election. I posted them on Twitter and Instragam earlier today, but as fast as those social networks flow the images will be lost in the feed before long, so I thought I would share them here as well.
But first, a little bit of background on the significance of the May 23, 1967 general election in Alberta:
- It was the seventh and final election in which Premier Ernest Manning led the Social Credit Party, which had formed government since 1935. Social Credit MLAs were elected in 55 of 63 districts but this election marked the first time since 1955 that the party earned less than half of the popular vote. It would be the last time Albertans elected the Social Credit Party to form a government.
- It was the first election that Peter Lougheed led the Progressive Conservatives. The party formed official opposition with six MLAs, including future premier Don Getty and former PC Member of Parliament Hugh Horner, who acted as Lougheed’s rural lieutenant. The party had been shut out of the Legislature in the 1963 election.
- It was the last time until 1986 that the Liberal Party elected MLAs, three, to the Legislature. Party leader Michael Maccagno was re-elected in Lac La Biche, a district he had represented since 1955. Also standing as Liberal candidates were well-known Calgary Liberal Daryl Raymaker, who ran in Calgary-Queens Park, and J. Bernard Feehan, father of current Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA Richard Feehan, who ran in Edmonton-West
- The first New Democratic Party MLA elected to the Legislature in Alberta, Garth Turcott, was defeated. He became an MLA after winning a by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest in 1966. Party leader Neil Reimer succeeded in increasing the party’s vote to 15 per cent, an increase of 6 per cent from the previous election, but the party failed to elect any MLAs.
- Future NDP leader Grant Notley was defeated in Edmonton-Norwood. Alderman Ivor Dent was unsuccessful as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-North East but would be elected mayor in the 1968 election.
- Defeated PC Party candidates in this election included future Prime Minister Joe Clark, who lost by 461 votes to Social Credit MLA Art Dixon in Calgary-South (Dixon would go on to defeat PC candidate and future Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong in 1971).
- This election marked the last time an Independent candidate was elected in a general election. Independent Clarence Copithorne defeated Coalition MLA Frank Gainer in Banff-Cochrane.
- As far as my research could find, this was the first election that included an in-person leaders debate. Manning, Lougheed, Reimer and Maccagno gathered at a debate sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience in the packed church. This was the last time party leaders would meet for a debate until the 1993 election.
- This was the last provincial election where the voting age was 21 years old and the first which allowed voting by Indigenous people with Treaty Status.
All of these ads were found in the Calgary Herald. If you liked these, check out some of the ads from Alberta’s 1971 general election.
Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.
In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.
With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.
Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).
Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.
As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.
The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.
According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.
With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.
Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.
McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.
Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.
Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.
Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).
And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.
As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:
- Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
- Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
- Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
- Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
- Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
- Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
- Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
- Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
- Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
- Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
- Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
- Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.
The Alberta Social Credit Party is no more. Taken over by a group of anti-abortion activists in 2016, the party has officially changed its name to the Alberta Pro-Life Political Association. According to Elections Alberta, the name change became official on May 3, 2017.
While the Social Credit Party has sat on the conservative fringe of Alberta politics for much of the past four decades, the party fundamentally reshaped the politics of our province when it formed government from 1935 to 1971.
Inspired by the Social Credit teachings of British Major CH Douglas, William Aberhart‘s Social Credit Party swept the 1935 Alberta election in a populist wave, going from zero to 56 seats during the height of the Great Depression.
Upon learning of the election victory in 1935, the Social Credit Greenshirts in London were reported to have marched around the Bank of England Building holding torches and blowing their trumpets – no doubt inspired by the Battle of Jericho. (this was a period in western history when it was not uncommon for political parties to have official uniforms).
During its first decade in government, Aberhart’s radical administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales. The Social Credit Party also introduced the province’s short-lived MLA recall law and a provincial sales tax.
In response to what they claimed to be a “world plot” by “socialists and world finance” (which is coded language for Jewish) the Alberta government-funded Social Credit Board proposed in 1947 that the secret ballot and political parties be abolished. “The obvious remedy for the evils of party politics is the abolition of political parties dominated at the top as we know them today,” the report argued.
Ernest Manning abolished the Social Credit Board in 1948.
It really was a bizarre time in Alberta politics.
Under Manning’s leadership from 1943 to 1968, the Social Credit Party evolved into a generic conservative governing party, albeit with a social conservative bent.
Perhaps the most important lasting legacy of the Social Credit government today is the continued existence of the Alberta Treasury Branches, which was founded in 1938 after the federal government thwarted attempts by Aberhart to impose government control over banks operating in Alberta.
The party was defeated in 1971 and last elected an MLA to the Legislature in 1979. Leader Randy Thorsteinson, led the party to win 6.8 percent of the vote in the 1997 election and later formed the Alberta Alliance Party (which later became the Wildrose Party). He is now the leader of the Reform Party of Alberta.
The Social Credit Party ran six candidates in the 2015 election, earning a total 832 votes.
Become famous in Alberta politics and one day you could have a provincial electoral district named in your honour.
It has become a custom in recent decades in Alberta for electoral districts to be named after former politicians. As far as I can tell, Alberta and Quebec appear to be the only provinces who have widely embraced the practice of of naming districts after historical figures.
In a 2000 edition of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, University of Saskatchewan Professor John Courtney noted that in 1991 the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing urged a shift in naming electoral districts away from geographic place names, including hyphenated names, to a recognition of distinguished Canadians and important historic events or locations.
“Canadians often decry their limited knowledge of their own history and fail to recognize the accomplishments of those who have made outstanding contributions to the country,” Courtney wrote, suggesting it would “be a welcome change from ponderous directional reference points and an excessive reliance on hyphenated place names.”
In Alberta, at least 10 out of the 87 current electoral districts bear the name of a political figure from Alberta’s history. When compiling this list, it was important to make the distinction between electoral districts that have been specifically named after individuals and districts named after communities that were already named after individuals (ie: Calgary-Currie, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Livingstone-Macleod, and St. Albert).
Looking through the list, I discovered a few interesting facts. For instance, despite Alberta’s reputation as an unfriendly political environment for Liberal partisans, there are today more electoral districts named after former Liberal MLAs than there are actual Liberal MLAs in the Alberta Legislature.
The earliest instance of electoral districts being named after individuals may have been in Alberta’s first election. Two districts were created in 1905 – Victoria and Alexandra – which may have been named after Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.
Why and when naming districts after historical figures began in more modern times might a little more difficult to determine. The Calgary-Egmont district, named after Frederick George Moore Perceval, 11th Earl of Egmont, was created in 1971 and existed until it was renamed Calgary-Acadia in the 2012 election.
The Calgary-McCall district first appeared in the 1971 election and was either named after First World War ace fighter pilot Fred McCall or the airfield that was named after him (McCall Air Field became the home of the Calgary International Airport after 1966). Also created in 1971 was the Calgary-McKnight district, which was either named for McKnight Boulevard or the boulevard’s namesake, Second World War flying ace Willie McKnight. The district was renamed Calgary-Nose Creek for the 1993 election.
In 1986, the Calgary-Shaw district was created and appears to have been named in honour of Joseph Tweed Shaw, who represented west Calgary as an MLA and MP in the 1920s and 1930s. He served as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party from 1926 to 1930.
The next instance occurred in 1993, when the Calgary-Lougheed, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Rutherford, Edmonton-McClung, and Edmonton-Roper districts were created, named after former Premiers Peter Lougheed, Ernest Manning and Alexander Rutherford, one of the Famous Five and former MLA Nellie McClung, and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Elmer Roper. Lougheed, Manning and Roper were alive at the time but had retired from politics many years before.
The original recommendation from the MLA committee that oversaw the redrawing of the electoral map at the time had the Manning and McClung districts in difference locations from where they now exist. Manning was originally to be located in southwest Edmonton and McClung in northeast Edmonton, until it was later discovered that Ernest Manning once owned a home in northeast Edmonton Also, Manning Drive, which was named for Manning in 1972, is in the district. An amendment introduced in the Assembly swapped the two closer to their current locations on the electoral map.
While the other names remain on the electoral map, the Edmonton-Roper district was renamed Edmonton-Castle Downs in 1997.
In 2004, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended the creation of the Calgary-Hays, Calgary-Mackay and Edmonton-Decore districts named after former Calgary mayors Harry Hays and Donald Mackay and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Laurence Decore. The Decore district was created from Edmonton-Glengarry, which Decore represented in the Assembly from 1989 until 1997.
Six years later, two more districts were named after former politicians. The first was Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley was named in honour of former MLA and NDP leader Grant Notley, who represented the area in the Assembly from 1971 until 1984.
And the second, created through an MLA introduced amendment in the Assembly after the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s final report had been tabled, is the only example I could find of a district being named after an individual who has recently retired from political life.
On October 26, 2010, Progressive Conservative MLA Kyle Fawcett introduced an amendment to rename Calgary-North Hill to Calgary-Klein, after former premier Ralph Klein, who had been retired from elected office for only three years. Fawcett, who represent North Hill, admitted that Klein had never actually represented that area of Calgary as an MLA, but that he was born and raised in the community of Tuxedo Park in the district.
The amendment was accepted by the Assembly, but it raises questions about the lack of process of honouring individuals by including their names in electoral districts. Unlike the process used to name parks, public spaces and schools used by municipal governments and school boards to honour notable community members, there does not appear to be a clear process in naming electoral districts.
The 2009/2010 Commission recommended in its final report that the Assembly consider adopting a protocol for the naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions. It is unclear whether any protocol has been adopted or whether the current commission will continue the trend of recommending naming new districts after political figures from Alberta’s history.
Months before the end of the Second World War, the largest global conflict in human history, the Alberta government conducted a vote of Alberta-residents serving in the three branches of the Canadian armed forces. The vote was held to elect representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force to serve as Members of the Alberta Legislature. Tens of thousands of Albertans were serving in the Canadian forces across the globe at the time.
The Soldier vote, also known as the Serviceman vote, was the second phase of the 1944 election that took place in 1945 and was sanctioned through Orders-in-Council from the provincial cabinet of Premier Ernest Manning. The cabinet order temporarily increased the number of seats in the Assembly from 57 to 60. A bill was passed through the Assembly after the vote in order to legally create the three new MLA positions.
“There men are fighting for all we hold dear in democracy and political expediency is a sorry excuse for depriving people, particularly soldiers, the right to vote,” Calgary Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald told the Legislature in March 1943, according to Edmonton Journal reports.
Voting conducted overseas was counted in England and sent to Edmonton by telegraph. In total, 7,985 votes were cast by servicemen (6,125 army votes, 1,207 air force votes, and 653 navy votes).
When the votes were counted, Captain James Harper Prowse was elected as the Army MLA, Wing Commander Frederick C. Colborne was elected as the Air Force MLA, and Chief Petty Officer Loftus Dudley Ward was elected to represent the Navy. They served as Independent MLAs until their terms expired in 1948.
Once in the Assembly, the MLAs raised issues ranging from housing, employment and education for veterans who returned to Alberta after the war ended.
Two of the MLAs continued their political careers after their terms ended in 1948, Mr. Prowse as a Liberal MLA from Edmonton until 1959 and Mr. Colborne as a Social Credit MLA from Calgary until 1971.
Mr. Colborne served in numerous cabinet positions, including Minister of Public Works and Minister of Municipal Affairs. He represented the Calgary-Centre constituency from 1959 until 1971. He was defeated in his bid for re-election in the new Calgary-Currie constituency in 1971.
Mr. Prowse served as Liberal Party leader from 1947 to 1958 and leader of the Official Opposition from 1952 to 1958. He would run for Mayor of Edmonton in 1959, finishing second to Mr. Roper, one of the strongest proponents of the Soldier vote. He was later appointed to serve in the Canadian Senate.
Saskatchewan also had a Soldier Vote
A similar vote was held in the Saskatchewan election of 1944, which saw three MLAs elected from geographic region of service (1 MLA for soldiers serving in Great Britain, 1 for soldiers serving the Mediterranean Theatre, and 1 for soldiers serving in Canada outside of Saskatchewan).
The recent news that Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party is flush with cash from Calgary-based corporations is both noteworthy and concerning. Due to that province’s lax political finance laws, the Saskatchewan Party is reported to have received at least $2 million in donations from Alberta-based energy companies since 2006. This is notable considering the Premier’s fierce opposition to the federal government’s plans to fight climate change and his frequent criticisms of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government (a government that has banned corporate donations to political parties).
Mr. Wall is not the first Saskatchewan politician to get his financial backing from Calgary. There was a time when the people of Saskatchewan faced another, more literal, political invasion from Alberta.
Seventy-eight years ago, Alberta Premier William Aberhart staged an invasion of Saskatchewan politics.
Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credit Party had swept the 1935 Alberta election, going from zero to 56 seats and forming a majority government during the height of the Great Depression. Upon learning of the election victory, the Social Credit Greenshirts in London were reported to have marched around the Bank of England Building holding torches and blowing their trumpets (no doubt inspired by the Battle of Jericho).
During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s radical administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales.
Eager to spread the gospel of Major C.H. Douglas and Social Credit theory, Mr. Aberhart’s party propped up a Socred Party in Saskatchewan to contest the June 8, 1938 provincial election. The Alberta Premier viewed Saskatchewan as a beachhead for his party’s expansion across Canada and, eventually, to Ottawa.
While The Battlefords Member of Parliament Joseph Needham was party leader by default, the Saskatchewan Social Credit Party organization in that election was manufactured by Albertans. It was run by Alberta MLA and Provincial Secretary Ernest Manning, who would succeed Mr. Aberhart as Premier in 1943 and serve until his retirement 1968.
Nearly all of Alberta’s Social Credit MLAs and cabinet ministers hit the hustings in Saskatchewan, spending weeks campaigning for local candidates. Mr. Aberhart spent two weeks on the campaign trail, speaking to rallies across Saskatchewan along with a band of experts in Social Credit theory.
“The outlook in Saskatchewan is very encouraging,” Mr. Aberhart was reported to have said upon a brief return to Alberta in May 1938. “It would appear from the definite interest manifested by the people who gathered in such large numbers that they realize a change is absolutely necessary,” Mr. Aberhart said.
The “troupe from Alberta invading Saskatchewan,” as one Saskatchewan newspaper described them, did not go unnoticed and faced fierce opposition from local political establishment and opponents on both sides of the provincial border.
The intentions of Social Credit candidates on the ballot were called into question by The Leader-Post, whose editors asked in a June 6 editorial who they would be loyal to if elected. “Will their loyalty be given to the Alberta Premier or to the people of Saskatchewan?,” the editorial asked.
Saskatchewan’s Liberal Minister of Natural Resources, William Franklin Kerr, called Social Credit a disease and claimed that if its candidates were elected those MLAs would represent the Premier of Alberta in the Saskatchewan Legislature.
John Hugill, a former Social Credit Attorney General who had become an outspoken critic of Mr. Aberhart, said in May 1938 that the Alberta Premier “visualizes being the dominant force in the political life of Western Canada as a stepping stone to becoming the Hitler of Canada.”
On the eve of the election, Mr. Aberhart is reported to have spoken to a rally of 5,000 people in the Town of Melville. The rally was policed by party activists, wearing official Social Credit armbands, who tossed out protesters from the event. It is unclear if the armbands were accompanied by official party uniforms. This was 1938 after all.
“Mr. Aberhart and his government are a peril to the people of Alberta. Not only is he a threat to Alberta, but his actions coming into Saskatchewan and disrupting the affairs of neighbouring province has been a menace to Canadian unity,” J.T. Shaw told The Leader-Post in June 1938. Mr. Shaw was a Knight of Columbus who traveled from Calgary to campaign against the spread of the Social Credit menace in Saskatchewan.
On June 6, the Kerrobert League for Democracy, based in the town of Kerrobert, sent a telegram to the chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asking him to stop Mr. Aberhart’s radio broadcasts into Saskatchewan. “The law prohibits radio broadcasting of political propaganda for certain periods before election days,” the League wrote. “…Premier Aberhart of Alberta took unsportsmanlike advantage of situation by broadcasting his propaganda against Saskatchewan opponents from Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute Sunday…”
Mr. Aberhart earned his nickname, “Bible Bill” from his weekly Christian radio sermons broadcast from the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute in downtown Calgary.
Despite his best efforts, Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credit invasion of Saskatchewan was repelled. The Liberal Party led by Premier William Patterson was re-elected with a reduced majority of 38 seats and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation formed official opposition with 10 seats. The Social Credit Party earned only 15.9 percent of the vote and elected two MLAs.
“The Alberta-run Social Credit election effort in Saskatchewan provided only two Social Credit seats in a fifty-five-seat house… The Social Credit revolution had been stopped at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border,” wrote historian Alvin Finkel in his 1989 book The Social Credit Phenomenon.
The Leader-Post editorial on the day following the election read: “The result is also satisfactory because it means the repulse of an outside government that threw itself into the domestic affairs of a neighboring province and attempted to lure Saskatchewan into adopting a plan of government and economics that has failed signally in Alberta. Mr. Aberhart and his men can now go home and attend to the business of running the province of Alberta, where they will find plenty of work to do. Mr. Aberhart may now cease from his extravagant claims that the people of the west are clamouring for Social Credit.”
“Rat-free, PST-free and Liberal-free” has been a Conservative mantra in Alberta since the reign of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But is this trifecta now in jeopardy?
The decline of government revenues caused by the drop in the price of oil has once again sparked the discussion around resource diversification and tax increases in Alberta. And with talk of economic doom and gloom, Premier Jim Prentice is managing expectations and preparing Albertans for the upcoming provincial budget and likely a Spring provincial election.
Will the budget include deep funding cuts or tax increases? Under most circumstances, deep budget cuts would be the natural choice for the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, but there is growing speculation that Mr. Prentice could be softening the ground for the introduction of a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) in Alberta.
At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government. Diversifying income sources with a five or six per cent sales tax could help soften the blow of the dreaded $7 billion gap that Mr. Prentice has warned will face the provincial budget if oil prices do not increase by next year.
Late last year, Mr. Prentice declared in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he would not consider introducing a PST, but the Premier has changed his tune in 2015, saying that everything is on the table.
This is not the first time PST has been at the centre of discussion in Alberta. Few Albertans may know it, but Alberta did have a two per cent sales tax for a short period ending in 1937.
In the aftermath of the last major economic downturn in June 2008, when the price of oil dropped from a high of $145 per barrel in July to a low of $30 per barrel in December 2008, PC cabinet ministers like Doug Griffiths openly mused about PST. When prices increased, resource royalties once again poured in provincial coffers and Alberta’s political class moved away from the PST discussion.
Facing a decline in the price of oil in 1984, Premier Peter Lougheed publicly mused about introducing a sales tax, but did not act on it.
The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, introduced by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995, states that a referendum must be held before a Provincial Sales Tax can be introduced. The PCs have shown in the past that they have no problem sweeping away old laws like this one. In 2009, the PC government amended their much touted Fiscal Responsibility Act which prohibited deficit budgets in order to pass a deficit budget.
Relying on a boom-bust economy, a real lack of long-term financial planning has been the biggest weakness of the 43-year governing PC Party.
The introduction of a PST would be a bold and courageous move – one that could land Mr. Prentice in Alberta’s history books beside statesmen like Mr. Lougheed and Ernest Manning. And while under normal circumstances this would be a kiss of death to a Premier’s political career, we may now be witnessing a once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a sales tax.
The Wildrose Opposition is both leaderless and in complete disarray, and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals could have a difficult time protesting a move that could majorly diversify the government’s revenue stream. And with the departure of Derek Fildebrandt late last year, the local Tax Outrage Industry is lacking a major spokesperson.
The move also comes with the support of former Finance Minister Ted Morton, a member of the right-wing Calgary School, who recently penned an opinion-editorial in the Calgary Herald calling for a PST. And while he was teaching at the University of Alberta, Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff Mike Percy admitted that a “sales tax gives you greater stability.”
As reported on David Climenhaga‘s blog, Conference Board of Canada chief economist Glen Hodgson also weighed in on Alberta’s tax dilemma: “Not having a provincial consumption or sales tax is highly popular and has been great politics, but it denies the provincial government a steady and stable source of revenue through the business cycle.”
To get a grasp of how embarrassingly low our tax rates current are in Alberta, Kevin Taft in his 2012 book, Follow the Money, says that Alberta could increase its tax rates by $11 billion and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.
Critics will argue that a sales tax would unfairly penalize low income Albertans, and they are right. The government should also scrap the short-sighted flat tax and return to a real progressive income tax system. Alberta is currently the only province with a Flat Tax, the odd-ball brain child of former Treasurer Stockwell Day.
While Albertans look with envy at Norway’s $900 billion petroleum fund, it could be decades before our government imposes meaningful increases in natural resource royalties. The PCs bowed to political pressure from the oil and gas industry and paid a significant political price when trying to implement meaningful increases to resource revenues in the late 2000s.
The strongest opposition to the introduction of a PST may come from inside the PC caucus. Many PC MLAs are said to be unconvinced that Albertans would support a PST, and the presence of 11 anti-tax former Wildrose MLAs in the government caucus could stiffen the opposition from within. Skeptical MLAs would probably be correct that they will receive a blowback from Albertans in the short-term, but the right decisions are not necessarily the most popular when they are initially implemented. And without a credible government-in-waiting, now could be the the only time the PCs could implement a PST.
Alberta should strive to remain rat-free forever, but on the revenue front, we need to break our dependency on resource revenues that cripple our provincial government each time there is a hiccup in the market.
This week Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman was recognized in the Legislative Assembly as being the “longest-serving member to serve exclusively in opposition in Alberta’s history. Ms. Blakeman was elected on March 11, 1997 and, as Speaker Gene Zwozdesky noted, she has served continuously since that time for a total of 5,876 days over the course of five-terms.
Ms. Blakeman surpassed David Duggan, who served in opposition from June 28, 1926, to May 4, 1942, for a total of 5,790 days. A historical irony is that had Speaker Zwozdesky, who was first elected as a Liberal in 1993, not crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in 1998, he would now own this new record.
According to my estimation, the longest-serving opposition MLA who did not serve exclusively in opposition, is Walt Buck. Mr. Buck represented Clover Bar in the Social Credit government from 1967 to 1971 and in the Social Credit opposition from 1971 until 1982, as an Independent MLA from 1982 until 1984, and as a Representative Party MLA from 1984 until his retirement from politics in 1989. Mr. Buck recently passed away.
Here are some other Alberta Legislature milestones:
- Longest-serving Premier: Ernest Manning, Social Credit (1943-1968, 25 years, 195 days)
- Shortest-serving Premier: Richard Reid, United Farmers of Alberta (1934-1935, 1 year, 55 days)
- Longest-serving Leader of the Official Opposition: Ray Martin, New Democratic Party (1984-1993)
- Longest-serving Assembly Speaker: Peter Dawson, Social Credit (1937-1963)
- Longest-serving MLA: Gordon Taylor, Social Credit (1940-1979)
- Youngest elected MLA: Robert Clark, Social Credit (elected in a 1960 by-election in Didsbury at the age of 23)
- Longest-serving current MLA: Pearl Calahasen, PC (1989-Present) *Ms. Calahasen is also the longest-serving woman MLA in Alberta history.
- Longest-serving current cabinet minister: Dave Hancock, PC (first appointed to cabinet in 1997)