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Alberta Politics

A Mile a Minute: Michelle Rempel Garner out, Raj Sherman in (kind of), and UCP leadership candidates debate Alberta autonomy

Alberta politics moves at a mile a minute.

Days after getting a waiver from the United Conservative Party to join the leadership race because she didn’t meet the 6 month membership requirement, Calgary Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner announced she will not join the UCP leadership race.

Rempel Garner’s announcement comes less than 24-hours after Patrick Brown‘s campaign manager quit to allegedly work on her campaign and a poll put her at the top of the pack among UCP supporters.

But it wasn’t to be.

In a long statement posted on her newly launched Substack, Rempel Garner says the UCP is too much of a hot mess for her to lead.

“…there have also been squabbles that have erupted in the pages of national media, public meltdowns, nearly missed physical fights, coups, smear jobs, leaked recordings and confidential emails, lack of consensus on critical issues, caucus turfings, people harassed to the point where they resign roles, and hours long meetings where members have been subjected to hours of public castigation,” Rempel wrote.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP Premier
Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

It was a brutal critique of Alberta’s main conservative party.

She’s not wrong.

Affable Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried agrees.

But while her criticisms are stingingly on point Rempel Garner doesn’t offer solutions to how to fix the UCP.

In fact, she basically reaffirms what NDP leader Rachel Notley has been saying for months: the UCP is too caught up in their own internal fights to do what’s right for Albertans.

The UCP wanted Rempel Garner but the White Knight from Calgary-Oklahoma will not be riding into this breach.

And the candidate the party didn’t want is in, well, kind of.

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012
Raj Sherman (source: Dave Cournoyer)

Edmonton emergency room doctor Raj Sherman says he’s running for the leadership despite the party denying him the same waiver granted to Rempel Garner.

Sherman is one of the most eccentric people in Alberta politics.

He was elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2008, was pushed out in 2010, and won the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2011. Narrowly re-elected in his Edmonton-Meadowlark seat in 2012, he left the party before the 2015 election.

He’s mostly stayed out of politics since then but in 2020 he spoke out about COVID-19 and last year he gave $4,000 to the Alberta Party.

It’s no wonder the UCP doesn’t want him in the race.

Sherman is persistent if anything, so he says he’s going to keep campaigning anyway.

Back in 2012, Sherman’s Liberals lost Official Opposition status in 2012 to Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party.

Now Smith is making waves as a candidate in this leadership race.

She wants Alberta to ignore federal laws she doesn’t like. She calls it the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

She also promises to never again “lockdown” Alberta.

Never mind that we  never really had a lockdown during the pandemic, but her message plays well with an extremely motivated and well-organized group of conservative activists who oppose everything from face-masks to mandatory vaccinations.

Ten years ago it might have been described as a bozo-eruption.

But not today.

Anything goes in Alberta politics, or at least in the UCP, so it would seem.

Meanwhile, the perceived frontrunner and establishment favourite, former finance minister Travis Toews, is running a safe and low-energy campaign.

The most controversial issue he has tackled is opposing health safety labels on beef packaging.

Toews’ campaign held a rally just outside of Edmonton at the River Cree Casino on the Enoch First Nation a few days ago. Watching the live-stream it looked like a big crowd but there were still enough chairs for everyone.

It was nothing like the massive barnburner put on by Pierre Poilievre‘s campaign a few months ago to which all future political rallies at River Cree will be compared to.

Maybe safe and steady is the right strategy for Toews.

It didn’t work for Jim Dinning or Gary Mar but the old PC Party was a very different political beast than today’s UCP.

Not that Toews is immune from controversy.

His campaign co-chair Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin was part of a group of Conservatives who welcomed anti-vaccine activists to Ottawa this week.

The same poll that had Rempel Garner in the lead showed the top two issues on Albertans minds are the cost of living and health care.

It’s not hard to see why.

The price of everything has been skyrocketing, hospitals across Alberta are temporarily closing or diverting patients because of a nursing shortage crisis, and EMS is stretched past its limits.

So what did UCP leadership candidates gather online tonight to discuss?

Alberta autonomy.

Yeah, that’s right.

Former PC-turned-Wildrose-turned PC MLA Rob Anderson’s Free Alberta Strategy group hosted the first online candidates panel of the UCP leadership race.

It’s too bad Rempel Garner wasn’t there tonight.

She was the champion of the manifesto known as The Buffalo Declaration, named after Frederick Haultain‘s never formed mega-Province of Buffalo – a century old bad idea that has recently reached mythical status in some conservative circles.

Rempel Garner and 3 other Alberta MPs described the Buffalo Manifesto as a final attempt to make Alberta an equal partner in Confederation. They said without it a referendum on Alberta’s independence is an inevitability.

[Insert eye-roll emoji here]

Sometimes it seems like the faster Alberta politics moves the more it stays the same.


Michelle Rempel Garner isn’t the only person starting a Substack – sign up for the Daveberta Substack.

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Alberta Politics

Bozo Eruption! UCP MLAs back “Free Alberta Strategy” as ICUs fill up and separatists get trounced in federal election

Alberta’s Intensive Care Units and hospitals are full of COVID-19 patients and the province now has more than half of the active cases of the deadly disease in Canada. School boards like the Edmonton Public School Board are reporting hundreds of young students have contracted the virus, forcing dozens of schools to shut down in-person classes and move to virtual classrooms. And 34 more Albertans died because of COVID-19 yesterday.

But what was the most important issue for a group of Alberta MLAs this week?

Alberta separatism.

Yep. That’s right.

Rob Anderson former MLA Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Former MLA Rob Anderson

With help from the libertarian Alberta Institute, former Progressive Conservative-turned-Wildrose-turned Progressive Conservative MLA and online talk show host Rob Anderson launched the “Free Alberta Strategy,” announcing a manifesto that declares Alberta a “sovereign jurisdiction” and, among other things, would allow the province to just ignore federal laws it doesn’t like.

Anderson was joined at the online press conference by United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt (who is also the Deputy Speaker of the Legislature) and Jason Stephan, and Independent MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen. The latter two MLAs were ejected from the UCP Caucus in May 2021 after losing confidence in Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, a sentiment that Pitt echoed during this press conference.

The Alberta Institute is led by former New Zealand political activist and Manning Centre researcher Peter McCaffrey. He also happens to be married to the institute’s former director of operations and past UCP nomination candidate Megan McCaffrey, who is now working as the Chief of Staff in Barnes’ and Loewen’ UCP Caucus-in-exile.

Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan

Legislative Assembly Speaker Nathan Cooper was also in attendance but was described as being an observer rather than a participant in the press conference.

Calling for a type of sovereignty-association with the rest of Canada, Anderson brought up a number of perennial ideas like an Alberta police force and pension plan, but then connected them to a whole swath of bad ideas that would either create needless bureaucracy or just be plain unconstitutional.

The group pled with reporters not to describe their group as separatists, but it is hard not to think of it as anything else. 

Independent MLA Todd Loewen Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Independent MLA Todd Loewen

It is hard to think of a more tone deaf time to fly the separatist flag in Alberta.

The actual separatist party earned 1.3 per cent in Alberta in the federal election held last week and the UCP government last week sent out a desperate plea for health care support from Ottawa and other provinces to deal with the COVID-19 fourth wave.

Just as tone deaf is Kenney’s province-wide referendum on October 18 asking Albertans to vote yes if they want the equalization formula removed from Canada’s constitution – a referendum that no one is talking about because of the COVID-19 crisis.

William Aberhart University of Alberta Honourary Degree
William Aberhart

The one person who wasn’t at the online press conference, but who might as well have been there in spirit (literally), was Premier William Aberhart, who himself pushed through unconstitutional laws in the 1930s that would nationalize banks and force newspapers to publish government propaganda.

When the Lieutenant Governor at the time refused to sign one of his unconstitutional laws, Aberhart chained the doors and evicted the vice-regal representative from of his official residence in Government House.


UCP MLA backs down on criticism of AHS, Kenney faces leadership review and offers no new plan to stop COVID

  • UCP vice-president Joel Mullan was fired by the board yesterday after calling for Kenney to face a leadership review, which has now been scheduled for April 2022.
  • Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson back pedalled on his attempts to shift blame for the overcapacity ICUs on Alberta Health Services President Dr. Verna Yiu, likely as a ploy to push more privatization of the public health care system.
  • Kenney joined Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu yesterday not to announce further public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 but to announce the government will ban protests outside of hospitals in reaction to anti-vaccine and COVID-19 conspiracy theorist rallies that were held two weeks ago.With none of these rallies having been held in weeks, some political watchers are wondering if the protest ban is actually being aimed at health care workers who could take job action in the coming months.

We are through the looking glass, Alberta.