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Alberta Politics

Making the Alberta Party relevant is Barry Morishita’s new job

Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita has been acclaimed as leader of the Alberta Party.

“As a compassionate leader and experienced community builder, I believe that a new, fresh approach to politics is what Albertans need right now and that the Alberta Party is the vehicle to drive that positive change,” Morishita said in a press statement released by the party.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Morishita was first elected to Brooks City Council in 1998 and became Mayor of Brooks in 2016 after previous mayor Martin Shields was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bow River.

He was elected President of the Alberta Urban Municipality Association in 2017 and was a vocal critic of the United Conservative Party government’s overhaul of municipal election laws, going so far as to describe relations between municipalities and then-Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu as “broken.”

This is not his first foray into provincial politics. Like other leaders of the Alberta Party, Morishita’s past political experience was as a member of another political party.

He ran for Nancy MacBeth‘s Alberta Liberals in Strathmore-Brooks in 2001, placing second with 15.5 per cent of the vote behind Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Lyle Oberg. He had previously been active with the Liberal Party as a delegate to the convention that chose Laurence Decore as party leader in 1988.

Lyle Oberg
Lyle Oberg

He also made a $300 donation to the PC Party in Strathmore-Brooks in 2014.

The small moderate conseravtive political party broke through into the Legislature in 2015 when leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in his youth, was elected in Calgary-Elbow. Despite growing its popular vote, the party was shut out of the Legislature in 2019 under the leadership of former Edmonton mayor and PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel.

The Alberta Party has languished in obscurity since the 2019 election, with interim leader Jacquie Fenske, a former PC MLA from Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, holding the reins until a permanent leader was named.

Doug Griffiths
Doug Griffiths

According to a report from the Morinville News, former Morinville Mayor and past AUMA President Lisa Holmes and former Battle River-Wainwright PC MLA Doug Griffiths are part of Morishita’s transition team.

The challenges facing Morishita and his party are steep:

  1. Make his party relevant. Rachel Notley‘s NDP have led in the polls since November 2020 and have a commanding lead in fundraising. It is going to be challenging for the Alberta Party to convince Albertans who want Jason Kenney out of the Premier’s Office that they are the credible alternative.
  2. Winning a seat in the next election and getting his party back into the Legislature. Brooks-Medicine Hat will be the natural place for Morishita to run but it will be an uphill climb to win in the lopsidedly conservative voting district currently represented by UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo.There will also be a by-election held in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next six months following the resignation of Laila Goodridge, who is running in the federal election.
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Alberta Politics

Janet Eremenko enters Alberta NDP nomination race in Calgary-Currie, challenging former MLA Brian Malkinson

Janet Eremenko is running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Currie, kicking off a contested nomination race in the south west Calgary district. Eremenko will face former MLA Brian Malkinson at a yet to be scheduled nomination vote.

“Jason Kenney was elected on a promise of delivering jobs and economic growth, and over half-way through his mandate, he has failed to deliver on any of his promises,” Eremenko said in a press release.

“Rachel Notley has a positive vision for Alberta’s future. One that diversifies our economy and creates jobs for Albertans while taking action on climate change and protecting the environment,” Eremenko said. “I want to make sure Calgary-Currie is a part of that vision, and a part of defeating Kenney in the next election.”

Eremenko was the NDP candidate in the neighboring Calgary-Elbow in the 2019 election, where she placed third with 23 per cent of the vote behind United Conservative Party candidate Doug Schweitzer and Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark.

She was also a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 11 in the October 2017 election.

Eremenko will face Malkinson, who represented Calgary-Currie from 2015 until his narrow defeat to UCP candidate Nicholas Milliken in 2019. Malkinson was Alberta’s Minister of Service Alberta from 2018 to 2019.

Before Malkinson’s election in 2015, the district was represented by Progressive Conservative MLA Christine Cussanelli from 2012 to 2015 and Dave Taylor from 2004 to 2010 as a Liberal MLA and 2011 to 2012 as an Alberta Party MLA.

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Alberta Politics

Murray Sigler nominated as Liberal candidate in Calgary Confederation

A notice on the Liberal Party of Canada website today noted that Murray Sigler has been acclaimed as the party’s candidate in Calgary-Confederation. Sigler is a well-known name in corporate Calgary, with a career stringing back to his days as a senior vice-president of Pacific Western Airlines and President of Canadian Airlines.

Most recently he completed a year as the interim CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, a role he filled on a permanent basis from 2002 to 2005 before his appointment as managing Director of the Alberta Government’s trade office in London, UK.

He worked as CEO of Sport Calgary from 2013 to 2019.

Sigler currently serves on the board of directors of the Calgary Airport Authority and the exclusive private Glencoe Club.

He led the Conservative caucus in the 1967 Calgary Model Parliament and donated $500 to the Alberta Party in 2017. He endorsed Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark in his bid for re-election in Calgary-Elbow in 2019.

Past provincial Liberal candidate David Gamble had previously announced his plans to seek the nomination.

Len Webber

Calgary-Confederation is currently represented by Conservative Member of Parliament Len Webber, who has been nominated by his party to run in the next election.

Webber was first elected to the House of Commons in 2015 with a narrow margin, finishing 1,586 voted ahead of Liberal Matt Grant, but was re-elected with a much wider margin 21,404 votes ahead of Liberal Jordan Stein in 2019.

Webber previously served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Foothills from 2004 until 2014, when he sat as an Independent. His father, Neil Webber, served as the PC MLA for Calgary-Bow from 1975 to 1989 and founded the Webber Academy private school in 1997.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is widely expected to be preparing to call an election this summer. Trudeau will be visiting Calgary tomorrow.

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Alberta Politics

Who could replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party?

With all the talk of challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s embattled leadership of the United Conservative Party, his and his party’s plummeting approval ratings and lacklustre fundraising in the first three months of 2021, there has been surprisingly little talk about who might be in a position to succeed Kenney if he is pushed out of office.

Here is a quick list of a few conservative politicians who could possibly be in the running to replace Kenney as leader of the raucous UCP:

Drew Barnes – First elected in the Wildrose sweep of southern rural Alberta in 2012, Barnes refused to cross the floor with his colleagues in 2014 and was re-elected as the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat in 2015.

The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.

Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.

Using social media Cooper has helped demystify the Office of the Speaker through informative and humourous videos. But many felt he stepped over the line by taking positions on politically charged issues, something the Speaker is traditionally expected to avoid. Earlier this month he was called out by Kenney and was forced to back down after signing a public letter with 14 other UCP MLAs calling for public health restrictions to be lifted just as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta.

Jim Dinning His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.

Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.

Brian Jean – Jean won the leadership of the Wildrose Party on the eve of the 2015 election and helped save the party from oblivion. But there wasn’t much room left for him in the UCP after losing the leadership race to Kenney in 2017.

The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.

Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.

While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.

Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer – The current Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and former Minister of Justice, Schweitzer was first elected as the UCP MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2019 after unseating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. The former downtown Calgary lawyer and former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and later ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest.

Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.

Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The  accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.

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Alberta Politics

On the outside looking in: smaller parties seeking new leaders

Going into the last election there were five parties represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, but on election night in April 2019 the two main political parties dominated and the smaller parties failed to elect any candidates. Since then Alberta’s smaller parties have been struggling for attention as they search for new people to lead them into the 2023 election.

The Green Party of Alberta was the first to choose a new leader, with Jordan Wilkie being selected in a March 2020 leadership vote. And it now looks like there will be at least two smaller parties holding leadership races and competing for attention in this very busy political year.

Alberta Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Party has announced its plans to kick off a leadership race on May 25, 2021. Candidate nominations will close August 31 and the Leadership will be held on October 23, 2021, one week after the municipal elections.

Interim leader Jacquie Fenske, a former Progressive Conservative MLA, has served in the role since Feb. 2020, filling the position vacated by former leader Stephen Mandel, also a former PC MLA, in June 2019. No candidates have yet to declare their plans to run for the party leadership.

The Alberta Party elected one MLA, Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2015 and grew its caucus to 3 MLAs by 2019 after floor crossings from the Alberta NDP and United Conservative Party. The Alberta Party tripped its popular vote to 9 per cent in 2019 but failed to elect any candidates to the Legislative Assembly.

Liberal Party names interim leader

Lawyer and longtime party loyalist John Roggeveen has stepped up to fill the role of interim leader of the Alberta Liberal Party until the party can select a permanent leader at a future date.

John Roggeveen has served on the party’s executive and was a candidate in Calgary-Shaw in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Calgary-Elbow in 2015 and Calgary-Fish Creek in 2019.

Roggeveen fills the role made vacant after David Khan’s resignation in November 2020. Khan is now the Senior Staff Lawyer at EcoJustice.

The party has not yet announced the dates for a leadership race.

The Liberal Party formed Official Opposition in Alberta between 1993 and 2012. The 2019 election marked the first time since the 1982 election that the Liberals failed to elect an MLA to the Legislative Assembly.

Separatist parties seek new leaders

The separatist Wildrose Independent Party will open nominations for its leadership race on April 2 and kick off its leadership race on June 5. Voting for the party’s new leader will take place on Aug. 28, 2021.

Former Alberta Alliance leader and Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman has served as interim leader since last summer. Hinman served as MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012.

No candidates have declared their plans to run as of yet, but at the party’s recent annual general meeting former Wildrose Party organizer Rick Northey was elected president, former PC Party candidate Gurcharan Garcha was selected as Edmonton Director, and former Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders was selected as a Director-at-Large.

Meanwhile, former Wexit spokesperson Peter Downing, who stepped down when that organization folded into the Freedom Conservative Party to form the Wildrose Independence Party in June 2020, now appears to have joined another separatist party. According to the Independence Party of Alberta website, Downing is now serving as its Public Safety Critic.

The Independence Party of Alberta is also currently without a permanent leader, as is the separatist Alberta Advantage Party.

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Alberta Politics

Former PC activist Troy Wason takes over as Alberta Party new executive director

The Alberta Party hasn’t been making many headlines lately, but there will soon be a significant staff change in the ranks of the small moderate conservative party. The party announced today that former Progressive Conservative executive director Troy Wason is taking over as interim executive director of the Alberta Party, replacing outgoing interim executive director Mark Taylor.

Troy Wason
Troy Wason

A well-respected long-time PC Party activist, Wason took over as executive director of the PC Party following the long-time governing party’s defeat in the 2015 election and resigned on the day Jason Kenney became that party’s leader in 2017.

Wason’s joining the Alberta Party could provide some internal direction for the party, which lost all of 3 of its seats in the 2019 election. The party continues to struggle to define itself and remains without a bigger key player – a permanent leader.

The Alberta Party has been without a permanent leader since the resignation of former leader Stephen Mandel in June 2019. The role remained vacant until earlier this year when former Fort Sasktachewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske was named as interim leader, solidifying the party’s image as a refuge for former PC supporters uncomfortable with the social conservative flavour of the United Conservative Party and unable to support the moderate New Democratic Party.

The party was expected to have held a leadership race in 2020 but, like most other things, it was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 54: That’s a great Alberta politics question.

We dive into the mailbag in this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to answer questions about Alberta politics sent in by our listeners on topics ranging from the United Conservative Party’s influence on the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race to the details of the Alberta government’s Keystone XL Pipeline investment to Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s never-ending fight with Alberta’s doctors to how the 1918 Spanish influenza impacted Alberta politics and more great questions.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, 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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended reading:

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Alberta Politics

A look at political party fundraising in 2019 and the state of the parties in 2020

Political party fundraising totals from 2019 were released last month and show that Alberta’s two main provincial parties raised record amounts of money last year.

The United Conservative Party raised $7.37 million as the party continues to demonstrate its fundraising strength. The now official opposition New Democratic Party also raised an impressive $5.5 million.

The total amount of donations raised by the two main parties is significant, especially when you consider how much Alberta’s political parties were raising five years previous. In 2014, the formerly governing Progressive Conservative Party raised $3,387,585.83, and the then fourth place NDP marked a record fundraising year with $482,085.

Political Party Fundraising in Alberta from 2016 to 2019, following the ban on corporate and union donations. Click to enlarge.

Both the NDP and the UCP’s successor predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, spent years cultivating strong bases of individual donors, which meant they were well positioned when corporate and union donations were banned in 2015.

The disclosures suggest that despite losing the election, the NDP remained a financially viable political party in the second half of 2019. The annual fundraising totals for the NDP in 2020 will provide some evidence as to whether the now official opposition party can sustain its fundraising levels outside of government.

Likely to help the NDP’s fundraising efforts in 2020 is Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the party into the next provincial election.

Notley would become the first former Alberta premier to lead their party into an election after they lost government. With Alberta’s long history of political dynasties, there are only a few premiers who had led their parties to lose an election – Charles Stewart, Richard Reid, Harry Strom, and Jim Prentice all resigned following their party’s election defeats.

Not having led a dynastic party, and arguably remaining her party’s strongest asset, Notley is in a different position than some other former premiers. She remains personally popular, and some early polls would suggest her party could remain an electoral force if a vote were held today.

The NDP faces a number of significant challenges, one being its lack of organizational strength in much of rural Alberta and Calgary. The NDP elected 24 MLAs in 2019, but none from rural Alberta and the party lost considerable ground in Calgary, where it had a breakthrough in 2015.

A positive note for the provincial NDP is that attempts to connect Notley to the federal NDP, which has been demonized in Alberta for its opposition to oil pipeline projects, does not appear to have hurt its fundraising bottom line.

But while the lack of federal party presence in Alberta is a mixed blessing for the NDP, it is a strength of the UCP, which shares considerable resources with its federal cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada. The upcoming federal Conservative leadership campaign could also introduce an interesting dynamic into this relationship (more on this comings soon).

The Other Parties

Alberta’s smaller political parties raised considerably less that the big two parties in 2019, with the Alberta Party raising $317,470, the Liberal Party raising $130,519, the Green Party raising $27,999, and the Freedom Conservative Party raising $24,783.

The Alberta Party remains leaderless following Stephen Mandel’s resignation shortly after his defeat in the 2019 election. It is suspected that the party will open a leadership race in the spring, after the UCP government is expected to make significant amendments to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, including rules for leadership races.

Mandel and his predecessor Greg Clark have been appointed to positions by the UCP government. Mandel now serves on the board of directors of Alberta Health Services and Clark is now chair of the province’s balancing pool.

David Khan‘s leadership was “overwhelmingly endorsed” by delegates attending last year’s Liberal Party convention, despite 2019 marking the first time since before 1986 that the party failed to elect any MLAs to the Legislative Assembly.

Delegates to the convention heard from a party committee that was convened to offer recommendations for how the Liberals should move forward in Alberta. The report was not made public.

Green Party members will vote for a new leader on March 28, 2020, following the resignation of Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes in 2019. Brian Deheer and Jordan Wilkie have declared their candidacies. This will be the party’s third leadership race since 2017. 

The Green Party also announced plans to adopt a co-leader system in which two individuals will share leadership responsibilities. This is the first party in Alberta to use a system similar to Green parties in other countries and Quebec solidaire in Quebec.

Alberta’s separatist fringe gets fringier

And there continues to be a flurry of activity on the separatist fringe.

Former UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell has replaced former UCP nomination candidate Todd Beasley as President of the Independence Party of Alberta. The party currently does not have a leader.

Meanwhile, Kathy Flett, who is styled as the former interim leader of the Wexit Alberta separatist group, has joined the board of directors of the right-wing Freedom Conservative Party, which was founded in 1999 as the Alberta First Party and has at various times changed its name to the Separation Party of Alberta, the Western Freedom Party, and again to the Alberta First Party.

It could be that the Freedom Conservative Party is about to change its name once again, this time to the Wexit Alberta Party, or maybe the fringe separatists are continuing to fraction?

According to the Western Standard, a conservative website rebooted by former Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt after his defeat in the 2019 election, current federal Wexit leader Peter Downing claimed he fired Flett for attempting “to steal our trademark.”

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Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2019 – The Top 3

Photos: Leela Aheer, John Archer, Greg Clark, Devin Dreeshen, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Rachel Notley, Janis Irwin, Rakhi Pancholi, Shannon Phillips (source: Legislative Assembly of Alberta website)

With more than 500 submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.

Here are the top three choices in every category:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshan, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

An honourable mention to Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West who placed a strong fourth in total submissions. Notley was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2019? – Vote

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen and Minister of Finance Travis Toews, who placed a close forth and fifth in this category. Former Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best opposition MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

Former Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark was last year’s winner in this category.

Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2020? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

An honourable mention to Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting. Jessica Littlewood, former MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, was last year’s winner in this category..

Who was the best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 Alberta election? – Vote

  • John Archer, NDP candidate in Edmonton-South West
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow
  • Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake

An honourable mention to Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville NDP candidate Jessica Littlewood, and Leduc-Beaumont NDP candidate Shaye Anderson, who tied for fourth place in this category..

What was the biggest political issue of 2019 in Alberta? – Vote

  • Budget cuts
  • Economy and jobs
  • Firing the Elections Commissioner
  • Turkey farm hostage taking

There were a lot of submissions in this category, so we decided to give you a chance to vote on the top four in this category.

What was the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta?

Lorne Gibson Alberta Election Commissioner
Lorne Gibson

This category is usually a dog’s breakfast, but this year your choice was clear. So we have declared the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta was the United Conservative Party government firing of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson. The UCP government’s omnibus Bill 22 dissolved the Office of the Election Commissioner, who was in the midst of investigating and issuing fines for violations of Alberta’s elections laws during the UCP leadership race in 2017.

Government watch-dog Democracy Watch has called on the RCMP to investigate the firing of the Election Commissioner and wants a special prosecutor appointed to oversee the investigation to ensure there is no political interference.

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Alberta Politics

Stephen Mandel’s time as Alberta Party leader ends as a footnote in Alberta’s history

The Alberta Party will soon be seeking applications for a new leader.

The party announced through a press release today that on June 30, 2019 Stephen Mandel will step down as leader 15-months after he was elected into the role. The former three-term Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister ran for the leadership in 2018 after MLA Greg Clark was ousted in a successful bid by former PC Party members to take over the Alberta Party.

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta
Premier Jim Prentice and Health Minister Stephen Mandel in 2014.

This was Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback.

He surprised many political watchers when he was appointed to Jim Prentice’s cabinet without a seat in the Legislature in 2014, just over a year after he retired as mayor.

The first comeback was short-lived.

Mandel won a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud in late 2014 but was unseated by popular New Democratic Party candidate Bob Turner in the spring 2015 Orange Wave that swept the province.

Following Jason Kenney’s win in the 2017 PC Party leadership race, a number of moderate conservative partisans left the party over differences with the new leader’s style, history of social conservative activism and drive to merge the party with the Wildrose Party.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA
Greg Clark

Prominent Progressive Conservatives like Mandel, Katherine O’Neill, Dave Quest, Sue Timanson, and Stephen Khan hoped to turn the Alberta Party into a home for former PC supporters disenchanted by what became the United Conservative Party.

Policy direction under Mandel shifted further to the economic-right but the party steadfastly refused to describe itself as conservative, sticking instead to the ambiguous “centrist” label. In a province where many eligible voters self-identify as conservatives, it remains puzzling why a political party run by conservatives and presenting a moderate conservative program would actively distance itself from the description.

The Alberta Party under Mandel increased the party’s vote from 2.2% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019, but failed to win any seats in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike 2015, when the party focused all of its resources to successfully elect Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2019 the Alberta Party spread thin its resources by running a province-wide campaign and a full-slate of candidates.

Mandel was able to attract a slate with credible candidates, including former PC MLA Dave Quest, former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy, former St. Paul mayor Glenn Andersen, former St. Albert city councillor Neil Korotash, anti-violence advocate Manwar Khan, actor Dakota House and well-known former radio host Angela Kokott.

Lorne Dach Edmonton-McClung NDP MLA
Lorne Dach

But the Alberta Party campaign stumbled out of the starting gate early in the campaign, with Mandel and a handful of candidates and chief financial officers being banned from running in the election by Election Alberta after missing their financial disclosure deadlines. The bans were lifted after court challenges by Mandel and the other candidates but it damaged the party’s chances of being seen as a serious contender in an election dominated by the UCP and NDP.

The party earned significant media coverage but struggled to gain traction and hit a ceiling of 12 percent in polling during the campaign. Mandel’s significant of name recognition in Edmonton was not able to help the Alberta Party break the dominance of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the provincial capital city. The NDP won 19 of 20 seats in Edmonton.

Mandel finished third behind NDP MLA Lorne Dach and UCP challenger Laurie Mozeson in Edmonton-McClung, which includes parts of the area he represented on city council before his time as mayor. The party’s two incumbent MLAs, Clark and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. The party’s third MLA, former NDPer Karen McPherson, declined to run for re-election.

The press release announcing Mandel’s departure states that he is pursuing his role as Chancellor of Concordia University of Edmonton, a role he was installed into on November 30, 2017, just over one month before he launched his campaign to win the Alberta Party leadership.

From the very beginning, Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback was a strange endeavour. And despite Mandel’s nine-years as a popular big city mayor with a significant list of accomplishments, his final appearance on the political scene will largely be a footnote in Alberta’s history (unless, of course, this was not his final comeback…).


Alberta Party finances…

The Alberta Party’s financial disclosures from the 2019 election have not yet been released, but the 2018 annual financial disclosures paint a picture of a party in financial disarray. The Alberta Party raised $525,430 in 2018 while running a $137,964 deficit.

In a May 25, 2019 email sent to members explaining the financial situation, the party explained that it had cycled through three CFOs in 2018 and that larger than expected expenses related to the creation of the party’s proprietary Customer Relationship Management database and “too large of an AGM” put the party in a deficit position.

The email told members that “[t]he Party is not broke but will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future.”

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Alberta Politics

I’m back, so about that Alberta Election…

Eleven days have passed since Alberta’s provincial election in which Albertans voted in droves and gave our province its first ever one-term government. That alone provides a lot of reflect on, but there is so much more.

Having taken a much-needed vacation after the election (I was on an early flight out of the country on the morning following election night), I now have some thoughts on the results and what they could mean for Alberta and the political parties. 

First, the voter turnout was high. The official results of the election were released this week, showing that 64 per cent of eligible voters in Alberta participated in the election. This is down from the previous voter turnout numbers released by Elections Alberta before the count was official that showed a 71 per cent turnout. While the numbers are not as fantastic as 71 per cent, this election marks the highest turnout since the 1982 election, which was 66 per cent.

The high turnout in advance voting, in particular the “vote anywhere” ballots that allowed Albertans to vote at any advance polling station in the province, was remarkable. More than 700,000 votes were cast at the advance polls, with more than 260,000 of them being “vote anywhere” advance ballots. This was the first time this option was allowed in an Alberta election, and it appears that many Albertans liked the option of voting anywhere during the 5-days of advance voting.

The United Conservative Party elected 63 MLAs and earned a remarkable 1,040,004 votes, the highest of any political party in Alberta’s history. That party’s 54.9 per cent is the highest earned by a political party since the Progressive Conservatives in the 2001 election. It appears as though much of the UCP’s popular vote was boosted by significant landslide victories in rural districts across the province, making rural MLAs a powerful force in the UCP caucus.

While the internal politics of this relatively new party are still evolving, incoming-premier Jason Kenney has a strong mandate to implement his incoming government’s agenda. Kenney has said he will appoint a cabinet by the end of April and hold a session of the Legislative Assembly in May, kicking off what he previously described as a “Summer of Repeal.” Kenney has pledged to dismantle many of the NDP’s flagship programs, including the Climate Leadership Plan and Energy Efficiency Alberta. 

The large UCP caucus only includes one MLA with previous provincial cabinet experience, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, so the learning curve will be steep for those appointed by Kenney next week. But like the NDP when it formed government in 2015, the UCP in 2019 will be bolstered by legions of career political staffers migrating to Alberta over the next few months.

Kenney is expected to continue to focus on his three key talking points from the election campaign – jobs, economy and pipelines – which is also expected to include a heavy does of political rhetoric aimed at Ottawa, Justin Trudeau, and anyone from outside Alberta who dares criticize the oil and gas sector (which will certainly keep Kenney busy).

The social conservative issues that dogged Kenney and many now elected UCP MLAs will not be his focus, but the social conservative groups who make up critical elements of his electoral coalition will expect to be rewarded for their loyalty. This could potentially create a difficult balancing act over the next four years.

The New Democratic Party was unable to get re-elected into government, but earned 619,147 votes, the party’s highest ever vote total. The larger voter turnout and consolidation of conservative votes around UCP candidates meant the NDP only earned 32.7 per cent of the vote and elected 24 MLAs, which is still one of the largest elected opposition caucuses in Alberta’s history. The NDP vote was heavily concentrated within Edmonton city limits, delivering the party all but one of the capital city’s electoral districts.

Outgoing-Premier Rachel Notley has pledged to stay on as party leader, which is a positive outcome for the NDP after its election defeat. Notley is the party’s strongest asset and is probably key to why the party formed government in 2015 and was not decimated in this election.

While the NDP sometimes tends to act like it is more inclined for life on the opposition benches, the new official opposition caucus will only have 3 MLAs who previously served in opposition (Notley, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous). This is the first time the NDP will form official opposition since its previous tenure in the role from 1982 to 1993. 

A struggle for the new NDP caucus and for the NDP internally will be to decide whether it wants to remain the centre-leftish liberal-like party it was in government or whether it should return to something closer to its social democratic roots.

While I have a hard time expecting the NDP’s advocacy for oil pipelines to waver, the party has the opportunity to present a strong alternative to the UCP on issues ranging from climate change to support for strong public services like health care and education. Support for pipelines might be the biggest challenge the NDP will have to reconcile with if it wants to be seen as a serious advocate for action against climate change.

The Alberta Party lost all 3 of its seats in the Assembly despite having high-profile former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel at its helm. The Alberta Party increased its popular vote to 9.1 per cent but none of its candidates came close to being elected. Even in Calgary-Elbow, popular opposition MLA and former party leader Greg Clark fell more than 3,000 votes short of being re-elected.

This result should prompt some serious internal discussions about what role the moderate conservative party plays in Alberta politics, especially as it now has no presence in the Assembly.

For the first time in 33 years the Liberal Party has no presence in the Assembly. Leader David Khan performed well in the televised leaders’ debate and was expected to have a shot at being elected in Calgary-Mountain View, the seat being vacated by retiring four-term Liberal MLA David Swann. But when the votes were counted Khan finished in fourth place with 5.6 per cent. The party only fielded 51 candidates and earned 18,546 votes, which translated into 1 per cent of the vote.

The Liberals will continue to exist on paper but for all intents and purposes the party that formed the official opposition from 1993 to 2012 has ceased to exist as a political force in Alberta.

Disgruntled former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt’s Freedom Conservative Party barely registered on the electoral radar. Running candidates only 24 districts, the populist-UCP spinoff finished with 9,945 votes province-wide. Fildebrandt finished a distant third in Chestermere-Strathmore, 61 per cent behind UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

Despite the crushing loss, Fildebrandt carries no shortage of political ambition. My bet is that he will show on a ballot as a People’s Party of Canada candidate in the October 2019 federal election.

I am planning on taking a closer look at the district and regional level results over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more analysis and commentary about the results of Alberta’s election.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta goes Blue: Jason Kenney’s UCP wins an unsurprising majority victory

It was largely expected and anti-climactic, but Jason Kenney has led his United Conservative Party to form a majority government in Alberta, defeating the one-term New Democratic Party government of Rachel Notley.

More than 260,000 “vote anywhere” advance ballots still need to be counted, but as of tonight the UCP appears to hold 64 seats with the NDP forming an opposition of 24 seats. There could be some change as those additional votes are counted in the next few days, but it is not expected the seat count will change dramatically.

The UCP dominated rural Alberta and appear to have captured most of the seats in Calgary, climbing into majority territory about half-an-hour after the polls closed.

The NDP won nearly every seat in Edmonton, plus the suburban city of St. Albert, a handful of districts in central and northeast Calgary, and Shannon Phillips’ seat in Lethbridge-West. As far as opposition caucuses go, this is fairly respectable for Alberta.

Despite losing her party’s majority tonight, Notley promised in an energetic and upbeat election night speech that she intends to continue leading her party as Leader of the Official Opposition. New Democrats were certainly disappointed in the election loss, but there was plenty of love for Rachel Notley at the Edmonton Convention Centre tonight.

This is the first time since the 1993-1997 Legislative Assembly that only two parties will be represented in the Assembly. Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election in Calgary-Elbow, and party leader Stephen Mandel fell short in Edmonton-McClung. Both Liberal Party leader David Khan and Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt were defeated.

I will have a lot more to comment on when all the advance ballots have been counted, the seat totals are settled, and the dust settles. Now, I need some rest.

Categories
Alberta Politics

8 races I am watching on Election Night in Alberta

At this point in Alberta’s election campaign, I am frequently being asked “what races are you watching on election night?” The short answer is, I am watching all of them, but there are a few specific races that I will be keeping my eye on when the polls close at 8:00 p.m. on April 16:

Banff-Kananaskis: This has been a long-time conservative voting district, but New Democratic Party MLA Cam Westhead was elected in 2015 with 43 per cent of the vote, nabbing it away from PC MLA Ron Casey. This time Westhead is facing United Conservative Party candidate Miranda Rosin, who claims her party does not support the locally controversial Springbank Dam, despite her party saying the opposite. Westhead has the support of numerous local municipal politicians who describe him as a strong advocate for the area. And the redistribution of the electoral boundaries has removed conservative-voting Cochrane from the district, making this one to watch in my books.

Calgary-Bow: NDP candidate Deborah Drever’s win in the 2015 election was a surprise and even after a rough start to her first term, she appeared to have redeemed herself. She faces her main challenge from UCP candidate Demetrios Nicolaides in this election. This is one of the Calgary districts the NDP will need to hold on to if they have any hope of forming government on April 16.

Calgary-Elbow: Greg Clark was leader of the Alberta Party when he was elected as the party’s only MLA in 2015. He is no longer the leader and he is running for re-election in 2019 against for conservative lawyer Doug Schweitzer. Clark has been an effective opposition voice in the Legislature and deserves a second-term, but it’s yet to be seen whether he can survive the challenge from the UCP and NDP candidate Janet Eremenko.

Calgary-Mountain View: A dog’s breakfast. Four-term Liberal MLA David Swann is retiring and all the parties are now scrambling to contest this district. Liberal Party leader David Khan, NDP Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, last minute UCP nominee Jeremy Wong, Alberta Party candidate and former radio broadcaster Angela Kokott, and Green Party candidate Thana Boonlert are in the mix. My money is on Ganley winning, but it really could be anybody’s game.

Edmonton-McClung: NDP MLA Lorne Dach is facing two strong challengers in Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel and UCP candidate Laurie Mozeson. It is hard to tell who the front-runner is in this contest, but all three are contenders.

Edmonton-West Henday: NDP MLA Jon Carson is facing a strong challenge from lobbyist and former PC ministerial aide Nicole Williams in this newly redrawn northwest Edmonton district. Carson was elected in 2015 as the MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, which has at various times switched hands from the NDP, Liberals and PCs going back to the 1980s.

Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: East of Edmonton this district could produce some interesting results. NDP MLA Jessica Littlewood is running for re-election and her main challenger is UCP candidate Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk. Littlewood is locally renowned for her travel through the constituency, and despite hotly contested nomination races in other districts, Armstrong-Homeniuk was acclaimed for the UCP nod in this district.

Lethbridge-West: As Environment & Parks Minister, Shannon Phillips has been one of the Notley government’s most prominent voices. Phillips has a strong ground game and is as smart as a whip, but the UCP has poured a lot of resources into the campaign of her main challenger, real estate agent Karri Flatla. My money is on Phillips winning re-election, but it could be close.

And here are a few other things I am watching:

Are there any races you are watching that I have missed? Let me know!

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 31: Game on. Week 1 of Alberta’s 2019 Election.

Alberta’s provincial election has been called and Albertans will be going to the polls on April 16. For the duration of the campaign, we’re going to be recording a new episode of the Daveberta Podcast each week.

In this episode we jump right into the fray, looking at the New Democratic Party‘s 10-minute documentary style video of Jason Kenney’s time in San Francisco and his history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy, the United Conservative Party‘s plan to fight foreign oil opponents, and the Alberta Party‘s pro-fluoride stance in Calgary.

We also spend some time focusing on a few races we are watching this week in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Calgary-ElbowEdmonton-McClung, Red Deer-North and Red Deer-South, and Calgary-Mountain View.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network powered by ATB Financial.

You can listen and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online.

We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download. You can also comment on the blogFacebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca.

And a huge thanks to our excellent guest producer, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, who kept us on track and made this episode sound so great.

Thank you for listening!

Note: During this episode we discussed Kenney’s voting record his time in Ottawa. Kenney voted twice against bills supporting Trans Rights and missed a third vote because he was not in the House of Commons at the time.

Recommended watching/reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Big Day in Beddington: UCP drop Randy Kerr over Callaway donation, Alberta Party MLA Karen McPherson decides not to run for re-election

United Conservative Party executive director Janice Harrington released a statement this evening announcing that Randy Kerr has been removed as the party’s candidate in the new Calgary-Beddington district. Here is an excerpt from Harrington’s statement:

Calgary-Beddington Alberta Map
Calgary-Beddington (Click to enlarge)

“Effective immediately, Mr. Randy Kerr has been removed as the UCP’s candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Beddington.

“In the last 48-hours, new information has come to our attention indicating Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”

“To be clear, the Party is not making any allegations against Mr. Kerr regarding the legitimacy of his contribution to the Callaway Leadership, not against Mr. Callaway or his Campaign. This is not the Party’s rule to judge, and the Party does not in any way oversee financial contributions to leadership campaigns.

“However, it is our conclusion that Mr. Kerr was not sufficiently forthcoming with the Party’s earlier inquiries, and for that, he has been removed as a candidate.

“The Party has also proactively provided this new information to the appropriate office – that of the Elections Commissioner. Given that the matter is now with the Commissioner, it is inappropriate for us to comment further.

Josephine Pon United Conservative Party Calgary Beddington
Josephine Pon

According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, Kerr donated $4,000 to Callaway’s leadership campaign in 2017. The disclosure was released months ago, so it is unclear what Harrington meant when she wrote that “Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”

Kerr’s removal as a candidate comes on the same day it was revealed a lawyer representing the UCP sent a cease and desist letter to Independent MLA Prab Gill, who has been at the forefront of accusations of misconduct and alleged illegal activities that took place during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Earlier this week, UCP staffer posted a creepy video online of Gill meeting with an NDP staffer in an apparent attempt to discredit him. Kenney later accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP.

The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.

Harrington also announced that the UCP has appointed Josephine Pon as their candidate in this district. Pon had been defeated by Kerr in the August 2018 nomination contest.

Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark, Karen McPherson and Rick Fraser.
Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark, Karen McPherson and Rick Fraser.

Meanwhile, Karen McPherson, one of three Alberta Party MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, announced on social media today that she has decided against running for re-election when the provincial election is called.

McPherson had already been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Beddington, which replaces much of her the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill district she currently represents. She was first elected as an New Democratic Party MLA in 2015 in, unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Neil Brown, and left the NDP in 2017 to sit as an Independent and later joined the Alberta Party caucus.

The NDP have nominated Amanda Chapman as its candidate in Calgary-Beddington.

Non-Beddington related news

The Alberta Party has announced two new nominated candidates: Wayne Rufiange in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock and Jason Beekman in Taber-Warner. Rufiange recently sought the Alberta Party nomination in Morinville-St. Albert, but was defeated by Neil Korotash. Rufiange is principal of R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock.

The Liberals have nominated a handful of new candidates: Robin Macintosh in Calgary-Elbow, Michael Macdonald in Calgary-Klein, and Wilson McCutchan in Calgary-Lougheed. McCutchan was the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-West in the 2012 election, where he earned 7.4 per cent of the vote. And Shirley Ksienski has replaced previously nominated candidate Rork Hilford in Calgary-Glenmore.

The Green Party has announced Brian Deheer will be that party’s candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district. Deheer was a candidate for the leadership of the party in 2017 and 2018, and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.

Four more candidates affiliated with the Alberta Independence Party have filed their papers to run as Independent candidates: John Morton in Edmonton-City Centre, Kenneth Morrice in Calgary-Hays, Todd Wayne in Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ben Maddison in Lethbridge-West.

Currently operating as an unregistered political party, Alberta Independence Party will need 44 candidates approved by Elections Alberta in order to gain official party status in the upcoming election.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!