At 3:00 p.m. on the same day, AUPE President Guy Smith took to the podium at a press conference to announce that, after a long and tumultuous process, his union had reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government for a new contract (here are the details of the tentative agreement).
Contrasting the current and previous premier, Mr. Smith praised Premier Dave Hancock for working with him to find a resolution to the acrimonious round of negotiations. In the same breath which Mr. Smith heaped glowing praise on Mr. Hancock, he delivered a harsh shot at Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, who he said played no role in achieving this resolution.
“We are prepared to rebuild the relationship with the government that is needed to ensure that Albertans get the quality services they deserve,” Mr. Smith said in AUPE’s press release.
By reaching a tentative agreement and abandoning the fight to salvage an unpopular law (which was likely unconstitutional), the governing Progressive Conservatives hope to avoid a nasty and very public battle with AUPE over bargaining that could have been drawn out over the course their leadership race. They may also hope this agreement could derail AUPE’s informal alliance with Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose opposition, which threatened to dog the Tories into the next election.
It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Hancock, whose dedication to his party in unquestioned, would wish to put this issue to rest before the next PC leader leader, possibly Jim Prenticeor Ken Hughes, is chosen at that party’s September leadership vote.
At least for the moment, Albertans can have hope that the current premier may take a more mature approach to labour relations than we saw under the province’s previous leadership.
Settling the negotiations with the province’s largest union was a sensible decision and the beginning of a detente at best. But if the Tories hope this announcement is a first step in creating an entente cordiale with Alberta’s labour movement and progressive voters, there is still a long way to go (backing down on the attack on public sector pensions would be another meaningful next step they could take).
Even though the maximum donation limit during an election period is $30,000, according to Elections Alberta the $430,000 donation was legitimate because it was accompanied by a paper trail of 17 individuals and professional corporations who wished to receive tax-receipts in amounts of $30,000, $25,000, $20,000, and $15,000. Tax-receipts were issued for Mr. Katz, members of his family, and senior employees of his company.
Only the portion of the donation assigned to Mr. Katz’s Chief Financial Officer, Paul Marcaccio, was ruled inappropriate because he is not an ordinary resident of Alberta. The PC Party announced that it returned the $25,000 that was assigned from Mr. Marcaccio.
Even if the Katz Group donation was found to be legal, it certainly goes against the spirit of the law and demonstrates how easy Alberta’s flimsy political finance laws are to circumvent.
The $430,000 donation represented 26% of the money raised by the PC Party during last year’s election period. It could be speculated that this is the reason the PC Party reneged on a promise to reveal their list of donors in the final week of the campaign.
Front-line Corrections Officers at the new Edmonton Remand Centre began a wildcat strike last week after they felt serious safety concerns were not being addressed by their management. The wildcat strike quickly spread across the province as Corrections Officers at other jails walked off the job in a show of solidarity with their colleagues in Edmonton.
Having avoided making any public comments on the issue until the strike was over, Premier Redford emerged at a press conference in Calgary to announce the government would take legal action against AUPE to recoup any costs to the government caused by the strike.
The government’s request to the Labour Relations Board would withhold dues of tens of thousands of AUPE members who had no connection to the striking Corrections Officers and is a move that is certainly meant to cripple, and poison the government’s relationship, with the union of 80,000 Government of Alberta employees. The Public Service Employee Relations Act allows for suspension of dues only for individual union locals, not for an entire union membership.
The closure of the facility, which houses local residents and is the main employer in the community, has also united politicians from across the political spectrum.
At a rally in front of Premier Alison Redford‘s constituency office in Calgary-Elbow, Edmonton-Calder NDP MLA David Eggen, Little BowWildrose MLA Ian Donovan, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, and Calgary-Shaw Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson stood with more than 80 people in opposition to the facility’s closure. At a previous rally, Highwood MLA and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president Guy Smith stood with local mayor Kym Nichols, who works at the facility.
While the decision to close the Little Bow facility would have made by Alberta Health Services, the final approval for the closure must be made by Health Minister Fred Horne. This is because, as an Approved Hospital, Section 28 of the Operation of Approved Hospitals Regulation states:
28 Every hospital shall require prior approval of the Minister for
(a) any proposed major change or termination of an existing service provided by the hospital, or
(b) the introduction of a new service.
Since the Wildrose Party swept rural southern and central Alberta, electing 17 MLA’s across the province in the May 2012 election, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives have faced the first rural MLA dominated official opposition since the early 1970s. Minister Horne has visited the community and apologized for the confusion, but the apology appears to have only confirmed the feelings held by some people that the big city Tories do not understand the needs of small rural communities.
The confusion around the closure of the facility has led more than a few members of the community wonder if a recent change in their voting patterns have affected their political influence on this issue. In the recent election, residents of the community voted overwhelmingly for Wildrose candidate and now-MLA Mr. Donovan over PC candidate John Kolk. Previous to that election, Carmangay had been a reliably Tory voting area.
If the Tories are trying to win back the hearts and minds of voters in the rural south, their grand strategy is beginning with a rough start.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul… …or robbing the Liberals and NDP to pay the Wildrose Alliance. The PC MLA-dominated Legislative committee responsible for allocating funds to Assembly caucuses voted to give in to Wildrose Alliance demands for increased caucus funding, but it came at the expense of the other three parties caucuses. While the 67 MLA PC caucus will barely notice the decrease, the slightest decrease in funding is the difference between a one more staff member or not for the opposition caucuses. Chalk this one up to another round of institutional micro-management and political games by Speaker Ken Kowalski.
Calgary’s new Political Minister Filling Ms. Redford’s former position as political minister for Calgary is long-time Calgary-Cross MLA and Minister of Children & Youth Services Yvonne Fritz.
The Provincial Government and North West Upgrading announced that a deal had been reached to begin the construction of the first phase of a new upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan. Premier Ed Stelmach called it “a bold step”, but that was not good enough for NDP MLA Brian Mason. Mr. Mason made the point of attacking Premier Stelmach, saying that despite past promises to keep upgrading jobs in Alberta, more jobs have moved to the United States.
Blakeman aims for Liberal leadership Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman announced yesterday that she is seeking the Liberal leadership. The four-term opposition MLA is the first candidate to enter the contest to replace outgoing leader David Swann. In her speech yesterday, Ms. Blakeman, the party’s Deputy Leader, explained that she had toyed with the idea of joining the new Alberta Party, but later decided to stay with her current party.
Ms. Blakeman is one half of an Edmonton political power couple with her husband Ben Henderson, who is the City Councillor for Ward 8.
Ms. Blakeman’s second V-log takes a creative angle at explaining the political spectrum.
Lukaszuk weighing his options A well-placed source has informed this blogger that Employment & Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has been weighing his options about joining the PC leadership contest.
Second Alberta Party leadership candidate Calgarian Tammy Maloney has announced that she is seeking the Alberta Party leadership. Ms. Maloney is an entrepreneur, a former Oil & Gas business analyst and IESE MBA. She also worked for the Clinton Foundation in Nigeria. Ms. Maloney’s only other challenger so far is Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, who entered the contest two weeks ago.
Carter: smooth political operator
Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson focused his latest column on the strategies of paid political operative Stephen Carter. Mr.Carter, who is known for his work for the Wildrose Alliance and Naheed Nenshi‘s campaign, is a high-profile hire on Ms. Redford’s PC leadership campaign. Watch out Rod Love, at this rate Mr. Carter is becoming Alberta’s next biggest celebrity political operative.
Morton country no more? An editorial in the Rocky View Weekly questions whether former Finance Minister Ted Morton will receive the kind of support from Airdrie-Chestermere Tories in the current PC leadership contest that he did in 2006. Five years ago Mr. Morton earned the support of 57% of PC members in that constituency, with 26% supporting Jim Dinning and 17% supporting Premier Stelmach. With the constituency now represented by Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, it will be interesting to see if conservative voters in that area are still comfortable with Mr. Morton or whether they have found a new political home.
Nomination updates: Calgary Varsity and Edmonton-Centre The list of declared and nominated candidates for the next provincial election has been updated. The nomination contest to replace two-term Calgary-Varisty Liberal MLA Harry Chase looks to be an acclamation. The only candidate to step forward appears to be Bruce Payne, a Business Representative with Carpenters’ Union, Local 2103 in Calgary. Mr. Chase surprised many political watchers when he grabbed the seat from the PCs in a close election in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008 defeating PC Jennifer Diakiw.
Meanwhile, 26-year old Drew Adamick is seeking the yet to be scheduled NDP nomination in Edmonton-Centre. Mr. Adamick was the 2008 federal Liberal candidate in Cariboo-Prince George, where he placed third behind Conservative MP Dick Harris.
I joined hundreds of fellow Edmontonians today for an afternoon rally for public healthcare at the Alberta Legislative Assembly building. Speakers included MLA Raj Sherman and his lawyer, Brian Beresh, who announced that he was starting an investigation into the whisper campaign to discredit Dr. Sherman.