It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.
But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.
The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.
Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.
The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.
Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.
The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.
The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.
With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.
While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.
Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.
If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.
“The $15 minimum wage will make life more affordable for women, single parents, families and everyone who has been working a full-time job or more but is still struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent,” Labour Minister Christina Gray said in a September 28 press release.
According to the Alberta Low Wage Profile, the number of employees with average hourly earnings of less than $15 per hour in Alberta decreased from 292,400 in 2016 to 253,900 in 2018. The profile also shows that Alberta has the lowest percentage of low wage earners among the Canadian provinces, followed by Saskatchewan.
The phased-in increase to minimum wage is a challenge that business owners who pay poverty level wages had been forced to confront. And not surprisingly, business owners and their lobby groups have taken issue with the increases since they began after 2015.
Some business owners have warned that pay increases could lead to increased costs for consumers. There is no doubt that an increase to the minimum wage will increase costs for employers, but I am sure they have already found many Albertans will not mind paying a little bit more knowing that the employees who serve their coffee, prepare their lunches, or stock their grocery store shelves are paid better than they were last month.
Mandel went into detail with his proposal to lower the minimum wage for certain Alberta workers, lowering the rate to $13.60 an hour for workers 17 and under and to $14 an hour for servers who earn tips.
It makes little sense to penalize or devalue the work of the lowest paid workers in Alberta because of their age or the industry they work in. This kind of thinking presumes that most young workers are just earning pocket money to buy V-Bucks for Fortnite and not saving to pay for post-secondary education, helping pay the bills at home or trying to raise their own families.
Around 63 per cent of minimum wage earners are women, more than 37 per cent of minimum wage earners are parents, including around 14,300 who are single parents.
A pay cut for low wage workers could be part of Bill 1: The Free Enterprise Act, which Mandel announced at a gathering of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce earlier this month would be the first law passed by an Alberta Party government. He was mum on what else would be included in this bill, but as the NDP have already lowered the small business tax rate from 3 per cent to 2 per cent, it is possible Mandel would like to see the tax completely abolished.
Kenney initially played coy on the topic, saying he had no plans to roll back the $15 per hour wage but in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce last week he went into detail about his willingness to adopt a system of lower minimum wages based on age or industry.
While Kenney was not specific about how far be would roll back wages for young workers, recent UCP leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, who is now the party’s star candidate in Calgary-Elbow, said last year that he would cut Alberta’s minimum wage by 18.7 per cent from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour, because it is the “right choice for Albertans whose livelihoods count on it the most.”
Kenney also stated he plans to repeal labour law reforms implemented by the NDP, which updated many Alberta laws not changed since the 1970s. It is not clear whether this would include the occupational health and safety code updates, or other changes expanding compassionate care leave, maternal and paternal leave, holiday pay, and the clarification of termination and temporary layoff rules.
Support staff including educational and financial assistants, library clerks, maintenance staff, secretaries, typists and custodians who work for the Living Waters Catholic School District in Edson, Whitecourt and Slave Lake are on strike because they were fed up with irregular working hours and low salaries. Some staff members have been turning to their local food bank to make ends meet, according to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the union representing these workers.
The $15 per hour minimum wage was a step in the right direction, but it is still lower than the what is considered to be a living wage in some of Alberta’s urban areas.Vibrant Communities Calgary estimated in 2017 that the Living Wage in Calgary is $18.15 per hour, the Edmonton Social Planning Council says a living wage in the province’s capital city is $16.31 per hour, the City of Grande Prairie estimated $17.35 per hour, while in 2016 Central Alberta Poverty estimated that the living wage in Red Deer and Central Alberta was between $13.71 and $14.10 per hour.
Increasing the minimum wage is not a silver bullet to eliminating poverty in our province, but raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will make a big difference in the lives of a lot of working Albertans.
While the current crop of conservative political leaders have decried the wage increase for Alberta’s lowest paid workers, conservative politicians in the recent past have praised increases to the minimum wage:
“This increase to Alberta’s minimum wage is good news for Albertans,” said Premier Ed Stelmachin June 2007, when the minimum wage was raised from $7 per hour to $8 per hour.
”Minimum wage offers protection for workers,” said Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry Iris Evans, also in June 2007. “It sets the minimum rate of pay that employers must meet and ensures that workers, especially women and youth, who traditionally are in the lower income occupations, are making a better wage.”
“We want to ensure that Albertans earning the minimum wage are as protected as possible during these changing times,” Minister of Employment and Immigration Hector Goudreau said in March 2009, when the minimum wage increased from $8.40 per hour to $8.80 per hour.
In November 2004, Premier Ralph Klein appointed Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette as Alberta’s only-ever Minister of Restructuring and Government Efficiency.Known by the nickname the “Ministry of RAGE,” the department quickly became an oxymoronic joke because was a government bureaucracy created for the purpose of cutting government’s bureaucracy.
Aside from some responsibilities related to the Alberta SuperNet that were previously handled by another government department, it was never clear what exactly the RAGE Ministry ever accomplished. And before Albertans could ever find out, the position was eliminated and, in December 2006, Ouellette was appointed Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation.
History will show that the Ministry of Restructuring and Government Efficiency was most notable for eliminating the Office of the Minister of Restructuring and Government Efficiency.
Campaigns to rebuild two Edmonton area hospitals now competing for scarce funds to fix crumbling infrastructure are being run by organizations that include former Tory insiders who sat at the budget table when the decisions were made that led to the two facilities’ current dilapidated condition.
Political jockeying for funding for the Alberta Health Services-run Royal Alexandra Hospital in north-central Edmonton and Covenant Health‘s Misericordia Hospital in southwest Edmonton is intensifying as provincial budget deliberations heat up.
The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation recently launched a public campaign to lobby the provincial government to provide additional funding for the hospital. The campaign’s message isn’t wrong. As the campaign’s memorable spokes-puppet points out, the Royal Alex has been on “top of the list for infrastructure redevelopment for more than 20 years.”
“New Mis Now” was a campaign slogan used by the New Democratic Party opposition during a 2014 by-election in the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency. NDP candidate Bob Turner criticized then-unelected health minister Stephen Mandel for a lack of funding from the Progressive Conservative government to build a new Misericordia Hospital in booming southwest Edmonton. Covenant Health is continuing to put pressure on the now-NDP government to invest in a new Misericordia Hospital.
They are both right. Both aging facilities are in need of major investment.
But how did we get to this point?
Poor long-term planning and a legacy of political meddling in the administration of the regional health authorities is likely the real reason why two aging Edmonton hospitals are in their current condition.
The blame lies with the old PC government, which sat in power from 1971 until 2015. During some of the province’s biggest economic booms, when resource royalties from oil and natural gas flooded into government coffers, the PCs could have chosen to invest in our aging public infrastructure. But through many of the boom years that took place during their final two decades in power, the PCs were more focused on giving out tax breaks or vanity cheques than investing in public infrastructure or saving for future generations.
There is some irony that three people who were sitting at the table when the lack of long-term planning occurred over the past twenty to twenty-five years are now personally connected with the organizations lobbying the NDP government for hospital funding.
Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation board member Iris Evans served in the PC government from 1997 to 2012, including as minister of health and finance. Sitting on the Covenant Health Board of Directors are Ed Stelmach, a former premier and cabinet minister from 1997 until 2011, and Shirley McClellan, another former minister of health and minister of finance. McClellan served as Minister of Health from 1992 to 1996, when deep funding cuts were made to Alberta’s health care system, and later as Minister of Finance from 2004 to 2006.
So now, Albertans, and an NDP government faced with limited funds and low international oil prices, have to deal with the previous government’s lack of foresight.
As government, the NDP is now responsible for figuring out how to fix the infrastructure problems created by the old PC government while living up to the promises they made while in opposition. Some real long-term planning would be a good place to start.
Photo: NDP MLAs stood behind by-election candidate Bob Turner at a campaign event outside the Misericordia Hospital in Sept. 2014. Left to right: David Eggen, Rachel Notley, Bob Turner, and Brian Mason.
After 44 years as government, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party built an impressive patronage machine. For many decades, there very likely has not been a board with provincially appointed members that did not enjoy the presence of a PC Party member. That political machine ground to a halt on May 5 when Albertans swept Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party into office.
As the NDP transition into office is the first real change of power since 1971, we can expect that many PC-connected appointees on numerous agencies, boards and commissions will exit or not have their terms renewed in the next few years. The same can be said for a slew of ideologically-based advocacy groups that have enjoyed generous funding from the PC Government in recent years.
While having a PC Party membership should not automatically preclude an individual from serving on a public board in the future, as many honest Albertans have held a membership in that party over its four decades in power, it will no longer be a golden ticket into the corridors of power in Alberta.
Here is a quick look at some prominent PC Party members, supporters and former MLAs and cabinet ministers who are currently serving in government appointed roles at colleges and universities:
University of Alberta Board of Governors chairman Doug Goss demonstrated a servere lack of good judgement when he fumbled through a the mid-election press conference with three other corporate CEOs to denounce the NDP as “amateurs.” Mr. Goss is a former Vice-President of Finance for the PC Party and served as campaign co-chair for the party’s re-election campaign in 2008.
MacEwan University Board of Governors chairman John Day signed the infamous CEO letter but had the good sense not to show up at Mr. Goss’ disastrous press conference. Mr. Day has donated thousands of dollars to the PC Party, according to Elections Alberta records.
The last Social Credit Party education minister, Robert Clark, currently serves as chair of the Board of Governors of Olds College. Mr. Clark was elected as Social Credit MLA for Olds-Didsbury in 1960 at the age of 23 and served until 1981. He was Leader of the Official Opposition from 1973 to 1980.
As an election approaches, Alberta’s political parties are busy nominating candidates across the province. Listed below are some of the most recent updates made the list of nominated candidates, including recent Progressive Conservative nominees in Calgary-Fish Creek, Calgary-McCall, Calgary-West, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, and Sherwood Park.
Calgary-Fish Creek: Mount Royal University’s former Dean of Business Wendelin Fraser defeated political blogger Joey Oberhoffner to win the PC nomination. Ms. Fraser will face off against Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth, who crossed to the Wildrose in 2010 after serving as a PC MLA since 1993. The election contest in Fish Creek will be a gauge of both PC and Wildrose popularity in the next election.
Calgary-McCall: Engineer Mohammad Rasheed defeated a crowded field in the PC nomination contest that included candidates Khandaker Alam, Deepshikha Brar, Afzal Hanid, Amtul Khan, Jamie Lall, Aslam Malik, Ravi Prasad, Jagdeep Sahota, and Jangbahadur Sidhu. Mr. Rasheed will face Liberal Mr. Kang in the upcoming election.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Six-term PC MLA Ty Lund defeated challenger Jimmy Clark to win his party’s nomination. Mr. Lund was first elected in 1989 and served in a number of cabinet portfolios during Ralph Klein‘s Premiership. He began his occupation of the Tory backbenches when Ed Stelmach because Premier in 2006. His main competition in the upcoming election is expected to be landowners rights advocate and former Green Party leader Joe Anglin, who is now running for the Wildrose Party.
Sherwood Park: Former Strathcona County Mayor Cathy Olesen narrowly won the PC nomination against Matthew Bissett, Brian Botterill, Helen Calahasen, Murray Hutchinson, and Susan Timanson. Ms. Oleson served as Mayor from 2004 until 2010, when she was defeated by Councillor Linda Osinchuk. Ms. Olesen will be the second former municipal official to serve as this constituency’s MLA. Retiring MLA Iris Evans served as Reeve until she was elected as an MLA in 1997.
Calgary-Glenmore: Former MLA Craig Cheffins is expected to seek the Liberal nomination. Mr. Cheffins’ briefly served as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow after winning a by-election, which was triggered by Premier Klein’s resignation in 2007. Under the new electoral boundaries, his neighbourhood of Lakeview will now be located within the boundaries of Calgary-Glenmore. Mr. Cheffins’ entry into the election will add an interesting mix to a contest which will include Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman (himself elected in a 2009 by-election) and the eventual PC nominee. Lawyer Byron Nelson and Linda Johnson are seeking the PC nomination, scheduled for January 26, 2012.
Edmonton-Glenora: Perennial City Council candidate Don Koziak is the nominated Wildrose candidate. Mr. Koziak most recently ran in the 2010 Edmonton municipal election, placing second in a close race against Councillor Kim Krushell.
Edmonton-Mill Creek: Mike Butler has been confirmed as the Liberal candidate. This will be Mr. Butler’s fourth attempt at political office. In 2008 he was provincial NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford and federal NDP candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont. In 2010, he was the federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont.
Edmonton-Strathcona: At the recent deadline for candidates to enter the PC nomination contest, no qualified candidates had entered the contest. The constituency is currently represented by NDP MLA Rachel Notley.
Peace River: High Level town councillor Al Forsyth has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate.
With an election fast approaching, Alberta’s political parties are busy nominating candidates across the province. Here is a regional breakdown showing where candidates have been nominated and some of the recent updates.
Airdrie: Former Airdrie MayorLinda Bruce and current Alderman Kelly Hegg are seeking the Progressive Conservative nomination.
Calgary-McCall: It is a full house in the PC nomination contest on January 21, 2012 with 10 candidates having entered the race. Candidates include Khandaker Alam, Deepshikha Brar, Afzal Hanid, Amtul Khan, Jamie Lall, Aslam Malik, Ravi Prasad, Muhammad Rasheed, Jagdeep Sahota, and Jangbahadur Sidhu.
Calgary-Mountain View: Lawyer Cecilia Low was acclaimed as the PC candidate. This constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA David Swann since 2004.
Calgary-Northwest: First reported on this blog, former cabinet minster Lindsay Blackett will not be seeking re-election. Sandra Jansen announced yesterday that she will be seeking the PC nomination. Ms. Jansen is a former news anchor for Global Television and has served as Communications Manager for Premier Alison Redford‘s Southern Alberta Office since late last year.
Calgary-Shaw: The Alberta Party will be holding a nomination meeting on January 30, 2012. At this time, Brandon Beasley is the only declared candidate.
Edmonton-Centre: Urban Development Institute executive director Nicole Martel is seeking the PC nomination scheduled for January 24, 2012. Ms. Martel was the federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-East in the 2006 election and a candidate for the Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Centre in 2008.
Edmonton-Ellerlise: Past Public School Board candidate Tina Jardine has withdrawn her name as the NDP candidate for personal reasons.
Edmonton-Gold Bar: Dennis O’Neill was acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate.
Edmonton-Mill Woods: Despite bizarre nomination shenanigans, the PCs will hold their nomination meeting on January 28, 2012. Candidates include Ron Randhawa, Sohail Qadri, and controversy-prone MLA Carl Benito.
Edmonton-Riverview: Taleb Choucair, Edmonton Police Officer Steve Young, and former Public School Trustee Bev Esslinger are seeking the PC nomination on January 27, 2012.
Edmonton-South West: Allan Hunsperger is the nominated Wildrose candidate. Matt Jeneroux and Tofael Chowdhury are competing in the PC nomination scheduled for January 30, 2012. Mr. Choudhury was a candidate for the federal Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Andrew Highfield has joined declared candidates Mike Allen, Nick Sanders, and Jeff Thompson in competing for the PC nomination scheduled for January 28, 2012.
Lethbridge-East: Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey is challenging Liberal-turned-Tory MLA Bridget Pastoor for the PC nomination scheduled for January 26, 2012.
Medicine Hat: Darren Hirsch and Linda Rossler are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency is currently represented by 17-year MLA Rob Renner, who is not seeking re-election.
Red Deer-North: Well-known local historian Michael Dawe is seeking the Liberal nomination scheduled to be held on January 19, 2012.
Sherwood Park: Six candidates are vying for the PC nomination on January 21, 2012 to replace outgoing MLA Iris Evans. Declared candidates include Matthew Bissett, County Councillor Brian Botterill, Helen Calahasen, Murray Hutchinson, former Mayor Cathy Oleson, and local PC organizerSusan Timanson. Ms. Calahasen is the sister of long-time Lesser Slave Lake MLAPearl Calahasen.
Vermilion-Lloydminster: Dr. Richard Starke was acclaimed as the PC candidate to replace outgoing MLA Lloyd Snelgrove.
Former PC Member of Parliament Douglas Fee has joined the PC nomination contest, to be held on February 10 and 11. Mr. Fee served as the MP for Red Deer from 1988 to 1993.
With an election expected to be held in the next few months and a new Premier setting a new tone, many long-time and not-so-long-time Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly have decided that now is time to retire or look for greener pastures.
Some of the retiring politicians have spent a decade or more in office, so before the writ is dropped I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of them looked like in their younger years in office.
Speaker Kowalski is the longest serving MLA in the Assembly and was first elected in a 1979 by-election in the Barrhead constituency. His absence will undoubtably lead to a hotly contested PC nomination in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Hoping to capture the seat from the Tories is Wildrose candidate and former Alberta Report publisher Link Byfield, who has been on the hustings for more than a year.
Upon his retirement, Speaker Kowalski is expected to collect $1,271,600 in transition allowance, and it is suspected that he may also collect $54,000 per year from the now-defunct MLA pension that was dissolved in 1992. His retirement announcement takes place before a review of MLA salaries and benefits, led by retired Justice John Major, can take place.
Nominated Alberta election candidates by region. December 8, 2011
The sudden burst of retirement announcements by Stelmach-era cabinet ministers has prompted a flurry of nomination activity in constituencies that could be considered Tory strongholds (where winning the PC nomination is typically the toughest fight):
Banff-Cochrane: Mayor Truper McBride is expected to enter the PC nomination contest in this mountain/foothills constituency today. Current PC MLA and former cabinet minister Janis Tarchukannounced this week that she will seek re-election, though some political watchers expect the former cabinet minister to retire when the next election is called.
Grande Prairie-Smoky: Grande Prairie County Reeve Everett McDonaldis seeking the PC nomination. The constituency is currently represented by MLA and former cabinet minister Mel Knight, who is not seeking re-election.
Vermilion-Lloydminster: Dr. Richard Starke is seeking the PC nomination, which is being left vacant by retiring MLA and former cabinet minister Lloyd Snelgrove.
Aside from the constituencies represented by retiring former cabinet ministers, here are other updates to the list of declared and nominated election candidates:
Calgary-Buffalo: The NDP are expected to acclaim Rebecca Eras as their candidate on December 13
Calgary-Cross: The NDP are expected to acclaim Reinaldo Conterras on December 13. Mr. Conterras replaces previously nominated candidate Preet Sihota, who withdrew his candidacy for personal reasons.
Calgary-Currie: Five prospective nomination candidates were testing the waters at a recent Meet and Greet event organized by the Calgary-Currie PC association. Potential nominees noted to have attended the event include former MLA and Alderman Jon Lord, Stefan Spargo, Chair of the Calgary International Children’s Festival Charity Callahan, former Calgary-McCall constituency president Dale Galbraith, school principalChristine Cusanelli, and past-President of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association Brian Holtby.
Calgary-Glenmore: The PC nomination has been scheduled for January 28, 2012. Linda Johnson has declared her candidacy for the nomination.
Calgary-Hays: Former Alderman and recent Mayoral candidate Ric McIver defeated incumbent MLA Art Johnston to nab the PC nomination. This is the second time that Mr. Johnston, the parliamentary assistant to Premier Alison Redford, has lost a nomination contest this year. In May 2011, he was defeated by Rick Fraser in the Calgary-South East PC nomination.
Calgary-Mountain View: Lawyer Cecilia Low has announced her intention to seek the PC nomination, which has yet to be officially scheduled.
Calgary-North West: The NDP are expected to acclaim Brian Malkinson as their candidate on December 13.
Edmonton-Gold Bar: Liberal Party members nominated Josipa Petrunic as their candidate earlier this week (read more about Ms. Petrunic here). The PC nomination date has been scheduled for January 25, 2012. Past candidate David Dorward is the only candidate to have declared his candidacy.
Edmonton-Whitemud: The NDP are expected to acclaim Muriel Stanley Venne as their candidate on December 13.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: After circulating a rumour about a secret nomination meeting, Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier has decided that he will seek his party’s nomination in the new Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo constituency.
Leduc-Beaumont: Perennial political candidate Hana Razga is seeking the NDP nomination. Ms. Razga recently ran for Edmonton City Council in Ward 8.
Do you think Gary Mar left a draft cabinet list in the Premier’s Office when he was measuring the drapes? Because Premier Alison Redford found it.
We were told to expect big changes, that many “household names” would be dropped from cabinet, but as they enter their new jobs, Premier Alison Redford‘s cabinet looks like one that should have been made by her main leadership opponent Gary Mar.
Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne‘s appointment as Minister of Health and Wellness and Ron Liepert‘s appointment as Finance Minister means that there will be no serious judicial inquiry into the intimidation of health care workers. Minister Liepert’s promotion from Energy to Finance is surprising considering that only last week he was openly defying Premier Redford on the need for a health care inquiry. Both Mr. Horne and Mr. Liepert were strong supporters of Mr. Mar in the leadership contest and would have likely ended up in similar positions had he not been defeated on the third ballot vote on October 1.
It has yet to be seen what new powers Minister Liepert will hold as Finance Minister. Remember that in recent cabinets, the President of the Treasury Board has held considerable sway over the province’s purse-strings. This could mean that ‘Liepert the Hound‘ could turn into ‘Liepert the Pup‘ when dealing with the current Treasury Board President and Deputy Premier Doug Horner.
Former Finance Minister Ted Morton is moving into the Energy Minister’s office, an area where he will be comfortable defending the province’s record on oil sands development. New Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is a cabinet lightweight who will have to be a quick study if he wants to survive in his new job. He and Premier Redford started things off right this afternoon with the announcement adding $100 million into the education budget today. Both Minister Morton and Minister Lukaszuk supported Mr. Mar on the final ballot of the PC leadership contest.
The appointment of Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths as Minister of Municipal Affairs could turn out to be an interesting choice. Minister Griffiths, who was defeated on the first ballot of the PC leadership contest and has never served in cabinet, comes with both inexperience and an open-mind. Despite his rural pedigree, I would not discount his ability to build relationships with the group of young municipal leaders who have been elected in recent years, including Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson.
The appointment of Edmonton-Whitemud MLA and long-time cabinet minister Dave Hancock (also a Mar loyalist) as Minister of the new Human Services super-ministry is a smart choice. Minister Hancock is a seasoned govern0r who may be the only MLA who can help weave and organize this newly formed portfolio, which includes Children and Youth Services, Employment and Immigration (except for immigration), Homelessness, Alberta Supports (from Seniors and Community Supports).
Rewarded for his most (if only) significant political decision is backbench MLA Art Johnston, who was appointed Parliamentary Assistant to Executive Council (which means he gets to carry Premier Redford’s briefing binder in the Assembly). Mr. Johnston was the only MLA to support Ms. Redford on the first ballot of the PC leadership vote.
Some much needed new blood around the cabinet table includes Drayton Valley-Calmar MLA Diana McQueen as Minister of Environment and Water, Calgary-Montrose MLA Manmeet Bhullar as Minister of Service Alberta, Athabasca-Redwater MLA Jeff Johnson as Minister of Infrastructure, and Red Deer-South MLA Cal Dallas as Minister of International, Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Relations.
Notable cabinet ministers joining the great unwashed masses in the Tory backbenches include Sherwood Park MLA Iris Evans, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Lloyd Snelgrove, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette, Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky, Calgary-Cross MLA Yvonne Fritz, Calgary-Shaw MLA Cindy Ady, and Medicine Hat MLA Rob Renner. It would not be surprising to see these now backbench MLAs and others decide to collect their million dollar severance packages and not stand in the next election.
Not to be unexpected, it did not take long for the rumour mill to start suggesting what next steps these former cabinet ministers might take. If he is not retiring, one rumour I heard today suggests that Mr. Zwozdesky may seek re-election and challenge Speaker Ken Kowalski for his position in the Assembly after the next election.
Avoiding one of former Premier Ed Stelmach‘s first mistakes, this cabinet reaches a respectable geographical balance. Four cabinet minister each from Calgary and Edmonton and the remaining twelve spread across the province.
Premier Alison Redford will announce the appointment of her first cabinet at 10:00am this morning. I presented my list of predictions last week and since then we have some stronger indication of who will be appointed today and who will be joining the backbenchers this morning. We have been told to expect a significant shuffle and a smaller number of cabinet ministers.
Most of the speculation over the past few days about who will be left out of the next cabinet has been fairly obvious:
Iris Evans (Sherwood Park) – Long-time cabinet minister under Premiers Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach. Her staff was seen cleaning our her office this week, according to CBC reporter Kim Trynacity.
Ron Liepert (Calgary-West) – Apt at picking the wrong horse in his party’s leadership contests, Mr. Liepert was the strong-arm for Jim Dinning in 2006 and Gary Mar in 2011.
Lloyd Snelgrove (Vermilion-Lloydminster) – The last Finance Minister of Premier Stelmach’s administration supported Mr. Mar in the leadership contest and told the Meridian-Booster that he would decline an appointment in Premier Redford’s cabinet.
UPDATE: Here is the list of new cabinet ministers:
Alison Redford, QC, Calgary-Elbow Premier, President of Executive Council, Chair of Agenda and Priorities
Doug Horner, Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert Deputy Premier, President of Treasury Board and Enterprise
David Hancock, Edmonton-Whitemud Minister of Human Services, Government House Leader
Ted Morton, Foothills-Rocky View Minister of Energy
Verlyn Olson, Wetaskiwin-Camrose Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Deputy Government House Leader
Fred Horne, Edmonton-Rutherford Minister of Health and Wellness
Ron Liepert, Calgary-West Minister of Finance
Thomas Lukaszuk, Edmonton-Castle Downs Minister of Education
Diana McQueen, Drayton Valley-Calmar Minister of Environment and Water
Jonathan Denis, Calgary-Egmont Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security; Deputy Government House Leader
Cal Dallas, Red Deer-South Minister of International, Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Relations
Evan Berger, Livingstone-Macleod Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Frank Oberle, Peace River Minister of Sustainable Resource Development
George VanderBurg, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne Minister of Seniors
Ray Danyluk, Lac La Biche-St. Paul Minister of Transportation
Jeff Johnson, Athabasca-Redwater Minister of Infrastructure
Doug Griffiths, Battle River-Wainwright Minister of Municipal Affairs
Greg Weadick, Lethbridge-West Minister of Advanced Education and Technology
Jack Hayden, Drumheller-Stettler Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation
Heather Klimchuk, Edmonton-Glenora Minister of Culture and Community Services
Manmeet Bhullar, Calgary-Montrose Minister of Service Alberta
Was it the beginnings of a complicated political strategy, the osmosis of sitting in the Edmonton Sun offices, or the anticipation of an endorsement from former Premier Ralph Klein that caused Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Gary Mar to come out swinging in favour of privatized health care this week?
Speaking to the Edmonton Sun editorial board, Mr. Mar is reported to have said that believes Albertans should be able to pay for private health care and jump public wait lists. A Liberal press release reports that that Mr. Mar even compared medical treatments to luxury items – like recreational properties.
While it is surprising that this may be one of the first definitive things that this perceived front-runner has said during the course of this less than exciting PC leadership contest, Mr. Mar’s support for privatized health care is not a shock.
As Health Minister in 2000, Mr. Mar was Premier Klein’s point-man for private health care after the Bill 11 protests. The unpopular piece of health care privatization legislation was eventually amended and watered down before the Tories made it law, but it was not the end of Mr. Mar’s support of private health care while Health Minister.
Health Minister Mar also oversaw the publication of the pro-privatization Mazankowski report and the creation of private health care schemes like the now defunct Health Resources Centre (which declared bankruptcy in 2010).
At the end of his tenure as Health Minister in 2006, Mr. Mar ended up joining the list of Health Ministers under Premier Klein who failed to convince Alberta’s public health care supporting population that the cure all their worldly ills was the privatization of health care (others on the list include Shirley McClellan, Halvar Jonson, and Iris Evans)
This past June, Mr. Mar’s campaign released their health care policy, which was peppered with support for public-private partnership schemes. The release of the platform unfortunately coincided with the decision by the private Chartwell Real Estate’s Colonel Belcher Centre to evict 29 seniors and veterans from a designated assisted living centre in Calgary. The company had deemed the seniors and veteran residents as no longer profitable for the company (the company later reversed its decision after the expected public outcry).
Should Albertans be surprised that Gary Mar supports privatized health care? No. Just look at his record.
While Lethbridge’s two constituencies have traditionally been a close fought battleground between the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals (voters in Lethbridge-East have elected Liberal MLAs since 1993, including former party leader Ken Nicol and current MLA Bridget Pastoor), the area has seen substantial growth for the NDP. In the May 2011 federal election, NDP candidate Mark Sandilands earned an unheard-of strong 27% of the vote, mostly concentrated within Lethbridge city limits. When the votes from the federal election are overlaid on the Lethbridge-West provincial boundaries, the NDP earned around 38% of the vote in the provincial constituency.
The constituency is currently represented by first-term MLA and Advanced Education & Technology Minister Greg Weadick.
Calgary-Buffalo: First-term MLA Kent Hehr has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Hehr was elected in 2008 with 48% of the vote. The Wildrose have acclaimed former QR77 radio host Mike Blanchard as their candidate. Mr. Blanchard had originally sought his party’s nomination in the new constituency of Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay, but was defeated by Roy Alexander.
Drayton Vally-Devon: Town of Drayton Valley Councillor Dean Shular has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate in his constituency. Mr. Shular was first elected to Town Council in 2007.
Drumheller-Stettler: A fifth candidate has joined the Wildrose nomination contest in this east central Alberta constituency. Drumheller Jeweler and FreemasonDoug Wade in Drumheller-Stettler. As reported on this blog in July, Dave France, Rick Strankman, Chris Warwick, and Patrick Turnbull are also seeking the Wildrose nomination.
Edmonton-Meadowlark: Local Wildrose activist Rick Newcombe was acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate in this west Edmonton constituency. Mr. Newcombe had originally sought his party’s nomination in Edmonton-Whitemud, but stepped aside in favour of Ian Crawford. The area is currently represented by former Tory MLA Raj Sherman, who is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party leadership.
Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: He denied it on June 9, but on July 10 landowners rights advocate and Rimbey Town Councillor Joe Anglin submitted his papers to become a candidate for the Wildrose nomination in this constituency. The former Alberta Green Party leader is facing Rocky Mountain House Town Councillor Sheila Mizera and past-president of the local Wildorse Association Ed Wicks.
Sherwood Park-Strathcona: Two candidates have put their names forward for the Wildrose nomination in this constituency. Strathcona County Councillor Jason Gariepy and Paul Nemetchek. Councillor Gariepy made headlines last years when he was sanctioned after sending an email critical of a press release quoting local MLAs Iris Evans and Dave Quest. Mr. Nemetchek was campaign manager for former Reform Party MP Ken Epp.
West Yellowhead: Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor has been officially nominated as his party’s candidate in the sprawling west Alberta constituency of West Yellowhead.
Mr. Taylor was first elected as the Mayor of the Town of Hinton in 2004 and ran as a candidate for the NDP in this constituency in 1997. I am told that Mr. Taylor will be leaving his position as Mayor this fall to focus full-time on the party’s leadership.
Calgary: The NDP are expected to hold a round of joint-nomination meetings for candidates in Calgary later this month.
His main opponents will do their best to stop Mr. Mar from rolling to a first-ballot victory. Right-wing standard bearer and former Finance Minister Ted Morton has attracted the support of Housing Minister Jonathan Denis and MLAs George Groenveld and Dave Rodney. While his campaign should not be underestimated, Mr. Morton is either on vacation or campaigning in a stealth plane. He has barely made news headlines since a highly-public row with Premier Ed Stelmach over the provincial budget led to his resignation earlier this year.
Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner is criss-crossing the province, and as the only candidate from northern Alberta (and the Edmonton region), he is likely to draw considerable regional support that Mr. Mar may find difficult to tap into. The endorsement of Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk and more expected MLA endorsements may position Mr. Horner as the de-facto “northern opposition” to the Calgary-based Mr. Mar.
Rick Orman, a Calgary oil-man and former cabinet minister who left politics in 1993, is said to be well-funded and eating away at Mr. Morton’s support. For all his good intentions, Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths is said to be struggling financially, which must be disappointing for the young MLAs enthusiastic supporters, which include Calgary-North Hill MLA Kyle Fawcett.
Former Justice Minister Alison Redford may be the biggest obstacle standing between Mr. Mar’s and a first-ballot victory on September 17. A fellow Calgarian with considerable financial support and an aggressive campaign to distance herself from the unpopular administration of Premier Stelmach, Ms. Redford may challenge Mr. Mar for the support of moderates in the PC Party. Challenging Mr. Mar for the votes of these moderate PC members could deny him the base he needs to mount an early victory.
The candidates lining up to replace Premier Ed Stelmach as leader of the PC Party have been campaigning for months, yet what should be the hottest political leadership contest of the year has so far been a quiet affair. Will it take the summer months to heat up this contest, or will Albertans wait until the September 17 first ballot vote approaches before they begin to pay attention?
Here is a look at the candidates who are seeking the PC Party leadership:
Doug Griffiths Slogan: Better Alberta Elected experience: MLA for Wainwright from 2002-2004 and Battle River-Wainwright from 2004 to present. Released policies: Energy, Finance, Property Rights Background: An underdog in this contest, Mr. Griffiths’ public musings have made him a pariah among some fellow conservatives and his openness to go to these uncomfortable places makes him unique when contrasted with the large contingent of comfortably-silent MLAs in the PC caucus. These musings have likely cost him a spot in cabinet, but they have also built him a solid following of supporters online.
Despite support of some rural high-rolling Tories, word on the street is that Mr. Griffiths campaign has had a challenge keeping up with fundraising compared to the other candidates in this contest. Calgary-North Hill backbencher Kyle Fawcett is the only MLA to have endorsed Mr. Griffiths. He supported Jim Dinning in the 2006 PC leadership contest.
Doug Horner Slogan: Let’s get it done right. Elected experience: MLA for Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert since 2001. Background: Calgary Tories still bitter from Jim Dinning’s defeat in 2006 will try to paint Mr. Horner with the same brush as they did Premier Ed Stelmach. Mr. Horner is a more comfortable figure than the Premier and did a decent job filling various cabinet posts, including Agriculture and Advanced Education & Technology.
The heir to a three-generation political dynasty, Mr. Horner follows in the footsteps of his grand-father Senator Ralph Horner, his uncles former MPs Jack Horner and Norval Horner, and his father former MP, MLA and deputy Premier Hugh Horner. Big shoes to fill.
Under the auspices of the grassroots Albertan group, led by advisor Brad Ferguson, Mr. Horner is embarking on a province-wide “Think Big Alberta” speaking tour with retired Canadian Forces General Rick Hillier and Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee CEO John Furlong. The tour kicks off in Edmonton on June 22 and has stops planned in Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Calgary.
In 2006 he supported Mark Norris on the first ballot and Ed Stelmach on the second ballot.
Gary Mar Slogan: None evident, supporters on Twitter are using the hashtag #GOGARY Elected experience: MLA for Calgary-Nose Hill from 1993 to 2004 and Calgary-Mackay from 2004 to 2007. Released policies: Education, Municipal Funding Background: Smart and slick, Mr. Mar’s campaign has the feel of a candidate for the United States Senate, which is not surprising considering that he has spent the past five years dining and lobbying the Washington DC political establishment on behalf of the Alberta Government. An MLA and cabinet minister from 1993 until 2007, he has been out of the public eye long enough not to be directly tied to the current PC Party administration.
Mr. Mar’s campaign carries significant support from Establishment Tories like former Finance Minister Iris Evans and current Energy Minister Ron Liepert, who rumours say has been trying to strong-arm support from other Tory MLAs. Mr. Mar’s campaign public relations are being handled by long-time government spokesperson Mark Kastner, who is still listed as Alberta Health Services Executive Director of Media Relations.
He supported Jim Dinning in the 2006 PC leadership contest.
Rick Orman Slogan: The Right Choice Elected experience: MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 Background: This blast from the past could turn into the Ron Paul of the PC leadership contest. As the MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 and third place candidate in his party’s 1992 leadership contest, Mr. Orman faded into political obscurity until making a return as a candidate in this contest. Taking aggressive positions at candidate forms and typing with a sharp wit on Twitter, he does not owe much to the PC Party in its current incarnation and has little to lose by telling PC members what the other candidates are afraid to say. It has been suggested that Mr. Orman’s candidacy poses the biggest threat to Dr. Morton.
Mr. Orman’s campaign is moving into an office recently vacated by Calgary-Centre Conservative MP Lee Richardson‘s campaign team, opening speculation that Mr. Orman’s support may not be so thin.
Alison Redford Slogan: None. Elected experience: MLA for Calgary-Elbow since 2008 Released policies: Democratic Renewal, Education, Energy, Health Care Background: The only woman in this contest, Ms. Redford is not your typical Red Tory. While her campaign has so far focused on important issues like health care, education, democratic renewal, and energy policy, the safe communities initiative during her time as Justice Minister demonstrated that she is creative enough to look beyond the “tough on crime” agenda. She is also appears to be taking a page from popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson by “campaigning in full sentences.” (This may have been influenced by her campaign strategist Stephen Carter, who was involved with Mayor Nenshi’s campaign).
Ms. Redford has only been an MLA since 2008, but her political experience is broad, ranging from serving as a Senior Policy Advisor to External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, being appointed as one of four International Election Commissioners to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections, and challenging Calgary-West MP Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in 2004 (she was unsuccessful).
Ted Morton Slogan: Alberta Proud/Proud to be Albertan Elected experience: Senator-in-Waiting 1998 to 2004, MLA for Foothills-Rockyview from 2004 to present
Released policies: Democratic Renewal, Power Transmission Background: The former Finance Minister and third place leadership candidate from 2006 who’s actions forced Premier Ed Stelmach to resign and this contest to begin. Many of his key organizers from his previous leadership bid have joined the Wildrose Alliance and it is questionable whether they will return to the PC Party fold if they have embraced Dr. Morton’s ideological soul-mate Danielle Smith. His time as Finance Minister hurt his conservative credentials, especially among rural landowners furious at the government’s recently passed transmission line legislation – Bill 50.
Thomas Lukaszuk Elected experience: MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs from 2001 to present Background: Yet to enter the contest, rumours have been swirling for months about Minister Lukaszuk’s potential entry into this contest. He would be the only MLA from Edmonton to enter the contest and while he would be a long-shot candidate, it could help solidify his position in cabinet under the next PC Premier.
He supported Jim Dinning in the 2006 leadership contest.