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Alberta Politics

“Alberta Premier Danielle Smith?” Get used to it.

Chris Brown and I discuss the last month in the United Conservative Party leadership race, Danielle Smith’s unexpected rise to the top, and how a Smith led UCP will do against Notley’s NDP in 2023 (or sooner) on the latest episode of the Cross Border Interviews Podcast.

Watch the interview here:

Subscribe and listen to Chris Brown’s Cross Border Podcast on Apple and Spotify.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta is calling. Answer the phone if you dare.

RING RING.

CANADA: Hello?

JASON: Hi there, it’s Premier Jason Kenney calling to tell you about how affordable houses are in Alberta.

CANADA: Ok, cool, eh.

JASON: Salaries are higher and we have mountains and a big mall. We also…

BEEP BEEP

CANADA: Just a minute Jason I have another call.

DANIELLE: Hi, this is Danielle Smith the front runner to become the next Premier of Alberta. I’m calling to warn you that Justin Trudeau, international bankers and Greta Thunberg are building an army of climate change police to take away your trucks.

CANADA: Sorry, what?

DANIELLE: That’s why I’m going to pass a law that lets Alberta ignore federal laws.

CANADA: …what…?

DANIELLE: We need your vote, except if you’re a secret communist, then you’re not welcome in Alberta.

CANADA: uh….

BEEP BEEP

CANADA: Danielle I’m going to put you on hold.

Hello?

TRAVIS: Hi, this is Travis Toews. I’m calling to tell you that Justin Trudeau’s climate change police are trespassing on your farm.

CANADA: Uh, I think that’s what Danielle Smith already called me about. 

TRAVIS: [silence]

CLICK.

BEEP BEEP.

BRIAN: Hi, this is Brian Jean. I want to talk to you about Alberta Autonomy.

CANADA: Sorry, you want to talk to me about your anatomy?

BRIAN. No. Autonomy.

CANADA: Um, ok. Like separatism?

BRIAN: No, autonomy.

CANADA: Um, ok…

BEEP BEEP.

JASON: Hi, it’s Jason Kenney calling again. Have you thought about moving to Alberta?

CANADA: Uh, yeah, about that, I think we’re going to wait to see how things turn out next May. Do you have Rachel’s number?

Categories
Alberta Politics

Friday Night Action in Alberta Politics – Doug Schweitzer’s out, Rod Shaigec and Sonya Savage are in.

There’s rarely a dull Friday night in Alberta politics!

Doug Schweitzer resigns from UCP cabinet and is leaving politics

Doug Schweitzer announced he is resigning as Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and later this month will resign as MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Despite running for the United Conservative Party leadership in 2017, Schweitzer bowed out of this year’s race after endorsing Premier Jason Kenney in the June leadership review. He announced soon after that he would not seek re-election as MLA but his sudden resignation announcement at least eight months ahead of the next election comes as a surprise – and opens the possibility of a by-election in Calgary-Elbow before the next general election.

It would be the third by-election in Calgary-Elbow in the last 16 years – the others being held because of the resignations of former MLAs (and premiers) Ralph Klein in 2007 and Alison Redford in 2014.

The 2007 by-election shocked political watchers when Liberal Craig Cheffins won, and in 2014, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark narrowly lost to Calgary school trustee and former Saskatchewan MLA Gordon Dirks. Clark defeated Dirks in the election the following year but was defeated by Schweitzer in 2019.

Already seen as a possible pick-up in the next election, the Alberta NDP nominated energy analyst Samir Kayande and have poured resources and volunteers into the riding to support his bid.

The Alberta Party has chosen lawyer and former Liberal Party leadership candidate Kerry Cundal to carry their banner, and her candidacy will be a test of how much of the party’s support in 2015 was a credit to Greg Clark’s personal popularity.

Lawyer Andrea James announced her plans to seek the UCP nomination back in June.

Mark Calgary-Elbow down on your list of ridings to watch.

Former Mayor running for NDP nomination in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain

Former Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec is the second candidate to enter the NDP nomination contest in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain. Shaigec joins former Spruce Grove City Councillor and mayoral candidate Chantal Saramaga-McKenzie in the race.

“We need responsible and accountable government that puts Albertans and communities first. We need an honest, hard-working leader whose integrity is beyond reproach – that leader is @RachelNotley,” Shaigec wrote on Twitter

Shaigec served three-terms as Mayor of Parkland County from 2010 to 2021, and chose not to run for re-election last year to give himself time to recover from a traumatic tractor accident in 2020.

The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Searle Turton, who is already nominated to run for his party in the next election.

Sonya Savage acclaimed in Calgary-North West

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage releases the final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage releases the final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

Sonya Savage has been acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Calgary-North West. Savage was first elected in 2019, succeeding NDP MLA Sandra Jansen, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and 2015 but crossed the floor to the NDP in 2017 and became Minister of Infrastructure. Jansen did not run for re-election in 2019.

Savage has served as Minister of Energy since 2019 and is co-chair of Travis Toews’ leadership campaign. 

Before her election, Savage was known as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association but many years before that she was a PC Party activist. 

“The philosophy we’re looking for is somebody who’s very conservative, less government, more individual responsibility, but also somebody who is progressive who’s backing the unity deal. We want to hear how they’re going to renew and urbanize the party,” said Savage, then known as Sonya Nerland, to Calgary Herald reporter Joan Crockatt on Sept. 19, 1992.

Savage ended up backing Energy Minister Rick Orman in the 1992 leadership race, along with future premier Jim Prentice, who was Orman’s campaign chair.

Orman placed third in the race and dropped out before the Dec. 2, 1992 second ballot to endorse Nancy Betkowski.

Savage would later co-chair Orman’s second campaign for the PC Party leadership in 2011. Orman dropped out after placing fifth on the first ballot and endorsed Gary Mar, who was then defeated by Alison Redford (who was the PC Party Youth President ten years before Savage).

(Am I the only one who’s starting to feel like Alberta politics is just a rotating cast of 20 characters?)

Three candidates – Michael Lisboa-Smith, Lesley MacKinnon, and Shiraz Mir – are running for the yet to be scheduled NDP nomination in Calgary-North West.

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Alberta Politics

A Reverse Kudatah! Hinman loyalists retake control of the Wildrose Independence Party

There ain’t no party like a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party.

Less than two months after Paul Hinman was ousted as leader of the Wildrose Independence Party and replaced by interim leader Jeevan Mangat, it appears that a counter-kudatah (known outside Alberta as a “coup d’état”) has pushed out Hinman’s opponents.

An online statement and email to WIP members from former Wexit Alberta interim leader Kathy Flett, who identifies herself as the WIP VP Communications, says a false narrative is being put out by the former Provincial Board after a well-attended annual general meeting on July 23, 2022 in Red Deer.

“There have been repeated claims that a “Minority Group of 40 or so” members “Took Over” the AGM,” Flett writes. “The Facts tell a different story.”

“This weekend in Red Deer, history was made as Wildrose members stood steadfast for what they knew was right. Their tenacity and persistence forced those who thought they should remain on the board to finally walk out in shame.”

“What occurred yesterday is a sad example of what happens when a small group of individuals completely lose touch with the will of the majority.”

“The Wildrose Independence Party belongs to its members, not the Party Board of Governors, and, therefore, Rick Northey, Wes Caldwell, Bill Jones, et al, are no longer Governors of the Wildrose Independence Party.”

“As of this moment, they still control the party’s website and email system. As such, we advise you to disregard any communications originating from “Wildrosenation.com” until we’ve confirmed with you that it is, again, from us.”

According to Flett’s statement, the newly elected board includes President Angela Tabak (the party’s president in Cardston-Siksika), Chief Finance Officer Allan Wesley, and Secretary Gord Elliot (who until recently was President of the United Conservative Party constituency association in Calgary-North West).

The takeover appears to have pushed out President Rick Northey (the former President of the Wildrose Party association in Airdrie) and CFO Bill Jones.

As of this afternoon, the party’s website showed most of the party’s Board of Governors positions as vacant but still listed Northey and Jones, as well as former Conservative MP Rob Anders and separatist activist Bob Lefurgey as members of the party’s board.

It appears as though Hinman has been reinstated as party leader but Elections Alberta still lists Mangat as the party’s interim leader, so it’s not totally clear.

Hinman originally stepped into the role on an interim basis in 2020 but later became the party’s permanent leader when no one else ran for the leadership. He was leader of the Wildrose Alliance from 2005 to 2009 and was elected to the Legislature twice – as MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012. He briefly mounted a campaign for the UCP leadership in 2017 but withdrew before the nomination deadline and endorsed Jason Kenney.

The Wildrose Independence Party was created in 2020 as a merger of the Wexit Alberta group created after the federal Liberals were re-elected in 2019 and the Freedom Conservative Party, which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, and the Western Freedom Party.

The WIP has suffered from poor fundraising returns in recent months, raising a measly $7,613 in the second quarter of 2022, and low support in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

A recent push by UCP leadership candidates Danielle Smith, Brian Jean and Todd Loewen toward all out separatism or some form of provincial autonomy has given a second wind to Alberta separatists but sucked the wind out of the sails of the actual separatist parties.

Recent merger talks with the competing Independence Party of Alberta fell apart in June 2022. A statement on the IPA website lists Northey and Jones as key negotiators for the WIP in those talks.

The IPA, formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party, went through its own internal drama after the 2019 election and is now in the process of choosing its second new leader since that election. Former federal Liberal candidate and anti-COVID restrictions activist lawyer Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race.

All this ongoing drama is almost par for the course for Alberta’s small cottage industry of right-wing separatist parties, but it raises the big question: How do they plan to fight Ottawa when they are so busy fighting themselves?

Categories
Alberta Politics

The UCP field is set. Diving into the leadership race on the Cross Border Interviews Podcast.

The United Conservative Party leadership race is heating up!

I joined Chris Brown on the Cross Border Interviews Podcast this week to dive into the UCP leadership race and what the candidates and campaigns are up to.

Is Danielle Smith really the front-runner?

Does establishment-favourite Travis Toews need to catch up?

Why is Brian Jean running such a sleepy campaign?

Will Rajan Sawhney or Rebecca Schulz break through the noise?

What are Leela Aheer and Todd Loewen doing?

Did Raj Sherman really think they would let him on the ballot?

We break it all down.

Download and subscribe to the Cross Border Interviews Podcast on Apple and Spotify, or watch the interview on YouTube below.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith is making sure Alberta doesn’t have a boring political summer

Popular opinion would have that summer is a quiet and boring time in politics, but not so in Alberta.

I can’t remember there was a boring political summer in Alberta?

Last year was the Best Summer Ever disaster and the summer before that was the first COVID summer. Before that was the Summer of Repeal. And so on.

This summer, the most unexpected political comeback might be happening before our eyes.

In almost every aspect, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is defining what the United Conservative Party leadership race is about.

Following her “Alberta First” campaign slogan, Smith declared plans to introduce an Alberta Sovereignty Act to let Alberta MLAs vote on which federal laws they want the province to follow.

The other candidates responded.

Even Finance Minister Jason Nixon, a staunch Jason Kenney-loyalist, stepped in to pooh-pooh Smith’s idea (Nixon was nominated as Wildrose candidate back when Smith was still party leader).

Her campaign chair, Rob Anderson, is founder of the Free Alberta Strategy and was one of two Progressive Conservative MLAs to cross the floor to Smith’s Wildrose in 2010 (he later crossed the floor back to the PCs with Smith in 2014).

Smith declared Alberta will never ever have a lockdown again (we never *really* had a lockdown).

The other candidates responded.

She made wild statements about any cancer before Stage 4 is a result of poor personal choices.

Everyone responded.

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote that her “dabbles in quackery” are sometimes almost funny but “this one is dangerous.”

When Smith hosted a popular radio talk show she promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure to COVID-19. She even touted ivermectin as a treatment. Now she wants to appoint chief medical officers of alternative medicine.

Quackery is putting it politely.

It’s the realm of internet pseudoscience.

As my friend David Climenhaga opined, it is the Donald Trump strategy of saying outrageous stuff that appeals to the base voters and damn the consequences.

And it might be working.

Smith has now nabbed 4 MLA endorsements.

Airdrie-Cochrane’s Peter Guthrie, Calgary-Falconridge’s Devinder Toor, Lethbridge-East’s Nathan Neudorf, and Lesser Slave Lake’s Pat Rehn, who dropped his endorsement of establishment favourite Travis Toews to support Smith.

But it’s not exactly the crème de la crème of the UCP Caucus.

Toor was fined $15,000 by Elections Alberta for breaking political finance laws in 2018 and 2019, and was allegedly part of group who bullied and harassed a food truck owner in northeast Calgary.

Rehn was briefly expelled from the UCP Caucus in 2021 after taking a hot holiday to Mexico while most Albertans respected the government’s own COVID-19 travel advice and stayed home, and local municipal leaders called on him to resign after spending more time in Texas than his own riding.

Kenney said Rehn would not be allowed to run for the UCP nomination in the next election but he was quietly allowed to rejoin the UCP Caucus last summer. But now Kenney is on his way out.

Some might say I’m playing into the Smith-comeback narrative by writing this article, but she’s the only candidate saying anything interesting – even if it’s quackery.

She’s drawing crowds and appears to be hitting the right notes with a motivated segment of the UCP base, which says a lot about who the membership of the UCP is today.

This isn’t your father’s Progressive Conservative Party, folks.

The other candidates in the UCP race better get their acts together, because the membership sales deadline is on August 12.

That’s just 16 days away.

The final 7

Smith might be getting the most attention but she’s not the only candidate in the race. Leela Aheer, Brian Jean, Todd Loewen, Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz and Travis Toews also made the cut. Bill Rock dropped out to endorse Jon Horsman, who dropped out, and, as expected, Raj Sherman was not allowed to run (his old job as Liberal Party leader is open though).

More separatist drama

Danielle Smith Paul Hinman Daveberta Wildrose United Conservative Party
Paul Hinman and Danielle Smith in 2010. (source: Dave Cournoyer)

If there’s one thing we can depend on Alberta’s cottage industry of fringe right-wing separatist parties to deliver, it’s drama.

It looks like Paul Hinman has been ousted as leader of the Wildrose Independence Party. The ouster comes shortly after the Independence Party of Alberta announced that merger talks with WIP broke off.

Hinman has been replaced by Jeevan Mangat, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-Fort in 2012 and 2015.

The WIP was created in 2020 through the merger of the Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party (which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party of Alberta and the Western Freedom Party). The party has struggled with fundraising and Hinman placed a distant third in the recent Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

Before his time as WIP leader, Hinman served as a Wildrose MLA from 2004 to 2008 and 2009 to 2012, and as leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party immediately before Danielle Smith was chosen as leader in 2009.

Meanwhile, the IPA is still looking for a new leader. Past federal Liberal candidate Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race, so far.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Calgary Stampeding: It looks like Danielle Smith is making a big comeback in the UCP leadership race

There’s not much of anything that is constant in Alberta politics these days, maybe except for the Calgary Stampede.

At least in some non-pandemic years, it’s the Northern Star of Alberta politics. It’s the must attend event for political aspirants of all stripes, from Prime Ministers to aspiring future Premiers.

The Stampede is back in full force this year, with last year’s disastrous “Best Summer Ever” disaster unfortunately an almost distant memory, even though its a big reason why we are where we are today in Alberta politics.

And for anyone watching the Stampede, even this writer from his perch in Edmonton, the race to replace Jason Kenney as Premier and leader of the United Conservative Party was on display as urbanites of all stripes dusted off their cowboys hats and plaid shirts for the week of pancake breakfasts and beer tents.

The big talk of the town this week is Danielle Smith’s unexpectedly strong comeback in the UCP leadership race.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Most political watchers will remember her downfall after a treacherous floor-crossing nearly destroyed the Wildrose Party and helped created the conditions for Rachel Notley to lead her NDP to sweep the province in 2015. (Real political nerds will remember her time on the disastrous Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999, but that’s for another column).

But what we politicos may have missed is that a lot of Albertans, including the thousands who have signed up to support her and are showing up to her campaign events in droves, remember her from her more recent role as the host of a popular talk radio show.

Smith has always been a talented political communicator, despite some high-profile flameouts.

She knows how to talk to conservatives, and it just happens there are a lot of those in Alberta.

Danielle Smith United Conservative Party leadership event Airdrie
Danielle Smith speaking to a crowd at a campaign event in Airdrie (source: Twitter)

It’s not clear how many UCP MLAs support her separatist-leaning “Alberta First” campaign or her dipping into COVID conspiracy theories, but she has nabbed at least one endorsement from the governing caucus – Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.

Smith hasn’t held a seat in the Legislature sine 2015 but she’s challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. And recently she said she would reopen nomination contests some party activists believe were unfairly stacked in favour of Kenney loyalists, a move that is unlikely to endear her to most current UCP MLAs.

Her comeback would be the political story of the year, and while Premier Danielle Smith is far from a sure thing, she is certainly driving the narrative of the UCP leadership campaign. She’s tapped into a motivated group of Alberta conservatives unhappy with the status-quo.

Those are probably the people Kenney referred to as “lunatics.”

And they might just be the mainstream of the UCP right now.

Even the perceived frontrunner is responding to Smith.

Travis Toews (source: Twitter)
Travis Toews (source: Twitter)

Establishment favourite Travis Toews followed Smith’s lead with a milquetoast “Enough is Enough” social media meme opposing COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s not clear what message he was trying to telegraph.

It was the kind of vague response you would expect from a frontrunner campaign, wanting to respond and not offend but failing at both.

Toews also released a list of autonomist policies that read like they were copied and pasted from 2020’s Fair Deal Panel report.

Smith and Toews aren’t alone.

Brian Jean is hitting the same notes, though he’s running a sleepier than expected campaign. Still, Fort McMurray’s Golden Boy shouldn’t be underestimated.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen is also hitting the same notes on separatist and anti-COVID health measures but his chances of winning appear much less likely than the others in this pack.

Rachel Notley and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud at the Calgary Stampede.
Rachel Notley and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud at the Calgary Stampede. (source: Twitter)

Smith’s extreme positions are probably leaving Rachel Notley’s NDP salivating at the opportunity to run against an extremist right-wing UCP that would leave a lot of Albertans alienated.

Two months ago, Notley’s victory in Alberta’s next election looked like a sure bet, but Kenney’s resignation announcement gave his party a bump in the polls and now it’s a race.

Notley and her MLAs have basically decamped to Calgary for the summer, showing up at every event and taking every chance to door knock with their growing slate of local candidates that includes former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow, energy analyst Samir Kayande in Calgary-Elbow, sustainable energy expert Nagwan Al-Guneid in Calgary-Glenmore. Canadian Forces veteran Marilyn North Peigan in Calgary-Klein, and physician Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity.

It’s probably the closest thing Calgary has seen to a Progressive Conservative slate since 2015 but the NDP still have a lot of hard work ahead of them to convince Calgarians to vote for them en masse in 2023.

But the UCP leadership candidate the NDP might fear the most so far hasn’t been playing the same cards as Smith, Toews, Jean and Loewen.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Twitter)

Rebecca Schulz is one candidate to watch.

The first-term MLA from Calgary-Shaw and former children’s service minister had already nabbed an endorsement from Rona Ambrose but the former interim Conservative Party leader is now chairing her campaign.

Schulz also released an endorsement from former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Tim McMillan, who joined former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in supporting her.

Schulz and her husband were political staffers in Wall’s government before moving to Calgary seven years ago and her husband worked for McMillan as VP Communications of CAPP.

It’s hard to tell where her politics are. Schulz seems more moderate than the rest of the pack, which isn’t saying much, but how much more moderate is not clear.

Along with her political establishment connections, Schulz might become a pretty appealing candidate if there are enough UCP members left who don’t want to fight the next election on COVID conspiracy theories and Alberta separatism.

At the very least, there might actually be enough Saskatchewan expats alone living in Alberta to win a leadership race.

And I would be remise if I failed to mention the other candidates who are also busy yahooing their way through the Stampede.

Rajan Sawhney is running an outsiders campaign, leaning on her years of business experience. She is also a candidate to watch.

Leela Aheer appears to be running for the leadership of a completely different party, but that hasn’t saved her from dirty tricks. Someone bought LeelaAheer.ca and is pointing it to an old Daveberta article about the nasty nomination contest she faced in 2018 (I don’t own the domain name, I swear).

Raj Sherman showed up at the Stampede with a decal-clad pickup truck and his campaign has been making robo-calls, despite being told he won’t be allowed to be on the ballot.

Former bank executive Jon Horsman is running.

And, to no one’s surprise, Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock dropped out, citing the high $175,000 candidate entry fee.

It’s a dog’s breakfast, and really could be anyone’s race to win.

There’s strategy at play, for sure, but as one experienced campaign strategist said to me last week, when it comes to leadership campaigns, a lot more depends on dumb luck than people think.

The UCP has announced it plans to hold Official Leadership debates in Medicine Hat on July 27 and Edmonton on August 30.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Nathan Ip wins Edmonton-South West NDP nomination vote, Kjeryn Dakin challenging UCP MLA Devin Dreeshen in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

Edmonton public school board trustee Nathan Ip defeated business instructor Ben Acquaye, behavioral specialist Chand Gul, and medical clinic executive director Ali Kamal to win the NDP nomination in Edmonton-South West.

“We are in dire need for new schools in the growing areas of Edmonton-South West,” said Ip. “Edmonton-South West is one of the fastest growing communities in Alberta with one of the youngest populations and they deserve a representative that will stand up for them.”

Ip was first elected to the school board in 2013 and currently serves as its vice-chair.

His candidacy was endorsed by former city councillor Michael Phair, former MLAs Bob Turner and Jim Gurnett, and former Alberta Party president Rhiannon Hoyle.

Edmonton-South West is the only riding in Edmonton city limits represented by a UCP MLA, current Labour Minister Kaycee Madu, who was removed from his position as Justice Minister after it became public that he personally phoned Edmonton’s police chief after getting a distracted driving ticket.

Madu faces a nomination challenge from Slava Cravcenco at a June 29 candidate selection meeting.

Sylvan Lake town councillor challenges Dreeshen for UCP nomination

Sylvan Lake town councillor Kjeryn Dakin is challenging MLA Devin Dreeshen for the UCP nomination in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. 

Dakin is owner of the Bukwildz restaurant in Sylvan Lake and was first elected to town council in 2021.

Dreeshen was first elected in a 2018 by-election and served as Minister of Agriculture & Forestry from 2019 until 2021 when he resigned after a lawsuit by a former political staffer alleged a culture of sexual harassment, defamation, and drinking at the Legislature.

He is son of Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen, who has represented the Red Deer-Mountain View riding since 2008.

The younger Dreeshan was re-elected in 2019 with 74.5 per cent of the vote.

City lawyer wins NDP nomination in Red Deer-South

Michelle Baer (source: Michelle Baer on Twitter)

City solicitor Michelle Baer defeated former MLA Barb Miller and labour council president Kyle Johnston to win the NDP nomination in Red Deer-South.

“Red Deer is the third largest city in the province, yet is often stuck between being considered a ‘big city’ or a rural area,” Baer said. “Red Deer deserves a strong voice in government to represent the distinctive issues this area faces. I’m excited for the chance to do the hard work Red Deer needs and deserves.”

Red Deer-South is currently represented by UCP MLA Jason Stephan, a vocal critic of outgoing Premier Jason Kenney, who was first elected in 2019 with 60.3 per cent of the vote. 

Thomas Dang wants back in

Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang (source: Facebook)
Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang (source: Facebook)

Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang wants to rejoin the NDP Caucus after being told that no criminal charges will be pressed against him after he breached an Alberta Health website. Dang left the NDP Caucus in December 2021 after the RCMP executed a search warrant of his house and he has been sitting as an Independent MLA ever since.

Dang was first elected in 2015 in Edmonton-South West and ran for re-election when the electoral boundaries changed as Edmonton-South was created. 

On the doors

Sayid Ahmed and Jordan Walker (source: Sayid Ahmed on Instagram)

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, NDP leader Rachel Notley was spotted at events with Calgary-Bow candidate Druh Farrell, Calgary-Glenmore candidate Nagwan Al-Guneid, and Calgary-North East candidate Gurinder Brar this past weekend. Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan was also spotted on the doors with Al-Guneid.

Sherwood Park UCP MLA Jordan Walker was on the doors with UCP nomination candidate Sayid Ahmed in Edmonton-Decore last weekend. The UCP have opened nominations in the north Edmonton riding. 

Former NDP volunteers speak out

Notley recently responded to criticism from former NDP volunteers that party staff have been heavy-handed with candidate nominations and have treated volunteers poorly. Notley has promised an investigation

There is no excuse for staff treating volunteers poorly, but in every party there is almost always some level of tension between the central party and local constituency associations when it comes to candidate recruitment and nominations.

Constituency associations will have their local favorites, including long-time volunteers, while the central party will be trying to build a province-wide slate of candidates who could potentially become cabinet ministers and ridings in which to place those high-profile candidates.

When there is a lot of interest in nominations, like there is now with the NDP, tension and conflicting plans of the local and provincial efforts can sometimes flare.

Parties generally find a way to balance this out, but from time to time conflict bubbles out into public, as we saw recently when 15 former constituency presidents signed a letter raising concerns about the nomination process.

The NDP need to deal with this issue quickly and decisively or risk it dogging them into the upcoming election.

The other parties

  • Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman has been touring the province, recently making stops at party events in Drumheller, Morningside, Drayton Valley, Leduc, Springbrook, Red Deer and Calgary.
  • The Green Party has formally opened applications for candidates for the next election. Green Party leader Jordan Wilkie has already announced his plans to run as a candidate in Banff-Kananaskis . Party holding an election readiness town hall on July 17 in Edmonton. 
  • Lawyer Katherine Kowalchuk is running for the leadership of the separatist Independence Party of Alberta. Kowalchuk was briefly nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Signal Hill ahead of the 2015 federal election.

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(And, I know I’ve said this before but feel free to sign up for the Daveberta Substack.)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Race to replace Jason Kenney takes shape – Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz join the fray. Will Michelle Rempel Garner and Raj Sherman be next?

Hey there politics fans!

The United Conservative Party released its leadership race rule book!

UCP members will choose a replacement for Premier Jason Kenney on October 6, 2022.

It will cost $150,000 to enter the race, plus an extra $25,000 good behaviour deposit.

Low rollers need not apply.

It’s not just a race to replace Kenney.

It’s a race to save the UCP from defeat against Rachel Notley‘s resurgent Alberta NDP.

And the race is starting to take shape.

The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.

Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.

Just ask Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.

It was a strong kick-off.

Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.

Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.

Angela Pitt MLA Airdrie-East UCP
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.

It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).

Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.

This time she’s backing Sawhney.

Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow. 

Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.

The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.

He’s met half his goal so far.

Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.

For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.

The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt. 

She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Facebook)

First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.

Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”

She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. 

The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.

The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who was ousted from cabinet for calling on Kenney to resign, is in and wants to “defeat the machines.”

“I think Albertans will defeat the machines. They understand what the machine is. They’re frustrated with the machine,” she told reporters.

She’s also facing a strong nomination challenge in her Chestermere-Strathmore riding.

Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.

But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy. 

Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.

Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”

Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray. 

Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor. 

He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.

So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

And there could be more.

We’ll know soon enough.

July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.

The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.

August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.

No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.

The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.

Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.

It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.


Liberal Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.

Former party leader David Khan stepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.

Party stalwart John Roggeveen has filled the spot as interim leader since March 2021.

The race has no candidates as of yet. The second place finisher from the 2017 leadership race, Kerry Cundal, is running for the Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.


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Alberta Politics

The First Four: Travis Toews, Brian Jean, Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen enter the United Conservative Party leadership race

The race has started.

Four candidates have filed their intent with Elections Alberta to join the race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party:

Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose
Brian Jean during his 2017 bid for the United Conservative Party leadership.

Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.

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

Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.

These four have registered others are expected.

Rajan Sawhney

Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.

“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.

Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.

Government House leader and chief Kenney lieutenant Jason Nixon is rumoured to be thinking about running.

So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.

And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.

The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.

UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.

Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.

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Alberta Politics

Shaun Fluker wins Airdrie-Cochrane NDP race, Andrew Boitchenko running for UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon

University of Calgary law professor Shaun Fluker defeated union activist and past candidate Steven Durrell to win the Alberta NDP nomination in Airdrie-Cochrane.

“People want a government that funds public health care and actually encourages doctors to work in Alberta, so that the people of Airdrie-Cochrane do not have to rely on urgent care centres as walk-in clinics,” said Fluker in a statement released after his nomination won.

”We also want a government that will adequately fund K-12 education so that our kids aren’t forced into overcrowded classrooms in overcrowded schools,” he said. 

Fluker practiced law starting in 1996 and began teaching at the U of C in 2007. He served as Executive Director of the U of C’s Public Interest Law Clinic until 2019.

The riding located north of Calgary is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA Peter Guthrie, who was first elected in 2019 with 65 per cent of the vote. Guthrie has been a vocal critic of Premier Jason Kenney and openly called on him to resign as UCP leader.

Boitchenko enters Drayton Valley-Devon UCP race

Real estate agent Andrew Boitchenko is the second challenger to announce plans to join the UCP nomination contest in Drayton Valley-Devon.

Boitchenko joins Carol Vowk in the nomination contest.

Incumbent UCP MLA Mark Smith has not yet public declared his intentions but it is widely believed that the two-term MLA will not run for re-election.

Boitchenko challenged Smith for the UCP nomination in the riding in 2018. 

Third candidate enters Red Deer-South NDP race

Kyle Johnston joins city lawyer Michelle Baer and former MLA Barb Miller to become the third candidate to enter the NDP nomination race in Red Deer-South.

Johnston is a telecommunications network technician and is the president of the Red Deer and District Labour Council. He was the 2019 NDP candidate in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills

Johnston has the endorsements of former Banff-Kananaskis MLA Cam Westhead, past federal candidate Marie Grabowski and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake NDP president Linda Sinkwich.

A nomination meeting is scheduled for June 18, 2022.

More nomination updates:

  • Lawyer and past federal Liberal candidate Kerry Cundal was nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow. The riding was represented by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark from 2015 to 2019, and he was on hand to endorse Cundal at the meeting.
  • First-term NDP MLA Jasvir Deol was nominated in Edmonton-Meadows. He was elected in 2019 with 49 per cent of the vote. 
  • Indigenous advocate and past Assembly of First Nations Chief candidate Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse was nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford.

Upcoming nomination meetings:

  • Edmonton-Riverview NDP: June 7, 2022
  • Edmonton-McClung NDP: June 8, 2022
  • Strathcona-Sherwood Park NDP: June 9, 2022
  • Edmonton-South West NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Red Deer-South NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Brooks-Medicine Hat NDP: June 23, 2022
  • Edmonton-Decore NDP: June 25, 2022

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

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Alberta Politics

Honourable Alberta cabinet ministers bestow upon themselves title and fancy letters to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee

God Save the Queen!

Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her 70th year on the Throne this year.

In honour of this most Royal occasion, Premier Jason Kenney introduced Bill 1: Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Recognition Act back on February 22.

Queen Elizabeth II

It was the United Conservative Party government’s flagship bill of the 2022.

The new law creates a scholarship for Alberta students, a medal to recognize the work of outstanding Albertans, and a for-life “Honourable” title and “ECA” post-nominal letters for all living current and former Alberta cabinet ministers.

Wait.

What?

Yes, you read that right.

To celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s seventy years as Queen of Canada and Sovereign of the British Commonwealth , Kenney introduced a bill that gives current and former cabinet ministers the ability to call themselves “Honourable” for the rest of their lives.

As far as I know Alberta might be only province to have done this.

As the head of government, Premiers have always been able to hold their “Honourable” title for life, but not regular cabinet ministers.

Until now.

Provincial cabinet ministers get to call themselves “Honourable” while they are in office as a sign of respect for the office they hold while they hold it, but that used to be it.

It’s an honour to be a cabinet minister but it’s not something they would take for life.

Not like those British Lords who pass on titles and positions to their children.

Back to Alberta.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1952.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1952.

The home of Honourable Jason Kenney, PC, ECA.

The ECA stands for Executive Council of Alberta by the way.

That’s the formal name of the cabinet.

The PC stands for Privy Council. 

That’s a real title that comes with responsibility.

The Privy Council Office is the central agency of the Government of Canada which acts as the secretariat to the Cabinet of Canada.

Kenney was sworn into the Privy Council when he was a federal cabinet minister.

The Alberta title is an automatic thing for people in cabinet now and anyone who used to be in cabinet.

“Who cares, Dave?” you say?

I guess it’s not really a big deal.

It’s just a monarchist vanity project.

It’s not like Kenney is wandering the halls of the Legislature crying “Hail Britannia!” while brandishing a broadsword to bestow knighthoods.

But it’s weird and it’s something that no normal Albertan was asking for.

I doubt many people on the streets of Rocky Mountain House or downtown Calgary were clamouring for a new law to let our politicians hold titles for life. 

I’m no monarchist.

I believe the monarchy is an outdated institution that should probably be abolished. 

But I also think Alberta politicians voting to give themselves titles for life is a strange way to honour a Queen who has spent seventy years serving honourably in a very difficult role.

It mostly flew under the radar but two NDP MLA did take notice.

They got sharp responses from the UCP, who never explained why they were even doing this.

“That’s certainly not something that anybody has raised to me as their top priority” said Edmonton-Whitemud NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi said in the Legislature.

“I certainly think it’s coming at an interesting time, considering that there are a number of members of the current cabinet who are having their qualifications and their expertise and their temperament questioned,” Pancholi continued.

“I think that’s at odds with what most Albertans believe in terms of what honorary means, and it’s an interesting timing on this government’s part,” she concluded.

When Edmonton-Castle Downs NDP MLA Nicole Goehring questioned it, UCP deputy government house leader and Kenney acolyte Joseph Schow was quick to jump on her with a Point of Order. 

“I guess this is a touchy subject when it comes to the title “honourable” for life,” Goehring replied. 

“This piece of legislation is doing just that. It’s providing a space to have the title for life alongside building up students and recognizing their contributions to the province,” she said. “It just seems ridiculous that the two of these things are going together.”

No kidding.

It’s the law now.

So, to all the students who receive the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee scholarships, congratulations.

To all the Albertans who are honoured with the awards, thank you for your service.

And to all the Honourable current and former cabinet ministers, ECA, who have now been bestowed with their new title, enjoy it, I guess.


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Alberta Politics

UCP chaos good for Notley’s NDP today but they shouldn’t count on it in 2023

It must have been craft beer and pizza with extra vegan cheese night at Alberta NDP HQ last night.

Not only is Premier Jason Kenney stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party but he’s staying on until the next leader is chosen, whenever that will be.

And that certainly gives the NDP a reason to celebrate, at least for one night.

If Rachel Notley is the Alberta NDP’s most valuable player then Kenney is the runner up.

Kenney’s plummeting popularity has been a key to the NDP’s success in fundraising, organizing and recruiting candidates.

The NDP had $5.5 million in the bank at the end of 2021.

That’s a campaign war chest.

They have 24 candidates nominated, including some who won actual contested nomination races.

It’s understandable why UCP MLAs decided to keep Kenney around rather than choosing an interim leader, but this will probably only help the NDP.

At least in the short-term.

As UCP MLAs were cloistered in the McDougall Centre, Notley was in Calgary showing off her party’s roster of nominated candidates

She billed them as ‘a united, capable team of Albertans who are focused on making life better for Alberta families and businesses.’

Notley and NDP MLAs have been spending every spare moment in Calgary.

It’s a full-court press.

They know they have to make big gains in the province’s largest city to form government.

And they have some impressive bench strength.

Former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow.

Energy analyst Samir Kayende in Calgary-Elbow.

Sustainable energy expert Nagwan Al-Guneid in Calgary-Glenmore. 

Canadian Forces veteran and police commission vice-chair Marilyn North Peigan in Calgary-Klein.

Physician Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity.

Calgarians with impressive resumes who could presumably become cabinet ministers on Day 1 of a new Notley government, which is what she will need if her party wins in 2023.

It feels more like a Progressive Conservative lineup than a traditional working-class NDP slate.

That’s Alberta politics today.

But even as they lead the province-wide polls, the path to victory is still steep for the NDP.

It’s not a slam dunk.

Their support is concentrated in Edmonton, where they already have almost every seat. 

They will need to make big gains Calgary, and Lethbridge and the ridings surrounding Edmonton.

But that might not be enough.

They also need to win seats in small cities and rural Alberta where the electoral math gets a lot harder, especially if the UCP remains “united” in the next election.

Red Deer? Medicine Hat? Grande Prairie? Fort McMurray?

Those are tough nuts to crack.

The UCP swept those cities with huge victories in 2019.

But there are a few opportunities for the NDP outside of the big cities. 

Former cabinet minster and Registered Nurse Danielle Larivee in Lesser Slave Lake.

Conservation scientist Sarah Elmeligi in Banff-Kananaskis.

Former city councillor Rob Miyashiro in Lethbridge-East.

Former county councillor Karen Shaw in Morinville-St Albert.

County Councillor Bill Tonita in Strathcona-Sherwood Park.

Maybe former cabinet minister Oneil Carlier in Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland. 

It gets harder to name obvious potential NDP pickups after that.

My back of napkin math puts the NDP at probably around 44 or 45 seats if they hold their current support in the polls.

The barest of majorities in the 87 seat legislature.

But, as some of us have learned the hard way, campaigns matter.

And we still don’t know who the next UCP leader will be.

If Kenney somehow finds his way back into his party’s good graces then it’s probably good news for the NDP. 

But if another person is leading the UCP into 2023, it could be a different ballgame.

The old PC Party had an uncanny ability to reinvent itself under new leaders. 

It’s a big reason the PC Party was able to hold on to government for 43 straight years.

That magic charm totally evaporated in 2015.

We don’t know if the UCP has inherited this self-preservation trait.

It certainly doesn’t look like it right now.

But even in disarray the UCP shouldn’t be underestimated.

They are still a powerful force in Alberta politics.

And they could still win in 2023, or sooner if an early election is called.

It’s something for our friends at the NDP to keep in mind as they nurse their celebratory hangovers this morning.


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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is a bad Premier.

There is no doubt that Jason Kenney changed the face of Alberta politics when he jumped into provincial politics in 2017.

He succeeded in leading the merger of the Wildrose opposition with the Progressive Conservatives remanent into the United Conservative Party.

And, for a period, he was able to convince the two warring factions to put aside their differences and focus on a higher goal: winning the 2019 election.

And it worked.

At least it did for a time.

The UCP won a big majority, but quickly discovered that all those things the PCs and Wildrosers didn’t like about each other still existed, but now they were in the same party.

Last night, Kenney announced his plans to step down as UCP leader after getting a weak 51.4 per cent endorsement an acrimonious, divisive and drawn-out leadership review.

How did we get here so fast?

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely derailed Kenney and his party, but that wasn’t his only mistake.

Let’s look back at the chaos of the past three years.

Kenney’s much promoted Open for Summer plan in 2021 alienated a large swath of Albertans who were uncomfortable with removing public health restrictions so quickly and haphazardly just for the Calgary Stampede.

Rachel Notley’s NDP were riding high in the polls and fundraising, and to a lot of Albertans it looked like Kenney was dropping the COVID-19 restrictions to fast to save his party’s fortunes and his own leadership.

But being forced to backtrack and reintroduce restrictions when COVID-19 cases and deaths predictably skyrocketed and hospitals and ICUs overflowed only served to alienate a growing group right-wing populists and Freedom Truckers who were then highly motivated to defeat Kenney in the leadership review.

Despite flirting with right-wing populism before the 2019 election and during his time as Premier, Kenney is not a populist.

Kenney is probably far more comfortable discussing the works of Ludwig von Mises in the salons of the Manhattan Institute than driving a big blue truck around rural Alberta.

He sold Albertans, and conservative activists, a bill of goods that he could not deliver on.

But again, it wasn’t just COVID-19 that sealed his fate in the leadership review

If Kenney had not been so deeply unpopular with Albertans and if the UCP hadn’t been trailing the NDP in almost every poll since late 2020, he would have had a stronger hand to play.

But he didn’t.

Let’s look at why.

Somewhere along the line Kenney and his ministers began to believe that the big electoral mandate they got in 2019 meant they could impose their platform with abandon and, perhaps fatally, not have to listen to Albertans who started pushing back.

While Kenney’s opponents were always going to oppose his plans to privatize health care and schools, it wasn’t just NDP partisans who pushed back.

It was normal Albertans.

And Kenney didn’t seem to realize this.

Kenney and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon’s plans to close and sell more than 140 provincial parks sparked a province-wide lawn sign campaign that crossed the partisan divide.

After months of actively dismissing and attacking opponents of these plans, the UCP government was forced to back down.

The UCP’s eagerness to open the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining produced a similar backlash.

Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage pushed forward, again dismissing the opposition, which included dozens of southern Alberta municipal councils and country music artists like Corb Lund, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark, until they were forced to back down.

Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro picked big fights with nurses and doctors during the pandemic, which almost certainly undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the pandemic.

Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange were almost engaged in daily fights with teachers, even when the safety of children during the pandemic was the biggest concern for almost every Alberta parent.

Alberta can already be a notoriously difficult place to govern, but at times it looked like the UCP was actively trying to make it more difficult.

And then there were the scandals.

The kamikaze campaign.

The RCMP investigation.

Shandro yelling at a doctor in his driveway.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu phoning the chief of police after getting a traffic ticket.

Lawsuits alleging of drinking and sexual harassment of political staff by cabinet ministers.

Alohagate.

The Sky Palace patio party.

Betting and losing $1.3 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

And the theatrics.

The Energy War Room staffed by UCP-insiders.

The late and over budget Allan Inquiry into nefarious foreign interference that found nothing illegal.

A referendum about equalization that was always going to be ignored by Ottawa, and ironically, was ignored by most Albertans.

The never ending legal challenges against the federal government.

And then there’s the curriculum.

Pledging during the 2019 campaign to take ideology and politics out of the draft K-12 curriculum, Kenney’s government injected new levels of weird and outdated ideology.

Panned by teachers, reviled by curriculum experts, and mocked internationally as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills, and rife with plagiarism, is how columnist David Climenhaga described it.

And then there’s that thing about Kenney’s grandfather, Mart Kenney, showing up in the curriculum, which felt like weird pandering by the programme’s authors.

We never got a glimpse into who Kenney really is or anything about his life outside of politics really.

Aside from politics, we don’t really know what makes him tick.

We know he rented a room in mother’s basement, enjoys listening to Gregorian chants and is a devout Roman Catholic, but that’s almost all we were allowed to see.

Not that we are owed any more.

Politicians deserve their privacy but Kenney’s weird blank slate outside of politics probably contributed to him being not very relatable to most Albertans.

So it becomes a trust thing.

Kenney is popular with many white collar conservatives and former staffers in Ottawa who have fond memories of his two decades as a determined opposition critic and hard-working cabinet minister.

Many of them see him a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian Conservatism.

But whatever charm worked inside the Queensway didn’t translate in the Premier’s Office.

Maybe being a trusted lieutenant to Prime Minster Stephen Harper was a quite different job than being Premier of Alberta?

Someone who has known Kenney for a long time once told me that they believed one of his biggest weaknesses is that he still saw Alberta politics through a 1990s lens.

I’m not sure I totally believe that but I think there’s a hint of truth to it.

And it might be why he has misread Albertans so badly over the past three years.

Kenney got his start in Alberta politics in the early 1990s as the founding spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It was a heady time for deficit hawks and social conservatives, and Kenney frequently engaged in very public quarrels with then-Premier Ralph Klein over government expenses.

The young conservative activist with a trademark Nixonian five-o’clock shadow pioneered the CTF soundbite machine with great success.

It’s where he cut his teeth in politics.

Thirty-years later, Kenney will soon be ending the latest phase of his political career in the same building where he started.

But this time he might not be coming back.


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51.4% isn’t enough. Jason Kenney stepping down as UCP leader.

Premier Jason Kenney is done.

Kenney stunned political watchers by announcing he is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after getting the support of only 51.4 per cent of members in the leadership review.

He had claimed last week that 50%+1 was enough for him to stay, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

It wouldn’t have worked.

It was the weakest of mandates.

UCP President Cynthia Moore speaking about the leadership review process.

Winning by such a narrow margin was probably the worst case scenario for Kenney.

With 51.4 per cent there is no way Kenney could have confidently walked into tomorrow morning’s UCP Caucus meeting and commanded the loyalty of the party’s MLAs.

There’s no way he could have demanded his opponents fall in line or leave the party. 

So, he’s resigning. 

The UCP is deeply divided and the leadership race was and acrimonious end to Kenney’s three years in the Premier’s Office.

But he might have been the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the party moving forward in any positive way with one year left before the provincial election.

The aggressive and in-your-face reactions from Kenney and his political staff to any criticism of his agenda has made him deeply unpopular with almost every single voting demographic in Alberta. 

And it dragged down his party.

UCP returning officer Rick Orman announcing the results of the leadership review.

Kenney leaving avoids the inevitably showdown between him and his opponents in caucus that would have likely divided the party even further.

He’ll leave that showdown to someone else.

Now the UCP will have to choose a new leader. 

It’s not clear whether Kenney will resign immediately and be replaced by an interim leader or whether he will stay on as Premier until a leadership race is held. 

We’ll find out soon. 

Names that immediately come to mind for potential interim leaders are Nate Horner, Sonya Savage, Nathan Neudorf, Ric McIver, Rajan Sawhney and Nate Glubish – all MLAs who probably won’t run for the permanent job.

And that’s where things get interesting, or troubling, depending on your point of view. 

While Kenney was unpopular across the board, his biggest critics inside his party come from the unruly political-right – and they are mostly unhappy with how he handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenney called them “lunatics.”

Former Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith and exiled UCP MLA Drew Barnes probably fall pretty neatly into this column. 

They both want the job. 

Then there’s the Kenney loyalists.

Doug Schweitzer endorsed Kenney last week. He’s expected to run.

Jason Nixon is Kenney’s chief lieutenant. He’s said to be eying the job.

Travis Toews is also in Kenney’s inner circle. He’s said to have supporters who have been quietly preparing a run for months.

And then there’s Members of Parliament Shannon Stubbs and Michelle Rempel Garner. They haven’t said they’d run, but their names get mentioned when you talk to UCP supporters.

There will be others.

Kenney didn’t specifically say he wouldn’t try to reclaim his job in a leadership race. But even if his political career isn’t over, it seems unlikely right now that he’d try to reclaim the UCP leadership.

It’s an unceremonious result for the popular former federal cabinet minister and darling of movement conservatives who jumped into provincial politics six years ago to build a new conservative party.

It is a big change from three years ago, when Kenney led the newly minted UCP to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and win a big majority government.

On that election night he looked unstoppable.

Long gone are the days when anyone in Alberta politics is unstoppable.


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