Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP backbenchers revolt against mild public health restrictions as COVID third wave hits Alberta

New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and the third wave of the global pandemic is hitting Alberta, but that did not deter a group of nearly 20 United Conservative Party MLAs from publicly speaking out against the provincial government’s implementation of mild public health restrictions in response.

Like the virus, the group of COVID critics inside the UCP Caucus has grown exponentially from the original six-pack of MLAs who publicly spoke out against public health measures at the beginning of March. The public letter signed by 15 UCP MLAs criticized Premier Jason Kenney for moving back to Step 1 of the province’s mild public health measures in response to the spike in new cases, which is largely a result of a vicious new variant of the deadly virus.

The group of 15 includes Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who made an unusual move for a Speaker of the Assembly to publicly criticize the government, and already open COVID critics Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt, who recently split from the national End the Lockdown Caucus after Ontario MPP Randy Hillier posted a social media meme comparing public health restrictions to the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The UCP group also includes Tracy Allard, whose Christmas vacation to Hawaii cost her her job of Municipal Affairs Minister.

The letter signed by the 15 MLAs was soon after endorsed by Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell and West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, who also serves as the parliamentary secretary for small business. Also signalling support for the letter’s intentions was Calgary Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel-Garner, who serves as the Official Opposition Health Critic in Ottawa.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams, a long-time Kenney acolyte from Ottawa, did not endorse the letter but posted a video on social media criticizing the decision by Alberta Health Services to close down the rebel GraceLife Church, which had been holding in-person services in defiance of the government’s public health orders. He was joined in this call by Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the federal Conservative caucus for his extreme social conservative views.

Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)
Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)

That the leaders of the UCP caucus mutiny appear to largely be from the former Wildrose caucus, or Wildrose-wing of the party, is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

It was also clear during Kenney’s press conference on Tuesday that he expected a negative reaction from his caucus. A significant portion of Kenney’s lecture was dedicated to managing MLAs expectations and acknowledging the differences of opinion in his caucus. Difference of opinion is one thing, but this is something entirely different.

The public health restrictions that Alberta fell back to earlier this week are nothing close to what restrictions have looked like in jurisdictions that have actually implemented lockdowns. Alberta schools are still open for in-person classes, and Albertans can still gather with up to 10 people outside, go shopping for non-essential items, get a haircut or a massage, dine or have drinks on a restaurant patio, and exercise at a gym with a personal trainer.

Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney on April 6, 2021.

There is no doubt a lot of Albertans are frustrated about how the provincial government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kenney government has not helped itself by releasing a string of confusing and inconsistent public health measures and messaging to Albertans about the government’s response.

While public opinion polling suggests many Albertans would like the government to impose stronger measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus, there is a loud minority who want to see the current restrictions lifted.

It is yet to be seen whether the revolt will extend beyond this strongly worded letter, but there is little doubt these MLAs are actively undermining the work being done by public health professionals and health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The caucus revolt is probably a reflection of deepening regional and partisan divides in Alberta, with most of the COVID Caucus MLAs representing largely rural and small town districts. It is notable that no UCP MLAs from Calgary, so far the hardest hit in the third wave, have publicly joined the revolt.

It also suggests that the United Conservative Party is not as united as its leader would like Albertans to believe.

Kenney’s personal approval ratings and support for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic plummeted over the past 13 months, and his party has floundered in the polls, finishing behind Rachel Notley’s NDP in a handful of recent voter opinion polls. The rise of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party in rural Alberta has some backbench UCP MLAs nervously looking over their right shoulders.

In some ways, the revolt probably serves as a welcome distraction to some in the UCP from the never ending string of scandals and policy failures, most recently the failure to stop the Carbon Tax at the Supreme Court, the loss of $1.5 billion of public money when the Keystone XL Pipeline was cancelled, the failure to sign a new contract with Alberta doctors, the retreat on open-pit coal mining, and the open rebellion by parents against the draft K-6 curriculum.

Under normal circumstances it would be hard to believe that this kind of caucus revolt would happen on a day when more than 1,300 new cases of COVID were reported and doctors are calling for a circuit breaker response, but in today’s world of Alberta politics, it would be harder to believe this would happen if the UCP were not floundering so deeply in the polls.

The original 15 UCP MLAs who signed the letter

  • Tracy Allard, MLA Grande Prairie
  • Drew Barnes, MLA Cypress-Medicine Hat
  • Nathan Cooper, MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • Michaela Glasgo, MLA Brooks-Medicine Hat
  • Dave Hanson, MLA Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul
  • Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler
  • Todd Loewen, MLA Central Peace-Notley
  • Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka
  • Angela Pitt, MLA Airdrie-East
  • Roger Reid, MLA Livingstone-Macleod
  • Miranda Rosin, MLA Banff-Kananaskis
  • RJ Sigurdson, MLA Highwood
  • Mark Smith, Drayton Valley-Devon
  • Jason Stephan, Red Deer-South
  • Glenn van Dijken, Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock
Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta back to Step 1 after a long-weekend of confusing COVID communications

While most Albertans stuck close to home or gathered in small groups to celebrate Easter over the long weekend, the usual fun of watching the kids hunt for chocolate eggs on Sunday morning was accompanied by a growing unease about the third-wave of COVID-19 that has hit Alberta.

Cases started to rise late last week, and over the weekend the province was reporting up to 1,100 new cases of COVID each day. But despite the growing spike of new cases, our elected officials were nowhere to be seen.

A daily thread of ominously vague tweets from the office of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was the source of most information released by the government over the four-day long weekend.

Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets also announced a series of outbreaks of COVID-19 variants in parts of the province but did not include any specific details about where those outbreaks were happening. The tweets also stated that the variant came to Alberta from a traveller, but it appeared as though reporters who asked where that traveller came from were given different answers.

Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo tried to put a positive spin on Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets when she tweeted that it was good news that hospitalizations were “stable” but there was no explanation what that meant and it was clear the backbench United Conservative Party MLA was just as out of the loop as the rest of us.

The third wave of COVID had arrived and our leaders took the weekend off.

A press conference originally scheduled for Monday was bumped to Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. It was then rescheduled to 4:30 p.m., but as Premier Jason Kenney was joining Dr. Hinshaw, it ended up being delayed until 4:45 p.m.

When he finally arrived at the podium, Kenney announced that the province was going back to Step 1 restrictions. When Kenney was done, Health Minister Tyler Shandro took to the podium to essentially repeat the Premier’s speaking notes.

This is far from a circuit breaker that we are seeing in other provinces or a lockdown that we have seen in other countries or the COVID Zero approach that has nearly eliminated the virus in the Atlantic provinces and northern territories.

Kenney acknowledged that many Albertans are frustrated with the length of the pandemic and has tried to square the blame on the federal government over vaccine supply. A good part of Kenney’s speech was dedicated to caucus management, as many of his UCP MLAs are openly critical of public health restrictions and many more have expressed these views behind closed doors.

But it has become clear that Kenney’s start-stop approach to dealing with the pandemic and his government’s selective willingness to enforce the rules has contributed to the fatigue – and growing anger that Kenney is unwilling to make tough decisions that could alienate part of his conservative base of supporters.

Taking a step back to Step 1 today was a good choice, but it seems likely that it will take more serious actions to stop the renewed spread of the COVID-19 variant in Alberta. If this doesn’t work, look for increased restrictions in the next week or two.


Nenshi not running for re-election

The big political news coming out of Calgary today was the announcement by Mayor Naheed Nenshi that he will not seek re-election in the October municipal elections.

First elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2013 and 2017, Nenshi has dominated Calgary politics and reshaped many Canadians’ views of Calgary as a more urban, more progressive and more forward-thinking city. He is a giant in Alberta politics and he will be missed.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Meet Billy Briquette. Alberta War Room launches Ethical Coal Mining cartoon for kids.

Move aside Bigfoot Family, there’s a new cartoon on the block. Meet Billy Briquette!

The Canadian Energy Centre is launching a new cartoon series to educate young Albertans about the virtues of open pit coal mining in the Alberta Rocky Mountains.

Billy Briquette
Billy Briquette

“We’re taking our campaign against Sasquatch Family to the next level,” said CEC CEO Tom Olsen, who appeared at a Thursday morning press conference standing beside a life-sized Billy Briquette mascot.

The 100-episode cartoon series will feature Billy Briquette as he joins his friends Nixy the Wild Horse and Bobby Bitumen as they use teamwork to stop villains ranging from local town councils and country music stars to eco-left European bankers and coal dictators. Billy will also be joined in Episode 37 by his Australian cousin, Hector.

“My friends, for a long time oil has been in the crosshairs of the radical-urban-eco-bohemian-marxist-left and now they are targeting our democratic coal,” said Premier Jason Kenney, also standing uncomfortably close to the smiling life-sized piece of coal.

“Let me be clear, Alberta’s ethical mountain top removal of coal needs a champion and that’s why we’re introducing you to Billy today,” Kenney said.

The cartoon series also received praise from senior Alberta cabinet ministers.

“Changes to the Film and Television Tax Credit make productions like Billy Briquette possible,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and director of the Canadian Energy Centre.

“I’m thrilled that productions like Billy Briquette will help drive diversification and provide customers to open pit coal mines across Alberta,” Schweitzer said.

“Alberta – with large coal reserves – is perfectly positioned to continue to offer investment in a stable and ethical democracy,” said Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

“Billy Briquette will showcase this to young Albertans and the investors across the world,” said Savage, who is also serves on the War Room’s board of directors.

Along with a wide variety of branded merchandise, bumper stickers and a theme song performed by Tom Olsen and the Wreckage, the life-sized lump of coal mascot is expected to visit more than 100 Alberta elementary schools in the next year. The cartoon series will be integrated into the new provincial Social Studies curriculum and be mandatory viewing for students in Grades One through Six.

After Netflix declined a proposal to stream the series, it was decided that the $25 million animated production will be viewable exclusively on the Canadian Energy Centre YouTube page. 

Author’s note: Readers will note that today is April 1 and, as the Canadian Energy Centre is exempt from FOIP, we are unable to confirm that plans for the Billy Briquette cartoon series and associated merchandise are in the works.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 71: Peace, Order and Good Carbon Taxes

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach joins the Daveberta Podcast for a rousing discussion about the Supreme Court of Canada’s big decision about the federal carbon tax, the politics of climate change in Canada, and what Alberta’s next oil boom might look like.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading (coming soon)

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 70: Who was the most unpopular Premier in Alberta history?

We dive into our mailbag and answer some great questions sent in by Daveberta Podcast listeners. From the possibility of a United Conservative Party leadership review to Premier Jason Kenney’s new health care-friendly talking points to the Alberta Party leadership to the unpopularity of premiers Richard Reid and John Brownlee, you sent us a lot of great questions!

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Some Assembly Required: Wildrosers make for a raucous caucus

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is back in session next week after a weeklong Constituency Break that immediately followed last Thursday’s budget announcement. While Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have been testing out their new health care friendly talking points this week, pandemic politics inside the United Conservative Party caucus threaten to derail the Premier’s Spring agenda.

An unofficial “end the lockdown caucus” inside the UCP caucus, which originally included outspoken MLA Drew Barnes and Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt – but now appears to have expanded to include former Wildrose MLAs Todd Loewen, Ron Orr, Dave Hanson and rookie MLA Michaela Glasgo (according to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell) – is causing problems for Kenney.

The group of disgruntled backbenchers are unhappy they are being kept out of the loop on public health decisions and want COVID public health measures lifted more quickly and on a regional basis. That most of the six-pack of UCP dissenters come from the former Wildrose caucus is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

But they aren’t alone. I’m told that there may be another 10 to 20 UCP backbenchers who are supportive of the six-pack but haven’t said so publicly and number of them are agitating for a leadership review to happen before the 2023 election.

Barnes in particular continues to play a game of chicken with Kenney, almost daring the Premier to kick him out of the caucus. After he was overlooked for a cabinet spot following the 2019 election, Barnes has been outspoken on his support for Alberta autonomy from Canada, has called on Kenney to appoint him as Minister of Autonomy, and most recently declared that he has not yet decided whether he will endorse the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews last week.

Kenney has been very cautious not to alienate the right-wing of his party, which explains why he hasn’t come down hard on Barnes in the past, but with more UCP backbenchers speaking out against the Premier it is beginning  to look like he’s losing control.

That Barnes remains in the UCP caucus today is a sign that Kenney is desperate not to have another conservative party represented in the Assembly – a split that would immediately undermine the entire “United Conservative” project that Kenney helped spearhead four years ago.

Already 1 Independent

Already outside the UCP Caucus is Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, who is sitting as an Independent after he was removed from the UCP caucus following a chorus of calls for his resignation by local municipal leaders and the revelation of questionable expense claims. This all happened after a Christmas vacation to Mexico got him caught up in the hot holiday scandal.

While he now sits in the far corner of the opposition benches, Rehn has been acting on social media as if he is still a UCP MLA by regularity posting government press releases and statements.

New Municipal Affairs Minister?

And speaking of the hot holiday scandal, Kenney has yet to appoint a new Minister of Municipal Affairs following the resignation of former minister Tracy Allard after her unfortunate hot holiday in Hawaii.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver has been serving in a double-role as Municipal Affairs Minister, and there is some speculation that that Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton might be up for a promotion. The affable former Spruce Grove city councillor i chair of the UCP Capital Regional Caucus and Kenney’s special envoy to private sector unions.

Rodeo is back

Calgary-North UCP MLA Muhammad Yaseen has introduced a private members’ bill that would make rodeo the official sport of Alberta.

This is not the first time this idea has come up in the Legislative Assembly. Another UCP MLA introduced a private members’ motion calling for this last year and way back in 2008, outgoing Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft did the same (I worked on the caucus communications support for Taft’s motion).

The naysayers may claim it is just a distraction, that it would be controversial, and just play into outdated stereotypes. They are probably correct, but I say go for it. Yahoo! Yeehaw! Saddle up!

(Photo source: Travel Alberta)

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP swaps “fiscal reckoning” for a kinder gentler budget slashing hand

It took about a year but Alberta’s United Conservative Party government finally pivoted away from its “fiscal reckoning” rhetoric in exchange for a more kinder and gentler tone. In this year’s Provincial Budget, tabled in the Legislative Assembly today, “Protecting Lives and Livelihoods” has replaced the doom and gloom messages promoted by Finance Minister Travis Toews for most of 2019 and 2020.

The change in talking points and press conference backdrops is a reflection of a change in Albertans’ priorities since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. The UCP’s “jobs, economy and pipelines” slogan that more accurately reflected the mood of many Albertans back in April 2019 has been replaced with talking points focused on funding health care and creating jobs. It is also an acknowledgment that cheerleading the slashing of public services has become politically unpalatable.

But what marks a pivot in messaging does not necessarily mark a change in the political project. The broad and deep budget cuts that Toews was said to be lobbying for are probably only put on hold until next year and the UCP is still moving forward with plans to privatize large swaths of the health care system and layoff more than 11,000 health care workers.

We’re not on a path of cost cutting. We’re on a path of delivering government services most efficiently,” Toews told CTV after the government announced it plans to cut the size of the public service workforce by 8 per cent.

It’s pretty clear they are on a path of cost cutting.

Colleges and universities are seeing a third year of big budget cuts. And plans to rollback salaries for remaining public sector workers are still in the works – and will likely spark further labour unrest with public sector unions.

It was probably determined by the UCP braintrust that during a global pandemic they could impose massive funding cuts to public services or cuts to public sector wages, but not both at the same time.

So, as well as shifting blame for Alberta’s financial problems onto public sector workers, Toews put blame on the federal government for standing in the way of resource development. Of course, Toews did not mention the billions of dollars of federal emergency pandemic funding that has poured into provincial coffers over the past year.

As it enters its second year of its term as government, we could now be seeing the UCP try to lay the groundwork for its re-election campaign in 2023.

The shift in messaging suggests the UCP has recognized how far its previous messaging had pulled it down in the polls.

Premier Jason Kenney‘s reluctance to pivot off his pipeline and economy messages, as well as his aggressive tone deaf attacks on anyone who dared to criticize his government – even as the criticism is coming from an increasing number of regular Albertans – is certainly a big reason the UCP has dropped in the polls and the Premier’s personal approval ratings are in the tank.

If Kenney is able to survive as party leader until 2023, he will face off against an increasingly popular Rachel Notley, who will be the first former Premier to run for re-election in Alberta’s history. Recognizing that Calgary could be the main electoral battleground of 2023, Notley and most of her caucus have basically become part-time residents of the province’s largest city.

Shifting to health care as its main issue puts the UCP firmly in territory where the Alberta NDP has much stronger footing. The UCP talking about supporting health care is like the NDP talking about supporting oil pipelines. Regardless of how hard they try, the UCP will have a hard time convincing Albertans that all of a sudden it is the great defender of the public health care system.

And despite Toews’ talk about the need for fiscal restraint, there is still money for UCP vanity projects like the Canadian Energy Centre, which is allocated $30 million annually to publish op-eds in the National Post and right-wing news websites and buy advertisements on Facebook.

The new budget also allocates $2 million to create an Environmental, Social and Governance Secretariat to stem the tide of divestment from the oil sands. The new mini-war room would report directly to the Premier’s Office.

It is unclear why Alberta requires two energy war rooms that appear to duplicate the work of the Department of Energy, the Department of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, the Alberta Energy Regulator’s communications department, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and the Invest Alberta crown corporation. Perhaps Kenney is trying to create more work for the Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter?

What the budget has in common with previous budgets is a lack of a plan to deal with Alberta’s long-time and self-inflicted revenue problems. Meanwhile, the UCP has focused heavily on criticizing government spending through the MacKinnon Report and the growing list of reports from international management consulting companies.

Toews’ budget speech also neglected to mention the giant elephant in the room – the $1.5 billion the Alberta government lost when betting on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was cancelled by United States President Joe Biden on his first day in office.

But the government’s continued over-reliance on unstable revenue from natural resource royalties and its unwillingness to consider raising Alberta’s artificially low tax rates means that the problem will persist. Like previous governments, the UCP appear to be praying a bump in international oil prices will save the province’s balance sheet.

If it feels like you have read this last part before, it is because I have basically written this exact same thing on every Budget Day since I launched this website 16 years ago.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 69: Biting the hand that isn’t feeding you

Dani Paradis and Chris Henderson join the Daveberta Podcast for a deep dive into municipal politics and a look ahead at the October 2021 elections in Edmonton. What issues will resonate with voters and what does a pandemic election campaign looks like? We cover a lot of ground, from Lucy the Elephant to equalization to centralization of 911 dispatch to the souring of relations between municipalities and the provincial government. This was a fun episode.

Dani Paradis is a Contributing Editor at Canadaland and co-editor of Rage Against the Municipal. Chris Henderson is Chief Strategist and Partner at Y-Station Communications and Research and was campaign manager for Don Iveson‘s 2007 and 2010 city council campaigns and 2013 mayoral campaign.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended reading/listening: 

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 68: The 1976 Coal Policy and stopping open-pit mining in Alberta’s Rockies

Kevin Van Tighem joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss one of the biggest issues in Alberta politics today – the expansion of open-pit coal mining in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Kevin explains how the 1976 Coal Policy protected larges swaths of the Rocky Mountains from open-pit coal mining and the impact these large scale industrial projects would have on local wildlife habitat, local economies, and the water that millions of Albertans depend on.

We discuss the influence of mining companies over the Alberta government, the reasons why Energy Minister Sonya Savage rescinded the policy last spring, and what kind of improvements could be included in a new coal policy.

Kevin Van Tighem is a conservationist, former Superintendent of Banff National Park, and author whose books include Our Place: Changing the Nature of Alberta. You can read his columns in AlbertaViews Magazine.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Who opposes Kenney’s decision to allow open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies? Basically everybody.

The United Conservative Party government’s decision to unilaterally rescind a 1976 Coal Policy that protected large swaths of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and Foothills from open-pit coal mining has hit a nerve with Albertans.

Similar to the UCP government’s decision to close or privatize more than 160 provincial parks, which the government began to slowly back away from after widespread opposition in 2020, the decision to rescind the Coal Policy and enthusiastically support open-pit coal mining is an issue that is facing opposition across Alberta.

The opposition to the Coal Policy reminds me somewhat of the fight over electrical transmission lines that the old Progressive Conservative government stumbled into in the mid-2000s. In both cases, Conservative governments forgot how to listen to and speak with to their long-time rural supporters – and in the case of the PCs there were big consequences in the following election.

But in this case, the coal issue transcends the urban-rural divide that Alberta politicians sometimes like to exploit.

Albertans are proud of our Rocky Mountains. And we are acutely aware of how exploding the tops off those mountains would destroy habitat and pollute the water sources that millions of Albertans depend on.

Highwood UCP MLA RJ Sigurdson, who’s district includes part of the area directly impacted by the decision, says he is listening to his constituents concerns but he has not broken with his government on the issue. Livingstone-Macleod UCP MLA Roger Reid claimed the decision was made by the Alberta Energy Regulator, even though the policy was actually rescinded by Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Describing the Peter Lougheed-era Coal Policy as outdated, Premier Jason Kenney dismissed the opposition by claiming critics of open-pit coal mining were mostly “city-dwellers.” But the chorus of opposition from Albertans who actually live on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies tells the true story.

Who opposes the Kenney government’s decision to remove the 1976 Coal Policy?

The opposition to Kenney’s removal of the coal policy has been building since 2020, with ranchers, farmers and conservation, hunting, recreation and environmental groups, and the NDP opposition raising the alarm. But the opposition to Kenney’s coal push got a big boast when country music artists Corb Lund, Paul Brandt, Terri Clark, and kd lang, Heartland actor Amber Marshall, and television’s Terry Grant (aka the Mantracker) spoke out against the removal of the Coal Policy and in favour of protecting the Rockies and Foothills from open-pit coal mining.

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations – Landowners and the Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations have filed separate requests for a judicial review of the decision, which they argue was made without legally required consultations. (Alberta Native News, Jan. 18, 2021)

Municipal District of Ranchlands – Several groups are seeking intervenor status to join the ranchers seeking a judicial review: the M.D. of Ranchland, the Bearspaw, Siksika, Kainai and Whitefish First Nations, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Alberta Hiking Association, the Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Livingstone Landowners Group. (CBC, Jan. 20, 2021)

Town of Claresholm: Town Council voted to send a letter following up on a June 20, 2020 letter to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Energy, and to cc MLA Roger Reid and Premier Jason Kenney raising concern over the rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy. (Town of Claresholm, Jan. 25, 2021)

Foothills County – Foothills councillors are expressing their concern with a lack of policy around coal mining in southern Alberta. Council agreed to draft a letter to the provincial government regarding the controversial application for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, an $800-million coal mining operation proposed in the Crowsnest Pass by Benga Mining Ltd., a subsidiary of Australian parent company Riversdale Resources. (Okotoks Today, Jan. 25, 2021)

Town of Edson – Edson officials penned a letter to the premier on Jan. 19 that asked the province to reopen closed, already-developed metallurgical mines instead of moving forward with new ones. (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Village of Longview – “We are definitely not in favour of it,” said Kathie Wight, mayor of Longview, a community of 334 that looks out on the rangelands and mountains of the province’s southwest. “More public consultation needs to be taken into consideration.” (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Town of Nanton – The Town of Nanton has sent a letter, signed by the mayor, to Alberta’s premier stating its concerns about open pit coal mining in southwest Alberta. In the Jan. 20 letter, the Town first thanks Premier Jason Kenney and Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, for the government’s Jan. 18 announcement cancelling 11 recently issued coal leases and the pause in issuing coal lease sales in former “Category 2” lands, which include large swaths of the Eastern Slopes and were previously protected. (Nanton News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Town of OkotoksOkotoks Town Council passed a motion to draft a letter addressed to Premier Jason Kenney and other members of the provincial government regarding the recently rescinded 1976 Coal Policy. The letter would request an immediate rollback on the rescinding of the policy, a consultation process on the desired changes to the policy, and an impact report on how the project may affect local water. (Okotoks Online, Jan. 28, 2021)

Town of High River – “Coal exploration is causing irreparable damage to the landscapes and watersheds as well as adversely affecting the public’s access, use and enjoyment of Crown lands,” says the letter from town council in High River, about 55 kilometres south of Calgary. (CBC, Feb. 1, 2021)

Town of Canmore – Canmore Mayor John Borrowman will write a letter to Premier Jason Kenney urging him and the UCP government to reinstate the 1976 Coal Development Policy that was rescinded last year. (Rocky Mountain Today, Feb. 2, 2021)

Kainai-Blood Tribe – The Kainai-Blood Tribe will be launching a legal challenge against the Government of Alberta over its decision to unilaterally rescind the 1976 Coal Policy. (Lethbridge Herald, Feb. 2, 2021)

Town of Turner Valley – Turner Valley town council voted in favour of submitting a letter to the provincial government regarding coal exploration, joining several other Alberta towns in doing so. The letter includes several requests, including for the provincial government re-instate the 1976 Coal Policy, to institute a consultation process with relevant stakeholders, and for an analysis of environmental, hydrological, economic, and recreational impacts of the proposed changes. (Okotoks Online, Feb. 3, 2021)

Siksika First Nation– Siksika First Nation is launching a legal challenge against the province’s decision to rescind its coal policy, effectively allowing open-pit coal mining in the Rockies. (Calgary Herald, Feb. 4, 2021)

City of Airdrie – City council voted unanimously Feb. 1 to offer support to municipalities in southern Alberta that are advocating against the development of open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. At the Feb. 1 meeting, Airdrie resident Jessica Jacobs submitted a letter to council as public correspondence, urging the City to take a stance against the Grassy Mountain Coal Project – an $800-million coal mining operation that has been proposed in the Crowsnest Pass. (AirdrieToday.com, Feb. 5, 2021)

City of Lethbridge – Lethbridge could be joining a chorus of communities across southern Alberta to voice concerns about the UCP government’s decision to rescind a 45 year old policy on coal mining. Councillors will discuss an official business resolution next Tuesday (Feb. 9) which, if adopted would have the mayor write to Premier Jason Kenney and the Ministers of Environment and Energy requesting the policy be reinstated. (MyLethbridgeNow.com, Feb. 5, 2021)

It has been reported that the Town of Black Diamond and Clearwater County are also expected to discuss the issue in the coming weeks. Calgary City Council will discuss the issue at a Feb. 8 meeting.


Listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast to hear this weekend’s podcast discussion about the Coal Policy with writer and conservationist Kevin Van Tighem.

Categories
Alberta Politics

The race to become Edmonton’s next mayor is about to get crowded

Former City Councillor Kim Krushell has announced her candidacy in Edmonton’s 2021 Mayoral election at a press conference this week.

Krushell represented northwest Edmonton’s Ward 2 from 2004 to 2013 but her city hall career began in the mid-1990s when she worked as executive assistant to Councillor Lillian Staroszik and Larry Langley. She left municipal politics in 2013, becoming President of Lending Assist.

While Krushell never ran for provincial political office, she has past ties to the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party. She was the President of the PC Party association in Edmonton-Calder in the early 2000s and later served as Edmonton regional director and budget director for the PC Party until Jason Kenney became party leader in 2017.

With current Mayor Don Iveson not running for re-election, Krushell joins already announced candidates Cheryl Watson, Brian Gregg, Greg Zawaski, and, as was first reported on this website on Jan. 19, Councillor Mike Nickel.

Another former city councillor, Michael Oshry, is also said to be assembling a mayoral campaign team, and former councillor and Member of Parliament Amarjeet Sohi is rumoured to be considering a run for mayor.

And a number of new candidates have announced their plans to run for City Council:

Gino Akbari, Gabrielle Battiste and Tony Caterina have announced their plans to run in in the central Edmonton Ward O-day’min. 

Tony Caterina City Councillor PC MLA Candidate
Tony Caterina

Caterina is a four-term City Councillor from northeast Edmonton who is running in the new downtown Ward because his current Ward 7 is being heavily redistributed between the new Ward Metis and Ward tastawiyiniwak (ᑕᐢᑕᐃᐧᔨᓂᐊᐧᐠ).

The boundary change puts Caterina in a position where if he did not choose a brand new ward to run in, he could have either run in the north half of his current ward, facing off against Councillor Jon Dzadyk, or in the south side of his current ward, which now stretches south of the North Saskatchewan River to Bonnie Doon and King Edward Park. He previously ran in downtown as the Alberta Alliance candidate in Edmonton-Centre in the 2004 provincial election.

Caterina will be running in the area vacated by two-term Councillor Scott McKeen, who announced this month that he will not be seeking re-election. McKeen ran against Caterina in Ward 7 in 2010 and endorsed his main challenger, Kris Andreychuk, in the 2017 campaign. 

Edmonton City Council's new Ward boundaries with new Indigenous names.
Edmonton City Council’s new Ward boundaries with new Indigenous names.

In Ward Metis, which includes the southern half of Caterina’s current ward, Ashley Salvador and Liz John-West have filed their nomination papers. Salvador is an urban planner and President and Chair of YEGarden Suites. John-West is the Regional Service Director for WJS Canada and was a candidate in the 2017 municipal election.

In Edmonton’s south west Ward sipiwiyiniwak, first-term Councillor Sarah Hamilton has announced her plans to seek re-election. 

Ashley Salvador Ward Métis City Council candidate Edmonton
Ashley Salvador

And in Edmonton’s northeast, Lana Palmer and Tricia Velthuizen are running in the new Ward Dene. Palmer is a local photographer. Velthuizen is Press Secretary to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish, and previously worked for the United Conservative Party and Wildrose Party caucuses.

Recently announced candidates in Ward Papastew include student Haruun Ali (who had previously announced his candidacy in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi), DJ and entertainment company owner Tarcy Schindelka, and Byron Vass.

Local celebrity Dan Johnstone has announced his plans to run in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi. Johnstone, who also goes by the nickname “Can Man Dan,” previously ran for city council in Ward 10 in 2013, in Ward 12 in a 2016 by-election, and mounted a brief campaign for the Alberta Party nomination in Edmonton-South ahead of the 2019 provincial election.

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Michelle Draper announced she will not be seeking re-election. Draper has represented Ward B on the Edmonton Public School Board since 2013.

For the Edmonton Catholic School District, Sandra Palazzo is running for re-election in Ward 72, Carla Smiley in Ward 73, Alene Mutala in Ward 75, and Lisa Turchansky is running in Ward 76.

As with previous elections, I am maintaining a list of people who have declared their intentions to run for mayor, city council, or school board in the October 18, 2021 municipal elections. 

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 67: Senator Paula Simons and Alberta Unbound

Independent Alberta Senator Paula Simons joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss what it is like to represent Albertans in the Canadian Senate during the COVID-19 pandemic and the launch of the second season of her podcast series, Alberta Unbound. She also shares her thoughts on the role of the Senate in light of Alberta’s upcoming Senate Nominee elections.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

2017 Jason Kenney to 2021 Jason Kenney: No More Billion Dollar Boondoggles!

For Immediate Release

EDMONTON – Leaning outside the window of his big blue truck, 2017 Jason Kenney denounced 2021 Jason Kenney for his decision to gamble $1.5 billion of taxpayers dollars on the failed Keystone XL Pipeline project. The pipeline, which had its permit cancelled by President Joe Biden this week is expected to cost Alberta taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

2017 Jason Kenney
2017 Jason Kenney

“A $1.5 billion dollar boondoggle, that what 2021 Jason Kenney signed us up for with his disastrous pipeline deal,” 2017 Kenney said. “This is one of the single largest expenditures by a government in the history of Alberta.”

“The rotten fruit of the Keystone XL deal, which the province harvested on Tuesday, was inevitable given the kind of sweetheart deal given to yet another private company with tax dollars,” 2017 Kenney said. “For too long, politicians like 2021 Jason Kenney have pretended they were businessmen, investing with other people’s money and they made an absolute failure of it.”

“With $1.5 billion, we could have built a mega-hospital or 50 new schools! $1.5 billion to do something the private sector was doing already, just to interfere in the market,” 2017 Kenney said.

2021 Jason Kenney
2021 Jason Kenney

“This reckless, out-of-control investment has sent billions of Albertans’ hard-earned tax-dollars into a fiscal train-wreck.”

“2021 Jason Kenney needs to get out of the business of business, out of the losing business of picking winners and losers,” 2017 Kenney said. “When 2021 Jason Kenney is risking your money instead of his own, you might as well send him to the casino. He has no incentive to get it right.”

“This costly boondoggle stuck Alberta taxpayers with a very expensive write-down,” Kenney said. “I call on 2021 Jason Kenney to release the terms of its secret $1.5 billion deal immediately. What does he have to hide?”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Notley’s NDP raised more cash than Kenney’s UCP in the final months of 2020

The Alberta NDP raised more money from individual Albertans than the United Conservative Party in the final quarter of 2020, according to financial documents released today by Elections Alberta.

This marks the second time in the last year that the opposition NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP, suggesting Albertans are voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.

Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the fourth quarter of 2020:

  • NDP $2,322,490.38
  • UCP $1,921,813.21
  • Alberta Party $50,738.66
  • Wildrose Independence Party $45,863.49
  • Liberal Party $44,746.87
  • Green Party $17,847.00
  • Alberta Advantage Party – $4,055.00
  • Independence Party – $2,990.40
  • Communist Party – $100.00

This marks the first time since the UCP was created that the NDP have fundraised more money over the course of a year. According to the Elections Alberta disclosures, the NDP raised $5,061,979.02 in 2020 with the UCP narrowly behind at $5,046,322.52.

The Alberta Party, Wildrose Independence Party, Liberal Party and Green Party also saw increases in their quarterly fundraising, though they remain significantly behind the two major parties.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Biden cancelling Keystone XL exposes Kenney’s foolish multi-billion dollar gamble

Probably the least surprising news to hit Alberta politics this month is today’s reports that incoming American President Joe Biden will revoke the Presidential Permit approving the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline on the first day of his presidency.

Biden promised months ago that he would cancel the permit, so it comes as no surprise. But it marks another huge blow to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who invested a huge sum of his own political capital and Albertans’ real financial capital into the project.

While Keystone XL has sucked up a large amount of oxygen in provincial politics over the past few years, completion of the Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline depended almost entirely on the re-election of Donald Trump in November 2020 – an outcome that was never a sure bet.

That was the bet that Kenney made when his United Conservative Party government invested $1.5 billion of public funds into the TC Energy Corporation pipeline project and promised $6 billion worth of loan guarantees. Because of the secrecy surrounding the details of the agreement it remains unclear how much of the loan guarantees have been implemented.

For the Kenney government, it is now all about political posturing, which usually means blaming the federal government in Ottawa and eco-socialists and green-leftists abroad, and trying to justify to Albertans the billions of public dollars were just lost in this foolhardy investment.