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Alberta Politics

Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, key part of Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy,” fails to uncover vast conspiracy against our oil

To be very clear, I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization. No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech. – Page 596 of the Final Report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

The final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns was released this week.

A key part of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy” against perceived enemies of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the public inquiry was launched in July 2019 with a political promise to unearth the vast conspiracy of wealthy international foundations and environmental activists who were working together in the shadows to undermine Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

It was these secretive groups and their dark money, Albertans were lead to believe, who were blocking oil pipelines and were the source of our economic woes. This public inquiry was meant to intimidate those critics. 

Speaking to a crowd of supporters on the night of the United Conservative Party’s victory in the 2019 election, Premier Jason Kenney declared he had a message for the “foreign funded special interests who have been leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province.”

“To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, to the Tides Foundation, to the LeadNow, to the David Suzuki Foundation, and to all of the others, your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended,” Kenney decreed.

More than two years and $3.5 million later, Commissioner Steve Allan’s final report does not detail a vast conspiracy, because a vast conspiracy doesn’t exist. It turns out that most of the information he was looking for is already public and the devious activity he was sent to uncover was totally legal.

In fact, Allan’s final report released by Energy Minister Sonya Savage says that “[w]hile anti-Alberta energy campaigns may have played a role in the cancellation of some oil and gas developments, I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays or cancellations.”

The pretence of the report and the boogeymen created to blame for the cancellation of oil pipeline projects completely leaves off the hook the large oil companies and the Alberta government, with their own near bottomless pockets of money and resources to combat any advertising campaign launched by environmental groups.

In fact, the report does not delve into decades of uncoordinated and ham-fisted attempts to respond to international criticism of the oil sands going back to the week in July 2006 when the Alberta government parked a giant Caterpillar 777F hauler on the Mall in Washington DC.

Premier Jason Kenney (at the podium) announces the appointment of Steve Allan (right) as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.Also pictured are then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
Premier Jason Kenney (at the podium) announces the appointment of Steve Allan (right) as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.Also pictured are then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Unlike the press conference that launched the inquiry, during which Kenney, Savage, Allan, and then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer stood together on stage, Savage stood alone at the podium this week as she was given the unenviable task of releasing the report and trying to justify its results.

Kenney was nowhere to be seen (he currently has a 22 per cent approval rating), Schweitzer is no longer Justice Minister, and Allan has presumably been relieved of his duties.

The over-budget and thrice-extended public inquiry was conducted almost completely in secret, with no actual public hearings, leaving the inquiry to instead hold “hearing by correspondence.”

The confusingly organized 657 page report details how Environmental Non-Profit Groups wrote grants to receive funding for environmental advocacy in Canada, but there is no suggestion of wrong doing or that anything illegal happened.

But that hasn’t stopped Savage and her UCP MLA colleagues from bandying around a $1.2 billion number, which is the amount the report says it found foreign donors provided in grant funding to Canadian environmental organizations between 2003 and 2019.

But the report found that, of the $1.2 billion, around $554 million went to well-known and respected conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited Canada, which does not participate in “anti-Alberta” campaigns (Ducks Unlimited Canada is run by CEO Larry Kaumeyer, who until recently was employed as Kenney’s Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary), and only somewhere between $37.5 to $58.9 million was specifically granted to anti-oil and gas campaigns in Canada.

Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. (Source: Facebook)
Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. (Source: Facebook)

In fact, the most interesting result of Allan’s final report are his criticisms of the other left foot of Kenney’s Fight Back Strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre.

The CEC, known to most Albertans as the “War Room,” was created in 2019 and is run by former UCP candidate Tom Olsen.

Established as a Crown Corporation with a $30-million annual budget, the Canadian Energy Centre essentially operates as a publicly-funded public relations agency for the oil and gas industry.

Buried on the last page of Allan’s report is a list of criticisms of the Canadian Energy Centre, including an observation that “it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair.”

Allan wrote that the way the War Room was established, as a Crown Corporation, with three provincial cabinet ministers as its board of directors (Savage, Schweitzer and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon) has “seriously compromised” the organization’s credibility.

“There may be a need for a vehicle such as this, assuming proper governance and accountability is established, to develop a communications/marketing strategy for the industry and/or the province, but it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair,” Allan wrote.

While Savage deflected from questions from reporters about what was accomplished by the $3.5 million inquiry by denouncing foreign-funded campaigns and demanding transparency from ENGOs who run campaigns in Alberta, the FOIP-exempt War Room recently purchased billboards in Washington D.C. and New York City’s Times Square.

War Room CEO Olsen issued a statement in response to the Public Inquiry’s criticisms but the statement had to be resent soon afterward because of typos. (I’m not making this up).

So, the great Alberta witch hunt is over and no witches have been found.

Now that this embarrassing public inquiry is over, the other part of Kenney’s failed strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre – should be scrapped.

If the public inquiry taught us anything, it is probably that our leaders should be focused on figuring out how Alberta is going to survive the massive shifts happening in world energy markets and not wasting precious time making empty threats and settling vendettas with critics of the oil and gas industry.


Energy Minister Sonya Savage will be back next month to release the report of the committee investigating open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.

Amplifying the loud public opposition to open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, a group of country music artists released a new version of the popular song, This Is My Prairie. The song features Corb Lund, Terri Clark, Brett Kissel,, Sherryl Sewepagaham, Paul Brandt, Armond Duck Chief, Katie Rox and Brandi Sidoryk.

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Alberta Politics

Gondek. Sohi. What a night, Alberta.

Jyoti Gondek defeats Jeromy Farkas to become Calgary’s next Mayor.

Amarjeet Sohi defeats Mike Nickel to become Edmonton’s next Mayor.

Eight of Edmonton’s 12 City Councillors elected today are women – a historic record. Four are persons of colour. Four incumbents are on the verge of defeat. 

Premier Jason Kenney’s referendum to remove Equalization from the constitution gets a very tepid endorsement (59% support in Calgary – Edmonton results next week).

Support for abandoning the twice yearly time change is even more divided.

What a night, Alberta.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 79: Everything you wanted to know about Equalization * But were afraid to ask

University of Alberta political scientist Dr. Jared Wesley joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast for a deep dive into Alberta’s October 18 Equalization Referendum, why it is being held, what Premier Jason Kenney hopes to accomplish (and why he’s been absent on the campaign trail), and what the ramifications of the vote could be for Alberta and Canada.

We also answer some great listener questions about Equalization and dive into the history of Alberta’s low-key Senate Nominee Elections and more.

The Daveberta Podcast is produced by the talented Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported.

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 listening/reading

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Alberta Politics

Talking municipal politics with Éric Grenier on The Writ Podcast

I joined Éric Grenier on The Writ Podcast this week to talk about Alberta’s municipal elections, the Senate Nominee election and referenda on Equalization and Daylight Saving Time. You can watch our chat below and download the podcast tomorrow.

A Leger poll commissioned by Postmedia was released today showing that Amarjeet Sohi now has double the support of second place challenger Mike Nickel in Edmonton’s mayoral election.

According to the poll, 60 per cent of Edmontonians said they are more likely to vote for a mayor who opposes the policies of the provincial government. Only 14 per cent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the government’s actions

And the outgoing mayors of Alberta’s two largest cities shared some harsh words about Premier Jason Kenney on the latest episode of CBC’s West of Centre Podcast.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson spoke on CBC’s West of Centre Podcast and shared criticism of Kenney’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and a leadership style that soured the relationship with the two largest cities.

“I know that even the cabinet ministers who are just trying to do a good job are frustrated that they’re unable to make decisions or move files forward because petty partisan politics get in the way,” Nenshi said.

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Alberta Politics

How much longer can Jason Kenney survive?

Premier Jason Kenney managed to out maneuver disgruntled United Conservative Party MLAs by convincing them to withdraw a motion of non-confidence by pushing ahead his leadership review to April 2022, but he still has his party to contend with.

A growing number of UCP constituency associations have passed motions calling for a leadership review to take place before March 1, 2022. The CBC first reported that more than 10 constituency associations had passed motions, and Postmedia columnist Don Braid tweeted that number was 16.

Text of the UCP motion calling to hold a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2021.
Text of the UCP motion calling to hold a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2021.

Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried, who has been publicly critical of Kenney’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, posted the text of the motion on Twitter.

Gotfried noted that his constituency board passed the motion two weeks ago with 21 votes in favour and none opposed.

For Kenney’s opponents in the UCP, 22 is the magic number of constituency boards required to force the leadership vote before March 1 and quite possibly at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting in Calgary in November 2021.

Kenney’s leadership has been in a constant state of turmoil for most of the past two years and a recent poll from ThinkHQ showed him plummeting to a dismal 22 per cent approval rating. According to the poll, Kenney is deeply unpopular with every demographic and regional group of Albertans.

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Alberta Politics

It’s a dog’s breakfast! A guide to Alberta’s municipal elections, Senate Nominee election and referenda on Equalization and Daylight Saving Time 

Alberta’s municipal election is only 14 days away.

When you think of municipal elections, you might immediately think about roads, libraries, sidewalks, pools, traffic, playgrounds, potholes, public transit, bike lanes and snow removal. And while these are some of the more high-profile responsibilities of municipal governments, the amount of information being thrown at voters in this year’s election has muddied the water about what the ballot issues on October 18 might be.

Electing Mayors, Councillors and School Trustees

The primary function of municipal elections is for voters to elect their local municipal officials in their city, county, municipal district, town, or village. Voters also cast ballots for trustees to govern their Public, Catholic or Francophone school boards. (Here is a list of candidates running in Edmonton’s municipal election).

This year there are open mayoral races with no incumbent running for re-election in the cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which will mark a big turnover in municipal leadership in Alberta.

As if there weren’t already are a lot of challenges facing municipalities, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Alberta hard and municipal governments are bearing the brunt of many of those health, social and economic challenges.

Municipalities also face a hostile provincial government that has not hesitated to interfere in local issues, in some cases leaving Albertans with a choice between candidates who agree with the provincial government interference, candidates who want to keep their heads down in hopes for a change of provincial government in 2023, or candidates who will stand up for their communities and challenge the United Conservative Party government.

Senate Nominee Election

When you vote on Oct. 18 or in the advance polls you will probably be handed a few different ballots. One of them will ask you to choose up to three candidates in this year’s Senate Nominee Election.

Senate Nominee elections are a uniquely Alberta activity dating back to 1989. The elections are held to choose a list of names for the Premier to recommend to the Prime Minister for appointment to the Senate if vacancies occur.

There is currently one vacancy in Alberta’s 6-member Senate delegation and another vacancy is expected when Senator Doug Black retires on October 31, 2021.

Unfortunately for the candidates running in this election, they are not going to be appointed unless the Prime Minister is a member of the Conservative Party, the only major party that recognizes the elections as legitimate. The Liberal Party has created a new application process for Senate appointments, dismantling the old partisan patronage machine, and the NDP believe the Upper Chamber should be abolished.

One of the major flaws of the Senate Nominee election is that winning candidates who might eventually be appointed to the Senate never ever have to face re-election, so there is no opportunity for voters to hold these “elected” Senators accountable for their decisions. In fact, they can stay in the Senate until they turn 75-years old if they decide to.

Another major flaw is that a province-wide election in a province of 4.3 million people makes it impossible for the Senate candidates to meaningfully reach many voters. I doubt most Albertans could name a candidate running in year’s Senate Nominee election, but here they are:

Progress Alberta executive director Duncan Kinney is running on the “Fuck Kenney Vote Kinney” slogan and Chad Jett Thunders Saunders is running to turn the Senate into a “Thunderdome.”

Physicians Dr. Sunil Sookram. and Dr. Karina Pillay (also the former Mayor of Slave Lake), Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett, former Western Barley Growers Association President Jeff Nielsen, and former deputy premier and finance minister Doug Horner are running as Independent candidates are are the more serious candidates with real public service experience.

Then there are the three People’s Party endorsed candidates who filed their papers to run in the Senate Nominee election only hours before they were defeated as candidates in the Sept. 20 federal election – Nadine Wellwood, Kelly Lorencz, and Ann McCormack.

And finally there are the three UCP loyalists endorsed by the Conservative Party of Canada – lobbyist and former UCP President Erika Barootes, right-wing activist and failed municipal candidate Pam Davidson, and Ukrainian-Canadian trade association president Mikhailio Martyniouk.

The three UCP/Conservative Party candidates, who appear to have less comparable actual public service experience than many of the Independent candidates on the ballot, are still probably going to win. But like previous Senate Nominee elections, the turnout will be low and number of spoiled ballots will be high.

Alberta’s Senate Nominee election should be a serious affair, but it will probably end up being a joke or an afterthought for most Albertans who will have no idea who to vote for.

Plebiscites and Referendums

Depending where you live in Alberta you could also be handed one, two or three additional ballots to cast your vote for referendums and plebiscites, though there is a good chance you haven’t heard much about them during this election.

There are two province-wide referendums.

The first is Premier Jason Kenney’s referendum to remove the Equalization program from the Constitution. The results won’t actually remove Equalization from the Constitution, but Kenney has said it would put Alberta in a strong bargaining position to negotiate with the rest of Canada. This is unlikely.

Even if the Equalization formula was removed from the Constitution, Albertans wouldn’t actually notice any change. We would still pay federal taxes the same as we do now, but the federal government would not be obligated to distribute funds collected through federal taxes to the provinces through an Equalization formula as currently required by the Constitution.

The Equalization referendum is all about the politics of grievance and saving Jason Kenney’s leadership of the UCP. A yes vote won’t accomplish much and a no vote will probably hurt Kenney’s chance of remaining in the Premier’s Office for much longer (Kenney’s approval rating has dropped to 22 per cent according to a recent poll from ThinkHQ).

The other province-wide referendum will ask Albertans whether they want to permanently remain on Daylight Saving Time rather than having to switch between DST and Mountain Standard Time twice each year. While the annual time-change is widely unpopular, it is unclear why the UCP cabinet chose to ask Albertans if they want to make DST permanent rather being able to choose between DST and MST.

In this referendum, a no vote is a vote to continue the annual time change and a yes vote is a vote for darker mornings and lighter evenings in the winter. If I understand correctly, it could also mean that from March to November each year Alberta’s timezone will be two hours ahead of the times observed in much of British Columbia. The result of the vote on this question is binding on the provincial government.

And if you live in Calgary, you have a chance to vote to rejoin the 21st century and put fluoride back into your public water. Good luck with that, Calgary.

Endorsements

At least in Edmonton, candidate endorsements have become a mini-story.

This year’s city council election has seen a string of high-profile endorsements of city council candidates from Mayor Don Iveson, mayoral candidate Mike Nickel and some individual NDP MLAs across the city. While it is not unheard of for incumbent City Councillors to endorse candidates in a municipal election, the number of endorsements in this year’s election is significantly higher than usual.

List of candiayes incumbent City Councillors have endorsed in this municipal elections.
List of candidates incumbent Edmonton City Councillors have endorsed in this municipal elections.

Just like City Councillor endorsements, it is not unheard of for MLAs to endorse candidates, but this year the number of MLAs endorsing municipal candidates is higher.

The decision by some NDP MLAs to endorse candidates has flustered some political watchers who for some reason believe municipal politics should exist in a vacuum outside of provincial and federal politics, the endorsements appear to be a choice made by individual MLAs rather than a decision made by the party.

And in at least one case, NDP MLAs have endorsed different candidates. In Ward tastawiyiniwak, for example, the NDP endorsements appear to be split, with Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd endorsing Ahmed Knowmadic Ali and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous endorsing Cody Bondarchuk.

List of City Council candidates who Edmonton MLAs have endorsed in this election.
List of City Council candidates who Edmonton MLAs have endorsed in this election.

While there was an attempt a year ago to create a single-slate of progressive candidates in Edmonton’s city council election in response to expectations that the UCP would organize a slate, the organizing effort appears to have failed because there were too many progressive candidates wanting to run for city council to make a single-slate feasible.

While it has certainly made Edmonton’s political establishment uncomfortable, it is positive to see progressive groups organizing to support candidates. With traditional low turnout, low interest and high-incumbent re-election, municipal politics in Edmonton could use a bit of disruption.

Election Finance law changes are the real story

Changes to Alberta’s municipal election finance laws introduced by UCP cabinet Ministers Kaycee Madu and Doug Schweitzer in June 2020 allow for much less transparency and accountability showing who is spending money to influence candidates and votes.

The new rules make it legal for wealthy people to donate up to $5,000 each to as many candidates as they want in any municipal or school board election across the province, effectively removing the cap on individual donations. While municipal political donors do not receive the generous tax credits they get from provincial or federal donations, there are wealthy Albertans with the ability to financially influence candidates across the board.

The UCP also removed the requirement for candidates to disclose their list of donors ahead of Election Day, which would have allowed voters to see who is financially supporting candidates before they go to the ballot booth. Many candidates will already do this on their own but many won’t because they are not required to by law.

The new rules introduced by the UCP also allow Third Party Advertisers, colloquially known as political action committees, to spend up to $500,000 on advertising during the referendums, up from the previous $150,000 limit. Third Party Advertisers that spend less than $350,000 on advertising during a referendum are not required to file financial statements with Elections Alberta, which means those groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donor lists.

There are currently four registered Third Party Advertisers registered with Elections Alberta that are advertising during the Referendum. Alberta Proud (who’s contact person is former Wildrose Party press secretary Vitor Marciano), Equalization Fairness Alberta (run by former UCP ministerial chief of staff Dr. Bill Bewick), Society of Albertans Against Equalization (run by Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Franco Terrazzano), and Vote Yes To End Equalization Inc.

One Third Party Advertiser registered to participate in Calgary’s municipal election is being investigated by Elections Alberta for allegedly sending out campaign signs for Calgary mayoral candidate Jeff Davison.

And that is a quick guide to the dog’s breakfast that is Alberta’s 2021 municipal elections. Make sure to vote on Oct. 18 or in the advance polls starting today.

Good luck, Alberta.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 78: Orange and Red in a Sea of Blue

Brad Lafortune joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the federal election results in Alberta, including NDP candidate Blake Desjarlais‘ spectacular win over Kerry Diotte in Edmonton-Griesbach, and the ongoing troubles in the United Conservative Party and how many more days Jason Kenney might have as leader.

We also discuss the future of childcare and early childhood education in Alberta now that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have formed government after signing $10/day childcare agreements with more than half of Canada’s provinces.

Brad Lafortune is the Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta.

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.

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.

 

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Alberta Politics

On The Current: Premier Kenney’s uncertain future and the wild ride of Alberta politics

I was up early this morning to join CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway on The Current to discuss Premier Jason Kenney‘s leadership challenges and the wild ride that is Alberta politics.

Take a listen to the segment where strategist Stephen Carter from The Strategists Podcast and I (separately) discuss Kennev’s leadership challenges and the wild ride that is Alberta politics.

Kenney lasts another day

He may have a plummeting approval rating, but Jason Kenney is still King of the United Conservative Party. 

As I noted in the interview on The Current, Kenney is a political survivor. It appears as though he out maneuvered his growing but disorganized opposition in his party and caucus.

Kenney avoided an attempted caucus coup when a motion for a confidence vote put forward by a group of MLAs was withdrawn when they discovered it would not be a secret ballot. He has pushed off demands for a leadership review at the party’s November 2021 annual general meeting by agreeing to a leadership review in Spring 2022 instead. A review had already been scheduled for the party’s planned November 2022 annual meeting. 

Moving the leadership review to next Spring gives Kenney time to organize against his opponents in the cabinet, caucus and party. If he can last that long and not turn his political fortunes around, it will be bad for his party and good for Rachel Notley‘s NDP, whose fundraisers had their prayers answered.

The NDP are hoping this financial quarter, which ends on September 30, will mark the fourth in a row that their party has raised more cash than the UCP.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems

Twenty-nine more Albertans died of COVID-19 yesterday and nearly 1,000 Albertans are in hospital because of the virus, including more than 220 people in intensive care units.

Premier Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems.

Kenney swapped Health Minister Tyler Shandro with Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping in an apparent hope that this might salvage his leadership amid growing calls for his resignation.

Shandro has been a lightning rod as Health Minister, but that was by design. Every decision he made had Kenney’s stamp of approval. He was doing as he was told.

Swapping Shandro for Copping in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is more about politics than good governance.

The blow to Kenney’s leadership after the failure of his Open for Summer plan that led to a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is not going to be fixed with a cabinet shuffle. 

Kenney’s plummeting popularity probably helped cost Erin O’Toole his chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2021. And the Premier almost certainly contributed to a sharp decline in Conservative support in Alberta that cost his federal cousins four seats in the province.

A few months ago it was almost unimaginable that the Conservatives would actually lose seats in Alberta in this federal election. But the NDP picked up an additional seat and the Liberals might have won two. 

But Kenney’s political woes are not all recent.

Since becoming Premier he has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time.

His party’s financial health has also been hit hard. There have been three straight financial quarters in a row when Kenney’s UCP fell short of Rachel Notley’s NDP in fundraising. The Alberta NDP has been in the lead in every public poll since November 2020.

Calls for a leadership review are growing from UCP constituency associations and party executives like vice-president Joel Mullen. Even former deputy leader Leela Aheer has publicly questioned why he hasn’t stepped down. And the right-wing Western Standard website has reported on a rumour that country music star and two time Conservative candidate George Canyon might run for the party presidency on the platform of forcing a vote on Kenney’s leadership.

The UCP Caucus is holding a mandatory in-person meeting tomorrow, where, I imagine the growing number of disgruntled MLAs will have a lot to say about their leader’s future.

UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help

Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who is in charge of Alberta’s Emergency Management Office, waited until the day after the federal election to send a letter to federal minister Bill Blair requesting help from the Ottawa to deal with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCP government waited until after Sept. 20 to request help because they didn’t want to embarrass the federal Conservatives during the election. Let that sink in.

The government’s plea for help from the federal government and other provinces will almost certainly undermine Kenney’s argument that Alberta is being treated unfairly by the rest of Canada, a key part of the reason for a province-wide referendum in October to ask for the equalization formula to be removed from the Constitution.

New Senate Nominee candidates

The nomination deadline passed at 12:00 pm yesterday for candidates to enter the Senate Nominee Election, which is being held in conjunction with two province-wide referendums and municipal elections on October 18, 2021.

Recent People’s Party of Canada candidates Ann McCormack, Kelly Lorencz, and Nadine Wellwood filed their papers to run as Senate Nominee candidates before the polls closed in the federal election in which they were defeated.

Also recently joining the Senate Nominee Election are Town of Ponoka Mayor Richard Bonnett, who ran for the Liberal Party in the 2004 federal election, and former Slave Lake Mayor and physician Karina Pillay.

Brian Jean’s favourite hobby is trolling Jason Kenney on the internet

With a provincial by-election expected to be called in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next five months, Kenney’s arch-enemy, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, is musing online that he might run as a candidate. Jean asked for feedback from his followers on Facebook about whether he should run in the by-election in the area he represented as an MLA from 2015 to 2018.

Since leaving elected office in 2019, Jean has flirted with Alberta separatism and recently publicly mused about running for the leadership of the Alberta Party, which he did not. He has also called on Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

The by-election will be held to replace former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, who was elected as the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the Sept. 20 federal election.

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Alberta Politics

Conservative support drops as Liberals and NDP make gains in Alberta

A map of tonight’s federal election results in Alberta would show a sea of Conservative Party blue, but if you zoomed in on the two largest urban centres the results are more interesting.

It looks like 29 Conservative incumbents were re-elected, many with margins of victory that are large but narrower than the party’s results in the 2019 federal election.

With 71 per cent of the vote, it appears that Battle River-Crowfoot Conservative Damien Kurek was elected with the largest percentage of the vote. This is down from his 85.5 per cent of the vote in 2019.

The only new Conservative candidate elected in Alberta is Laila Goodridge, a former United Conservative Party MLA who was elected in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake.

As of 11:14pm it looks like Liberal Party candidate George Chahal has been elected in Calgary-Skyview, unseating Conservative Jag Sahota in the northeast Calgary riding.

In Edmonton-Centre, Liberal Randy Boissonnault sits with 33 per cent of the vote ahead of Conservative incumbent James Cumming with 31 per cent and NDP candidate Heather Mackenzie with 30 per cent.

If successful in his bid for election, Boissonnault will likely join Chahal in the federal Liberal cabinet as the two Liberals from Alberta.The race in Edmonton-Centre marks a breakthrough for the NDP with Mackenzie earning the party’s best ever result in the riding.

With NDP incumbent Heather McPherson re-elected with a commanding 59 per cent in Edmonton-Strathcona, it looks like the NDP may have picked up a second seat in Edmonton. As of 11:17pm, Edmonton-Griesbach NDP candidate Blake Desjarlais was leading Conservative incumbent Kerry Diotte by 557 votes with 194 of 232 polls reporting.

The NDP poured a lot of resources into Desjarlais’ campaign, with party leader Jagmeet Singh visiting the riding twice during the election and Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley and local MLAs including Janis Irwin lending their support.

The mail-in ballots could help determine the final results in Edmonton-Centre and Edmonton-Griesbach. Elections Canada starts counting those tomorrow.

The Conservative vote dropped to 55 per cent from 69 per cent in the 2019 election. The NDP vote was up to 19 per cent, a big increase from 11 per cent in 2019 and even more than the 16 per cent the NDP earned during Jack Layton‘s Orange Wave of 2011. The Liberal vote is at 15 per cent, up from 13 per cent in 2019.

The People’s Party earned 7 per cent, placing a distant second in most rural ridings but not coming anywhere close to winning a seat in the province. The separatist Maverick Party was a lot of talk but barely showed up on the radar.

Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who moved to Alberta in hopes to win a seat was defeated in Banff-Airdrie, placing fifth with 2 per cent of the vote.

But the biggest loser of the night in Alberta is Premier Jason Kenney, who’s refusal to act early and prevent the deadly fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic damaged Erin O’Toole and the federal Conservatives in the final week of the federal election.

Kenney is expected to face serious questions about his leadership when United Conservative Party MLAs meet for a caucus meeting on Wednesday. There are rumours that Kenney might even be forced to resign as Premier.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta matters in this federal election for all the wrong reasons

There’s a chance that the federal election results in Alberta could end up being less than exciting, with the Conservatives winning most of the province’s seats, but there’s no doubt Alberta had an impact in this federal election: Premier Jason Kenney might have cost Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives their chance at forming government in Ottawa.

The former wonder kid of Canada’s conservative movement, Kenney spent a month in hiding to avoid embarrassing O’Toole only to emerge in the final few days of the campaign to drop a bomb in his federal cousin’s lap. Kenney’s Open for Summer plan that removed all public health restrictions in time for the Calgary Stampede in July led to a vicious fourth wave of COVID-19 that has seen a steep spike in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

It is unlikely that Premier Jason Kenney will be joining Conservative leader Erin O'Toole when he visits Edmonton-Centre tomorrow.
Erin O’Toole and Jason Kenney during happier times.

Intensive Care Units across Alberta are filling up and Kenney has had to plead with other provinces to take our sick patients if we run out of space.

All non-emergency surgeries in Alberta are cancelled and 75 per cent of the operating rooms at the Alberta Children’s Hospital are closing because doctors and nurses are being redeployed to take care of COVID patients.

Public sector health care unions are urging Kenney to ask the federal government for help from the military and the Red Cross.

O’Toole praised Kenney’s response to the pandemic and has refused to answer questions about it from reporters since Alberta once again declared a State of Public Health Emergency last week. 

While the Conservatives are expected to sweep Alberta once again, O’Toole only visited the province once in this election campaign. He spent a morning in Edmonton during the first week of the campaign, making a policy announcement in Edmonton-Centre and stopping for a photo-op at a Jollibee’s before shuffling back to the airport for an afternoon flight to British Columbia.

But unlike recent federal elections, this time the right-wing of the political spectrum is pretty crowded in Alberta.

People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier has taken advantage of O’Toole and Kenney’s perceived political weaknesses by spending a considerable amount of time in Alberta during this election.

Appealing to groups ranging from the vaccine hesitant to indoctrinated COVID conspiracy theorists, Bernier has been attracting large crowds at his Alberta rallies. And his candidates have earned endorsements from former Conservative MP David Yurdiga and former Reform MP Cliff Breitkreuz.

Former Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the Conservative Party for accepting a donation from a well-known white supremacist, has been embraced the COVID conspiracy theories as he campaigns as an Independent candidate in Banff-Airdrie with the full-support of former Conservative MP Rob Anders.

And then there’s the separatist Maverick Party led by former Conservative MP and oil industry lobbyist Jay Hill, which is still in the mix despite Alberta separatism not being the hot topic it was after the 2019 federal election.

Meanwhile, the silence coming from the United Conservative Party Caucus is deafening.

Aside from dissenting Tweets and Facebook comments from two already disgruntled backbenchers – former cabinet minister and Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – the predicted caucus revolt has not yet spilled out into the public. But maybe that changes if Justin Trudeau’s Liberals form government on Monday.

Directors of the UCP association in Olds-Didsbury-Three-Hills, home of Speaker and former interim leader Nathan Cooper, near unanimously passed a motion calling for a leadership review and party vice-president Joel Mullen is reported to have called for a review.

Kenney’s supporters on the UCP provincial executive headed off previous calls by scheduling leadership review at the party’s Fall 2022 convention, only months ahead of the expected 2023 provincial election.

If O’Toole does not become Prime Minister after the federal ballots are counted, he might not be the only Conservative leader looking for a new job. Kenney’s already embattled leadership could become even more tenuous.

Kerry Diotte unites the NDP in Alberta

Jagmeet Singh and Blake Desjarlais in Edmonton-Griesbach on Sept. 18, 2021.

In what is likely his biggest single achievement of his political career, Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte has succeeded in bridging the political divide between the provincial and federal NDP in Alberta.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was back in Alberta yesterday for his second visit to the Edmonton-Griesbach, where the party believes candidate Blake Desjarlais can unseat Diotte to pick up a second seat for the NDP.

With NDP incumbent Heather McPherson believed to be secure for re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona, the party has been pouring its resources into Griesbach.

Rachel Notley and Janis Irwin with Blake Desjarlais and volunteers in Edmonton-Griesbach.
Rachel Notley and Janis Irwin with Blake Desjarlais and volunteers in Edmonton-Griesbach.

And Singh isn’t the only party leader on the campaign trail for Desjarlais.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was on the doors last week helping Desjarlais get his vote out. While Notley tried her best to avoid being involved in the 2019 federal campaign, she and about a dozen NDP MLAs, including local MLAs Janis Irwin and David Eggen have been spotted door knocking with Desjarlais.

Pipelines and the carbon tax kept the NDP cousins apart in 2019, but the possibility of defeating Kerry Diotte has brought the provincial and federal NDP together in 2021.

Liberals have their sights set on Edmonton-Centre, Mill Woods and Calgary-Skyview

The Liberals hope to reestablish a beachhead in Alberta and if they are successful it will likely be in Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Mill Woods or Calgary-Skyview.

Ben Henderson and Don Iveson in Edmonton-MIll Woods.
Ben Henderson and Don Iveson in Edmonton-MIll Woods.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau only made one brief stop in Alberta during the first week of the election campaign to speak at a rally for Calgary-Skyview candidate George Chahal.

University—Rosedale Liberal candidate and former Edmonton native Chrystia Freeland visited Alberta twice to campaign with candidates in Calgary and Edmonton, including Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre and Ben Henderson in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

Also visiting Alberta during the campaign were Vancouver-South Liberal candidate Harjit Sajan, who campaigned in Calgary-Centre with Sabrina Grover, and Surrey-Newton Liberal candidate Sukh Dhaliwal, who campaigned with Henderson in Mill Woods.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson endorsed Henderson and campaigned with him in the final days of the election. The two men have served together on Edmonton City Council since 2007. 

Voting stations are open from 7:30am to 7:30pm on Sept. 20, 2021. 

Categories
Alberta Politics

“I won’t apologize.” Jason Kenney fails to lead Alberta through the biggest crisis in a generation

Three years ago, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the unquestioned leader of the Conservative movement in Canada. He was the national conservative standard bearer.

Now, Kenney is politically toxic.

And as the deadly fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, he was in hiding.

His absence is mostly an attempt to avoid embarrassing his federal cousins in Ottawa, who until today have been grateful for his disappearance, and facing an unruly caucus of United Conservative Party MLAs already unhappy with his leadership, but it also means he has been out from public sight as new COVID cases skyrocketed, hospitals and intensive care units began to overflow, and more Albertans have died of the deadly disease.

From @CBCFletch on Twitter
From @CBCFletch on Twitter

Twenty-four more Albertans died yesterday. More than 90 Albertans have died over the past eight days.

Kenney reemerged for the second time in almost two months today to announce the end of his Best Summer Ever.

Joining Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Kenney declared a public state of emergency and bumbled his way through a confusing new list of public health restrictions and a not a vaccine passport vaccine passport system that largely puts the burden on businesses to figure out (something his party was fundraising off its opposition to weeks ago and he described as illegal a few months ago).

Like the previous three waves of the pandemic, Kenney waited until the health care system was in crisis before acting. If Albertans comply with the new restrictions, we can hope that the number of COVID cases decrease. But not removing the restrictions too quickly, like he has before, will probably be key to its success.

Poking a big hole in Kenney’s decision to declare Alberta ‘reopened for good’ in time for the Calgary Stampede back in July, Hinshaw admitted the Premier’s much-promoted “Open for Summer” plan that removed nearly all public health restrictions led to the COVID-19 fourth wave that has hit Alberta.

When medical experts and media questioned how quickly Kenney removed the public health restrictions, he and his staff aggressively attacked and dismissed their warnings about a fourth wave.

Kenney eagerly pushed for 70 per cent of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 to get vaccinated in order to lift restrictions in time for the Stampede. The government offered lucrative lotteries and prizes, and even $100 cash cards, to convince Albertans to get vaccinated but it does not appear to have moved the needle to where we need it to be. Alberta still lags behind the rest of the country.

Kenney’s Open for Summer plan was all optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic was over with none of the vigilance required to make sure it actually was.

But don’t expect Kenney to volunteer to face the consequences for his actions.

Responding to his critics at today’s press conference, Kenney initially apologized for the results of his Open for Summer decision only to retract his apology minutes later when answering a question from Postmedia columnist Rick Bell, telling Bell that “I won’t apologize.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago, Kenney has failed to lead Albertans through the biggest health crisis in a generation.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner running for Senate, former NDP MLA Annie McKitrick running for Mayor, UCP MLA Recall law MIA

Former cabinet minister Doug Horner is planning to run in Alberta’s Senate Nominee elections happening on October 18, 2021. The former Deputy Premier and Finance Minister quietly announced on his LinkedIn page that he is collecting signatures to make his candidacy official.

“I have also thought long and hard about the idea of running as a candidate with the endorsement of a political party,” Horner wrote on LinkedIn. “I believe that the Senate should have a strong degree of independence as well as representing Albertans and not parties, as such I will be going as an independent.”

“In my view the Senate can serve a very important purpose to review, advise, and give input to the Federal Government on legislative initiatives from the perspective of their experience and representation of their regions,” wrote Horner.  

Horner was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA after unseating two-term Liberal MLA Colleen Soetaert in Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert in 2001. He was re-elected in 2004 after facing a spirited challenge from Liberal Ray Boudreau and re-elected by large margins in 2008 and in 2012 in the redistributed Spruce Grove-St. Albert district.

Between 2004 and 2014 he served as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance. 

He placed third in the 2011 PC Party leadership, with most of his votes shifting to help Alison Redford defeat frontrunner Gary Mar on the the third ballot. He resigned as an MLA in January 2015 after he was dropped from cabinet by Jim Prentice.

Horner is the scion of a genuine Western Canadian political family dynasty. He is the son of former Deputy Premier Hugh Horner, nephew of former MPs Jack HornerAlbert Horner and Norval Horner, and grandson of Saskatchewan Senator Ralph Horner. Drumheller-Stettler United Conservative Party MLA Nate Horner is his first cousin once removed.

The Conservative Party of Canada has already announced its endorsement of lobbyist and former United Conservative Party president Erika Barootes, UCP activist Pamela Davidson, and Canadian Ukrainian Free Trade Agreement Association president Mykhailo Martyniouk in the Senate Nominee elections. While he has not yet formally endorsed Barootes, Premier Jason Kenney was spotted at a Calgary Stampede event wearing one of her campaign buttons. 

Also running are Progress Alberta executive Director Duncan Kinney, emergency medicine doctor Sunil Sookram, retired lawyer Randy Hogle, former Western Barley Growers Association president Jeff Nielsen, and Chad Jett Thunders Sauders. 

Former NDP MLA running for Mayor

Annie McKitrick
Annie McKitrick

Former NDP MLA Annie McKitrick is running for mayor of Strathcona County. McKitrick served as MLA for Sherwood Park from 2015 to 2019.

“I am deeply committed to inclusion and planning for the future through more sustainable social, economic and environmental outcomes,” McKitrick wrote in a post on Facebook.

“As our community, Alberta, Canada and the rest of the world adjusts to what is often called the “new normal” we need a Mayor with the experience and knowledge to provide leadership in collaboration with other elected officials and with resident input.”

McKitrick will be challenging incumbent mayor and past Liberal candidate Rod Frank and former Strathcona-Sherwood Park PC MLA and past Alberta Party candidate Dave Quest. 

UCP MLA Recall law is MIA

It has been 88 days since Bill 52: Recall Act received Royal Assent but it still hasn’t been proclaimed into law by the Kenney government. When proclaimed, the law would allow Albertans to collect signatures to hold a vote to recall their MLA from the Legislature and trigger a by-election to replace them.

Political scientist Duane Bratt recently speculated on Twitter that “One theory is that there is a red zone of six months before an election, so it will be proclaimed in another year. This will prevent recalls until 18 months after 2023 election.”

I am sure the UCP’s poor standing in the polls and Kenney’s plummeting approval ratings have nothing to do with this law not yet being enacted.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 77: Back from the Best Summer Ever

We are back from the summer with the first episode of Season 4 of the Daveberta Podcast and we dive right into Alberta’s response to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, speculation about how long Jason Kenney might last in the Premier’s Office, the federal election, municipal political parties and slates and much much more.

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.

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.

Thanks for listening. Have a safe and fun summer.

Recommended reading and listening:

Categories
Alberta Politics

Shandro drags his feet on new COVID-19 measures, Kenney has disappeared… again.

The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Alberta hard. Forty-four Albertans are reported to have died of COVID-19 over the past six days. 1,522 new cases were announced yesterday. 679 Albertans are in hospital. 154 are in an Intensive Care Unit. Hundreds of surgeries are being cancelled because of the fourth wave.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro emerged yesterday at a press conference billed as an announcement to reduce pressure on hospitals, but he did not announce any further public health measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. In fact, Shandro’s bizarre press conference was really about nothing.

When asked repeatedly by reporters, Shandro once again danced around the question of vaccine passports, which have the support of nearly 80 per cent of Albertans according to some polls.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley is calling on the province to implement a vaccine passport system instead of putting the burden on businesses to figure out their own patchwork system.

Like in the past waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, expect Alberta’s United Conservative Party government to drag its feet in response to the fourth wave before implementing measures after facing weeks of criticism.

And Premier Jason Kenney has disappeared again, likely to reappear on September 21, after the federal election is over.