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Alberta Politics

When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing

It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.

That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.

It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.

Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.

Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.

Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.

Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.

The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.

Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.

Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.

But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.

Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.

I bet it grows again in a few months.


Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.
Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.

Shuffled around …

Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.

Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.

Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.

New in cabinet…

Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.

Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.

Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.

Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.

Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.

Out of cabinet…

Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.

Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.

Other non-cabinet changes today included:

Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.

After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.

Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.

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Alberta Politics

Heather Eddy running for NDP nomination in Calgary-Klein

Heather Eddy has announced her plans to seek the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Klein. Eddy was the Director of Human Resources for Suncor from 2009 to 2015 and currently runs her own independent HR company.

“I want to champion job creation in the energy industry and all industries,” Eddy said in a press release announcing her candidacy. “I’m passionate about the environment and want to position Alberta to lead the transformation to a new energy economy and to get to net-zero by 2050, as has been committed by Leader Rachel Notley.”

Jeremy Nixon

Eddy holds an M.Sc. in Global Human Resource Management and is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources. She lives in the Tuxedo Park neighbourhood.

This is Eddy’s second time running as an NDP candidate in Calgary. She was the party’s candidate in Calgary-South East in the 2019 election, placing second with 18.9 per cent of the vote behind United Conservative Party candidate Matt Jones and ahead of third place Alberta Party MLA Rick Fraser.

Calgary-Klein is a much more winnable district for the NDP in Alberta’s largest city and will be a must-win if Rachel Notley wants her party to form government in 2023.

The district was represented by NDP MLA Craig Coolahan from 2015 until his defeat in the 2019 election with 39.9 per cent of the vote to UCP candidate Jeremy Nixon‘s 47.6 per cent.

Coolahan tweeted today that he is also considering running for the NDP nomination.

Nixon is the younger brother of Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and was demoted from his role as a parliamentary secretary after he was caught violating his own government’s COVID-19 public health recommendations by taking a vacation to Hawaii in December 2020.


See the full list of candidates who have declared their plans to run in the 2023 provincial election.

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Alberta Politics

More turmoil in Kenney’s Caucus: UCP MLA Richard Gotfried resigns as chair of the Calgary Caucus and criticizes “hypocrisy” in government leadership

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.

According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”

“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.

Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.

Richard Gotfried United Conservative Party MLA Calgary-Fish Creek
Richard Gotfried’s statement on Facebook

The timing of Gotfried’s statement follows the release of the final report of the Facility-based Continuing Care Review that Gotfried led, which was almost completely overshadowed by the boozy Sky Palace patio party and Kenney’s ill-timed lecture in defence of Sir John A Macdonald.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Gotfried is the sponsor of Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act, a government bill designed to shield owners of long-term care centers from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

He was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 under the UCP banner. He endorsed Kenney in the 2017 PC Party leadership race.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.

Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen were ejected from the UCP Caucus three weeks ago after Loewen called on Kenney to resign as leader of the party.


Notley leads only united party left in AlbertaRachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.

The convention included the usual debate over policy positions and motions and a host of panels featuring Democratic strategists from Arizona and municipal politicians from rural Alberta.

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Alberta Politics

Kenney’s reaction to boozy Sky Palace patio party photos sparks another UCP Caucus rebellion

Any appearance that Premier Jason Kenney had regained control over his United Conservative Party caucus three weeks ago when rebel MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen were ejected was shattered this weekend.

A handful of UCP MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, are now publicly calling on the Kenney to apologize for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions by hosting a boozy Sky Palace patio party that was caught on camera.

The photos of Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, and senior political staff dining at a booze filled table atop the penthouse patio of the notorious Sky Palace circulated on social media this week.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Kenney and company were clearly breaking the government’s own public health restrictions. But, instead of admitting they made a mistake and moving on, the Premier’s political staff jumped on social media to aggressively attack anyone who criticized their leader, claiming they did not break any rules.

But some UCP MLAs remain pretty unconvinced.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, a leader of the UCP’s COVID-18, posted on Facebook that it was clear that Kenney and the senior cabinet ministers were breaking public health restrictions.

“Looking at these photos it seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated,” wrote Pitt.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills UCP MLA David Hanson posted on Facebook that he agreed with Pitt. “I’m with you Angela. Albertans are angry, again, and rightly so, disappointing,” Hanson wrote.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer (source: YouTube)

And today, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, who also serves as Deputy Leader of the UCP and Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women, called on Kenney to “sincerely apologize” for breaking public health rules.

Aheer also took Kenney to task over his long-winded lecture defending Sir John A. Macdonald and claims that critics of Canada’s first Prime Minister are engaging in “cancel culture.”

Kenney’s comments were incredibly insensitive in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Residential School in Kamloops. Kenney’s comments prompted strong responses from the Confederation of Treaty Six First Nations and the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.

Jason Kenney Rajan Sawhney Calgary North East
Jason Kenney and Rajan Sawhney (source: YouTube)

Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, the UCP MLA for Calgary-North East, also called on Kenney to apologize for his boozy Sky Palace patio party.

“If they have committed a mistake, they must accept it openly. (The) photo clearly speaks,” Sawhney said on RED 106.7 FM in Calgary.

Meanwhile, Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is calling on the Kenney government to launch a public inquiry into the cost of its public health restrictions.

In this case, the attempted coverup was probably worse than the crime. Most Albertans would probably have accepted a quick apology from Kenney and his senior cabinet ministers for the rule breaking that so obviously occurred in the photos.

Kenney’s inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his staff’s overly aggressive attacks on anyone who pointed out what was clearly happening in the photos, has only given his opponents in the UCP caucus another reason to publicly criticize him.

This is certainly not the type of criticism that a Premier with a 16 per cent approval rating should be courting.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is the King of Not Managing Expectations

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London.” 

That was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s response on April 11, 2020 that the Legislative Assembly should stop meeting in-person to avoid spreading COVID-19 to MLAs, staff and their families.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

Unlike Parliament in Ottawa, other provincial legislatures, and most school boards across Alberta, our Legislature did not shift to online sessions when the pandemic began, instead continuing to meet in-person with a pre-arranged limited attendance by MLAs.

That Churchillian resolve to keep the Legislature in session abruptly disappeared on Sunday morning when Government House Leader Jason Nixon issued a press release announcing that the Legislative Assembly would be suspended for at least the next two weeks.

The press release states this is in response to the third wave of COVID-19, which has arrived in Alberta with a vengeance. And with almost 23,000 current active cases in the province, things look bleak.

Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state. (source: Trevor Tombe)
Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state in North America. (source: Trevor Tombe)

The business of Assembly committees will continue through the traditional conference call system, but the regular business of the Assembly will stop instead of doing what many other Albertans  in a similar situation have done for the past 14 months – go on Zoom.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley quickly disputed Nixon’s claims that the opposition was consulted, saying instead they were just told what was going to happen.

“The first item on the agenda for Monday must be an emergency debate on Jason Kenney’s failing pandemic response,” Notley said her own Sunday morning press release.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

The surprise suspension of the in-person Spring session is probably a good idea, and a practice that should have been adopted a year ago.

Our legislators, including a growing group of UCP MLAs who are publicly critical of public health restrictions, spent last week in their constituencies could risk unknowingly bringing the virus back to the Legislature with them (it was revealed two weeks ago that staff in the Premier’s Office had tested positive for COVID-19).

But why now, 14 months after the pandemic started?

That’s where this feels like politics played into this last minute decision to lockdown the Legislature.

It is a big departure from Kenney’s chest puffing at the beginning of the pandemic, when he would frequently quote and evoke the memory of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Great Britain through the Second World War.

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London,” Kenney said as the pandemic began to spread last April.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Churchillian is not how most people would describe Kenney’s leadership since the pandemic began. His start-stop half-measures approach to COVID has proved ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus. It has also annoyed Albertans and made his United Conservative Party look not so united.

Suspending the Legislature means Kenney will not have to answer hard questions from the media and the NDP opposition about his government’s response to the third wave of the pandemic, paid sick leave for working Albertans, or the recently announced unpopular $90 annual fee to enter Kananaskis Country.

It also puts some physical distance between Kenney and his critics inside the UCP.

In normal times, it would make sense for the Premier to want MLAs in Edmonton where his staff could keep a watchful eye and hold a tight leash, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference anymore.

Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)
Angela Pitt

Kenney won’t have to answer tough questions about Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, who recently walked back comments about vaccinations, and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who issued another public statement criticizing the government’s public health measures. It is starting to feel like Kenney’s critics in the UCP Caucus are driving the government’s agenda.

Probably meaning to channel Churchill, Kenney was all big talk last year when the UCP government passed laws clamping down on protesters who would block bridges, pipelines, or anything the cabinet deems as “critical infrastructure.”

He had no shortage of words to denounce protesters in Montreal who decapitated a statue of Sir  John A. Macdonald.

He even launched a much-hyped public inquiry to investigate alleged enemies of Alberta’s oil industry.

But when it came to the 2,000 Albertans openly violating public health rules by attending the “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” in Bowden over the weekend, Kenney could only muster a string of strongly worded tweets.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Facing the biggest challenge of his premiership, Kenney is clearly out of his depth. While he may be a successful political tactician during election campaigns, he has consistently been unable to rise to the occasion as leader of a government during this pandemic crisis.

Two weeks ago, he said Alberta was on track to beat the COVID variants that are now sky-rocketing across the province. Last year, he downplayed COVID by comparing it to the flu. And just last month he repeatedly said that this summer would be Alberta’s best ever.

If he wore a crown, Kenney would be the King of Not Managing Expectations.

Maybe someone can ask him about it if he returns to the Legislature in two weeks?

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Alberta Politics

Who could replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party?

With all the talk of challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s embattled leadership of the United Conservative Party, his and his party’s plummeting approval ratings and lacklustre fundraising in the first three months of 2021, there has been surprisingly little talk about who might be in a position to succeed Kenney if he is pushed out of office.

Here is a quick list of a few conservative politicians who could possibly be in the running to replace Kenney as leader of the raucous UCP:

Drew Barnes – First elected in the Wildrose sweep of southern rural Alberta in 2012, Barnes refused to cross the floor with his colleagues in 2014 and was re-elected as the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat in 2015.

The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.

Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.

Using social media Cooper has helped demystify the Office of the Speaker through informative and humourous videos. But many felt he stepped over the line by taking positions on politically charged issues, something the Speaker is traditionally expected to avoid. Earlier this month he was called out by Kenney and was forced to back down after signing a public letter with 14 other UCP MLAs calling for public health restrictions to be lifted just as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta.

Jim Dinning His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.

Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.

Brian Jean – Jean won the leadership of the Wildrose Party on the eve of the 2015 election and helped save the party from oblivion. But there wasn’t much room left for him in the UCP after losing the leadership race to Kenney in 2017.

The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.

Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.

While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.

Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer – The current Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and former Minister of Justice, Schweitzer was first elected as the UCP MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2019 after unseating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. The former downtown Calgary lawyer and former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and later ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest.

Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.

Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The  accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.

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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

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Alberta Politics

Did the UCP back down from its plans to delist Alberta provincial parks?

The devil will be in the details but it appears as though the Alberta government may have backed down from its plans to delist or close 175 of Alberta’s provincial parks.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

Albertans from all corners of the province have rightfully feared that delisting parks and re-classifying them as crown land would remove environmental protections from the land and almost certainly lead to it being sold away to the highest bidder.

I will approach this announcement with caution and skepticism and will wait for more information, but it is very clear that growing public pressure forced the United Conservative Party to make this announcement.

Alberta conservation and environmental groups mounted an aggressive public advocacy campaign called Defend Alberta Parks in support of provincial parks after Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon unilaterally announced the changes without any public consultation earlier this year.

The campaign was arrogantly dismissed by Premier Jason Kenney who casually accused it of being run by “foreign special interest groups” and “green left organizations.” But if you take a drive through almost any neighbourhood in Alberta you are bound to spot green and white Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs.

We discussed this issue and the impact of the campaign with Annalise Klingbeil on episode 55 and episode 63 of the Daveberta Podcast.

Here is the press release from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association in response to the announcement:

“The good news Albertans needed”: Provincial government announces 175 Alberta parks sites will no longer be delisted or closed

December 22, 2020

CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters are happy to see the Government of Alberta’s announcement that all parks included in the February “Optimizing Alberta Parks” plan, which stated that 175 parks sites would be delisted or closed, will now retain their current designations and associated protections.

“This is the good news Albertans needed as we say goodbye to 2020,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta. “After months and months of fighting to keep these parks from losing their protection, we can celebrate the recent announcement from the Government of Alberta.”

The announcement states that “All sites will maintain their parks designations, regardless of whether they have confirmed an operational partnership. All sites will remain protected in law, and are accessible to Albertans for recreation and enjoyment.”

While the release states that there are now 170 parks partnerships, this list includes all the previous Facility Operating Agreements and partnerships, and thus it is unclear exactly how many new partnerships have been found.

“We look forward to transparent operating agreements between all partners and Alberta Environment and Parks to ensure that high standards of conservation and responsible recreation are upheld within all of these sites,” adds Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator with CPAWS Northern Alberta.

While the plan announced in February will not go forward, there is still risk that these areas could lose protection as legislative changes to Alberta’s parks system are expected under the province’s new Crown Land Vision. Our teams will be working to ensure that all of these areas and the entire provincial parks system maintain equivalent or stronger protections under any proposed changes to park legislation.

We encourage all Albertans who believe in the importance of a strong parks and protected area system to take this opportunity to share their opinion through the Government of Alberta’s public engagement on the Crown Land Vision. We encourage everyone to keep their Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs up and keep the pressure on to ensure that any changes only strengthen and improve the protection of Alberta’s parks.

But today, the more than 21,000 Albertans who wrote a letter to their MLA in opposition to the plan to delist and close parks have a reason to celebrate and should be proud that they stood up for their parks.

CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters, along with the Alberta Environment Network, thank the Alberta government for listening to Albertans and providing some much-needed clarity on provincial parks planning that has been called for over the last year. Our teams look forward to hearing further details on parks partnerships and the protections planned for these sites under the Crown Land Vision.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney introduces Alberta’s not-a-lockdown lockdown

Amid a month-long spike in new COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced increased measures and restrictions on businesses that include closing casinos, bar and in-person dining in restaurants, and a province-wide mandatory face-mask requirement. The measures are necessary but come after weeks of feet-dragging by provincial leaders.

Weaker measures introduced two weeks ago proved ineffective but you will not hear Premier Jason Kenney admit it, and you will not hear him call the new measures a lockdown.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Despite loud warnings from physicians, public health professionals and health care unions over the past month that the government was not taking serious enough action to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, Kenney’s government attacked and mocked those calling for some of the same measures he introduced today.

At times it has seemed as as though Kenney was more concerned with not doing anything that might alienate elements of his political base than he was in taking measures to actually stop or slow the spread of the virus. This concern about his voter base appears to also include an avoidance of the word “lockdown,” despite it being an appropriate description of what the government has implemented.

The government’s new measures still fall short of the “circuit-breaker” lockdown proposed by health care professionals and the more comprehensive plan proposed by New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley.

As of today, there are 20,388 active cases province-wide and have been 640 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Still no federal app

The measures announced by Kenney still did not include the activation of the federal CovidAlert app in Alberta. The federal app has become one of the latest targets of partisan attacks against Ottawa, with cabinet minister Jason Nixon referring to it as the “Trudeau Tracing App.”

Despite the adoption of the ABTraceTogether App early in the pandemic, it has proven ineffective and is reported to have only been effectively used 19 times since it was launched in the spring.

Unlike Alberta’s app, the federal app allows contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 across provincial boundaries.

Schweitzer shows a little humanity, some leadership potential

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Along with Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the press conference announcing the increased measures featured Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.

Engaging in a bit of mischief-making, Lethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips mused about Schweitzer’s performance and potential leadership ambitions. While Phillips’ commentary was certainly designed to create mischief, she may have a point.

Compared to Kenney, who remains robotic, unemotional and prone to partisan outbursts, and Shandro, who appears to perpetually carry a giant chip on his shoulder, Schweitzer sounded like a real human being. While he does have a serious ‘dude bro’ vibe and his comments today were weighed down by business jargon, he was a much clearer and sympathetic communicator than his two colleagues.

Shannon Phillips NDP MLA Lethbridge West
Shannon Phillips

Kenney has displayed almost complete command and control over the United Conservative Party and Caucus since taking over as leader in 2017, but he has clearly failed to demonstrate leadership during the biggest crisis in a generation. Recent polls show Kenney’s leadership approval ratings have continued to plummet, the NDP are leading in province-wide support, and only 25 per cent of Albertans approve of how the UCP government has responded the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenney may be in complete control of his party today, but history shows that Conservative parties in Alberta can be ruthless towards leaders who become liabilities at the ballot box. Just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta politics this week… where do I even start?

It’s 9:30 p.m. I’m sitting down in my living room with the intention of writing a piece about what happened in Alberta politics this week. But where the heck do I even start?

I could write about Premier Jason Kenney‘s growing focus on not alienating anti-vaxxers following his recent announcement about the potential distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021. Or I could write about how Health Minister Tyler Shandro amplified Kenney’s comments that basically amount to protecting anti-vaxxers from a vaccine that could stop a pandemic that has almost ground many part of our society and economy to a halt this year.

I could also write about Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s announcement today that there were more than 1,800 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths in Alberta. Overworked doctors and nurses also remain concerned that understaffed hospitals could be overwhelmed by the growing number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And Alberta remains the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.

I would like to write about the steady stream of information leaks coming from the Alberta government to the media and the NDP opposition, which has led to stories about public health advice presented to cabinet, modelling projections and the government’s plans to set up Red Cross and federal government field hospitals in Alberta.

I could write about how in a radio interview this week, Kenney singled out the South Asian community in northeast Calgary as spreaders of COVID-19. I could also write about City Councillor George Chahal‘s response, tweeting that Kenney “should focus on those knowingly putting our frontline workers and their families at risk by violating public health orders, not the people working the jobs we need to keep our city going during a global pandemic.”

I might also write about the handful of recent public opinion polls that suggest the Kenney government is continuing to flounder. Kenney’s approval rating has dropped to 40 per cent, according to a recent Angus Reid survey, and the United Conservative Party fell behind the New Democratic Party in a voter intention poll conducted by Environics and commissioned by CUPE Alberta.

But I also might pen a piece about how politicians from other provinces are starting to refer to Alberta to downplay the spread of COVID in their own provinces.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, the wife of Kenney’s former colleague the late Jim Flaherty, singled out Alberta during Question Period at Queen’s Park earlier this week.

“You want to speak about who is in crisis? Have you taken a look at Alberta, where they’re doubling up patients in intensive care units? We’re not doing that in Ontario,” Elliott said.

And our neighbours to the north are even asking questions about us. Northwest Territories MLA Kevin O’Reilly is asking whether the territory will stop sending patients to Alberta.

I might delve into why the Alberta government has left at least $300 million on the table that could be used to pay top-up wages to health-care workers, correctional officers, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta Senator Paula Simons asked about that in Ottawa this week.

Or I could write about how the Alberta government’s own data seems to contradict Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon‘s claims about provincial parks being shuttered and privatized because of low usage.

I could try to figure out what in the world Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan means when he raised red flags about “socialist decarbonization” during a private members statement in the Legislative Assembly this week. But that might take a series of think-pieces to even attempt to explain.

Now I’m getting tired, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts and a tweet from William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, about the Alberta government’s stubborn refusal to adopt the federal CovidAlert Tracing app.

Good night.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 63: Defending Alberta Parks and the COVID emergency

Annalise Klingbeil joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the latest developments in United Conservative Party government’s plans to close and privatize more than 160 provincial parks and recreation areas. We also discuss the mixed-messaging about COVID-19 from Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers as the second wave of the pandemic surges in Alberta. And we share some ideas about how the government could improve its COVID-19 communications.

Annalise is co-founder of Champion Communications & PR. She previously worked as a ministerial press secretary and before that she was a journalist at the Calgary Herald. She is also the co-founder of the Go Outside newsletter.

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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading/Listening

Categories
Alberta Politics

So you want to have an emergency debate

With Alberta’s Legislative Assembly back in session until the beginning of December, there is good chance that Albertans will hear the term “emergency debate” used a lot.

With a global pandemic, a struggling economy and the United Conservative Party government implementing drastic overhauls and layoffs, MLAs from the opposition New Democratic Party will likely invoke legislative mechanisms to force emergency debates in the Assembly.

According to the rules that govern how the Assembly operates, the Standing Orders, there are two ways for MLAs to trigger emergency debates in the Legislature:

1. Standing Order 30: After the daily routine and before the Orders of the Day, any MLA can request to delay the scheduled business of the Assembly in order to discuss a matter of urgent public importance. After the MLA is given an opportunity to state their arguments, the Speaker can allow a debate on the question of urgency of debate and decide whether the call for a debate is needed.

If the Speaker agrees that debate is needed and there are any objections, then a standing vote of those in favour takes place. If 15 MLAs rise in favour in the standing vote, then the debate can happen with 10 minutes allocated to any MLA who wishes to speak on the matter.

Under SO 30, the MLA proposing the emergency debate must give the Speaker written notice at least 2 hours ahead of time.

2. Standing Order 42: This standing order allows MLAs to delay the regular business the Assembly to deal with matters of “urgent and pressing necessity” and can be invoked anytime without advance notice having been given to the Speaker.

This order requires unanimous consent of the Assembly to proceed. If no MLA objects then each MLA is given 20 minutes to debate the motion.

The government typically opposes this kind of motion.


Heather Sweet (source: Facebook)

This afternoon, Edmonton-Manning NDP MLA and Opposition House Leader Heather Sweet introduced a motion for emergency debate on the economic crisis under Standing Order 30.

Sweet’s motion was declined by Speaker Nathan Cooper because he determined a motion on a similar topic had already been introduced to the Order Paper by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre UCP MLA and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

Categories
Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 58: Summer in Alberta Politics Q & A

You sent us your questions and we answered! In this edition of the annual Alberta politics Q&A episode, Daveberta Podcast host Dave Cournoyer and producer Adam Rozenhart dive into the mailbag to answer listener questions about provincial parks, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the reopening of schools in September, political party fundraising, how previous governments might have handled the COVID-19 pandemic differently, how the government could do a better job convincing more Albertans to wear face masks in public, and much more.

We also chat about your recommendations for the Alberta politics summer reading list, which will be published later this week.

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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 55: Alberta Parks need to be protected and expanded, not closed and privatized.

As Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon moves forward with his plans to downgrade, close or privatize 164 provincial parks, outdoor enthusiast Annalise Klingbeil joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the importance of Alberta’s provincial parks and why they need to be protected and conserved. 

Annalise Klingbeil

Annalise is co-founder of Champion Communications & PR. She previously worked as a press secretary for Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, and before that she was a journalist at the Calgary Herald.

In March 2020, she displayed her passion for Alberta’s parks in an op-ed in the Globe & Mail.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. 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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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