It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.
But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.
The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.
Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.
The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.
Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.
The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.
The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.
With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.
While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.
Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.
If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.
The Alberta government’s much talked about energy war room now has its General. Energy Minister Sonya Savage announced yesterday that Tom Olsen has been hired as the managing director of the newly incorporated Canadian Energy Centre. The $30-million publicly funded private corporation is part of the UCP’s “fight back strategy” to counter claims made by critics of the oil and gas industry that Premier Jason Kenney said will target politicians, media and other opinion leaders, and could include satellite offices overseas.
After years as a columnist and reporter for the large daily newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton, Olsen jumped into politics when he was hired as Premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesperson in 2007. (Olsen’s brother, Gordon Olsen, worked in senior roles in the Premier’s Office while Ralph Klein occupied the office).
In 2008, the Alberta government launched a website called “For the Record” that was dedicated to correcting what the government determined was incomplete or incorrect information in the media. “It’s not a forum to argue philosophy and spin. . . it’s not debating the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue. It’s about factual information,”Olsen told the Calgary Herald in December 2008. “I don’t see it as government policing journalists.”
It was the government policing journalists, and it did not last very long. The government website posted six corrections to news stories from various media outlets between November 2008 and December 2010. The website briefly became a source of controversy when Olsen insisted the Globe & Mail be referred to as the Toronto Globe & Mail. The website was later edited to drop Toronto from the newspaper’s name.
Olsen later worked as a lobbyist for groups including the Calgary Residential Rental Association, Greyhound and the national group representing Pay Day Loan companies. He found himself back in the Progressive Conservative Party fold when he became Vice-President of Communications during Jim Prentice‘s brief time as party leader.
Savage, a former pipeline lobbyist and now a member of the war room board of directors along with Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said this week that the war room will include a rapid response centre, an energy literacy unit and a data research unit. Former Postmedia columnist Claudia Cattaneo was hired in August 2019 by the government to write the Energy War Room Strategic plan.
In an interview with the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, Postmedia President and CEO Andrew MacLeod said that the lobby effort was part the company’s effort to find new revenue streams and that it had no relationship to editorial decision-making (meanwhile, the front cover of the Postmedia-owned National Post today featured a paid political advertisement attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group that represents many of Canada’s oil and gas companies, is also registered to lobby Alberta MLAs, the Minister of Energy and the Premier’s Office to share and advise on best practices for the war room to counter misinformation.
Postmedia’s past relationship with CAPP is no secret, but these group’s business relationships with the war room could be.
As CBC’s Michelle Bellefontaine reported today, as a private corporation the Canadian Energy Centre will be exempt from freedom of information requests, meaning that Albertans might not ever know how much of the $30 million is paid to Postmedia, CAPP or whichever UCP-connected PR firms are hired to work for the publicly-funded private war room.
Regardless of which PR companies or Toronto-based newspaper company gets hired, Olsen will have his job cut out for him. The first order of business for the new Canadian Energy Centre might be playing defence for the Alberta government’s $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-oil campaigns – an effort that has been criticized as a witch-hunt by groups like EcoJustice and the venerable Amnesty International.
While it may be easy for Kenney to dismiss NGOs and suggest that the 4,000 Albertans participating in the climate strike protest outside the Legislature were communist sympathizers, Olsen’s war room will have a harder time dismissing its greatest opponent – the free market.
Many major international oil and gas corporations have withdrawn their investments in Canada’s oilsands over the past five years, and the UCP’s decision to scale back the Alberta government’s climate change commitments certainly will not help how our province is perceived internationally.
Conservatives howled loudly this week as a major Norwegian pension fund withdrew investments in four Alberta-based oilsands companies. The move was described by UCP supporters online as hypocritical, as Norway continues to make investments in its own off-shore oil and gas platforms. The move may have been hypocritical, but those are the types of decisions that countries like Norway can make when they have $1.1 trillion saved in the bank (something for Albertans to think about when they consider how much past governments have squandered our wealth).
Olsen’s biggest challenge might be to prove that the war room is more than a $30-million public relations subsidy to Alberta’s oil and gas companies.
Public attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change are shifting dramatically, and Alberta risks becoming increasingly isolated on energy and climate issues on the national and international stage. Judging from the Alberta government’s numerous high-profile efforts over the past two decades to correct what it saw as misinformation about the oilsands and fight environmental advocates outside the province, the war room might be an example of the UCP preparing to fight the last war.
A short history of Alberta government advertising campaigns and initiatives aimed at critics of oil and gas companies (I am sure I have missed a few):
2002: the Alberta government announced and later scrapped plans for an anti-Kyoto Accord advertising campaign in Ontario after focus group testing proved the messaging was unpopular among Torontonians.
2008: the Alberta government launched a public relations campaign targeting critics of the oilsands outside of Alberta, which included a 20-page glossy brochure entitled Alberta’s Oil Sands: Balance. Opportunity. This campaign included a North America and European speaking tour by the Premier.
2010: the Alberta government rolled out a slick $25-million “Tell It Like It Is” oilsands promotional campaign that included advertisements in London’s Piccadilly Circus and New York City’s Times Square. The multimedia blitz includes CDs and DVDs about “Alberta’s Clean Energy Future” and “A conversation on oilsands and the environment” – which features commentary from provincial experts.
2012: the Alberta government announced it was spending $77,000 on a pro-Keystone XL Pipeline advertising campaign during the Premier’s visit to Washington DC and hired lobbyists to directly lobby US officials.
2012: the federal Conservative government assigned Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. in order to counter campaigns launched by an environmental advocacy groups targeting the oilsands.
2013: the federal Conservative government launched a advertising campaign directed at American politicians ahead of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the United States. The ad campaign described Canada as a “world environmental leader” on oil and gas development.
2018: the Alberta government spent more than $23 million promoting its KeepCanadaWorking advertising campaign in support of the expansion of the Trans Mountain PIpeline from Alberta to British Columbia.
It has been a busy week in Alberta politics and here are a few of my thoughts on some recent developments:
Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances
Premier Jason Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews appointed a “Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances” with a mandate to recommend changes limited to Alberta government spending. As others have already pointed out, the narrow mandate is a missed opportunity to actually address the fiscal challenges facing Alberta, which includes issues with revenue ranging from low taxation and over-dependence on oil and gas royalty revenues.
That Kenney, who started his political career as spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, would want to focus purely on spending is not a shock. But it is only part of the challenge facing Alberta.
Appointing an arms-length panel to make these recommendations is politically smart and will give cover to a United Conservative Party government that is already inclined to make significant cuts to funding of public services. The NDP made similar political moves when they appointed arms-length panels to recommend changes to the natural resource royalty structure and to recommend action on climate change, which included the creation of the carbon tax, which Kenney has pledged to repeal.
Kenney’s appointment of history professor and former Saskatchewan New Democratic Party cabinet minister Janice MacKinnon and former Alberta Liberal MLA Mike Percy was a clever move that on the surface mildly disarms its critics. But despite their past political affiliations, both MacKinnon and Percy have in the decades since they left elected office been welcomed in conservative circles because of their fiscally conservative views. MacKinnon was even prominently quoted in the UCP election platform.
Albertans need leaders who will look at the big picture, not just a slice of the problem. Judging by its narrow mandate, it is hard to imagine the blue ribboned panelists recommending anything but cuts, cuts, and more cuts.
NDP critics to be named next week
The 24 Alberta NDP MLAs who will make up the Official Opposition will be sworn-in on May 13 at the Legislative Assembly. Unlike their UCP colleagues, who will be sworn-in before the Speech from the Throne on May 21, the two dozen NDP MLAs will have an 8-day jump start with access to their Legislative offices and time to prepare for their first week of Question Period. And with a caucus mostly hailing from Edmonton, NDP MLAs will have a hometown advantage of not having to regularly travel long-distances to work in the capital city.
The NDP critic line-up is expected to be announced shortly after NDP MLAs are sworn-in. With 9 cabinet minister in its ranks, the NDP opposition will be well-equipped to question the cabinet of mostly rookie UCP MLAs. There could be a natural temptation to appoint the former cabinet ministers as critics for the ministerial offices they previously held, but it could also compromise the credibility of those critics who in some cases would be watching much of their 4-years of work be dismantled by the UCP.
Look for Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley to place Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Lethbridge-East MLA Shannon Phillips, Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen, and Calgary-Buffalo MLA Joe Ceci in key critic roles.
The NDP will be tempted to continue their relentless campaign against the UCP on social issues, but treating the post-election period as just an extension of the 2019 election could be a strategic mistake. The NDP need to prepare themselves for how to respond effectively to the aggressive legislative agenda Kenney is expected to implement in the “Summer of Repeal” and to a fall provincial budget that could include deep and short-sighted budget cuts.
auf Wiedersehen, Derek.
Former Wildrose Party and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt resigned as leader of the Freedom Conservative Party last week after his party’s electoral poor showing and his failure to win re-election in Chestermere-Strathmore in the April 2019 election. Fildebrandt, also a former spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is succeeded by interim leader David White, a former paramedic who ran for the party in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin.
Say what you want about his political views and personalbehavior, but Fildebrandt has been one of the most consistently colourful characters in Alberta politics since he burst on to the provincial scene in 2012.
The Freedom Conservative Party is the latest name of a tiny right-wing populist and sometimes separatist party that has existed since 1999. It took its latest form in June 2018 when theWestern Freedom Party was renamed the Freedom Conservative Party. The party was originally formed as the Alberta First Party in 1999, renamed the Separation Party of Alberta in 2004 and again renamed the Alberta First Party in 2013 before it became the Western Freedom Party in April 2018.
Kenney’s call to cut corporate income taxes is not surprising, as his party sees significant cuts to both taxes and government spending as a solution to the Alberta government’s fiscal woes.
Kenney’s ideological aversion to taxes and public spending in general is well known going back to his time as a spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation more than 20 years ago.
“Next to the criminal law power that we wield in Parliament, the power to collect taxes is the most significant and potentially destructive power. Some have said that the power to tax is the power to destroy,” Kenney said as a Reform Party MP in Ottawa in December 1998.
Lowering the corporate income tax this low is not an original idea, but it is unclear what advantage cutting corporate income taxes this low would really give Albertans.
The Alberta Corporate Tax Amendment Act introduced by Revenue Minister Greg Melchin in 2002 set a target of 8 per cent for the corporate income tax rate, but the Progressive Conservative government never let the rate dip below 10 per cent.
Notley’s promise to increase corporate income taxes in 2015 to fill the gap left by plummeting oil and gas royalties led to the most notable exchange in that election’s leaders’ debate, when PC Party leader Jim Prentice got in trouble for sharply responding to Notley’s that “I know math is difficult.” The “math” comment was received poorly, to say the least, and the reaction from Alberta’s corporate leaders helped the NDP soar in the polls until election day.
“Albertans gave this government a strong mandate to act on its promises: That was to ask top-income earners to pay a little bit more for the betterment of all and to ask corporations who benefited the most during stronger economic times to contribute fairly to rebuilding our province,” Finance Minister Joe Ceci told the Globe & Mail shortly before the corporate income taxes were increased in 2015.
It is notable that even under Notley’s NDP government, Alberta’s corporate income taxes today are still lower than the 15.5 per cent they were when Ralph Klein became Premier in 1992 (which was then the third-lowest corporate income tax rate in Canada). Notley’s NDP also lowered the small business tax rate from 3 per cent to 2 per cent, which is also significantly lower than the 6 per cent rate when Klein became premier. But this is not necessarily something to brag about in a province that continues to struggle with its chronic over-reliance on royalty revenues.
As noted by Public Interest Alberta executive director Joel French in a May 2018 opinion-editorial in the Edmonton Journal, “Applying the tax system of any other province to Alberta would raise us a minimum of $11.2 billion in additional annual revenue, more than covering the projected $8.8-billion deficit in this year’s budget.”
With a young and growing population, slashing the corporate income taxes that help fund the day to day operations of government, like the public education and public health care that Albertans depend on to preserve our high quality of life, sounds short-sighted.
With a lack of policy proposals and campaign promises coming from the NDP during this pre-election period, this is another example of Kenney and the UCP dominating the media coverage going into the provincial election.
Meanwhile, the Green Party of Alberta has strapped itself to one of the third rails of Alberta politics by calling for the creation of a Provincial Sales Tax. Many political watchers and economists have called for the creation of a sales tax to help diversify the government’s revenue sources, but politicians of all stripes have been extremely reluctant to take a position in favour of a PST in Alberta.
“The other parties are terrified to mention a sales tax other than to denounce it, but the Green Party is not. It is time for Alberta to start acting like a normal province and bring in a sales tax,” said Green Party public finance shadow critic Carl Svoboda, who is running in Calgary-Edgemont.
In another political universe, this might have been something championed by the NDP, but not in Alberta in 2019.
With no MLAs in the Legislature, the Alberta Greens may have little to lose by calling for the creation of a PST, but by taking this position they do open the door to a much-needed PST debate a little bit wider.
Child poverty in Alberta drops by half in two years
Alberta has the lowest child poverty rate in the country at 5 per cent, having managed to cut its rate in half in just two years, between 2015 and 2017. University of Calgary economist Ron Kneebone told The Star Calgary that the the national Canada Child Benefit and the Alberta Child Benefit were the biggest reasons for this improvement.
The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.
According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.
One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.
Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform.
In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.
Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.
Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.
But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.
Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.
A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65.
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.
Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?
Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics.
There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise.
According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.”
The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.
Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.
Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.
Alberta’s New Democratic Party has focused a lot of energy attacking Jason Kenney and honing in on United Conservative Partynominationcandidatebozo-eruptions in hopes of building a narrative that casts the UCP as having a big problem with its social conservative elements. But while Kenney and the UCP were frequently mentioned at the NDP convention at the Westin Hotel in downtown Edmonton today, the governing party put a lot more focus on what might become the positive narrative of their campaign for re-election.
With “Fighting for You,” “Fighting for Jobs,” “Fighting for Healthcare,” “Fighting for Public Education,” and “Fighting for Public Services” projected on the large bright screen at the front of the convention hall, NDP officials and cabinet ministers took to the microphones to test talking points and remind delegates about the changes the party has implemented on childcare, climate change, education, health care, and workplace safety since the 2015 election.
The convention feels like it was designed avoid the kind of controversy that was generated at the recent UCP policy convention or the last time there was a big NDP gathering in Edmonton. And unlike previous conventions, there were no contentious debates about halting pipelines, disaffiliating from the federal NDP, or merging with other political parties. Delegates instead reaffirmed their support for Notley’s fight for oil pipelines and a range of progressive policies that included expanding broadband internet in rural Alberta, eliminating racism, expanding affordable childcare, and opposing education vouchers.
Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci took part in a panel discussion moderated by Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet. The discussion was very friendly, allowing Notley and Ceci to highlight their familiar narrative that investment in public infrastructure and public services was a better choice for Albertans than cutting frontline public services when the price of oil dropped in 2014.
The second day of the NDP convention also featured guest speakers. Chief Billy Joe Laboucan spoke about the historic agreement signed with the Lubicon Lake Band this week. Former Calgary Board of Education chairperson Joy Bowen-Eyre spoke about the need to protect funding for public education. And University of Alberta professor Russell Cobb spoke about how austerity and tax cuts in once-oil rich Oklahoma has led that state down the road to massive public service cuts.
Overall, the second day of the convention was a very well-stage managed event.
But despite a lack of controversy on the convention floor today, the group of more than 1,200 delegates appeared upbeat, energized and ready to hit the doors to campaign in 2019.
“Rachel’s Team” coming to a billboard near you
We can expect a larger focus on Premier Rachel Notley going into Alberta’s next provincial general election. The NDP has already begun to quietly exchange its party logo in many of its public documents in favour of Rachel Notley’s name. It has been clear since 2015 that Notley is her party’s greatest asset, so it is not surprising that she will play the central role in her party’s 2019 re-election campaign.
When next spring arrives, I would not be surprised to see “Rachel’s Team” billboards popping up across the province.
Notley is scheduled to deliver her keynote speech to delegates on the second day of the convention at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, October 28, 2018.
Ceci criticizes feds for “moving the goal posts” on Olympic funding
The news from Ottawa gave Ceci an opportunity to criticize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, something that is rarely a negative in Alberta politics. Expect NDP cabinet ministers to continue to distance themselves from their former federal allies in the coming months.
Tribute to former leader Brian Mason
The lunch break featured a tribute to Brian Mason, the retiring cabinet minister and MLA from Edmonton-Highlands-Nowood who led the NDP through the muddy trenches of Alberta politics from 2004 to 2014. Mason was introduced by Notley and joined on stage by former party leaders Raj Pannu and Ray Martin, and dozens of his fellow NDP MLAs.
Mason has been a fixture in Edmonton and Alberta politics for decades, first as a prominent activist and student leader at the University of Alberta in the 1970s, then as an transit driver turned Edmonton City Councillor in the 1980s and 1990s before jumping into provincial politics in 2000.
Respected community advocate and educator Janis Irwin has been nominated as Mason’s NDP successor in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.
Big difference from the last NDP convention I attended
It was September 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel, the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project.
The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.
The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates.
Nine years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral coalitions. They are holding their final convention before going to the polls to ask Albertans to grant them a second-term as government.
Vegreville Ford breaks from MDA support for Jason Kenney’s PAC
“Although we are a member of the MDA, we have chosen not to contribute to the “Shaping Alberta’s Future” 3rd party marketing campaign. Our position is that we do not feel that this action supports what we feel the MDA’s or our purpose should be. Vegford is nonpartisan and it neither endorses nor supports financially any politician or political party. Our job is to take great care of our customers and our staff. We care about Albertans and we vote, but in a world that is already too divided, we feel no need to engage in controversy.”
In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss the latest news in Alberta politics, including Premier Rachel Notley’s response to the quashing of approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, how rumours of an early federal election could impact Alberta’s 2019 election, and Ryan’s favourite topic, the Alberta Party.
Photo: Tom Olsen and Ric McIver (source: Facebook)
Lobbyist Tom Olsen surprised many political watchers last weekend when he defeated Megan McCaffery in the United Conservative Party nomination contest in Calgary-Buffalo. McCaffery, who has strong ties with the Manning Centre and had the endorsement of 9 UCP MLAs, was believed to be the favourite to win the contest in Calgary’s downtown district.
Before taking a job in the Premier’s Office, Olsen worked as a reporter and politics columnist for the Calgary Herald. He crossed the picket-line and continued to work at the Herald while many of his colleagues and co-workers went on strike from November 1999 to July 2000.
Olsen will face New Democratic Party candidate and provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci in the next election. This district has not been fertile ground for conservative parties in the past, as it elected NDP or Liberal candidates in 8 of the past 10 elections.
Khan to run in Mountain View
Liberal Party leader David Khan will run in the Calgary-Mountain View district in the next election. Khan will run to succeed his party’s only current MLA, David Swann, who is planning to retire from politics after serving four-terms in the Legislature.
This will be Khan’s fourth attempt to win a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He previously ran in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-West, the 2015 general election in Calgary-Buffalo, and the 2017 by-election in Calgary-Lougheed.
Calgary-Currie – Dan Morrison is the sixth candidate to join the UCP nomination contest in this district. Morrison was previously a candidate for the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal HIll, where he cried foul after being disqualified by the party.
Calgary-Varsity – Jason Copping is seeking the UCP nomination. Copping is co-chair of the UCP policy committee. He is a labour relations consultant, teaches at the University of Calgary, and is a member of the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
Camrose – Jackie Lovely is seeking the UCP nomination. Lovely now lives in Camrose, but she previously was the Wildrose Party candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in the 2012 and 2015 elections. She is a former Wildrose Caucus staffer and past president of the Summerside Community League.
Edmonton-Castle Downs – UCP members in this north Edmonton district will select their candidate on July 26, 2018. The three candidates contesting this nomination are Ed Ammar, Gennadi Boitchenko, and Arthur Hagen. Ammar is a former Liberal candidate who played a large role in the formation of the UCP as the chair of the new party’s interim board. He is being endorsed by such conservative luminaries as Craig Chandler.
Edmonton-Glenora – David Salopek is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood – George Lam is seeking the UCP nomination. Many Edmontonians may remember Lam as a frequent municipal election candidate who played a role as spokesperson for the mysterious Henry Mak during the 2017 mayoral election. Lam earned 760 votes in his 2017 bid for Edmonton Public School Board trustee in Ward A.
Edmonton-Riverview – NDP MLA Lori Sigurdson will seek her party’s candidacy for re-election at a nomination meeting scheduled for August 14, 2018. Sigurdson is Minister of Seniors and Housing.
Lethbridge-West – Real Estate Agent Karri Flatla is seeking the UCP nomination.
Livingstone-Macleod – Dylin Hauser is seeking the Liberal Party nomination. A nomination meeting has been scheduled for August 23, 2018.
You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts online. We’d love to hear what you think of this episode, so feel free to leave a comment on the blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are always thankful to our hard working producer, Adam Rozenhart, who helps make each episode of the Daveberta Podcast sound so great.
Photo: Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis and Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt were greeting party members outside the nomination voting station in the Town and Country Centre in Airdrie on July 20, 2018. (Source: Dave Cournoyer)
Pitt won the nomination with 71 percent of the vote.
Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly has announced he will run for the New Democratic Party nomination in the newly redrawn Calgary-Varsity district. Connolly’s current district is will not exist when the next election is called as it is being redistributed into three other districts.
Banff-Kananaskis – It is a candidacy that might be short-lived, but conservative activist and provocateur Cory Morgan has filed his intentions to seek the NDP nomination with Elections Alberta. Also seeking the NDP nomination is the current MLA for Banff-Cochrane, Cameron Westhead. Reached by email, Morgan said he would release platform in the next few days.
Brooks-Medicine Hat – Dinah Hiebert is the third candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this newly redrawn district. She is an account executive with Newcap radio and former president of Brooks Women in Business. Bob Wanner, the current NDP MLA for Medicine Hat, told CHAT News that he not yet decided whether he will seek re-election in 2019. Wanner currently serves as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.
Calgary-Buffalo – Finance Minister Joe Ceci was nominated as the NDP candidate in this downtown Calgary district. Ceci currently represents the Calgary-Fort district, which will not exist when the next election is called.
Calgary-Klein – Kathy Macdonald is seeking the UCP nomination. She was the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Foothills and 2015 Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill. She also ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills.
Calgary-North East – Calgary-Greenway MLA Prab Gill is seeking the UCP nomination in the new Calgary-North East district, which does not include any of the areas currently included in Calgary-Greenway. Gill was first elected as a PC MLA in a 2016 by-election following the death of MLA Manmeet Bhullar.
Calgary-Shaw – Jack Redekop is seeking the UCP nomination. Redekop ran for the federal Conservative Party nomination ahead of the 2017 Calgary-Midnapore by-election. He briefly ran as a candidate in the 2012 Senator Nominee election but appeared to have dropped out of the race before the filing deadline.
Chestermere-Strathmore – Mark Giesbrecht is seeking the UCP nomination. He ran for Strathmore town council in 2013.
Edmonton-Castle Downs/Decore – Gordon Reekie has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in Edmonton-Castle Downs and will now contest the UCP nomination in the neighbouring Edmonton-Decore.
Edmonton-Gold Bar – David Dorward has been nominated as the UCP candidate. Dorward served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for this district from 2012 and 2015. He was the PC candidate in this district in the 2008 election and placed second in Edmonton’s mayoral campaign in 2010.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood – Del Shupenia is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-South – Dan “Can Man” Johnstone is no longer seeking the Alberta Party nomination and he is quitting the party. I am told that Johnstone’s decision was made following a discussion by the party to extend the nomination period in this district, and a source with knowledge of the process said that he had not paid the $500 entry fee to join the nomination contest. He posted a long message on Facebook yesterday announcing his departure from the party.
Effective immediately, I will no longer be associated with the Alberta Party and will be pulling out of the…
Edmonton-West Henday – Leila Houle is seeking the UCP nomination.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville – Conservative activist Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk has been acclaimed as the UCP candidate. She previously served as the PC Party’s regional director for Central Northeast Alberta. Darryl Kropielnicki’s nomination was rejected by the UCP.
Grande Prairie – John Lehners is seeking the UCP nomination in this new urban Grande Prairie district. Lehners serves as trustee and chair of the Grande Prairie Public School District.
St. Albert – Laine Matoga is seeking the UCP nomination.
Sherwood Park – Sue Timanson is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Timanson ran for the PC nomination in Sherwood Park in 2012 and 2015, and she is a former regional director of the PC Party. She endorsedRichard Starke in the 2017 PC Party leadership contest.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at email@example.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
Watson works as a Constituency Assistant in the office of Calgary-Hays UCP MLA Ric McIver.
His LinkedIn page describes him as the Proprietor of Issachar Strategies with his clients listed as “Jason Kenney Leadership, Alberta Advantage Fund, the Hon. Andrew Scheer, We R Conservative.” His Facebook page does not name specific organizations but states that some of his clients are “independent schools and parent groups fighting the NDP for school choice and to preserve parental authority.”
Watson worked as Director of Outreach and Coalitions in Kenney’s leadership campaign.
Watson travelled back to Ontario during the first week of that province’s recent election and spoke at a rally organized for Progressive Conservative candidate Chris Lewis in the provincial Essex district on May 11, 2018.
Elections Alberta lists Watson as being the President of the Calgary-Hays UCP association since 2017 and as having served as president of the PC association in the same district in 2017.
Calgary-Peigan is a new district that is created mostly from areas currently included in Calgary-Fort as well as Calgary-Acadia, Calgary-Hays, Calgary-South East. Current Calgary-Fort MLA Joe Ceciwill run for the NDP in the newly redrawn Calgary-Buffalo district.
The other candidates running for the UCP nomination in this district are Tanya Fir, Andrew Griffin, and two-time Wildrose Party candidate Jeevan Mangat.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
Photo: Mike Nickel, Stephanie McLean, Angela Pitt, and Marco Reid
The big nomination news since my last update was the announcement by Stephanie McLean that she was withdrawing from the New Democratic Party nomination contest in Calgary-Varsity. McLean is Minister of Status of Women and Minister of Service Alberta and is the second NDP MLA to announced plans not to seek re-election in 2019. In 2016, she became the first first sitting cabinet minister in Alberta’s history to give birth while in office.
Calgary-Varsity was the NDP’s third strongest showing in Calgary in the 2015 election, behind Calgary-Fort, represented by Joe Ceci, and Calgary-Klein, represented by Craig Coolahan.
Edmonton City Councillor seeks UCP nomination
Edmonton City Councillor Mike Nickel is the third candidate to enter the United Conservative Party nomination contest in the new Edmonton-South district. Nickel has represented Ward 11 in southeast Edmonton since 2013 and previously represented southwest Edmonton’s Ward 5 from 2004 until 2007 when he was unseated by rookie candidate Don Iveson. Nickel ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1998 and 2001.
Nickel would not need to resign as a City Councillor unless he is elected as an MLA in the expected spring 2019 provincial election. Amarjeet Sohi took a leave of absence from council when he ran as a federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods in 2015 and resigned after he was elected. Councillor Tony Caterina took a leave of absence when he ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview district in the 2015 provincial election. He returned to council following his election defeat.
UCP MLAs face nomination challengers
The UCP nominated their first five candidates for the next provincial election. Jason Kenney in Calgary-Lougheed, Mike Ellis in Calgary-West, Jason Nixon in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, Grant Hunter in Taber-Warner and Nate Glubish in Strathcona-Sherwood Park were acclaimed in their nomination contests.
As noted in a previous update, Sportsnet commentator Roger Millions is challenging MLA Angela Pitt for the UCP nomination in the new Airdrie-East district. Pitt was first elected in 2015, earning 35 percent of the vote in a three-way contest with New Democrat Chris Noble, with 29 percent, and Progressive Conservative Peter Brown, with 28 percent. A nomination contest has been scheduled for June 20, 2018.
There is trouble in Airdrie-East. Board member Rick Northey resigned citing serious concerns with how “sixteen thousand dollars” left over in the former Wildrose Party association in the district was “given away with no discussion at all.” Northey claims in his letter that he faced “outright intimidation from a sitting MLA.”
Patrick Meckelborg is challenging UCP MLA Ric McIver for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Hays at a June 7, 2018 selection meeting. McIver was first elected as MLA for this district in 2012 and served as interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party following the party’s disastrous defeat in the 2015 election,
Carrie Fischer and Dean Leask are challenging UCP MLA Wayne Anderson for the UCP nomination in Highwood. Fischer is a former councillor in the Town of Okotoks who ran against Anderson as the PC candidate in this district in the 2015 election.
Greens nominate by-election candidates
The Green Party of Alberta has nominated Marco Reid in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and Brian Deheer in Fort McMurray-Conklin. By-elections are expected to be called in these districts soon. Reid is currently serving as president of the party and was a candidate for the party’s leadership in 2017. The party’s strongest showing in the last election was in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where Deheer earned 2.8 percent of the vote.
Calgary-Bow – Cheryl Durkee is seeking the UCP nomination contest in Calgary-Bow.
Calgary-Cross – Emile Gabriel is seeking the UCP nomination contest.
Calgary-Falconridge – Deepak Sharma is seeking the Liberal Party nomination.
Edmonton-Manning – Kulshan Gill is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-McClung – Steve Thompson is seeking the UCP nomination. Thompson was the Wildrose Party candidate in this district in the 2015 election.
Edmonton-Mill Woods – David Fletcher is seeking the UCP nomination. Fletcher was a candidate for Edmonton Public School Board in 1998, a Progressive Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar in 2001 and an Independent candidate for Senator Nominee in 2012.
Edmonton-Rutherford – Hannah Presakarchuk is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-Whitemud – Ian Crawford is seeking the UCP nomination. Crawford was the Wildrose Party candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud in 2012 and Edmonton-Riverview in 2015 and ran for the federal Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Riverbend in 2015. He also ran for City Council in 1989, 1992, and 2004, for the Capital Health Authority Board in 2001, for the Reform Party nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona in 1993, for the PC nominations in Edmonton-Rutherford and Edmonton-Ellerslie in 1993, for the Canadian Alliance in Edmonton-Southeast nomination in 2000, and for the PC nomination in Edmonton-Meadowlark in 2007.
Spruce Grove-Stony Plain – Jerry Semen is seeking the UCP nomination.
St. Albert – Brian Horak is seeking the UCP nomination.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at email@example.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
After years of political wrangling over the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, the Alberta government has announced the construction of a new pipeline that will carry craft brewed beer from Alberta to British Columbia.
“We’re working with entrepreneurs to create jobs and brewing in Alberta is thriving, with more breweries and distilleries opening their doors or growing their businesses,” said Premier Rachel Notley.
“I’m thrilled Kinder Morgan has agreed to help export our craft beer to foreign markets through this pipeline… all the way to tidewater,” a cheerful Notley exclaimed while raising a cold pint of Alley Kat Scona Gold.
The proposed pipeline, with 980 kilometres of pipe, would increase Alberta’s export capacity to 1,000,000 kegs per day. An investment of $10.8 billion would complete the connection between Edmonton and Burnaby.
“Our government is proud to support a successful and growing industry from grain to glass to tidewater as they broaden job opportunities, help diversify the economy and make great products,” exclaimed Joe Ceci, Minister of Finance and Craft Brewery Development, after taking a sip of East Calgary Lager from the Cold Garden Beverage Company.
“It is great to see that the craft brewing industry in Alberta is obviously flourishing. I’m also happy to see the number of jobs that will been created as a result of this new pipeline,” said Agriculture and Hops Minister Oneil Carlier while enjoying a glass of Naked Woodsman Pale Ale from Bench Creek Brewing.
“We are proud to support Alberta’s successful and growing liquor manufacturing industry. This pipeline will provide manufacturers with an export capacity that makes sense, reduces licensing costs and creates job opportunities by enabling business growth,” said Ceci.
But the opposition remains unimpressed.
“Last week I wrote the Premier asking that her Government convene an emergency sitting of the Legislature to allow MLAs of all parties to discuss this critical economic issue, inform the government’s approach, and hopefully show a sign of unity in calling for federal action to get the Craft Beer pipeline built,” said Official Opposition leader Jason Kenney.
“The Craft Beer pipeline is critical for Alberta and it is the national interest for this project to succeed,” said Kenney.
In response to Kenney’s criticism, Notley simply stated, “I know, Jason. That’s what I’ve been working on for the past three years.”
Notley is expected to join BC Premier John Horgan for a ceremonial keg-stand near the Alberta-BC boundary next month.
Ganley’s move across the river to Mountain View allows for Finance Minister Joe Ceci to run for re-election in Calgary-Buffalo. Redistribution of the electoral boundaries has added areas from Ceci’s Calgary-Fort district into Calgary-Buffalo, including the neighbourhood he lives in.
The move allows the NDP to avoid two senior cabinet ministers challenging each other for the same district nomination ahead of the next election. It also moves Ceci into what could be expected to be more friendlier territory than the new Calgary-Peigan district, which encompasses much of the rest of the Calgary-Fort district.
Calgary-Buffalo is the historically least conservative district in Calgary, with voters in that district having elected Liberal or NDP MLAs in 8 of the past 10 elections.
Cyr vs. Hanson in Bonnyville-St. Paul-Cold Lake
While the NDP have been able to avoid incumbent MLAs challenging each other for nominations, the United Conservative Party has not. In northeast Alberta, two UCP MLAs are running against each other for the past nomination in the new Bonnyville-St. Paul-Cold Lake district. Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr and Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA David Hanson have seen their districts significantly redrawn, with one less district in that region of the province to reflect population changes.
Had UCP MLA Brian Jean not resigned as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, Hanson might have run for his party’s nomination in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district. But Jean’s resignation means a by-election to choose a new MLA will need to take place in Fort McMurray-Conklin before the next election. If a UCP candidate is elected in that by-election, they will presumably run for re-election in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district.
Political parties in Alberta have generally avoided the type of scenarios that would pit two incumbent MLAs from the same party against each other.
I can only recall one example of two incumbent MLAs from the same party challenging each other for a nomination in the same district. Ahead of the 1993 election, Edmonton-Kingsway MLA Alex McEachern and Edmonton-Jasper Place MLA John McInnis both sought the NDP nomination in the newly redrawn Edmonton-Mayfield district. McEachern won the nomination contest and McInnis ended up running in another district across the city.
“Effective immediately I have tendered my resignation from the role of leader of the Green Party of Alberta,” was the one-line statement posted on the Green Party website by leader Romy Tittel on March 24. Tittel was chosen as party leader in November 2017 and ran under her party’s banner in the Calgary-Lougheed by-eleciton.
“When the global price of oil collapsed and the recession hit, we had a choice: Cut or build. We chose to build. In making that choice, we focused on the priorities of regular people and families – creating badly needed jobs, building our province for the future, making life more affordable for people and protecting the schools, hospitals and public services all Albertans rely on.”
It was with this familiar refrain that Finance Minister Joe Ceci began his speech on the floor of the Legislatve Assembly as he introduced the Alberta Government’s 2018/2019 budget. This was Ceci’s fourth budget since the NDP were swept into office in the 2015 provincial election and this is likely the last governing budget from this government before next year’s provincial election is called.
This year’s budget appears to have avoided the “compassionate belt tightening” that Premier Rachel Notley warned about in her 2017 year-end interviews. The NDP has avoided making significant cuts to public services over the past three years, instead opting for stable increases to operations funding and major investment in capital spending.
Titled “A Recovery Built to Last,” the themes of this budget – a path to a balance budget, jobs and diversification, protecting public services – are key to the narrative the NDP hopes to shape between now and next spring’s election.
This budget’s narrative also provides a contrast between the NDP and what many expect would be a much different budget implemented under a government led by United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, which might be expected to impose deep cuts to funding for public services, education and health care.
Welcome to pre-election season.
Overall, it was a generally acceptable budget, but it is difficult to get too excited about it.
With government prone to make major changes to budgets over the course of a year, it is hard not to see the Budget Day pomp and ceremony as just an overrated exercise in expectations management.
Ceci said in his speech that the NDP are projected to balance the provincial budget by the 2023/2024 fiscal year, which would coincide with the end of a second NDP term in government.
The current deficit is forecast to be $8.8 billion, which is $1.5 billion less than was initially forecast. The government will be lambasted for taking on more debt, even though significant debt accumulation was already forecast in the media coverage of last year’s budget. Economists will be quick to point out that the Alberta government is still in a fairly strong position when it comes to the net debt to GDP ratio, but that message might be hard to sell to newspaper opinion writers and voters at the doorsteps.
But what is not clear in this budget is how the government plans to deal with its revenue problem.
Only in Alberta could a finance minister calmly deliver a speech about an $8.8 billion budget deficit while also bragging about the lowest taxes in the country. “…Albertans and Alberta businesses pay at least $11.2 billion less in taxes than they would in any other province,” Ceci stated. Maybe if we paid a little bit more taxes, we could have a balanced budget, or at least a lower deficit?
Economists and political staffers might tell me it’s not that easy, and maybe it’s not, but only in Alberta could huge deficits and low taxes be totally reconcilable in reality but completely irreconcilable in politics.
What’s in a budget name?
The titles of Alberta’s budget documents typically present a general theme. Budget names can sometimes be quite silly, but they do provide a snapshot of the political and economic agenda of the government of the day. Here is a look back at titles of Alberta budgets from 1997 to 2018: