In the weeks leading to the election call earlier this year, it appeared that a series of illegal donations collected by Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association could become a defining issue of the campaign. The donations, made public through the great investigative work of CBC reporter Charles Rusnell, revealed that many public institutions, municipalities, and organizations that receive public funds had made financial or in-kind donations to the PC Party. Under the laws that govern Alberta’s political financing, these types of contributions are deemed illegal.
As the Writ was dropped and the electioneering began, the public focus shifted away from the illegal donations towards more sensational issues, like MLA pay, which were soon eclipsed by other issues and the Tories were re-elected on April 23.
It stretches the bounds of credibility to suggest that the intention of (my) recommendation was to keep private the results of an investigations that lead to a finding of wrongdoing.
This week, Mr. Rusnell unveiled another case of illegal contributions. Documents obtained by the CBC show that Joe Lougheed, a prominent lawyer and the son of former Premier Peter Lougheed, purchased $4,500 worth of tickets to PC Party fundraisers on behalf of the University of Calgary and billed the University extra hours to pay for them. To the university’s credit, their legal counsel put an end to the practice.
Mr. Lougheed’s connections to the PC Party are more than just familial. He has been active in that party and he ran for to be President of the PC Party in 2007. He was defeated by Marg Mrazek in what was split between northern and southern regional factions within the party (Ms.Mrazek was from St. Albert, which is located north of Edmonton). At the time, Mount Royal University Professor David Taras described Mr. Lougheed as “a symbol of the old party and Calgary power.”
Since her stepping into the role last year, PC Premier Alison Redford has made a priority to improve her party’s image amid these types of allegations. This is not an easy task. After four decades in government, her party has essentially institutionalized this type of behaviour. I would not be shocked if the University of Calgary is not the final example.
Before the election, opposition party leaders claimed that that many of these institutions and municipalities faced intimidation to make those donations. Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman frequently used the example of the banned donations to accuse the Tories of practising “warlord politics” in rural Alberta.
While there does not seem to be much hard evidence proving the claims of intimidation, Alberta’s one-party state political environment has certainly created the belief that joining and supporting the PC Party is the only way to participate and influence debate in this province. It is just the way business is done in Alberta.
The bleeding of large portions of the PC Party’s rural social conservative wing to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party in the April 2011 election could be a blessing for Premier Redford and her government. Keeping the Wildrose Party electorally contained in the rural south and central regions of the province, while focusing on issues that will appeal to the rapidly growing and diverse urban populations in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Calgary, Edmonton could be a solid strategy to provide a more forward-looking government agenda and preserve the PC Party’s electoral dominance in the coming decades.
In the three years leading into this year’s election, the Wildrose proved extremely successful in using wedge issues like property rights and the construction of electrical transmission lines to drive traditional PC voters in rural southern and central Alberta constituencies into their electoral camp. If they have not already, the PC brain trust should take note of similar strategies that will keep the Wildrose Party at bay in urban centres.
No longer forced to appease a more conservative rural base of MLAs and supporters, Premier Redford has an opportunity to lead a new urban agenda for Alberta, especially with the urban-based Liberal and NDP opposition pushed to the margins. With potential strong allies in Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, Premier Redford could make strides on issues like reinvesting in Alberta’s Heritage Fund and investing in urban public transit and transportation infrastructure.
If expected patterns of population growth continue, it is the urban areas which will receive additional constituencies in the Alberta Legislature when the boundaries are redistributed.
Alison Redford – Premier
Thomas Lukaszuk – Deputy Premier
Doug Horner – Minister of Finance & President of Treasury Board
Dave Hancock – Minister of Human Services
Cal Dallas – Minister of International & Intergovernmental Relations
Diana McQueen – Minister of Environment & Sustainable Resource Development
Fred Horne – Minister of Health
Ken Hughes – Minister of Energy
Jeff Johnson – Minister of Education
Verlyn Olson – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Jonathan Denis – Minister of Justice & Solicitor General
Doug Griffiths – Minister of Municipal Affairs
Robin Campbell – Minister of Aboriginal Relations
Heather Klimchuk – Minister of Culture
Manmeet Bhullar – Minister of Service Alberta
Wayne Drysdale – Minister of Infrastructure
Stephen Khan – Minister of Enterprise & Advanced Education
Ric McIver – Minister of Transportation
Christine Cusanelli – Minster of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation
In what amounts to a re-vote, only the four candidates involved in the original vote will be allowed to contest the new nomination on March 3. In the original vote, which was marred with controversy, Mr. Shariff was said to have defeated past Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes by only a handful of votes. The third and fourth place candidates were Calgary Police Officer Mike Ellis and DeVry dean of academic affairs, Allan Ryan.
As I wrote in a previous post, this is not the first time that the PCs have had candidate nomination trouble in Calgary-West. In 1997, candidate Mike Nasserstepped down as the PC candidate after it was revealed he was the subject of a city lawsuit and several complaints regarding his business proceedings. Karen Kryczka was appointed as the candidate soon afterward.
Candidate nominations in other constituencies have also caused problems for the PC Party in the recent past:
In 2000, Bill Bhullar was forced to resign as a candidate after he defeated then-Calgary-McCall MLA Mr. Shariff in the PC nomination contest. At the time, Mr. Shariff told CBC there were irregularities at the meeting and he had asked the PC Party to look into them. It was later revealed that Mr. Bhullar had been charged with wilful damage of property in 1995 and assault in 1998. Both charges were withdrawn, but this revelation led to his resignation as the PC candidate.
A second nomination meeting was held soon after and Mr. Shariff was nominated. At the second nomination meeting, Mr. Shariff told the Calgary Herald that “Democracy has prevailed; we’ve been given a second chance. Today the people got a chance to vote again.”
In 2007, conservative activist Craig Chandler was disqualified after winning the PC nomination in Calgary-Egmont. Mr. Chandler’s controversial statements about new Albertans and his connection to the extremist Concerned Christian Coalition, led to the PC Party executive rejecting his candidacy. A second nomination contest was held and won by now-Solicitor General Jonathan Denis. Mr. Chandler did not contest that nomination and stood as an Independent candidate in the 2008 election.
In 2008, after the Calgary-Montrose PC Association failed to follow nomination rules set out by the central party, nominated candidate Ron Leech was disqualified and law student Manmeet Bhullar was appointed as the PC candidate. Mr. Leech stood as an Independent candidate in that year’s election. He is now nominated as the Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Greenway.
One PC Party insider has suggested to this blogger that it would be simpler to have a pre-qualification process for candidates seeking nominations in order to avoid the need to hold these types of second nomination contests. I am told that an amendment to implement this requirement was debated and defeated by delegates at the PC Party’s 2010 convention.
Each year around this time, I compile a list of a handful of Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly who I believe deserve mentioning following their political performance over the past year. This is just my list, so please feel free to agree, disagree, or make your own suggestions in the comment section below. Here is my list of MLAs that made a significant impact on Alberta’s political scene in 2011:
Ed Stelmach (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville) – Honest Ed – Triggering Alberta’s most significant political event of 2011, Premier Ed Stelmach surprised many political watchers when he announced his retirement after only four years in the job. Almost immediately, his party’s political fortunes improved, showing increased support in the polls and attracting six candidates to its leadership contest.
Characterized by his opponents as a back-country rural politician, I believe history will be kinder when his achievements, such as the initiation of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, the creation of the Capital Region Board, and significant public infrastructure investments across the province, are fully realized.
Alison Redford (Calgary-Elbow) – ‘New Hope‘ – Bringing renewed hope of generational renewal to the PC Party, first-term MLA and now Premier Alison Redford set a positive tone after being elected as leader in October 2011. She is smart, well-spoken, and bring a world of experience with her to the office. She still has to answer for the half-fulfilled promises like the creation of a “fixed election period” rather than the promised fixed-election date and empowering the quasi-judicial Health Quality Council, rather than the promised Judicial inquiry, to investigate the intimidation of health care professionals. Her reasonable responses to international corporations questioning Alberta’s environmental record is both refreshing and reasonable, now let us see some action.
Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert) – Steady Second in Command – Placing third in the crowded PC leadership contest, cabinet minister Doug Horner’s support of Ms. Redford on the second ballot of the PC leadership contest helped make her Premier. Now as Deputy Premier and President of the Treasury Board, Minister Horner sits in the powerful position of being his party’s northern Alberta messenger in the next provincial election. This is similar to a role played by his father, Dr. Hugh Horner, when he served as Deputy Premier to Premier Peter Lougheed in the 1970s. He is smart and tough, and is in an ideal position to place himself as Premier Redford’s successor if the next election does not go smoothly for their party.
Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) – Veteran leader with a cause – With a talented knack for quippy one-liners, NDP leader Brian Mason continues to outshine the other opposition leaders in the media and on the Assembly floor. With the Liberals moving to the political-right in order to compete with the Tories and Wildrose Party, Mr. Mason has carved out a recogizable piece of the political spectrum for his tiny social democratic party. With only a few months before the next provincial election, the NDP’s chances of making electoral gains in 2012 looks good. Will Mr. Mason get a new title in 2012? Maybe Leader of the Official Opposition?
Raj Sherman (Edmonton-Meadowlark) – new Liberal – Former Tory backbencher Raj Sherman inherited a divided and drifting party when he was elected Liberal Party leader in September 2011. Dr. Sherman talks about creating a business-friendly and socially-liberal party, which sounds suspiciously like political real estate already happily occupied by the PC Party. It is still unclear what the future of the Liberal Party will look like under his leadership, especially after losing the floor-crossing Lethbridge MLA Bridget Pastoor and retiring veteran MLAs Kevin Taft, Harry Chase, and Hugh MacDonald.
Hugh MacDonald (Edmonton-Gold Bar) – True Grit& Defender of the Faith – Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald ran a passionate campaign of partisan preservation in this year’s Liberal Party leadership contest. His campaign did not prevail and following his defeat to Dr. Sherman he announced his plans to retire when the next election is called. Mr. MacDonald’s loss is also a loss for the Assembly, which will lose one of the hardest working and determined opposition MLAs. If the next election does not go well for his party, there may be more than a few Liberal stalwarts asking for Mr. MacDonald to come back.
Rob Anderson (Airdrie-Chestermere) – The Wildrose’s Thorn – First elected as a PC MLA in 2008, Rob Anderson crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010. Since then, he has relished in his role as an opposition MLA, becoming his party’s unofficial leader on the Assembly floor. While he is sometimes over the top (and negative) in his accusations against the governing Tories, his presence overshadows his three Wildrose caucus colleagues to the point where he might as well be a one man opposition caucus.
Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Egmont) – Rising Star – In his first-term as a PC MLA, Jonathan Denis has gone from backbencher to holding two cabinet portfolios. As Minister of Housing & Urban Affairs (which is now part of the Ministry of Human Services), Minister Denis supported the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness through its second and third years. The plan’s focus on the Housing-First Principle is key to its success. After supporting Ted Morton and Mr. Mar in the PC leadership contest, Minister Denis found himself promoted to Solicitor General in Premier Redford’s first cabinet.
Dave Taylor (Calgary-Currie) – The Alberta’s Party’s first MLA – The former Liberal MLA became the first Alberta Party MLA in January 2011. He may have played a low key role in the two sittings of the Assembly since he joined that party, but his jumping to the new party helped put them on the political map. Mr. Taylor will not be seeking re-election when the next provincial vote is called.
Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright) – Young Pup – After almost ten years as a PC backbencher, Doug Griffiths entered this year’s PC leadership contest as a dark horse and a long-shot. On the campaign trail he spoke articulately and passionately about issues that make conservative partisans uncomfortable. He placed last in the leadership contest and made what should have been a political career ending decision when he then endorsed another losing candidate. Somehow, he ended up as a cabinet minister after Premier Redford was elected. His energy and open-mindedness as a cabinet minister is refreshing and much needed.
To keep the list short it is limited to current MLAs, which immediately excludes a few people who made a big impact on the province’s political scene this year. While I did not include them in this list, I feel there are a few non-MLAs who deserve an honourable mention for having made a significant impact on Alberta’s political scene in 2011. They are Gary Mar, Naheed Nenshi, Danielle Smith, Sue Huff, and Stephen Carter.
The three candidates eliminated on the first-ballot vote to choose the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives have all announced their support for front-runner Gary Mar. Carrying 40% of the vote on the first-ballot, it is understandable why the three would endorse the front-runner in terms of both personal political calculation and party unity.
Scattering a little differently, the group of MLAs who supported the three eliminated candidates have begun to throw their support among the remaining candidates.
Leadership candidate Doug Horner held a media conference yesterday to announce that Ted Morton supporter Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Carl Benito was joining his campaign.
Including Minister Denis, there remain five MLA supporters of Dr. Morton who have yet to throw their support behind any of the top three candidates (as far as I am aware). Those remaining MLAs are Livingstone-Macleod MLA Evan Berger, Highwood MLA George Groeneveld, Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Tony Vandermeer, and Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu.
Here is a preliminary list and map of MLAs who are supporting candidates in the 2011 Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership contest. Please comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if there are additions or subtractions to be made to this list.
Candidate: Doug Horner (12 MLAs) Ray Danyluk (Lac La Biche-St. Paul)
Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)
Hector Goudreau (Dunvegan-Central Peace)
Jack Hayden (Drumheller-Stettler)
Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Redwater)
Ken Kowalski (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock)
Genia Leskiw (Bonnyville-Cold Lake)
Len Mitzel (Cypress-Medicine Hat)
Frank Oberle (Peace River)
Luke Ouellette (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake)
Dave Quest (Strathcona)
Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West)
Candidate: Gary Mar (11 MLAs)
Naresh Bhardwaj (Edmonton-Ellerslie)
Iris Evans (Sherwood Park)
Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton-Glenora)
Mel Knight (Grande Prairie-Smoky)
Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Calmar)
Ron Liepert (Calgary-West)
Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs)
Ray Prins (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Rob Renner (Medicine Hat)
George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont-Devon)
Lloyd Snelgrove (Vermilion-Lloydminster)
Candidate: Ted Morton (10 MLAs)
Moe Amery (Calgary-East)
Carl Benito (Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Evan Berger (Livingstone-Macleod)
Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Egmont)
Doug Elniski (Edmonton-Calder)
George Groenveld (Highwood)
Broyce Jacobs (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed)
Tony Vandermeer (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview)
David Xiao (Edmonton-McClung)
Edmonton City Council will receive a new package of reports today from City Administration on the proposed downtown arena project focusing on governance framework options, public engagement options, impacts of an arena in downtown, and the Community Revitalization Levy and boundary. The reports will be discussed by City Council on April 6, 2011.
I had an interesting exchange on Twitter this afternoon with Brian Mason, leader of Alberta’s NDP and MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. After discovering his new blog this weekend, I posted a link on Twitter and noted the irony in Mr. Mason’s new social media presence following criticisms he made about the Alberta Party‘s focus on social media (it also seems silly to me that the leader of the fourth largest party would spend time criticizing the fifth largest party).
My tweet was only intended as a passing comment and in hindsight I should have known that it might be interpreted differently. Here is a thread of the main conversation (see here for more):
@davecournoyer: @djkelly @denny1h I don’t take offence from @bmasonndp‘s response. For politicians used to QP, it might take a bit to get used to Twitter.
@djkelly: @davecournoyer Yes, twitter is not QP. It’s more like a town hall. Have to behave differently in the two. Ditto here. @denny1h @bmasonndp
In 2009, Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain gave one the best descriptions of Twitter that I have read: “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful.” So true.
Although the NDP Caucus have been using social media as part of their communications for a few years now, Twitter is a different medium than most politicians are accustomed to.
While many Alberta Party supporters have become passionate Tweeters, for many of them it is the time they have been involved in a political party and some of them easily take offence to such criticisms. They should not. They should learn from them and move on.
As @DJKelly mentioned in his tweet, Twitter is more like a Town Hall. The interaction on Twitter are less useful when focused on partisan and soundbite-filled confrontation encouraged in traditional political institutions like Question Period, and more useful when focused on actual collaboration and discussion. In my mind, this is one of the qualities that makes social media much more engaging and useful than some of our traditional political institutions.
It has been my experience that in order to fully understand Twitter, it is best to use it for a while. @Nenshi, @DonIveson, @MinisterJono, and @GriffMLA are four good examples of elected officials in our province who have demonstrated that they understand how to use the medium.
At the first Changecamp Edmonton event in October 2009, the question was asked: How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation? At the time, Justin Archer wrote a great column about why this question is critically important and why it is important to re-think our government systems in order to ensure that they are still relevant for us.
Many of the discussions that I had with participants at Changecamp Edmonton and the many friendships that I developed at of that event helped reshape how I view politics and political engagement today. This includes how social media can be used to engage with our elected officials and government leaders.
Today’s exchange may not be exactly what I had in mind when I think of the ideas discussed at Changecamp, but it did teach me a lesson about how to engage with elected officials new to social media. I hope that even after his 22 years in politics, that Mr. Mason will learn and grow from his social media experiences as well.
New Environics Poll A new Environics Poll shows the PCs with 38% support of decided voters province-wide, compared to 26% for the Wildrose party, 22% for the Liberals, and 10% for the NDP. In Edmonton, the PCs are at 36%, with the Liberals at 27%, Wildrose Alliance at 18%, and NDP at 15%. In Calgary, the PCs are at 34%, the Wildrose Alliance at 31%, the Liberals at 24%, and the NDP at 6%. The poll is also reported to show the PCs sitting at 43% outside of Edmonton and Calgary, compared to 29% for the Wildrose Alliance, 15% for the Liberals, and 9% for the NDP. While these are interesting numbers, I have a difficult time putting to much weight in this poll now that Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader David Swann have announced their resignation.
Will Alison Redford run?
Probably, but not yet. Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson is calling on Justice Minister Alison Redford to meet the requirements set by Premier Stelmach and resign from cabinet if she is planning to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. Despite hiring campaign strategist Stephen Carter last week, a number of Tory sources have told me that Minister Redford continues to be indecisive about whether or not to run.
Mr. Mar leaving Washington? Former cabinet minister and Alberta’s current Washington D.C. representative Gary Mar is said to be preparing a run for his party’s leadership. Earlier this week I tweeted that GaryMar.ca was registered on January 27, 2011, the day that Premier Stelmach announced his resignation. The domain name was registered by Todd Herron, a former Chief Information Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister of Health. Mr. Mar faces the challenge of either returning to Alberta to enter the contest or potentially being replaced as Alberta’s representative when a new party leader is selected in eight months.
A candidate from Coronation?
The online campaign to lure Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths into his party’s leadership contest continues. With Housing Minister Jonathan Denis declaring today via Twitter that he will not enter the contest, the well-spoken and idea-focused Mr. Griffiths could be the only candidate under the age of 45 to enter the contest.
Other Alberta Party candidates? Lisa Fox, stepped down as the federal Green Party candidate in Wild Rose this week telling the Cochrane Eagle that she is considering a run for the Alberta Party leadership. Another candidate based out of Calgary is expected to enter the race in the next few weeks.
Friends of Medicare tour
Touring with the Friends of Medicare, Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has been drawing crowds across the province. At a recent town hall meeting in Red Deer, Dr. Sherman told a packed crowd that solutions to the current crisis in emergency rooms starts with enhancing home care and long-term care for seniors, particularly those in the low and middle income groups. The next town hall meeting will be held in Medicine Hat on February 19, 2011.
Liberals hire new Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has been hired as the new Communications Director for the Official Opposition Liberals. Mr. Leadbetter will fill a vacancy that was created when former Director Neil Mackie had his contract terminated in January. Mr. Leadbetter was the Director of Government & Community Relations for Northlands from 2007 to 2010 and a Senior Communications Director for the City of Edmonton previous to that.
Social Credit policy renewal Acknowledging that there is room for improvement, the Social Credit Party is inviting Albertans to participate in their policy development process. According to the party website, reasonable, innovative suggestions will be formulated into policy proposals to be presented at the Party Policy Convention on March 26, 2011 in Innisfail.
More candidates step up I have updated the list of nominated and declared candidates for the next provincial election (please note the new link) to include Marc Power, who is seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-North Hill, which will be known as Calgary-Klein when the election is called. Mr. Power, a software trainer and former co-chair of the NDP LGBT committee, was that party’s 2008 candidate in Calgary-Currie. North Hill is currently represented by PC MLA Kyle Fawcett, who was first elected in 2008.
Federal Edmonton-StrathconaNDP PresidentMarlin Schmidt is seeking his party’s nomination in Edmonton-Gold Bar at a February 24 selection meeting. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald since 1997.
UPDATE via Insight into Government Leduc Alderman Dominic Mishio has declared his intentions to seek the PC nomination against two term MLA George Rogers in the new Leduc-Beaumont constituency.
In Edmonton-Riverview, Arif Khan is the first candidate to declare interest in seeking the Liberal nomination to replace retiring MLA Kevin Taft. Mr. Khan is the western Vice-President of the Condo Store Inc. As noted in last week’s Alberta Politics Notes, the NDP are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson in Riverview.
A reality check from the Cosh. Colby Cosh has delivered a cynical and un-sensationalist reality check for Albertans getting starry eyed or swept up in a whirlwind of political change. While Alberta’s political landscape may be more unstable than it has been in years, and it is exciting to be part of new emerging parties and movements, it is important to step back and keeping some perspective is key.
With cabinet ministers expected to resign in order to seek the PC Party leadership, Albertans could witness a series of cabinet shuffles over the coming months. The resignation of Finance Minister Ted Morton and potential resignations of Deputy Premier Doug Horner, Justice Minister Allison Redford, and Housing Minister Jonathan Deniscould put a number of Parliamentary Assistants and backbench MLAs in cabinet positions. I would not be surprised if Greg Weadick, Janice Sarich, Diana McQueen, or Manmeet Bhullar had cabinet experience by the end of 2011.
According to the Edmonton Journal, Dr. Ingram resigned ‘citing concerns about a lack of scientific and First Nations representation on the panel, and what she saw as an overzealous draft confidentially agreement.’ The panel includes a number of credible scientists and is co-chaired by former TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle, who has leveled strong criticism against environmental groups.
Budget on February 24.
Premier Ed Stelmach told an audience during speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce yesterday that the 2011 provincial budget will be tabled on February 24. The Assembly is scheduled to begin spring session on January 22 with the Speech from the Throne.
PC campaign manager exits.
Not surprisingly, the departure of Premier Ed Stelmach has also led to the departure of PC campaign manager Randy Dawson, who managed the party’s 2008 campaign and had been reappointed to manage their next election campaign.
Taylor versus Taylor? Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor is expected to launch his campaign for the Alberta Party leadership on February 8 in Edmonton. Mr. Taylor was elected to his third-term as Mayor of Hinton in October 2010. It will be a battle of the Taylor’s if Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor enters the leadership contest, as some political watchers expect him to.
Ms. Sigurdson is the Professional Affairs Coordinator for the Alberta College of Social Workers and previously worked for former NDP leader Ray Martin when he was the MLA for Edmonton-Norwood. That constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Kevin Taft since 2001, who was re-elected in 2008 with 50% of the vote. Dr. Taft is not be seeking re-election. The Wildrose Alliance has nominated John Corie as their candidate.
Calgary Paramedic Rick Fraser is seeking the PC nomination in Calgary-Hays. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Art Johnston, who was first elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008 with 54% of the vote. Former Libertarian Party of Canada leader Dennis Young is seeking the Wildrose Alliance nomination in that constituency.
After two days of voting, the results have been tallied in the first poll asking readers of this blog who they thought should replace Premier Ed Stelmach as leader of Alberta’s PC Party. Thank you to the 813 readers who voted in this online poll.
Some people might be surprised by the strength of Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in this poll, but as the PC MLA with the highest personal online profile it is not surprising that online political watchers would support the idea of him as the next PC leader (or as a friend said this week, “he would be the first PC leader who actually understands 21st century communications”). As a moderate Tory, Justice Minister Alison Redford would have some natural appeal to readers of this blog. As for Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Carl Benito‘s support, I imagine that it was his unique position on tuition and property taxes that earned him those 76 votes.
Here is the breakdown of the results.
Who should PC Party members vote to replace Premier Ed Stelmach in their upcoming leadership contest?
The sudden Tuesday morning announcement by Premier Ed Stelmach that he will resign before the next election caught many people by surprise, but beyond the broad statement there was little detail about when he would actually resign and when he would be replaced. At a press conference in Calgary yesterday, Premier Stelmach gave a little more detail saying that he would continue in his role until at least the end of the Spring Session of the Legislature.
Morton’s savvy move
Yesterday’s departure of Finance Minister Ted Moron from the provincial cabinet is an unsurprising move by the conservative former University professor. Dr. Morton’s resignation as Finance Minister will allow him to concentrate on his leadership bid and more importantly distances himself from a 2011 budget which is expected to include a substantial deficit, which would hurt his credibility among his conservative supporters.
Not having to stand up on the Legislative Assembly floor and present a deficit budget in 2011 will not give the Wildrose Alliance the pleasure of attacking his credentials as a fiscal hawk (or fiscal mallard). The battle over whether to accept a deficit or balance the budget (resulting in serious budget cuts) was a fight that is suspected to have contributed heavily on Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement earlier this week.
Lloyd from Lloydminster
Mr. Morton’s departure from cabinet made way for Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove‘s appointment as Minister of Finance. Minister Snelgrove was first elected as the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster in 2001, replacing former Finance Minister Steve West (who was known as Dr. Death for the part he played in the government cuts of the 1990). Minister Snelgrove was one of the nine MLAs who supported Premier Stelmach’s bid for the PC leadership in 2006 and has been a key member of the Premier’s inner circle since.
Video interviews with Danielle Smith and Jonathan Denis
The Economist published a review of Alberta’s current political situation titled “Prairie fire” that gives a good synopsis of the PC leadership strife, the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, and the growth of the new Alberta Party with its first MLA Dave Taylor.
Another Liberal departure
Media Coordinator Tanara McLean is leaving the Liberal Caucus to take a position with SunTV reporter starting next month. This will be the second departure from the Liberal Communications Office in 2011. Communications Director Neil Mackie left in early January.
Raj Sherman Media Conference
Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman held a media conference yesterday to announce that he will be entering the Spring Session of the Legislature as an Independent MLA. He also reminded the media of his upcoming townhall tour with the Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen.
It is not a secret that since entering the Office, Premier Stelmach struggled to define his leadership style. Under his Premiership, the general policy direction of his government sometimes appeared to be drifting towards numerous locations at the same time. The Progressive Conservatives have been in office for nearly 40 years and have become a natural governing party that in many ways creates and adopts policy as would a an amorphous blob.
With both his party’s popularity and personal approval rating having drastically dropped since the 2008 election, it would not be surprising to learn that more than a few PC MLAs and cabinet ministers were planning not to seek re-election if there was not a change in leadership. I have also heard that tension between the Premier and Finance Minister Ted Morton, and MLAs and the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Ron Glen, also heavily contributed to yesterday’s announcement.
I had a special relationship with the Premier that began in December 2007 when his lawyers threatened to sue me over my ownership of the URL edstelmach.ca. After forwarding the URL to the wikipedia entry of the last Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, I received a threatening letter from the Premier’s lawyer demanding that I cease and desist (and govern myself accordingly). The Premier may have been insistent that his name was his name, but when push came to shove they backed down (and helped me increase this blog’s readership by at least 500%). Without malice three years later, it turns out that I was closer than I thought with my Premier Strom comparison.
Likeness to Premier Strom aside, it would be unfair to say that Premier Stelmach has not achieved anything while occupying his current office. Always a class act, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshisaid it well in an interview with the Calgary Herald yesterday:
“Right now I think it’s not time to think about politics. It is time to think about Premier Stelmach’s legacy as a really decent human being and a really dedicated public servant.”
He promised and implemented the long-awaited Lobbyist Registry. His 2010 budget provided a five year commitment to stable funding for Health Care and Education, two departments that had felt the brunt of the budget cuts in the 1990s. His government established the Capital Regional Board, which started a long-overdue armistice that ended the regional turf wars between municipalities in the Edmonton region. His personal commitment to ending homelessness should also not be forgotten, as his government has supported the development and funding of municipal 10 year plans to end homelessness.
Many of these accomplishments have been overshadowed by the decision to raise and then again tinker with the natural resource royalties collected by the provincial government, which angered many in Calgary’s energy sector. The downturn in the economy and the return to deficit budgets also changed how many Albertans viewed the PC government, after years of being told that “deficit budgets were illegal” during Premier Klein’s tenure. The forced merger of the province’s nine regional health authorities into one mega-health authority known as Alberta Health Services also raised serious questions about proper planning and the value of centralization in Health Care. His government’s decision to challenge rural landowners over property rights and the construction of high powered electrical transmission lines also created conflict in areas of the province that had been PC strongholds for decades.
Premier Stelmach’s eventual departure does not automatically save the PC Party from their low support in the polls. The party now needs to select a new leader while facing an organized and well-funded opposition in the form of the Wildrose Alliance, who have leaned heavily on federal Conservative Party organizers to build their party machinery. The Liberals and New Democrats remain competitive in some Edmonton and Calgary ridings and the new Alberta Party announced this week that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor had become their first MLA.
Although Premier Stelmach will remain leader of the government to oversee the next provincial budget, attention will now be turned toward his potential successors. Finance Minister Morton appears to be the early favourite and could even soon resign his cabinet post to focus on a leadership bid. An immediate Morton coronation could be postponed by the entrance of candidates such as former federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner, Justice Minister Alison Redford, or Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove. It would also be interesting to see some younger talent, like Housing Minister Jonathan Denis or Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths throw their names in the race.
Regardless of Premier Stelmach’s departure and the leader the members of that Party chooses in the upcoming leadership contest, the big question is whether the PCs be able to redefine themselves as they approach 40 years as our province’s governing party? Will a new PC Party leader be able to satisfy Albertans’ new found appetite for political change?
As far as international events go, it is hard to beat the size of the Olympic Games. Over 80 countries from across the world will be participating in the Winter sports event that kicked off in Vancouver last night.
With hundreds of millions of dollars likely being spent on wining and dining, it might feel like a drop in the bucket for the Province of Alberta to spend nearly $15 million dollars to promote the province to attendees, including the sponsorship of six Rocky Mountaineer train cars and the Alberta Pavilion.
Unparalleled comfort in the premier business networking venue at the Games.
The Rocky Mountaineer expense is billed by the Government of Alberta website as an opportunity to “provide the premier business networking venue at the Games” for only $499 for a round-trip ticket from Vancouver to Whistler. Who will be networking with the elite business Olympians of the world? Premier Ed Stelmach and eleven cabinet ministers will be there to wine, dine, and “offer guests unparalleled comfort” during their stay on the Alberta train! While experiencing this luxury, most passengers on the Alberta train this week would probably have a hard time believing that Alberta is in the midst of “tough economic times” and that just four short days ago, these 12 elected officials tabled a provincial budget that included the largest deficit in Alberta’s history.
Sending Premier Stelmach, Tourism Minister Cindy Ady, and Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett makes sense, but what of the other nine cabinet ministers? Are Albertans well served by covering the costs of sending eleven cabinet ministers to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games? What business could Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden, Justice Minister Alison Redford, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, or Finance Minster Ted Morton have at the Winter Olympic Games? I am sure the “unparalleled comfort” of the posh train cars will live up to its reputation, but is it really necessary to have half of Premier Stelmach’s cabinet on site?
As Graham Thomson pointed out in his Edmonton Journal column this morning, other PC MLAs will joining them, but “nobody in government seems to know exactly how many backbenchers are going.” I do not oppose Alberta having a presence at these games, but modesty is virtue our elected officials should not forget.
“I would rather have seen any kind of travel budget being spent in Alberta,” Smith said. “They’re communicating to the wrong people.”
When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who spent this kind of money to sincerely communicate with Albertans? I am not talking about fancy videos commercials, visits to the Rutherford Show, or hiring expensive advertising companies to brand new messages. I am talking about actually travelling across this province and holding open town hall meetings outside of a highly managed and artificial election environment.
This feeds the perception that our elected officials are only accessible to those with political power or business interests. When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who allowed himself to be publicly accessible to any Albertan, regardless of political persuasion or income-bracket? When was the last time a Premier of Alberta hopped aboard a train filled with ordinary people of Alberta?