Alberta Politics

Alberta Politics Summer Reading List

Summer has finally arrived and what is better than sitting in the warm Alberta sun, cracking open a cold beverage and flipping open your favourite book about Alberta politics? To quench that thirst for more knowledge, I asked readers of this website and listeners of the Daveberta Podcast to share their recommendations for the Alberta Politics Summer Reading List.

Thank you to everyone who shared their picks. If there is an Alberta politics book that you just can’t put down that didn’t make the list, share it with us in the comment section below.


Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta edited by Duane Bratt, Keith Brownsey, Richard Sutherland, and David Taras (2019)

The first scholarly analysis of the unprecedented NDP victory in the 2015 Alberta Provincial Election, paying special attention to the details of party campaigns and economic and social factors unique to Alberta politics.

Grant Notley: The Social Conscience of Alberta by Howard Leeson (2015)

Written by his former executive assistant, this biography provides a look into the compelling life story of Grant Notley, the father of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 until his death in 1984. His passion for our province and social democratic politics is a refreshing reminder of a level of respect that used to exist among political opponents and adversaries in our province.

Alberta Politics Uncovered: Taking Back our Province by Marc Lisac (2004)

In Alberta Politics Uncovered Mark Lisac delivers a clear message that Albertans must stop believing in money and the myth of western alienation and start believing in balanced leadership. In this concise and highly readable explanation of Alberta’s government policies, Lisac examines the “balanced budget,” and other current issues, and reminds Alberta voters that we all have the responsibility to hold our government accountable.

Where the Bodies Lie by Mark Lisac (2016)

An enjoyable mix of politics and intrigue make this fictional murder mystery a must-read for political watchers in Alberta. “Lisac’s backdrop may be the political scene, but his story is in the heart of his main characters, their flaws and aspirations. He is an elegant and efficient writer and sets lovely scenes and characters, creating a murder mystery with twists and engaging characters,” wrote Samantha Power in Vue Weekly.

A prequel to this book, titled Image Decay, is expected to be released in September 2020.

Democracy in Alberta: Social Credit and the Party System by CB MacPherson (1962)

Democracy in Alberta was the first book by influential political scientist C.B. Macpherson. Macpherson examines the distinctive quasi-party political system that emerged in Alberta in the first half of the twentieth century, represented by the United Farmers of Alberta and Social Credit governments and the movements behind them. This classic is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the broader historical context of Alberta politics.

King Ralph: The Political Life and Success of Ralph Klein by Don Martin (2002)

Don Martin’s investigative biography is a candid look at former Alberta premier Ralph Klein. In his research for King Ralph, Martin was afforded unconditional interviews with Klein, his family and colleagues, and allowed access to previously confidential files kept by Klein’s staff during his terms both as Calgary’s mayor and Alberta’s premier.

The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil by Larry Pratt (1976)

Hard to find but worth the read, this 1976 book provides a thorough background background to the politics and economics that led to the creation of the Syncrude project and development of the Athabasca oil sands. A review by describes the book as an essential text on the history of Alberta’s tar sands. Used copies can be found on

Also from Pratt and John Richards: Prairie Capitalism: Power and Influence in the New West (1979)

Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country by Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid (2016)

Calgary author Sydney Sharpe and Postmedia columnist Don Braid look at how decades of one-party rule, right-wing discontent and a growing progressive streak in Alberta led to the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in our province’s historic 2015 election.

Oil’s Deep State: How the petroleum industry undermines democracy and stops action on global warming – in Alberta, and in Ottawa by Kevin Taft (2017)

Why have democratic governments failed to take serious steps to reduce carbon emissions despite dire warnings and compelling evidence of the profound and growing threat posed by global warming?

Most of the writing on global warming is by scientists, academics, environmentalists, and journalists. Kevin Taft, a former leader of the opposition in Alberta, brings a fresh perspective through the insight he gained as an elected politician who had an insider’s eyewitness view of the role of the oil industry. His answer, in brief: The oil industry has captured key democratic institutions in both Alberta and Ottawa.

Also from Taft: Shredding the Public Interest (1997), Democracy Derailed (2007), Clear Answers: The Economics and Politics of For-Profit Medicine, co-authored by Gillian Steward (2000), and Follow the Money: Where Is Alberta’s Wealth Going? (2012).

The Patch: The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands by Chris Turner (2017)

The Patch is the story of Fort McMurray and the oil sands in northern Alberta, the world’s second largest proven reserve of oil. But this is no conventional story about the oil business. Rather, it is a portrait of the lifecycle of the Patch, showing just how deeply it continues to impact the lives of everyone around the world.

More recommendations:

Alberta Politics

pc leadership candidates wade into education politics.

A photo of Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidates at an Alberta Teachers' Association forum in Banff August 2011
Alberta PC leadership candidates at the ATA conference in Banff.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of sharing some of my thoughts about the Progressive Conservative leadership contest with delegates at the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) summer conference in Banff.

On Wednesday morning, all six candidates for the PC leadership (Doug Griffiths, Doug Horner, Gary Mar, Ted Morton, Rick Orman, and Alison Redford) attended a forum organized by the ATA which gave delegates at the conference an opportunity to submit questions to the candidates on a wide variety of education issues. It said a lot about the strength and importance of the teaching profession in Alberta that all six of the candidates traveled to Banff for the day to participate in this forum.

The six candidates answered a variety of questions focusing on transformation, funding, and the future of education in Alberta. Some candidates did better than others.

Mr. Griffiths was clearly the crowd favourite. A teacher himself, he was able to speak from experience and connected well with the audience of politically active educators. This was Mr. Griffiths coming out party in the leadership contest.

Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner did well, though the general focus around “outcomes” and other buzz words used by all the candidates left an uncomfortable amount of ambiguity in the discussion. The more conservative Professor Morton and Mr. Orman were clearly sailing in unfriendly waters.

In typical front-runner fashion, Mr. Mar said a lot without saying much. He also did not let the facts stand in the way of telling a folksy story. During the forum, Mr. Mar told the audience a story about his time as Education Minister in 1999 when his office wrote a memo to the Minister of Health. Only weeks later, he said, he was shuffled into the Health portfolio and then had to respond to his own memo (cue the laugh track). It was a folksy story, only Mr. Mar forgot to mention that he was actually shuffled from Education to become the Environment Minister in 1999. He was appointed as Health Minister over a year after he was appointed Environment Minister.

Being in the auditorium at the time, there was a few points during the forum when it felt like the candidates were on the verge of having a real discussion about the future of education. Unfortunately, most of the candidates fell back into safe and inoffensive “education is good” language.

Following the leadership candidates forum, I participated in a panel discussion with the ATA’s Dennis Theobald and Mount Royal University Professor Keith Brownsey where we engaged in a good discussion about the leadership candidates and what the political winds of change mean for the education system in Alberta. Although I had hoped that we could have had a broader conversation about the future of Alberta politics, time only allowed us to have a good discussion about what the leadership candidates had said that morning and what they might do as Premier.

Thank you to the ATA and to the teachers who participated in the discussion for a great day.

Alberta Politics

alberta does it differently.

In a recent podcast with Vue Weekly Podcast, Mount Royal University Professor Keith Brownsey laid some pretty harsh criticism on Liberal leader David Swann and his letter inviting other parties to discuss cooperation. In the interview Dr. Brownsey went as far to call Dr. Swann “a baffoon” for signing the letters and that “he is probably going to get eaten alive” for this venture. Overall, Dr. Brownsey’s is pretty dismissive of the state of Alberta’s political parties. This is a departure from three years ago when Dr. Brownsey was a keynote speaker at the 2007 Liberal Party policy convention.

Dr. Swann recently announced over Twitter that he will be meeting with NDP leader Brian Mason to discuss the letter this summer.

Even in the low-stakes world of opposition politics in Alberta, there are many party insiders who cannot fathom changing the comfortable political environment that they have inherited. Perhaps this is why the Wildrose Alliance has excelled. In 2008, I wrote that:

Party archetypes in both camps really need to put aside their biases and prejudices and take a serious and objective look at why their parties are not connecting with Albertans.

Of course, Dr. Brownsey’s opinion is that of one man, but more than two years later and already into the next election cycle, perhaps he is correct in stating that it is too late to save the traditional political parties.

Alberta doing it different.

Alberta is the anomaly among Western Provinces. In 1921, Albertans abandoned the traditional Liberal-Conservative options for the United Farmers of Alberta. We once again turned away from the traditional by electing the Social Credit Party in 1936. It was only in 1971 that Albertans elected another political party into government that had connections to a traditional federal party in Ottawa.

Albertans have elected parties with large majorities since 1905, but it was only starting with the 1986 election that Alberta’s political environment began to closer resemble that of federal Ottawa by electing a large majority of PC MLAs, with a medium to minor opposition of Liberal and NDP MLAs. Other Western Provinces have abandoned the traditional PC-Liberal-NDP balance for a variety of two party systems. British Columbia has the conservative Liberals and social democratic NDP. Saskatchewan has the conservative Saskatchewan Party and the social democratic NDP. Manitoba has a balance between the PCs and NDP with a marginalized third-place Liberal Party.

After 24-years of traditional parties as the status-quo opposition, maybe Alberta is due for another change.