It is unclear how many of Dr. Morton’s supporters may show up to support Mr. Mar on the second-ballot vote on October 1, but it may have saved his political career, which appeared to be close to an end when the former Finance Minister placed a distant fourth with 11% of the vote on September 17.
Mr. Orman placed fifth with 10% of the vote. One Tory insider emailed me this morning suggesting that Mr. Orman’s endorsement could lead to his appointment as Alberta’s envoy in Washington D.C., a job Mr. Mar held until earlier this year.
Two days ago it was difficult to see anyone defeating Mr. Mar on the second ballot. It feels even less likely now.
Conservative versus Progressive?
Since the first-ballot vote eliminated Dr. Morton and Mr. Orman, the hard-edged conservatives of the group, the Wildrose and their friends at the Toronto National Post have been spinning the narrative that the progressives (or “soft-centrists”) have defeated the conservatives in this contest. While the endorsement of the two more “conservative” candidates will aid Mr. Mar in dispelling this attack, I am not sure that I would put a “progressive” label or Mr. Mar, or either of the other two remaining candidates.
Like Dr. Morton, front-runner Mr. Mar has expressed solid support for privatized health care. Mr. Mar’s comments put him in the unfortunate position of appearing more supportive of the Americanization than even Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who supports the introduction of private facilities, but sticks to finely-tuned talking points when talking about full-privatization. Of course, spin alley is in a near traffic jam trying to explain away Mr. Mar’s feelings towards having Albertans pay out of pocket for health care.
While the remaining three candidates may not espouse hard edged conservatism like Dr. Morton or Mr. Orman, the three candidates have received financial support from not-so-progressive groups, like the Merit Contractors Association, which is an anti-union lobby group in the construction industry.
All three candidates have received support from across the center and right of the political spectrum. Like Mr. Mar, Ms. Redford has received the support of Liberals and Red Tories alike, including former federal candidate Kevin Taron, former provincial candidate Beth Gignac, and former Prime Minister Joe Clark. Mr. Horner is certainly a moderate conservative and has received the support of longtime MLA and Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski, who’s campaign once published an election ad stating that “While human beings can create laws, the laws of God must take precedence.”
Many Albertans now know Ken Kowalski from his higher duty as the long-sitting Speaker of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, a position he has held since 1997. The MLA for Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock announced this week that he will seek election for the tenth time since 1979. His long political career has demonstrated a kind of political longevity and stamina that not many Alberta politicians can claim to have.
Mr. Kowalski is the only Tory MLA to have served under all four of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Premiers. He has also filled a wide range of cabinet posts since he was first elected 32 years ago (Environment, Career Development, Public Works, Economic Development and Tourism, and as Deputy Premier). Immediately before entering elected politics, he served as executive assistant to cabinet minister Hugh Horner (father of current PC leadership candidate Doug Horner), who he later replaced as MLA for Barrhead in a closely fought 1979 by-election.
Mr. Kowalski was one of the key players in making Ralph Klein Premier in 1992. Mr. Kowalski and a cadre of rural MLAs mobilized rural Alberta Tories to vote for Mr. Klein on the second ballot of the 1992 PC leadership contest after Nancy Betkowski placed first by one vote on the first ballot.
“People tell me there’s an arrogant look about me. That’s something I was born with; I cannot change that.” – Kowalski in 1993 (Edmonton Journal).
In the first few years of Premier Klein’s administration, Mr. Kowalski served in a powerhouse role as Deputy Premier and unofficially as the “Minister of Everything.” The power doled out by Mr. Kowalski, and the rewards he lavished on his constituency, led some Opposition politicians to claim that he was actually running the government, with the Premier only as a figurehead. That changed in 1994 when Mr. Kowalski’s career took a very different direction.
On October 21, 1994, political watchers were stunned when Mr. Kowalski was shuffled out of Premier Klein’s cabinet and announced that he would resign as an MLA to become chairman of (now defunct) Alberta Utilities and Energy Board. The shuffle was seen as a stunning demotion for Premier Klein’s most powerful cabinet minister.
On October 23, 1994 Ethics Commissioner Bob Clark told reporters that he would investigate Mr. Kowalski’s appointment. Three days later, Mr. Kowalski told the media that he would not accept the new job unless the Ethics Commissioner agreed.
On October 28, 1994 Premier Klein told the media that he had axed the appointment as a result of public pressure from the oil industry and environmental groups who claimed the posting would politicize the regulatory board. Mr. Kowalski was infuriated, claiming that the government was being run by “three stooges” and demanded an opportunity to address the PC caucus with his complaints.
“The blood hasn’t dried yet from the first sabre wound and I’ve got a second one.” – Ken Kowalski, 1994 (Calgary Herald)
Emerging from his meeting with the PC caucus on October 31, 1994, Mr. Kowalski told the media that he was never angry and that he “loved Ralph Klein.”
It was later ruled that both Premier Klein and Mr. Kowalski could have received $20,000 in fines for violating a six-month cooling-off period under Alberta’s Conflicts of Interest Act.
For the next few years, Mr. Kowalski languished in the Tory backbenches, emerging to criticize Premier Klein and his cabinet ministers ever so often (even once accusing them of “`misleading the public pretty dramatically about cuts to his former Ministry of Economic Development and Trade). The Calgary Herald labelled him as the “loose cannon” of the Tory caucus in 1996 when he revealed that Premier Klein’s Chief of Staff Rod Love had offered him a job with Multi-Corp (a company that Mr. Love, Klein’s wife Colleen, and a number of other associates owned shares in).
Mr. Kowalski’s time on the backbenches ended in April 1997, when he won a surprise victory against Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg to become Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (it was suspected that he also had the support of the 18 Liberal MLAs and two NDP MLAs in the Assembly).
Love him or hate him, call him old fashioned or blatantly partisan, but Speaker Kowalski stands today as Alberta’s longest current serving MLA. As a political survivor against political odds that should have seen him crushed, he remains standing as the Progressive Conservatives prepare to celebrate forty years as government in September.
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 email@example.com 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)
There are a number of interesting things about these disclosures, including the annual expenses of some constituency associations as recently mentioned by Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald.
Not surprisingly, the Progressive Conservatives have shown their political strength with functional organizations in nearly all 83 constituencies. PC constituency associations disclosed over $3.1 million in net assets in 2010, a jump from $2.5 million in 2009. The three wealthiest PC constituency associations with over $100,000 in net assets are Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock (MLA Ken Kowalski), Calgary-Elbow (MLA Alison Redford), and Whitecourt-Ste. Anne (MLA George VanderBurg).
The Wildrose Alliance showed substantial growth in 2010, as its constituency associations grew their total net assets to $455,595 from a low $78,298 in 2009. The constituency organizations of two of that party’s new MLAs, former Tories Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, increased their net assets by an impressive $60,723 in Airdrie-Chestermere and $36,075 in Calgary-Fish Creek in 2010.
The Liberals showed marginal financial growth and still face substantial challenges in fundraising compared to the PCs and Wildrose Alliance. The Liberals fundraised well in constituencies their 8 MLAs currently represent and a few other constituencies which that party’s MLAs held until the last election (notably Edmonton-Rutherford, where former MLA RIck Miller is his party’s nominated candidate).
In five constituencies that the Liberals represented until 2008 or more recently, there were signs that none or very little local fundraising had taken place in 2010 (Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Elbow, Edmonton-Decore, Edmonton-Ellerslie, and Edmonton-Meadowlark).
Alberta NDP local organizations in the majority of the province’s constituencies appeared to be dormant or non-existant in 2010.
The NDP is strategically targeting its financial and organizational resources in a handful of constituencies in Edmonton where it hopes it can make gains in the next election. While the party’s local organizations have not wracked up large net assets, there is noticeable spending happening in a few constituencies (including more than $24,000 in expenses in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview where candidate Deron Bilous is campaigning).
Here are breakdowns of the party’s 2009 and 2010 financial disclosures:
Stony Plain PC MLA Fred Lindsay also announced that he will be retiring at the next election. An MLA since 2004, Mr. Lindsay was rewarded for his early support of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s leadership candidacy with an appointment to cabinet as Solicitor General in 2006. His loyalty only took him far until January 2010, when he was shuffled out of cabinet to the Tory backbenches. He soon after publicly mused that he might run for the Wildrose Alliance in the next election.
RCMP respond to NDP letter
The RCMP have responded to a letter from NDP MLA Brian Mason asking for an investigation into accusations of politically influenced queue-jumping for medical procedures. According to Sergeant Tim Taniguchi: “It has been reviewed and the matter has been referred to our Edmonton commercial crime section which is going to look into it further to see what further steps are needed.”
Kowalski going to pasture?
Calgary politico David Heyman wrote about rumours that Assembly Speaker and Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock PC MLA Ken Kowalski may retire after a very long (long, long, long) 32 years in politics.
Heyman goes Wildrose
Speaking of Mr. Heyman, it appears that he is now working as a campaign advisor to Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith. Mr. Heyman was until recently working in Communications roles in Premier Stelmach’s Calgary Office and for Energy Minister and Calgary-West MLA Ron Liepert. The former Calgary Herald Reporter was also a supporter of Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr‘s early-aborted Mayoral campaign in 2010.
Alexander beats Blanchard Roy Alexander defeated popular QR77 Radio Host Mike Blanchard for the Wildrose Alliance nomination in the new constituency of Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill. The Wildrose Alliance are expected to announce high-profile candidates in Banff-Cochrane and Lethbridge-East within the next few weeks.
Parents in the Town of Morinville wanting a non-religious education option for their children put public pressure on Education Minister Dave Hancock and local MLA Ken Kowalskito what seemed to be little avail. Councillor Lisa Holmes brought the issue to the Town Council, which voted 4-3 against taking a position on the issue. Even as Catholic School District officials admitted that only 30% of Morinville students identified themselves as Catholic, the elected trustees would not waver from their mandate to offer religious-based education.
Until last week, it appeared as though advocates for secular public education in Morinville had been stonewalled in their drive to bring a non-religious education option to their community of 7,900 residents.
The neighbouring school district, Sturgeon School Division, has agreed to offer secular education options in Morinville starting this September. Classes will be temporarily housed in portable classrooms until a permanent location can be found. A survey released by the Catholic School District showed that as at least 270 students in the town of 7,900 residents would enrol in the secular K-12 education program and that 37% of parents and residents in the town supported secular educational choice.
The question now is whether residents of Morinville residents who enrol their children in the new secular education option will be able to cast their vote for Trustee on the Sturgeon School Board Elections in October 2013. At the moment, Morinville residents are only able to vote for Trustees on the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, which also collects taxes from Morinville residents whether they are Catholic or not.
The extension of the Sturgeon School Division into Morinville will certainly create some waves in the community, but in the long-run I believe embracing a diversity in education options will be a healthy move for the town I grew up in.
Raj Sherman (Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark)
The Emergency Room Doctor turned MLA shook the Tory establishment when he went public with his concerns about how the PC government has handled health care. Dr. Sherman saved special criticism for former Health Minister Ron Liepert, who was responsible for the creation of Alberta Health Services. An over-night folk hero to many, Dr. Sherman was suspended from the PC caucus and became the target of a whisper campaign to undermine his credibility, which started with a phone call placed by MLA Fred Horne. Dr Sherman has said he may take legal action against those involved in the smear campaign. In three weeks, Dr. Sherman’s public criticisms of the PCs health care record made him the de-facto leader of the opposition in the last two months of 2010.
Dr. Sherman made this list in 2008, when I described him as “one of the brighter stars in the vast expanse of dim lights in the Alberta Legislature.”
Doug Griffiths (PC Battle River-Wainwright)
Thinking out of the box has kept this perennial Parliamentary Assistant away from the cabinet table, where he would likely excel. Doug Griffiths’ appointment as the Parliamentary Assistant for Finance and Enterprise is the latest in a series of lateral moves from his previous roles as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Solicitor General. After trying to start a public discussion about how a provincial sales tax could reduce government dependency on natural resource revenue, Mr. Griffiths became the target of his own colleagues who shot down his idea at the 2010 PC Party convention and by the Wildrose Alliance, who used Mr. Griffiths’ comments as a fundraising-focused attack campaign. He also hit the road this year as the author of a new book, 13 Ways to Kill your Community.
In last year’s list, I wrote of Mr. Griffiths: “With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.”
Rob Anderson (Wildrose Airdrie-Chestermere)
First-term PC MLA Rob Anderson‘s floor-crossing from the PCs to the Wildrose in January 2010, along with fellow PC MLA Heather Forsyth, set the tone for Alberta politics in 2010. He may have less political experience than his three fellow Wildrose MLAs (two of which are former PC cabinet ministers), but what he does not have in age or years of experience he makes up in political tenacity. If leader Danielle Smith is unable to win a seat in the next provincial election, Mr. Anderson is in a good position to take over the role.
Kent Hehr (Liberal Calgary-Buffalo)
What started as a tongue-in-cheek campaign by Liberal caucus staffers became reality when first-term Liberal MLA Kent Hehr launched his candidacy for Mayor of Calgary. Although he was a popular candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Hehr was unable to create the kind of momentum that launched Naheed Nenshi into contention. Mr. Hehr dropped out of the Mayoral contest when his poll numbers showed he was far behind, but that did not hurt his political credibility as he returned to the Assembly as the Official Opposition Justice Critic.
Dave Taylor (Independent Calgary-Currie)
After an unsuccessful run for the Liberal leadership in 2009, Dave Taylor was not satisfied with the leadership of his rival David Swann and left the Liberal Opposition to sit as an Independent in April 2010. As one of the more effective opposition critics in the Liberal caucus, losing Mr. Taylor likely cost the Official Opposition in media attention and also an MLA who held the support of many of his former talk radio hosts at the popular AM770 and 630CHED stations.
Cindy Ady (PC Calgary-Shaw)
Alberta’s Minister of Parks and Tourism rode the Alberta train as our province’s ambassador to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While handing out White Cowboy hats and iPod Touches, Minister Ady made sure that Alberta was the topic of discussion for the international media and tourists traveling to the Olympic events in Whistler.
Gene Zwozdesky (PC Edmonton-Mill Creek)
Crowned as the “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky was responsible for fixing the mess created and mend the fences destroyed by previous Minister Ron Liepert. Minister Zwozdesky has been more open and accessible than his predecessor, but the real challenge will be for him to actually deliver real improvements to a health care system that has been seen constant political interference and restructuring over the past twenty years.
Kyle Fawcett (PC Calgary-North Hill)
On the night of the October municipal election, the backbench Tory MLA who once described Premier Ed Stelmach as “a man of extraordinary vision,” also had a loose twitter finger. As the Purple Revolution swept his city, Mr. Fawcett tweeted that Calgarians had made a “Big Mistake” by electing Naheed Nenshi as Mayor.
Carl Benito (PC Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Where do I start? A broken promise to donate his entire salary to a scholarship fund for students in his constituency and blaming his wife for forgetting to pay his municipal property taxes. Mill Woods, your MLA is a real winner.
There may have been eighty three men and women (mostly men) sitting on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, but none made as much impact on the direction of the fall sitting than Dr. Raj Sherman. The medical doctor, first term MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, and now-former Parliamentary Assistant for Health was ejected from the Progressive Conservative caucus after criticizing Premier Ed Stelmach and former Minister of Health Ron Liepert and became an overnight hero to Albertans frustrated with the healthcare system. Dr. Sherman became a one-man wrecking crew and probably inflicted more damage to the PC Party in a month than any of the opposition MLAs have done in the past five years.
With the fall sitting ended and assuming he will not resign as an MLA, the big question is: where does this now Independent MLA go from here?
Stay Independent: One of Dr. Sherman’s biggest strengths is that he is not interested in being a politician. He has gained an incredible amount of media attention since becoming an Independent and his shedding of partisan ties has helped solidify his credibility as a voice for the public healthcare system in the Assembly. The challenge for any Independent MLA is the lack of financial resources available to non-party MLAs. Dr. Sherman has ridden a wave of support while being publicly backed by all of the opposition parties and his medical colleagues, but how long will this last?
Rejoin the Progressive Conservatives: After being indefinitely suspended form the PC caucus, Energy Minister Liepert said that he would refuse to support Dr. Sherman’s return to the PC caucus unless he completely withdrew the criticisms he expressed in a November interview with the Edmonton Journal. Making it even less likely he will return to the PC caucus was the alleged whisper campaign begun by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne, who has taken over Dr. Sherman’s former role as Parliamentary Assistant for Health.
Sit with the Liberals: Previous to his election as a PC MLA, Dr. Sherman had supported former Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy in his bid to lead the Liberal Party of Canada in 2006 and was courted to run for the Liberals before the 2008 election. As a moderate, Dr. Sherman would probably be comfortable sitting in Official Opposition Liberal caucus, and while I am sure that David Swann would be ecstatic to have him join their ranks recent polling showing that party falling to 19% support might make it a less than appealing jump.
Become the first Alberta Party MLA: As the first MLA for the Alberta Party, Dr. Sherman would have the opportunity to help shape and provide a voice for a new and growing political party that has attracted many political activists across the province (including many key organizers from Naheed Nenshi‘s Mayoral campaign in Calgary). Dr. Sherman would likely be blocked by Speaker Ken Kowalski from accessing many additional financial resources, a challenge that the Wildrose Alliance caucus has been forced to deal with.
Join the Wildrose Alliance MLA: If door is closed to rejoining the PC caucus, joining the four MLA Wildrose Alliance caucus might look like the best opportunity that Dr. Sherman has to becoming Minister of Health after the next election. The question would is could support the negative tone that Danielle Smith and her MLAs have taken towards the public healthcare system?
Make the New Democratic Party a trio: Dr. Sherman appeared with NDP MLA Brian Mason at a recent rally for public healthcare at the Legislature, but I would be very surprised if his politics lined up with the two MLA social democratic caucus. Next to rejoining the PCs, this might be the most least likely scenario.
It was supposed to be a boring week in Alberta politics. What was billed as a low-key and low-substance return of the Assembly for its fall sitting may still be lacking on substance, but it is not as low-key as most political watchers expected.
The Wizard of Zwoz introduces the Alberta Health Act
Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky introduced Bill 17: The Alberta Health Act this afternoon. The Alberta Health Act has been a target of health care advocates since Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne embarked on a province-wide road trip to “consult” Albertans on the proposed Act. The Edmonton Journal’s Sheila Pratt interviewed many of the people at these meetings, yet none of the criticism she discovered was reported in Mr. Horne’s committee’s final report. Minister Zwozdesky’s introductory speech was quick to target opposition to the Bill, which could open the door to further privatization after the next election.
Liberal Point of Order awaits Alberta Health Act
Minister Zwozdesky probably hoped to impress the opposition with his oratory introduction but it did not take long for Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was less than impressed. Ms. Blakeman was quick to pounce after the Health Minister’s speech, raising a point of order accusing him of improperly using the time allotted for him during the Bill’s first reading. Speaker Ken Kowalski was not amused. He rarely is these days.
Wildrose fundraises and attracts a familiar face
Speaking in front of a crowd of 800 guests, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith held her largest fundraiser yet in Calgary this week (the question and answer period was hosted by 630 CHED host Dave Rutherford). The Wildrose Alliance announced the nomination of three more candidates this week. Against the other opposition parties leaders, Shane McAllister will stand in Calgary-Mountainview and Wayde Lever in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. In the new Calgary-Greenway, 2008 independent/jettisoned PC candidate Ron Leech who will carry the Wildrose banner against rookie PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar. Mr. Bhullar squeaked out a win against Pastor Leech in 2008 when the local PC constituency organization was in disarray following the retirement of long-time MLA Hung Pham. Pastor Leech was originally nominated by the local PC association, but was removed and replaced by the appointed Mr. Bhullar.
Leaky Fawcett to stand in Calgary-Klein
PC backbencher Kyle Fawcett proposed an amendment to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Final Report that would have his constituency of Calgary-North Hillre-namedCalgary-Klein in the next provincial election (in honour of former Premier Ralph Klein). Mr. Fawcett (known as “Leaky Fawcett” in some political circles) got his wish. Other new constituency names are Strathcona (which will be known as Strathcona-Sherwood Park) and Calgary-Montrose (which will be known as Calgary-Greenway).
The member of four political parties will be gathering for official party functions over the next month. Starting today, the Progressive Conservative’s will be meeting for their policy convention in Calgary. The NDP will be holding their Annual Convention in Red Deer on November 5, 6, and 7. The Alberta Liberals will be electing a new party President, Vice-President Policy, and Secretary at their Annual General Meeting scheduled for November 27 in Red Deer. The new kid on the political block, the Alberta Party will be holding their policy convention on November 13. Here is a video from their recent Annual General Meeting:
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly resumes for Fall Sitting in a constantly changing political environment.
As the leaves fall and winter approaches, so does the resumption of the venerable institution known as the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Much has changed since last year’s Fall Sitting in Edmonton.
When MLAs return to the Assembly next Monday, they will have a few unfinished business to continue. The summer months have been far from quiet on Alberta’s political landscape. Premier Ed Stelmach has focused on promoting the oilsands to both audiences internationally and at home, including a tour with Hollywood Film Director James Cameron.
The Alberta Health Act will likely be the most contentious piece of legislation introduced in this sitting of the Assembly. Originally framed as a replacement for already existing pieces of health care legislation, the PC Government has since backed off after receiving an earful from Albertans in province-wide consultation meetings. The previously expected Alberta Health Act may be a shell of what it was envisioned to be when it is introduced in the next few weeks, but it could leave the door open for further legislative reforms (after the next election?).
At a media conference yesterday, Minister Gene Zwozdesky accepted recommendations from the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health, led by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne, but used his time to take a defensive stance against his critics. Minister Zwozdesky and Mr. Horne were also unable to fully explain the purpose of their proposed non-legally-binding Health Charter when questioned by reporters. The purpose of the new Alberta Health Act was challenged by Edmonton-Riverview MLA and Liberal Health Critic Kevin Taft, who labelled the Health Charter idea as “vacant” and predicted that the new Act “will be filled with platitudes that have no legal standing and have no recourse.”
I fully expect a continuation of the blood fued between the Wildrose Caucus and Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski to continue over the next session. Since the Wildrose Caucus grew to three MLAs with the floor-crossing of Mr. Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth in January 2010, Speaker Kowalski has used his power on the Members’ Services Committee to block any further increases in funding to the now third party caucus (the two MLA NDP Caucus still receives more funding that the 3 MLA Wildrose Caucus) and even demand that Danielle Smith‘s name be removed from media releases. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose Alliance Party in June 2010, but has remained as an Independent MLA in order to secure more research and communications funding (when he officially joins the Wildrose Caucus next week, their combined funding will decrease).
Since last session, the Wildrose have declared war on Speaker Kowalski outside the Assembly by nominating Senator-in-Waiting Link Byfield as their candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Speaker Kowalski has represented variations of that constituency since 1979. Mr. Byfield has been endorsed by former Conservative Members of Parliament John Williams and David Chatters.
Not to be outdone by the insurgent Wildrosers, the PC Party will be holding their Annual Convention in Calgary on October 29 and 30. I am told by a number of sources that the Convention will also serve as the kickoff for a series of “discussion sessions” with PC Party members billed as Speak Easies which will attempt to reconnect the party leadership with an increasingly disillusioned voter-base in the year before the party celebrates its fortieth year in government.
After a brutal Spring sitting that included the high-profile departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor from the Official Opposition Caucus, Liberal Opposition leader David Swann is looking to improve his party’s position this Fall. Dr. Swann is attempting to hitch his horse close to the Reboot Alberta group, which has attracted many partisan and non-partisan activists to its ranks during its two previous gatherings. In an email sent out today from his Calgary-Mountain View constituency office email, Dr. Swann implored his supporters to join him in attending the next Reboot Alberta meeting in Edmonton on November 5 and 6.
The NDP Caucus is probably feeling rightfully jubilant for the election of their Director of Research, Sarah Hoffman, to the Edmonton Public School Board, but those feeling of excitement may be tempered as they enter the Fall Sitting short-staffed. In early October, Communications Director Brookes Merritt left the NDP Caucus to accept a job with the Government of Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau. Until they find a replacement, Chief of Staff Jim Gurnett is covering the Communications portfolio.
Outside the dome of the Assembly Building, there are some very real political changes happening. The new Alberta Party held its Annual General Meeting in Red Deer at the beginning of October and after months of touring the province holding Big Listen events, that party will hold their first policy convention in the same city on November 13.
The new Alberta Party has also moved forward with the hiring of their provincial organizer Michael Walters. The party will also undoubtedly benefit from having many of its members involved in recent municipal election campaigns, including Alberta Party Vice-President Chima Nkemdirim, who was the Campaign Director for Naheed Nenshi’s successful Mayoral campaign in Calgary. Mr. Walters was also heavily involved in the Election Day get out the vote organization that helped get Mayor Stephen Mandel re-elected in Edmonton.
Also not to be ignored is the role that the Wildrose Alliance played in recent municipal elections in the province’s two largest cities. The party has already hired organizers and been nominating candidates for the next provincial election, but leader Danielle Smith’s foray into the City Centre Airport issue in Edmonton and the Airport Tunnel issue in Calgary should not be ignored. Many Wildrose organizers active in the campaigns of Calgary Mayor candidate Ric McIver and Edmonton Mayor candidate David Dorward. While they may not walk away with voters lists, it is clear that they are taking advantage of any opportunity to get an organizational edge over the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
A lot of attention has been paid to Mayor-elect Nenshi’s victory in the Calgary Mayoral contest (and rightfully so), but he was not the only new Mayor elected on October 18. Seven of Alberta’s medium sized municipalities also elected new Mayor’s this week. In the north west city of Grande Prairie, Bill Given unseated Mayor Dwight Logan. East of Edmonton, Linda Osinchuk unseated Mayor Cathy Olesen to become Mayor of Strathcona County, Rajko Dodic was elected as the new Mayor of Lethbridge. Along the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, Jeff Mulligan defeated incumbent Mayor Ken Baker in the City of Lloydminster. In the City of Wetaskiwin, Bill Elliot defeated incumbent Mayor Don Montgomery. In Airdrie, Peter Brown defeated incumbent Mayor Linda Bruce. In Alberta’s newest City, Steve Christie was elected Mayor of Lacombe, replacing the retiring Mayor Judy Gordon (who also served as the PC MLA for Lacombe-Stettler from 1993 to 2004). There was a lot of political change happening across Alberta on October 18, 2010. Of course, it is too soon to tell whether this will foreshadow a provincial election expected in March 2012.
The Fall Sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will likely open with a low level of substantive legislation and legislative debate, but outside the Dome there will be no shortage of new characters and exciting politics.
The Office of Speaker Ken Kowalskilaunched their latest institutional offensive in their ongoing campaign against Wildrose Alliance. A series of letters from Legislative Clerk David McNeil were sent to the tiny conservative caucus demanding that because their leader is not an MLA, that they immediately stop mentioning her name in their press releases. This kind level micro-management by the Speaker’s Office is unprecedented.
Legislative Financial Services Director Scott Ellis sent letters to Wildrose MLAs demanding that they and their staff avoid political party interests in their caucus activities, effectively asking them to be non-partisan partisans. The following letter and attachments from Mr. Ellis to Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson effectively demands the removal of any mention of the word “Wildrose” from his constituency website:
Memo to Rob Anderson As much as I disagree with their policy and political agenda, I am having a difficult time not having a little sympathy for the Wildrose caucus on this issue. When I worked for the Alberta Liberal Party, I remember the frustration of the communications staff at the Official Opposition caucus when the Speaker’s Office would refuse funding material that was arbitrarily deemed “too red” or that the Leader’s name was displayed “too prominently.”
While the Speaker’s Office has a duty to insure that caucuses are not using the public funds allocated to them in overtly partisan ways, it is painting this gray area black. Legislative politics is inherently partisan to a certain degree, and while I believe the Wildrose MLAs may be edging near the line of inappropriate usage, it is clear that Speaker Kowalski’s Office is continuing to target them for political and, ironically, partisan reasons.
Since Peter Lougheed catapulted from official opposition leader to Premier in 1971, Alberta’s opposition leadership have become a political graveyard for many well-intentioned and ambitious politicians. There are many reasons for this: Alberta’s tradition of electing large government majorities, the ability of the PC party to create a big-tent party, the unpopularity of opposition parties federal counterparts, and the trap of falling into an opposition mentality.
Dr. David Swann is one of many Albertans who have stepped up to the daunting task and challenge of leading a party in the divisive and dysfunctional world of opposition politics in Alberta. Calgary MLA Dave Taylor gave Dr. Swann a verbal lashing when he left the Liberal caucus earlier this past year and last week Tony Sansotta resigned as President after co-signing a letter with Dr. Swann appealing for cooperation with other opposition parties. To the untrained eye, it may look like the Liberal Party is on the verge of internal collapse and maybe it is, but I struggle to think of a time when Alberta has had an opposition party not rife with internal division.
Taking a quick look back at Alberta politics over the past twenty-five years, you will find opposition leaders that made positive contributions to Alberta politics, but could not withstand the meat-grinder of opposition politics in Alberta. A quick read of the list of individuals below could easily lead most Albertans to determine some of the most thankless jobs in our province indeed belong to leaders of provincial opposition parties.
Nick Taylor (Liberal leader, 1974 to 1988): He bravely led the Liberals through the darkness and proved that even in the height of the National Energy Program that Liberals had hope to win in Alberta. In 1979, Mr. Taylor placed only 355 votes behind PC candidate Ken Kowalski in a by-election in Barrhead. After six attempts at elected office since 1968, he was elected as MLA for Westlock-Sturgeon in 1986 and was only Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the Assembly for less than two years before his position was challenged by Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore and Edmonton MLA Grant Mitchell. He continued to serve as an MLA until 1996, when he was appointed to the Senate.
Rod Sykes (Social Credit leader, 1980 to 1982): After serving two terms as the Mayor of Calgary (1969-1977), Mayor Sykes took over the leadership of the Social Credit Party. After nine years in opposition, the party was mired with internal and financial problems which led him to resign in 1982. He later ran as a federal Liberal candidate in the 1984 election.
Ray Martin (NDP leader, 1984 to 1994): He led the New Democrats to its height as Official Opposition with 16 MLAs in 1986 and 1989, but that did not stop the internal bickering. Mr. Martin’s faced calls to resign from Calgary candidate Barry Bristman in 1989 and fought a leadership challenge by St. Paul veterinarian Don Ronaghan in 1991. In 1992, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn abandoned the NDP for the PCs. Mr. Martin resigned after his party lost all their seats to the Liberals and PCs in the Assembly in the 1993 election. He returned to the Assembly when he was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 2004 to 2008.
Laurence Decore (Liberal leader, 1988 to 1994): The former Edmonton Mayor built the best political machine an opposition party had seen since the 1970s, but that was not enough for some of the MLAs in his caucus-mates. In 1993, after the Liberals won their largest vote share with 39.7% and 32 seats, a group of MLAs and party members were not satisfied with official opposition status called for his resignation. Calgary-North West MLA Frank Bruseker was stripped of his major critic portfolios after telling reporters he was worried the party could not win enough seats in Calgary to secure an election win due to Mr. Decore’s leadership. Mr. Decore gracefully resigned in 1994.
Ross Harvey (NDP leader, 1994 to 1996): The former NDP Member of Parliament was selected as leader of the seatless party shortly after he was unseated in the 1993 federal election. He was unable to satisfactorily rebuild his party after it was wiped out in 1993 and quit in 1996. He was soon replaced by Pam Barrett.
Grant Mitchell (Liberal leader, 1994 to 1998): After a brutal and divisive leadership race in 1994, Mr. Mitchell faced opposition from within his own party and caucus. Three MLAs crossed to the PCs during his time as leader and his leadership opponent MLA Sine Chadi waged a constant campaign to undermine his leadership. Shortly after the 1997 election, former Calgary MLA Danny Dalla-Longa called for his resignation. He resigned in 1998 and in 2005 was appointed to the Senate.
Pam Barrett (NDP leader, 1996 to 2000): After serving as MLA for Edmonton-Highlands from 1986 to 1993, Ms. Barrett returned in 1996. She led her party to elect two MLAs in the 1997 election and later resigned after a near-death experience in a dentist’s chair.
Nancy MacBeth (Liberal leader, 1998 to 2001): After losing to Ralph Klein in the 1992 PC leadership race, Ms. MacBeth (then Ms. Betkowski) left politics until 1998 when she swept into the Liberal leadership. The former PC cabinet minister faced some tough opposition from MLAs within her party’s caucus, including two who crossed the floor (Gene Zwozdesky joined the PCs and Pamela Paul sat as an Independent). She resigned almost immediately after she was unseated in the 2001 election.
Randy Thorsteinson (Social Credit leader, 1992 to 1999, Alberta Alliance leader, 2003 to 2005). Even after leading the long-dormant Social Credit Party to win 6.8% of the vote in 1997, Mr. Thorsteinson was at odds with his party after a movement within the party to limit the involvement of members of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Thorsteinson quit the party in April 1999 and was a founder of the Alberta First Party. In 2003, he re-emerged as leader of the Alberta Alliance – the Wildrose Alliance‘s predecessor – and led that party to earn 8.7% of the vote in 2004. He resigned after failing to win a seat in the 2004 election.
Ken Nicol (Liberal leader, 2001 to 2004): Quiet, respected, and more conservative than most of his caucus colleagues, Dr. Nicol reluctantly accepted the leadership from the unseated Ms. MacBeth in 2001. He briefly led the Liberals until internal conflict from within his party and caucus convinced him that running as a federal Liberal candidate might be a better career option. He resigned as MLA in 2004 and was defeated in his bid represent Lethbridge in the House of Commons later that year.
Kevin Taft (Liberal leader, 2004 to 2008): The first Liberal leader to increase the party’s seat total since Mr. Decore, Dr. Taft led the Liberals through two elections. He tried to distance the provincial party from its unpopular federal counterparts and while he did not face as much internal dissent from his party and caucus as did his predecessors, he did have the unfortunate task of having to remove MLA Dan Backs from the Liberal caucus. He stepped down as leader after the 2008 election and is currently the opposition Health & Wellness critic.
While the sacking of Toronto grabbed national attention this weekend, another event captivated political audiences in Alberta. The Wildrose Alliance policy conference in Red Deer drew the kind of crowds that opposition parties in Alberta have not seen since Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party twenty years ago. Around 700 delegates traveled to central Alberta to debate and vote on party policy and an estimated 900 to 1000 people packed the conference hotel to hear leader Danielle Smith deliver her keynote speech on Friday night (video and text).
Starting her speech, she took a direct shot at Speaker Ken Kowalski, who Ms. Smith claimed has been “running roughshot over Alberta’s democracy” for blocking increased funding to the Wildrose caucus. Ms. Smith also directly challenged the integrity of the current government, led by Premier Ed Stelmach.
In what must have been a carefully managed production, delegates rejected some of the more controversial policies (including the right to bear arms). There is no doubt that more extreme conservative elements exist in this party, but under Ms. Smith’s leadership they are very tactfully creating a new image as a moderate conservative alternative to the current governing party.
The Wildroses also announced that it has organized local associations in all 83 constituencies, which is a status that the Liberals and New Democrats would have a difficult time legitimately claiming. With organizations being built on the ground, a large challenge will be for the party to prove that it can attract strong candidates across the province (in 87 new constituencies).
Ms. Smith has yet to convince Albertans that she is ready to lead a government, but she has taken an important step this weekend by grabbing their attention. Let us see if she can hang on to it.
Is Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski using his Constituency Office to fundraise for the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock Progressive Conservative association?
A registration form for the 24th Annual Ken Kowalski “The Classic” Golf Tournament (see PDF registration form) directs readers to mail cheques payable to the local PC association at Box 4576, Barrhead, Alberta T7N 1A4.
A quick Google search shows that the post office box is also listed as Speaker Kowalski’s Constituency Office mailing address on many websites, including the Town of Barrhead website.
If the internet is correct, it appears that the local PC association and the Constituency Office are sharing a mailing address. If this is the case, are political funds or public funds paying for this post office box? If they are indeed sharing a mailing address, it would suggest that correspondence from constituents of all political stripes to Speaker Kowalski’s Constituency Office would also be accessible to the local PC association.
It would be highly inappropriate for any elected official, especially one in Speaker Kowalski’s position of responsibility, to be using a publicly funded Constituency Office as a location to collect political donations.