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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.

ALBERTA POLITICS SUMMER READING LIST

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 ActiveHistory.ca describes the book as an essential text on the history of Alberta’s tar sands. Used copies can be found on amazon.com.

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:

Categories
Alberta Politics

15 years ago I started a blog about Alberta politics

It is remarkable how quickly time flies by. Fifteen years ago I was probably sitting on my couch in the living room of my heavily-subsidized and very run-down University of Alberta-owned residence in north Garneau when I first clicked the publish button on my brand new blogspot.com website. That was probably how Daveberta was born.

Dave Cournoyer in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)
Dave Cournoyer at a political event in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)

I was in the fourth year studying an undergraduate degree in Political Science that would be drawn out for a not insignificant number of more years as I threw myself into student union politics and activism, and then provincial politics.

I had no idea that 15 years later this website would still exist, and that it would also spin off into a podcast and lead to hundreds of media interviews, conference panels and speaking engagements, because at the time blogging was a novelty and something that a lot of people were just trying out.

Maybe I am just one of the few who had staying power?

The name Daveberta was inspired, somewhat mockingly, in response to Paulberta t-shirts donned by Paul Martin delegates attending the 2003 Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto (which I was among at the time). I figured Daveberta both sounded better and was more authentic (I am a third-generation Albertan and Martin was not).

Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.
Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.

A lot has changed in politics over the past fifteen years, for myself and Alberta.

Fifteen years ago I was heavily involved in student politics at the U of A and in Liberal Party politics, mostly at the provincial level. This website certainly had a partisan inclination when it was launched and along with CalgaryGrit.ca and AlbertaDiary.ca (now AlbertaPolitics.ca) became one of the go-to blogs focusing on Alberta politics.

Back then I was a proud a partisan and largely depended on blog aggregators, links from other blogs, and keyword searches to generate website traffic.

Today, I enthusiastically hold no party membership (my political inclinations have also significantly shifted) and depend much more on Facebook and Twitter to reach my readers.

Dave Cournoyer Justin Trudeau
Dave Cournoyer and Justin Trudeau in 2014.

Alberta politics used to be boring, or so I am told, but the past fifteen years have been anything but boring. The political landscape has witnessed a number of political upheavals, and might be a little confusing to someone from 2005. Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that have changed in Alberta politics since Daveberta.ca was launched fifteen years ago:

Alberta Legislature

Then: The Progressive Conservative Party formed a majority government with 61 MLAs, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition with 17 MLAs, the New Democratic Party had 4 MLAs, and the Alberta Alliance had 1 MLA. Ken Kowalski was the Speaker and serving his 26th year as an MLA.

Now: The United Conservative Party forms a majority government with 63 MLAs, and the NDP forms Official Opposition with 24 MLAs. Nathan Cooper is the Speaker.

"...Dave Cournoyer isn't some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut." - Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)
“…Dave Cournoyer isn’t some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut.” – Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)

Premier of Alberta

Then: Ralph Klein was in what would soon be seen as the dying days of his premiership. Klein led the PC Party to win a reduced majority government in the November 2004 election, which was dubbed the “Kleinfeld” campaign because of the lack of central narrative of the PC Party campaign. Klein would be unceremoniously dumped by PC Party members at a leadership review in 2006, and he would resign from office months later and fade into obscurity after hosting a short-lived TV gameshow in Calgary.

Now: Former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney leads a UCP majority government, after successfully staging the merger of the membership of the PC Party and Wildrose Party, and leading the party to victory in the 2019 election. Like Klein, Kenney is hell bent on dismantling the high-quality public services that Albertans depend on each day. But unlike Klein, Kenney appears to committed to a much more ideologically-driven free market agenda.

Leader of the Official Opposition

Then: Kevin Taft had just led the Liberal Party from what appeared to be the brink of oblivion to more than triple the party’s number of MLAs. The Liberals regained most of the seats it lost in the disastrous 2001 election and made a major breakthrough in Calgary, electing three MLAs in Alberta’s largest city.

Now: Rachel Notley became leader of the official opposition after four years as Premier of Alberta. She becomes the first official opposition leader in 48 years to have previously served as premier. Notley announced in December 2019 that she plans to lead the NDP into the next election, expected to be held in 2023.

The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)
The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)

Alberta separatism

Then: The week that I launched Daveberta.ca, former Western Canada Concept leader Doug Christie was traveling through Alberta trying to start another western separatist party. The Western Block Party was unable to elect any MPs and was dissolved in 2014.

Now: Fringe politicians rally around the separatist flavour of the week, now known as Wexit, and a former respected newspaper owner and a defeated Toronto politician spoke in favour of separatism at a conservative conference in Calgary. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

It continues to be a wild ride, and a pleasure to share my thoughts on Alberta politics on this website and on the Daveberta Podcast.

Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)
Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)

There are a few people who I would like to recognize and thank for inspiring and supporting me along the way (this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many people I am thankful for who helped me a long the way):

  • My family, and my beautiful wife Kyla in particular, have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of this hobby and my indulgences into Alberta politics.
  • My friend Chris Henderson, whose advice and friendship helped me navigate a number of politically challenging times.
  • My former boss at the Liberal Party, Kieran Leblanc, who is a dear-friend and someone who I definitely need to make time to meet for lunch with more often.
  • Adam Rozenhart and Ryan Hastman for helping start the Daveberta Podcast more than two years ago. The podcast continues to be a highlight for me, and a medium that I have enjoying focusing on over the past few years. (The Daveberta Podcast has been nominated in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in this year’s The Canadian Podcast Awards).

And a sincere thank you to everyone who keeps on reading this website and listening to the podcast. I may not still be writing on this website fifteen years from now, but regardless of how much longer it lasts, it has been a great experience.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney touts NDP record of low-taxes, efficient power prices during trip to India

Jason Kenney touted Alberta’s low taxes, educated work-force and efficient power prices to the Indian media during a trip to meet with government ministers and business leaders on the subcontinent this week, according to a report from the CBC.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

Meanwhile, back in Alberta, political watchers are scratching their heads, wondering  why Kenney, actually only the leader of the Official Opposition United Conservative Party, would contradict some of his main criticisms of the New Democratic Party government while he is overseas?

In the clip referred to the in CBC article, Kenney sounded more like actual Premier Rachel Notley or Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, than the anti-NDP Kenney that Albertans have got to know over the past year and half.

Kenney has spent the past two years rallying against NDP ‘ideological’ and ‘risky’ high-taxes that he argues have destroyed our province’s mythical “Alberta Advantage.” He has also warned that electricity prices could soon spike because of the NDP’s shift toward renewable energy and away from dirty coal-fired power plants.

The truth is that the Kenney we heard from India is correct. Alberta’s taxes are low, (I have argued they are lower than they should be), our electricity prices are stable, and our excellent public education system has produced a highly-educated workforce. And Alberta’s economy is growing, albeit at a slower rate than the over-heated boom-times we all became accustomed to, according to recent projections.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose
Prasad Panda

Probably a little confused about what they were hearing from Kenney’s trip, the NDP raised questions about the ethics of the opposition leader’s trip abroad. I am a little skeptical about whether there are actually any ethical breaches, but there still remains unanswered questions about how the trip to the subcontinent actually began and who or what organization is paying for it.

Kenney says he was invited by the High Commission of India, which is probably true, but it seems unusual for a foreign government to extend an invitation like this to the leader of a provincial opposition party.

The trip was publicly announced mid-week last week and Kenney was on a plane by Friday with his United Conservative Party delegation of Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen. It is not clear whether the UCP will publicly release the itinerary of Kenney’s visit, as would be released with any actual ministerial visit.

Despite his current role as a provincial opposition politician, Kenney very much remains a nationally-minded politician (with frequent trips to Ottawa in his schedule) and has strong connections to conservative politicians in other parts of the world. And he is no dummy. Putting aside the tongue and cheek opening sentence of this article, I doubt Kenney is misrepresenting himself to Indian Government officials by pretending to be a Minister of the Crown. But I think it is entirely possible that he is presenting himself in India as the next Premier of Alberta.

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

The UCP does not have a trade policy, at least not one they have released for Albertans to see, so it is also not clear what kind of promises or commitments he is making to Indian government officials and business people.

Perhaps the UCP leader is so confident that his party will win a solid majority in next year’s election that he already feels comfortable embarking on international trips on Alberta’s behalf. Kenney has room to be confident, but not to be complacent.

According to two polls, his party’s lead ahead of the NDP has shrunk from 24 percent in April 2018 to 14 percent in July 2018. This is obviously still a very healthy lead, but it’s only a stone’s throw away from becoming a competitive election.

Perhaps the reason for this narrowing of the polls is that Notley’s has largely outmaneuvered him on the pipeline issue, leaving him largely sitting on the sidelines. Despite the alternate universes that some media pundits exist in, Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for the oil industry and pipeline expansion (to the chagrin of some environmentally-minded NDP activists). 

As I have written in the past, there is value in public officials making international trips to promote Alberta. But the value of overseas trips by government officials remain almost impossible to calculate, and a visit like this by a provincial opposition leader, even a former federal cabinet minister like Kenney, will likely have little impact on actual trade relations between India and Alberta.


As noted in some media coverage of Kenney’s overseas adventure, this is not the firs time an opposition leader from Alberta has made an international trip. NDP leader Brian Mason received approval from the Speaker of the Assembly to use public funds to visit Alaska in 2007 to study that State’s royalty structure.

Liberal leader Kevin Taft stayed closer to home when he travelled to Winnipeg in 2007 to promote his idea for turning western Canada into an oil refining super-hub. And in the 1993 election, it was reported that NDP leader Ray Martin brought reporters to a hospital in nearby Montana as a way of focusing attention on medicare.

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Alberta Politics

Who might and might not be invited to the Leaders’ Debate in Alberta’s 2019 election?

Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.

We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.

Most readers of this website will remember Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice‘s infamous “math is difficult” rebuttal to New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley during the 2015 debate. The comment was viewed by many as sexist and the embodiment of a 44-year old political dynasty way past it’s best before date.

Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.

Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.

Stephen Mandel: Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel will almost certainly be invited to join the debate even though he is not currently an MLA. Mandel served as a PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from October 2014 to May 2015 and was defeated by NDP MLA Bob Turner in 2015. The Alberta Party elected one MLA in 2015 – Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark – and now has three MLAs due to floor-crossings by former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and UCP MLA Rick Fraser.

David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.

The Derek Fildebrandt Question: Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.

Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.

Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.

As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.


A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections

Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:

1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.

The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”

At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.

1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.

1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.

An alternative debate that included leaders of smaller parties was also televised. That debate included the leaders of the Communist Party, Confederation of Regions, Alliance Party and Green Party. Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson refused to participate, arguing that the Social Credit party should have been included in the main leaders debate.

1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts. 

2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.

2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.

The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.

2008 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast on Global, CTV and CBC: PC Party leader Ed Stelmach, Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman. Hinman was the Alberta Alliance Party’s sole elected MLA in the 2004 election before the party changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance (he would be defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008).

The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election). 

2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Smith was invited to join the debate despite her party not having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The Wildrose Party was represented in the Assembly by four MLAs when the election was called. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore and Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier were elected as PC candidates in 2008 before crossing the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.

Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.

2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.

The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.

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Alberta Politics

March 3, 2008 was an optimistic day to be a Liberal supporter, at least up until 8:22 p.m.

Photo: Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft speaks to a rally of supporters on the weekend before the 2008 election. Taft, in my opinion, was one of the best premiers Alberta never had.

March 3, 2008 was an optimistic day to be a Liberal Party supporter, at least up until 8:22 p.m that night. The polls had only closed for 22 minutes when the news channels began declaring that the long in the tooth Progressive Conservatives would form another majority government in Alberta.

The front page of the Edmonton Journal on March 4, 2008 (Photo originally shared by Les Stelmach on Facebook).
The front page of the Edmonton Journal on March 4, 2008 (Photo originally shared by Les Stelmach on Facebook).

It was a heartbreaking loss for those of us who were involved in the Alberta Liberal Party campaign that year.

I had been involved with the Liberal Party since the early 2000s and played a behind the scenes role in that year’s election campaign.

While I spent a considerable amount of time knocking on doors for candidates in Edmonton, I was also working with a group of MLAs, lawyers and former PC cabinet ministers on what would have been the plan to transition the Liberals into government if the party had won that election ten years ago today.

The whole project felt like a silly effort at 8:22 p.m. that night, but there were moments in the campaign where it did feel like Albertans were looking for a change.

After a divisive PC leadership race and a surprise win in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, it looked as if the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft were about to build significant gains after their Calgary breakthrough in the 2004 election.

The Liberals did make gains in Calgary that night, electing five MLAs including rookies Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, but the party suffered huge losses in its traditional base of Edmonton. Liberal MLAs were defeated in seats the party had held since the 1980s and 1990s and gains they had made in the city in the previous election were competely erased. When the dust settled, there were only 3 Liberal MLAs left in the capital city.

It was also bittersweet night for our opponents in the New Democratic Party campaign. Star candidate Rachel Notley was elected in Edmonton-Strathcona, retaining the seat held by former party leader Raj Pannu. But the party’s caucus was reduced to two after MLAs David Eggen and Ray Martin were swept away in the PC’s Edmonton wave.

It really felt like Edmonton that night.

The Progressive Conservative Party’s new leader, Ed Stelmach, had been underestimated by just about everybody inside and outside his party. Even as he led a party that had been in power for almost 40 years, his campaign tipped their hat to an energetic campaign south of the border by using the slogan “Change that works for Albertans.”

For those involved in the PC campaign, it was a remarkable landslide. And the last big landslide of the party’s more than four consecutive decades in office.

Stelmach ended up being a fairly decent premier, who I believe history will treat kindly, but landslide victories like these can be a doubled-edged sword. The large PC caucus of 72 MLAs, which included rookie MLAs Alison Redford and Raj Sherman, proved to be too unruly to manage. And the politics of a bitter conservative establishment festered as aspiring leadership contenders jockeyed for power. It was less than four years later that Stelmach resigned from the Premier’s Office.

The 2008 election was a real formative political period for me. Despite the disappointing and depressing outcome, I learned so much from my time working with the dedicated and passionate Albertans involved that campaign. It was a real honour.

To this day, I think Albertans were looking for change on March 3, 2008. It just took them another seven years to decide that the change they were looking for wouldn’t come from inside the PC Party.

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Alberta Politics

Total Votes in Alberta political party leadership races from 1998 to 2018

Photo: Ed Stelmach (elected leader of the PC Party in 2006), Danielle Smith (elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009), Kevin Taft (elected leader of the Liberal Party in 2004), and Alison Redford (elected leader of the PC Party leader in 2011).

Following the announcement this week of the results of the Alberta Party leadership race, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voter participation in party leadership races in Alberta over the past twenty years.

The largest participation in a party leadership race in the past two decades, and in Alberta’s history, took place during the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 2006. More than 144,000 members voted in the race and it is believed that more than 200,000 memberships were sold. The party had a very open membership sales policy, which allowed any Albertan to purchase a membership at their local voting station on the day of the vote. This vote chose Ed Stelmach to replace Ralph Klein as PC Party leader and Premier of Alberta.

The 2011 Liberal Party leadership vote, which selected Raj Sherman as party leader, used an open membership system. This allowed any Albertan to participate in the vote without having to actually purchase a party membership.

The 2014 New Democratic Party leadership vote that selected Rachel Notley to replace Brian Mason used a hybrid one-member one-vote system which allocated 25 percent of the total vote to affiliate organizations. The lack of clarity around how many organizations took part in the vote and who they may have supported makes it unclear how many individual votes were actually cast in that leadership election.

The 2017 United Conservative Party leadership vote was conducted by delegates who were elected by party members in each district. The party membership consisted of new UCP members, as well as individuals who had been members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party until that point.

Acclamations occurred in the 2000 and 2004 NDP leadership contests, the 2001 Liberal Party leadership contest, and the 2003 Alberta Alliance leadership contest.

 

Categories
Alberta Books

Oil’s Deep State by Edmonton author Kevin Taft returns to top of Audrey’s Edmonton non-fiction bestseller list

Here is the list of the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold in Edmonton for the week ended Jan. 7, 2018, compiled by Audreys Books and provided by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.

Oils Deep State Kevin Taft AlbertaEDMONTON FICTION BESTSELLERS

1. This Wound is a World (poetry) Billy-Ray Belcourt*+
2. Bellevue Square – Michael Redhill
3. Autumn – Ali Smith
4. The Power – Naomi Alderman
5. Heartbreak Hotel – Jonathan Kellerman
6. Difficult Women – Roxane Gay
7. Origin: A Novel – Dan Brown
8. Change of Heart – Jodi Picoult
9. The Apothecary’s Shop – Roberto Tiraboschi and Katherine Gregor
10. Fire Born – Rayanne Haines*

EDMONTON NON-FICTION BESTSELLERS

1. Oil’s Deep State – Kevin Taft*
2. Stories from the Bush – Circle Teachings*
3. Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations – Richard Wagamese
4. Women Who Smashed Codes – Jason Fagone
5. When We Were Alone (children’s) – David Alexander Robertson, Julie Flett
6. The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel
7. River of Consciousness – Oliver Sacks
8. Birds Art Life – Kyo Maclear
9. Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America – Emily Dufton
10. My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs – Kazuo Ishiguro

*Alberta Author +Alberta Publisher

Categories
Alberta Politics

Five candidates run to lead the Green Party of Alberta

Photo: Green Party of Alberta leadership candidates Grant Neufeld, Romy Tittel, Marco Reid, Brian Deheer and James Friesen.

While the Green Party has succeeded in electing MLAs in British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as well as MP Elizabeth May to the House of Commons, the party remains below the radar for most Albertans.

Janet Keeping Alberta Green Party
Janet Keeping

Five Albertans seeking to lead our province’s Green Party are hoping to change that.

Grant NeufeldRomy Tittel, Marco ReidJames Friesen and Brian Deheer have submitted their applications to run in the race to replace Janet Keeping, who has led the party since 2012 and announced earlier this year that she would step down. Members will select a new leader at the party’s annual general meeting in Red Deer on November 4, 2017. According to the party website, members can either vote in person at the AGM or cast their ballots online.

The party is far from the mainstream of Alberta politics on issues like the construction of oil pipelines, but it could be position to gain the votes of some environmentalist New Democrat voters dissatisfied with the Notley Government’s avid pro-pipeline advocacy and working relationship with energy industry leaders.

Somewhat ironically, a book published by former Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, Oil’s Deep State: How the petroleum industry undermines democracy and stops action on global warming – in Alberta, and in Ottawa, could provide a savvy Green Party leader with the manifesto required to carve a small beachhead in Alberta’s political discourse.

No one expects the Greens to form government, and their potential for electing their first Alberta MLA appears to be slim, but the lack of high-stakes puts the Greens in a position to talk about certain issues – especially around the environment and development – that the mainstream parties will not touch.

The party ran candidates in 24 constituencies in the 2015 election and earned a total 7,321 votes across the province. Leadership candidate Brian Deheer had the party’s strongest showing in the last election in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote.

More recently, Keeping earned 2.9 percent in the 2015 Calgary-Foothills by-election and Thana Boonlert earned 2 percent of the vote in the 2016 Calgary-Greenway by-election.

The Green Party’s best ever showing in a provincial election took place in 2008, when the party earned 43,222 votes, or 4.5 percent of the province-wide vote. In that election, property rights activist Joe Anglin earned 22 percent of the vote in the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency. Anglin led the party for a short period until it was dissolved in 2009 (it reformed in 2011) and was later elected as a Wildrose candidate in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, where he served as MLA until 2015.


The Green Party published a list of questions and answers posed to each of the five candidates:

Categories
Alberta Books

Oil’s Deep State by Kevin Taft continues to top Audreys Books’ Edmonton Bestsellers List

Here is the list of the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold in Edmonton for the week ended October 8, 2017, compiled by Audreys Books and provided by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.

Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers

  1. Oils Deep State Kevin Taft AlbertaOil’s Deep State: How the Petroleum Industry Undermines Democracy and Slows Action on Global Warming – in Alberta, and in Ottawa  –  Kevin Taft *
  2. To Hell and Back: A Former Hells Angel’s Story of Recovery and Redemption – Joe Calendino
  3. What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton
  4. Trudeau’s Tango: Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau – Darryl Raymaker * +
  5. Powered by Love: A Grandmother’s’ Movement to Ends Aids in Africa – JoAnna Henry, Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, Alexis MacDonald
  6. Lightfoot – Nicholas Jennings
  7. Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada – Margo Goodhand
  8. Farm to Chef: Cooking Through the Seasons – Lynn Crawford
  9. The Vietnam War: An Intimate History – Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns
  10. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Edmonton Fiction Bestsellers

  1. This is All a Lie – Thomas Trofimuk *
  2. Slow War (Poetry) – Benjamin Hertwig
  3. Glass Houses – Louise Penny
  4. The Sun & Her Flowers (Poetry) – Rupi Kaur
  5. Bellevue Square – Michael Redhill
  6. A Legacy of Spies – John le Carré
  7. The History of Bees – Maja Lunde
  8. Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
  9. Walking Through Turquoise (Poetry) – Laurie MacFayden * +
  10. A Tincture of Sunlight – Vivian Hansen * +

* Alberta Author
+ Alberta Publisher

Categories
Alberta Books

Oil’s Deep State by Kevin Taft tops Audreys Books’ Edmonton Bestsellers List this week

Here is the list of the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold in Edmonton for the week ended October 1, 2017, compiled by Audreys Books and provided by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.

Oils Deep State Kevin Taft AlbertaEdmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers

  1. Oil’s Deep State: How the Petroleum Industry Undermines Democracy and Slows Action on Global Warming – in Alberta, and in Ottawa  –  Kevin Taft *
  2. The Unravelling: How our caregiving safety net came unstrung and we were left grasping at threads, struggling to plait a new one – Clem & Olivier Martini * +
  3. Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada – Margo Goodhand
  4. \What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton
  5. The Dwindling: A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey on the Edge of Life – Janet Dunnett
  6. Finding Gobi: A Little Dog With a Very Big Heart – Dion Leonard, Craig Borlase
  7. Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood – Pauline Dakin
  8. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari
  9. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone – Brené Brown
  10. In Search of A Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey – Payam Akhavan

Edmonton Fiction Bestsellers

  1. Miriam’s Secret (Childrens) – Debby Waldman *
  2. This is All A Lie – Thomas Trofimuk *
  3. The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
  4. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  5. Glass Houses – Louise Penny
  6. Annie Muktuk and Other Stories – Norma Dunning * +
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  8. One Brother Shy – Terry Fallis
  9. This Was a Man – Jeffrey Archer
  10. Walking Through Turquoise (Poetry) – Laurie MacFayden * +

*Alberta Author
+ Alberta Publisher

Categories
Alberta Politics

How much influence does the oil industry have over Alberta politics?

Way too much, according to author and former Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft.

Kevin Taft

Taft takes a deep dive into the influence of big oil on the politics and policy direction of our province in his new book, Oil’s Deep State: How the petroleum industry undermines democracy and stops action on global warming – in Alberta, and in Ottawa.

As leader of the Official Opposition from 2004 to 2008, Taft had a front-row seat in the debate over raising Alberta’s natural resource royalties where it became clear that private interests had captured democratic institutions.

A democratic institution is captured when it serves a private interest over the public interest,” Taft wrote in an op-ed on AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Taft meticulously details the impact powerful forces from the oil industry had over Alberta during the long-reign of the old Progressive Conservative government and the influence it still exerts over Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government in the never-ending debate over oil pipelines.

There should be a ruckus in Alberta about royalties, looming costs of reclamation, and global warming. Instead there is quiet, and in democracy quiet is rarely a good sign,” Taft wrote.

It’s true.


The public is welcome to attend book launch events in Edmonton and Calgary.

Edmonton Book Launch
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Telus Centre Room 150 (111 St & 87 Ave, U of A Campus)

Calgary Book Launch
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Room EA-1031, Faculty of Arts, Mount Royal University

Categories
Alberta Politics

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora
Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips
Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee
Danielle Larivee

As I wrote earlier this month, the NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working well for the NDP.

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Sunday evening candidate nomination updates in Alberta

MP Brian Storseth and Sun News talking head Ezra Levant.
MP Brian Storseth and Sun News talking head Ezra Levant.

With a provincial election expected in the next few months, the 43-year long governing Progressive Conservatives are expected to have all their candidates nominated by the end of March 2015 and be in a position to trigger an election soon after. The opposition parties are far behind in the candidate selection process.

The Progressive Conservative nomination in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills took a strange twist last week. The Lac La Biche Post reports that Brian Storseth, who is retiring from an unremarkable three-terms as a Conservative backbencher Member of Parliament in Ottawa, is seeking the PC nomination and his late candidacy came as the local PC nominating committee was thrown out over closing nominations too early.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose
Shayne Saskiw

According to the Post, in the nomination contest Mr. Storseth is facing his own step-mother Joanne Penner, former Lakeland County councillor Jeff Dechaine, current St. Paul Mayor Glenn Anderson, and St. Paul area school board executive Darrell Younghans. The current MLA for this constituency is Wildroser Shayne Saskiw, who is the husband of Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative candidate replacing Mr. Storseth in the next federal election.

Here are some other updates that I have added to the list of nomination candidates:

Banff-Cochrane: Registered Nurse Cam Westhead is seeking the New Democratic Party nomination. Mr. Westhead is also a district representative with United Nurses of Alberta.

Calgary-Bow: Two candidates are seeking the PC nomination to replace retiring MLA Alana DeLong. Former City Council candidate Chris Harper and lawyer Byron Nelson will contest the nomination scheduled for March 7, 2015. Mr. Nelson was seeking the PC nomination in Calgary-Fish Creek until Ms. DeLong announced her retirement. On Dec. 4, 2014, Mr. Harper announced that he had left the PC Party because of Premier Jim Prentice‘s approach to Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools. It appears he has now rejoined.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Bob Turner

Calgary-CrossJesse Minhas and Dan Sidhu are seeking the PC nomination to replace retiring MLA Yvonne Fritz. Ms. Fritz was first elected in 1993.

Calgary-Mountain View: Former PC MLA Mark Hlady will challenge Jean-Sebastien Rioux for the PC nomination. Mr. Hlady served as MLA for this constituency from 1993 until 2004, when he was unseated by current Liberal MLA and interim party leader David Swann.

Edmonton-Glenora: Philipia Bates Renouf, a judicial clerk in Alberta’s Department of Justice and a former Vice-President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, will challenge Public School Board Trustee Sarah Hoffman for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Glenora.

Edmonton-McClung: Realtor Lorne Dach will represent the NDP in the next election. This will be Mr. Dach’s fourth time standing as the NDP candidate in this southwest Edmonton constituency.

Donna Wilson Liberal Edmonton Whitemud By-Election
Donna Wilson

Edmonton-Meadowlark: Former Globe & Mail reporter Katherine O’Neill is seeking the PC nomination in this west Edmonton constituency. Ms. O’Neill’s mother-in-law, Mary O’Neill, served as PC MLA for St. Albert from 1997 to 2004. Former Liberal leader Raj Sherman currently represents this constituency and is not seeking re-election.

Edmonton-Riverview: University of Alberta Nursing Professor Dr. Donna Wilson is seeking the Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Riverview. Dr. Wilson placed fourth as the Liberal candidate in last year’s Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. The Liberals represented Riverview from its creation in 1997 until 2012, when former leader Kevin Taft retired from politics.

Edmonton-Whitemud: NDP candidate Bob Turner is seeking a rematch against Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud. The University of Alberta doctor placed second in the September 2014 by-election with the NDP’s best-ever showing in that constituency.

Lethbridge-East: Former Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey will challenge Tammy Perlich for the PC nomination. Mr. Hickey was defeated by Liberal-turned-PC MLA Bridget Pastoor in the 2012 PC nomination. Ms. Pastoor is not seeking re-election.

Medicine Hat: Former Alderman John Hamill, 77, and realtor Jeff Lanigan will challenge Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Blake Pedersen for the PC nomination.

Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills: Olds Town Councillor Debbie Bennett and former Mountain View County councillor Ron Richardson joined Olds Councillor Wade Bearchell in the PC nomination race. Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Bruce Rowe is not seeking re-election after one-term in office.

Red Deer: Red Deer County Councillor Christine Moore is seeking the PC nomination in Red Deer-North and Red Deer College Business Dean Darcy Mykytyshyn is seeking the PC nomination in Red Deer-South.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Wildrose-turned-Independent MLA Joe Anglin and ATB employee Tammy Cote will face former Lacombe County reeve Terry Engen for the PC nomination.

Strathmore-Brooks
: Former lobby group spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt has been acclaimed as the Wildrose candidate.

The following PC candidates have been acclaimed: Terry Rock in Calgary-Buffalo, Jason Luan in Calgary-HawkwoodRic McIver in Calgary-Hays, Mike Ellis in Calgary-West, Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Devon, Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-WhitemudDon Scott in Fort McMurray-Conklin, Wayne Drysdale in Grande Prairie-Wapiti, Ian Donovan in Little Bow and Frank Oberle in Peace River.


I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.

Categories
Alberta Politics

A Decade of Daveberta – Marking 10 Years of Blogging

Ten years ago, on January 21, 2005, I sat down at a computer in a University of Alberta library and launched the blog known as daveberta.

Ed Stelmach Dave Cournoyer
Malcolm Mayes’ Edmonton Journal political cartoon in January 2008 (I’m the Mac).

I had no idea at the time where the blog would take me. Blogging was new and I started one because many of my friends had started their own. Initial posts were more personal and not necessarily limited to politics, but the blog soon focused almost entirely on Alberta politics.

Ever since I was in junior high school, I have taken a keen interest in Alberta politics. The world of blogs, still relatively young when I was a university student in 2005, offered a great venue for a young political science student to share his opinions and observations. I was immediately hooked.

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr and Dave Cournoyer daveberta
With Liberal MLA Kent Hehr in 2011.

The readership of this blog has grown enormously over the past ten years and I only once came close to shutting it down. In December 2007, after returning to the University of Alberta and planning to focus on my studies, I received a letter from a lawyer representing Premier Ed Stelmach. The Premier gave me new reasons to continue blogging and helped boost my readership considerably. The rest is history.

The world of blogging has changed a lot over the past ten years. Blogs have become more sophisticated and many aggregators, once hubs for links and readers, have disappeared as social networks like Facebook and Twitter have allowed bloggers to reach greater audiences.

Dave Cournoyer David Dorward
With PC MLA David Dorward in 2014.

Writing this blog has led to many great opportunities over the past ten years. I have spoken at dozens of conferences, interviewed politicians of all stripes and participated in dozens of media panel discussions – including as a regular panelist on the Alberta Primetime politics panel.

I am also humbled to have received a few awards for this blog, including Best Political Blog and Best Progressive Blog in the 2007 Canadian Blog Awards. More recently, I placed second in the 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards and was nominated for a Yeggie in 2013. In 2010, I had the privilege of being named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 under 40 by Avenue Magazine.

Don Iveson Dave Cournoyer
With Don Iveson in 2007.

My opinions and political allegiances have shifted over the years. For the first four years of this blog, I supported the Liberal Party and had the pleasure of working for Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft when he led the Official Opposition Party. When he stepped down from the leadership, I drifted for a time towards the Alberta Party and had the opportunity to volunteer alongside some great people in that organization.

Now, as a non-partisan, I feel free to write about Alberta politics without a partisan lens. It is refreshing.

Dave Cournoyer Justin Trudeau
With Justin Trudeau in 2014.

As the disclaimer on this blog reads, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time and I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This blog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot and manifestation of the various ideas running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not be the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.

I do not know whether this blog will last another ten years, but so long as I continue to enjoy writing about Alberta politics, and have the time to do so, I will do so. Blogging is a great hobby and Alberta politics continues to offer great content.

To the readers, commenters, and occasional guest contributors who continue to return to this blog to follow Alberta politics, I offer a heart-felt Thank You.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta can’t afford to ignore the Provincial Sales Tax

rat2.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoRat-free, PST-free and Liberal-free” has been a Conservative mantra in Alberta since the reign of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But is this trifecta now in jeopardy?

The decline of government revenues caused by the drop in the price of oil has once again sparked the discussion around resource diversification and tax increases in Alberta. And with talk of economic doom and gloom, Premier Jim Prentice is managing expectations and preparing Albertans for the upcoming provincial budget and likely a Spring provincial election.

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta
Jim Prentice

Will the budget include deep funding cuts or tax increases? Under most circumstances, deep budget cuts would be the natural choice for the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, but there is growing speculation that Mr. Prentice could be softening the ground for the introduction of a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) in Alberta.

At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government. Diversifying income sources with a five or six per cent sales tax could help soften the blow of the dreaded $7 billion gap that Mr. Prentice has warned will face the provincial budget if oil prices do not increase by next year.

Late last year, Mr. Prentice declared in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he would not consider introducing a PST, but the Premier has changed his tune in 2015, saying that everything is on the table.

This is not the first time PST has been at the centre of discussion in Alberta. Few Albertans may know it, but Alberta did have a two per cent sales tax for a short period ending in 1937.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

In the aftermath of the last major economic downturn in June 2008, when the price of oil dropped from a high of $145 per barrel in July to a low of $30 per barrel in December 2008, PC cabinet ministers like Doug Griffiths openly mused about PST. When prices increased, resource royalties once again poured in provincial coffers and Alberta’s political class moved away from the PST discussion.

Facing a decline in the price of oil in 1984, Premier Peter Lougheed publicly mused about introducing a sales tax, but did not act on it.

The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, introduced by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995, states that a referendum must be held before a Provincial Sales Tax can be introduced. The PCs have shown in the past that they have no problem sweeping away old laws like this one. In 2009, the PC government amended their much touted Fiscal Responsibility Act which prohibited deficit budgets in order to pass a deficit budget.

Relying on a boom-bust economy, a real lack of long-term financial planning has been the biggest weakness of the 43-year governing PC Party.

Ted Morton MLA
Ted Morton

The introduction of a PST would be a bold and courageous move – one that could land Mr. Prentice in Alberta’s history books beside statesmen like Mr. Lougheed and Ernest Manning. And while under normal circumstances this would be a kiss of death to a Premier’s political career, we may now be witnessing a once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a sales tax.

The Wildrose Opposition is both leaderless and in complete disarray, and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals could have a difficult time protesting a move that could majorly diversify the government’s revenue stream. And with the departure of Derek Fildebrandt late last year, the local Tax Outrage Industry is lacking a major spokesperson.

The move also comes with the support of former Finance Minister Ted Morton, a member of the right-wing Calgary School, who recently penned an opinion-editorial in the Calgary Herald calling for a PST. And while he was teaching at the University of Alberta, Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff Mike Percy admitted that a “sales tax gives you greater stability.”

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

As reported on David Climenhaga‘s blog, Conference Board of Canada chief economist Glen Hodgson also weighed in on Alberta’s tax dilemma: “Not having a provincial consumption or sales tax is highly popular and has been great politics, but it denies the provincial government a steady and stable source of revenue through the business cycle.”

To get a grasp of how embarrassingly low our tax rates current are in Alberta, Kevin Taft in his 2012 book, Follow the Money, says that Alberta could increase its tax rates by $11 billion and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.

Critics will argue that a sales tax would unfairly penalize low income Albertans, and they are right. The government should also scrap the short-sighted flat tax and return to a real progressive income tax system. Alberta is currently the only province with a Flat Tax, the odd-ball brain child of former Treasurer Stockwell Day.

While Albertans look with envy at Norway’s $900 billion petroleum fund, it could be decades before our government imposes meaningful increases in natural resource royalties. The PCs bowed to political pressure from the oil and gas industry and paid a significant political price when trying to implement meaningful increases to resource revenues in the late 2000s.

The strongest opposition to the introduction of a PST may come from inside the PC caucus. Many PC MLAs are said to be unconvinced that Albertans would support a PST, and the presence of 11 anti-tax former Wildrose MLAs in the government caucus could stiffen the opposition from within. Skeptical MLAs would probably be correct that they will receive a blowback from Albertans in the short-term, but the right decisions are not necessarily the most popular when they are initially implemented. And without a credible government-in-waiting, now could be the the only time the PCs could implement a PST.

Alberta should strive to remain rat-free forever, but on the revenue front, we need to break our dependency on resource revenues that cripple our provincial government each time there is a hiccup in the market.