Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta is always in Tough Economic Times

“They don’t know what to do with tough economic times. It was easy enough to govern when the money was flowing in, when things were going well. They took all the credit for it at that time. It’s much harder to govern, and the mark of a good government is how they handle it, when times get difficult.” – Ray Martin, Leader of the Official Opposition (June 13, 1986)

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Despite Alberta’s prosperity, Premier Jim Prentice is warning we could be heading into tough economic times. The decline in the world price of oil has spooked the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative establishment and the corporate elites in downtown Calgary.

The perilous “price trough” has led Mr. Prentice to warn of a potential $7 billion revenue shortfall if oil prices remain at lower than expected levels for the entire 2015/2016 fiscal year. According to a government spokesperson, some of the missing $7 billion could come from revenue streams such as land leases, but at this point the number is largely based in speculation and politically spin.

Mr. Prentice’s prophetic $7 billion shortfall becomes more startling when learning the Alberta Government is projected to collect only $7.5 billion in crude oil and bitumen royalty revenue in the 2014/2015 budget year. This projected revenue is based on the price of Western Canada Select (WCS) oil remaining at $77.18 per barrel. Although the yearly average price is $84.02 per barrel the current price of WCS  has dropped to $48.44 per barrel.

Ray Martin NDP MLA School Trustee Edmonton Alberta
Ray Martin

If the “tough economics times” message sounds vaguely familiar, that is because it is. In oil-rich Alberta, we hear a lot from our political leaders about tough economic times, even when times are prosperous. In most cases, our politicians are managing voters’ expectations and positioning themselves to take credit as ‘prudent fiscal managers’ when the world-wide price of oil inevitably increases.

Meeting the Challenge of Tough Times” was the name of the three-year economic plan launched by Premier Ed Stelmach’s PC government in 2009.

Bitumen Bubble Alberta
Bitumen Bubble

The sharp decline of natural gas royalty revenue and that year’s world-wide recession, which felt more like a mild economic pause in Alberta, even convinced the Tories to amend the Klein-era Fiscal Responsibility Act to allow the government to pass deficit budgets.

And in January 2013, Premier Alison Redford used a televised address to warn Albertans that a $8 billion shortfall in the provincial budget was being caused by an ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford’s bubble was then used as justification to slash funding to colleges and universities by 7% in that year’s budget.

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert
Ron Liepert

But the PCs have not always predicted “tough economic times.” In 2012, then-finance minister Ron Liepert told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to expect $16 billion in projected resource revenues by 2015. A huge jump in revenue would certainly increase the likelihood of Mr. Prentice calling a provincial election in early 2015.

Alberta’s government has heavily depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for decades. After years of unrestrained growth, no one should be surprised that Alberta’s economy could slow down.

The question is how we respond to actual tough economic times in Alberta. Was NDP Official Opposition Leader Ray Martin correct in 1986 when he said that “they don’t know what to do with tough economic times”?

While some right-wing think tanks call for a return to brutal slash and burn fiscal policies, the implementation of real long-term financial planning would probably be a more mature solution.

Alberta Norway Oil Fund Money Savings
Comparing Alberta’s Heritage Fund and Norway’s Petroleum Savings Fund.

Norway, a country with 5.1 million people, invests oil revenues into the Government Pension Fund Global and contains more than $857 billion. The fund was established in 1990 to smooth out the disruptive effects of highly fluctuating oil prices. Oil-rich jurisdictions like Norway prove that economies can be both economically prosperous and environmentally green.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

Alberta, a province of 3.6 million people, launched the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976. Under the leadership of Peter Lougheed, the Heritage Fund initially received 30% of government resource revenues and was worth $12.7 billion in 1986. The Heritage Fund is now worth only $17.4 billion.

Facing tough economic times in 1987, the PC government of Don Getty halted all transfers to the Heritage Fund. Zero deposits were made between 1987 and 2004.

This week, PC MLAs passed Bill 11: Savings Management Repeal Act, which repealed the Savings Management Act, which was enthusiastically passed by the same group of PC MLAs in March 2014. The earlier bill would have diverted resource revenue to the newly created Alberta Future Fund, Social Innovation Endowment account and Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment. The bill passed this week eliminates those new funds.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

Despite talk of revenue diversification, it is questionable whether the governing PCs would seriously consider increasing resource royalties, reinstating a progressive taxation system or introducing a provincial sales tax.

While many politicians view tax increases as politically unpalatable, a slight tax increase would not destroy the our province’s economy. “If Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada,” Kevin Taft wrote in his 2012 book, Follow the Money.

Dr. Taft’s book breaks down government spending patterns over the past 30 years and details how corporate profits have skyrocketed in Alberta at the same time the PC Government has struggled with deficit budgets.

As a province with decades worth of dependence on revenues from natural resource royalties, it should not be a shock that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Maybe our only problem is not our over reliance on cyclical natural resources revenues, but that the Progressive Conservatives are just bad fiscal managers.


Primetime Politics this week…
On this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel, I joined Rob Breakenridge, Roberto Noce and host Michael Higgins to discuss the Gay-Straight Alliance debate, Moe Amery‘s texting-while-driving-demerits bill, and Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act.

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Goodbye? The future looks bleak for the Alberta Liberals

Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership chairperson Josipa Petrunic, MLA Laurie Blakeman, MLA Hugh MacDonald and candidate Bruce Payne.
Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership race chairperson Josipa Petrunic, and leadership candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald and Bruce Payne.

It has been a long time since things have looked good for the Alberta Liberals. The provincial party has been teetering on the verge of the political abyss for years but lately the future looks especially bleak.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Recent announcements that popular Calgary Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang are moving to greener pastures in federal politics with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will shrink the provincial Liberal caucus to just three MLAs, leaving the party with its smallest caucus in nearly thirty years. The two departures also mean the party may be forced to play defence in two by-elections before the next general election, a feat not aided by continuously low fundraising returns.

In the 2012 provincial election, Liberal support dropped to its lowest level since the 1980s, with only five candidates incumbent MLAs re-elected and the party losing its hold on formerly reliably Liberal-voting ridings like Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Riverview, Calgary-Currie and Calgary-Varsity.

But the biggest blow to the Liberals in that year’s election was losing Official Opposition status to the Wildrose Party, a title the Liberals had held in Alberta since 1993. Since losing its place as the default opposition to the Tories, the party has struggled to define its identity in a new political environment dominated by two conservative parties.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

With the departure of Mr. Hehr and Mr. Kang, the party will soon have less MLAs than the New Democratic Party, which, in the midst of its own leadership race, is showing signs of positive growth in Edmonton. The NDP, the Liberal Party’s long-time rivals, seem to be paying less attention to that party, focusing instead on the new Progressive Conservative-Wildrose dominance of Alberta’s political environment. And the recent defection of a senior Liberal Party official to the tiny Alberta Party also raised eyebrows.

It would be unfair to assign the blame on one person, especially considering the Liberal Party has been a slow state of decline since 1993 (with the exception of the 2004 election, where the party, led by Kevin Taft, increased its MLAs).

The party’s current leader, Raj Sherman, is the definition of a wildcard. The former PC MLA and junior cabinet minister has been an odd fit in the Liberal benches. Those who work close to him describe him as kind and well-meaning, but his scattered and erratic behaviour make him difficult to anticipate. The Liberals took a risk in choosing an outsider as their leader and, at least today, there does not appear to be a reward in sight.

MLAs like Edmonton-Centre‘s Laurie Blakeman and Calgary-Mountain View‘s David Swann are hard-working representatives, but as a caucus, the Liberals tend to act more like Independent MLAs who share office space.

Despite the bleak view on the horizon, I would never count the Liberals out. They have been constant underdogs and they have a highly committed base of activists who are extremely loyal to their party’s traditional brand.

It is too soon to tell whether the provincial Liberals will benefit from a new wave of Trudeaumania in federal politics. A big question is whether the Liberals will follow the trend of their provincial prairie cousins in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who have become become non-existent or irrelevant in recent decades.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Will MLA Steve Young survive the PC caucus?

Steve Young, Edmonton-Riverview PC MLA
Steve Young

When former cop Steve Young was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Riverview, it was considered to be a huge coup for the Progressive Conservatives. With Mr. Young as their candidate, the Tories succeeded in scooping the traditionally Liberal voting constituency previously represented by popular MLA Kevin Taft.

All indications suggest that Mr. Young has worked hard in his constituency since this election and most people who have met him, including this writer, will agree that he is a nice guy. And he had a bright political career ahead of him.

But as an MLA, and during his time as the Government Whip, he has been of mixed value to the governing Tories. Sometimes he has even been a source of embarrassment for the government.

Despite speculation he might be removed from the PC caucus after publicly criticizing Premier Alison Redford for her $45,000 trip to South Africa, he walked away from last weekend’s caucus meeting with his membership in tact.

The CBC reported this week that Mr. Young was under investigation by the RCMP while he was the PC candidate in the 2012 election. The CBC report stated that he “did not publicly disclose the criminal investigation and he also refused to cooperate with the RCMP after he resigned from the Edmonton Police Service.”

According to the CBC, the RCMP investigated Mr. Young’s and other officers involvement in the release of private information about a young offender as part of a public relations campaign. The young offender recently filed a lawsuit against Mr. Young and his former colleagues.

Mr. Young was criticized for his handling of a confusion confrontation between PC MLAs and Ms. Redford after the group of backbenchers on an MLA committee voted to recreate the MLA transition allowances that the premier publicly cancelled during the 2012 election.

As Government Whip, he helped Ms. Redford deal with the unrest in the PC caucus, but in December 2013, the premier  suddenly dropped him from cabinet before he was even officially appointed.

One week after announcing that Mr. Young would  serve as the Associate Minister for Public Safety, he was quietly removed from the list of ministers at the swearing-in ceremony. It was later suggested that he was dropped from cabinet because his involvement in an incident and investigation involving a taser during his time as a police officer.

He briefly made headlines during last year’s mayoral election after an unfortunately planned mayor forum was cancelled when it became clear that it was part of a fundraiser for Mr. Young’s Edmonton-Riverview PC association.

With the recent news reports about the RCMP investigation during the last election,  can Ms. Redford can allow Mr. Young to remain as part of the government? His criticism of Ms. Redford’s lavish travel costs may have bought him some time, but, according to one political insider, his opponents are already building a case to have him ejected from the PC caucus.

NDP to nominate Riverview candidate next week

Next week, the Alberta New Democrats are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson as their candidate in Edmonton-Riverview for the 2016 election. As their first officially nominated candidate, the NDP hope the early start will help them build on their strong third-place finish in the last election (where Ms. Sigurdson tripled her party’s support in the constituency). With Mr. Young providing more ammunition for his election opponents each day, the NDP (and the Liberals) will have plenty of ammunition to use over the next two years.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Does the PC Party have a revenue problem?

Does Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party have a “revenue problem?” According to reports from the Calgary Herald, that is how PC Party president Jim McCormick described his party’s financial situation in an email to party officials. The PC Party recently backed down from a plan its board of directors approved for the party to take a 10% levy on contributions donated to its 87 constituency associations.

The PC Party has trailed the official opposition Wildrose Party in donations in the first three quarters of 2013. Most significantly, the four decade long governing PC Party significantly trails the Wildrose in individual donations by more than $780,000 so far in 2013.

Although Premier Alison Redford is expected to successfully face her mandated leadership review at next weekend’s PC Party convention in Red Deer, she still must account for her party’s dipping financial fortunes. At the end of 2012, the PC Party reported a $594,951 deficit in their  Elections Alberta financial disclosure. To understand how much the PC Party’s financial health has changed, it reported a $2,889,972 surplus in 2004.

While the PC Party may be feeling a financial crunch, some of that party’s constituency associations continue to raise considerable amounts of funds. In the 2012 election, more than a few PC candidate campaigns raised more than $100,000 at the constituency level.

After Danielle Smith became leader of the Wildrose Party in 2010, that party has seen a significant rise in financial support, especially in the form of smaller individual donations cultivated from an engaged base of supporters. The Wildrose Party continues rival the PC Party in revenue in 2013, something no political party has done in Alberta in decades.

Below are charts showing the donations to Alberta’s four main political parties since 2004. Before recent legislative changes, donations were reported to Elections Alberta above and below $375. They are now reported below and above $250. Maximum donations during annual periods are limited to $15,000 and $30,000 during election periods.

Alberta Progressive Conservative donations 2004-2013
Alberta Progressive Conservative donations from 2004 to the third quarter of 2013.
Wildrose Party donations 2004-2013
Wildrose Party donations from 2004 to the third quarter of 2013. Includes the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Alliance.

The drop in donations to the Liberal Party appears to coincide with the rise of the Wildrose Party and the departure of Kevin Taft as party leader following the 2008 election. The Liberals have succeeded in paying off a large amount of debt incurred in previous elections, but have most recently struggled to fund party operations after only raising $50,539 in the third quarter of 2013.

The New Democrats continue to enjoy a healthy base of individual donors and a relatively healthy flow of larger donations, though the NDP continues to hold a significant debt and reported $707,524 in total liabilities in 2012.

Alberta Liberal Party Donations 2004-2013
Alberta Liberal Party donations from 2004 to the third quarter of 2013
Alberta NDP donations 2004-2013
Alberta NDP donations from 2004 to the third quarter of 2013
Categories
Alberta Politics

When did Alberta become a have-not province?

Premier Alison Redford
Premier Alison Redford

Eighteen days ago, Alberta became a have-not province.

Eighteen days ago, Premier Alison Redford appeared on Albertans television screens to warn them of the notorious “bitumen bubble” that has been keeping the price of our oil down.

Today, after eighteen days of political spin about deep budget cuts and tough economic times, it would be easy to believe that the federal transfer payments are on their way (finally, equalization will work for us!).

Of course, Alberta is not a have-not province.

Alberta’s economy remains competitive, our population is growing, and job growth is on the rise. Alberta is Canada’s economic engine.

Most of the talk is part of the government’s attempt to manage the expectations of Albertans before the provincial budget is tabled on March 7. From the opposition benches, there are always political points to be gained before a government budget is tabled.

As has been the case each year since the Alberta government began to run “technical deficits,” the earlier projected deficits will likely be much lower when the budget is tabled. As any accountant or political strategist knows, bookkeeping is closer to an art-form than an exact science.

On budget day, a lower than predicted deficit will result in the government looking like better fiscal managers than the opposition has claimed and the opposition researchers will be caught scrambling through the volumes of budget documents to fill their message box.

With this year’s budget ready to be sent to the printers, the first Alberta Economic Summit was held this past Saturday in Calgary.

Initially derided by the opposition parties as a government-sponsored public relations exercise, the day-long event brought together panels of experts from the private, public, and not-for-profit sector to discuss our province’s fiscal future.

Whether it was a PR exercise or not, it did present an opportunity for a continued discussion about the need to raise taxes in Alberta. Our government relies heavily on the sometimes unpredictable revenues from our natural resources to fill the gap created by our low taxes to fund our essential public services.

As Kevin Taft explained last year in his book, Follow the Money, if Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada

———-
Onward and eastward, says Alward.

Last week, David Alward, the Premier of a real have-not province, swept into our province boasting the advantage of an eastward oil pipeline to New Brunswick’s deep-water ports as a solution to Alberta’s fiscal woes.

With almost no details or research about whether it would be financially viable, both Premier Redford and Premier Alward touted the Alberta-to-New Brunswick pipeline as progress.

Considering how many problems, both political and geographical, the province has faced with the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia (two provinces), I can only imagine the level of political challenges that could be stirred up by an oilsands pipeline running through six provinces.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Will Premier Redford’s TV message address Alberta’s tax dilemma?

“Our party was elected to keep building Alberta — to focus our spending on the priorities that you told me were important, and that is exactly what
we’ll do.” – Premier Alison Redford in an email to Progressive Conservative Party supporters on January 23, 2013

Premier Alison Redford will star in a pre-recorded television message tonight following the 6pm news hour on CTV in Calgary and Edmonton. The Premier is expected to use the 8-minute address as part of the government’s ongoing exercise of managing public expectations about the upcoming provincial budget.

The budget is expected to include a projected $3 billion deficit, largely influenced by a lower price of oil than  including a drop in the price of oil. The promise of “no new taxes, no service cuts” has put Alberta’s Tories in an unenviable political bind and set the tone for this year’s provincial budget debate.

Despite the cries of fiscal hawks wanting to slash and burn the province’s public services, as I wrote earlier this month, Alberta’s revenue problem has already become the defining issue the 2013 budget debate.

Raising the levels of natural resources royalties or reasonably increasing taxes are not issues the Premier is expected to touch on during tonight’s television appearance, but raising taxes is an issue that a handful of former politicians have recently delved into. Former Premier Ed Stelmach, former Finance Minister Shirley McClellan, former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, and former provincial Liberal leader Kevin Taft tackled the tax dilemma facing Alberta’s finances last weekend at the University of Alberta.

According to economist Bob Ascah, who was at the weekend event, a one-per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in revenue for the province.

And as reported on David Climenhaga‘s Alberta Diary Blog, Glen Hodgson, the chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada has 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.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Who are Alberta’s top MLAs of 2012?

It has become tradition on this blog that near the end of each year I publish a list of Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly who have been the best, worst, or most notable of the past year. Each year’s list has taken a different form and focus (see 2010 and 2011), and the addition of dozens of rookie MLAs after the spring election has left me with little more than seven months to base this list upon. There are sure to be talented and not-so-talented MLAs that have not made list this, so if you feel inspired, please feel free to make additions to the list in the comment section below.

Rookie of the Year - Jeff Wilson, MLA for Calgary-Shaw.
Rookie of the Year – Jeff Wilson, MLA for Calgary-Shaw.

Jeff Wilson (Wildrose – Calgary-Shaw) Rookie of the Year. Perhaps the most unexpected addition to this year’s list is the newly elected Wildrose Party MLA for Calgary-Shaw. Mr. Wilson was a virtual unknown to political watchers when he defeated well-funded Tory star candidate Farouk Adatia (who is now Premier Alison Redford‘s Chief of Staff), but he seems to be fitting into his new role quite comfortably. During the fall sitting, Mr. Wilson stood out from his colleagues when asking tough in question period and launching into spirited and thoughtful debates over legislation. He may have also asked one of the more light-hearted question of this year’s session.

Premier Alison Redford
Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford (PC – Calgary-Elbow) A better Premier than she is a politician. In her first year, Premier Redford excels at the duties of her job, whether it be advocating for the province at international conferences or in interprovincial relations or debating shifts in government policy. The Premier appears to be less interested or willing to play the political game, which will become increasingly difficult in the face of an aggressive official opposition and a growing list of government scandals and missteps. A recent change in her communications staff may be a sign that the Premier hopes to react more swiftly to the Wildrose attacks in the new year.

Danielle Smith
Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith (Wildrose – Highwood) – A better politician than she probably would be a Premier. She was unable to lead her party into government in the April 2012 election, but with 17 MLAs and 34% of the province-wide vote, the Wildrose Party secured the Official Opposition benches. Borrowing aggressive tactics from the federal Conservatives in Ottawa, who are organizationally tied at the hip with the Wildrose, Ms. Smith’s party is leading the most aggressive and partisan official opposition in recent memory. Whether or not you like her tactics, it is nice to see the Tories sweat for a change.

Kent Hehr
Kent Hehr

Kent Hehr (Liberal – Calgary-Buffalo) The two-term MLA from downtown Calgary is easily one of the most effective and reasonable voices in the tiny Liberal caucus. Mr. Hehr has picked up the mantle left by recently retired Liberal MLA Kevin Taft and challenged the governing Tories about the serious revenue problems facing our province. More recently, his comments about uniting progressive voters drew the ire of Liberal Party archetypes. While his party plays with gimmicky name changes, Mr. Hehr is trying to figure out how to get the Liberal-minded Albertans back in the game after the party fell to third place in the 2012 election.

Doug Horner (PC – Spruce Grove-St. Albert) Trying to change the political culture around debt and budget financing in Alberta is a the tough job faced by Finance Minister Doug Horner. Taking advantage of low inflation and avoiding boom-time construction costs, Mr. Horner is leading the government to using financing to make some much needed investments in public infrastructure. While initially the clear second in command to Premier Redford, he appears to have taken a slight step back from the spotlight. If the next three years do not go well for the current Premier, Mr. Horner could find himself in a position to take his party’s reins.

Thomas Lukaszuk (PC – Edmonton-Castle Downs) The Tory attack dog has been both Minister of Nothing and Everything at the same time. Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk has been the Tory government’s main defender against aggressive attacks launched by the Wildrose Party during Question Period. Whether or not his sometimes aloof style is effective, I expect we have yet to witness just how tough this political minister is.

Kerry Towle (Wildrose – Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Ian Donovan (Wildrose – Little Bow) The two first-term Wildrose MLAs were thrown into the media spotlight this summer over issues related to seniors care in Alberta. As Seniors critic, Ms. Towle has been relentless in attacking the government over the quality of food in long-term care centres (an issue raised by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees) and the “one-bath a week” policy. Mr. Donovan was thrown into the media spotlight when the Tory government closed the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in his Little Bow constituency. As rookies finding their political footing on this issue, it was not an uncommon sight this summer to see the two Wildrose MLAs awkwardly sharing the podium (or megaphone) with NDP MLA David Eggen and leaders of Alberta’s public sector unions.

This year’s honourable mentions go to two candidates who were not elected in April, but contributed a considerable amount to the results on election day. Edmonton-South West Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger‘s “Lake of Fire” comments and Calgary-Greenway Wildrose candidate Ron Leech‘s “caucasian advantage” comments were a last minute reminder to Albertans about the extreme conservative elements that exist within the Wildrose Party’s coalition. It indisputable that these two men helped convince many thousands of Albertans to vote for a party led by political moderate Premier Redford, rather than Wildrose leader Ms. Smith.

On this blog, the post that attracted the highest readership and most comments in 2012 was Thorny candidates could be the Wildrose Party’s Biggest Liability. The April 4, 2012 post was shared 603 times on Twitter and Liked by 4,724 Facebook users (Thank you).

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta Liberals set to rebrand as Liberalberta, sources say.

Liberalberta Alberta Liberal Party
A screenshot of the Liberal Party website.

The Alberta Liberal Party is rebranding its image with plans to relaunch its website, adopt a new logo, change its official colours, and, according to Liberal sources, rename itself Liberalberta.

Last forming government following the 1917 election, Liberals are the constant underdogs of Alberta politics and being severely hampered by connections to unpopular Liberal governments in Ottawa.

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012
Raj Sherman

After three years of internal turmoil following left-leaning leader Kevin Taft‘s resignation in 2008, the Liberals selected former Tory MLA Raj Sherman as their leader in 2011. During those intervening years, the Liberals lost their position as the default opposition to the Tories and were replaced by a reinvigorated Wildrose Party led by lobbyist and former newspaper columnist Danielle Smith.

The Liberals dropped to 9% province-wide support in the 2012 election, electing only 5 MLA’s and losing Official Opposition status for the first time since the party’s high-watermark in the 1993 election.

In August 2012, the Liberals hired a new executive directorGerald McEachern, a New Brunswick-based writer and consultant. The major rebranding, an idea that in the past has been rejected by the more orthodox Liberal crowd, is likely an attempt for the party to gain back the ground it lost – which just may require a drastic move (and perhaps they drew some inspiration from the name of a popular political blog).

As well as rebranding, the Liberal Party’s board of directors is said to have rescinded its offer to cooperate with other “progressive” political parties – namely the New Democratic Party and the Alberta Party – to prevent vote splitting.

Unfortunately for all three of these parties, the shifted political narrative in the 2012 election led many progressive and moderate Albertans to support Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives in order to block Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party from forming government.

Update (October 19, 2012): I posted a question on Twitter to Liberal Party strategist Alex Macdonald asking whether the new “Liberalberta” wordmark logo had been focus group tested. Mr. Macdonald’s response was that the “Liberalberta” wordmark had been approved by the Liberal Party executive and executive board, and not a impartial focus group.

Meanwhile, Calgary Liberal Party activist Gwyneth Midgley raised concerns on Twitter that Liberal Party members were not consulted in the rebrand.

Categories
Alberta Politics

alberta liberals choose to keep raj sherman as leader.

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader
Liberal leader Raj Sherman at Edmonton’s 2012 Pride Festival.

Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman will keep his job as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party after a vote at the party’s annual general meeting in Calgary. Of the estimated 300 Liberal Party members who attended last weekend’s AGM, 94% voted to confirm their support of Dr. Sherman, who became leader in September 2011.

Dr. Sherman is the Liberal Party’s 11th leader since 1971, the year Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives formed government. The Liberals were wiped out in that election and did not return to the Assembly again until 1986, when four Liberals were elected to the Assembly.

The Liberal Party formed Official Opposition in 1993 and since that time nine Liberals served as Leader of the Official Opposition. In 1994, Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes served as interim leader, which marked the first time a woman to filled that role in Alberta. In 1998, former Tory cabinet minister Nancy MacBeth was selected as Liberal Party leader and became the first woman to enter the job in a non-interim role. Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft led the party to increase its number of MLAs in 2004, the only election in which the Liberals increased their seat total after 1993. In 2011, a second former Tory MLA, Dr. Sherman, was elected as leader of the Liberal Party.

In the 2012 election, only five Liberal MLAs were elected and the party lost Official Opposition status to the Wildrose Party, led by Danielle Smith.

Alberta Liberal Vote 1971-2012
Alberta Election total votes and Alberta Liberal votes in elections from 1971 to 2012.
Alberta Liberal MLAs elected 1971-2012
Alberta Liberal MLAs elected from 1971 to 2012.
Categories
Alberta Politics

alberta election: the leaders’ debate will matter.

In a typical provincial election in Alberta, the televised Leaders’ debate is a mere formality in a process that would inevitably lead to the election of another massive Progressive Conservative majority government. Even when the perceived winner of the debate is the leader of an opposition party, the effects on the governing party have been relatively minimal. In the last election, expectations were set so low for Premier Ed Stelmach that his satisfactory performance was seen as a big win for the soft-spoken and stuttering communicator.

The only televised Leader’s Debate during Alberta’s 2012 will be held on April 12 and it could be a spectacle not seen in this province in decades (CBC is hosting a Leaders’ forum, which will be broadcast on radio and live-streamed on the internet). It will be the first time that Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith will debate each other face-to-face and also the first Leaders’ debate for three of the four main party leaders (it is Liberal leader Raj Sherman‘s first televised debate).

All eyes will be on Premier Redford and Ms. Smith.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

The debate will be Premier Redford’s opportunity to turn the tide that has swept her 41-year governing Progressive Conservative Party into contention for official opposition status. Unlike her recent predecessors, she has the unfortunate task of having to answer for every misstep taken by her governing party for the past four decades.

This will be Premier Redford’s big opportunity to deliver a pitch to moderate conservatives, liberals, and undecided voters that voting for the more conservative and untested Wildrose Party just is not worth the risk. Despite a rough six months as Premier, she is a skilled debater.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012
Danielle Smith

Calm and confident, Ms. Smith has been preparing for this debate for years. Despite having never been elected as an MLA or faced any of her political opponents on the floor of the Assembly, Ms. Smith has honed her political debating skills on and off television as a columnist with the Calgary Herald, a brief stint as a school trustee, a director of a right-wing lobby group, and party leader since 2009.

With Ms. Smith’s party riding high in the polls, creating the real possibility that she could be our province’s next Premier, expectations will be set high for her to perform well in this debate. I would be surprised if she does not meet these expectations, but the other leaders will be marking targets on her party’s more controversial positions on conscience rights, de-listing abortion, attacking reporters, and privatizing health care. So far, the Wildrose leader has tried to avoid even commenting on most these issues, sticking to her highly disciplined and controlled campaign messaging.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader 2012 Election
Brian Mason

Entering his third election as leader of Alberta’s NDP, Brian Mason has an opportunity to present Albertans with a clear alternative to the two leading conservative parties.

Following Ms. Smith’s announcement that her party would introduce more privatization into Alberta’s health care system, Mr. Mason jumped at the opportunity to get into the debate. With Edmonton-Calder candidate David Eggen by his side, Mr. Mason launched a campaign to “Save Public Health Care.” The NDP are polling well in Edmonton, with a recent Leger survey showing them with 20% support in the provincial capital, which has always been the centre of NDP support in Alberta.

Raj Sherman Liberal leader 2012 Alberta Election
Raj Sherman

For Dr. Sherman, who left the Tory backbenches in 2010 and now leads the official opposition Liberal Party, the debate will be his biggest opportunity to save his party from third party status or even being completely shut out of the Assembly. The Liberals became the official opposition in 1993 and since then their support has steadily declined (with the notable exception of the 2004 election when Kevin Taft led the party to double its seats in the Assembly).

Health care has been a key focus of Dr. Sherman’s campaign, and despite his professional expertise working in the Emergency Rooms of Edmonton’s hospitals, the Liberals have not been able to turn this strength into growth in the polls. Having earned a reputation for being sporadic when put on the spot, Dr. Sherman will be the wild-card in the April 12 debate.

Searching for the knock-out punch

The most interesting aspect of televised leaders’ debates, especially in elections where the results are not evident from the day the Writ is dropped, is that one misspeak or surprise Academy Award winning performance could potentially change the outcome on election day.

Most people will refer to Brian Mulroney‘s performance in the the 1984 federal election as the perfect example of a “knock-out punch“, but this clip from the 1991 British Columbia provincial election remains one of my favourite. Watch as Liberal leader Gordon Wilson delivers the most famous soundbite of that election, which helped take his party from zero seats in the Assembly to seventeen.

(Thanks to Colby Cosh, whose tweets inspired this post)

Categories
Alberta Politics

edmonton tory candidate posing for photos at police service media conference.

Steven Young Edmonton Police Service
PC candidate Steven Young on the Edmonton Journal website.

Staff Sergeant Steven Young was the face of the Edmonton Police Service at a media conference held yesterday announcing the police service’s new advertising campaign.

Mr. Young also happens to be the nominated Progressive Conservative Party candidate in Edmonton-Riverview, a position that should make many Edmontonians question the wisdom of the police service communications department for allowing him to pose for photographers at the media conference.

Riverview has been represented by Liberal MLA Kevin Taft since 2001. With Dr. Taft not seeking re-election, Mr. Young is expected to be in a tough race with Liberal candidate Arif Khan.

Categories
Alberta Politics

worthwhile ideas from the alberta liberal party.

Raj Sherman MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal
Raj Sherman

The title of this blog post will sound like an oxymoron to many Albertans.

Launching an election campaign early, PC MLA-turned-Liberal leader Raj Sherman released his party’s 2012 election platform yesterday. After reading the platform, I was surprised that the Liberals were actually able to pull together such a well-presented document.

The platform continues to emphasize the Liberal Party’s focus on health care (also a key issue of former leaders Kevin Taft and David Swann) and includes some interesting ideas, such as the creation of a post-secondary endowment fund to eliminate tuition by the year 2025.

The creation of a Municipal Heritage Fund to provide direct funding to neighbourhood projects is an interesting idea that could help alleviate the pressure put on cash-strapped municipalities to fund projects.

Looking to change the way Albertans vote in elections, the Liberal platform calls for the introduction of a preferential ballot system and the consolidations of constituencies that would leave the Assembly with 66 MLAs.

To their credit, the platform calls for an end to Alberta’s unfair flat-tax system and would introduce fair tax brackets for individuals who earn more than $100,000 annually. I do believe that there needs to be a larger focus on decreasing taxes on middle income earners, but this is a good start.

Sitting as low as 12% in public support according to some recent polls, “go bold and go for broke” may be the best strategy that Alberta’s official opposition party has left.

With the Spring sitting of the Assembly beginning this afternoon, Dr. Sherman will have this platform to hold up against the Progressive Conservative budget, expected to be tabled on Thursday. Whether the Liberals will be able to compete with the media onslaught that the PCs and Wildrose Party’s will unleash in the upcoming weeks is a completely different question.

Categories
Alberta Politics

alberta tories holding a packed nomination week.

I have updated the list of nominated Alberta election candidates to include the following three Progressive Conservative nominees:

Edmonton-Centre: Young lawyer Akash Khokhar defeated Nicole Martel to win the PC nomination. In the next election, Mr. Khokhar will face Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who has represented the constituency since 1997.

Edmonton-Gold Bar: Past Mayoral candidate David Dorward defeated past City Council candidate Lori Jeffrey-Heany to become the PC candidate. This is Mr. Dorward’s second attempt at becoming MLA in Gold Bar. In 2008, he placed second to Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald, who will be retiring at the next election.

Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: Strathcona County Councillor Jacquie Fenske defeated Tofield Mayor Nabil Chehayeb, former Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Jim SheasgreenGene Hrabec, and Adam Kozakiewicz to become the PC candidate. Former Premier Ed Stelmach has represented this region since 1993.

UPCOMING NOMINATION MEETINGS

The PCs will be holding a packed week of nomination meetings that will see Alberta’s 40 year governing party nearly fill its entire slate of 87 candidates. Two final nomination meetings are scheduled to be held in February to replace MLAs who recently announced their retirements.

I will be away from my blog for the next week, so to earn forgiveness for my absence, here is a look at the PC nomination meetings that will be happening in the final week of January. I will provide updates when I return.

Calgary-Glenmore (January 26, 2012): Lawyer Byron Nelson and Linda Johnson are seeking the PC nomination.

Bridget Pastoor Lethbridge-East MLA
Bridget Pastoor

Lethbridge-East (January 26, 2012): Former Liberal MLA Bridget Pastoor is facing Lethbridge County Reeve Lorne Hickey for the PC nomination. Ms. Pastoor has represented the constituency since 2004 and cross the floor to join the PC caucus in late 2011. Lethbridge Alderman Jeff Carlson and Lethbridge Senior Citizens Origanization executive director Rob Miyashiro announced this week that they will seek the Liberal nomination (date not scheduled). The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLAs since 1993.

Edmonton-Riverview (January 27, 2012): Edmonton police office Steve Young and businessman Tom Choucair are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Kevin Taft, who is not seeking re-election.

Edmonton-Strathcona (January 27, 2012): No candidate stepped forward to claim the nomination, though the date is still listed on the PC Party website.

Kelly Hegg Airdrie
Kelly Hegg

Airdrie (January 28, 2012): Former Airdrie Mayor Linda Bruce, Councillor Kelly Hegg, and Michael Crawford are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency is represented by MLA Rob Anderson, who left the PC Party in 2010 to join the Wildrose Alliance.

Banff-Cochrane (January 28, 2012): The PC nomination contest has drawn a crowd to replace retiring MLA Janis Tarchuk. Real Estate broker Jon Bjorgum, Canmore Mayor Ron CaseyRob Seeley, businessman John Fitzsimmons and Cochrane Mayor Truper McBride are seeking the nomination.

Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock (January 28, 2012): The retirement of Speaker Ken Kowalski, who has represented this region since 1979, has attracted five candidates including Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi, Westlock Town Councillor David Truckey, ministerial executive assistant Tim Schultz, and Westlock County Councillors Maureen Kubinec and Bert Seatter.

Brian Holtby Calgary-Currie PC
Brian Holtby

Calgary-Currie (January 28, 2012): Candidates seeking the PC nomination include school principal Christine Cusanelli long-time PC Party organizer Dale Galbraith, lawyer Brian HoltbyStefan Spargo, and former MLA Jon Lord.

Calgary-Hawkwood (January 28, 2012): This newly created constituency has attracted the most candidates of any nomination contest of the 2012 election. Kiron Banik, Farouk Adatia, Sumita AnandJason Luan, Adam Idris, Jerry Mandryk, Chris Roberts, Kumar Sharma, Doug Stevens, and Darryl Wernham are contesting the PC nomination.

Calgary-Varsity (January 28, 2012): Former Nexen Vice-President Donna Kennedy-Glans is facing Ph.D. business student Rhiannon MacDonnell. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Harry Chase since 2004. Mr. Chase is retiring at the next election.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo (January 28, 2012): Four candidates have lined up to earn the right to face PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Guy Boutiler as the PC candidate. Candidates include Councillor Mike Allen, teacher Andrew Highfield, Nick Sanders, and School Trustee Jeff Thompson.

Tab Pollock Grande Prairie-Smoky
Tab Pollock

Grande Prairie-Smoky (January 28, 2012): The retirement of former cabinet minister Mel Knight has sparked a three-way nomination contest that has drawn Grande Prairie County Reeve Everett McDonald, Tab Pollock, and Tom Burton.

Highwood (January 28, 2012): Associate publisher at the Okotoks Western Wheel John BarlowJohn Hankins, and Okotoks Town Councillor Ed Sands are seeking the PC nomination. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is also seeking election in this constituency.

Little Bow (January 28, 2012): Deputy Reeve of the County of Lethbridge Henry Doeve  and former County Councillor John Kolk are seeking the PC nomination.

Medicine Hat (January 28, 2012): Former Alderman Darren Hirsch, retired school district superintendent Linda Rossler, and Investment Advisor Dan Hein are seeking the PC nomination to replace long-time MLA Rob Renner. Mr. Hein is the former campaign manager for Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (January 30, 2012): Past City Council candidate Cris Basualdo and Emerson Mayers are the two candidates I have heard are seeking the PC nomination. The constituency has been represented by NDP MLA Brian Mason since 2000.

Edmonton-South West (January 30, 2012): This new constituency has drawn the candidacy of four PC nominees Charles Balenga, Tofael Chowdhury, Matt Jeneroux, and Eva Mah-Borsato.

Calgary-Buffalo (January 30, 2012): Donna Haslam is the only candidate that I am aware of who is seeking the PC nomination. The constituency has been represented by popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr since 2008.

Edmonton-Mill Woods (January 31, 2012): Despite bizarre nomination shenanigans, the PC nomination contest will still include Ron RandhawaSohail Qadri, and controversy-prone MLA Carl Benito.

St. Albert (January 31, 2012): School Trustee Jacquie Hansen, businessman Stephen Khan, and retired armed forces pilot Jeff Wedman are seeking the PC nomination to replace retiring one-term MLA Ken Allred.

Categories
Alberta Politics

kevin taft goes rogue with new book: follow the money.

“If Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.”

This was only one of the notable figures presented by Kevin Taft at the launch of his new book, Follow the Money, held last night at the Garneau Theatre in Edmonton. The outgoing MLA and former Liberal Party leader released his latest book along with a short film directed by award-winning director Tom Radford.

The book and the film focus on what Alberta’s reach-for-the-bottom taxation rate really means for our province and the potential that is lost when our government does not even collect its own resource revenue targets.

Follow the Money breaks down the spending patterns of the provincial government over the past 30 years by looking beyond the basic numbers and by delving into demographics that tell a deeper story about spending and revenue. Essentially, while corporate profits have skyrocketed in Alberta, the share of wealth that is invested into our public services has shrunk dramatically.

When you actually look at the numbers, Alberta does not come anywhere close to having a spending problem, as some politicians on the political right would have us believe. Alberta has a revenue problem.

Perhaps one of the advantages of being an outgoing MLA is that Dr. Taft is not restricted by a party-line (nor do I have the impression that he would care to listen to a party-line). The ideas proposed in Dr. Taft’s new book clash with the new “business friendly” direction that Tory MLA-turned-Liberal leader Raj Sherman is trying to steer his party, which could make for some interesting drama in the upcoming Spring session of the Assembly.

Politics aside, Dr. Taft is doing Albertans a great service by putting these numbers on the table and opening the debate on Alberta’s resource revenue and taxation policy.

Among the more than 350 people attending the launch were MLAs Laurie Blakeman and Rachel Notley. Also present were Public School Trustees Michael Janz, Sarah Hoffman, and Heather Mackenzie.

Here are what others are saying about Follow the Money:

Sheila Pratt: Alberta ‘leaving too much on the table,’ ex-Liberal leader says

Darcy Henton: Kevin Taft wonders where the money went

Samantha Power: Follow the money New book examines where Alberta’s wealth is spent

Categories
Alberta Politics

rookie photos of alberta mlas retiring in 2012.

With an election expected to be held in the next few months and a new Premier setting a new tone, many long-time and not-so-long-time Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly have decided that now is time to retire or look for greener pastures.

The nineteen MLAs not seeking re-election are former Premier Ed Stelmach, Ken Kowalski, Iris Evans, Ron Liepert, Mel Knight, Barry McFarland, Janis Tarchuk, Richard Marz, Lloyd Snelgrove, Rob Renner, Hugh MacDonald, Kevin Taft, George Groeneveld, Dave Taylor, Harry Chase, Broyce Jacobs, Ken Allred, and Art Johnston. Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Johnston were defeated in nomination contests in their constituencies.

Rumours circulating suggest that other long-time MLAs are also considering retirement, including Yvonne Fritz and Dave Hancock.

The departures are not limited to MLAs. Yesterday, Liberal Communications Director Brian Leadbetter announced that he will be leaving after a year in the position.

Some of the retiring politicians have spent a decade or more in office, so before the writ is dropped I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of them looked like in their younger years in office.

Ed Stelmach, MLA for Vegreville-Vermilion (1993-2004), Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville (2004-2012), Premier (2006-2011)
Ed Stelmach, MLA for Vegreville-Viking (1993-2004), Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville (2004-2012), Premier (2006-2011)
Ken Ken Kowalski, MLA for Barrhead (1979-1993), Barrhead-Westlock (1993-2004), Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock (2004-2012) MLA Barrhead
Ken Kowalski, MLA for Barrhead (1979-1993), Barrhead-Westlock (1993-2004), Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock (2004-2012)
Iris Evans 1997 and 2012
Iris Evans, MLA for Sherwood Park (1997-2012)
Rob Renner, MLA for Medicine Hat (1993-2012)
Rob Renner, MLA for Medicine Hat (1993-2012)
Barry McFarland, MLA for Little Bow (1991-2012)
Barry McFarland, MLA for Little Bow (1992-2012)
Kevin Taft, MLA for Edmonton-Riverview (2001-2012)
Kevin Taft, MLA for Edmonton-Riverview (2001-2012)
Janis Tarchuk, MLA for Banff-Cochrane (1997-2012)
Janis Tarchuk, MLA for Banff-Cochrane (1997-2012)
Hugh MacDonald, MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar (1997-2012)
Hugh MacDonald, MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar (1997-2012)
Richard Marz, MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills (1997-2012)
Richard Marz, MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills (1997-2012)