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Satire

historic merger “unites the centre-right” in alberta.

Historic Conservative-Liberal merger “unites the centre-right” in Alberta
Edmonton Morning Star

Page: A1
January 16, 2012

In a move designed to stop a Wildrose Alliance victory in the imminent provincial general election, two long-time political foes have agreed to put aside their differences and form a “coalition of the centre-right.” At a press conference this morning, Progressive Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader David Swann announced the formation of the electoral coalition.

“As difficult as it might be, we, uh, have decided to, um, work together for Alberta’s future,” said Stelmach. “Uh, the reality is that Alberta’s future will be brighter and stronger when, uh, we work together.”

Recent polling has shown Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance with 35% support across Alberta. The PCs and Liberals have 36% combined support, which they argue will be enough to form government. The Liberals had initially hoped to negotiate electoral cooperation with the NDP and the resurgent Alberta Party, but they began talks with the Tories following the Wildrose Alliance victory in the hotly contested Calgary-Buffalo by-election to replace Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who was elected Mayor in 2010.

Under the agreement the PC and Liberals will not challenge each others incumbent MLAs. Until the election and if re-elected, Stelmach has appointed Swann as Deputy Premier, former leader Kevin Taft as Minister of Health & Wellness, and Calgary MLA Harry Chase as Minister of Education.

Premier Stelmach told the media that the two parties will run on a five point platform that emphasizes good governance, the economy, the environment, safe communities, and an strong role for Alberta in Canada. Details will be released when the election is called.

“Just as the Liberal Conservative coalition has succeeded in the United Kingdom, Premier Stelmach and I intend to prove that it can work in Alberta,” said Swann. “We intend to protect Albertans from the new and scary Wildrose Alliance.”

Some Liberals were quick to rise up in arms in opposition to the merger, saying it will only drive voters to the NDP and Alberta Party.

Party organizers defended the decision. “Liberals overwhelmingly approved the idea of cooperation with other progressive parties at our last policy convention,” said a Liberal spokesperson. “Cooperation with the Progressive Conservatives will stop the vote splitting the new and scary Wildrose Alliance is depending on.”

Danielle Smith was unavailable for comment, but Wildrose Alliance strategists were quick to attack the announcement as a “merger of convenience.”

“It’s official, Stelmach is the new Trudeau,” boasted the Wildrose Communications Director.

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kevin taft asks: where did alberta’s money go?

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft wrote a interesting article this weekend in the Edmonton Journal. It is a detailed read, but Dr. Taft asks some very important questions about how and where our government has been spending pubic money over the past 20 years.

Public spending stayed flat as Alberta economy grew: From 1989 to 2008, economic pizza expanded, but who was eating it?

“Follow the money.” It’s a tried and true way to explain a lot of politics and government and, in recent months, I’ve been reminded why.

It started with a mystery and ended with an answer I hadn’t expected.

The mystery? If Alberta government spending on public health care is “out of control” and “skyrocketing” and “unsustainable,” as we are told, why do we have such crowded hospitals and such a shortage of doctors and nurses? If spending on public health care has climbed so much, where’s the real-life evidence?

Read the rest of the article.

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spring session of the alberta legislature cut short.

Alberta's Legislative Assembly Building in Edmonton.

The 2010 Spring session of the Alberta Legislature wrapped up yesterday with little fanfare. Ending a month and a half earlier than the increasingly pointless Legislative calendar had scheduled, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs seemed happy to cut short one of their roughest sessions in decades. Here are some thoughts on how each of the parties fared during the 2010 Spring session:

Progressive Conservatives
Entering their 39th year in office, the Progressive Conservatives caucus appeared to list from left to right and back again during this session. The massive cuts expected in the 2010 budget never emerged (and the cuts that did take place were largely overshadowed by funding to health care and education). Their flagship bill, the Competitiveness Act, is already becoming largely forgotten in the minds of most political watchers and did not have the public splash impact that was likely intended.

Premier Ed Stelmach
Premier Ed Stelmach speaking to students and staff at the University of Alberta.

The PCs faced criticism over sending junkets of Cabinet Ministers to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games while the Assembly was in session to hobnob with international business leaders on the Alberta Olympic Train. The PCs also made changes that lowered the amount of resource royalties collected by the provincial government, effectively undoing in one day the long process of industry consultation, economic study, and public relations that they had undertaken prior to the 2008 election.

Their political machinery is still well-financed, but the PC Party leadership appears disconnected from mainstream Albertans. Premier Stelmach’s weak public speaking skills were crutched by some of the cabinet ministers who were shuffled into new positions in February and have made an impact this Spring. Most notably, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Finance Minister Ted Morton, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, and Solicitor General Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau have performed fairly well in their new roles. In the Health Care file, Minister Zwozdesky appears to have spent much of the past three months travelling the province attempting to extinguish the fires set by his predecessor (now -Energy Minister Ron Liepert). While his style has brought a much friendlier tone to his position, there are still remains unanswered questions around issues ranging from seniors’ pharmacare to the future of Alberta Hospital Edmonton.

Finance Minister Ted Morton delivered his first budget in March 2010.

As criticisms have increased from outside the Legislature, it appears that a few PC backbenchers are increasingly unwilling to read the puff-ball questions that they regularly line up for. Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA George VanderBurg, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen, and Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale have asked some pretty tough questions and have noticeably got under the skin of some cabinet ministers during Question Period.

Premier Stelmach and his cabinet ministers will undertake a province-wide tour over the summer to talk with Albertans (and try to win back the hearts and minds of PC supporters who have flocked to the Wildrose Alliance). The optimist in me hopes that the tour will actually be effective in reconnecting our elected government officials with Albertans.

Liberal leader David Swann and MLAs Bridget Pastoor, Laurie Blakeman, Kevin Taft, Hugh MacDonald, Kent Hehr, and Harry Chase.

Liberals
With the exception of Health critic Kevin Taft and Calgary International Airport-tunnel advocate Darshan Kang, the Official Opposition Liberals struggled to focus during this session. David Swann‘s rag-tag Liberal caucus gained some attention after releasing a new oil and gas policy, but have had a difficult time finding a role in the new and increasingly dominant political narrative being developed between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance.

The very public departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and his verbal lashing of Dr. Swann in the media seemed to be the most memorable moment for the Liberals during this session, though internally, they are probably better off without Mr. Taylor. The Liberals won a reprieve from negative attention when a motion by backbench PC MLA Verlyn Olson temporarily removed the independence of Public Accounts Committee chairman Hugh MacDonald. While I believe Dr. Swann’s performance actually improved after Mr. Taylor’s departure, similar to their federal counterparts, the provincial Liberals biggest weakness is their focus on daily tactics, rather than long-term strategy to form government.

Danielle Smith with Wildrose Alliance MLAs Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson.

Wildrose Alliance
With the addition of former PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, the WRA caucus was boosted to third-party status for the first time. Ms. Forsyth’s Mandatory Reporting of Child Pornography bill was passed on third reading (I cannot remember any time that an opposition MLAs private members bill was passed into legislation). The Wildrose Alliance was faced with the challenge of not becoming the NDP of the right and have been strategic in what issues they chose to focus on (ie: opposing the centralization of regional health authorities into Alberta Health Services).

With three MLAs in the Assembly, seatless leader Danielle Smith has spent the majority of her time during this session criss-crossing the province, speaking to town hall meetings, trade shows, chambers of commerce, and anyone interested in meeting with the newly anointed Dauphine of Alberta politics (a very smart decision in my mind).

NDP MLA Brian Mason in a media scrum at the Alberta Legislature.

New Democrats
The NDP caucus of Brian Mason and Rachel Notley did what they do well this session: get media attention. Rather than striking out on their own when their position in the Question Period line-up was in jeopardy, they joined with the Liberals and Wildrose Alliance at the press gallery podium to present a united front against this change. On the policy front, the NDP released a report on Health Care that was generated after a series of town hall meetings.

Outside the Legislature, the NDP appear to be stalled in the polls and have not been able to capitalize on the destabilization inside the Liberal Party. At their 2009 convention, Nova Scotia NDP organizer Matt Hebb advised his Alberta cousins to build a bigger tent of supporters and to act like a party of government by taking a pragmatic and constructive approach to politics. “Act like a party of government, don’t talk about it,” was Mr. Hebb’s message. Judging by the daily outrage and ankle bitting during Question Period, it does not appear that the two MLAs have heeded Mr. Hebb’s advice.

Independent MLAs now include Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor.

Independents
Independent MLAs Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor now share the lonely northwest corner of the Assembly floor. It was suspected that Mr. Boutilier might join the Wildrose Alliance caucus (his 2008 campaign manager has joined the WRA), but he may be too much of a wildcard for a party that is riding high in the polls and posturing to form the next government. More recently, there have been rumors floating that Mr. Taylor would like to acquire the leadership of the newly reorganized Alberta Party and reshape it into his own image (knowing the people involved in the Alberta Party, this might not be a welcoming prospect).

Floor-crossings
Since the 2008 election, five of 83 MLAs have forced the changing of seating arrangements on the Assembly floor. There has not been this much movement across the Assembly floor between elections since the early 1990s, which saw some significant Liberal by-election victories, a New Democrat cross to the PCs, a PC leave to sit as an Independent, and a handful of right-leaning Liberals cross to the PCs. It is also the first time since 1989 that an opposition party other than the Liberals or NDP have had more than one MLA in the Assembly (the Representative Party elected two former Social Credit MLAs in 1986).

Press Gallery
This was the final session for long-time Canadian Press reporter Jim MacDonald, who will be retiring from his role in May. After 27 years working for Canadian Press, Mr. MacDonald has become an institution in the Press Gallery. During my time as a spokesperson for the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, Mr. MacDonald was always the most nerve-racking reporter in a media scrum – always asking the toughest questions and not taking spin for an answer. He will be missed.

On a final note, I feel the need to recognize Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who is normally a very good columnist, but during this spring session has written some excellent columns about politics in Alberta.

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liberals organizing in glenora.

“rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated”
Dr. David Swann (borrowed from Mark Twain)

Trying to gauge how rough this last week was for the Liberal Party in Alberta, I attended last night’s Town Hall meeting hosted by the Edmonton-Glenora Liberal Association at Robertson-Wesley United Church (which is actually in Edmonton-Centre). It was a fairly typical political gathering, with most of the around 50 attendees in the +50 age range, but there were some interesting parts of the evening.

– The hot topic of the week was barely even mentioned and did not appear to be on anyone’s radar. See Maurice Tougas‘ SEE Magazine column.

– Former Glenora MLA Bruce Miller was there, as was current Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft, and former MLAs Weslyn Mather and Jack Flaherty.

– The Liberals will roll out five new policy positions over the next six months focusing on health, economy, environment, and clean government.

– After the Reverend Miller’s narrow defeat to Tory Heather Klimchuk in the 2008 election, the Glenora Liberal Association went dormant. I am told that many of the constituency organizers who had been around since Howard Sapers was first elected in 1993 were burnt out and moved on. More recently, the constituency executive has been reborn and reorganized by a group of young professionals who have begun hosting meetings, fundraising, and growing the local membership.

– There was a lot of talk about vote-splitting and the announcement by former Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen that he will be seek the NDP nomination in the newly redrawn Glenora constituency. Supporters of the Democratic Renewal Project were present and spoke for the need for Liberals to work with the NDP so not to split the vote. Though there were some sympathetic ears in the room, the majority of the attendees appeared to oppose the idea (not surprising for a room full of partisans).

Glenora is shaping up to be a battleground in the next election. Elections in Glenora have been fierce since 2001, with each election since then being decided by less than 500 votes. Dr. Swann told the crowd that it was a priority that the Liberals elect an MLA for Glenora in 2012 – “We must win Glenora back!”

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public un-accounts committee.

According to its mandate, Alberta’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts is an all-party committee consisting of 17 Members of the Legislative Assembly that reviews the annual report of the Auditor General of Alberta and the public accounts of the province. It is tradition across Canada that an opposition MLA occupy the Chairmanship of this committee.

Via to Capital Notebook, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald is crying foul after his powers as Chairman were severely limited by a recent motion by Wetaskiwin-Camrose PC MLA Verlyn Olsen to require that “all future correspondence on behalf of the public accounts committee (must) be signed by both the chair and deputy chair.” The Deputy Chair is currently Calgary-Lougheed PC MLA Dave Rodney.

More from Capital Notebook:

…before MacDonald can send out e-mails, make plans for future meetings, and demand government bodies make an appearance before the all-party committee, Calgary-Lougheed Tory Dave Rodney (the deputy chair) must give him the nod.

It’s an unusual practice, since it doesn’t happen in any other legislative committee, all of which are dominated by government Conservatives. Olson’s motion this morning was backed by all present government members and opposed by NDP Leader Brian Mason and Calgary-Varsity Liberal Harry Chase. (MacDonald, as the chairman, can’t actually vote.)

This is not the first time that the already limited power Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee has been harshly criticized. Here is an exert from MLA Kevin Taft‘s 2007 book Democracy Derailed which describes how much that committee’s oversight power had been limited:

Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee can meet once a week only when the legislature is sitting, which is all of three months per year. During approximately a dozen 90-minute meetings, the committee must review the spending of 24 provincial government departments with a combined budget of $24 billion.

That’s not all. Unlike the federal Public Accounts Committee, Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee cannot submit a report to the legislature. Legislators outside of Alberta find this restriction hard to fathom. Conservative Member of Parliament John Williams said “It’s shocking. I cannot believe a government majority would use their capacity to set the rules like that.”

It is unclear what prompted Mr. Olson to introduce this motion or why the PC MLAs on the committee supported it. I have contacted Mr. Olson’s office for an explanation and if I receive a response, I will post it here. I try to stay away from conspiracy theories, but with MLAs expected to start their summer break tomorrow (yes, in April) and the introduction of the distracted driver legislation taking the headlines, it feels like this motion was designed to be lost in the shuffle.

UPDATE: Alex Muir from the Roundhouse blog has offered some thoughts on Mr. Olson’s motion.

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Dave Taylor David Swann Debby Carlson Gene Zwozdesky Kevin Taft

alberta liberal attrition.

Today’s news that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leaving the Liberal caucus is big news for political watchers, but it is far from the first time that an MLA has left the Alberta Liberal Caucus. Due to many circumstances, ten MLAs have departed the Liberal Caucus before their term has ended over the past 16 years.

2006: One-term Edmonton-Manning MLA Dan Backs was expelled from the Liberal caucus by party leader Kevin Taft due to “ongoing friction” between the MLA and his colleagues. Mr. Back sat an an Independent MLA. After unsuccessfully seeking the PC nomination in 2008, Mr. Backs ran as an Independent and placed third behind Tory Peter Sandhu and New Democrat Rick Murti.

2004: Leader and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson both left the Liberal caucus to run as federal Liberal candidates. Dr. Nicol eared 21.5% support against Conservative MP Rick Casson, and Ms. Carlson placed only 5,000 votes behind Edmonton-Strathcona Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

2000: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Sue Olsen left the Liberal caucus to run peruse a career in federal politics. Ms. Olsen was unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Edmonton-Centre East MP Peter Goldring.

1999: One-term Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Pamela Paul left the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent MLA after domestic issues made it difficult for her to work with her caucus colleagues. She did not seek re-election in 2001.

1998: Two-term Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky left the Liberals over a dispute with leader Nancy MacBeth. One month later, he joined the Progressive Conservative caucus and is currently the Minister of Health & Wellness.

1996: Former leader and Redwater MLA Nick Taylor left the Liberal caucus when he was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

1995: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Andrew Beniuk was expelled from the Liberal caucus and sat as an Independent before joining the PCs in 1996. Mr. Beniuk was defeated by Liberal Sue Olsen in the 1997 election. Mr. Beniuk attempted political comebacks as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Glengarry in 2001 and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in 2008.

1994: Edmonton-Beverly-Belmont MLA Julius Yankowski and Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Paul Langevin left the Liberals to sit as Independent MLAs before joining the PC caucus in 1995 and were both re-elected in 1997. Mr. Langevin retired in 2001 and Mr. Yankowski was defeated by New Democrat Ray Martin in 2004.

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Corey Hogan Dave Taylor David Swann Tony Sansotta

dave taylor leaving the liberals.

Liberal leader David Swann addresses the media this morning. Six Liberal MLAs had his back.

According to Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor will leave the Official Opposition Liberal Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA this morning.

The Alberta Liberals finally make the news.

Their best guy leaves them.

Dave Taylor, the party’s former deputy leader, the Calgary MLA many Liberals wanted as their top gun 16 months ago, will sit as an independent beginning Monday.

He is fed up with the Liberals as the main opposition on paper but nowhere near that in performance.

“We just don’t have a position that’s obvious to anybody on most things. I’m sorry, but we don’t. For two years now, we haven’t really stood for anything, with a few notable exceptions,” says Taylor, who spearheaded the party’s oilpatch-friendly policy on royalties.

“The Liberals are pretty much off the radar. We’re not talking about or standing for things in a way that translates to Albertans. Most Albertans have passed the Liberals by. People aren’t even politely curious.”

“I don’t think I can serve my constituents or other Albertans in the way they deserved to be served within the Liberals. They’re just too unfocused, too lacking in the ability to connect with the people of Alberta.”

“I just don’t see things happening. I feel I’ve tried.”

Mr. Taylor was first elected in 2004, defeating PC MLA Jon Lord in a high profile race. He served as Deputy Leader during Kevin Taft‘s time as Leader of the Official Opposition and ran for the party leadership following Dr. Taft’s resignation in 2008. Only attracting 1,616 votes, Mr. Taylor placed second to Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann. His defection from the Liberal caucus should not come as a surprise to many, as these rumours have been swirling around since the Liberals lost ground to the PCs in the last election. Liberal sources have told me that over the past year, caucus meetings have become especially heated between Mr. Taylor and other MLAs, leading to a dysfunctional team environment in the Official Opposition caucus. In January 2010, Mr. Taylor was given the opportunity to step into the spotlight when he announced the Liberal Party’s new energy policy, which was supposed to signal “a dramatic shift and tone” for the Liberals. In recent months, it has been rumoured that Mr. Taylor was investigating a run for Mayor of Calgary, though these now appear to be unsubstantiated.

As an Independent, Mr. Taylor would be in a good position to accept woos from both the Progressive Conservatives (who are in desperate need for some personality and could undercut the Liberals further by appointing him to cabinet) or the Wildrose Alliance (who could use a prominent opposition voice like Mr. Taylor’s to moderate their public face).

If Mr. Taylor does indeed announce his departure from the Liberal caucus today, these effects could be devastating to the Liberal Party – both Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta and Executive Director Corey Hogan were heavily involved in Mr. Taylor’s leadership campaign. His departure will also bring the Liberal caucus down to 8 MLAs from the 9 elected in 2008. While this initially does not look good for Dr. Swann, it could lead the Liberal caucus to become a more cohesive unit (strength in the face of destruction) – or it could lead to more internal criticism of his low-key style of leadership.

UPDATE: Both David Swann and Dave Taylor have released statements to the media. I attended Dr. Swann’s media conference at the Legislature this morning and will have some photos up later today. In a display of caucus solidarity, Dr. Swann was joined by 6 of the remaining 8 members of the Liberal caucus (Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang is in India on family matters). Dr. Swann told the media that he knew Mr. Taylor had not been happy inside the Liberal caucus since he was defeated in the 2008 leadership campaign.

Categories
Brian Mason Danielle Smith David Climenhaga David Swann Edwin Erickson Kevin Taft Randy Thorsteinson

perfesser dave’s five paths to obscurity.

In his most recent blog post and column in the Saint City News, David Climenhaga (aka Perfesser Dave) pointed out five main challenges that the new Alberta Party faces in becoming relevant in the 2012 election. It is a good list and these challenges do not face the new Alberta Party alone. Mr. Climenhaga is also accurate in describing the challenges facing the other opposition parties in Alberta.

While the Wildrose Alliance, now led by Danielle Smith, has been successful in raising piles of cash through their oil and gas sector bankrollers, both the Liberals and New Democrats have had a difficult time raising the kind of funds needed to compete with the near 40-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. In 2007, the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft raised over $1 million, but it remained a miniscule amount compared to the PC Party’s multi-million dollar war chest.

For all the talk of vote-splitting among the opposition parties, the political field is really not that crowded. In 2008, over 60% of Albertans stayed away from the polls, which signals that Albertans are hardly overflowing the polling stations to split votes. Even the electoral equations provided by the Democratic Renewal Project show that a merger of Liberal and NDP votes in recent elections would only create a moderately-sized opposition. It is true that the new Alberta Party leader, Edwin Erickson, is not high profile and is unlikely to be the next Premier of Alberta, but once you step out of the political echo chamber or away from the Dome, all the parties become irrelevant. For all their hard work, show a picture of David Swann or Brian Mason to a random person on the street, and you will likely get a puzzled look.

Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)
Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Mr. Climenhaga claimed that the Alberta Party is a group of “self-important yuppified professionals who would like to go straight into power.” I have met with some of the organizers of the new Alberta Party and some of them are even good friends of mine. I can attest that while they are ambitious (and perhaps a bit naive), they are not what Mr. Climenhaga describes.

I have spoken with many Liberals and New Democrats who remain befuddled as to why anyone would attempt to start something new, rather than join the ranks of the already assembled politicos. On many levels, the people behind the new party are looking for a cultural shift in Alberta politics. Although they may agree with some of the policies promoted by the traditional political parties, they see the culture of these traditional parties as part of the problem. The Alberta Party organizers appear to be fully aware of the risks of failure and that they are stepping beyond the political comfort zones of many people already involved in other parties.

I know many jilted Liberals and jolted New Democrats who have resolved to bask in the glory days of Pierre Trudeau or Laurence Decore and Tommy Douglas or Grant Notley. I somewhat admire their political stamina and strength (or madness) in the face of adversity, but I also completely understand why a group of young politically ambitious reformers would want to chart their own course. Joining a group that has become content with spending decades in the relative obscurity of the opposition benches is hardly attractive if you are serious about changing government policy.

Building a new political party from the ground up is hard work. The current leadership of the Liberals and New Democrats inherited a base of support and network that has existed for decades. Considering that the party was formed only eight years ago, the growth of the Wildrose Alliance is impressive (recognizing that it did have roots in the mini-resurgence of the Randy Thorsteinson-led Social Credit Party in 1997). It will be interesting to see whether the people involved with the new Alberta Party can actually build something different.

Contrary to what you may sometimes read on this blog, I do not always enjoying pointing out the flaws of Alberta’s opposition parties. I wish they would do better. I wish for opposition parties that were not uncompetitive in half the constituencies represented in the Assembly. I wish for a competitive election in 2012 that will attract Albertans back to the ballot booths. If the current polling trends continue, it looks like it may be competitive, but it remains to be seen who will actually be the contenders.

Categories
Doug Griffiths Ed Stelmach Fred Horne Hugh MacDonald Ken Kowalski Kevin Taft Kyle Fawcett Rachel Notley Ron Liepert Stephen Duckett

year in review 2009: alberta mla edition.

As is tradition here at daveberta.ca, I have created an annual list of Alberta MLAs who have caught my eye over the past year (see the 2008 MLA review). Due to a large grouping of MLAs who through sheer numbers appear almost indistinguishable as they sit in the backbenches of the 72  70 MLA Progressive Conservative caucus, this list focuses on the handful of MLAs who caught my attention for various reasons:


Kyle Fawcett: (PC Calgary-North Hill) I am really puzzled by this one. In February 2009, backbench MLA Fawcett was one of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s proudest cheerleaders, evangelizing the Premier on the floor of the Legislature as:

…a man of extraordinary vision, someone who fails to fall into the trap of regressive thinking during challenging times. He is a steady hand at the wheel of the ship in turbulent times. When others retreat, he has the optimism to search for the light at the end of the tunnel, the beacon of hope that all Albertans aspire to. He has the dogged determination to push forward to establish this province’s place in the new world paradigm when the negativity of others is enough to stop progress dead in its tracks.

Eight months later, Fawcett took a complete 180 degree turn and criticized Premier Stelmach for doing “very little, I believe, to instil confidence in at least people in Calgary that he has the leadership capabilities to lead this province.” He soon after apologized and was quietly punished for his outspoken behaviour. It appears that Fawcett wants to be the class rebel and the teachers pet at the same time, but has ended up wearing the dunce cap instead.

Doug Griffiths: (PC Battle River-Wainwright) A year of lateral moves from being shuffled from parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to parliamentary assistant to the Solicitor General makes me wonder if the PCs are blind to talent. Griffiths knows how to use social media effectively by actually providing value and allowing citizens outside the Legislature to get a peek at what personal beliefs and driving motivations have led him to seek office. With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.

Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock) As Speaker Kowalski celebrated 30 years as an MLA, he also demonstrated his political vintage by outright banning MLAs from using social media such as Twitter and Facebook during Question Period. While I agree that MLAs should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, rather than outright banning the medium, Kowalski had the opportunity to explore how new technologies could be used to reconnect citizens to their democratic institutions. I offered to help Speaker Kowalski better understand the uses of social media, but I did not receive a response.

 #fail

Ron Liepert (PC Calgary-West) Minister Liepert is a blunt instrument. He and Premier Stelmach have continued to defer much of their public responsibility for health care restructuring to the unelected CEO of Alberta Health Services, Stephen Duckett, but it has not stopped the Minister from planting his foot firmly in his mouth. PC MLAs are growing weary of this political arrangement and the Calgary Herald called for Minister Liepert’s resignation after he blamed Albertans for the administrative mishandling of the H1N1 vaccinations. Odds are favouring Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne to replace Minister Liepert early in the new year.



Hugh MacDonald (Liberal Edmonton-Gold Bar) Last year, I characterized MacDonald as “obsessed with discovering scandal,” and this year I say the same, but with a slightly more endearing tone. While he does come off as a little nuts, MacDonald is easily one of the hardest working MLAs in the Legislature – spending countless hours digging through files in the Legislature Library and as Chair of the Public Account CommitteeAIMco, AHS, and PC MLA extra pay and bonuses have been among MacDonald’s targets in 2009, but I am still not sure if he would know what to do if he uncovered a scandal that stuck.

Len Mitzel (PC Cypress-Medicine Hat) Haven’t heard of Len Mitzel? Not surprising. The backbench MLA has found his niche as the PC caucus’ designated American conference attendee. Over the past year, Mitzel has attended conferences on behalf of the Government of Alberta in Montana (again and again), San AngeloLaredo, Denver, and Boise, meaning that he likely understands more than most MLAs the important economic relationship that our province has with the western United States.

Rachel Notley: (NDP Edmonton-Strathcona) Notley has proven to be a consistently good parliamentarian. She is intelligent, articulate, and has worked hard to provide a clear voice for her constituents on the floor of the Legislature (on a wide range of issues). Lord only knows why NDP members have not demanded that she become the leader of her party.

Kevin Taft (Liberal Edmonton-Riverview) Freed from the burden of leading Alberta’s Liberal Party, Taft has returned to a more familiar role as Official Opposition Health Critic. Having written and researched extensively about public health care in Alberta in his pre-political life, Taft has proven to be a formidable opponent to Premier Stelmach and Minister Liepert over the past year.

Categories
Ben Henderson Don Iveson Doug Elniski Fred Horne Heather Klimchuk Kevin Taft Laurie Blakeman Linda Duncan Rachel Notley

photo post: edmonton pride parade 2009.


City Councillors Don Iveson and Ben Henderson show off their tricycle-made-for-two.

Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft.

Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan and MLA Rachel Notley.

Edmonton-Calder MLA Doug Elniski, Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, and Edmonton-Glenora MLA Heather Klimchuk were the first PC MLAs to ever participate in Edmonton’s Pride Parade. Klimchuk was given a unique initiation at the Pride festivities:

Edmonton Pride Parade revellers waved rainbow flags Saturday afternoon as they booed and yelled “shame” at Edmonton-Glenora MLA Heather Klimchuk, the first government minister to participate in the annual celebration.

As the Service Alberta minister spoke to a crowd of thousands at Sir Winston Churchill Square, the shouts were louder than she was.

The boos were in response to the provincial government’s passage of Bill 44 nearly two weeks ago. The bill made controversial changes to Alberta’s Human Rights Act by giving parents the right to take their children out of classes dealing with sexual orientation, human sexuality and religion.

Critics argued the new law put teachers in danger of facing human rights complaints and created a second tier of rights.

Categories
Brian Mason Bridget Pastoor David Swann Ed Kent Hehr Kevin Taft Kyle Fawcett Laurie Blakeman Rachel Notley

bill 44 debate an all-nighter.

The debate over Bill 44 is going late into the night at the Alberta Legislature. You can follow the debate online through video or by following the Twitter hashtags #ableg and #bill44.

So far, Opposition Liberal and NDP MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kevin Taft, Brian Mason, Bridget Pastoor, Kent Hehr, David Swann, and Rachel Notley have spoken against Section 9 of Bill 44 (the controversial education opt-out), and Calgary-North Hill PC MLA Kyle Fawcett has spoken in support of the Bill as it is.

I have pledged to buy lunch for and write nice things about the first PC MLA to rise and speak against Bill 44 as it currently stands. Earlier today, Premier Ed Stelmach pledged to allow the PC caucus a free vote on tonight’s/tomorrow morning’s vote.

UPDATE: It’s now 8:01am on Wednesday May 27 and after having been whipped in line for a month, no PC MLA took advantage of the last minute ‘free vote’ they were awarded on Bill 44 amendments. I keep my lunch money.

While they didn’t succeed in getting their amendments to Bill 44 passed, congrats to opposition MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kent Hehr, Rachel Notley, and Kevin Taft for their particularly well-spoken and colourful contributions to last night’s/this morning’s debates.

On another point, I wonder if any other provincial legislature watchers in Canada have a Twitter hashtag as active as #ableg?