Here is a preliminary list and map of MLAs who are supporting candidates in the 2011 Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership contest. Please comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if there are additions or subtractions to be made to this list.
Candidate: Doug Horner (12 MLAs) Ray Danyluk (Lac La Biche-St. Paul)
Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)
Hector Goudreau (Dunvegan-Central Peace)
Jack Hayden (Drumheller-Stettler)
Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Redwater)
Ken Kowalski (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock)
Genia Leskiw (Bonnyville-Cold Lake)
Len Mitzel (Cypress-Medicine Hat)
Frank Oberle (Peace River)
Luke Ouellette (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake)
Dave Quest (Strathcona)
Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West)
Candidate: Gary Mar (11 MLAs)
Naresh Bhardwaj (Edmonton-Ellerslie)
Iris Evans (Sherwood Park)
Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton-Glenora)
Mel Knight (Grande Prairie-Smoky)
Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Calmar)
Ron Liepert (Calgary-West)
Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs)
Ray Prins (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Rob Renner (Medicine Hat)
George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont-Devon)
Lloyd Snelgrove (Vermilion-Lloydminster)
Candidate: Ted Morton (10 MLAs)
Moe Amery (Calgary-East)
Carl Benito (Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Evan Berger (Livingstone-Macleod)
Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Egmont)
Doug Elniski (Edmonton-Calder)
George Groenveld (Highwood)
Broyce Jacobs (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed)
Tony Vandermeer (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview)
David Xiao (Edmonton-McClung)
His main opponents will do their best to stop Mr. Mar from rolling to a first-ballot victory. Right-wing standard bearer and former Finance Minister Ted Morton has attracted the support of Housing Minister Jonathan Denis and MLAs George Groenveld and Dave Rodney. While his campaign should not be underestimated, Mr. Morton is either on vacation or campaigning in a stealth plane. He has barely made news headlines since a highly-public row with Premier Ed Stelmach over the provincial budget led to his resignation earlier this year.
Former Deputy Premier Doug Horner is criss-crossing the province, and as the only candidate from northern Alberta (and the Edmonton region), he is likely to draw considerable regional support that Mr. Mar may find difficult to tap into. The endorsement of Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk and more expected MLA endorsements may position Mr. Horner as the de-facto “northern opposition” to the Calgary-based Mr. Mar.
Rick Orman, a Calgary oil-man and former cabinet minister who left politics in 1993, is said to be well-funded and eating away at Mr. Morton’s support. For all his good intentions, Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths is said to be struggling financially, which must be disappointing for the young MLAs enthusiastic supporters, which include Calgary-North Hill MLA Kyle Fawcett.
Former Justice Minister Alison Redford may be the biggest obstacle standing between Mr. Mar’s and a first-ballot victory on September 17. A fellow Calgarian with considerable financial support and an aggressive campaign to distance herself from the unpopular administration of Premier Stelmach, Ms. Redford may challenge Mr. Mar for the support of moderates in the PC Party. Challenging Mr. Mar for the votes of these moderate PC members could deny him the base he needs to mount an early victory.
The candidates lining up to replace Premier Ed Stelmach as leader of the PC Party have been campaigning for months, yet what should be the hottest political leadership contest of the year has so far been a quiet affair. Will it take the summer months to heat up this contest, or will Albertans wait until the September 17 first ballot vote approaches before they begin to pay attention?
Here is a look at the candidates who are seeking the PC Party leadership:
Doug Griffiths Slogan: Better Alberta Elected experience: MLA for Wainwright from 2002-2004 and Battle River-Wainwright from 2004 to present. Released policies: Energy, Finance, Property Rights Background: An underdog in this contest, Mr. Griffiths’ public musings have made him a pariah among some fellow conservatives and his openness to go to these uncomfortable places makes him unique when contrasted with the large contingent of comfortably-silent MLAs in the PC caucus. These musings have likely cost him a spot in cabinet, but they have also built him a solid following of supporters online.
Despite support of some rural high-rolling Tories, word on the street is that Mr. Griffiths campaign has had a challenge keeping up with fundraising compared to the other candidates in this contest. Calgary-North Hill backbencher Kyle Fawcett is the only MLA to have endorsed Mr. Griffiths. He supported Jim Dinning in the 2006 PC leadership contest.
Doug Horner Slogan: Let’s get it done right. Elected experience: MLA for Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert since 2001. Background: Calgary Tories still bitter from Jim Dinning’s defeat in 2006 will try to paint Mr. Horner with the same brush as they did Premier Ed Stelmach. Mr. Horner is a more comfortable figure than the Premier and did a decent job filling various cabinet posts, including Agriculture and Advanced Education & Technology.
The heir to a three-generation political dynasty, Mr. Horner follows in the footsteps of his grand-father Senator Ralph Horner, his uncles former MPs Jack Horner and Norval Horner, and his father former MP, MLA and deputy Premier Hugh Horner. Big shoes to fill.
Under the auspices of the grassroots Albertan group, led by advisor Brad Ferguson, Mr. Horner is embarking on a province-wide “Think Big Alberta” speaking tour with retired Canadian Forces General Rick Hillier and Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee CEO John Furlong. The tour kicks off in Edmonton on June 22 and has stops planned in Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Calgary.
In 2006 he supported Mark Norris on the first ballot and Ed Stelmach on the second ballot.
Gary Mar Slogan: None evident, supporters on Twitter are using the hashtag #GOGARY Elected experience: MLA for Calgary-Nose Hill from 1993 to 2004 and Calgary-Mackay from 2004 to 2007. Released policies: Education, Municipal Funding Background: Smart and slick, Mr. Mar’s campaign has the feel of a candidate for the United States Senate, which is not surprising considering that he has spent the past five years dining and lobbying the Washington DC political establishment on behalf of the Alberta Government. An MLA and cabinet minister from 1993 until 2007, he has been out of the public eye long enough not to be directly tied to the current PC Party administration.
Mr. Mar’s campaign carries significant support from Establishment Tories like former Finance Minister Iris Evans and current Energy Minister Ron Liepert, who rumours say has been trying to strong-arm support from other Tory MLAs. Mr. Mar’s campaign public relations are being handled by long-time government spokesperson Mark Kastner, who is still listed as Alberta Health Services Executive Director of Media Relations.
He supported Jim Dinning in the 2006 PC leadership contest.
Rick Orman Slogan: The Right Choice Elected experience: MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 Background: This blast from the past could turn into the Ron Paul of the PC leadership contest. As the MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 and third place candidate in his party’s 1992 leadership contest, Mr. Orman faded into political obscurity until making a return as a candidate in this contest. Taking aggressive positions at candidate forms and typing with a sharp wit on Twitter, he does not owe much to the PC Party in its current incarnation and has little to lose by telling PC members what the other candidates are afraid to say. It has been suggested that Mr. Orman’s candidacy poses the biggest threat to Dr. Morton.
Mr. Orman’s campaign is moving into an office recently vacated by Calgary-Centre Conservative MP Lee Richardson‘s campaign team, opening speculation that Mr. Orman’s support may not be so thin.
Alison Redford Slogan: None. Elected experience: MLA for Calgary-Elbow since 2008 Released policies: Democratic Renewal, Education, Energy, Health Care Background: The only woman in this contest, Ms. Redford is not your typical Red Tory. While her campaign has so far focused on important issues like health care, education, democratic renewal, and energy policy, the safe communities initiative during her time as Justice Minister demonstrated that she is creative enough to look beyond the “tough on crime” agenda. She is also appears to be taking a page from popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson by “campaigning in full sentences.” (This may have been influenced by her campaign strategist Stephen Carter, who was involved with Mayor Nenshi’s campaign).
Ms. Redford has only been an MLA since 2008, but her political experience is broad, ranging from serving as a Senior Policy Advisor to External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, being appointed as one of four International Election Commissioners to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections, and challenging Calgary-West MP Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in 2004 (she was unsuccessful).
Ted Morton Slogan: Alberta Proud/Proud to be Albertan Elected experience: Senator-in-Waiting 1998 to 2004, MLA for Foothills-Rockyview from 2004 to present
Released policies: Democratic Renewal, Power Transmission Background: The former Finance Minister and third place leadership candidate from 2006 who’s actions forced Premier Ed Stelmach to resign and this contest to begin. Many of his key organizers from his previous leadership bid have joined the Wildrose Alliance and it is questionable whether they will return to the PC Party fold if they have embraced Dr. Morton’s ideological soul-mate Danielle Smith. His time as Finance Minister hurt his conservative credentials, especially among rural landowners furious at the government’s recently passed transmission line legislation – Bill 50.
Thomas Lukaszuk Elected experience: MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs from 2001 to present Background: Yet to enter the contest, rumours have been swirling for months about Minister Lukaszuk’s potential entry into this contest. He would be the only MLA from Edmonton to enter the contest and while he would be a long-shot candidate, it could help solidify his position in cabinet under the next PC Premier.
He supported Jim Dinning in the 2006 leadership contest.
New Environics Poll A new Environics Poll shows the PCs with 38% support of decided voters province-wide, compared to 26% for the Wildrose party, 22% for the Liberals, and 10% for the NDP. In Edmonton, the PCs are at 36%, with the Liberals at 27%, Wildrose Alliance at 18%, and NDP at 15%. In Calgary, the PCs are at 34%, the Wildrose Alliance at 31%, the Liberals at 24%, and the NDP at 6%. The poll is also reported to show the PCs sitting at 43% outside of Edmonton and Calgary, compared to 29% for the Wildrose Alliance, 15% for the Liberals, and 9% for the NDP. While these are interesting numbers, I have a difficult time putting to much weight in this poll now that Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader David Swann have announced their resignation.
Will Alison Redford run?
Probably, but not yet. Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson is calling on Justice Minister Alison Redford to meet the requirements set by Premier Stelmach and resign from cabinet if she is planning to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. Despite hiring campaign strategist Stephen Carter last week, a number of Tory sources have told me that Minister Redford continues to be indecisive about whether or not to run.
Mr. Mar leaving Washington? Former cabinet minister and Alberta’s current Washington D.C. representative Gary Mar is said to be preparing a run for his party’s leadership. Earlier this week I tweeted that GaryMar.ca was registered on January 27, 2011, the day that Premier Stelmach announced his resignation. The domain name was registered by Todd Herron, a former Chief Information Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister of Health. Mr. Mar faces the challenge of either returning to Alberta to enter the contest or potentially being replaced as Alberta’s representative when a new party leader is selected in eight months.
A candidate from Coronation?
The online campaign to lure Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths into his party’s leadership contest continues. With Housing Minister Jonathan Denis declaring today via Twitter that he will not enter the contest, the well-spoken and idea-focused Mr. Griffiths could be the only candidate under the age of 45 to enter the contest.
Other Alberta Party candidates? Lisa Fox, stepped down as the federal Green Party candidate in Wild Rose this week telling the Cochrane Eagle that she is considering a run for the Alberta Party leadership. Another candidate based out of Calgary is expected to enter the race in the next few weeks.
Friends of Medicare tour
Touring with the Friends of Medicare, Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has been drawing crowds across the province. At a recent town hall meeting in Red Deer, Dr. Sherman told a packed crowd that solutions to the current crisis in emergency rooms starts with enhancing home care and long-term care for seniors, particularly those in the low and middle income groups. The next town hall meeting will be held in Medicine Hat on February 19, 2011.
Liberals hire new Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has been hired as the new Communications Director for the Official Opposition Liberals. Mr. Leadbetter will fill a vacancy that was created when former Director Neil Mackie had his contract terminated in January. Mr. Leadbetter was the Director of Government & Community Relations for Northlands from 2007 to 2010 and a Senior Communications Director for the City of Edmonton previous to that.
Social Credit policy renewal Acknowledging that there is room for improvement, the Social Credit Party is inviting Albertans to participate in their policy development process. According to the party website, reasonable, innovative suggestions will be formulated into policy proposals to be presented at the Party Policy Convention on March 26, 2011 in Innisfail.
More candidates step up I have updated the list of nominated and declared candidates for the next provincial election (please note the new link) to include Marc Power, who is seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-North Hill, which will be known as Calgary-Klein when the election is called. Mr. Power, a software trainer and former co-chair of the NDP LGBT committee, was that party’s 2008 candidate in Calgary-Currie. North Hill is currently represented by PC MLA Kyle Fawcett, who was first elected in 2008.
Federal Edmonton-StrathconaNDP PresidentMarlin Schmidt is seeking his party’s nomination in Edmonton-Gold Bar at a February 24 selection meeting. The constituency has been represented by Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald since 1997.
UPDATE via Insight into Government Leduc Alderman Dominic Mishio has declared his intentions to seek the PC nomination against two term MLA George Rogers in the new Leduc-Beaumont constituency.
In Edmonton-Riverview, Arif Khan is the first candidate to declare interest in seeking the Liberal nomination to replace retiring MLA Kevin Taft. Mr. Khan is the western Vice-President of the Condo Store Inc. As noted in last week’s Alberta Politics Notes, the NDP are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson in Riverview.
Raj Sherman (Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark)
The Emergency Room Doctor turned MLA shook the Tory establishment when he went public with his concerns about how the PC government has handled health care. Dr. Sherman saved special criticism for former Health Minister Ron Liepert, who was responsible for the creation of Alberta Health Services. An over-night folk hero to many, Dr. Sherman was suspended from the PC caucus and became the target of a whisper campaign to undermine his credibility, which started with a phone call placed by MLA Fred Horne. Dr Sherman has said he may take legal action against those involved in the smear campaign. In three weeks, Dr. Sherman’s public criticisms of the PCs health care record made him the de-facto leader of the opposition in the last two months of 2010.
Dr. Sherman made this list in 2008, when I described him as “one of the brighter stars in the vast expanse of dim lights in the Alberta Legislature.”
Doug Griffiths (PC Battle River-Wainwright)
Thinking out of the box has kept this perennial Parliamentary Assistant away from the cabinet table, where he would likely excel. Doug Griffiths’ appointment as the Parliamentary Assistant for Finance and Enterprise is the latest in a series of lateral moves from his previous roles as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Solicitor General. After trying to start a public discussion about how a provincial sales tax could reduce government dependency on natural resource revenue, Mr. Griffiths became the target of his own colleagues who shot down his idea at the 2010 PC Party convention and by the Wildrose Alliance, who used Mr. Griffiths’ comments as a fundraising-focused attack campaign. He also hit the road this year as the author of a new book, 13 Ways to Kill your Community.
In last year’s list, I wrote of Mr. Griffiths: “With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.”
Rob Anderson (Wildrose Airdrie-Chestermere)
First-term PC MLA Rob Anderson‘s floor-crossing from the PCs to the Wildrose in January 2010, along with fellow PC MLA Heather Forsyth, set the tone for Alberta politics in 2010. He may have less political experience than his three fellow Wildrose MLAs (two of which are former PC cabinet ministers), but what he does not have in age or years of experience he makes up in political tenacity. If leader Danielle Smith is unable to win a seat in the next provincial election, Mr. Anderson is in a good position to take over the role.
Kent Hehr (Liberal Calgary-Buffalo)
What started as a tongue-in-cheek campaign by Liberal caucus staffers became reality when first-term Liberal MLA Kent Hehr launched his candidacy for Mayor of Calgary. Although he was a popular candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Hehr was unable to create the kind of momentum that launched Naheed Nenshi into contention. Mr. Hehr dropped out of the Mayoral contest when his poll numbers showed he was far behind, but that did not hurt his political credibility as he returned to the Assembly as the Official Opposition Justice Critic.
Dave Taylor (Independent Calgary-Currie)
After an unsuccessful run for the Liberal leadership in 2009, Dave Taylor was not satisfied with the leadership of his rival David Swann and left the Liberal Opposition to sit as an Independent in April 2010. As one of the more effective opposition critics in the Liberal caucus, losing Mr. Taylor likely cost the Official Opposition in media attention and also an MLA who held the support of many of his former talk radio hosts at the popular AM770 and 630CHED stations.
Cindy Ady (PC Calgary-Shaw)
Alberta’s Minister of Parks and Tourism rode the Alberta train as our province’s ambassador to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While handing out White Cowboy hats and iPod Touches, Minister Ady made sure that Alberta was the topic of discussion for the international media and tourists traveling to the Olympic events in Whistler.
Gene Zwozdesky (PC Edmonton-Mill Creek)
Crowned as the “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky was responsible for fixing the mess created and mend the fences destroyed by previous Minister Ron Liepert. Minister Zwozdesky has been more open and accessible than his predecessor, but the real challenge will be for him to actually deliver real improvements to a health care system that has been seen constant political interference and restructuring over the past twenty years.
Kyle Fawcett (PC Calgary-North Hill)
On the night of the October municipal election, the backbench Tory MLA who once described Premier Ed Stelmach as “a man of extraordinary vision,” also had a loose twitter finger. As the Purple Revolution swept his city, Mr. Fawcett tweeted that Calgarians had made a “Big Mistake” by electing Naheed Nenshi as Mayor.
Carl Benito (PC Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Where do I start? A broken promise to donate his entire salary to a scholarship fund for students in his constituency and blaming his wife for forgetting to pay his municipal property taxes. Mill Woods, your MLA is a real winner.
It was supposed to be a boring week in Alberta politics. What was billed as a low-key and low-substance return of the Assembly for its fall sitting may still be lacking on substance, but it is not as low-key as most political watchers expected.
The Wizard of Zwoz introduces the Alberta Health Act
Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky introduced Bill 17: The Alberta Health Act this afternoon. The Alberta Health Act has been a target of health care advocates since Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne embarked on a province-wide road trip to “consult” Albertans on the proposed Act. The Edmonton Journal’s Sheila Pratt interviewed many of the people at these meetings, yet none of the criticism she discovered was reported in Mr. Horne’s committee’s final report. Minister Zwozdesky’s introductory speech was quick to target opposition to the Bill, which could open the door to further privatization after the next election.
Liberal Point of Order awaits Alberta Health Act
Minister Zwozdesky probably hoped to impress the opposition with his oratory introduction but it did not take long for Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was less than impressed. Ms. Blakeman was quick to pounce after the Health Minister’s speech, raising a point of order accusing him of improperly using the time allotted for him during the Bill’s first reading. Speaker Ken Kowalski was not amused. He rarely is these days.
Wildrose fundraises and attracts a familiar face
Speaking in front of a crowd of 800 guests, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith held her largest fundraiser yet in Calgary this week (the question and answer period was hosted by 630 CHED host Dave Rutherford). The Wildrose Alliance announced the nomination of three more candidates this week. Against the other opposition parties leaders, Shane McAllister will stand in Calgary-Mountainview and Wayde Lever in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. In the new Calgary-Greenway, 2008 independent/jettisoned PC candidate Ron Leech who will carry the Wildrose banner against rookie PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar. Mr. Bhullar squeaked out a win against Pastor Leech in 2008 when the local PC constituency organization was in disarray following the retirement of long-time MLA Hung Pham. Pastor Leech was originally nominated by the local PC association, but was removed and replaced by the appointed Mr. Bhullar.
Leaky Fawcett to stand in Calgary-Klein
PC backbencher Kyle Fawcett proposed an amendment to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Final Report that would have his constituency of Calgary-North Hillre-namedCalgary-Klein in the next provincial election (in honour of former Premier Ralph Klein). Mr. Fawcett (known as “Leaky Fawcett” in some political circles) got his wish. Other new constituency names are Strathcona (which will be known as Strathcona-Sherwood Park) and Calgary-Montrose (which will be known as Calgary-Greenway).
The member of four political parties will be gathering for official party functions over the next month. Starting today, the Progressive Conservative’s will be meeting for their policy convention in Calgary. The NDP will be holding their Annual Convention in Red Deer on November 5, 6, and 7. The Alberta Liberals will be electing a new party President, Vice-President Policy, and Secretary at their Annual General Meeting scheduled for November 27 in Red Deer. The new kid on the political block, the Alberta Party will be holding their policy convention on November 13. Here is a video from their recent Annual General Meeting:
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly resumes for Fall Sitting in a constantly changing political environment.
As the leaves fall and winter approaches, so does the resumption of the venerable institution known as the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Much has changed since last year’s Fall Sitting in Edmonton.
When MLAs return to the Assembly next Monday, they will have a few unfinished business to continue. The summer months have been far from quiet on Alberta’s political landscape. Premier Ed Stelmach has focused on promoting the oilsands to both audiences internationally and at home, including a tour with Hollywood Film Director James Cameron.
The Alberta Health Act will likely be the most contentious piece of legislation introduced in this sitting of the Assembly. Originally framed as a replacement for already existing pieces of health care legislation, the PC Government has since backed off after receiving an earful from Albertans in province-wide consultation meetings. The previously expected Alberta Health Act may be a shell of what it was envisioned to be when it is introduced in the next few weeks, but it could leave the door open for further legislative reforms (after the next election?).
At a media conference yesterday, Minister Gene Zwozdesky accepted recommendations from the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health, led by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne, but used his time to take a defensive stance against his critics. Minister Zwozdesky and Mr. Horne were also unable to fully explain the purpose of their proposed non-legally-binding Health Charter when questioned by reporters. The purpose of the new Alberta Health Act was challenged by Edmonton-Riverview MLA and Liberal Health Critic Kevin Taft, who labelled the Health Charter idea as “vacant” and predicted that the new Act “will be filled with platitudes that have no legal standing and have no recourse.”
I fully expect a continuation of the blood fued between the Wildrose Caucus and Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski to continue over the next session. Since the Wildrose Caucus grew to three MLAs with the floor-crossing of Mr. Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth in January 2010, Speaker Kowalski has used his power on the Members’ Services Committee to block any further increases in funding to the now third party caucus (the two MLA NDP Caucus still receives more funding that the 3 MLA Wildrose Caucus) and even demand that Danielle Smith‘s name be removed from media releases. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose Alliance Party in June 2010, but has remained as an Independent MLA in order to secure more research and communications funding (when he officially joins the Wildrose Caucus next week, their combined funding will decrease).
Since last session, the Wildrose have declared war on Speaker Kowalski outside the Assembly by nominating Senator-in-Waiting Link Byfield as their candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Speaker Kowalski has represented variations of that constituency since 1979. Mr. Byfield has been endorsed by former Conservative Members of Parliament John Williams and David Chatters.
Not to be outdone by the insurgent Wildrosers, the PC Party will be holding their Annual Convention in Calgary on October 29 and 30. I am told by a number of sources that the Convention will also serve as the kickoff for a series of “discussion sessions” with PC Party members billed as Speak Easies which will attempt to reconnect the party leadership with an increasingly disillusioned voter-base in the year before the party celebrates its fortieth year in government.
After a brutal Spring sitting that included the high-profile departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor from the Official Opposition Caucus, Liberal Opposition leader David Swann is looking to improve his party’s position this Fall. Dr. Swann is attempting to hitch his horse close to the Reboot Alberta group, which has attracted many partisan and non-partisan activists to its ranks during its two previous gatherings. In an email sent out today from his Calgary-Mountain View constituency office email, Dr. Swann implored his supporters to join him in attending the next Reboot Alberta meeting in Edmonton on November 5 and 6.
The NDP Caucus is probably feeling rightfully jubilant for the election of their Director of Research, Sarah Hoffman, to the Edmonton Public School Board, but those feeling of excitement may be tempered as they enter the Fall Sitting short-staffed. In early October, Communications Director Brookes Merritt left the NDP Caucus to accept a job with the Government of Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau. Until they find a replacement, Chief of Staff Jim Gurnett is covering the Communications portfolio.
Outside the dome of the Assembly Building, there are some very real political changes happening. The new Alberta Party held its Annual General Meeting in Red Deer at the beginning of October and after months of touring the province holding Big Listen events, that party will hold their first policy convention in the same city on November 13.
The new Alberta Party has also moved forward with the hiring of their provincial organizer Michael Walters. The party will also undoubtedly benefit from having many of its members involved in recent municipal election campaigns, including Alberta Party Vice-President Chima Nkemdirim, who was the Campaign Director for Naheed Nenshi’s successful Mayoral campaign in Calgary. Mr. Walters was also heavily involved in the Election Day get out the vote organization that helped get Mayor Stephen Mandel re-elected in Edmonton.
Also not to be ignored is the role that the Wildrose Alliance played in recent municipal elections in the province’s two largest cities. The party has already hired organizers and been nominating candidates for the next provincial election, but leader Danielle Smith’s foray into the City Centre Airport issue in Edmonton and the Airport Tunnel issue in Calgary should not be ignored. Many Wildrose organizers active in the campaigns of Calgary Mayor candidate Ric McIver and Edmonton Mayor candidate David Dorward. While they may not walk away with voters lists, it is clear that they are taking advantage of any opportunity to get an organizational edge over the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
A lot of attention has been paid to Mayor-elect Nenshi’s victory in the Calgary Mayoral contest (and rightfully so), but he was not the only new Mayor elected on October 18. Seven of Alberta’s medium sized municipalities also elected new Mayor’s this week. In the north west city of Grande Prairie, Bill Given unseated Mayor Dwight Logan. East of Edmonton, Linda Osinchuk unseated Mayor Cathy Olesen to become Mayor of Strathcona County, Rajko Dodic was elected as the new Mayor of Lethbridge. Along the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, Jeff Mulligan defeated incumbent Mayor Ken Baker in the City of Lloydminster. In the City of Wetaskiwin, Bill Elliot defeated incumbent Mayor Don Montgomery. In Airdrie, Peter Brown defeated incumbent Mayor Linda Bruce. In Alberta’s newest City, Steve Christie was elected Mayor of Lacombe, replacing the retiring Mayor Judy Gordon (who also served as the PC MLA for Lacombe-Stettler from 1993 to 2004). There was a lot of political change happening across Alberta on October 18, 2010. Of course, it is too soon to tell whether this will foreshadow a provincial election expected in March 2012.
The Fall Sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will likely open with a low level of substantive legislation and legislative debate, but outside the Dome there will be no shortage of new characters and exciting politics.
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
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 Committee. AIMco, 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 Angelo, Laredo, 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.
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.
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?