It’s been a quiet, but not boring, post-election summer in Alberta
Conventional wisdom tells us that the summer months are a quiet and boring time in politics, but not so in Alberta. It’s not often there is an actual quiet and boring political summer in this province.
And last summer, one of the most unexpected political comebacks happened right before our eyes. Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, who had been written off by most political watchers after her disastrous decision to cross the floor in 2014, defined the summer of 2022 and the United Conservative Party leadership vote that followed.
But this year’s political summer was a fairly quiet, albeit incredibly smoky, affair.
The Alberta NDP Caucus released the list of critic roles that its roster of 38 Official Opposition MLAs have been tasked to fill.
Every NDP MLA has been assigned a role as a critic or in the caucus leadership, which is not unusual for provincial oppositions in Alberta. But, because of the unusually large size of the opposition caucus, there are more critics than cabinet ministers to shadow.
Victory was within sight but out of reach for Notley’s party
It was a historic election result for the Alberta NDP.
Rachel Notley’s NDP won 38 seats in last week’s election and will form the largest Official Opposition in the province’s history. The NDP got more votes in this election than it ever has before, including a historic high of 49% in Calgary. The party ran the most sophisticated, well-organized and best-funded campaign in its history.
But it fell short of its ultimate goal of forming government.
There are four days left until Election Day in Alberta.
Readers of the Daveberta will know I’ve been watching this Alberta election pretty closely and, while I’ve actually been watching all 87 ridings throughout the campaign, there are a few handfuls I’ve been keeping a close eye on.
Some of them will be close races and some will be won with landslides.
Here’s my list of 19 ridings I’ll be watching closely on Election Day.
Former Spruce Grove city councillor Chantal Saramaga-McKenzie defeated former Parkland County mayor Rod Shaigec to secure the NDP nomination in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain.
“My parents still live here in the same house they bought in 1969. This community is in my DNA, and I will ensure it has a strong voice in the legislature,” Saramaga-McKenzie said in a statement. “I will work to ensure this community will have access to quality healthcare, long-term job growth and opportunities for our children, housing for all – especially our seniors, and to tackle the affordability crisis head on. I am ready to get to work.”
Saramaga-McKenzie is an engineer and business owner and served on city council from 2017 to 2021.
The riding is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA Searle Turton, who is also a former Spruce Grove city councillor. He currently serves as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Energy and as the private sector union liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration. He is nominated to run in the next election.
Michaela Frey not running for re-election
Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Frey announced that she will not seek re-election after serving one term in the Legislature. “I’ll continue to serve until an election is called, but my motivation is that ultimately there are some things in life that are too precious – having kids is one of them,” Frey, 29, told the Medicine Hat News. “I want to focus on that … I want to be at home in Medicine Hat to do that.”
Former Newell County councillor Mara Nesbitt has already announced her plans to seek the UCP nomination. The NDP have nominated retired teacher Gwendoline Dirk. And Alberta Party leader and former Brooks mayor Barry Morishita is hoping he can reclaim a seat in the Legislature as the candidate in this riding.
The first-term MLA and former UCP leadership candidate issued a Victoria Day statement announcing that he will be stepping out of elected politics when the next election is called. He is the first UCP cabinet minister to announce plans to leave office in 2023.
Largely shying away from social conservative issues embraced by some of his colleagues, he was widely named as someone who could take up the mantle of the business conservative-style candidate for the UCP leadership.
Schweitzer was first elected in 2019 by defeating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. He won with 44 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for Clark and 23 per cent for Alberta NDP candidate Janet Eremenko (who is now nominated as the NDP candidate in the neighbouring Calgary-Currie).
Premier Jason Kenney chose him as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General when the first UCP cabinet was sworn-in and shuffled him to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation in 2020.
This leaves an open race for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, a riding that is considered competitive in the next election.
The NDP are putting their hopes in energy analyst Samir Kayande and lawyer and former federal Liberal Party candidate Kerry Cundal recently announced she will be running for the Alberta Party nomination on May 29.
The riding has been somewhat of a swing-riding for the past 15 years after Liberal Craig Cheffins won the 2007 by-election to replace former premier Ralph Klein, who had represented the south west Calgary riding since 1989.
Clark almost won a 2014 by-election to replace another former premier, Alison Redford, and went on to win in the 2015 election.
More nomination news
Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita was nominated as his party’s candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat at a May 17 meeting, which was pushed up from a previously scheduled May 25 meeting.
Registered Nurse Diana Batten is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Acadia on May 26.
Edmonton-Meadows MLA Jasvir Deol will be nominated as his party’s candidate on May 28. He was first elected in 2019.
Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse will be nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford on May 28. She succeeds two-term MLA Richard Feehan, who is not seeking re-election.
Shiraz Mir is the second candidate to announce their candidacy for the NDP nomination in Calgary-North West.
Jeff Manchak is the third candidate to enter the NDP race in Sherwood Park. Already in the race are former MLA Annie McKitrick and solar energy expert Kyle Kasawski.
And here are the upcoming candidate nomination meetings:
Strathcona County Councillor Bill Tonita has announced his plans to seek the Alberta NDP nomination in the Strathcona-Sherwood Park riding, located directly east of Edmonton. Tonita has represented Ward 4 on the county council since 2017.
“Like many Albertans, I believe government must always lead with integrity,” Tonita said in a video announcing his candidacy.
“Politicians should be people we can trust,” he said. “People who care about their constituents, people who are driven by a passion to grow this province and create a future that is bright for all Albertans to live, work and raise their families.”
Tonita will be well-known to many people in Strathcona County, having worked as the Principal of John Paul II Catholic High School from 2008 to 2014 and Jean Vanier Catholic School from 2003 to 2008.
He is currently Vice-chair of the Saffron Sexual Assault Centre, Chair of the Capital Region Northeast Water Services Commission.
The NDP have scheduled a nomination meeting on June 9, 2022.
United Conservative Party MLA Nate Glubish has already been nominated by his party to run for re-election. Glubish currently serves as Minister of Service Alberta and was elected in 2019 with 52 per cent of the vote. NDP MLA Estefan Cortes-Vargas represented the riding from 2015 to 2019.
Former MLA Annie McKitrick and solar energy company president Kyle Kasawski are running for the NDP nomination in the neighbouring Sherwood Park riding.
Both the Strathcona-Sherwood Park and Sherwood Park ridings are considered high on the NDP’s list of target ridings needed in order to form government in the next election.
But while the next election is scheduled to take place in May 2023, there is increasing speculation that Kenney could call an early summer or fall 2022 election if he wins the leadership review in order to clear out his growing chorus of opponents in the UCP Caucus.
The second-term MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford was first elected in 2015 and served as the NDP’s Minister of Indigenous Relations from 2016 to 2019.
Before his election, Feehan worked as a social worker, social work instructor at the University of Calgary, Vice President of Catholic Social Services, and Program Director of the Edmonton Social Planning Council.
Feehan was re-elected in 2019 with 54.8 per cent of the vote, ahead of UCP candidate Hannah Presakarchuk, who finished second with 34.7
Calgary-Glenmore: Sustainable energy development expert Nagwan Al-Guneid and communications professional Jennifer Burgess are seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for May 10, 2022.
Calgary-North: Moses Mariam is seeking the NDP nomination. Mariam is a Member Administrator at Calgary’s CommunityWise Resource Centre.
Central Peace-Notley: Fairview resident Lynn Lekisch is seeking the NDP nomination in Central Peace-Notley. She is the owner of Enviro Projects and has previously worked as an environmental project manager for various energy companies.
Part of the riding was represented by NDP MLA Marg McCuaig-Boyd from 2015 until she was defeated by UCP MLA Todd Loewen after the riding was redistributed in the 2019 election. Loewen was ejected from the UCP Caucus in May 2021 after calling for Premier Jason Kenney to resign.
Leduc-Beaumont: Paramedic Cam Heenan was nominated as the NDP candidate in Leduc-Beaumont. Heenan defeated Registered Nurse Chantelle Hosseiny to win the nomination.
“I became a paramedic because I wanted to help people. I want to see a better future for our province, and that’s what led me to wanting to join Rachel Notley’s team,” Hennan said. “I know that with her leadership, Alberta’s NDP can expand our public healthcare, invest in education, and ensure all Alberta families can afford their bills at the end of the month.”
The riding has been represented by UCP MLA Brad Rutherford since 2019 and was held by NDP MLA Shaye Anderson from 2015 to 2019.
Morinville-St. Albert: Former Sturgeon County Councillor Karen Shaw and teacher James Grondin will face off for the NDP nomination at a meeting scheduled on April 30.The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Dale Nally, who serves as Associate Minister of Natural Gas.
Sherwood Park:Kyle Kasawski is the second candidate to enter the NDP nomination in Sherwood Park, a suburban hamlet of 71,000 people located directly east of Edmonton.
Kasawski is President of Solar People, a solar energy company, and previously worked as a Client Development Director with Alberta Municipalities and as an Instructor in the NAIT Alternative Energy Technology Program where he taught Advanced Energy System Design and Energy Economics.
“I want to help create an Alberta with an amazing, affordable, high quality of life – where our kids go to excellent public schools, access to healthcare is dependable, and we have a few bucks left over at the end of each month after paying all of the bills,” Kasawski said when reached for comment. “I want this to be a place for people to live and thrive.”
Edmonton-Mill Woods: Christina Gray was nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods. Gray has represented the riding since 2015 and served as Minister of Labour from 2016 to 2019.
Edmonton-North West: MLA David Eggen has announced his plans to run for re-election. Eggen was first elected in 2004 and served as MLA for Edmonton-Calder from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2019 before being re-elected in the redrawn Edmonton-North West riding in 2019. He served as Minister of Education from 2015 to 2019. A nomination meeting is scheduled for May 18, 2022.
The UCP has opened up nominations in a handful of ridings. Nominations are now open in Calgary-Cross, Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-Peigan, Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove-Stony Plain. Unsurprisingly, these ridings are all represented by MLAs who would be described as Kenney-loyalists.
While most of the UCP MLAs representing these ridings are expected to seek re-election, only Calgary-Cross’ Mickey Amery, Sherwood Park’s Walker and Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton have confirmed their intentions.
Turton was first elected to the Legislature in 2019 after serving three-terms on Spruce Grove City Council. He currently serves as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Labour and Immigration’s liaison to private sector unions, and he is the chairperson of the UCP’s Capital Region Caucus.
Meanwhile, newly elected UCP MLA, Kenney critic and leadership aspirant Brian Jean says he would reopen the UCP nomination in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre to allow disqualified candidate Tim Hoven to challenge cabinet minister Jason Nixon.
Nixon, Kenney’s chief lieutenant, was acclaimed for the UCP nomination after Hoven was disqualified by the party. Many political observers believe that Hoven was mounting a very strong challenge to Nixon in the nomination.
NDP fixated on Calgary
The NDP have been spending a lot of time in Calgary.
Rachel Notley and a group of MLAs and candidates were on hand for a nomination rally for Rosman Valencia in Calgary-East. The NDP believe significant gains in east and northeast Calgary are critical to their path to winning the next election.
NDP MLAs were also spotted door knocking in Canmore and Banff with Banff-Kananaskis candidate Sarah Elmeligi. I’m told Elmeligi was joined on the doors by Notley and MLAs Joe Ceci, Sarah Hoffman, Janis Irwin, Marlin Schmidt, Irfan Sabir and Shannon Phillips. Notley and Irwin also posted a photo on social media with Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno.