More than half of Albertans live in Calgary and Edmonton, so why does it feel like big city issues are an afterthought for the provincial government?
Mack Male joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of local media in Edmonton, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu’s paternalistic approach to municipal relations, the review of the Local Authorities Election Act and how it might change the rules of the 2021 municipal elections, and whether there is hope for ever getting a real urban agenda for Alberta (plus free transit and gondolas).
A big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for making this episode sound so good.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
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When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the new Legislature today, the first piece of business they were required to conduct was the election of a Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who will preside over debates and ensure that the established rules of behaviour and procedure are followed.
The Speaker is elected by MLAs through a secret ballot held at the beginning of each legislative session. Candidates are nominated by their colleagues on the floor of the Assembly and voting takes place immediately afterward.
It has been fairly well known in most political circles that Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper has had his eye on the Speaker’s Chair. Cooper made his intentions known shortly after the election and as former interim leader of the United Conservative Party and opposition house leader, he was well positioned to take on the role. His lack of appointment to the UCP cabinet earlier this month was a pretty definite signal that he would have the support of Premier Jason Kenney and most or all of the UCP caucus in this election.
As has become the norm in recent years, the opposition also nominated a candidate for the Speaker’s Chair. Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray nominated her New Democratic Caucus colleague, Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet in the election. Sweet had served as Deputy Chair of Committees during the previous Assembly.
The election of a Speaker through a secret ballot is a relatively new invention in Alberta politics. Before 1993, when the first secret ballot vote took place, the Premier’s choice for Speaker was typically acclaimed by the Assembly.
An exception that I discovered was in 1922, when a United Farmers of Alberta MLA surprised the Assembly when he nominated a Conservative opposition MLAs to challenge Premier Herbert Greenfield’s chosen candidate for Speaker. The Conservative MLA declined the nomination and Greenfield’s choice was acclaimed.
Here is a look at a few of the contested Speaker elections held since 1993:
2015: When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the legislature following the 2015 election, Medicine Hat NDP MLA Bob Wanner was elected as Speaker. Wanner faced Calgary-Lougheed Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney. The Wildrose opposition attempted to nominate others challengers in a strange attempt to disrupt the process. Wildrose MLAs Angela Pitt and Leela Aheer nominated NDP MLAs Stephanie McLean and Marie Renaud and PC MLA Sandra Jansen, all who declined their nominations.
2008 and 2012:Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was nominated by her Liberal caucus colleagues in the 2008 and 2012 Speaker elections and was defeated by incumbent Speaker Ken Kowalski in the first election and Edmonton-Mill Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Gene Zwozdesky in the second election.
1997:Barrhead-Westlock PC MLA and former deputy premier Ken Kowalski was elected as Speaker on the second round of voting over Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg after Highwood MLA Don Tannas was eliminated on the first ballot. Liberal leader Grant Mitchell nominated then-Liberal MLA Gene Zwozdesky as a candidate for Speaker, but he declined to stand.
It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Kowalski’s over Clegg, who was seen as Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice. Kowalski’s comeback happened a short three years after he had been unceremoniously booted from Klein’s cabinet.
Speaker punches newspaper publisher over wife-swapping allegations, 1935
A glance through the history of Speakers of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reveals some fascinating stories. One story really stuck out.
In 1935, Speaker OranMcPherson is reported to have engaged in a heated argument at the top of the rotunda’s grand staircase with Edmonton Bulletin publisher Charles Campbell, who McPherson accused of spreading lies about his divorce. McPherson punched Campbell and he hit a railing and banged his head on a pillar.
It had been reported that McPherson was arranging a “wife-swap” with the aide-de-camp to the serving Lieutenant Governor.
Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.
A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.
Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes cast. Led by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.
He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.
Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.
In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed tocabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.
Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.
As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive.
“Only three weeks into the job he’s the WizardofZwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.
In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.
He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.
While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision.
He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.
Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.
Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.
Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)
Photo: David Shepherd accepts the NDP nomination in Edmonton-City Centre (source: David Shepherd on Twitter)
Edmonton-Centre MLA David Shepherd secured the New Democratic Party nomination in the newly redrawn and slightly renamed Edmonton-City Centre district at a packed nomination meeting last night in downtown Edmonton. Shepherd was first elected in 2015 after unseating five-term Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, and in 2017 he was voted “MLA to watch in 2018” in the Best of Alberta Politics survey.
A November 2012 report by the Hill Times noted Mozeson’s daughter, Marlee, had worked in Kenney’s office as an intern and special assistant, and later worked as assistant to Chungsen Leung, Kenney’s parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism. Her son, Jonah, had previously worked as communications director for Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.
UCP members living in Calgary-Fish Creek will choose their next candidate today. Incumbent MLA Richard Gotfried is facing a challenge from Cindy Ross. Gotfried was first elected in 2015 as a Progressive Conservative, stealing the seat away from the Wildrose Party. This race has been contentious to say the least.
The NDP released a screenshot of a Facebook Post showing Ross making derogatory statements against Muslims in regards to the construction of a new Mosque in Fort McMurray. “What a better place to have a mosque. Right in the middle of our greatest asset,” the screenshot showed Ross saying in 2015. “This is a bit of like jailing the bank robber in the bank vault.”
Meanwhile, Gotfried is the kind of MLA who stands on the floor of the Alberta Legislature and attacks the NDP by comparing people leaving Alberta to refugees fleeing Bolshevik Russia and Moaist China. As I wrote in May 2017, it takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.
So, good luck with this, Calgary-Fish Creek Conservatives.
Wilson wins UCP nod in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin
Richard Wilson defeated business owner Sandra Kim and former Wetaskiwin City Councillor Donna Andres to secure the UCP nomination in the newly redrawn Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin district in central Alberta. Wilson served as a Wetaskiwin County Councillor from 1992 to 2007, a Trustee with the Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools from 1993 to 1998, and as chairman of Crossroads Regional Health Authority from 1996 to 2003.
UCP members in Leduc-Beaumont will choose from three candidates at a nomination vote being held on Saturday, September 8, 2018. Sharon Smith, Brad Rutherford and Scott Wickland. Smith ran for the Wildrose Party in this district in the 2015 election, placing second with 29 percent of the vote. Rutherford is a former Edmonton police officer and previously ran for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-West ahead of the 2015 election. He was president of the Leduc-Beaumont UCP and the federal Edmonton-Wetaskiwin Conservative association.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
Former UCP Chief of Staff now working for the Alberta Party Caucus
It appears that Kevin Weidlich is now serving as Chief of Staff to the Alberta Party Caucus. From 2015 to 2017, Weidlich worked as Chief of Staff at the Progressive Conservative Caucus and then the consolidated UCP Caucus.
Goodridge was born and raised in Fort McMurray and has worked as a political staffer in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, including as a constituency assistant for former Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt. She was director of field operations for former Fort McMurray-Conklin MLA Brian Jean’s campaign for the leadership of the UCP in 2017.
Former NDP MLA on the campaign trail
Photos of former NDP MLA John Younie have been featured prominently in tweets posted by Innisfail-Sylvan Lake NDP candidate Nicole Mooney.
Younie served as MLA for Edmonton-Glengarry from 1986 to 1989. While in the Assembly, he served as Official Opposition critic for Forestry, Lands and Wildlife, the Environment, and Public Works. He was unseated by Liberal leader and former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore in the 1989 election.
He was the NDP candidate in Rocky Mountain House in 1979, which at that time included the Town of Sylvan Lake.
Independent Alberta Advantage candidate
David Inscho is running as an Independent candidate in the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake by-election. Inscho is president of the Alberta Advantage Party and the former president of the Wildrose Party association in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills. The AAP is in the process of becoming an officially recognized political party.
The UCP candidates are expected to win both by-elections on July 12, 2018.
Calgary-Edgemont/Calgary-Varsity – Beth Barberree has withdrawn from the Alberta Party nomination contest in this district and is instead seeking her party’s nomination in Calgary-Varsity. Barberee was the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Hawkwood in the 2015 election.
Calgary-Hays – Patrick Meckelborg has withdrawn from the United Conservative Party nomination contest in this district, meaning that incumbent UCP MLA Ric McIver will be acclaimed as his party’s candidate at a nomination meeting tonight.
Calgary-Shaw – Bronson Ha is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Central Peace-Notley – Marg McCuaig Boyd is seeking the NDP nomination. McCuaig Boyd was first elected to represent the Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley district in 2015, earning 38 percent of the vote in a close three way contest. She currently serves as Alberta’s Minister of Energy. A nomination meeting will be held on June 28, 2018 to choose the party’s candidate for the next election.
Edmonton-Castle Downs – Arthur Hagen is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-City Centre – David Shepherd is seeking the NDP nomination in this newly redrawn district. Shepherd was first elected in 2015 after unseating five-term Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman. In 2017, readers of this blog and listeners of the Daveberta Podcast voted Shepherd as the “Up and Comer in 2018.”
Edmonton-Riverview – Lori Sigurdson is seeking the NDP nomination. Sigurdson has recently taken leave from her positions as Minister of Housing and Minister of Seniors in order to undergo treatment for leukaemia. Sigurdson was first elected in 2015, earning 62 percent of the vote. She was the NDP candidate in this district in the 2012 election, placing third with 21 percent of the vote.
Photo: Alberta political party nomination candidates: Mike Walsh, Stephanie McLean, Leela Aheer and Craig Coolahan.
Here is the latest update to the list of candidates running for political party nominations ahead of Alberta’s expected 2019 provincial general election:
Calgary-Buffalo: Megan Brown is seeking the United Conservative Party nomination int his downtown Calgary district. Brown is the executive director of Common Sense Calgary, a conservative municipal political group with strong ties to Preston Manning’s Manning Centre. She ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow in the 2015 election.
Calgary-Klein: MLA Craig Coolahan is seeking the NDP nomination. Coolahan was first elected in 2015, defeating two-term PC MLA Kyle Fawcett by 3,220 votes.
Calgary-Falconridge: Calgary realtor Pete de Jong is seeking the UCP nomination.
Calgary-North: City of Calgary lawyer Paul Frank is seeking the UCP nomination. Frank previous ran for the federal Conservative Party nominations in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in 2014 and Calgary-Heritage in 2017. He also ran as an Independent candidate in Alberta’s 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election.
Calgary-Varsity: MLA Stephanie McLean is seeking the NDP nomination. McLean was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Status of Women and Minister of Service Alberta.
Chestermere-Strathmore: MLA Leela Aheer is seeking the UCP nomination in this newly redrawn metro Calgary district. Aheer was first elected as a Wlidrose MLA in the Chesteremere-Rockyview district in 2015.
Edmonton-City Centre: LGBTQ activist Dylan Chevalier is seeking the Liberal Party nomination in this downtown Edmonton district. The area was represented by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman from 1997 until 2015, when she was unseated by New Democrat David Shepherd.
Edmonton-West Henday: MLA Jon Carson is seeking the NDP nomination in this newly redrawn west Edmonton district. Carson was first elected in 2015 in the Edmonton-Meadowlark district. In 2016, Carson introduced a private members bill intended to enhance consumer protection for automobile repairs.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake: Mike Walsh is seeking the UCP nomination in this central Alberta district. Walsh is the former president of the now-defunct Progressive Conservative association and is currently serving his second term on Penhold Town Council. The district is currently represented by former Wildrose and current UCP MLA Don MacIntyre (known for his climate-change denying views).
Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright: Lloydminster-based financial advisor Garth Rowswell is seeking the UCP nomination. Rowswell served as campaign manager for Wildrose candidate Danny Hozak in the 2015 election and he is currently the secretary of the local UCP association.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at email@example.com. I will add them to the list.
Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.
The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.
Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”
The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.
The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.
The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.
As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.
Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.
The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.
Red Deer and the Alberta Party are frequent destinations for disaffected politicos in search of a new political home.
Led by former Progressive Conservative Party president Katherine O’Neill and backed for former cabinet minister Stephen Mandel, disaffected Tories are booking their flights to the central Alberta city this weekend to discuss bringing centrists “together,” presumably under the banner of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Together political action committee, led by O’Neill, has been created to search for a new home for centrists unhappy with the rightward direction of the established Conservative parties in the province.
The Alberta Party has been home to some very different stripes of politicos since it was founded in the early 1980s. The party had little success as a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party during its first two decades of existence and made minor headlines when it was involved in unsuccessful merger negotiations with the Alberta Alliance (the predecessor of the Wildrose Party) in the mid-2000s.
It was only a only a few short years ago that another group of disaffected political activists, mostly Liberals and Greens, with a few PCs and New Democrats tossed in the mix (including myself), also met in Red Deer to discuss the creation of a new political… something. Those meetings back in 2010, following the landslide victory that Premier Ed Stelmach led the PCs to in 2008, led to the creation of what has become the current version of the Alberta Party.
The party, which was nothing more than a great name at the time, was inherited by former Green Party supporters in 2009 (the Green Party of Alberta was disbanded in 2009) and soon after Hinton mayor and past NDP candidate Glenn Taylor became the party’s leader. Two-term Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor became the party’s first MLA in 2011 after he left the then-Official Opposition Liberals.
The reinvention of the Alberta Party in 2010 dramatically shifted the tiny party into the limelight for a short period in the early 2010s, when it was seen as a potential successor to the failing Liberal Party brand in Alberta. But Stelmach’s decision to retire and Alison Redford’s ascendancyto what at the time looked like a reinvigorated ProgressiveConservative Party stole the wind from the Alberta Party’s sails.
Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in the mid-1990s, was elected as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015. And since then, Clark has tried to position his party as a new home (and a safe refuge) for PCs who are uncomfortable with Jason Kenney’s social conservative leadership and the planned merger with the Wildrose Party to create the United Conservative Party.
Like those disaffected Liberals, Greens and New Democrats who gathered under the Alberta Party banner in the early 2010s to create a new alternative to the PCs, this group of disaffected PCs are gravitating toward the Alberta Party to create a new alternative. Some of the big names associated with the weekend gathering were involved in the PC Party’s epic defeat to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election.
The Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, and a home for disaffected politicos without a home. Whether or not this latest group to wander over will make themselves at home in the Alberta Party is yet to be determined.
Chemical Engineer Omar Masood is the first candidate nominated to run in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be held in early 2019. Members of the Alberta Party association in the Calgary-Buffalo constituency acclaimed Mr. Masood as their candidate at a meeting on November 29, 2016.
He recorded a video endorsement of former Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr during his federal election bid in 2015, in which Mr. Hehr was ultimately elected.
Calgary-Buffalo is represented by NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley, who serves as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Before the NDP sweep in the 2015 election, voters in this downtown constituency had a track record of electing Liberal MLAs (Mr. Hehr from 2008 to 2015, Gary Dickson from 1992 to 2000, and Sheldon Chumir from 1986 to 1992).
The Alberta Party did not run a candidate in this constituency in 2015.
Alberta Party-PC Party merger?
After years of wrangling over a merger with the Liberal Party, some Alberta Party members are reportedly now pondering a merger with the Progressive Conservatives. This merger feels unlikely, considering the conservative forces pushing for the PCs to merge with the Wildrose Party. But it does raise to the question of where moderate conservative voters and political activists will find a new home if Alberta’s Conservative parties shift further to the political right.
During the 2015 election, a local Alberta Party association formally endorsed and did not run a candidate against Liberal Party candidate Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre.
The Alberta Liberals have decided to postpone the selection of their next party leader until spring 2017. The party had originally scheduled to hold a leadership vote in April 2016.
The only current Liberal MLA, Calgary’s David Swann, has declined to seek the permanent job. Dr. Swann was first elected as MLA in 2004 and served as leader from 2008 to 2010 before taking over as interim leader after Raj Sherman’s resignation in January 2015.
5.4 In the event the Leadership becomes vacant for any cause the Board of Directors shall either, in its absolute discretion:
a) convene to call a Leadership Convention, or
b) convene to appoint an interim leader of the Party for a period of time not to exceed one (1) year during which period of interim leadership the Board of Directors shall call a Leadership Convention to be held prior to the conclusion of the term of interim leadership.
Liberal Party did amend their bylaws at a meeting held in late 2015 but the list of proposed amendments on their website are unclear whether this section was changed. If the section was not changed, the party would have already broken its bylaws if Dr. Swann’s interim leadership exceeded the one year period (which will take place on January 27, 2016).
It is also unclear if there are any consequences for violating the party’s bylaws.
Regardless of the bylaws, the party’s executive board is reported to have endorsed Dr. Swann’s continued role as interim leader until spring 2017.
Delaying the vote is probably a good idea for the Liberals, as it appears unlikely the party could attract many serious candidates to contest an April 2016 leadership race.
The Liberals formed the official opposition from 1993 until 2012, when a significant percentage of their supporters migrated to Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives and later to Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.
Despite recent Alberta breakthroughs in the October 19, 2015 federal election, the provincial party does not appear to have benefited from Justin Trudeau‘s popularity.
New voting system
The Liberals abandoned the ‘open membership system’ that was used to select Dr. Sherman in the 2011 leadership vote. Under the open system, any Albertan who provided the party with their name and contact information could vote for a leadership candidate without having to actually purchase a membership.
Although more than 27,000 members were eligible to vote in the 2011 leadership contest, only 8,640 actually participated in the vote.
Under the new system proposed at the party’s meeting in late 2015:
a. Each electoral district in the province of Alberta is allocated one point for each eligible vote cast, to a maximum as determined by the Board of Directors.
b. Should the number of eligible persons who cast ballots in the leadership vote in an electoral division exceed the number of points allocated, the points allocated to the electoral division are allocated to each leadership candidate on the basis of the 17 ratio the number of the votes received by that leadership candidate to the total number of votes counted.
c. Should the number of eligible persons who cast ballots in the leadership election not exceed the number of points allocated to the electoral division each vote for a leadership candidate shall be one point awarded to the leadership candidate.
d. The total number of points allocated to each leadership candidate from all electoral divisions in Alberta are added to produce a total for the “provincial count”
But changing the voting system and the date of the leadership race still does not solve the Liberal Party’s problem of attracting credible candidates.
I expect the Liberal Party executives are hoping that disillusion with the NDP government in one year could lead to a resurgence in party support, which, given the unexpected twists in Alberta politics over the past year, might be their best strategy.
One prominent former Liberal MLA who ran in the party’s 2011 leadership race appears unlikely to take up her party’s banner again. Laurie Blakeman, who represented Edmonton-Centre as a Liberal MLA from 1997 to 2015 posted her feelings about the Liberal Party officials on Twitter today.
Credit 2 #ablib tho They thoroughly exorcised me. Not even a thankyou card for 18 yrs carrying their banner. Not a word, a paperweight. Nada
One year after nearly the entire official opposition crossed the floor to join Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, the 44 year long governing party is expected to sweep the province for a record thirteenth election victory. Premier Jim Prentice is said to be preparing his party and its candidates for an early spring 2016 election.
The Wildrose MLA floor crossings on December 17, 2014 hurt the PCs in the polls in the first half of 2015. But after the Tories began to recover in the polls a fall cabinet shuffle brought two former Wildrose MLAs, Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, into Prentice’s cabinet as Finance Minister and Justice Minister.
Public opinion polls now suggest most Albertans have embraced the Prentice Tories once again. The PCs now have the support of 77 percent of Albertans, according to the most recent Western Insite poll.
“A few months ago it looked like the Tories had a real fight on their hands but today they are back on top,” said Jake Randall, vice-president of Western Insite Inc. “Prentice really didn’t start resonating with Albertans until after May 2015,” he said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior official in the PC Party admitted they were glad the provincial election wasn’t called in early 2015, as some party insiders had pushed for.
“We simply weren’t prepared to go to the polls in spring 2015,” the source said.
“We would have got smoked, boy, it would have been the end of us,” they said.
The hopes of New Democratic Party supporters were boosted when David Climenhaga defied expectations with a 67 percent landslide win for the NDP in a May 5, 2015 by-election in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert constituency.
Liberal MLAs Laurie Blakeman and David Swann added to the orange momentum on May 6 when they joined the NDP caucus, creating speculation that Rachel Notley‘s NDP could pose a serious challenge to the Tories in the next election.
But with recent polls showing the NDP back in their traditional range of 10 percent support, Albertans may never know what an NDP government looks like.
The Wildrose Party has wilted, with most of its support relegated to a handful of rural southern Alberta constituencies.
Wildrose leader Derek Fildebrandt remains a harsh critic of the PCs and is in talks to create a ‘real conservative alternative’ by merging his party with the right-wing Social Credit and Alberta First parties.
“Most Albertans are moderates and are very suspicious and uncomfortable with the kind of social conservative politics inside the Wildrose Party,” said Darlene Sinclair, professor of political science at Vermilion River University in Lloydminster.
Sinclair predicted that the PCs had successfully built a coalition of moderate and progressive minded urbanites that could keep the Tories in government for many decades to come. But she warned that even with high polling numbers, the Prentice government faces serious challenges.
Tory supporters are quick to defend Prentice from criticisms about the job losses caused by a downturn in the economy, tax increases and his refusal to make deep funding cuts to public programs.
Former Conservative MP Brian Jean, who will be running for the Tories in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, said that Prentice is not to blame for job losses in the oil patch.
“It would be silly to believe that any Premier of Alberta, even Jim Prentice, has the power to control the international price of oil,” Jean said.
“It just doesn’t work like that, ” he said.
(Note: This article is a satirical take on what might have happened if the PC Party had waited until Alberta’s 2016 fixed election date to call the most recent provincial election. In reality, the PCs called the election one year early and Albertans elected Notley’s NDP with a majority government on May 5, 2015).
With all the polls showing the 43-year long governing Progressive Conservatives trailing the NDP and Wildrose across the province, there could be a race to watch in every constituency in Alberta when the provincial election polls close at 8:00 p.m. tonight.
Here are 12 races that I will be paying particular attention to on Election night:
Calgary-Acadia: This south Calgary constituency has reliably voted PC since 1971, but recent controversy surrounding PC candidate Jonathan Denis, who was ordered to resign from his job as Justice Minister and Attorney General in the middle of the election campaign, could help boost support for NDP candidate Brandy Payne and Wildrose candidate Linda Carlson.
Calgary-Buffalo: Voters in this downtown Calgary constituency have elected Liberals in six of the last eight elections. Popular MLA Kent Hehr is running for federal office so the Liberals have nominated lawyer David Khan as his successor. Mr. Khan faces arts advocate Terry Rock running for the PCs and lawyer Kathleen Ganley running for the NDP.
Calgary-Elbow: A rematch between Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and PC candidate Gordon Dirks. Mr. Dirks narrowly defeated Mr. Clark in an October 2014 by-election and with recent cuts to education funds, a nasty debate over Gay-Straight Alliances, and neighbourhoods still recovering from the 2013 floods, Mr. Dirks could be in trouble.
Calgary-Fort: Popular five-term PC MLA Wayne Cao is retiring from politics, leaving the PCs with rookie candidate Andy Nguyen. The NDP are have put a lot of hope into Alderman Joe Ceci, the party’s most high-profile Calgary candidate in decades. The Wildrose have nominated Jeevan Mangat, who came within 200 votes of defeating Mr. Cao in the 2012 election.
Edmonton-Centre: Popular Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman has represented this constituency since 1997 and is one of the most effective voices in the Assembly. But her choice to split with her party and accept the nominations from the Alberta Party and Greens may confuse voters. The rising NDP tide in Edmonton, represented by the charismatic David Shepherd in Edmonton-Centre, may impact her chances of re-election.
Edmonton-Glenora: Former Edmonton Public School Board chairperson and NDP star candidate Sarah Hoffman is facing two-term PC MLA Heather Klimchuk. Glenora has never elected an NDP MLA, but the party saw its support rise in 2004 and 2012, giving Ms. Hoffman a strong base of support to build on.
Edmonton-Rutherford: Businessman and Edmonton enthusiast Chris Labossiere faces university instructor Richard Feehan in this southwest Edmonton constituency. Voters have swung between the Liberals and PCs in this area since the 1980s and without a strong Liberal campaign in this election, swinging to the NDP might not be a far stretch. Both the PCs and NDP are running strong campaigns in Rutherford, so this will be a constituency to watch.
Edmonton-Whitemud: Voters in Whitemud have elected PC MLAs since 1997 and chose former Mayor Stephen Mandel in an October 2014 by-election. The PCs typically win by large margins in this constituency but the NDP candidate Dr. Bob Turner earned record support in by-election. If Mr. Mandel cannot win in Whitemud, it is likely the PCs will not win anywhere else in Edmonton.
Fort-McMurray-Conklin: Wildrose leaderBrian Jeanis trying to unseat first-term PC MLA Don Scott. Mr. Jean’s name recognition as party leader and the former Conservative MP for the area could help him overcome Mr. Scott, who only narrowly won the 2012 election. Also a factor in this race is the NDP, which is represented by NDP candidate and local teacher Ariana Mancini.
Lethbridge-West: In 2012,Shannon Phillipssurprised many political watchers when she placed 1,115 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick in a three-way race with the Wildrose. This time, it is a rematch between the two, with the Wildrose playing the wildcard.
Strathmore-Brooks: He is a familiar face in the media and former Taxpayers’ Federation spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt hopes to return to Edmonton as an MLA. Mr. Fildebrandt faces County of Newell Reeve Molly Douglass who is running for the PC Party in this southern Alberta rural riding. Former MLA Jason Hale, who was elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2012 but crossed the floor to the PCs in 2014, is not seeking re-election.
Voting stations are open in provincial constituencies across Alberta until 8:00 p.m. tonight. If you do know where to vote, visit the Elections Alberta website. If you do not know who the candidates in your constituency are, check out my list of candidates.
Last night’s leader’s debate was the biggest opportunity for Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice to knock NDP leader Rachel Notley off-balance. Since the start of the campaign, the PC Party has focused most of its attacks on Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who has proven to be an easier target. But Ms. Notley has been a more difficult target for the PCs.
Expectations were high for Ms. Notley, whose party appears to be enjoying a surge in support, and she exceeded those expectations by not falling into Mr. Prentice’s traps. She was calm, concise, and set herself apart from the three other leaders.
Mr. Prentice performed as was expected, despite sounding patronizing at moments, and spent most of the debate on the offensive. His focus on Ms. Notley could signal a shift in focus by the PC campaign against the NDP in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.
Mr. Jean started the debate slowly, but caught his stride in the second half of the event. He stuck to his notes, sometimes too closely, and overall performed well for someone who only accepted the party leadership less than one month ago. If you missed the debate, the one takeaway from Mr. Jean’s discussion points would be that the Wildrose Party will not raise your taxes. And in case you missed it a first time, he repeated that message numerous times for good measure.
Earnest Liberal leader David Swann faced low expectations and performed as well as expected. Not a natural politician, Dr. Swann managed to present his party’s platform, but struggled at times to compete with the three other leaders.
With the leader’s debate over, we have now entered the final stretch of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election campaign. With limited polling available, I refuse to jump on the “PCs are going down to defeat” bandwagon. In uncertain times like these, it is important to remember the first unwritten rule of Alberta politics: that the PCs always win, and they always win a big majority [this is me, managing my own expectations].
With the leader’s debate behind them, what do the leaders need to do to manage their own party’s expectations?
Rachel Notley is making orange waves in Alberta, but how far will they splash? At the start of the campaign, she said the NDP are aiming to form government in Alberta, but perhaps more realistically Official Opposition is within their grasp. I know many New Democrats who would love for Ms. Notley to lead the party to win at least 17 MLAs, more than the 16 seats the party won in the 1986 and 1989 elections. Any more than the four the party currently holds should be considered a win for the NDP in Alberta.
Jim Prentice must lead his party to form a majority government. If the PCs win less than 44 seats in the Assembly, Mr. Prentice will have led his party to its first major electoral humiliation in 44 years. But even within a majority government, there are thresholds for Mr. Prentice’s political survival. What happens to Mr. Prentice if, for example, the PCs elect less MLAs than Alison Redford led them to in 2012 (61)? Or less than Ralph Klein led them to win in 1993 (51)?
For new Wildrose leader Brian Jean, holding the party’s current number of constituencies – five – while personally winning election in Fort McMurray-Conklin is probably enough to secure his political leadership. Holding on to Official Opposition would be a bonus and electing more than 17 MLAs – the number the party elected under Danielle Smith in 2012 – would be golden.
Expectations are low for the Liberals. Re-electing the party’s two incumbent MLAs – David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View and Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre – would be considered a win for the Liberals in this election.
Electing leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, which is the Alberta Party’s best shot in this campaign, would be considered a big win for the party. Mr. Clark placed a strong second to PC candidate Gordon Dirks in the 2014 by-election.
In an October 2014 by-election, Mr. Clark placed a strong second and came within 800 votes of defeating appointed Progressive Conservative Education Minister Gordon Dirks. Liberal candidate Susan Wright placed fourth with 1,519 votes, leading many of Mr. Clark’s supporters to lament the vote split among the two centrist opposition parties (Ms. Wright, aka Susan on the Soapbox, is supporting the NDP in the 2015 election).
Some supporters argued that because the Alberta Party is not nominating a candidate to run against interim Liberal leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View or candidate David Khan in Calgary-Buffalo, that the Liberals should not run a candidate against Mr. Clark in Calgary-Elbow.
It is easy to understand their frustration.This election could be the Alberta Party’s first real shot at electing an MLA and defeating a sitting cabinet minister, and Liberals could play the role of spoiler.
Even if they do have almost identical policies and positions, it is not the responsibility of one party to help another elect candidates in an election. It may boggle the mind to think why the Liberal and Alberta parties refuse to merge, but the two parties are still opponents. Even if the Liberal Party has no chance of electing an MLA in Calgary-Elbow, the party has every right to run a candidate in that constituency.
This situation puts Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman in a puzzling position. Seeking a sixth-term as MLA, Ms. Blakeman is running for re-election in Edmonton-Centre and has secured the nominations, or endorsements, of the Alberta Party and Green Party (and in Red Deer-North, Liberal candidate Michael Dawe has also secured the Green Party nomination). The initial response to Ms. Blakeman’s triple-nomination was mixed, but she defended her decision to work with the three centrist opposition parties as an attempt to unite progressive voters.
Ms. Blakeman tweeted her frustration about the Elbow squabble.
I despair over #abparty#ABLiberal fight in Elbow. Unnecessary & harmful. Maybe why we need more women in politics? Less testos, more estra