Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems

Twenty-nine more Albertans died of COVID-19 yesterday and nearly 1,000 Albertans are in hospital because of the virus, including more than 220 people in intensive care units.

Premier Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems.

Kenney swapped Health Minister Tyler Shandro with Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping in an apparent hope that this might salvage his leadership amid growing calls for his resignation.

Shandro has been a lightning rod as Health Minister, but that was by design. Every decision he made had Kenney’s stamp of approval. He was doing as he was told.

Swapping Shandro for Copping in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is more about politics than good governance.

The blow to Kenney’s leadership after the failure of his Open for Summer plan that led to a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is not going to be fixed with a cabinet shuffle. 

Kenney’s plummeting popularity probably helped cost Erin O’Toole his chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2021. And the Premier almost certainly contributed to a sharp decline in Conservative support in Alberta that cost his federal cousins four seats in the province.

A few months ago it was almost unimaginable that the Conservatives would actually lose seats in Alberta in this federal election. But the NDP picked up an additional seat and the Liberals might have won two. 

But Kenney’s political woes are not all recent.

Since becoming Premier he has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time.

His party’s financial health has also been hit hard. There have been three straight financial quarters in a row when Kenney’s UCP fell short of Rachel Notley’s NDP in fundraising. The Alberta NDP has been in the lead in every public poll since November 2020.

Calls for a leadership review are growing from UCP constituency associations and party executives like vice-president Joel Mullen. Even former deputy leader Leela Aheer has publicly questioned why he hasn’t stepped down. And the right-wing Western Standard website has reported on a rumour that country music star and two time Conservative candidate George Canyon might run for the party presidency on the platform of forcing a vote on Kenney’s leadership.

The UCP Caucus is holding a mandatory in-person meeting tomorrow, where, I imagine the growing number of disgruntled MLAs will have a lot to say about their leader’s future.

UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help

Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who is in charge of Alberta’s Emergency Management Office, waited until the day after the federal election to send a letter to federal minister Bill Blair requesting help from the Ottawa to deal with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCP government waited until after Sept. 20 to request help because they didn’t want to embarrass the federal Conservatives during the election. Let that sink in.

The government’s plea for help from the federal government and other provinces will almost certainly undermine Kenney’s argument that Alberta is being treated unfairly by the rest of Canada, a key part of the reason for a province-wide referendum in October to ask for the equalization formula to be removed from the Constitution.

New Senate Nominee candidates

The nomination deadline passed at 12:00 pm yesterday for candidates to enter the Senate Nominee Election, which is being held in conjunction with two province-wide referendums and municipal elections on October 18, 2021.

Recent People’s Party of Canada candidates Ann McCormack, Kelly Lorencz, and Nadine Wellwood filed their papers to run as Senate Nominee candidates before the polls closed in the federal election in which they were defeated.

Also recently joining the Senate Nominee Election are Town of Ponoka Mayor Richard Bonnett, who ran for the Liberal Party in the 2004 federal election, and former Slave Lake Mayor and physician Karina Pillay.

Brian Jean’s favourite hobby is trolling Jason Kenney on the internet

With a provincial by-election expected to be called in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next five months, Kenney’s arch-enemy, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, is musing online that he might run as a candidate. Jean asked for feedback from his followers on Facebook about whether he should run in the by-election in the area he represented as an MLA from 2015 to 2018.

Since leaving elected office in 2019, Jean has flirted with Alberta separatism and recently publicly mused about running for the leadership of the Alberta Party, which he did not. He has also called on Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

The by-election will be held to replace former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, who was elected as the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the Sept. 20 federal election.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta matters in this federal election for all the wrong reasons

There’s a chance that the federal election results in Alberta could end up being less than exciting, with the Conservatives winning most of the province’s seats, but there’s no doubt Alberta had an impact in this federal election: Premier Jason Kenney might have cost Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives their chance at forming government in Ottawa.

The former wonder kid of Canada’s conservative movement, Kenney spent a month in hiding to avoid embarrassing O’Toole only to emerge in the final few days of the campaign to drop a bomb in his federal cousin’s lap. Kenney’s Open for Summer plan that removed all public health restrictions in time for the Calgary Stampede in July led to a vicious fourth wave of COVID-19 that has seen a steep spike in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

It is unlikely that Premier Jason Kenney will be joining Conservative leader Erin O'Toole when he visits Edmonton-Centre tomorrow.
Erin O’Toole and Jason Kenney during happier times.

Intensive Care Units across Alberta are filling up and Kenney has had to plead with other provinces to take our sick patients if we run out of space.

All non-emergency surgeries in Alberta are cancelled and 75 per cent of the operating rooms at the Alberta Children’s Hospital are closing because doctors and nurses are being redeployed to take care of COVID patients.

Public sector health care unions are urging Kenney to ask the federal government for help from the military and the Red Cross.

O’Toole praised Kenney’s response to the pandemic and has refused to answer questions about it from reporters since Alberta once again declared a State of Public Health Emergency last week. 

While the Conservatives are expected to sweep Alberta once again, O’Toole only visited the province once in this election campaign. He spent a morning in Edmonton during the first week of the campaign, making a policy announcement in Edmonton-Centre and stopping for a photo-op at a Jollibee’s before shuffling back to the airport for an afternoon flight to British Columbia.

But unlike recent federal elections, this time the right-wing of the political spectrum is pretty crowded in Alberta.

People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier has taken advantage of O’Toole and Kenney’s perceived political weaknesses by spending a considerable amount of time in Alberta during this election.

Appealing to groups ranging from the vaccine hesitant to indoctrinated COVID conspiracy theorists, Bernier has been attracting large crowds at his Alberta rallies. And his candidates have earned endorsements from former Conservative MP David Yurdiga and former Reform MP Cliff Breitkreuz.

Former Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the Conservative Party for accepting a donation from a well-known white supremacist, has been embraced the COVID conspiracy theories as he campaigns as an Independent candidate in Banff-Airdrie with the full-support of former Conservative MP Rob Anders.

And then there’s the separatist Maverick Party led by former Conservative MP and oil industry lobbyist Jay Hill, which is still in the mix despite Alberta separatism not being the hot topic it was after the 2019 federal election.

Meanwhile, the silence coming from the United Conservative Party Caucus is deafening.

Aside from dissenting Tweets and Facebook comments from two already disgruntled backbenchers – former cabinet minister and Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – the predicted caucus revolt has not yet spilled out into the public. But maybe that changes if Justin Trudeau’s Liberals form government on Monday.

Directors of the UCP association in Olds-Didsbury-Three-Hills, home of Speaker and former interim leader Nathan Cooper, near unanimously passed a motion calling for a leadership review and party vice-president Joel Mullen is reported to have called for a review.

Kenney’s supporters on the UCP provincial executive headed off previous calls by scheduling leadership review at the party’s Fall 2022 convention, only months ahead of the expected 2023 provincial election.

If O’Toole does not become Prime Minister after the federal ballots are counted, he might not be the only Conservative leader looking for a new job. Kenney’s already embattled leadership could become even more tenuous.

Kerry Diotte unites the NDP in Alberta

Jagmeet Singh and Blake Desjarlais in Edmonton-Griesbach on Sept. 18, 2021.

In what is likely his biggest single achievement of his political career, Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte has succeeded in bridging the political divide between the provincial and federal NDP in Alberta.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was back in Alberta yesterday for his second visit to the Edmonton-Griesbach, where the party believes candidate Blake Desjarlais can unseat Diotte to pick up a second seat for the NDP.

With NDP incumbent Heather McPherson believed to be secure for re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona, the party has been pouring its resources into Griesbach.

Rachel Notley and Janis Irwin with Blake Desjarlais and volunteers in Edmonton-Griesbach.
Rachel Notley and Janis Irwin with Blake Desjarlais and volunteers in Edmonton-Griesbach.

And Singh isn’t the only party leader on the campaign trail for Desjarlais.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was on the doors last week helping Desjarlais get his vote out. While Notley tried her best to avoid being involved in the 2019 federal campaign, she and about a dozen NDP MLAs, including local MLAs Janis Irwin and David Eggen have been spotted door knocking with Desjarlais.

Pipelines and the carbon tax kept the NDP cousins apart in 2019, but the possibility of defeating Kerry Diotte has brought the provincial and federal NDP together in 2021.

Liberals have their sights set on Edmonton-Centre, Mill Woods and Calgary-Skyview

The Liberals hope to reestablish a beachhead in Alberta and if they are successful it will likely be in Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Mill Woods or Calgary-Skyview.

Ben Henderson and Don Iveson in Edmonton-MIll Woods.
Ben Henderson and Don Iveson in Edmonton-MIll Woods.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau only made one brief stop in Alberta during the first week of the election campaign to speak at a rally for Calgary-Skyview candidate George Chahal.

University—Rosedale Liberal candidate and former Edmonton native Chrystia Freeland visited Alberta twice to campaign with candidates in Calgary and Edmonton, including Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre and Ben Henderson in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

Also visiting Alberta during the campaign were Vancouver-South Liberal candidate Harjit Sajan, who campaigned in Calgary-Centre with Sabrina Grover, and Surrey-Newton Liberal candidate Sukh Dhaliwal, who campaigned with Henderson in Mill Woods.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson endorsed Henderson and campaigned with him in the final days of the election. The two men have served together on Edmonton City Council since 2007. 

Voting stations are open from 7:30am to 7:30pm on Sept. 20, 2021. 

Categories
Alberta Politics

When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing

It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.

That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.

It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.

Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.

Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.

Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.

Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.

The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.

Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.

Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.

But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.

Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.

I bet it grows again in a few months.


Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.
Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.

Shuffled around …

Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.

Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.

Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.

New in cabinet…

Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.

Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.

Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.

Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.

Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.

Out of cabinet…

Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.

Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.

Other non-cabinet changes today included:

Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.

After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.

Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.

Categories
Alberta Politics

More turmoil in Kenney’s Caucus: UCP MLA Richard Gotfried resigns as chair of the Calgary Caucus and criticizes “hypocrisy” in government leadership

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.

According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”

“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.

Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.

Richard Gotfried United Conservative Party MLA Calgary-Fish Creek
Richard Gotfried’s statement on Facebook

The timing of Gotfried’s statement follows the release of the final report of the Facility-based Continuing Care Review that Gotfried led, which was almost completely overshadowed by the boozy Sky Palace patio party and Kenney’s ill-timed lecture in defence of Sir John A Macdonald.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Gotfried is the sponsor of Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act, a government bill designed to shield owners of long-term care centers from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

He was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 under the UCP banner. He endorsed Kenney in the 2017 PC Party leadership race.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.

Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen were ejected from the UCP Caucus three weeks ago after Loewen called on Kenney to resign as leader of the party.


Notley leads only united party left in AlbertaRachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.

The convention included the usual debate over policy positions and motions and a host of panels featuring Democratic strategists from Arizona and municipal politicians from rural Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney’s reaction to boozy Sky Palace patio party photos sparks another UCP Caucus rebellion

Any appearance that Premier Jason Kenney had regained control over his United Conservative Party caucus three weeks ago when rebel MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen were ejected was shattered this weekend.

A handful of UCP MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, are now publicly calling on the Kenney to apologize for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions by hosting a boozy Sky Palace patio party that was caught on camera.

The photos of Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, and senior political staff dining at a booze filled table atop the penthouse patio of the notorious Sky Palace circulated on social media this week.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Kenney and company were clearly breaking the government’s own public health restrictions. But, instead of admitting they made a mistake and moving on, the Premier’s political staff jumped on social media to aggressively attack anyone who criticized their leader, claiming they did not break any rules.

But some UCP MLAs remain pretty unconvinced.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, a leader of the UCP’s COVID-18, posted on Facebook that it was clear that Kenney and the senior cabinet ministers were breaking public health restrictions.

“Looking at these photos it seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated,” wrote Pitt.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills UCP MLA David Hanson posted on Facebook that he agreed with Pitt. “I’m with you Angela. Albertans are angry, again, and rightly so, disappointing,” Hanson wrote.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer (source: YouTube)

And today, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, who also serves as Deputy Leader of the UCP and Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women, called on Kenney to “sincerely apologize” for breaking public health rules.

Aheer also took Kenney to task over his long-winded lecture defending Sir John A. Macdonald and claims that critics of Canada’s first Prime Minister are engaging in “cancel culture.”

Kenney’s comments were incredibly insensitive in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Residential School in Kamloops. Kenney’s comments prompted strong responses from the Confederation of Treaty Six First Nations and the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.

Jason Kenney Rajan Sawhney Calgary North East
Jason Kenney and Rajan Sawhney (source: YouTube)

Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, the UCP MLA for Calgary-North East, also called on Kenney to apologize for his boozy Sky Palace patio party.

“If they have committed a mistake, they must accept it openly. (The) photo clearly speaks,” Sawhney said on RED 106.7 FM in Calgary.

Meanwhile, Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is calling on the Kenney government to launch a public inquiry into the cost of its public health restrictions.

In this case, the attempted coverup was probably worse than the crime. Most Albertans would probably have accepted a quick apology from Kenney and his senior cabinet ministers for the rule breaking that so obviously occurred in the photos.

Kenney’s inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his staff’s overly aggressive attacks on anyone who pointed out what was clearly happening in the photos, has only given his opponents in the UCP caucus another reason to publicly criticize him.

This is certainly not the type of criticism that a Premier with a 16 per cent approval rating should be courting.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Leela Aheer faces early UCP nomination challenge in Chestermere-Strathmore

Chantelle de Jonge has filed papers with Elections Alberta to run for the United Conservative Party nomination in Chestermere-Strathmore. The district is currently represented by UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who has served as Alberta’s Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women since her party formed government in 2019.

Chestermere-Strathmore
Chestermere-Strathmore

It is not clear whether the UCP has actually opened the candidate nomination process in this district, or any others at this point, but Alberta’s election laws require people who are interested in actively campaigning for party nominations to file their expression of interest with Elections Alberta. 

As far as I can tell, de Jonge has not made any public statements about her candidacy, but I was able to find someone by that name on LinkedIn who is a former Constituency Assistant in the office of Calgary-Skyview Conservative MP Jag Sahota and a student of economics and philosophy at the University of Calgary. 

A new district created for the 2019 election, Chestermere-Strathmore saw Aheer face off against former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who was first barred by Jason Kenney from running for the party nomination in that district and later ran in the election as leader of the Freedom Conservative Party (now the separatist Wildrose Independence Party).

After Fildebrandt was banned from the the UCP contest, a tense 2018 nomination race took place that included allegations of death threats and restraining orders when Aheer was challenged by David Campbell, who is now President of The Independence Party of Alberta.

Aheer was successful in her 2019 bid for re-election, earning 68 per cent of the vote. NDP candidate Melissa Langmaid placed second with 15.4 per cent and Fildebrant finished third with 7.4 per cent.

The NDP opened its candidate nomination process this months, with a number of nominees, including former MLA Brian Malkinson in Calgary-Currie and Dr. Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity, announcing their candidacies.

Former PC MLA running for Mayor of Strathcona County

Dave Quest
Dave Quest

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Quest is running to become the next Mayor of Strathcona County

Quest represented Strathcona-Sherwood Park from 2008 until 2015, when he was unseated by NDP candidate Estefan Cortes-Vargas. He ran for the Alberta Party in that district in the 2019 election, placing third with 13.3 per cent of the vote.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 65: The Best of Alberta Politics 2020

With the help of two special guests, Jessica Littlewood and Matt Solberg, we are thrilled to announce and discuss the results of the 2020 Best of Alberta Politics survey.

Dave Cournoyer, Jessica Littlewood and Matt Solberg on the Daveberta Podcast.
Dave Cournoyer, Jessica Littlewood and Matt Solberg on the Daveberta Podcast.

Jessica Littlewood was the Alberta NDP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2015 to 2019 and during that time served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade for Small Business. Matt Solberg is a Director at New West Public Affairs and previously served as director of Communications for the United Conservative Party

With more than 2,300 votes in total, the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2020 survey are:

Best Alberta MLA: Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highands-Norwood

Best Alberta Cabinet Minister: None of the Above

Best Opposition MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

Up and Coming MLA to Watch in 2021: Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

Biggest Political Play of 2020: UCP’s fight with Alberta’s Doctors

Albertan most likely to be a future Premier: Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi (two frontrunner)

Thank you to everyone who voted!

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2020 – The Top 3

With more than 750 submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2020 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 20, 2020 at 10:00 am and the winners will be announced on the special year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast on the same day.

Here are the top choices in every category:

1. Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2020? – VOTE

  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton-City Centre

2. Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2020? – VOTE

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Nate Glubish, Minster of Service Alberta
  • Ric McIver, Minister of Transportation
  • None of the Above

A None of the Above option is added to this question because a near majority of submissions fell into that category.

3. Who was the best opposition MLA of 2020? – VOTE

  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton-City Centre

An honourable mention to Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who received a number of votes in this category despite being a member of the governing United Conservative Party caucus.

4. Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2021? – VOTE

  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Thomas Dang, MLA for Edmonton-South

5. What was the biggest political play of 2020 in Alberta? – VOTE

  • UCP privatizing provincial parks
  • The Strategists winning biggest political play of 2020
  • UCP fight with Alberta doctors during COVID-19 pandemic

We have added a bonus category where we ask you to name an Alberta who you believe is most likely to be a future Premier of Alberta. VOTE

What was the biggest political issue of 2020 in Alberta?

This category is usually a dog’s breakfast, but this year your choice was clear. COVID-19 was the clear choice of the overwhelming majority of people who submitted in this category. The global COVID-19 pandemic is not something that is unique to Alberta, but there is no doubt that it has defined 2020 in our province.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2019 – The Top 3

Photos: Leela Aheer, John Archer, Greg Clark, Devin Dreeshen, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Rachel Notley, Janis Irwin, Rakhi Pancholi, Shannon Phillips (source: Legislative Assembly of Alberta website)

With more than 500 submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.

Here are the top three choices in every category:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshan, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

An honourable mention to Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West who placed a strong fourth in total submissions. Notley was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2019? – Vote

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen and Minister of Finance Travis Toews, who placed a close forth and fifth in this category. Former Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best opposition MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

Former Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark was last year’s winner in this category.

Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2020? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

An honourable mention to Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting. Jessica Littlewood, former MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, was last year’s winner in this category..

Who was the best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 Alberta election? – Vote

  • John Archer, NDP candidate in Edmonton-South West
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow
  • Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake

An honourable mention to Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville NDP candidate Jessica Littlewood, and Leduc-Beaumont NDP candidate Shaye Anderson, who tied for fourth place in this category..

What was the biggest political issue of 2019 in Alberta? – Vote

  • Budget cuts
  • Economy and jobs
  • Firing the Elections Commissioner
  • Turkey farm hostage taking

There were a lot of submissions in this category, so we decided to give you a chance to vote on the top four in this category.

What was the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta?

Lorne Gibson Alberta Election Commissioner
Lorne Gibson

This category is usually a dog’s breakfast, but this year your choice was clear. So we have declared the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta was the United Conservative Party government firing of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson. The UCP government’s omnibus Bill 22 dissolved the Office of the Election Commissioner, who was in the midst of investigating and issuing fines for violations of Alberta’s elections laws during the UCP leadership race in 2017.

Government watch-dog Democracy Watch has called on the RCMP to investigate the firing of the Election Commissioner and wants a special prosecutor appointed to oversee the investigation to ensure there is no political interference.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta is getting an MLA Recall Law. Here is what it could mean for Alberta politics.

Photo: Mark Smith, UCP MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon (source: Facebook)

A private members’ bill introduced by Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith would, if passed, create a law to allow Albertans to trigger a by-election in a riding where 40 per cent of registered voters have signed a petition recalling their MLA.

William Aberhart
William Aberhart

This is the second time Smith has introduced a private members’ bill calling for what is known as MLA recall. The first recall bill introduced by Smith, then a Wildrose Party MLA, was defeated in second reading in April 2016. His latest attempt, Bill 204: Election Recall Act, passed second reading today and stands a strong chance of passing third reading and becoming law. 

MLA recall was included in the United Conservative Party’s election platform, and allowing Smith deliver on this promise through a private members’ bill may his consolation prize after he was excluded from the cabinet after his gross comments about “homosexual love” surfaced during the provincial election.

MLA Recall is nothing new in Alberta. Bill 204 marks the eighth time since 1993 that Alberta MLAs have debated recall in the Legislature, and Alberta even briefly had an MLA recall law in the 1930s.

An law passed in 1936 by the newly elected Social Credit government of Premier William Aberhart required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election. The law was repealed by the government in 1937 when a recall campaign in Aberhart’s Okotoks-High River was gaining momentum and expected to trigger a by-election.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Smith’s bill would create a threshold of 40 per cent of eligible voters needed to trigger a recall by-election, which is significantly higher than previous versions of the bill, including one introduced in 2015 by Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer that set the bar at a low 20 per cent of eligible voters.

Mark Smith’s bill has a number of concerning weaknesses

Removing a democratically-elected MLA from office through recall is a very serious action, and one that should be done only in certain serious circumstances.

Bill 204 places limits on when recall can take place, starting 18 months following a provincial election, but it does not place limits why it can be triggered.

Recall legislation proclaimed in the United Kingdom in 2015 states specific circumstances in which a recall petition can be triggered against a sitting Member of Parliament:

  • A custodial prison sentence of a year or less—longer sentences automatically disqualify MPs without need for a petition;
  • Suspension from the House of least 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, following a report by the Committee on Standards;
  • A conviction for providing false or misleading expenses claims.
Shannon Phillips
Shannon Phillips

If there is going to be a recall law in Alberta, it should be fair and should only be allowed to be triggered under certain circumstances, otherwise it could be used to punish MLAs who make unpopular decisions or break from their party on high-profile political issues.

Because Bill 204 appears to be silent on how political parties and third-party political groups, widely known as political action committees, can engage in the recall process, it seems possible that they could play a role in collecting petition signatures through coordinated campaigns.

Bill 204 does not appear to address the role of political parties in funding, supporting, or organizing recall petitions, meaning that the UCP, New Democratic Party, or another political party might be able to actively support a recall campaign against its political opponents.

While political parties and third-party political groups would still be required to report their financial disclosures, it is not clear how their activities or interference during the recall process would be monitored.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

It is not far-fetched to believe that third-party groups, of both conservative and progressive persuasions, could start collecting signatures to trigger recall elections in ridings where MLAs were elected by narrow margins in 2019, like NDP MLAs Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West and Jon Carson in Edmonton-West Henday or UCP MLAs Nicholas Milliken in Calgary-Currie and Kaycee Madu in Edmonton-South West.

Empower MLAs rather than punish them

Being a backbench MLA in a government caucus is not a glamorous job. They are told where to be and how to vote on most issues, and rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate meaningful independence without facing admonishment from the Caucus Whip.

In many ways, the Legislative Assembly has become subservient to the Premier’s Office, and serves as a body that exists to pass government legislation introduced by cabinet, rather than debate legislation introduced by individual MLAs. This is not unique to Alberta and it is a problem that plagues legislative bodies across Canada (and likely the world).

One way that individual MLAs could empower themselves would be to change the standing orders to allow MLAs who are not in cabinet an increased opportunity to introduce private members bills. Right now MLAs earn the ability to introduce private members bills through a lottery, meaning that some MLAs will never have the chance to introduce a law into the Legislature. And private members’ bills are only debated on Monday afternoons, severely limiting their ability to get attention and get passed into law. 

Accountability of democratic officials is important, and that is why we have elections every four years. And as Albertans have demonstrated over the past two elections, they will not hesitate to dramatically unseat MLAs and governments.

It would be better for democracy in Alberta if we focused on ways to empower MLAs to better represent Albertans in the Legislative Assembly, rather than creating new ways to punish them.

UPDATE: Smith’s private members’ bill did not pass third reading and died on the Order Paper when the 2019/2020 session of the Alberta Legislature ended. It is expected a Government Bill on MLA Recall could be introduced in Spring 2021.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Federal Nomination Update: Conservatives will choose a Calgary-Forest Lawn candidate on August 29

At least three candidates are actively seeking the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Forest Lawn following the death of seven-term Member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai on August 2, 2019. Obhrai was first elected in 1997 and had already been nominated to run as his party’s candidate in the October 2019 election.

Andre Chabot, Ryan Ellis, and Amrit Rai Nannan, are expected to seek the Conservative Party nomination to succeed Obhrai.

  • Andre Chabot is a former Calgary city councillor and ran for mayor in 2017. He later ran for a United Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-East in 2018. Following allegations that nomination winner Peter Singh engaged in fraud and bribery during the nomination contest, Chabot and his fellow UCP nomination candidates Jamie Lall, Issa Moussa and Matthew Dirk signed a letter asking UCP Leader Jason Kenney and deputy leader Leela Aheer for the results of the contest to be overturned.
  • Ryan Ellis is the CEO of Accelerate Marketing & Web Design and has served as the Vice President of the  Conservative Party association in Calgary-Signal Hill.
  • Amrit Rai Nannan is a teacher in the Rocky View School district and has volunteered as the regional director for the now-defunct provincial Progressive Conservative Party in east Calgary. She was an organizer for Student Vote at the school she teachers at during the 2017 and 2019 elections.

It is unclear whether former PC Party MLA Moe Amery will enter the contest. Amery briefly challenged Obhrai for the nomination but withdrew his candidacy in 2018.

George Clark, known for his part leading the Kudatah against Rachel Notley‘s NDP government, announced on Facebook that he would not seek the nomination.

In other Alberta nomination news:

In Calgary-Skyview, engineer Raj Dhaliwal announced his plans to challenge Jagdish Anand for the Liberal Party nomination.

Brian Gold is expected to be acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Griesbach at a nomination meeting on August 24, 2019. Gold earned 21.6 percent of the vote as  the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Greisbach in 2015, and he later earned 12 percent of the vote in the 2017 Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election.

Three candidates are expected to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Griesbach on August 27, 2019: Mark Cherrington, Abdulhakim Dalel, and Victoria Stevens. The NDP had their second strongest showing in Alberta in this district in 2015, with Janis Irwin earning 34 percent to Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte‘s 39 percent. Irwin was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in the 2019 provincial election.

Peter Nygaard defeated Jule Asterisk to win the Green Party nomination in Peace River-Westlock. Nygaard owns a plumbing and gas fitting company and is a member of Onion Lake Cree Nation.

And Aidan Theroux has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. Theroux is a second-year communications studies student at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

Please contact me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta and I will add them to the list. Thank you!

Categories
Alberta Politics

Working under the Dome: A look at some political staffers hired to work for Alberta’s new UCP government

One of the results of a change in government is a mass turnover in the political staffers who occupy the offices of the premier, cabinet ministers and caucuses. As a new government enters office in Alberta, there are many dozens of political jobs that need to be filled. Here is a quick glance at some of the political staffers who have been hired to fill key roles since the United Conservative Party formed government in Alberta:

  • As has already been widely reported, former UCP Caucus Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay is now Chief of Staff in Premier Jason Kenney’s office. Joining him in Kenney’s office are Howard Anglin as Principal Secretary, Katy Merrifield as executive director of communications and planning, and Christine Myatt as press secretary and deputy director of communications. Anglin previously served as executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, deputy chief of staff in the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Chief of Staff to Kenney while he was the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Merrifield was communications director to former B.C. premier Christy Clark and senior advisor to the BC Liberal Party.
  • Paul Bunner has been hired as a Speechwriter in the Premier’s Office. Bunner served as a speechwriter and communications advisor in the office of Prime Minster Harper and as editor of the right-wing C2C Journal website, which is part of the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education.
  • Former UCP Caucus communications advisor Harrison Fleming is a special communications advisor in Executive Council.
  • Former Daveberta Podcast co-host Ryan Hastman is Chief of Staff to Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney. Natasha Kornak is Sawhney’s press secretary. She is the co-founder of the Story of a Tory blog with Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo. 
  • Recent Daveberta Podcast guest co-host Lianne Bell is now Chief of Staff to Speaker Nathan Cooper. Bell previously worked for the Wildrose and UCP Caucus as director of stakeholder relations.
  • Jamie Mozeson is Chief of Staff to Minister for Service Alberta Nate Glubish. Mozeson was the director of operations at the UCP Caucus and ran for the federal Conservative nomination in the Sturgeon River-Parkland district in 2016. Glubish’s press secretary is Tricia Velthuizen, a former Wildrose and UCP Caucus staffer and candidate for Edmonton City Council in 2017.
  • Jonah Mozeson, who is married to Jamie Mozeson, is the press secretary in the Office of the Minister Justice and Attorney General Doug Schweitzer. His mother, Laurie Mozeson, was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the 2019 election.
  • Craig Bellfontaine is Schweitzer’s Chief of Staff. Until recently he was a Toronto-based lawyer at the firm Farken and is a former federal Conservative ministerial staffer. Schweitzer’s Ministerial Assistant Kalyna Kardash is a former Outreach Coordinator for the UCP Caucus and Party during the election campaign.
  • Andrea Smotra is Chief of Staff to Minister of Energy Sonya Savage. Smotra was the director of election readiness for the UCP and previously worked as Regional Affairs Advisor in the office of Prime Minister Harper and deputy director of issues management for Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
  • Nicole Williams is Chief of Staff to Education Minster Adriana LaGrange. Williams is a former lobbyist and ministerial assistant who was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-West Henday in the recent election. Colin Aitchison is LaGrange’s press secretary. Until recently he was the Issues Manager for Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa McLeod.
  • Warren Singh is Chief of Staff to Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Singh previously served as director of government relations with NAIT and vice-president policy and outreach with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Before that he served in various chief of staff roles in the old PC government. Steve Buick is Shandro’s press secretary. Buick served as press secretary to former health minister Stephen Mandel and as a policy advisor to health minsters Gene Zwozdesky and Fred Horne. Previous to that he served as Director of Media Relations and Issues Management for Capital Health.
  • Kris Barker recently resigned from the UCP board of directors to start his new job as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir. Barker was elected at the party’s annual general meeting as the Edmonton Regional Director. He is married to Kara Barker, who ran as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Riverview. Fir’s press secretary Justin Brattinga is a former BC Liberal Caucus staffer.
  • Mark Jacka is Chief of Staff to Transportation Minister Ric McIver. Jacka previously served as UCP Constituency Development Coordinator, as an assistant to Edmonton-West MP Kelly McCauley and as Director of Political Operations for the Wildrose Party. Brooklyn Elhard is McIver’s press secretary. She previously served as Scheduling and Tour Coordinator for the UCP leader. 
  • Tim Schultz is Chief of Staff to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen. Schultz previously served as chief of staff to the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education and the Minister of Finance in Progressive Conservative governments from 2008 to 2012. 
  • Mandi Johnson is Chief of Staff to Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer. She previously worked for the PC, Wildrose and UCP Caucus. She is married to James Johnson, the Director of Research at the UCP Caucus. Payman Parseyan is Aheer’s press secretary. He ran for Edmonton City Council in 2017 and was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Whitemud. 
  • TJ Keil is chief of staff to Minster of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter. Keil previously worked as a Senior Stakeholder Relations Consultant with Alberta Real Estate Association and ran for the PC Party in Edmonton-Strathcona against first-time NDP candidate Rachel Notley in 2008. 
  • Steven Puhallo is chief of staff to Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz. He previously as chief of staff to various BC cabinet ministers from 2001 to 2008 and more recently was President and CEO of Cowboy Gaming (Canada), a country and western themed free online bingo and casino. Lauren Armstrong is Schulz’s press secretary. Armstrong worked as Kenney’s press secretary while he served as Minister of National Defence in Ottawa and until recently was chief of staff to Calgary city councillor Jeromy Farkas.
  • Former Wildrose Caucus staffer and Alberta Counsel communications lead Tim Gerwing is the press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu.
  • Former Hill & Knowlton senior consultant Jessica Goodwin is press secretary to Minister of Finance Travis Toews.
  • Ted Bauer is press secretary to Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Wilson. Bauer is the former Communications and Media Coordinator for Homeward Trust Edmonton and editor for Global News and CityTV.

And looking at the legislative branch:

  • Robyn Henwood is executive director of the UCP Caucus. Henwood will be known by political watchers as the chair of the party’s leadership election committee and as campaign manager for Len Rhodes’ election campaign in Edmonton-Meadows.
  • Brianna Morris is deputy director of the UCP caucus. She previously served as Senior Advisor to the UCP House Leader and as a Legislative and Outreach Assistant in the Wildrose Caucus.
  • Author and one-time Daveberta Podcast guest Jamil Jivani is a Stakeholders Relations Manager for the UCP Caucus. 
  • Tim Uppal is also a Stakeholders Relations Manager for the UCP Caucus. Uppal served as the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Sherwood Park from 2008 to 2015 and is currently the nominated federal Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods.

As has already been noted in a previous post, former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen is now the CEO of the Wellington Advocacy lobbyist company. Matt Wolf, who served as Kenney’s Deputy Chief of Staff and director of the UCP campaign war room, is now a vice-president with public affairs giant Hill & Knowlton. Also with new jobs outside of government are UCP President Erika Barootes and former UCP Caucus director of issues management Peter Csillag have been hired by the Toronto-based public affairs company Enterprise. 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Nathan Cooper claims the throne in Alberta’s latest Speaker election

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.

Heather Sweet NDP Edmonton-Manning
Heather Sweet

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. 

Not surprisingly, the UCP majority elected Cooper as Speaker.

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.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

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.

1993: Liberal leader Laurence Decore nominated Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes as speaker in 1993, the first time the Speaker was elected by secret ballot. Hewes was defeated by PC MLA Stan Schumacher.


Speaker punches newspaper publisher over wife-swapping allegations, 1935

Oran McPherson
Oran McPherson

A glance through the history of Speakers of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reveals some fascinating stories. One story really stuck out.

In 1935, Speaker Oran McPherson 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.

Categories
Alberta Politics

I’m back, so about that Alberta Election…

Eleven days have passed since Alberta’s provincial election in which Albertans voted in droves and gave our province its first ever one-term government. That alone provides a lot of reflect on, but there is so much more.

Having taken a much-needed vacation after the election (I was on an early flight out of the country on the morning following election night), I now have some thoughts on the results and what they could mean for Alberta and the political parties. 

First, the voter turnout was high. The official results of the election were released this week, showing that 64 per cent of eligible voters in Alberta participated in the election. This is down from the previous voter turnout numbers released by Elections Alberta before the count was official that showed a 71 per cent turnout. While the numbers are not as fantastic as 71 per cent, this election marks the highest turnout since the 1982 election, which was 66 per cent.

The high turnout in advance voting, in particular the “vote anywhere” ballots that allowed Albertans to vote at any advance polling station in the province, was remarkable. More than 700,000 votes were cast at the advance polls, with more than 260,000 of them being “vote anywhere” advance ballots. This was the first time this option was allowed in an Alberta election, and it appears that many Albertans liked the option of voting anywhere during the 5-days of advance voting.

The United Conservative Party elected 63 MLAs and earned a remarkable 1,040,004 votes, the highest of any political party in Alberta’s history. That party’s 54.9 per cent is the highest earned by a political party since the Progressive Conservatives in the 2001 election. It appears as though much of the UCP’s popular vote was boosted by significant landslide victories in rural districts across the province, making rural MLAs a powerful force in the UCP caucus.

While the internal politics of this relatively new party are still evolving, incoming-premier Jason Kenney has a strong mandate to implement his incoming government’s agenda. Kenney has said he will appoint a cabinet by the end of April and hold a session of the Legislative Assembly in May, kicking off what he previously described as a “Summer of Repeal.” Kenney has pledged to dismantle many of the NDP’s flagship programs, including the Climate Leadership Plan and Energy Efficiency Alberta. 

The large UCP caucus only includes one MLA with previous provincial cabinet experience, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, so the learning curve will be steep for those appointed by Kenney next week. But like the NDP when it formed government in 2015, the UCP in 2019 will be bolstered by legions of career political staffers migrating to Alberta over the next few months.

Kenney is expected to continue to focus on his three key talking points from the election campaign – jobs, economy and pipelines – which is also expected to include a heavy does of political rhetoric aimed at Ottawa, Justin Trudeau, and anyone from outside Alberta who dares criticize the oil and gas sector (which will certainly keep Kenney busy).

The social conservative issues that dogged Kenney and many now elected UCP MLAs will not be his focus, but the social conservative groups who make up critical elements of his electoral coalition will expect to be rewarded for their loyalty. This could potentially create a difficult balancing act over the next four years.

The New Democratic Party was unable to get re-elected into government, but earned 619,147 votes, the party’s highest ever vote total. The larger voter turnout and consolidation of conservative votes around UCP candidates meant the NDP only earned 32.7 per cent of the vote and elected 24 MLAs, which is still one of the largest elected opposition caucuses in Alberta’s history. The NDP vote was heavily concentrated within Edmonton city limits, delivering the party all but one of the capital city’s electoral districts.

Outgoing-Premier Rachel Notley has pledged to stay on as party leader, which is a positive outcome for the NDP after its election defeat. Notley is the party’s strongest asset and is probably key to why the party formed government in 2015 and was not decimated in this election.

While the NDP sometimes tends to act like it is more inclined for life on the opposition benches, the new official opposition caucus will only have 3 MLAs who previously served in opposition (Notley, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous). This is the first time the NDP will form official opposition since its previous tenure in the role from 1982 to 1993. 

A struggle for the new NDP caucus and for the NDP internally will be to decide whether it wants to remain the centre-leftish liberal-like party it was in government or whether it should return to something closer to its social democratic roots.

While I have a hard time expecting the NDP’s advocacy for oil pipelines to waver, the party has the opportunity to present a strong alternative to the UCP on issues ranging from climate change to support for strong public services like health care and education. Support for pipelines might be the biggest challenge the NDP will have to reconcile with if it wants to be seen as a serious advocate for action against climate change.

The Alberta Party lost all 3 of its seats in the Assembly despite having high-profile former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel at its helm. The Alberta Party increased its popular vote to 9.1 per cent but none of its candidates came close to being elected. Even in Calgary-Elbow, popular opposition MLA and former party leader Greg Clark fell more than 3,000 votes short of being re-elected.

This result should prompt some serious internal discussions about what role the moderate conservative party plays in Alberta politics, especially as it now has no presence in the Assembly.

For the first time in 33 years the Liberal Party has no presence in the Assembly. Leader David Khan performed well in the televised leaders’ debate and was expected to have a shot at being elected in Calgary-Mountain View, the seat being vacated by retiring four-term Liberal MLA David Swann. But when the votes were counted Khan finished in fourth place with 5.6 per cent. The party only fielded 51 candidates and earned 18,546 votes, which translated into 1 per cent of the vote.

The Liberals will continue to exist on paper but for all intents and purposes the party that formed the official opposition from 1993 to 2012 has ceased to exist as a political force in Alberta.

Disgruntled former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt’s Freedom Conservative Party barely registered on the electoral radar. Running candidates only 24 districts, the populist-UCP spinoff finished with 9,945 votes province-wide. Fildebrandt finished a distant third in Chestermere-Strathmore, 61 per cent behind UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

Despite the crushing loss, Fildebrandt carries no shortage of political ambition. My bet is that he will show on a ballot as a People’s Party of Canada candidate in the October 2019 federal election.

I am planning on taking a closer look at the district and regional level results over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more analysis and commentary about the results of Alberta’s election.

Categories
Daveberta Podcast

Episode 32: GSAs, GSAs, GSAs. Week 2 of Alberta’s Election.

Alberta’s provincial election is 16 days away and for the duration of the campaign, we are going to be recording a new episode of the Daveberta Podcast each week.

In this episode Dave and Ryan talk about the United Conservative Party reopening the Gay-Straight Alliance debate, the transphobic comments that led to the departure of Calgary-South East UCP candidate Eva Kiryakos, Rachel Notley’s plan to expand Alberta’s $25/day childcare program and the Liberal Party‘s proposal to introduce a Harmonized Sales Tax and reform the electoral system. We also look ahead to this week’s televised leaders’ debate and whether Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt should be allowed to join in the fun.

We also spend some time focusing on a few races we are watching. This week we look at Lethbridge-East and Lethbridge-West.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network powered by ATB Financial. The Network includes more than 30 made-in-Alberta podcasts, including the excellent Modern Manhood Podcast and Overdue Finds.

You can listen and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online.

We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download. You can also comment on the blogFacebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca.

And a big thanks to our excellent guest producer, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, who kept us on track and made this episode sound so great.

Thank you for listening!

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