Categories
Alberta Politics

Calgary Stampeding: It looks like Danielle Smith is making a big comeback in the UCP leadership race

There’s not much of anything that is constant in Alberta politics these days, maybe except for the Calgary Stampede.

At least in some non-pandemic years, it’s the Northern Star of Alberta politics. It’s the must attend event for political aspirants of all stripes, from Prime Ministers to aspiring future Premiers.

The Stampede is back in full force this year, with last year’s disastrous “Best Summer Ever” disaster unfortunately an almost distant memory, even though its a big reason why we are where we are today in Alberta politics.

And for anyone watching the Stampede, even this writer from his perch in Edmonton, the race to replace Jason Kenney as Premier and leader of the United Conservative Party was on display as urbanites of all stripes dusted off their cowboys hats and plaid shirts for the week of pancake breakfasts and beer tents.

The big talk of the town this week is Danielle Smith’s unexpectedly strong comeback in the UCP leadership race.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Most political watchers will remember her downfall after a treacherous floor-crossing nearly destroyed the Wildrose Party and helped created the conditions for Rachel Notley to lead her NDP to sweep the province in 2015. (Real political nerds will remember her time on the disastrous Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999, but that’s for another column).

But what we politicos may have missed is that a lot of Albertans, including the thousands who have signed up to support her and are showing up to her campaign events in droves, remember her from her more recent role as the host of a popular talk radio show.

Smith has always been a talented political communicator, despite some high-profile flameouts.

She knows how to talk to conservatives, and it just happens there are a lot of those in Alberta.

Danielle Smith United Conservative Party leadership event Airdrie
Danielle Smith speaking to a crowd at a campaign event in Airdrie (source: Twitter)

It’s not clear how many UCP MLAs support her separatist-leaning “Alberta First” campaign or her dipping into COVID conspiracy theories, but she has nabbed at least one endorsement from the governing caucus – Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.

Smith hasn’t held a seat in the Legislature sine 2015 but she’s challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. And recently she said she would reopen nomination contests some party activists believe were unfairly stacked in favour of Kenney loyalists, a move that is unlikely to endear her to most current UCP MLAs.

Her comeback would be the political story of the year, and while Premier Danielle Smith is far from a sure thing, she is certainly driving the narrative of the UCP leadership campaign. She’s tapped into a motivated group of Alberta conservatives unhappy with the status-quo.

Those are probably the people Kenney referred to as “lunatics.”

And they might just be the mainstream of the UCP right now.

Even the perceived frontrunner is responding to Smith.

Travis Toews (source: Twitter)
Travis Toews (source: Twitter)

Establishment favourite Travis Toews followed Smith’s lead with a milquetoast “Enough is Enough” social media meme opposing COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s not clear what message he was trying to telegraph.

It was the kind of vague response you would expect from a frontrunner campaign, wanting to respond and not offend but failing at both.

Toews also released a list of autonomist policies that read like they were copied and pasted from 2020’s Fair Deal Panel report.

Smith and Toews aren’t alone.

Brian Jean is hitting the same notes, though he’s running a sleepier than expected campaign. Still, Fort McMurray’s Golden Boy shouldn’t be underestimated.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen is also hitting the same notes on separatist and anti-COVID health measures but his chances of winning appear much less likely than the others in this pack.

Rachel Notley and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud at the Calgary Stampede.
Rachel Notley and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud at the Calgary Stampede. (source: Twitter)

Smith’s extreme positions are probably leaving Rachel Notley’s NDP salivating at the opportunity to run against an extremist right-wing UCP that would leave a lot of Albertans alienated.

Two months ago, Notley’s victory in Alberta’s next election looked like a sure bet, but Kenney’s resignation announcement gave his party a bump in the polls and now it’s a race.

Notley and her MLAs have basically decamped to Calgary for the summer, showing up at every event and taking every chance to door knock with their growing slate of local candidates that includes former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow, energy analyst Samir Kayande in Calgary-Elbow, sustainable energy expert Nagwan Al-Guneid in Calgary-Glenmore. Canadian Forces veteran Marilyn North Peigan in Calgary-Klein, and physician Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity.

It’s probably the closest thing Calgary has seen to a Progressive Conservative slate since 2015 but the NDP still have a lot of hard work ahead of them to convince Calgarians to vote for them en masse in 2023.

But the UCP leadership candidate the NDP might fear the most so far hasn’t been playing the same cards as Smith, Toews, Jean and Loewen.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Twitter)

Rebecca Schulz is one candidate to watch.

The first-term MLA from Calgary-Shaw and former children’s service minister had already nabbed an endorsement from Rona Ambrose but the former interim Conservative Party leader is now chairing her campaign.

Schulz also released an endorsement from former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Tim McMillan, who joined former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in supporting her.

Schulz and her husband were political staffers in Wall’s government before moving to Calgary seven years ago and her husband worked for McMillan as VP Communications of CAPP.

It’s hard to tell where her politics are. Schulz seems more moderate than the rest of the pack, which isn’t saying much, but how much more moderate is not clear.

Along with her political establishment connections, Schulz might become a pretty appealing candidate if there are enough UCP members left who don’t want to fight the next election on COVID conspiracy theories and Alberta separatism.

At the very least, there might actually be enough Saskatchewan expats alone living in Alberta to win a leadership race.

And I would be remise if I failed to mention the other candidates who are also busy yahooing their way through the Stampede.

Rajan Sawhney is running an outsiders campaign, leaning on her years of business experience. She is also a candidate to watch.

Leela Aheer appears to be running for the leadership of a completely different party, but that hasn’t saved her from dirty tricks. Someone bought LeelaAheer.ca and is pointing it to an old Daveberta article about the nasty nomination contest she faced in 2018 (I don’t own the domain name, I swear).

Raj Sherman showed up at the Stampede with a decal-clad pickup truck and his campaign has been making robo-calls, despite being told he won’t be allowed to be on the ballot.

Former bank executive Jon Horsman is running.

And, to no one’s surprise, Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock dropped out, citing the high $175,000 candidate entry fee.

It’s a dog’s breakfast, and really could be anyone’s race to win.

There’s strategy at play, for sure, but as one experienced campaign strategist said to me last week, when it comes to leadership campaigns, a lot more depends on dumb luck than people think.

The UCP has announced it plans to hold Official Leadership debates in Medicine Hat on July 27 and Edmonton on August 30.

Categories
Alberta Politics

The race for UCP leader on the Cross Border Politics Podcast

As the United Conservative Party leadership race begins to take shape, I joined Chris Brown on his Cross Border Interviews Podcast to talk about the race, the declared and prospective candidates, and what impact it will have on Alberta politics.

Cross Border Interviews with Chris Brown · Episode 393 – The Race For The UCP Leadership

It appears that the UCP will allow Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner to enter the leadership race, if she chooses, even though she has not had a current party membership for the full past six months as required (there is no doubt she is a committed Conservative partisan).

A similar request for an exemption by former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman was denied.

Kenney’s caretaker cabinet shuffle

Outgoing Premier Jason Kenney announced a cabinet shuffle to fill in the spots left by ministers leaving to run in the race to replace him.

Changes to the caretaker cabinet, which will be in place until a new Premier takes office after the October 6 UCP leadership vote, include:

  • Minister of Environment and Parks and Acting President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Jason Nixon becomes President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.
  • Associate Minister of Status of Women Whitney Issik becomes Minister of Environment and Parks.
  • Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones becomes Minister of Children’s Services.
  • Minister of Infrastructure Prasad Panda becomes Minister of Transportation.
  • Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
  • Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women.
  • Deputy Government Whip Brad Rutherford becomes Chief Government Whip and Minister without Portfolio.

Unsurprisingly, everyone on the list is considered a loyalist, and a few, notably Issik, Milliken, and Rutherford, are considered vulnerable to strong NDP challenges in the next election.

Issik, Jones and Armstrong Homeniuk have publicly endorsed former finance minister Travis Toews for the UCP leadership, who is widely considered the establishment favourite in the race.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Race to replace Jason Kenney takes shape – Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz join the fray. Will Michelle Rempel Garner and Raj Sherman be next?

Hey there politics fans!

The United Conservative Party released its leadership race rule book!

UCP members will choose a replacement for Premier Jason Kenney on October 6, 2022.

It will cost $150,000 to enter the race, plus an extra $25,000 good behaviour deposit.

Low rollers need not apply.

It’s not just a race to replace Kenney.

It’s a race to save the UCP from defeat against Rachel Notley‘s resurgent Alberta NDP.

And the race is starting to take shape.

The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.

Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.

Just ask Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.

It was a strong kick-off.

Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.

Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.

Angela Pitt MLA Airdrie-East UCP
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.

It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).

Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.

This time she’s backing Sawhney.

Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow. 

Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.

The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.

He’s met half his goal so far.

Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.

For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.

The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt. 

She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Facebook)

First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.

Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”

She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. 

The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.

The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who was ousted from cabinet for calling on Kenney to resign, is in and wants to “defeat the machines.”

“I think Albertans will defeat the machines. They understand what the machine is. They’re frustrated with the machine,” she told reporters.

She’s also facing a strong nomination challenge in her Chestermere-Strathmore riding.

Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.

But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy. 

Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.

Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”

Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray. 

Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor. 

He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.

So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

And there could be more.

We’ll know soon enough.

July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.

The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.

August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.

No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.

The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.

Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.

It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.


Liberal Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.

Former party leader David Khan stepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.

Party stalwart John Roggeveen has filled the spot as interim leader since March 2021.

The race has no candidates as of yet. The second place finisher from the 2017 leadership race, Kerry Cundal, is running for the Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.


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Categories
Alberta Politics

The First Four: Travis Toews, Brian Jean, Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen enter the United Conservative Party leadership race

The race has started.

Four candidates have filed their intent with Elections Alberta to join the race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party:

Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose
Brian Jean during his 2017 bid for the United Conservative Party leadership.

Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Independent MLA Todd Loewen

Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.

These four have registered others are expected.

Rajan Sawhney

Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.

“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.

Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.

Government House leader and chief Kenney lieutenant Jason Nixon is rumoured to be thinking about running.

So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.

And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.

The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.

UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.

Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Buckle up, Alberta. The UCP leadership review results are coming.

Buckle up, Alberta. It’s going to get bumpy.

The results of the United Conservative Party leadership review will be released tomorrow.

The fate of Premier Jason Kenney hangs in the balance.

Kenney says he’s confident he will win. He says 50%+1 support is enough to stay on as leader.

His opponents are confident he will lose. They’ve already planted seeds of doubt in the results.

A recent survey shows the majority of Albertans think Kenney should lose the review.

Only a slim majority trust the leadership review process.

One UCP constituency president says he won’t accept a Kenney win.

“We will not believe that result. We will not accept it, but we won’t even believe it, because our own polling here within our constituency is 72 per cent against Premier Kenney,” Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills president Rob Smith told CTV.

There’s a whole cabal of UCP MLAs who probably share Smith’s cynicism.

If Kenney wins he’ll have to decide the fate of his biggest critics in his own party.

What happens to Brian Jean? Leela Aheer? Angela Pitt? Jason Stephan? Peter Guthrie?

Cast them out and they’ll form another conservative party.

And then the UCP might as well drop the U.

So there’s the problem. Even if Kenney wins he still loses.

It’s a win-lose or lose-lose scenario.

It’s going to be a wild ride.


The UCP leadership review is probably going to take up most of the political oxygen in Alberta over the next few days, so I just wanted to note a few candidate nomination developments:

  • Former federal Liberal candidate and provincial Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundal is running for the Alberta Party nomination in Calgary-Elbow. She ran for the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2017 and joined the Alberta Party shortly afterward. A nomination meeting is scheduled for May 28, 2022.
  • Former cabinet minister David Eggen will be acclaimed as the Alberta NDP candidate in Edmonton-North West on May 18. Eggen is the second longest serving MLA currently in the Legislature, having represented Edmonton-Calder from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2019, and Edmonton-North West from 2019 to the present.

The NDP now have 23 candidates nominated in 87 ridings. The UCP have nominated 21 candidates.


 

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Categories
Alberta Politics

The biggest question in Alberta politics: Will Jason Kenney win the UCP leadership review?

“Hey Dave, is Jason Kenney going to win the leadership review?”

It’s a question I get asked a lot these days.

My answer?

I don’t know.

Anyone who tells you different probably has a personal or career stake in the game.

What was supposed to be a big in-person vote in Red Deer back in April turned into a province-wide mail in vote. And that loud swooshing sound you heard wasn’t the sound of a late winter Chinook but the sound of the goal posts moving.

And there’s strong feelings on both sides of this fight.

Kenney’s opponents are outspoken. Especially the ones inside his own United Conservative Party caucus.

MLAs Brian Jean, Leela Aheer, Angela Pitt, Peter Guthrie, Jason Stephan, and Dave Hanson.

Plus Drew Barnes, Todd Loewen and friends.

They all want Kenney gone. They think the UCP is going to lose the next election to Rachel Notley’s NDP if he stays on as leader.

His former central Alberta organizer David Parker is leading Take Back Alberta, a group dedicated to defeating Kenney in the leadership review.

His former spokesperson Blaise Boehmer has become one of his biggest critics.

One former staffer has even taken him to court.

But the loyalists working in the Premier’s Office in Edmonton think his critics are bunch of clowns.

It’s a gong show.

Kenney says of his recent interactions with normal Albertans: “100% of the people who came up to me unprompted say things like: We’re behind you Jason, keep up the good work.”

Yeah, ok there, Mr. 22-per cent Approval Rating.

He spins a lot of yarn.

Kenney once claimed that he didn’t impose stricter COVID-19 public health restrictions because of a crying Venezuelan refugee who claimed the fled socialism.

The Venezuelan woman who believed she was used as part of Kenney’s argument remembers her encounter with the premier as much less dramatic.

But Kenney’s staffers loudly trumpet his good deeds.

Three loyal cabinet ministers – Ric McIver, Jason Nixon and Doug Schweitzer – told Kenney’s critics that they have to fall in line if he wins.

That’s doubtful.

If Kenney had the ability to silence his critics and re-unite his “United” Conservative Party he would have done that two years ago.

That ship has sailed.

Scratch that. The ship is leaking.

But is it going to sink?

Even if Kenney is a hot mess of a premier, he’s a still skilled campaigner, and that’s basically what he’s been doing for the past few months – campaigning.

He can even be, dare I say, dangerously charming on the campaign trail.

Kenney does get public support from some conservatives outside Alberta.

They see him as a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian conservatism.

Conservative pundit Sean Speer wrote a long defence of the beleaguered Kenney in the National Post praising his policy agenda.

But commentary by out-of-Alberta conservatives, who probably have fond memories of Kenney’s two decades in Ottawa, almost always omit how intentionally and aggressively divisive he has been since stepping into the Premier’s Office.

Albertans who oppose, or even just dare to criticize, his government’s policies have been routinely derided and attacked by Kenney.

Are you an Albertan who opposed closing and selling provincial parks?

Then you’re a radical urban eco-marxist.

Did you oppose open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains?

Then you must be a radical urban eco-marxist who votes NDP (can you imagine telling that to a 5th generation cattle rancher from southern Alberta?).

You get the drift.

So, do Albertans see Kenney as the conservative philosopher king that his out-of-province admirers do?

Lol. No.

Do normal UCP members?

Definitely not.

Will Kenney win on May 18?

Will he get more than 50 per cent of the vote?

Your guess is probably as good as mine.

Will the deep divisions inside the UCP be healed?

Not a chance.

As veteran political columnist Graham Thomson signed off in a recent column, “No matter what happens that day, Alberta’s already wild politics will just get wilder.”


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Categories
Alberta Politics

Brian Jean is back. The thorn in Kenney’s side wins Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

Brian Jean is back.

The former Wildrose Party leader will be returning to the Alberta Legislature after winning a landslide victory in today’s by-election in Fort McMuray-Lac La Biche.

He’s a UCP MLA-elect and he’s one of the biggest thorns in Premier Jason Kenney’s side.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney United Conservative Party AGM
Jason Kenney

Jean beat Kenney’s favoured candidate in the UCP nomination contest and the former MLA and MP used the by-election as a platform to campaign hard against Kenney.

He has been openly organizing against Kenney ahead of the April 9 leadership review in Red Deer.

Now he’s the newest member of Kenney’s UCP Caucus.

What I would do to be a fly on the wall when Jean’s strolls into the UCP Caucus Office in Edmonton tomorrow morning.

He’s not alone.

UCP MLAs Leela Aheer, Dave Hanson and Angela Pitt have openly spoken out against Kenney. So have Independent MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen.

It was a big win for Jean tonight. But that’s about it.

The by-election results are disappointing for the NDP, who have been polling ahead of the UCP province-wide, and whose candidate, Ariana Mancini, campaigned hard.

But in this by-election, Fort McMurray’s favourite son was both the UCP candidate and the most vocal anti-Kenney candidate, which is a bizarre situation for the opposition NDP to be in.

Paul Hinman and his separatist Wildrose Independence Party placed a distant third. The other five candidates had distant finishes.

Now with the by-election over, all the players are going to be focused on April 9 and Kenney’s leadership review.

This is going to be something to watch.


With 61/61 polls reporting, here are the unofficial results of the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election:

  • Brian Jean, UCP 3,714 (63.6%)
  • Ariana Mancini, NDP 1,801 (18.5%)
  • Paul Hinman, WRIP 628 (10.8%)
  • Abdulhakim Hussein, Liberal 211 (3.6%)
  • Michelle Landsiedel, Alberta Party 98 (1.7%)
  • Brian Deheer, Independent 56 (1.0%)
  • Marilyn Burns, Alberta Advantage 25 (0.4%)
  • Steven Mellott, Independence Party 24 (0.4%)
Categories
Alberta Politics

MLAs Leela Aheer, Jeremy Nixon and Marie Renaud running for re-election, Kevin Smook seeks UCP nomination in Camrose

Two-term MLA and vocal Kenney-critic Leela Aheer has filed her intentions with Elections Alberta to run for the United Conservative Party nomination in Chestermere-Strathmore. Aheer was first elected in 2015 as a Wildrose Party candidate and was re-elected with 68.5 per cent of the vote in 2019 in the riding.

Aheer served as Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women and Deputy Leader of the UCP until she was dropped from cabinet in July 2021 after publicly criticizing Premier Jason Kenney‘s disastrous Open for Summer plan. She soon after called on Kenney to resign as Premier after a former staffer filed a lawsuit against the Premier’s Office alleging sexual harassment, defamation, and toxic workplace culture at the Legislature.

Aheer is being challenged for the nomination by Chantelle de Jonge, a former political staffer to former Calgary-Skyview Member of Parliament Jag Sahota and recent graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Calgary.

Chestermere-Strathmore was the location of a political showdown last month when Kenney loyalists allegedly mounted a hostile takeover at the annual general meeting of the local UCP constituency association. The results of that AGM vote are still in dispute.

Jeremy Nixon running for re-election in Calgary-Klein

Jeremy Nixon MLA Calgary-Klein UCP
Jeremy Nixon

UCP MLA Jeremy Nixon has also signalled his intentions with Elections Alberta to run for his party’s nomination in Calgary-Klein, the riding he has represented since 2019.

Nixon currently serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services for Civil Society. He was removed from a previous role as parliamentary secretary for civil society in January 2021 after disregarding COVID-19 restrictions and traveling to Hawaii for a hot holiday in December 2020.

He is the brother of Environment & Parks Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

The riding was home to one of the closer races in Calgary in the 2019 election and is expected to be strongly contested by the NDP in the next election.

If nominated, Nixon will face one of three candidates running for the NDP nomination. NDP nominee candidates Heather Eddy, Mattie McMillan or Marilyn North Peigan will face off at a candidate selection meeting on March 26, 2022.

Marie Renaud running for re-election in St. Albert

Marie Renaud NDP MLA St Albert
Marie Renaud

St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud announced her plans to seek her party’s nomination to run for re-election in when the provincial election is called.

“I will continue to champion public healthcare, public education and economic security for St. Albert and Albertans across the province,” Renaud wrote in a tweet announcing her candidacy. “We cannot build a prosperous future by continuing to pass on costs to municipalities like St. Albert and, in turn, to Albertan families.”

Renaud was first elected to represent the suburban city located just north of Edmonton in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 46.2 per cent of the vote. She was the first NDP MLA elected in St. Albert since 1986.

She currently serves as the Official Opposition critic for Community & Social Services, and Francophone Issues.

A nomination meeting is scheduled for March 24, 2022.

Former Alberta Party candidate running for UCP nomination

Kevin Smook UCP nomination Camrose
Kevin Smook’s ad in the Camrose Booster.

Beaver County Reeve Kevin Smook announced on Twitter that he plans to seek the UCP nomination in the Camrose, the riding currently represented by UCP MLA Jackie Lovely.

“I’m not here for the photo ops — I intend to roll up my sleeves and work for you and for the people of the Camrose Constituency,” Smook tweeted, in an apparent shot at Lovely.

Smook was first elected to Beaver County Council in 2013 and served as Reeve from 2014 to 2017 before starting his current term in 2021. He was the Alberta Party candidate in Camrose in the 2019 election, where he placed third with 12.8 per cent of the vote.

“I ran for the Alberta Party in the 2019 provincial election,” Smook told the Camrose Booster. “And while there was a conservative connection with them, I know that the strongest conservative movement is the United Conservative Party and I feel much more aligned here.

Tik tok, tik tok, the countdown to Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche

The countdown continues as Jason Kenney now has 6 days left to call the by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. The by-election needs to be called by February 15 to choose a successor to former MLA Laila Goodridge who resigned nearly six months ago on August 15, 2021.

UCP candidate Brian Jean, who led the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2018, has called on Kenney to resign and is openly organizing and fundraising against his party’s leader ahead of the April 9 leadership review. There has been chatter in some political circles that Kenney may be delaying the by-election until the last possible moment in order to replace Jean and appoint a UCP candidate who will demonstrate more loyalty to the leader.

Outside the UCP drama that has enveloped this by-election are NDP candidate Ariana Mancini , who was joined by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan on the campaign trail last week, and Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman, who has been spending a considerable amount of time campaigning in the northeast Alberta riding.

The Alberta Party has not yet named its candidate.


I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

Categories
Alberta Politics

Steve Durrell running for NDP nomination in Airdrie-Cochrane, UCP rumble in Chestermere-Strathmore

Airdrie resident Steve Durrell has announced his plans to seek the Alberta NDP nomination to run in the Airdrie-Cochrane riding in the next provincial election. 

This coming election is one of high stakes. From education to our economy, from healthcare to respect for a person’s self-identity, Jason Kenney and the UCP have failed Albertans at every turn,” Durrell said in a statement posted on Facebook. “It’s time for change and to get Alberta back on track, and that is why I am seeking the nomination to run for the NDP, and support Rachel Notley on her road to once again being Premier of Alberta!”

Durrell is an organizer for United Steelworkers Local 1944. 

If nominated, this will be Durrell’s second time as a NDP candidate in the riding. He ran in 2019 and placed second with 25.2 per cent of the vote behind United Conservative Party candidate Peter Guthrie.

Durrell became a target of Premier Jason Kenney in the 2019 election, when the UCP leader mocked him for being a 19-year old. He was actually 29-year old father of three at the time. 

Rumble in Chestermere-Strathmore

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer in happier time (source: YouTube)

Postmedia columnist Don Braid penned a column about a showdown in the Chestermere-Strathmore riding, where Kenney loyalists are alleged to have mounted a hostile takeover of the local UCP constituency association.

The previous, or current riding association (depending on who’s side of the story you believe), is loyal to two-term UCP MLA and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer, who has called on Kenney to resign after a former political staffer filed a lawsuit against the Premier’s Office alleging sexual harassment, defamation, and toxic workplace culture at the Legislature.

Ahreer is popular among her UCP MLA colleagues so Kenney probably does not have the support to remove her from the UCP caucus like he did Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen last summer, so removing her local support (and access to the local UCP bank account) is a more indirect way of ensuring she does not seek re-election in 2023. If Aheer still has political ambitions, she will probably need to find a new party to run for.

As first noted on this website in May 2021, former federal Conservative staffer Chantelle de Jonge is already challenging Aheer for the UCP nomination to run in the next election. de Jonge worked in the constituency office of former Calgary-Skyview Member of Parliament Jag Sahota and recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Calgary.

Chestermere-Strathmore was the scene of significant political drama ahead of the 2019 election, with MLA Derek Fildebrandt banned from the the nomination contest and a tense 2018 nomination race 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).

Brian Jean still kicking around

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney
Brian Jean and Jason Kenney in happier times

Confirmed UCP candidate and future UCP leadership hopeful Brian Jean is continuing to fire shots across Kenney’s bow ahead of the leadership review and the impending by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

Jean called on the UCP executive board to commit to holding an in-person vote on April 9 rather than moving to an online vote in response to the fifth wave of COVID-19 that is sweeping across Alberta. It was largely assumed that the Kenney loyal executive board chose to hold an in-person meeting in Red Deer to give the Premier more control of the process, but the rise in COVID-19 cases would justify moving the vote online.

A Leger poll released in December 2021 showed that 73 per cent of Albertans believed the province would be better off with a new premier.

In the background of this, as Jean noted, the RCMP are continuing to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the online vote for the UCP leadership in 2017. Kenney defeated Jean in that vote.

Jean defeated Kenney-backed candidate Joshua Gogo in the UCP nomination contest held in Nov. 2021. He will face NDP candidate Ariana Mancini and Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman in a by-election that needs to be called by Feb. 15, 2022. The other parties have not yet announced their candidates.

The Alberta Party is expected to make an announcement soon.

The Independence Party of Alberta has not announced a candidate, but announced in Nov. 2021 that their local constituency association board had been formed.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Janis Irwin voted Best Alberta MLA for the second year in a row. Results of the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 Survey revealed.

With more than 2,000 votes cast this past week, the winners of the fifth annual Best of Alberta Politics 2021 survey are:

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

Always a fan favourite, for the second year in a row Janis Irwin has been voted Best Alberta MLA. Irwin is a hard-working MLA in the Assembly and in her constituency, and her sense of humour (and her social media star cat, Oregano) has endeared her to politicos on both sides of the aisle.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Best Alberta Cabinet Minister: Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women

Nurturing a reputation as an affable politician, Leela Aheer proved herself to be on the right side of public opinion in Alberta when she spoke out against Premier Jason Kenney and called on him to resign. The MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore was booted from cabinet for speaking out against Kenney, but that probably only further endeared her to the growing majority of Albertans who disapprove of the Premier’s performance.

That Aheer remains a member of UCP Caucus after openly calling on Kenney to resign is also a testament to how well-liked she is by her UCP MLA colleagues.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

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

For the third year in a row, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has been voted Best Opposition MLA. Notley continues to be her party’s greatest asset and, if the polls and party fundraising returns are any indication, might stand a good chance at leading her party to form government when the next election is held in 2023.

If Notley’s party is successful in 2023, she would be the first former Premier to return to that office in Alberta’s history.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Up and Coming MLA to Watch in 2022: Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

A tireless advocate for childcare since she was first elected in 2019, Rakhi Pancholi has been voted Up and Coming MLA to Watch for a second year in a row.

Pancholi is smart and well-spoken, and has been tough and tenacious in her calls for affordable and accessible childcare for Alberta families.

Jyoti Gondek Mayor Calgary
Jyoti Gondek

Best Political Play of 2021: Jyoti Gondek‘s election as Mayor of Calgary

Jyoti Gondek defied public expectations and a motivated conservative establishment to win Calgary’s mayoral election in October 2021, becoming the first woman to be elected mayor of Alberta’s largest city.


The annual Best of Alberta Politics survey was started in 2017 as a way to give followers of Alberta politics a chance to recognize the best players in Alberta politics.

Listen to our year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast where guests Adrienne King and Matt Solberg share their picks for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2021.

Thank you to the more than 2,000 people who voted in this year’s survey and for everyone who read this website and listened to the Daveberta Podcast this year.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vote in the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 Survey

With hundreds of submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm and the winners will be announced shortly after that.

Here are the top choices in each category:

1. Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2021? – VOTE

  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

2. Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2021? – VOTE

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Ric McIver, Minister of Municipal Affairs
  • Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Transportation

Honourable mentions to runners-up Minister of Health Jason Copping and Minister of Finance Travis Toews. It is also worth noting that a large number of people chose to submit various versions of “none of the above.”

3. Who was the best opposition MLA of 2021? – VOTE

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

Honourable mention to runners-up Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd and Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi..

4. Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2022? – VOTE

  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Brian Jean, (potentially future) MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche
  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

Honourable mentions to runners-up Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner and Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang.

5. What was the biggest political play of 2021 in Alberta? – VOTE

  • Brian Jean’s political comeback
  • Jason Kenney’s “Open For Summer/Best Summer Ever” COVID-19 plan
  • Jyoti Gondek’s election as Mayor of Calgary

What was the biggest political issue of 2021 in Alberta?

In some past years this category has been a dog’s breakfast, but like last year, 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 defined Alberta politics in 2021, with the failure of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Open For Summer” plan and the fourth wave that followed garnering the most submissions.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney walks away from UCP AGM largely unscathed. Next up: defeating Brian Jean.

Premier Jason Kenney appeared to walk away mostly unscathed from last weekend’s United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney United Conservative Party AGM
Jason Kenney

Kenney delivered a much-watched keynote speech to more than a thousand UCP delegates that appears to have been generally well-received, though sounded like it might have been more appropriately aimed at a Chamber of Commerce or business crowd luncheon than a room of partisans hungry for more partisanship.

Kenney’s speech and it’s focus on the economy, and not his government’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic and failed “Open for Summer” plan, gives an indication of the direction the Premier and his inner circle believe they need to shift their message in order to salvage his embattled leadership and the party’s chances of winning re-election in 2023.

Regardless, Kenney tried hard to present an upbeat appearance, but as anyone who follows politics will know – party conventions are all production and all a show.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Kenney commanded the support of the convention, though he lost a critical vote on a special resolution that would have increased the number of constituency associations able to trigger a leadership vote from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

The motion received support from 57 per cent of delegates but fell short of the 75 per cent required to make the constitutional change.

This small defeat came less than a week after 22 UCP constituency associations announced they had passed an identical motion calling for an already scheduled April review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved to before March 1, 2022.

Cynthia Moore United Conservative Party President
Cynthia Moore

The new UCP President, Cynthia Moore, has said the newly elected party board will review the motions, though conservatives I’ve spoken with suggest that Kenney’s supporters are energetically searching for a technicality to disqualify the motions for an earlier vote.

Recent public opinion polls have shown Kenney with a 22 per cent approval rating among Albertans and his party has trailed Rachel Notley‘s Alberta NDP in the polls since November 2020, which has led to a growing number of UCP MLAs, including former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer, willing to publicly criticize his leadership or call for his resignation.

Even MLAs who are reluctant to publicly criticize Kenney are reluctant to publicly defend him.

Maclean’s columnist Jason Markusoff tweeted from the convention that reporters “asked Fort McMurray MLA Tany Yao how many members here want Kenney as leader. Half, he said. Does he want Kenney as leader? Sighed, said “you’ve put me in a tough spot,” then a minister’s press secretary whisked him away.”

Daniel Williams UCP Peace River
Daniel Williams

But perhaps the most interesting part of the convention was the vote by UCP delegates to pass a motion in support of conscience rights for health care professionals, which critics say could lead to the denial of access to women’s health and abortion services. A private members bill supporting conscience rights introduced into the Legislature by Peace River MLA and Kenney acolyte Dan Williams (now a parliamentary secretary – see below) failed at committee last year.

The passage of the policy at the UCP convention might provide an idea of how strong the different parts of the conservative coalition dominate the UCP right now, in this case – social conservatives.

Support for conscience rights for health care professionals stirred up quite a bit of controversy and backlash against the Wildrose Party during the 2012 provincial election.

It is unclear in what ways health professionals are being denied freedom of conscience at the moment,” penned the Globe & Mail editorial board on April 9, 2012.

Are doctors being required to perform abortions against their will? If so, no public complaint has been made that we are aware of. Would doctors have the right to swear off treating patients of the opposite sex? Would family physicians be entitled to refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or could they insist, when faced with a teenage girl, on counselling abstinence only?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

And speaking of the Wildrose Party, former party leader Danielle Smith was at the AGM and publicly mused to a reporter from Derek Fildebrandt‘s Western Standard website that she would run for the leadership of the UCP if Kenney’s stepped down.

Smith was quick to clarify to subscribers to her weekly email newsletter that she was merely musing and that she is not planning to run because the job is already filled. But that Smith could so casually make a comment like that to a reporter while standing in the same convention ball room as the current leader is embarrassing for Kenney.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

After leading the party from obscurity to the brink of forming government, Smith famously crossed the floor along with a dozen other Wildrose MLAs to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party in 2014 – a move that ended up gutting both parties and helping pave the way for Notley’s NDP to win the 2015 election.

And, continuing the blast from the past theme is another former Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, who is weeks away from potentially being selected as the UCP candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election – that is, if he is not stopped by Joshua Gogo, a Fort McMurray economist.

Jean is probably Kenney’s main target now.

Trying to defeat him in the nomination vote, which is set for December 11 according to the Elections Alberta website, is likely one of the first steps the Premier will take in trying to reconsolidate his support in the UCP ahead of the next year’s leadership review – whether it be held in April or February.

Joshua Gogo
Joshua Gogo

Kenney has recently criticized Jean and questioned his political record after resigning before finishing his elected terms as a Member of Parliament and MLA for Fort McMurray, criticisms that were echoed by the Premier’s political staff on social media.

Also hanging out there is the Kamikaze campaign that Kenney’s closest advisors helped manufacture as part of the effort to defeat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and the ongoing RCMP investigation into alleged voter fraud.

If he is not able to stop Jean from winning the nomination, Kenney will probably a harder time pretending he’s in an upbeat mood.


Kenney names five new parliamentary secretaries

Premier Kenney announced that five UCP MLAs have been appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries, roles that do not bring any additional salary but are a sign of which backbenchers could be on track for promotions to cabinet in the future – and which backbenchers a party leader in trouble is trying to solidify support from.

Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Parks for Water Stewardship. He also serves as UCP Caucus Chair.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Culture and for la Francophonie. Before returning to Alberta to seek the UCP nomination, Williams worked in Ottawa for Kenney while he served as a federal cabinet minister.

Both Neudorf and Williams also sit as the MLA representatives on the UCP Board of Directors.

Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely is Parliamentary Secretary to the Associate Minister of Status of Women. Lovely was first elected as MLA for Camrose in 2019 and previously ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015.

Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services for Civil Society. Nixon was first elected as MLA in 2019 and previously ran as a Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Klein in 2012 and 2015. Nixon was removed from his previous role as parliamentary secretary for civil society after disregarding COVID-19 restrictions and traveling to Hawaii for a hot holiday in December 2020. He is the brother of Environment & Parks Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy. A former Spruce Grove City Councillor, Turton was widely rumoured to have been a potential pick for Minister of Municipal Affairs following Tracy Allard’s demotion in Jan. 2021. Turton also serves as the private sector union liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration.

Categories
Alberta Politics

A look at this weekend’s UCP AGM as the formerly One-Big-Happy-Conservative-Family gathers for its first in-person convention since 2019

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s good news week ahead of this weekend’s United Conservative Party annual general meeting was largely overshadowed by a slow motion rebellion in his party.

While the Premier wanted to talk about childcare and the economy, a disgruntled group of UCP constituency presidents announced Monday morning that they had convinced 22 constituency associations to pass identical motions calling for a review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved before March 1, 2022.

The leadership review had been pushed to April 2022 from fall 2022 after Kenney averted a caucus revolt over the summer.

a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.
a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.

According to recent polling, Kenney is the least popular Premier in Canada, sitting at 22 per cent approval among Albertans, and his party has floundered in the polls and fundraising for the past year.

Rachel Notley would be Premier once again if an election were held today, which will surely be a future on the minds of many UCP activists this weekend.

Kenney’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the problem, but so to is his cabinet’s decision to wage a multi-front war against everyone from Alberta’s parks, nurses and teachers while trying to open the Rocky Mountains up to open-pit coal mining.

A party that famously promised “Jobs, Economy and Pipelines” in the 2019 election has delivered everything but.

When the business of the meeting begins, special resolutions will only be able to be brought to the floor of the AGM by Kenney and one resolution being introduced by the Kenney-friendly UCP association in Edmonton-North West would increase the number of constituency associations needed to trigger an early leadership review from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

A list of of the 22 constituency associations who passed the motion calling for an early review shows that this is largely a rural revolt against Kenney’s leadership, likely from the unruly rural Wildrose-side of the party, which has never been satisfied to subjugate itself to to the kind of centralized leadership that the Premier would have been comfortable with in Ottawa.

The first signatory of the letter from the 22 was a name that would be quite familiar to Kenney – Jack Redekop – the current president of the Calgary-Fish Creek UCP and former president of Kenney’s won former federal electoral district association in Calgary-Midnapore.

One of the common criticisms of Kenney is that he has become detached from the party’s organization and local leadership since his election as Premier in 2019. Wildrosers who don’t like a centralized party leadership are unhappy, as are former Progressive Conservatives, who might be accustomed to more attention and access to their leadership.

The two groups have also discovered that all the things they disliked about each others politics when they were two parties are still there, except now they are in the same party.

The revolt hasn’t been limited to the party membership.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer in happier time (source: YouTube)

Four MLAs – Chestemere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – have either publicly called for Kenney to resign or have openly criticized his leadership. And while most of their colleagues have avoided making public comments about Kenney’s leadership, the unhappiness among UCP MLAs and their staff is palpable.

There has been a steady stream of high-profile political staffers leaving their positions in the UCP government for jobs in the private sector. This past month saw the departure of press secretary Blaise Boehmer, who levelled some pretty heavy criticisms against Kenney, and UCP Caucus executive director Brittany Baltimore, who both recently took jobs with government relations companies.

Guthrie levelled allegations to the UCP Caucus this week that Political Action Committees supporting Kenney were paying the delegate fees of supporters in order to stack the votes in favour of the Premier during the AGM.

Peter Guthrie MLA Airdrie-Cochrane UCP Communism
Peter Guthrie

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in his most recent column that a private company was organizing to send delegates in order to curry favour with UCP cabinet ministers if Kenney survives his leadership challenges.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen , who was kicked out of the UCP Caucus earlier this year for calling on Kenney to resign, and Edmonton-South NDP MLA Thomas Dang wrote letters to the Chief Elections Officer asking his office to investigate the allegations.

Albertans, and UCP members, are angry at Kenney, but aside from former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean who is running for the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, there is no obvious heir apparent inside the UCP for his opponents to rally around.

Cynthia Moore has been acclaimed as President and Sonia Kont acclaimed as Vice President of Fundraising, but there are races for the Secretary and Vice President of Communications positions.

Central Peace-Notley UCP President Samantha Steinke, who has publicly called for an early leadership review, is challenging incumbent Ruven Rajoo for VP Communications. Red Deer-South constituency President Janis Nett and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo President Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense are running for the Secretary position, which was made vacant when former Secretary Cathy Smith resigned earlier this year.

A number of candidates are contesting regional director positions, including Sundre-resident Heidi Overguard, who was appointed by the UCP government to the Board of Directors of Alberta Health Services in Nov. 2019.

Meanwhile, UCP members will be lining up at the microphone to debate policies about cancel culture, private health care, private schools, and hydrogen, among other issues. The CBC reported that Kenney’s office instructed staffers to vote down policies “introducing a provincial sales tax, relocalizing 911 dispatch, a moratorium on new coal exploration and development on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and creating a revenue-neutral Alberta carbon tax to replace the federal backstop.”

This weekend’s convention will be a much different affair from the party’s last in-person annual general meeting after it’s big win in the 2019 election.

Kenney will surely be focused on rallying the party to give him one more chance ahead of next spring’s review, but don’t expect to hear many of the celebratory rallying cries we heard two years ago. The party no longer feels like it is united and it is certainly not the one big conservative happy family that Kenney helped establish in 2017.

The UCP AGM starts at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary on Friday, Nov. 19 and will wrap up on Sunday, Nov. 21.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Here he goes, again. Brian Jean running for the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election

Here he goes, again.

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean announced today that he plans to run for the job he quit three years ago.

Jean announced on Facebook that he plans to seek the United Conservative Party nomination in the upcoming Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election. The by-election to replace Laila Goodridge, who was recently elected as a Member of Parliament, needs to be called by Feb. 15, 2022. He is the second candidate to announce after Joshua Gogo entered the race last month.

Jean represented the predecessor riding, Fort McMurray-Conklin, from 2015 until 2018, when he quit after losing the UCP leadership to Jason Kenney.

This is Jean’s second political comeback. His first happened when he was a last minute candidate for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 after stepping down as a MP in 2014. He saved the party from the brink of oblivion in that election and became leader of the Official Opposition.

Since leaving the Legislature in 2018, he has become a vocal critic of the government, flirted with western separatism in online columns, and called for Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

“Something must be done or Rachel Notley will win the next election with an overwhelming majority,” Jean wrote on Facebook of the popular NDP leader who’s party has been leading in the polls since last November, once again publicly signalling his lack of confidence in Kenney.

Jean has every reason to dislike Kenney after an alleged Kamakaze campaign was organized against him during the UCP leadership race, and since quitting he has appeared to take pleasure in poking at his rival from the sidelines.

Jean was even spotted at a Calgary Stampede BBQ hosted by ousted UCP MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen over the summer.

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney
Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

There is little doubt that he could win the nomination and the by-election. He is a well-known and popular figure in Fort McMurray, and he comes across as affable and down to earth to anyone who meets him. His lack of stick-to-it-iveness should probably raise some concerns, but at this point local conservatives might just be hopeful to find a candidate who can reliably hold on to the seat.

The question is whether the increasingly unpopular Kenney will allow a rival who has openly called for his resignation to run under his party’s banner?

And if Jean isn’t allowed to run for Kenney’s party, will he run as an Independent or for another party, like the struggling Wildrose Independence Party.

Of course, Jean isn’t alone in calling for Kenney’s resignation.

Leela Aheer and Brian Jean
Leela Aheer and Brian Jean

His former colleague, UCP MLA Leela Aheer, stood at a podium in the Legislature Rotunda last week to call for the Premier to step down and she does not appear to have faced any consequences. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried has been openly agitating for an leadership review to be held before March 1.

No emergency caucus meeting was held to kick them out, and perhaps more notably, no Kenney loyalists in the cabinet or caucus stepped up to rebuke them and defend their leader. The silence was deafening.

So, Jean now wants his seat back, and he probably wants his party back too.


It is not uncommon for party leaders and politicians to spend time in ridings where by-elections are expected,

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was in Fort McMurray in October meeting with community groups and highlighting the UCP government’s failure to stop the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which overwhelmed the staff at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous, who served as Economic Development Minister in the first Notley government, is in Fort McMurray this week and has posted a series of videos about his visit on Instagram.

The UCP Caucus was scheduled to hold its annual retreat in Fort McMurray on Sept. 15 and 16, but the event that would have brought most UCP MLAs to the northeast Alberta city ahead of the by-election was abruptly canceled on Sept. 10 after rumours that Kenney was facing a caucus revolt. Kenney also cancelled his scheduled Sept. 15 keynote speech to the annual Oil Sands Conference and Trade Show, which the UCP Caucus retreat was planned around.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney’s office hit with lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, defamation, and toxic workplace culture at the Legislature

On Oct. 26, 2021, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was having a rare good day. He got the result he argued he was looking for from the province-wide Equalization Referendum and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave him the gift of appointing long-time environmental activist Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Kenney’s good day lasted less than 24 hours.

In what can only be described as a bombshell story, the CBC first reported today that a former ministerial Chief of Staff is suing the Premier’s Office, “saying she suffered from a toxic workplace culture and was fired as retribution for speaking out about the problems she saw there.”

Devin Dreeshen

The allegations in Ariella Kimmel‘s lawsuit include sexual harassment and heavy drinking by ministers and staff in legislature offices, as well as claims that senior staff in the premier’s office fabricated rumours about her contributing to her termination, reported CBC journalist Elise von Scheel.

The CBC reported that Kimmel has filed a lawsuit against the Kenney’s office for alleged sexual harassment and defamation.

Kimmel was Chief of Staff to Minister Doug Schweitzer until February 2021 and before that worked as Director of Community Relations in the Premier’s Office and as the United Conservative Party’s Director of Outreach before the 2019 election.

Kimmel had previously worked for Kenney during his time in Ottawa as executive coordinator for multiculturalism when he was Minister of Employment and Social Development and as an assistant during his time as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

The statement of claim, which is reported in detail by CBC, makes serious allegations against numerous officials and staffers in the UCP government, including Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen.

Responding to a question in the Assembly today from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Janis Irwin, Kenney said that his office was appointing an independent review to make recommendations to revise human resource practices for political staff.

Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried called on the government to not wait for a review and instead immediately adopt the Respect in the Workplace program promoted by Respect Group Inc.

While none of the allegations have been proven in court, the conditions described are probably not uncommon in political offices across Canada. Kimmel’s lawsuit shines a big spotlight on a toxic workplace culture in the Legislature that needs to change immediately.

Aheer is having none of it

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

Chestermere-Strathmore UCP MLA Leela Aheer responded to the allegations by calling on Kenney to resign and drawing comparisons to disgraced Calgary City Councillor Sean Chu. A A former cabinet minister and UCP deputy leader, Aheer was dropped from cabinet after criticizing the UCP’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Standing at a podium in the Legislature Rotunda today, Aheer refused to stand down and appeared to be daring Kenney and her MLA colleagues to remove her from the UCP Caucus.

UCP MLAs voted to remove Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen from the caucus in June following Loewen’s call for Kenney to resign.

Kenney avoided a caucus revolt and non-confidence vote last month when he agreed to push up his leadership review from fall 2022 to April 2022. That move was successful in appeasing the disorganized opposition inside the UCP Caucus, but not the party, as numerous UCP constituency associations continue to push for Kenney’s review to be held before March 1, 2022.

Kenney’s approval rating dropped to an abysmal 22 per cent last month and leaked poll results showed that 75 per cent of Albertans disapprove of the UCP government, one of the strongest disapproval ratings for an Alberta government in recent memory.