Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita has been acclaimed as leader of the Alberta Party.
“As a compassionate leader and experienced community builder, I believe that a new, fresh approach to politics is what Albertans need right now and that the Alberta Party is the vehicle to drive that positive change,” Morishita said in a press statement released by the party.
Morishita was first elected to Brooks City Council in 1998 and became Mayor of Brooks in 2016 after previous mayor Martin Shields was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bow River.
He was elected President of the Alberta Urban Municipality Association in 2017 and was a vocal critic of the United Conservative Party government’s overhaul of municipal election laws, going so far as to describe relations between municipalities and then-Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu as “broken.”
This is not his first foray into provincial politics. Like other leaders of the Alberta Party, Morishita’s past political experience was as a member of another political party.
He ran for Nancy MacBeth‘s Alberta Liberals in Strathmore-Brooks in 2001, placing second with 15.5 per cent of the vote behind Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Lyle Oberg. He had previously been active with the Liberal Party as a delegate to the convention that chose Laurence Decore as party leader in 1988.
He also made a $300 donation to the PC Party in Strathmore-Brooks in 2014.
The small moderate conseravtive political party broke through into the Legislature in 2015 when leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in his youth, was elected in Calgary-Elbow. Despite growing its popular vote, the party was shut out of the Legislature in 2019 under the leadership of former Edmonton mayor and PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel.
The Alberta Party has languished in obscurity since the 2019 election, with interim leader Jacquie Fenske, a former PC MLA from Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, holding the reins until a permanent leader was named.
According to a report from the Morinville News, former Morinville Mayor and past AUMA President Lisa Holmes and former Battle River-Wainwright PC MLA Doug Griffiths are part of Morishita’s transition team.
The challenges facing Morishita and his party are steep:
Make his party relevant. Rachel Notley‘s NDP have led in the polls since November 2020 and have a commanding lead in fundraising. It is going to be challenging for the Alberta Party to convince Albertans who want Jason Kenney out of the Premier’s Office that they are the credible alternative.
Winning a seat in the next election and getting his party back into the Legislature. Brooks-Medicine Hat will be the natural place for Morishita to run but it will be an uphill climb to win in the lopsidedly conservative voting district currently represented by UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo.There will also be a by-election held in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next six months following the resignation of Laila Goodridge, who is running in the federal election.
Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.
In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.
With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.
Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.
As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.
According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.
With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.
Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.
McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.
Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.
Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).
As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:
Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
This is a win for the positive campaign and a stunning rebuke of the traditional negative campaign. While his main opponents strayed into negative tactics, Mr. Iveson’s campaign avoided the taunts by focusing on remaining positive and optimistic. And it worked. This should send a strong message to voters and politicians across the land that you do not need to go negative to win.
This is a vote for the future. I spoke with many people over the past month who weren’t sure what this election was about. While “the future” and “long-term planning” aren’t sexy wedge issues like the closure of an airport or the construction of a new hockey arena, they are so much more important. Campaigns can be delivered in full-sentences. Mr. Iveson’s comprehensive platform and its focus on long-term planning differentiated him from the other candidates.
There are challenges ahead. As mayor, Mr. Iveson will have to build a team on a city council with six new faces. Any successful mayor understands that they are only one vote of thirteen on council. Balancing progressive voices like re-elected councillors Ben Henderson and Amarjeet Sohi and newly-elected Michael Walters and Scott McKeen, along with moderate conservatives like Michael Oshry and fiscal hawks like Mike Nickel could be a challenge.
Building a strong region will be critical to moving Edmonton forward and new opportunities exist for the Capital Region Board with new mayors Tom Flynn in Sturgeon County, Lisa Holmes in Morinville, and Roxanne Carr in Strathcona County. Regional cooperation on planning and development, as well as service delivery, are areas where the capital region could see progress over the next four years.
Solving the fiscal challenges facing Alberta’s cities will also be difficult. The provincial government needs to be convinced that Alberta’s cities require additional resources and responsibilities to address the tremendous pressures associated with fast growing populations. The introduction of City Charters could be a significant step to helping cities deal with this issue.
With the province’s most dynamic political leaders now leading our large urban municipalities, Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, Don Iveson in Edmonton, Melissa Blake in Wood Buffalo, Bill Given in Grande Prairie, and newly elected Tara Veer in Red Deer have an opportunity to pursue a strong urban agenda that the provincial government cannot ignore.
(Note: I have been happy to volunteer my personal time during the election campaign to help Don Iveson become the next mayor of Edmonton. I am ecstatic that Edmontonians have entrusted him with their votes)
Parents in the Town of Morinville wanting a non-religious education option for their children put public pressure on Education Minister Dave Hancock and local MLA Ken Kowalskito what seemed to be little avail. Councillor Lisa Holmes brought the issue to the Town Council, which voted 4-3 against taking a position on the issue. Even as Catholic School District officials admitted that only 30% of Morinville students identified themselves as Catholic, the elected trustees would not waver from their mandate to offer religious-based education.
Until last week, it appeared as though advocates for secular public education in Morinville had been stonewalled in their drive to bring a non-religious education option to their community of 7,900 residents.
The neighbouring school district, Sturgeon School Division, has agreed to offer secular education options in Morinville starting this September. Classes will be temporarily housed in portable classrooms until a permanent location can be found. A survey released by the Catholic School District showed that as at least 270 students in the town of 7,900 residents would enrol in the secular K-12 education program and that 37% of parents and residents in the town supported secular educational choice.
The question now is whether residents of Morinville residents who enrol their children in the new secular education option will be able to cast their vote for Trustee on the Sturgeon School Board Elections in October 2013. At the moment, Morinville residents are only able to vote for Trustees on the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, which also collects taxes from Morinville residents whether they are Catholic or not.
The extension of the Sturgeon School Division into Morinville will certainly create some waves in the community, but in the long-run I believe embracing a diversity in education options will be a healthy move for the town I grew up in.