It is clear that the best interests of Albertans would be served by allowing the Office of the Election Commissioner to continue its investigations into violations of Alberta’s elections laws, an unlikely outcome if Bill 22 passes, but it is both a serious request and a risky and potentially ineffective political move to ask the Lieutenant Governor to intervene (as she is likely to decline, or worse, simply not respond to the request).
That said, the Lieutenant Governor does have a power known as reservation, which has rarely been exercised over Canadian history, and probably for good reason. The powers exist in Section 55 of the Constitution Act, and explained plainly, it means the Lieutenant Governor may adopt one of three courses of action in regard to any legislation passed by the Assembly: they may assent, they may “withhold” assent, or they may reserve their assent for “the Signification of the Queen’s Pleasure.”.
I am aware of two examples in recent history in which a Lieutenant Governor opted to withhold Royal Assent to a bill passed by a provincial legislature.
In 1937, Lieutenant Governor John Bowen refused to give Royal Assent to three bills passed by Premier William Aberhart’s Social Credit government, including the Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to hand over the names and addresses of their sources to the government, and to print government rebuttals to stories the provincial cabinet objected to. The unconstitutionality of the three bills was later confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In 1961, Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Frank Bastedo opted to withhold Royal Assent for a mineral rights bill, which was later approved through an order-in-council passed by the federal cabinet in Ottawa.
There have been two recent cases in Alberta’s history where Lieutenant Governor’s have publicly mused about withholding assent.
The bill introduced by Premier Peter Lougheed’s PC government was designed to prevent Aboriginal land claims in the northern Alberta, including the oilsands producing areas.
And in 2000, Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole publicly suggested she might have a long talk with Premier Ralph Klein before granting Royal Assent to Bill 11, a controversial health care bill.
And in one of the most odd-ball political plays including the Lieutenant Governor: the Kudatah. Opponents of Notley’s NDP government collected signatures for a petition to present to the Lieutenant Governor to hold a a plebiscite on the carbon tax and Farm safety laws or else they would enact a secret clause in the Elections Act to overturn the results of the May 2015 election (or something like that).
With everything else that is going on lately, I don’t think Albertans need or want a repeat of that.
Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson has already issued fines of $15,000 against Callaway’s campaign manager and former UCP nomination candidate, Cameron Davies, and $3,500 against donor Karen Brown. And last week, UCP executive director Janice Harrington announced that Calgary-Beddington candidate Randy Kerr had been removed because he “was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
The story comes the day after heavy-hitters from western Canada’s Conservative establishment, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former prime minister Stephen Harper, rallied around Kenney following rumours that Jean was preparing to jump back into politics – with the Alberta Party or Freedom Conservative Party.
As Premier Rachel Notleynoted to the media today, if the leader of another major political party was tied up in such an investigation, the UCP would be calling for their resignation. Notley is right, but do not expect Kenney to step aside anytime soon.
With the conservative political establishment rallying to Kenney’s defence, barring criminal charges being laid or Kenney-connected UCP organizers being perp walked in handcuffs, it is unlikely he would step aside because of or even during the course of this potential RCMP investigation. And even if Kenney did step aside, Jean now seems like a very unlikely choice to replace him. The role of interim leader would be a better fit for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who ably filled the role as interim leader during the UCP leadership contest.
An RCMP investigation is serious business and would take time before coming to a resolution, meaning that it would likely not be until after the election that Albertans learn the results of an investigation. I have heard some calls for Notley to delay the election call until after this potential investigation is concluded, pushing beyond Alberta’s unique three-month fixed election window, which seems unlikely but not impossible.
Even with a significant lead in most public opinion polls, the timing of this announcement is bad news for the UCP. It is without a doubt that we will hear leaders and candidates from the other parties use the words “UCP” and “RCMP” in the same sentence very frequently over the next few weeks.
NDP put health care on their pre-election legislative agenda
The Throne Speech and Bill 1: Protecting Public Health Care Act, could be the last big pre-election opportunity for the NDP to push forward an election narrative on an issue that plays to their strengths.
Public health care is traditionally a strong issue for the NDP and stability in the health care system has been a hallmark issue for the NDP government. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has steered the public health care system clear of the perpetual lurch from crisis to crisis that happened under the old Progressive Conservative governments.
It is unknown how many days or weeks the NDP plan to take for this spring session, but I am told that many NDP staffers and organizers are already “on vacation” from their day jobs working hard on campaigns across the province.
CBC has released a report report with new information related to the collusion between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns during the 2017 UCP leadership contest: “The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”
The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.
According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.
One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.
Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform.
In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.
Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.
Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.
But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.
Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.
A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65.
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.
Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?
Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics.
There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise.
According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.”
The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.
Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.
Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.
Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.
We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.
We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.
(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).
The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.
I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.
Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.
The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:
“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”
The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.
But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.
Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?
The 1916 Act amended fifteen laws, city charters, and ordinances to enshrine in law that “…women shall be upon an absolute equality with and have the same rights and privileges and be subject to the same penalties and disabilities as men…” It was not until the 1960s that all women were granted the right to vote. Until those years, Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous women, were required to give up their treaty rights in order to qualify for the vote.
Cora Taylor Casselman, the first woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons from Alberta, represented the riding of Edmonton-East from 1941 to 1945. In 1985, Helen Hunley became the first woman to be appointed as Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor, and she was followed years later by two other women – Lois Hole and current Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell.
Because of the 2015 election, Albertans witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of women represented in the highest offices of our province. Nearly half, twenty-six of the fifty-four NDP MLAs are women, the highest percentage in Alberta’s history. Ten of Alberta’s nineteen cabinet ministers, including our premier, are women. Two cabinet ministers, Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLeanand Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne, were pregnant when they were appointed, which represents another first in Alberta politics.
The shift that occurred during the last election is more dramatic when you remember that only ten years ago, there were only two women in cabinet and 10 women in the government caucus.
Women are still overall underrepresented in the Alberta Legislature, at thirty-three percent, and only three women occupy seats in the thirty-two MLA opposition – Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen and Wildrose MLAs Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt.
Unfortunately, the prominence of women in the new government has come with a dark side. In the months after becoming Premier, Ms. Notley faced a barrage of online threats of death and violence that her male predecessors appear to have been spared. Hopefully, these types of cowardly online threats will not dissuade more women from seeking office in future elections.
The election of more women to the Alberta Legislature in the governing caucus brought many new voices and perspectives into our stodgy provincial institutions. The NDP moved quickly to commit to take action to eliminate domestic violence, increase access to childcare in public buildings, change Legislative Assembly sitting hours to better accommodate MLA’s with families, raise the minimum wage and increase funding for women’s shelters. The government will also introduce new rules allowing for maternity leave for MLAs, which do not currently exist in Alberta.
Nearly one hundred years after women were granted the right to vote, there area no shortage of areas in politics and society where women are still underrepresented. But at least in Alberta, there is no shortage of strong female role models in the Alberta Legislature for young women who might aspire to become future MLAs, premiers and cabinet ministers.
The NDP regained a beachhead in the Legislature four years later and their tiny caucus spent the next eighteen years fluctuating between two and four MLAs before electing 54 MLAs in the historic 2015 election.
Twenty-two years after Alberta’s Klein-era began, a populist centre-leftish New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government while promising prescriptions to heal much of the damage caused by the short-sighted slash and burn policies of Mr. Klein’s government.
In contrast, the two parties that dominated Alberta’s political landscape 22 years ago today are decimated. After 44 years in power the PC Party has been relegated to opposition benches with 9 MLAs and the Liberals are searching for meaning with only one MLA left in the Assembly.
With a clean slate and a fresh mandate, the first NDP throne speech will lay out the new government’s plans for its four year term as government, marking Alberta’s first change in government since 1971.
Blast from the Past
The resignation of PC leader Jim Prentice on election night means that a by-election will need to be held in Calgary-Foothills within the next six months.
Lawyer Anne Wilson earned 32% while standing as the NDP candidate against Mr. Prentice in the recent election and has announced she is seeking the NDP nomination.
A Facebook page has been created to draft former Calgary City Councillor and NDP MLA Bob Hawkesworth to seek the nomination. Mr. Hawkesworth served as a city councillor from 1980 to 1986 and 1994 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993 (in 1986 he defeated young PC candidate Mr. Prentice in his first electoral bid).
Retired Calgary police officer Kathy MacDonald has expressed interest in seeking the Wildrose nomination in this by-election. Ms. MacDonald was the Wildrose candidate in the October 2014 Calgary-Foothills by-election and general election candidate in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency. The Wildrose were unable to elect any candidates in Calgary in the May election.
PC Party tossed into the wilderness
Beginning their own trek through the political wilderness, thePC Party has hired Calgary consultant and long-time party loyalist Troy Wason as interim managing director. Amid rumours that the long governing party is deep in debt, the PC Party announced shortly after the election that it was laying off most of its paid staff and could close down its offices in Calgary and Edmonton.
May 7: Ms. Notley meets with Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell and asks for permission to form a government. The process of transitioning a new party into government in Alberta begins for the first time since 1971.
May 9: The NDP Government caucus meets for the first time at Government House in Edmonton. “Albertans voted for change and they asked our team of new MLAs to do important work, the work of restoring honesty and integrity and trust to government,” Ms. Notley told reporters at a morning press conference.
May 20: Ms. Notley held a press conference where she announces the dates of the cabinet swearing-in ceremony, the size of the new cabinet and timelines for a new provincial budget. Prime Minister Stephen Harperannounces that Calgary businessperson Lois Mitchell will replace Mr. Ethell as Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.
May 24: Ms. Notley and 11 NDP cabinet ministers will be sworn-in to office at 2:00 p.m. on the north steps of the Alberta Legislature Building.
May 27 and 28: The new NDP cabinet will hold its first meetings in Calgary.
November 5: The latest date according to the PC Party constitution at which a new leader must be selected.
November 13: The Wildrose Party will hold its annual general meeting at the Sheraton Cavalier Calgary Hotel in Calgary.
November 15: The six month deadline for a by-election to be held in Calgary-Foothills (assuming that Mr. Prentice’s resignation as MLA was accepted when the official count was released on May 15, 2015).