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Alberta Politics

It’s a dog’s breakfast! A guide to Alberta’s municipal elections, Senate Nominee election and referenda on Equalization and Daylight Saving Time 

Alberta’s municipal election is only 14 days away.

When you think of municipal elections, you might immediately think about roads, libraries, sidewalks, pools, traffic, playgrounds, potholes, public transit, bike lanes and snow removal. And while these are some of the more high-profile responsibilities of municipal governments, the amount of information being thrown at voters in this year’s election has muddied the water about what the ballot issues on October 18 might be.

Electing Mayors, Councillors and School Trustees

The primary function of municipal elections is for voters to elect their local municipal officials in their city, county, municipal district, town, or village. Voters also cast ballots for trustees to govern their Public, Catholic or Francophone school boards. (Here is a list of candidates running in Edmonton’s municipal election).

This year there are open mayoral races with no incumbent running for re-election in the cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which will mark a big turnover in municipal leadership in Alberta.

As if there weren’t already are a lot of challenges facing municipalities, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Alberta hard and municipal governments are bearing the brunt of many of those health, social and economic challenges.

Municipalities also face a hostile provincial government that has not hesitated to interfere in local issues, in some cases leaving Albertans with a choice between candidates who agree with the provincial government interference, candidates who want to keep their heads down in hopes for a change of provincial government in 2023, or candidates who will stand up for their communities and challenge the United Conservative Party government.

Senate Nominee Election

When you vote on Oct. 18 or in the advance polls you will probably be handed a few different ballots. One of them will ask you to choose up to three candidates in this year’s Senate Nominee Election.

Senate Nominee elections are a uniquely Alberta activity dating back to 1989. The elections are held to choose a list of names for the Premier to recommend to the Prime Minister for appointment to the Senate if vacancies occur.

There is currently one vacancy in Alberta’s 6-member Senate delegation and another vacancy is expected when Senator Doug Black retires on October 31, 2021.

Unfortunately for the candidates running in this election, they are not going to be appointed unless the Prime Minister is a member of the Conservative Party, the only major party that recognizes the elections as legitimate. The Liberal Party has created a new application process for Senate appointments, dismantling the old partisan patronage machine, and the NDP believe the Upper Chamber should be abolished.

One of the major flaws of the Senate Nominee election is that winning candidates who might eventually be appointed to the Senate never ever have to face re-election, so there is no opportunity for voters to hold these “elected” Senators accountable for their decisions. In fact, they can stay in the Senate until they turn 75-years old if they decide to.

Another major flaw is that a province-wide election in a province of 4.3 million people makes it impossible for the Senate candidates to meaningfully reach many voters. I doubt most Albertans could name a candidate running in year’s Senate Nominee election, but here they are:

Progress Alberta executive director Duncan Kinney is running on the “Fuck Kenney Vote Kinney” slogan and Chad Jett Thunders Saunders is running to turn the Senate into a “Thunderdome.”

Physicians Dr. Sunil Sookram. and Dr. Karina Pillay (also the former Mayor of Slave Lake), Ponoka Mayor Rick Bonnett, former Western Barley Growers Association President Jeff Nielsen, and former deputy premier and finance minister Doug Horner are running as Independent candidates are are the more serious candidates with real public service experience.

Then there are the three People’s Party endorsed candidates who filed their papers to run in the Senate Nominee election only hours before they were defeated as candidates in the Sept. 20 federal election – Nadine Wellwood, Kelly Lorencz, and Ann McCormack.

And finally there are the three UCP loyalists endorsed by the Conservative Party of Canada – lobbyist and former UCP President Erika Barootes, right-wing activist and failed municipal candidate Pam Davidson, and Ukrainian-Canadian trade association president Mikhailio Martyniouk.

The three UCP/Conservative Party candidates, who appear to have less comparable actual public service experience than many of the Independent candidates on the ballot, are still probably going to win. But like previous Senate Nominee elections, the turnout will be low and number of spoiled ballots will be high.

Alberta’s Senate Nominee election should be a serious affair, but it will probably end up being a joke or an afterthought for most Albertans who will have no idea who to vote for.

Plebiscites and Referendums

Depending where you live in Alberta you could also be handed one, two or three additional ballots to cast your vote for referendums and plebiscites, though there is a good chance you haven’t heard much about them during this election.

There are two province-wide referendums.

The first is Premier Jason Kenney’s referendum to remove the Equalization program from the Constitution. The results won’t actually remove Equalization from the Constitution, but Kenney has said it would put Alberta in a strong bargaining position to negotiate with the rest of Canada. This is unlikely.

Even if the Equalization formula was removed from the Constitution, Albertans wouldn’t actually notice any change. We would still pay federal taxes the same as we do now, but the federal government would not be obligated to distribute funds collected through federal taxes to the provinces through an Equalization formula as currently required by the Constitution.

The Equalization referendum is all about the politics of grievance and saving Jason Kenney’s leadership of the UCP. A yes vote won’t accomplish much and a no vote will probably hurt Kenney’s chance of remaining in the Premier’s Office for much longer (Kenney’s approval rating has dropped to 22 per cent according to a recent poll from ThinkHQ).

The other province-wide referendum will ask Albertans whether they want to permanently remain on Daylight Saving Time rather than having to switch between DST and Mountain Standard Time twice each year. While the annual time-change is widely unpopular, it is unclear why the UCP cabinet chose to ask Albertans if they want to make DST permanent rather being able to choose between DST and MST.

In this referendum, a no vote is a vote to continue the annual time change and a yes vote is a vote for darker mornings and lighter evenings in the winter. If I understand correctly, it could also mean that from March to November each year Alberta’s timezone will be two hours ahead of the times observed in much of British Columbia. The result of the vote on this question is binding on the provincial government.

And if you live in Calgary, you have a chance to vote to rejoin the 21st century and put fluoride back into your public water. Good luck with that, Calgary.

Endorsements

At least in Edmonton, candidate endorsements have become a mini-story.

This year’s city council election has seen a string of high-profile endorsements of city council candidates from Mayor Don Iveson, mayoral candidate Mike Nickel and some individual NDP MLAs across the city. While it is not unheard of for incumbent City Councillors to endorse candidates in a municipal election, the number of endorsements in this year’s election is significantly higher than usual.

List of candiayes incumbent City Councillors have endorsed in this municipal elections.
List of candidates incumbent Edmonton City Councillors have endorsed in this municipal elections.

Just like City Councillor endorsements, it is not unheard of for MLAs to endorse candidates, but this year the number of MLAs endorsing municipal candidates is higher.

The decision by some NDP MLAs to endorse candidates has flustered some political watchers who for some reason believe municipal politics should exist in a vacuum outside of provincial and federal politics, the endorsements appear to be a choice made by individual MLAs rather than a decision made by the party.

And in at least one case, NDP MLAs have endorsed different candidates. In Ward tastawiyiniwak, for example, the NDP endorsements appear to be split, with Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd endorsing Ahmed Knowmadic Ali and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous endorsing Cody Bondarchuk.

List of City Council candidates who Edmonton MLAs have endorsed in this election.
List of City Council candidates who Edmonton MLAs have endorsed in this election.

While there was an attempt a year ago to create a single-slate of progressive candidates in Edmonton’s city council election in response to expectations that the UCP would organize a slate, the organizing effort appears to have failed because there were too many progressive candidates wanting to run for city council to make a single-slate feasible.

While it has certainly made Edmonton’s political establishment uncomfortable, it is positive to see progressive groups organizing to support candidates. With traditional low turnout, low interest and high-incumbent re-election, municipal politics in Edmonton could use a bit of disruption.

Election Finance law changes are the real story

Changes to Alberta’s municipal election finance laws introduced by UCP cabinet Ministers Kaycee Madu and Doug Schweitzer in June 2020 allow for much less transparency and accountability showing who is spending money to influence candidates and votes.

The new rules make it legal for wealthy people to donate up to $5,000 each to as many candidates as they want in any municipal or school board election across the province, effectively removing the cap on individual donations. While municipal political donors do not receive the generous tax credits they get from provincial or federal donations, there are wealthy Albertans with the ability to financially influence candidates across the board.

The UCP also removed the requirement for candidates to disclose their list of donors ahead of Election Day, which would have allowed voters to see who is financially supporting candidates before they go to the ballot booth. Many candidates will already do this on their own but many won’t because they are not required to by law.

The new rules introduced by the UCP also allow Third Party Advertisers, colloquially known as political action committees, to spend up to $500,000 on advertising during the referendums, up from the previous $150,000 limit. Third Party Advertisers that spend less than $350,000 on advertising during a referendum are not required to file financial statements with Elections Alberta, which means those groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donor lists.

There are currently four registered Third Party Advertisers registered with Elections Alberta that are advertising during the Referendum. Alberta Proud (who’s contact person is former Wildrose Party press secretary Vitor Marciano), Equalization Fairness Alberta (run by former UCP ministerial chief of staff Dr. Bill Bewick), Society of Albertans Against Equalization (run by Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Franco Terrazzano), and Vote Yes To End Equalization Inc.

One Third Party Advertiser registered to participate in Calgary’s municipal election is being investigated by Elections Alberta for allegedly sending out campaign signs for Calgary mayoral candidate Jeff Davison.

And that is a quick guide to the dog’s breakfast that is Alberta’s 2021 municipal elections. Make sure to vote on Oct. 18 or in the advance polls starting today.

Good luck, Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Kenney’s political woes are not all recent.

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

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

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

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

UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help

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

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

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

New Senate Nominee candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta is a pretty boring place to spend a federal election

Alberta is a pretty boring place to spend a federal election. Even as the polls shift nationally, there is a good chance the seat total could be the same as the 2019 election: 33 Conservative and one NDP.

It’s a quiet campaign.

Unlike the 2019 election, when Albertans were still riled up from that year’s April provincial election and federal campaign issues like pipelines and the carbon tax, this year feels sleepy. The majority of Albertans will surely cast their ballots again on September for the Conservative Party, but it might not be with the same level of enthusiasm and gusto as the last election.

But, if there is a chance that any seats could switch parties, here are a few of the ridings where it might happen:

Edmonton-Griesbach

Blake Desjarlais

Probably one of the only centres of electoral excitement in Alberta is where Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte is seeking re-election for his third-term against New Democrat Blake Desjarlais.

The NDP are hoping they can elect a second MP from Alberta and are putting that hope into Desjarlais’ campaign. Party leader Jagmeet Singh has visited the riding twice in the past month, spending an entire day campaigning in the district during the first week of the election, and pouring volunteer, financial and online advertising resources into the local campaign.

If the NDP are going to pick up a second seat in Alberta in this election, this is it. 

Even NDP MLAs, who shunned the federal party in 2019, have been campaigning with Desjarlais in his bid to unseat Diotte. Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan, Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen, and Edmonton-West Henday MLA Jon Carson have been spotted on the campaign trail in Edmonton-Griesbach. 

Full list of candidates in Edmonton-Griesbach:

  • Communist: Alex Boykowich
  • Conservative: Kerry Diotte
  • Green: Heather Lau
  • Liberal: Habiba Mohamud
  • Libertarian: Morgan Watson
  • Marxist-Leninist: Mary Joyce
  • NDP: Blake Desjarlais
  • People’s Party: Thomas Matty

Edmonton-Centre

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals
Randy Boissonnault

Conservative James Cumming and Liberal Randy Boissonnault are facing each other for the third time since 2015. Boissonnault won the first time they face each other in 2015 and Cumming unseated him in 2019. 

NDP candidate Heather MacKenzie, a former public school board trustee and past municipal candidate, is hoping to dislodge the Liberals as the main alternative to the Conservatives.

NDP vote has held firm over the past three elections, suggesting that Boissonnault’s win in 2015 and defeat in 2019 was more about voters switching between the Conservatives and Liberals than a split between the Liberals and NDP.

Toronto Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland stopped in the district at the beginning of the campaign to support Boissonnault’s bid for re-election.

Full list of candidates in Edmonton-Centre:

  • Conservative: James Cumming
  • Liberal: Randy Boissonnault
  • Libertarian: Valerie Keefe
  • Marxist-Leninist: Merryn Edwards
  • NDP: Heather Mackenzie
  • People’s Party: Brock Crocker

Edmonton-Mill Woods

Edmonton City Councillor Ben Henderson is running for the Liberal Party in Edmonton-Mill Woods
Edmonton City Councillor Ben Henderson is running for the Liberal Party in Edmonton-Mill Woods

Conservative Tim Uppal’s main challenger is city councillor Ben Henderson, who hopped south from his long-held municipal ward to run in his federal district.

While Uppal served as an MP for many terms, this is his first time running for re-election in Edmonton-Mill Woods. He was the MP for Edmonton-Sherwood Park from 2008 to 2015. 

The district was represented by Liberal MP Amarjeet Sohi from 2015 to 2019. Sohi is running for Mayor of Edmonton. 

Full list of candidates in Edmonton-Mill Woods:

  • Communist: Naomi Rankin
  • Conservative: Tim Uppal
  • Liberal: Ben Henderson
  • NDP: Nigel Logan
  • People’s Party: Paul McCormack

Calgary-Centre

Sabrina Grover Liberal Calgary-Centre
Sabrina Grover

It’s a long-shot but if the Liberals are able to salvage their national campaign in the next two weeks they could be in a position to pick up this district that Liberal Kent Hehr won in 2015. In this election Liberal Sabrina Grover is challenging first-term Conservative Greg McLean.

Full list of candidates in Calgary-Centre:

  • Christian Heritage Party: David Pawlowski
  • Conservative: Greg McLean
  • Green: Austin Mullins
  • Liberal: Sabrina Grover
  • NDP: Juan Estevez Moreno

Calgary-Skyview

Justin Trudeau and George Chahal (source: Twitter)

Conservative Jag Sahota is facing a challenge from city councillor George Chahal who is running for the Liberals in this northeast Calgary district. Chahal has been endorsed by Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and a handful of city councillors including mayoral election hopefuls Jyoti Gondek and Jeff Davison.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau’s plane touched down just long enough for him to appear at a rally in support of Chahal during the first week of the election.

Former MLA Darshan Kang was elected as the Liberal MP in 2015 but left the Liberal caucus after allegations of sexual harassment.

Full list of candidates in Calgary-Skyview:

  • Centrist Party: Nadeem Rana
  • Conservative: Jag Sahota
  • Green: Janna So
  • Independent: Lee Aquart
  • Liberal: George Chahal
  • Marxist-Leninist: Daniel Blanchard
  • NDP: Gurinder Singh Gill
  • People’s Party: Harry Dhillon

Banff-Airdire

Conservative candidate Blake Richards will probably safely coast to re-election on September 20, but the cast of conservative characters in this district make it interesting. Richards faces former Ontario Conseravtive MP Derek Sloan, who has relocated to Alberta in order to hold rallies for anti-mask and COVID conspiracy theorists, Maverick Party candidate and rodeo competitor Tariq Elnaga, People’s Party candidate Nadine Wellwood, and Independent separatist candidate Ron Voss. 

Full list of candidates in Banff-Airdire:

  • Conservative: Blake Richards
  • Green: Aidan Blum
  • Independent: Caroline O’Driscoll
  • Independent: Derek Sloan
  • Independent: Ron Voss
  • Liberal: David Gamble
  • Maverick: Tariq Elnaga
  • NDP: Sarah Zagoda
  • People’s Party: Nadine Wellwood

The smaller right-wing parties

It has yet to be seen what kind of impact two smaller right-wing parties will have in Alberta in this election.

People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier is in Alberta this week holding a series of rallies and it seems like the right-wing populist party is gaining support among disenchanted conservatives and anti-vaxxer crowds.

Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman has been spotted at People’s Party events and Bernier also met with Cypress-Medicine Hat Drew Barnes, who currently sits as an Independent MLA after being ejected from the United Conservative Party caucus earlier in the summer. It also appears as though outgoing Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative MP David Yurdiga endorsed the local People’s Party candidate in a post on his personal Facebook account.

The separatist Maverick Party is only running candidates in districts they have determined are not likely to elect a Liberal or NDP MP, which is most of Alberta, but limiting themselves to running in Conservative strongholds has probably eliminated their chances of being relevant in this election.

Former talk radio host Dave Rutherford has been joining Maverick Party interim leader Jay Hill at candidate events across the province.