“This Leadership Race is an exciting opportunity to build our party, debate ideas, discuss strategy and reach out to Albertans,” wrote Alberta Liberal Party president Helen Mcmenamin in a June 13 statement on the party website.
“They are looking for leadership they can trust to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow.”
Albertans might be looking for leadership to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow but they won’t find it from the Alberta Liberal Party, at least not right now.
Last Friday’s 5:00 p.m. deadline for candidates to enter the leadership race came and went without any announcement. Anyone who was watching assumed there were just no candidates in the race.
That proved to be the case.
Mcmenamin issued another statement yesterday.
“As no candidates have stepped forward the Leadership race has concluded with no permanent Leader being selected,” she wrote.
It’s a blow to an already much diminished political party.
It’s not something I take pleasure writing about. It’s actually kind of sad.
Some current and former Liberal activists I’ve reached out to over the past few days point to in-fighting and a party executive controlled by a small group of people. Some say the current group is too loyal to the former leader and not open to new ideas. Some say they will just appoint a new interim leader of their choice.
The smaller the stakes the bigger the fight, right?
The Liberals have no MLAs and got less than 1 per cent of the province-wide vote in 2019.
That’s the party’s worst result since 1940, and even then they managed to elect 1 MLA.
They have struggled raising money and have been without a permanent leader since David Khan resigned in 2020.
Being leader of the Alberta Liberal party right now is not even a thankless job, it’s whatever the next level is after thankless.
And the party has really been without a purpose for a while.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition in Alberta. This was the party of Nick Taylor, Laurence Decore, Grant Mitchell and Kevin Taft. And it’s MLAs included Bettie Hewes, Sheldon Chumir, Mike Percy, Gary Dickson, Frank Bruseker, Howard Sapers and Laurie Blakeman – people who’s impact on politics is still felt today.
The space occupied by the Liberals shifted quite a bit over the decades.
Decore’s Liberals witnessed the party’s greatest success in 75 years when it came within a whisker of forming government in 1993. A record 32 Liberal MLAs formed the largest official opposition in Alberta history.
But an informal alliance with socially conservative Reform Party activists and its deficit hawk policies made for an awkward transition to an opponent of some of those same policies when they were implemented by Klein in the mid-1990s.
The party recalibrated under Mitchell in 1997 and was able to hold on to its seats in Edmonton, but 2001 represented a major blow when the party then led by Klein rival Nancy MacBeth was reduced to 7 MLAs and saddled with a million dollar debt.
The party rebounded under Kevin Taft’s leadership in 2004 when they regained much of their support in Edmonton and made important breakthroughs in Calgary.
Albertans were tiring of Klein and shopping around.
Despite winning an important by-election in Calgary-Elbow in 2007, the Liberals lost a lot of ground when facing Ed Stelmach’s PCs in 2008. It turned out the PCs brilliant “Change that works for Albertans” message did a better job of capturing the Obama-theme than “It’s Time.”
It was all downhill for the Liberals after that election.
By this point the Alberta Liberal Party had become less of a cohesive political party and more a coalition of independent-minded and locally popular MLAs.
Former PC MLA turned Liberal leader Raj Sherman was squeezed out of 2012’s two way race between Alison Redford’s PCs and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose.
Liberal voters flocked to the PC Party.
Then they flocked to the NDP in Orange Wave of 2015.
Party leader David Swann survived on the strength of his personal popularity but the Liberals were washed out.
And today any political territory the Liberal Party once occupied is now held by Rachel Notley’s NDP and, to a much lesser extent, the Alberta Party.
It’s hard to point to any laws or policies passed by Notley’s NDP in government and now proposed in opposition that would be meaningfully different from what the Liberals (and in some cases from the old PCs) would do.
And most federal Liberals in Alberta are supporting Notley or have abandoned provincial politics entirely.
It’s difficult to see how the Liberals can dig themselves out of their current hole, at least in the foreseeable future.
Maybe they are waiting for the NDP to collapse?
They might have to wait a while and every day they wait they sink into further irrelevance.
The Liberals are in the wilderness now.
Note: I was a member of the Alberta Liberal Party from 1999 to 2009. I sat on constituency association boards, I organized fundraisers, I knocked on a lot of doors, and worked for the party in various roles, including as Communications Coordinator from 2006 to 2008. During the 2008 election I worked with a group of MLAs and former cabinet ministers who were preparing the Liberal Party’s transition plan to form government (we were nothing if not optimistic).
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.
It might not be the strangest thing to happen in Alberta politics, but it’s up there.
Just over a year since he resigned as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is said to be making a big announcement later this week – and the rumour mill is churning hard with news that Jean could jump back into Alberta politics as the Alberta Party candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district in the upcoming election.
And there are all the allegations that Kenney supported a “kamikaze mission“ by Jeff Callaway targeting Jean during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.
His recent proclamations that “Canada is broken” and “Albertans are furious” at the state of Confederation makes Jean sound like he might be more at home at Yellow Vest protest or in Derek Fildebrandt‘s Freedom Conservative Party than in the caucus of the centre-rightish Alberta Party, but the third-place party led by former Edmonton mayor and briefly Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Mandel has already recruited a few strange bedfellows.
While rumours of Jean joining the Alberta Party are not new, Mandel’s recent change in tone with the new slogan “fiercely Albertan” feels tailor-made to recruit the former Wildrose Party leader.
The Freedom Conservatives would seems like more natural home for Jean, if it were not for hisstormyrelationship with Fildebrandt, another former UCP MLA. But as I have already alluded, political can make strange bedfellows.
Running in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche would mean Jean would be challenging his successor in the legislature, UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, a former political staffer who worked as an organizer during his 2017 UCP leadership campaign.
While Goodridge’s party is riding high in the polls as she faces a rematch with New Democratic Party candidate Jane Stroud, a Wood Buffalo Municipal Councillor, it is not hard to imagine Jean turning what should have been a locked down district for the UCP into a competitive race. Jean represented the region in the House of Commons from 2006 to 2014 and in the Alberta Legislature from 2015 to 2018.
If Jean actually does make the jump, it would not be the first time a defeated conservative leadership candidate jumped to a new party in hopes of rebooting a political career. Many Albertans will remember when defeated 1992 PC Party leadership candidate Nancy Betkowski returned to the political stage to win the Liberal Party leadership in 1998 as Nancy MacBeth. (Spoiler: it didn’t turn out great).
Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.
A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.
Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes cast. Led by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.
He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.
Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.
In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed tocabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.
Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.
As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive.
“Only three weeks into the job he’s the WizardofZwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.
In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.
He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.
While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision.
He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.
Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.
Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.
Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
The exact timing of the by-election will be determined by Premier Rachel Notley but the smart money is on it being called soon. Every day that Kenney is not tied up with Legislative duties in Edmonton, he will be campaigning across the province.
Despite being a close race in the 2015 election, with Rodney finishing 502 votes ahead of New Democrat Mihai Ion, the Orange Wave is now at low tide in Calgary. It seems likely that Kenney should have an easy time being elected in this constituency, which has elected conservative MLAs since it was first created in 1993 (but as well all know, by-elections can sometimes produce unexpected results…).
There is some irony that Kenney, who is in the midst of an ongoing feud with the Lougheed family, would become the MLA for a constituency named after Peter Lougheed. As a Member of Parliament, Kenney was quoted in 1999 describing the “neo-Stalinist make-work projects of the Lougheed and Getty years.“
Presented with the chance to directly challenge Kenney, will Liberal Party leader David Khan carry his party’s banner in the by-election? His chance of victory are slim to none, but it would give him an opportunity to campaign and potentially face Kenney in any local all-candidates debates (if Kenney participates).
The by-election also provides an opportunity for the Alberta Party to run a candidate. The party did not participate in the last Calgary by-election in Calgary-Greenway, but the recent floor-crossing of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and potential future floor-crossings by former PC MLAs could provide some momentum for the upstart party.
The Calgary-Lougheed constituency was first created in 1993 and was represented by Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning until 1997. PC MLA Marlene Graham then represented the constituency until 2004, when Rodney was first elected.
This would be the second time in recent history that a sitting MLA resigned in order to allow a party leader to run in a by-election. Len Webber resigned as MLA for Calgary-Foothills in 2014 to trigger a by-election for PC Party leader Jim Prentice. And in 1998, former Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell stepped down as MLA for Edmonton-McClung to allow new party leader Nancy MacBeth to run in a by-election.
I have created a dedicated webpage to track party nominations and the candidates running in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election.
Here is a look at election results from Calgary-Lougheed for the General Elections from 1993 to 2015:
Jean told reporters that he declined to accept any critic role, and despite the ill will generated towards each other in the leadership race, it seems hard to believe Kenney would completely shut-out the former party leader.
But this move, or lack thereof, will undoubtably fuel rumours that Jean is considering leaving politics. His resignation would trigger a by-election in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, which he has represented since May 2015.
Today is World Teachers’ Day, which is held annually on 5 October as part of a UNESCO initiative to appreciate, assess, and improve the educators of the world. In this spirit, almost everyone can name a teacher they had in school who played an important role in inspiring, encouraging and challenging them to further their interests and studies.
I am blessed to have had many great teachers during my K-12 and university education in Alberta but there are two Social Studies teachers who I credit for playing big roles introducing me into the world of Alberta politics.
During the 1997 provincial election, as part of my Grade 8 Social Studies course at École Georges H. Primeau School in Morinville, we were given an assignment that required us to collect news paper clippings of media coverage of the election. Each evening, after my parents had finished reading the papers, I studiously cut out relevant news stories from the Edmonton Journal, the Morinville Mirror and St. Albert Gazette, and glued them into a scrapbook.
I cannot remember whether I was asked or if I volunteered, but my teacher, Al Meunier, was organizing an all-candidates forum at the school and was looking for student volunteers. Each of the election candidates was to be introduced by a student at the start of the forum and I was chosen to introduce and read the biography of Tom Turner, the local New Democratic Party candidate. I remember not completely understanding the differences between the candidates, but I do remember starting to pay more attention to Alberta politics after that event.
Three years later, Andrew Raczynski, an excellent teacher who had taught my Grade 9 Social Studies and English courses announced that he was running for the nomination to become the local provincial Liberal candidate in the next election. Unlike most rural areas in Alberta, the community I grew up in had a unique history of electing Liberal MLAs (Nick Taylor in 1986, 1989 and 1993 and Mary Anne Balisilie in a 1996 by-election). The PC candidate had only narrowly captured the constituency in 1997.
I had become more politically aware after the Progressive Conservative government attempted to ram through a law allowing for increased privatization of health care in Alberta. As a budding politico and soon-to-be voter, I was a impressed when I received personalized responses to letters I had sent to Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannuabout my concerns with increased privatized health care.
I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to volunteer on Mr. Raczynski’s campaign. I was elected as a director on the local constituency association board and over the next year I campaigned alongside the candidate in communities across the sprawling rural Redwater constituency. I knocked on doors in every hamlet, village and town in the constituency and attended more rodeos, parades, town fairs and demolition derbies than I ever imagined existed.
It was a great time. I learned a lot about politics and about the people in that area of Alberta. And even though the campaign was not successful in getting Mr. Raczynski elected (not for lack of hard-work, it was a really bad election year for Liberals in Alberta) it was a worthwhile experience. I was hooked on politics.
Soon after the campaign ended, I moved to Edmonton and began studying Political Science and History at university. I continued my involvement in party politics and became active with the Students’ Union at the University of Alberta, which led to an increasing interest in communications and media.
Mr. Meunier and Mr. Raczynski were two teachers who played a big role in sparking my interest in Alberta politics.
Without them, I might have become involved in politics in some role but likely not through the same path. I thank them for challenging me to think critically about my own views, giving me an opportunity to become involved and encouraging me to pursue my interest in Alberta politics.
Photo Above: Me (left) with two teachers who helped spark my interest in Alberta politics, Andrew Raczynski (centre) and Al Meunier (right), at a 2014 rally featuring Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Edmonton.
In recognition of International Women’s Day, today’s candidate update focuses specifically on the total number of women nominated to run for Alberta’s political parties in the upcoming provincial election. Women make up the majority of our population, but they rarely come even close to being the majority in electoral politics.
Women in Alberta politics have accomplished a number of milestones in recent years, including the election of Alison Redford as our first female premier, but the total percentage of women elected to the Legislative Assembly has actually decreased since the late-1990s.
Alberta’s 2012 election was notable for many reasons, most notably because it marked the first time the two major parties were led by women – Progressive Conservative leader Ms. Redford and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. Three years later, only one major party will be led into the 2015 spring election by a women – the New Democratic Party’s Rachel Notley. Wildrose Party interim leader Heather Forsyth, who has served as MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek since 1993, is not seeking re-election. The Green Party, with no MLAs in the Assembly, is led by Janet Keeping, who is nominated to run in Calgary-Foothills.
The Liberal and NDP have had women lead them in past elections – Pam Barrett led the NDP during the 1997 election and Nancy MacBeth led the Liberals in 2001 – and former Edmonton school trustee Sue Huff led the Alberta Party until 2011. Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Bettie Hewes became the first woman to lead a major political party when she served as interim leader of the Official Opposition in 1994.
There are currently 22 women MLAs serving in the Alberta Legislature (25%), down from a high-mark of 23 women MLAs (27%) in 1998. This number decreased upon Ms. Redford’s resignation in 2014, the percentage was still lower than 1998 because the total number of MLAs increased from 83 to 87 in 2012.
Only four of the twenty members of Jim Prentice‘s current cabinet are women.
The longest serving woman in the Assembly is Lesser Slave Lake PC MLA Pearl Calahasen, who was first elected in 1989 and has been acclaimed as her party’s candidate in the next election. First elected in 1997, Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is the longest serving opposition MLA.
With the next election expected to be called in the next few weeks, Alberta’s political parties are still in the process of nominating candidates. Here is a look at how many women have been nominated so far by the five main parties.
The NDP, with a commitment to nominate a high percentage of women candidates, has so far chosen the most women candidates of the political parties contesting the 2015 election. By my count, the NDP has chosen 18 women out of 41 candidates (43%) already nominated or acclaimed. This is slightly less than the full NDP slate from the 2012 election, when that party nominated 40 women out of 87 candidates (45%).
The Progressive Conservatives have chosen 13 women out of the 58 candidates nominated to run in the next election (22%) as of today. In the last election, the PCs nominated 22 women in their slate of 87 candidates (25%), which was up slightly from 17 out of 83 candidates in the 2008 election (20%).
The Wildrose Party has nominated 33 candidates, 5 who are women (15%). In the last election, led by Ms. Smith, the Wildrose Party nominated 11 women in a slate of 87 candidates (12%).
The Liberal Party, with 12 candidates currently nominated, has nominated 2 women (16%). The Liberals saw a decrease of women candidates nominated in the 2012 election, down to 18 of 87 (20%) from 22 of 83 in 2008 (26%).
Five of the 17 candidates currently nominated by the Alberta Party are women (29%).
Number of women candidates by party
2015 election nominated/acclaimed (as of March 8, 2015) NDP: 18 of 41 – 43% Alberta Party: 5 of 17 – 29%
PC: 13 of 58 – 22%
Liberal: 2 of 12 – 16%
Wildrose: 5 of 33 – 15%
2012 election NDP: 40 out of 87 – 45%
Alberta Party: 6 out of 21 – 28%
PC: 22 out of 87 – 25%
Liberal: 18 out of 87 – 20%
Wildrose: 11 out of 87 – 12%
2008 election NDP: 38 out of 83 – 45%
Liberal: 22 out of 82 – 26%
PC: 17 out of 83 – 20%
Wildrose: 6 out of 61 – 9%
To the surprise of many political watchers, Councillor Linda Sloan announced in a press release this morning that she will not seek re-election to Edmonton City Council in Ward 1. She had previously announced on June 28, 2013 that she would seek re-election.
A former president of the now-defunct Staff Nurses Association of Alberta, Councillor Sloan entered politics in 1997 when she was elected as the Liberal MLA in Edmonton-Riverview. She ran unsuccessfully for the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 1998 against victor Nancy MacBeth, Lethbridge MLA Ken Nicol, and current mayoral candidate Karen Leibovici. She did not seek re-election to the Legislative Assembly in 2001.
Councillor Sloan, along with Councillors Leibovici and Ed Gibbons, are three former Liberal MLAs who were elected to city council following that party’s disastrous 2001 election results.
In 2004, Councillor Sloan was briefly nominated as the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Meadowlark before choosing to run for City Council, to which she was elected and re-elected in 2007 and 2010.
Councillor Karen Leibovici launched her campaign for mayor of Edmonton at a press conference this morning at the CKUA building in downtown Edmonton. The four-term city councillor kicked-off her campaign by delivering a speech that sounded as if it should have been delivered by outgoing Mayor Stephen Mandel, had he decided to seek re-election in this October’s election.
She echoed Mayor Mandel’s oft-heard comment that Edmontonians should not settle for “good-enough” and spent much of her speech praising his progress on infrastructure, transportation and arts issues over the past nine-years.
While Councillor Leibovici spoke about continuing along the current path laid by the mayor, she gave little explanation as to what she would do to build upon the ambitious past nine years. She did talk about the need to return to “bread and butter issues,” and was overly cautious not to criticize the outgoing mayor, vaguely responding that she only wanted to do better on some issues.
It is no surprise that Councillor Leibovici is trying to position herself as the heir to the current mayor. She is expected to have the backing of a swath of Edmonton’s political establishment, including the mayor’s former deputy chief of staff Catherine Keill, now an employee of Hill & Knowlton, and veteran Progressive Conservative Party campaign manager Hal Danchilla, who is rumoured to be a key strategist. Her campaign is also sending a message that it is well-financed, as demonstrated by the slick branding and glossy media kits handed out at her press conference.
She also used her remarks to target one of her competitors. “Edmonton needs a mayor with experience, one who doesn’t reduce significant issues to one-liners,” she told reporters, taking an obvious direct shot at Councillor Kerry Diotte.
Councillor Leibovici will be a formidable contender for the mayor’s chair, bringing with her 27 years of election campaign experience at the provincial and municipal levels.
Edmonton’s last mayor with any lengthy amount of prior elected experience was Jan Reimer, who served three-terms on City Council before being elected as mayor in 1989. Mayor Bill Smith had only run for elected office once before his win and Mayor Mandel served only one-term on Council before being elected as mayor in 2004.
More council candidates enter the fray
Past provincial Liberal Party candidate Arif Khan is expected to run in Councillor Leibovici’s soon-to-be-incumbentless Ward 5. The Edmonton-based consultant placed second to Tory Steven Young in Edmonton-Riverview in the 2012 vote.
Citizenship judge Sonia Bitar and former Edmonton City Councillor Mike Nickel announced their candidacies in southeast Edmonton’s Ward 11. Edmontonians may remember Mr. Nickel from his unsuccessful mayoral bids in 1998 and 2001, and his one-term on city council from 2004 to 2007. In 2007, Mr. Nickel was unseated by Don Iveson in southwest Edmonton’s sprawling former Ward 5.
Councillor Iveson is expected to enter the mayoral race before the end of the month.
Dr. Sherman is the Liberal Party’s 11th leader since 1971, the year Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives formed government. The Liberals were wiped out in that election and did not return to the Assembly again until 1986, when four Liberals were elected to the Assembly.
The Liberal Party formed Official Opposition in 1993 and since that time nine Liberals served as Leader of the Official Opposition. In 1994, Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes served as interim leader, which marked the first time a woman to filled that role in Alberta. In 1998, former Tory cabinet minister Nancy MacBeth was selected as Liberal Party leader and became the first woman to enter the job in a non-interim role. Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taftled the party to increase its number of MLAs in 2004, the only election in which the Liberals increased their seat total after 1993. In 2011, a second former Tory MLA, Dr. Sherman, was elected as leader of the Liberal Party.
In the 2012 election, only five Liberal MLAs were elected and the party lost Official Opposition status to the Wildrose Party, led by Danielle Smith.
Women make up the majority of Alberta’s population, but they rarely come even close to being the majority in electoral politics.
Alberta’s 2012 election could be notable for many reasons, two of those reasons being that it will be the first where both the incumbent Premier, Alison Redford, and the leader of the party polling in second place, Danielle Smith, are women.
The two other main political parties have had women lead them in past elections (Pam Barrett led the NDP during the 1997 election and Nancy MacBeth led the Liberals in 2001). Former Edmonton school trustee Sue Huff led the Alberta Party as acting-leader until May 2011.
Aside from the 100% increase of women party leaders since the last election, there also appears to be an increase in the number of women Alberta’s political parties are nominating as candidates.
The NDP has so far nominated the most woman candidates of the political parties contesting the 2012 election. By my count, the NDP has chosen 39 women out of 87 candidates (45%). This is a boost for the NDP from the 2008 election, when that party nominated 32 women out of 83 candidates (38%).
Also on the increase is the Progressive Conservatives, which has chosen 23 women out of the 86 candidates nominated to run in the next election (27%). All the contestants in the one remaining nomination contest in Calgary-West are men. This is a seven percent increase for the PCs from the last election when only 17 out of the 83 candidates were women (20%). The PCs have a long way to go before they even approach a gender balance of candidates, but a seven percent increase does move them closer.
Despite their strong female leader, Wildrose candidates are predominantly men. By my count, only 11 of the 84 nominated Wildrose candidates are women (13%). This is a tiny increase from 2008, when only 6 of the 61 candidates standing for the Wildrose Alliance were women (10%).
The Liberal Party, with 42 candidates currently nominated, has chosen 7 women candidates (17%). I expect this number to increase as the Liberals add to their slate of candidates before the election. In 2008, the 22 women under the Liberal Party banner out of 82 candidates (25%).
The Alberta Party has nominated four women out of fourteen candidates (28%).
Number of women candidates by party
NDP: 39 out of 87 – 45%
PC: 23 out of 86 – 27%
Wildrose: 11 out of 85 – 13%
Liberal: 7 out of 42 – 17%
Alberta Party: 4 out of 14 – 28%
NDP: 32 out of 83 – 38%
Liberal: 22 out of 83 – 26%
PC: 17 out of 83 – 20%
Wildrose: 6 out of 61 – 10%
The most obvious differences between Ms. Redford and successfultargets of federal Conservative smear campaigns are that:
1) she is not a Liberal, she is a Conservative
2) the PCs have a massive majority government in the Assembly and are still the best-organized and most well-funded political organization in the province, and
3) I believe that Albertans have generally been impressed with what they have seen of her so far.
Is it too early for the opposition parties to be lobbing grenades at the yet to be sworn-in Premier Redford? Ms. Redford was selected as leader at around 1:30am on October 2 and at 4:45pm, Wildrose attack dog Rob Anderson had already sent out a media release criticizing her. Always a gentleman, Mr. Anderson later tweeted that he would take a break from attacking Ms. Redford on Wednesday so that she could attend her mother’s funeral. How compassionate of Mr. Anderson.
With the next general election expected within six months, the Wildrosers have decided to strike a negative tone, starting with attack ads and releasing a list of forty mistakes they say that the PCs have made during their forty years in government. The PCs have made many mistakes, but Albertans will reject the negative tone of the Wildrosers just as they have rejected the negative tone of the other opposition parties year after year. It is not enough to just remind Albertans that the Tories have become a monument to institutional mediocrity after forty years in government. Albertans know that because they voted for the PCs. Opposition parties need to take an extra step to give Albertans compelling and positive reasons to support them at the polls, something the Wildrosers have failed to do.
Not to be outdone by the Wildrose attacks against Ms. Redford, the NDP joined the fray. On Monday morning, NDP leader Brian Mason attacked Ms. Redford for delaying the fall sitting of the legislature, which was scheduled to begin on October 25, and the appointment of Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes to her transition team. While both criticisms were valid, they were never meant to be “constructive” as Mr. Mason claimed on his blog the next day.
Unlike the opposition parties, who rely heavily on the daily Question Period to get their media hits during the legislative session, I believe that it was perfectly reasonable for Ms. Redford to want more than 15 days to prepare a legitimate legislative agenda. Regardless of what I may believe, Ms. Redford took the opposition advice, and to Mr. Mason’s surprise, announced that there will be a fall sitting.
Meanwhile, Ontario conservative blogger Stephen Taylor spun the Wildrose talking points this week claiming that Ms. Redford is the product of a labour union conspiracy, because of the support she received from front-line education and health care workers during the campaign. Maybe the view from Ottawa is blurred, but Mr. Taylor’s argument is silly when you take into account that most of these front-line workers probably regularly vote for the PC Party anyway.
Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson pointed out early this week that Ms. Redford’s ‘honeymoon,’ a period that is traditionally given to new political leaders to allow them to settle into their new job, has been cut short by the opposition attacks. I predict these early aggressive tactics will only backfire on the opposition.
Every Albertan knows what is is like to start a new job and how bad it feels to get criticized before you even have a chance to started. No one likes the jerk who criticizes them before they have a chance to get familiar with the job. Hardline supporters of the opposition parties will rise to support their leaders attacks, but as the Wildrosers ads say, Albertans support integrity and democracy, but they also support fairness and don’t like jerks.
After a tumultuous two years as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party, Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann announced that he will not lead his party into the next election, and that he will formally submit his resignation after the Spring Session of the Alberta Legislature.
Dr. Swann is a good person and one of the kindest souls in provincial politics. Realistically, he never stood a chance as his party’s leader despite these qualities. It would be easy to blame the dismal state of the Liberal Party on the outgoing leader, but there is a greater responsibility belonging to members of a party establishment who played a central role in creating a dysfunctional political culture.
Starting with the quick leadership contest after the party’s devastating result in the 2008 election, the party establishment opted for political expediency, rather than taking advantage of an opportunity to reflect on the party’s future and heal internal rifts. This expediency effectively eliminated any opportunity that the party had to attract potential outside candidates for leader, limiting the pool to a handful of current and former MLAs.
Dr. Swann took the leader’s chair with a mandate for change and quickly discovered that this desire for change was not shared by some MLAs and many in his party. The Party establishment’s strong connections to the federal Liberal Party and its unhealthy obsession with their party’s past successes are just two of the many psychological barriers that Dr. Swann would have immediately faced in his job.
You do not have to spend much time inside the Liberal Party to become aware of how iconized their successes in the 1993 election are. As many Albertans will remember, that election saw former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore lead the Liberals to their best showing in decades. The establishment Liberal motto against large-scale change within their party – especially a name change – has centered around the 1993 vote. “We won 32 seats under Decore and we can do it again,” is something that I have heard countless times.
Dr. Swann faced an establishment of Liberal stalwarts who could not fathom the concept of moving away from their beloved party identity (and it really is their identity). By wrapping themselves in their party identity, the party establishment always knew they were right, even when they lost. Dr. Swann challenged this identity when he tried to change the party’s name and when he offered to cooperate with other parties.
With near religious vigor, the Liberal establishment has sought the perfect leader, and when their chosen one has not succeeded in the monumental task of defeating the strongest Progressive Conservative organization in Canada, they are undermined from within or simply driven out. Nick Taylor, Mr. Decore, Grant Mitchell, Nancy MacBeth, Ken Nicol, Kevin Taft, and now Dr. Swann all faced these internal divisions and saw their leadership undermined by the party establishment and their fellow MLAs because they could not appease it.
A quick change of leader may appear to be an easy fix, but the departure of Dr. Swann will not solve the internal problems that have created this dysfunctional political culture.
After being elbowed to the sideline by the growing narrative of the Wildrose Alliance as the next government-in-waiting, and the growth of the new Alberta Party, the Liberal Party’s biggest challenge in 2011 is to be relevant. The Liberals jumped too quickly to choose a new leader a year after the last election. Now they are stuck in the polls with a resigning leader one year before the next election.
UPDATE: The Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons is reporting that Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman is weighing her options at running for either the Alberta Party or Liberal Party leadership. Meanwhile, Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald has taken the position that “The Alberta Liberal party was good enough for Laurence Decore, Bettie Hewes and Sheldon Chumir, and it’s good enough for me.”
With a number of former MLAs having declared their intentions to seek their party candidacies in the next election (David Eggen, Rick Miller, Weslyn Mather, and Mo Elsalhy), I thought it would be interesting to take a look at other former MLAs who launched successful and not so successful comeback attempts. By my count, thirteen former MLAs have attempted a comeback since the 1997 General Election, meaning that most former MLAs stay former. Of this group only six have successfully returned to the Assembly.
Former MLAs attempting a return to the Legislature
1997 General Election
Social Credit MLA Calgary-North East (1959-1963), Calgary-East (1963-1971), Calgary-Mountain View (1971-1975)