Choose wisely. Notley’s successor could be the next Premier of Alberta
Rachel Notley has been one of the Alberta NDP’sgreatest assets since she took up the reins of the party in 2014. Under Notley’s leadership, the NDP went from a small and scrappy opposition party to form government in 2015 and then solidify itself as a viable political force and the singular opposition to the United Conservative Party after 2019.
And after 9 years as the helm of the Alberta NDP she helped transform, it’s likely she will not lead them into the 2027 election.
Photo: NDP MLA Brian Mason announces his retirement from Alberta politics on July 4, 2018. (photo credit: David Climenhaga)
After 30 years in elected office, Brian Mason will call it quits when the next provincial election is called. The New Democratic Party MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood announced at a press conference this morning that he will not seek re-election in 2019.
He started his political career as a student activist, including a term as Vice-President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union and as director of the Alberta Federation of Students. Mason jumped into municipal politics in 1983, running for city council as past of the left-leaning Edmonton Voters Association slate. His first run was unsuccessful but he ran again six years later.
Then employed by the City of Edmonton as a bus driver, Mason challenged a law prohibiting city employees from running for council and was elected to city council in 1989. He was re-elected in north east Edmonton in 1992, 1995, and 1998. He jumped into provincial politics in 2000, running in a by-election in Edmonton-Highlands to succeed former NDP leader Pam Barrett, who had represented the district from 1986 to 1993 and 1997 until her retirement from politics in 2000.
Mason cruised to victory in the by-election against former Leduc Liberal MLA Terry Kirkland and was re-elected by significant margins in the five elections since. He became leader of the Alberta NDP ahead of the 2004 election, succeeding Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu.
As leader of the sometimes 2 or 4 MLA caucus, Mason led a feisty opposition that frequently ran circles around the actual Official Opposition Liberals (to the frustration of Liberal Party staffers like me).
He stepped down as leader in 2014, perhaps sensing a change in the times. And the timing of the NDP leadership race that chose Rachel Notley was perfect. While no one could have predicted on that day that Notley would lead the NDP to form government in 2015, Mason handed over a party that was in much better shape than it was on the day he started the job in 2004.
He was re-elected in 2015 in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood with the widest margin of his political career, earning a landslide 78 percent of the vote.
Despite rumours that Notley might pick him for Minister of Finance or back a bid for him to become Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, she appointed Mason as Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure and Government House Leader when the NDP were sworn-in to office in 2015.
The Dean of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, Mason will end his political career as the longest-serving current MLA in our province.
NDP nomination battle in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
With Mason stepping aside, we could now see a spirited nomination contest in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, a largely blue-collar district that is considered strong territory for the NDP.
(I live in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, so I have a particularly keen interest in this nomination contest).
A history of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
The Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood district was created in 2004 and included areas from the former Edmonton-Highlands and Edmonton-Norwood districts.
Edmonton-Highlands had been represented by the NDP from 1986 until 1993, when Liberal Alice Hanson was elected, and again by the NDP from 1997 until 2004.
Edmonton-Norwood was represented by NDP leader Ray Martin from 1982 until 1993, when he was unseated by Liberal Andrew Beniuk. Beniuk later crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives and was defeated in 1997 by Liberal Sue Olsen. Olsen did not seek re-election in 2001 and the seat was won by PC candidate Gary Masyk, who would later cross the floor to the Alberta Alliance. Masyk chose not to challenge Mason in the new district in 2004 and was defeated in his bid for re-election in the neighbouring Edmonton-Decore district.
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%
While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.
At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.
No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.
While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.
The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.
Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.
While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.
Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.
A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.
Rachel Notley First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.
She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.
Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award
If I were making the decisions, I would invite the leader’s from all the political parties to join the televised debate, but because the decision is being made by a private television company I can understand how they came to this conclusion. With only 30 candidates nominated in 87 constituencies, most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for an Alberta Party candidate on Election Day. The four other parties are expected to nominate candidates in all 87 constituencies.
What about past leaders’ debates that included parties with no elected MLA’s?
There is no denying that the Wildrose Party is a force in this election campaign and should be represented in the televised debates, but it is important to remember that neither Ms. Smith or any of her party’s four incumbent MLA’s were elected as Wildrose candidates in the last election. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election and Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier were elected as PC candidates in 2008 before crossing the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.
Debate in front of an audience.
Instead of holding the televised debate in a sterile and controlled television studio, I would love to see the party leader’s demonstrate their debating skills in front of a live audience. 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.
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%
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)
Since Peter Lougheed catapulted from official opposition leader to Premier in 1971, Alberta’s opposition leadership have become a political graveyard for many well-intentioned and ambitious politicians. There are many reasons for this: Alberta’s tradition of electing large government majorities, the ability of the PC party to create a big-tent party, the unpopularity of opposition parties federal counterparts, and the trap of falling into an opposition mentality.
Dr. David Swann is one of many Albertans who have stepped up to the daunting task and challenge of leading a party in the divisive and dysfunctional world of opposition politics in Alberta. Calgary MLA Dave Taylor gave Dr. Swann a verbal lashing when he left the Liberal caucus earlier this past year and last week Tony Sansotta resigned as President after co-signing a letter with Dr. Swann appealing for cooperation with other opposition parties. To the untrained eye, it may look like the Liberal Party is on the verge of internal collapse and maybe it is, but I struggle to think of a time when Alberta has had an opposition party not rife with internal division.
Taking a quick look back at Alberta politics over the past twenty-five years, you will find opposition leaders that made positive contributions to Alberta politics, but could not withstand the meat-grinder of opposition politics in Alberta. A quick read of the list of individuals below could easily lead most Albertans to determine some of the most thankless jobs in our province indeed belong to leaders of provincial opposition parties.
Nick Taylor (Liberal leader, 1974 to 1988): He bravely led the Liberals through the darkness and proved that even in the height of the National Energy Program that Liberals had hope to win in Alberta. In 1979, Mr. Taylor placed only 355 votes behind PC candidate Ken Kowalski in a by-election in Barrhead. After six attempts at elected office since 1968, he was elected as MLA for Westlock-Sturgeon in 1986 and was only Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the Assembly for less than two years before his position was challenged by Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore and Edmonton MLA Grant Mitchell. He continued to serve as an MLA until 1996, when he was appointed to the Senate.
Rod Sykes (Social Credit leader, 1980 to 1982): After serving two terms as the Mayor of Calgary (1969-1977), Mayor Sykes took over the leadership of the Social Credit Party. After nine years in opposition, the party was mired with internal and financial problems which led him to resign in 1982. He later ran as a federal Liberal candidate in the 1984 election.
Ray Martin (NDP leader, 1984 to 1994): He led the New Democrats to its height as Official Opposition with 16 MLAs in 1986 and 1989, but that did not stop the internal bickering. Mr. Martin’s faced calls to resign from Calgary candidate Barry Bristman in 1989 and fought a leadership challenge by St. Paul veterinarian Don Ronaghan in 1991. In 1992, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn abandoned the NDP for the PCs. Mr. Martin resigned after his party lost all their seats to the Liberals and PCs in the Assembly in the 1993 election. He returned to the Assembly when he was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 2004 to 2008.
Laurence Decore (Liberal leader, 1988 to 1994): The former Edmonton Mayor built the best political machine an opposition party had seen since the 1970s, but that was not enough for some of the MLAs in his caucus-mates. In 1993, after the Liberals won their largest vote share with 39.7% and 32 seats, a group of MLAs and party members were not satisfied with official opposition status called for his resignation. Calgary-North West MLA Frank Bruseker was stripped of his major critic portfolios after telling reporters he was worried the party could not win enough seats in Calgary to secure an election win due to Mr. Decore’s leadership. Mr. Decore gracefully resigned in 1994.
Ross Harvey (NDP leader, 1994 to 1996): The former NDP Member of Parliament was selected as leader of the seatless party shortly after he was unseated in the 1993 federal election. He was unable to satisfactorily rebuild his party after it was wiped out in 1993 and quit in 1996. He was soon replaced by Pam Barrett.
Grant Mitchell (Liberal leader, 1994 to 1998): After a brutal and divisive leadership race in 1994, Mr. Mitchell faced opposition from within his own party and caucus. Three MLAs crossed to the PCs during his time as leader and his leadership opponent MLA Sine Chadi waged a constant campaign to undermine his leadership. Shortly after the 1997 election, former Calgary MLA Danny Dalla-Longa called for his resignation. He resigned in 1998 and in 2005 was appointed to the Senate.
Pam Barrett (NDP leader, 1996 to 2000): After serving as MLA for Edmonton-Highlands from 1986 to 1993, Ms. Barrett returned in 1996. She led her party to elect two MLAs in the 1997 election and later resigned after a near-death experience in a dentist’s chair.
Nancy MacBeth (Liberal leader, 1998 to 2001): After losing to Ralph Klein in the 1992 PC leadership race, Ms. MacBeth (then Ms. Betkowski) left politics until 1998 when she swept into the Liberal leadership. The former PC cabinet minister faced some tough opposition from MLAs within her party’s caucus, including two who crossed the floor (Gene Zwozdesky joined the PCs and Pamela Paul sat as an Independent). She resigned almost immediately after she was unseated in the 2001 election.
Randy Thorsteinson (Social Credit leader, 1992 to 1999, Alberta Alliance leader, 2003 to 2005). Even after leading the long-dormant Social Credit Party to win 6.8% of the vote in 1997, Mr. Thorsteinson was at odds with his party after a movement within the party to limit the involvement of members of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Thorsteinson quit the party in April 1999 and was a founder of the Alberta First Party. In 2003, he re-emerged as leader of the Alberta Alliance – the Wildrose Alliance‘s predecessor – and led that party to earn 8.7% of the vote in 2004. He resigned after failing to win a seat in the 2004 election.
Ken Nicol (Liberal leader, 2001 to 2004): Quiet, respected, and more conservative than most of his caucus colleagues, Dr. Nicol reluctantly accepted the leadership from the unseated Ms. MacBeth in 2001. He briefly led the Liberals until internal conflict from within his party and caucus convinced him that running as a federal Liberal candidate might be a better career option. He resigned as MLA in 2004 and was defeated in his bid represent Lethbridge in the House of Commons later that year.
Kevin Taft (Liberal leader, 2004 to 2008): The first Liberal leader to increase the party’s seat total since Mr. Decore, Dr. Taft led the Liberals through two elections. He tried to distance the provincial party from its unpopular federal counterparts and while he did not face as much internal dissent from his party and caucus as did his predecessors, he did have the unfortunate task of having to remove MLA Dan Backs from the Liberal caucus. He stepped down as leader after the 2008 election and is currently the opposition Health & Wellness critic.