Thanks to the Alberta NDP Caucus for posting their video from the annual Press Gallery Christmas Party on YouTube. Thanks to the NDP, Wildrose Alliance Caucus, and Independent MLA Raj Sherman for sharing their sense of humour with Albertans. This video is hilarious.
Around 100 progressive activists from across Alberta gathered in Edmonton this weekend for the Reboot Alberta 3.0 conference. This is the third Reboot Alberta conference that has been held since fall 2009. I attended the first Reboot Alberta conference in Red Deer, but missed this weekend’s gathering in favour of enjoying a weekend in the mountains. Along with networking and idea sharing opportunities, I am told that representatives of the Liberal Party, the new Alberta Party, and the Democratic Renewal Project were given an opportunity to present their vision for a more progressive Alberta.
Liberal leader David Swann asked for the support of Reboot participants and provided his party’s letter to other parties as evidence of his desire for cross-partisan cooperation. Although I believe that Dr. Swann’s plea was sincere, his party is not completely in step with their leader.
After the letter ad was published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta resigned. On cooperation with Reboot, only a short eight months ago, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald criticized the group as being “elitist” and dismissed the group by quipping that “It’s renew, Reboot and then recycle.”
There are some interesting growth prospects for the new Alberta Party. As a coalition of former Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Independents from rural, urban, and suburban Alberta, it has a diverse core of politically engaged supporters to grow from. This party is also lucky to be starting with a blank slate, which will start to be filled at their policy convention this weekend in Red Deer. The Alberta Party will also choose an interim leader this weekend and begin a leadership contest process soon after that.
Critics have been quick to jump all over the Alberta Party for its focus on policy construction and organization building through the Big Listens, but unlike the already established parties, the tone and process are critically important in the early stages of political organizing. Its growth over the next six to twelve months will likely determine whether this party has the potential to reach to survive into the next election.
Blogger’s Update: I have been informed that the very talented Troy Wason also attended Reboot 3.0 and spoke to the participants as an active rank and file member of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. I was glad to learn that he was there representing his party. I could not think of a better ambassador to this kind of event than Mr. Wason.
I know a lot of people who get frustrated at the idea of vote splitting and the idea that there needs to be less political parties competing in this province. The challenge for opposition parties is not the number of them, but their effectiveness. As Peter Lougheed proved in the 1967 and 1971 elections, a crowded field of opposition parties can clear out pretty quickly when you work hard to provide Albertans with a competent choice on their ballots.
Where are the NDP?
In Red Deer this weekend, members of Alberta’s New Democratic Party gathered for their annual convention, branded as “Seize the Day.” The convention delegates heard from leader Brian Mason about his hope to take advantage of vote-splitting between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance in the next election. A conservative vote split could help the NDP in a handful of constituencies in central Edmonton, but without a significant voter-base elsewhere, significant gains will be harder to achieve.
I have to admit it, while they constantly provide some of the most vocal opposition to the PCs on the Assembly floor, I have never fully understood the Alberta NDP as a party.
The “seize the day” theme reminded me of when I covered the 2009 NDP convention for SEE Magazine. While there I asked a number of delegates why they were in Edmonton and not in Calgary helping their candidate in the final weekend of the by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. The response I heard most went along the lines of “I’m sure that there are some people helping out. Maybe we’ll get a win this time.”
The by-election was won by Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman in a close race with Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts. At the end of the night, Mr. Hinman was elected by 278 votes over Dr. Roberts. NDP candidate Eric Carpendale barely registered on the electoral radar with 1.3% of the vote. The results of this by-election (and the selection of Danielle Smith as their leader soon afterward) helped rocket the Wildrose Alliance from the conservative fringe to Official Opposition-in-waiting.
No one expected the NDP to win or even be a contender in that by-election, but to this day I still cannot understand what a party that has not elected an MLA outside of Edmonton since 1989 felt it had to lose by taking an opportunity to try and grow its support in Calgary. Instead of being passive observers, those three hundred conference delegates in Edmonton could have made a big difference for their candidate in that last weekend. Given how close the results were, if they had put in an effort maybe the NDP could have helped shape a different result for that by-election.
Just think how different Alberta politics could be today.
This email landed in my email inbox today. The Wildrose Alliance has nominated eight candidates for the next election (only 79 candidates away from a full-slate). As far as I am aware, the only other party to have nominated a candidate for the next election is the NDP, who have nominated Deron Bilous in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
The Wildrose Alliance Party is pleased to announce the following candidates:
• MLA Rob Anderson in Airdrie
• MLA Heather Forsyth in Calgary – Fish Creek
• MLA Paul Hinman in Calgary – Glenmore
• John Carpay in Calgary – Lougheed.
John practices law in Calgary. He is the former Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the former Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
• Harpreet Nijjar in Calgary – Northern Hills.
Harpreet, a graduate of the University of Calgary, is an award winning young entrepreneur who runs an insurance brokerage.
• Shayne Saskiw in Lac La Biche – St. Paul – Two Hills.
Shayne, a graduate of the U of A, practices law in north eastern Alberta and was a former VP Policy for the Alberta PCs.
• Milvia Bauman in Medicine Hat.
Milvia is an entrepreneur and community leader in Medicine Hat. She is currently the Chair of the Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce and Medicine Hat Safe Community Association.
• Danny Hozack in Vermillion – Lloydminster.
Danny farms in Streamstown Alberta. He is a long time conservative activist and has served on the boards of the Alberta Beef Producers, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and Marwayne Minor Hockey.
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.
|1997 General Election|
|Albert Ludwig||Liberal||Calgary-Foothills||29.7%||Defeated||Social Credit MLA Calgary-North East (1959-1963), Calgary-East (1963-1971), Calgary-Mountain View (1971-1975)|
|Alex McEachern||NDP||Edmonton-Calder||27.3%||Defeated||NDP MLA Edmonton-Kingsway (1986-1993)|
|Pam Barrett||NDP||Edmonton-Highlands||50.6%||Elected||NDP MLA Edmonton-Highlands (1986-1993)|
|Don MacDonald||Social Credit||Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills||28.1%||Defeated||Liberal MLA Three Hills (1992-1993)|
|Nancy MacBeth||Liberal||Edmonton-McClung||53.6%||Elected||PC MLA Edmonton-Glenora (1986-1993)|
|Terry Kirkland||Liberal||Edmonton-Highlands||18.3%||Defeated||Liberal MLA Leduc (1993-1997)|
|2001 General Election|
|Andrew Beniuk||PC||Edmonton-Glengarry||44.9%||Defeated||Liberal/PC MLA Edmonton-Norwood (1993-1997)|
|Len Bracko||Liberal||St. Albert||41.2%||Defeated||Liberal MLA St. Albert (1993-1997)|
|2004 General Election|
|Ray Martin||NDP||Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview||50.8%||Elected||NDP MLA Edmonton-Norwood (1982-1993)|
|Walter Szwender||PC||Edmonton-Decore||30.4%||Defeated||PC MLA Edmonton-Belmont (1982-1986)|
|2008 General Election|
|Broyce Jacobs||PC||Cardston-Taber-Warner||46.2%||Elected||PC MLA Cardston-Taber-Warner (2001-2004)|
|Tony Vandermeer||PC||Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview||39.6%||Elected||PC MLA Edmonton-Manning (2001-2004)|
|Andrew Beniuk||PC||Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood||31.9%||Defeated||Liberal/PC MLA Edmonton-Norwood (1993-1997)|
|Paul Hinman||Wildrose||Calgary-Glenmore||36.8%||Elected||Wildrose MLA Carston-Taber-Warner (2004-2008)|
Enilghtened Savage may have beat me to the punch with the link to the report, but posted below are the Alberta, Calgary, and Edmonton maps from the Final Report of Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission (pdf). It appears the sleuthing author of the aforementioned blog discovered the link to the report which had been loaded online before it has been officially posted on the Boundaries Commission website. You can download the full report here (pdf). Score 1 point for the citizen media.
UPDATE: The EBC appears to have removed the original link to the report, so I have replaced the above links with new ones provided by Enlightened Savage. You should be able to download the final report now.
Overall, I believe that the members of the Electoral Boundaries Commission have presented a fair report given the guidelines and political environment in which they were operating. I would have liked to see the commission merge some of the larger sparcely populated rural constituencies in the north of the province, but I understand the arguments for allowing exceptions in special circumstances.
Airdrie/Foothills-Chestermere: Large areas of Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson‘s former Airdrie-Chestermere constituency have been merged with Fiance Minister Ted Morton‘s Foothills-Rockyview riding to create Rockyview-Chestermere. It is unlikely that Mr. Anderson will challenge Minister Morton in the next election, so he may opt to run in the new Airdrie constituency.
North Calgary: There is a significant amount of shuffling in this area of Calgary. I’m not familiar enough with the area to say if it reflects communities of interest. I imagine that there will be an ample amount of confusion created when anyone talks about either Calgary-North Hill (singular) and Calgary-Northern Hills (plural). Anyone?
Edmonton-Centre: I was pleased to see that my riding remains intact. The boundaries make sense for Edmonton’s downtown constituency.
Edmonton-Glenora: Glenora has been shifted further west than was proposed in the interim report, moving more Tory polls into the constituency. They new boundaries also remove the NDP-voting polls north of downtown that were included in the interim boundaries report and cut out the Liberal-voting polls west of Mayfield road that were included in Glenora during the 2008 election. It could create a more favourable electoral situation for PC MLA Heather Klimchuk, who will face strong challenges from the Liberals and former NDP MLA David Eggen.
Edmonton-McClung: McClung has been split in two. I believe that the northern half is where former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy‘s stronger polls were located, so David Xiao might run for re-election in the new Edmonton-Southwest constituency in 2011. Elsalhy is planning on running again, so these changes could be good news for him.
Fort McMurray-Conklin/Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Independent MLA Guy Boutilier will have the choice of running in one of these two constituencies in the next election. Mr. Boutilier is widely expected to join the Wildrose Alliance at this weekend’s policy convention in Red Deer. Mr. Boutilier was elected as the PC MLA for Fort McMurray in 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2008.
St. Albert/Sturgeon: I am surprised that St. Albert has not reached the size to have two constituencies of its own. I was not surprised to see that the towns of Morinville and Legal are still included in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, though it would make much more sense for those communities to be included in a Sturgeon Valley riding that lumped in with a constituency that stretches all the way to Swan Hills.
Minority Report: Commissioner Allyson Jeffs wrote a minority report arguing for Edmonton and Calgary to receive more than the three additional constituencies awarded in this Final Report. The politically uncomfortable necessity of removing large numbers of rural seats in favor of new urban ones was solved when Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced legislation that increased the number of MLAs from 83 to 87. In 2003, Commissioner Bauni Mackay
penned a minority report opposing Edmonton’s loss of one-seat in that Final Report.
“The Stelmach administration’s sticky fingerprints are all over this report,” Blakeman says. “There’s been major tinkering with boundaries in Edmonton to reflect personal requests from Tory MLAs. Edmonton-Southwest, for example, is a mess.”
“…once again they displayed their disrespect for democracy in Alberta and fear of losing the next election by pressuring the Commission to make the changes that they believe will favour the PC Party.”
“Generally the boundaries make sense. The NDP has a solid chance in several Edmonton ridings, and we plan to run a full slate of candidates in the next election.”
You may be forgiven if you turned off your radio or closed your web browser when you heard or read about the curfuffle raised by two of Alberta’s opposition parties over the amount of questions in Question Period, but if you had taken a second look, you would have seen something edging on the bizarre. This morning, Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman and NDP MLA Brian Mason held a joint media conference (and in an even more bizarre twist, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman would later join them).
Although the three MLAs raised some legitimate questions about their situation, I believe that there is a larger and much more important question: Does Question Period really matter?
Anyone who has watched Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly can easily observe that most Government MLAs use their allotted time to read positive pre-written questions to Ministers, who then respond with pre-written softball answers. From another angle, some Government MLAs have been known to act as a faux-opposition, asking questions crafted to dilute the questions asked by actual Opposition MLAs.
Across the aisle, Opposition MLAs use much of their time to launch loaded questions crafted to illicit embarrassing responses from Government Ministers. Question Period is the bread and butter of Opposition MLAs. It is where they get the chance to score political points fit for the 6pm news. Some MLAs, including Mr. Mason and Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, have become particularly effective at crafting made for television moments in Question Period.
During their news conference today, the NDP Opposition released a chart (see above) comparing the amount of time that Opposition MLAs get to ask questions in Assemblies across Canada. I was not aware that most Assemblies allot Opposition MLAs the entirety of Question Period. While this appears to make sense to me, I wonder if this difference makes Question Period any more relevant to the general public in other provinces? Would the debate in our Assembly be more relevant to ordinary Albertans if Opposition MLAs were able to ask 18 questions instead of 7? Is Question Period theatre without an audience?
In a better world, Question Period would matter, but the issue raised by the Opposition MLAs today points to the larger problems facing our traditional governing structures and the increasing disconnect between citizens and their democratic institutions.
I was pleased to join a panel of distinguished Edmontonians, including Avenue Magazine Editor Colin McGarrigle and University of Alberta Dean of Business Mike Percy, and elected officials this morning for a CityTV live-broadcast town hall meeting at Enterprise Square. The town hall was hosted by Ryan Jespersen and Bridget Ryan reported live from a classroom at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert.
Representing the Progressive Conservative Association, Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky was a friendly ambassador. As the long-time MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek (he sat as a Liberal from 1993 to 1998 and as a PC from 1998 to the present), these kind of town halls are old hat for the political veteran. Zwozdesky presented a largely scripted pro-government message in his response to questions from Jespersen and the Paul Kane students. His interactions with the other MLAs on the panel were similar.
Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley is always well-spoken and at every opportunity she took control of the discussion with ease, including taking jabs at Zwozdesky over a recently leaked report from Alberta Health Services that the NDP claim include plans to close over 9,000 long-term care beds.
After the forum, I had a really good discussion with Notley about the challenges in reinvigorating politics and civic engagement in Alberta. While she thought I may have been a little hard with my criticisms of politicians, we both agreed that what exists now in terms of political infrastructure isn’t resulting with a politically engaging population. From the perspective of an opposition MLA, I can understand how it quickly becomes a chicken and egg scenario. In our parliamentary democracy, can an already existing political movement invigorate citizens to engage in politics, or will citizens need to already be engaged before a political movement can begin to succeed? I believe that it comes down to values and the mechanisms that citizens feel they can join to express them.
Since becoming leader of the Alberta Liberals and the Official Opposition last December, I have noticed a marked improvement in David Swann‘s public speaking skills. One of the things I like about Swann is his sincerity, and while in a public speaking engagement one year ago it could have been mistaken as awkwardness, it’s now starting shine through. As the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, Swann is much lesser known in Edmonton than previous Liberal leaders (four of the six Liberal leaders over the past 25 years have been from the Edmonton area), so this forum provided a good opportunity for him to speak to Edmontonians.
Fresh from what he described as a “jet ride” victory in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election, Wildrose Alliance MLA-elect Paul Hinman relied heavily on memorized talking points, but was the second most articulate speaker after Notley. On-air, Hinman presented a reasonable message of conservatism that likely would not have scared away many voters, and he addressed the issue of the politics of scaremongering while on-air.
My more interesting reflections on Hinman are generated from our discussion afterward, when he spoke in the tone of a much harder version of anti-government conservatism. I believe that government can play a positive role in society, but it was clear that Hinman didn’t as we conversed about the roles of individuals, community, and government in irradiating poverty and homelessness (it eventually culminated with Hinman very calmly accusing me of being a socialist).
During the sixth segment of the town hall, I made a point that had been similarly expressed after a recent Globe & Mail column blamed young people for the inspiration deficit in Canadian politics. I believe that it is naive of us to simply expect that young people will automatically buy-in to a political system that is dominated by a previous generation who held different priorities and values. There are young people who are passionate about any kind of issue you could imagine, but that doesn’t mean that they will see value in participating in the currently existing political structure. Young people care about their future and they have valid opinions – and you can watch that passion in the final segment when Paul Kane students questioned the MLAs about Bill 44.
Overall, the town hall was a positive experience. I really believe that there is a lack of solid political discussion happening in Alberta and I hope that CityTV and other television stations host more live-discussions and debates in the future.
(Thanks to Kevin Kuchinski for the photos)
Part 1: Introducing the BT Townhall
Part 2: Out Political History
Part 3: On Health Care
Part 4: The Real Questions
Part 5: The Wake-up Call
Part 6: Apathy & the Next Generation
Part 7: Bill 44 & Closing Remarks