I don’t usually talk about myself much so it was fun to join Scott Schmidt and Jeremy Appell on the Forgotten Corner Podcast to chat about my path through Alberta politics and how Daveberta.ca became a thing.
With Ontario Premier Doug Ford nowhere to be seen in this federal election, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pinch-hitting for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in Ontario this weekend. Kenny will be spending a few days campaigning for federal Conservative candidates in the Ottawa region and Greater Toronto Area, a trip paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada.
It is not unusual for a provincial premier to campaign in support of their federal party of choice. Rachel Notley shared the stage with Thomas Mulcair at a campaign rally in Edmonton in 2015 and Ralph Klein campaigned in Calgary with local Member of Parliament Bobbie Sparrow in 1993 and Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest in 1997. But it is quite unusual for a premier to be campaign for their federal party of choice in another province.
It is perhaps less unusual because the premier in question is Jason Kenney. As a federal cabinet minister he was praised by fellow partisans for his role in expanding Conservative Party’s outreach into New Canadian communities that had previously been the strongholds of the Liberal Party, a strategy that appeared solid until its collapse in 2015.
And while Kenney is currently the Premier of Alberta, he very much remains a national politician and one of the leaders of Conservative movement in Canada, frequently speaking at partisan fundraisers and events hosted by right-wing think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manhattan Institute.
Kenney’s interest in the federal campaign is no surprise. Much of the United Conservative Party campaign in Alberta’s recent provincial election focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Kenney had pledged his efforts to defeat in the October 21 federal election. And it is probably the worst-kept secret in Canadian politics that Kenney still harbours federal leadership ambitions. Ambitions that could be realized sooner than expected if Scheer stumbles in this election.
This is the first federal election in decades that both the federal and provincial Conservative parties in Alberta are marching in lock-step. The creation of the United Conservative Party in 2017 was just as much about the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties as it was creating harmony between the dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties.
This campaign trip to Ontario is not Kenney’s first, but it is much more extensive than his previous visits.
Kenney made an appearance at a fundraiser earlier this year in Brampton-North, where his former ministerial staffer Arpan Khanna is running for the Conservatives. Khanna managed Kenney’s Toronto office during his time as Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of National Defence.
While Kenney’s Ontario itinerary does not appear to be publicly available, UCP sources tell me that he is scheduled to spend the rest of the weekend canvassing door-to-door with Markham-Stouffville
Kenney is not the first Alberta politician to spend some time campaigning in this region of Ontario. Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney was in the area over the summer to campaign with Conservative candidates Sean Weir in Oakville North-Burlington and Ramandeep Singh Brar in Brampton-South.
If the federal Conservatives have any chance of forming government, it is believed that this is the region where that party will need to gain seats from the Liberals.
While Kenney campaigns in Ontario, he is also acutely aware of how this sort of intervention can go awry. Kenny was one of the senior Conservative Party officials who scolded then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein for contributing to his party’s defeat in the 2004 federal election.
Two days after that election was called, Klein publicly mused that his health-care reforms could possibly violate the Canada Health act, a statement which senior officials in the Conservative Party said helped Paul Martin’s Liberal Party shore up support in Ontario.
“There’s pretty much unanimous consensus in the federal party that these remarks weren’t helpful,” Kenney told the Calgary Herald in 2004. “Suggesting the Alberta government was prepared to announce violations of the Canada Health Act two days after an election was giving the Liberals a big fat one over centre plate.”
Few politicians can sustain themselves in a permanent campaign-mode like Kenney can. Anyone who has been paying attention to Alberta politics over the past few years can attest that he hasn’t stopped campaigning since his jumped into provincial politics in 2017. He is a career politician who can probably out-hustle almost any of his peers, but he also carries a few suitcases worth of political baggage on his trip east.
On the issue of gun control, which the Liberals raised at the beginning of the campaign, how will Kenney’s decision to publicly endorse vigilante gun justice in rural Alberta play in suburban Ontario? Kenney will be speaking to crowds of friendly Conservative voters, but I would not be surprised to see the Liberals bird-dog Kenney on this issue during his Ontario tour.
Kenney has also spent much of the past two years fanning the flames of western alienation against Ottawa and other provinces over the national equalization formula and the expansion of oil pipelines – but mostly against Trudeau. He has also launched a crusade against climate change and environmental groups who he and his supporters claim are funded by nefarious foreign sources.
While Kenney is certainly not a separatist, he is trying to do what many past Alberta premiers have done in order to position themselves as the province’s great defender against the political interests of Central Canada.
Stoking western alienation will help solidify Kenney’s support among Conservative voters at home but it could also poison Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa even further if Trudeau’s Liberals are re-elected on October 21. This could help explain why no Alberta premier has parlayed their provincial success to federal politics – something Kenney may want to consider as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario this weekend.
Notley plays coy about her federal vote
Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the official opposition, continues to play coy when asked who she is planning to vote for in the October 21 federal election. “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate’s best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona,” Notley told CBC.
This comment will certainly not be helpful for the federal NDP in Edmonton-Strathcona, where the popular Notley remains MLA for the provincial riding of the same name. Heather McPherson is hoping to hold on to the seat held since 2008 by retiring NDP MP Linda Duncan. Many of Notley’s close supporters helped propel McPherson to a narrow victory over Paige Gorsak in a November 2018 nomination contest.
While I would be surprised if Notley did not vote for McPherson on October 21, it does demonstrate the deep distrust between the provincial and federal wings of the NDP in Alberta over issues like the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. While some former NDP MLAs defeated in the April 2019 election have been actively campaigning for federal NDP candidates, Notley and her current 24 NDP MLA caucus remain nowhere to be seen on the federal campaign trail in Alberta.
The kamakaze campaign that just won’t die
CBC investigative reporters have dived deep into the allegations of fraud and misuse of voting kiosks by Kenney’s campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest. According to CBC, the RCMP, which has been tight-lipped on the status and focus of its investigation, will only say it continues to investigate allegations of fraud as it relates to the 2017 UCP leadership race.
As has been widely reported this week, the Alberta New Democratic Party has purposely shifted the focus of their political material onto their greatest asset, Premier Rachel Notley. The NDP began replacing the NDP logo with a Rachel Notley logo on their social media images back in April 2018, but the party recently highlighted this focus with the launch of their new RachelNotley.ca campaign website.
The move has been attacked by critics of the NDP, who claim the party is nefariously attempting to distance itself from its unpopular federal cousins. The NDP are probably trying to distance itself from the Jagmeet Singh-led federal NDP, but there is nothing nefarious about it. Campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Rachel Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Jason Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.
Putting the focus on party leaders is nothing new in Alberta politics.
In 1971, much of the Progressive Conservative Party’s advertising and messaging revolved around Peter Lougheed. The “Lougheed Team” focused on the party’s young and dynamic leader and the impressive slate of candidates that surrounded him.
While Alberta politics have certainly changed since the 1970s, Notley frequently evokes the memory of popular Lougheed in her media statements and campaign speeches.
‘Ralph’s Team’ was a slogan the PC Party used in the 1990s, putting the focus on their popular party leader, Ralph Klein. And the federal Liberal Party attempted a similar move when they placed ‘Team Martin’ logos on their campaign signs and material during the 2004 election.
As Postmedia columnist Keith Gerein wrote last week, the two main party leaders have divergent popularity among their parties own supporters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley remains wildly popular among NDP voters.
United Conservative Party has a massive lead in the polls, but party leader Jason Kenney is much less popular than the party he now leads, which which is why Albertans will probably not spot any “Team Kenney” logos when the election is called this spring.
Almost all NDP MLA’s should know they have Notley’s leadership to thank for their electoral fortunes in the 2015 election, the same might not be said of UCP candidates and their leader in 2019. If the UCP’s strong support holds, many of that party’s candidate could be elected despite their leader’s lower approval ratings.
Any leader who’s popularity falls below that of the party they lead inevitably becomes vulnerable to leadership challenges and caucus revolts, as Don Getty, Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, and in the dying days of his premiership, Ralph Klein, discovered. Conservatives in Alberta have been ruthless with their party leadership and rarely tolerate weaknesses that could jeopardize electoral success.
It is yet to be seen whether Kenney will fall into this category, which will probably depend on what the UCP caucus looks like after Election Day. If the UCP caucus is large, Kenney’s leadership could be secure. But as Stelmach and Klein discovered, large caucuses are impressive but can be unruly and difficult to manage. If he does fall into the traps sprung by previous Conservative premiers, look to UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Nathan Cooper, Leela Aheer and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean to be eyeing the Premier’s chair.
Rachel Notley on the other hand might not be as vulnerable, even if the NDP is defeated in 2019. If her party does better than expected in 2019, even electing 25 or 30 MLAs, the NDP caucus and members may come to the conclusion that Notley remains their strongest asset and could be their best bet at returning to government in 2023. They could encourage her to remain party leader.
As an opposition leader, Notley would be fierce and lead an actual government-in-waiting, not something Albertans are used to having. It would also signal whether the NDP will remain in its centre-leftish position or embrace a more aggressive progressive agenda advocated by some members.
While Notley remaining in the party leadership beyond a 2019 loss may go against some of the common popular opinion about former premiers, past NDP premiers Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan and Dave Barrett in British Columbia both led their parties into elections following defeats. Barrett even went on to have a career in federal politics and nearly became leader of the federal NDP in 1989.
I am probably getting ahead of myself, as this year’s election has not even been officially called, but scenarios like these are certainly something that many political watchers are thinking about.
Are more Wildrose MLAs preparing to cross the floor to the Progressives Conservatives? Independent MLA Joe Anglin has told reporters that Danielle Smith‘s 14 MLA Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus will vote on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 on whether to join the governing PC Caucus.
Mr. Anglin’s comments, claims published on an anonymously blog and tweets from conservative activists fuelled the rumours of the Wildrose Party’s demise on social media last night.
The sources of the rumours are questionable, but the curious silence of official Wildrose Party social media accounts suggests that the merger of the two caucuses could indeed be on the table when Wildrose MLAs meet on Dec. 16.
More reliable sources say that Mr. Anderson and Mr. Saskiw will make a presentation to their fellow MLAs on Dec. 16 detailing an offer extended by Mr. Prentice to Wildrose MLAs to join the PC Caucus. [Update: The Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell has obtained a copy of the “Reunification Agreement.”]
This is not the first time we have heard rumours of a merger. In May 2014, Ms. Smith told reporters that then-PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice had proposed a merger of the two conservative parties. At the time, Premier Dave Hancock denied the claims, but it was clear that Mr. Prentice was reaching out to Wildrose MLAs.
Since becoming Premier, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of its most effective talking points by committing to focus on property rights and reversing many of former premier Alison Redford‘s most unpopular decisions. In some ways, it is now difficult to tell what differentiates the Wildrose Party from Mr. Prentice’s PCs.
Last month, Wildrose MLAs Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle, crossed the floor to the PC Caucus. And only weeks before that, Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus, claiming that a ‘civil war‘ was being waged within the party.
After losing four by-elections in October 2014 and losing three MLAs since then, the normally loud Wildrosers have toned down, and in some cases struck a more conciliatory tone with the governing PCs.
Even normally hyper-partisan Justice Minister Jonathan Denis tweeted about working with Mr. Anderson on a Wildrose Caucus amendment to Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act. If that does not signal a warming of relations between the two caucuses, I’m not sure what else would.
But despite the party’s recent poor showing, a Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith could still remain competitive going into the next election.
The party has collected an impressive war chest and has nominated candidates in more than a quarter of Alberta’s constituencies. Recent polls show the party sitting at 29% support, only five points behind Mr. Prentice’s PCs.
The question is whether the change in tone signals a new strategy or preparation for a merger with the 43-year governing PC Party? If there is truth to the merger rumours, the departure of more Wildrose MLAs (including Ms. Smith) would be a death blow to that party.
What would a Wildrose-PC Caucus merger mean?
MLAs crossing the floor is a fairly common occurrence in Alberta and Canadian politics, but I cannot think of any time when an Official Opposition Caucus has voted to merger with a governing caucus.
Unlike the merger of the federal Canadian Alliance and PC Party that created the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, there is little to no chance another party will form government in the next election (in the context of 2003, a PC-Wildrose merger would be more like Stephen Harper‘s Canadian Alliance joining Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party).
In a scenario where nearly all the Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party, Raj Sherman‘s five MLA Liberal Caucus could regain its role as the Official Opposition. But the Liberals would only hold that title until MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang resigned to run in the October 2015 federal election. Upon their resignations, Rachel Notley‘s four MLA NDP Caucus could become the Official Opposition.
Here’s a question that isn’t often asked in Alberta: Which of the three Progressive Conservative leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?
An insane trail of scandal continues to leak out of the 43-year-long governing PC Party as it lurches towards a leadership vote on September 6.
A CBC exclusive story alleged today that Auditor General has uncovered “false passengers” were booked to ensure that Premier Alison Redford and her political staff would be the only passengers on government planes during certain flights.
The leak was a draft copy of a report Auditor General Merwan Saher is expected to release in August 2014 and will also include a review of the former premier’s flights to South Africa and Palm Springs.
Along with Ms. Redford’s secret plans for a private penthouse residence, this week’s secret cancellation of a three-year pay-freeze for senior government executives (which was only implemented 17 months ago), and the Auditor General’s discovery last month that the province has failed implement its much vaunted Climate Change plan, the PC government does not look like the well-polished machine it once was.
Two years ago, PC candidates led by Ms. Redford promised a new era of open and transparent government. It appears that the fake passengers were not the only fabrication.
Is it possible that the three men vying to lead the PC Party did not know about the false flyers?
Both insiders, Thomas Lukaszuk served as Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and Ric McIver was Transportation Minister from May 2012 to December 2013. While they have denied knowledge of the flights, it is strange that at the very least these two senior cabinet minister had not even heard rumours about the Premier’s alleged fictional bookings and questionable travel habits.
But what of Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose department is responsible for the Alberta government’s fleet of airplanes? Surely someone within the Finance Department would have been aware of these alleged ghost travellers? Mr. Horner, along with 50 other PC MLAs and nearly every PC Party insider, is supporting Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC Party leadership.
Mr. Prentice, who appears to only speak in generalizations and avoids details in all his public announcements, issued a statement on his Facebook Page in response to the allegations. “Albertans do not need excuses from those who were at the table when these decisions were made,” Mr. Prentice’s Facebook statement said.
Nearly everyone who would have been sitting around the cabinet table when these phantom flyers were on the books are now endorsing Mr. Prentice.
His opponent, Mr. Lukaszuk, was much more harsh on Ms. Redford, who remains the PC MLA for Calgary-Elbow. The former Deputy Premier said he would have his former boss thrown out of the PC Caucus and would ask a retired judge to investigate the allegations (Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, also supporting Mr. Prentice, today asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to decide whether there should be an investigation).
This leads me back to my initial question: Which of the three leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?
For the past four decades, this would have been a nonsensical question. But in 2014, the Tories face a relentlessly aggressive Wildrose opposition flush with cash and preparing for an election. There is an increasingly real possibility that the PC Party could be in opposition after the next election.
Mr. Prentice served in the Conservative Official Opposition benches in Ottawa for two years during the dying days of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, a time which may oddly familiar similar to the current politics in Alberta. An ambitious politician, Mr. Prentice does not strike me as someone who would be interested in remaining in the opposition benches if the PC Party were to lose the next election.
Mr. Lukaszuk is well-known for his partisan attack dog-style in Question Period, and might thrive in the opposition benches. Mr. McIver served as the unofficial opposition to Mayor Dave Bronconnier on Calgary City Council, but, like Mr. Lukaszuk, he has no support from his PC MLA colleagues.
In light of recent revelations, perhaps some time spent in the opposition benches could inject a much needed dose of humility into Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, who have become very comfortable with the trappings of political power. Despite coming within a hair of losing the last election, the Tories act as if they are an invincible force. This recent string of scandals may help prove that the PCs are not invincible.
He is a leadership candidate backed by long-governing party establishment. He has chased away his potential rivals. He has experience in both the federal cabinet and the corporate sector. He is a respected party insider. He has a track record as a moderate conservative and can raise significant amounts of money for his party. The establishment sees him as the only person who can lead them to electoral victory against their aggressive opposition challengers.
It has become inreasingly easy to draw parallels between the ill-fated Dauphin of the federal Liberal Party and expected coronation of Jim Prentice in September’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote.
Like Mr. Martin, expectations for Mr. Prentice among the PC establishment are very high. And without having even officially entered the contest or releasing any policy positions or vision for Alberta, his strange shadow campaign has succeeded in chasing away some of his strongest potential rivals by giving the impression that he too strong to fail.
Cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Diana McQueen, Jonathan Denis and retired Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel have all decided against running. And Ken Hughes, who only entered the race a short time ago, has already dropped out and endorsed the front-runner.
Challenger Ric McIver claims that Mr. Prentice’s supporters have urged him to drop out of the race, but insists he will remain the fray. Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as Alison Redford’s deputy premier and budget slashing minister of Advanced Education, remains rumoured to be mulling a run for the leadership.
Pressure from Mr. Prentice’s campaign, the steep $50,000 entry fee and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to run a leadership campaign have likely scared away potential serious candidates.
Curse of the front-runner
An advantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. A disadvantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. As PC MLAs trip over themselves in their rush to endorse Mr. Prentice, it will become increasingly difficult for the new leader to weed out the incompetent or redundant members of his caucus in the next election.
If he becomes leader, one of Mr. Prentice’s biggest challenges will be to increase the PC caucus bench strength by recruiting competent and credible candidates to run. This will require significant retirements, resignations, or nomination battles before the next election.
Like Mr. Martin, Mr. Prentice has proven he can raise a lot of money and fill a hall with people whose companies are willing to spend $500 a ticket to influence government, but can he resonate among regular voters? Raising money has never been a serious long-term problem for the PC Party. Their problem has become the existence of another party who can raise the same or more money than they can.
It was announced this week that former British Columbia Member of Parliament Jay Hill, Edmonton campaign strategist Patricia Mitsuka, and Calgary-Greenway MLA Manmeet Bhullar will serve as Mr. Prentice’s three campaign co-chairs. A fourth co-chair is expected to be announced at a later date.
Prentice stumbles to “unite the right” fight
Strange moves to unite the right, as Wildrose leader Danielle Smith claims she or one of her staffers were contacted by someone from Mr. Prentice’s campaign to discuss a merger. A spokesperson for Mr. Prentice’s not yet official campaign denies Ms. Smith’s claims, but it is difficult to believe the Wildrose leader is simply making this up.
If this is true, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Prentice’s campaign would make such a move. While his supporters see him as a White Knight, he will be inheriting a long-governing political party that is mired in controversy. Perhaps this move is a glimpse of how concerned the PC establishment is about the very real threat of defeat by the Wildrose in the next election?
Nominations open today
Starting today, PC Party leadership candidates can pick up their nomination forms and pay the $20,000 of their $50,000 entry fee. The candidates will need to submit their completed nomination forms on May 30 along with the remaining $30,000 entry fee. The approved candidates will be showcased at a $75 per ticket PC Party fundraiser on June 2 in Edmonton.
It was not uncommon in 2013 to see NDP and Wildrose MLAs working together, or tackling the same issues during Question Period on the floor of the Assembly, but the informal alliance existed outside the Dome.
NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith toured the province holding one-on-one policy debates in college and university campus lecture theatres. The debates were very well attended, and they were certainly more entertaining and informative than a mid-election leaders debates. I cannot remember when two party leaders last debated in this type of public forum. It was refreshing.
Last year, the NDP struggled to find their footing in the new political environment created by the 2012 election. Accustomed to running circles around the Liberal official opposition, the NDP were not yet accustomed to competing with the more conservative Wildrose official opposition. With this informal alliance, and a consistent message, the NDP found their footing in 2013. They may not be on the cusp of forming government, but they are receiving much more media coverage and public attention than they were in 2012.
Although the two parties worship different ideologies, there is a kind of mutual respect between the two groups because of their defining ideologies (example: social democracy and libertarianism). There also exists a mutual distaste of the wishy-washy moderate politics of the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals.
Most recently, the Wildrose and NDP (and Liberals) stood together in opposition to Premier Alison Redford‘s hastily introduced Bill 45 and Bill 46, which stripped away collective bargaining rights of public sector workers and attacked free speech rights of ordinary Albertans. It was a strange sight to see the Wildrose defending the rights of public sector workers. But their opposition to the anti-labour laws was not a show of support for organized labour, but a reflection of their libertarian values around freedom of speech and expression.
And, not unexpectedly, there is an electoral strategy element to this informal coalition.
If the Wildrose is to defeat the PCs in the next election, they need to win votes away from the governing party and they need other parties to do so as well. As the Wildrose does not have a strong base of support in Edmonton, the NDP are well-positioned to steal votes away from the Tories in the provincial capital.
Will the NDP Wildrose alliance survive 2014?
As with any alliance of convenience, the effort will succeed as long as the groups involved are able to work together to achieve similar aims. Like the informal alliance between Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives and Jack Layton‘s NDP before the 2006 election that toppled Paul Martin Liberals, I expect the two groups will continue down this path until the ballots cast in the next provincial election are counted. After that, all bets are off.
The ghosts of Senate reform will haunt Prime Minister Stephen Harper as his party establishment gathers in Calgary on Halloween to discuss and debate party policy. After more than seven years in office, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have accomplished little on the issue of reforming the Canadian Senate.
Who would have thought that a Senate scandal involving Conservative appointees could potentially be one of the defining stories of Mr. Harper’s third-term as Prime Minister? Was Mr. Harper not the Prime Minister who vowed to reform Canada’s archaic upper house of Parliament?
While the federal Conservatives had hoped to end this particular Senate scandal with the announcement of a new free trade agreement with the European Union and a consumer-first agenda, the wrath of Conservative Senators scorned has dominated the headlines.
After being ejected from Conservative Party ranks, Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau, all appointed by Mr. Harper, have proven to be incredibly dangerous liabilities. Accused of improper spending and expenses, the three former Conservatives have turned on their former party and are drawing national attention to alleged improper activities of Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Senate reform was a defining policy for the now defunct Reform Party of Canada and a historical grievance that many western Conservatives hoped would finally be resolved when the Canadian Alliance (the Reform Party’s rebranded name) merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. While the crusade for a Triple-E Senate (equal, elected and effective) helped propel the Reform Party onto the national stage in the early 1990s, there does not appear to be much political appetite for this type of reform among Canada’s political leaders.
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Harper has appointed at least 52 of the Senate’s 106 members, including many failed Conservative party candidates or close associates of the Prime Minister. Despite his claims that he would approach the Senate differently, Mr. Harper has proven by his actions that he is not much different than Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, or Paul Martin.
In Alberta, the only province to have held elections for Senate nominees, the votes have attracted low levels of attention and there is no indication that the upper chamber is more effective with the three current elected nominees that have been appointed.
Popular Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, seen by many as a potential successor to Mr. Harper, announced today that his government will revoke its support for Senate nominee election in favour of supporting abolishment of the Senate. This positions Mr. Wall alongside Official Opposition NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who has embraced NDP’s long-standing position that the Senate should be abolished.
The Reform Party’s first leader, Preston Manning, in his role as the godfather of Canada’s conservatives, will today be hosting an all-day Manning Foundation symposium on the future of the Senate. Speakers will include Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre, former Alberta MLA Ted Morton, retired Liberal Senator Dan Hays, Calgary School chieftains Tom Flanagan and Rainer Knopff, and former Senator-nominee turned Wildrose Party candidate Link Byfield. This and other Manning Foundation events will coincide with official Conservative Party events in Calgary this weekend.
Provincial NDP take Lethbridge
Meanwhile, in southern Alberta, provincial New Democrats will gather this weekend for their annual convention in Lethbridge. Delegates will hear from NDP strategist Anne McGrath and Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
At the annual meeting, NDP leader Brian Mason will not face a leadership review, but his party activists will debate some changes to party operations. One topic of debate will be whether the party holds annual conventions or moves to biennial conventions. Party members are also expected to debate whether the Labour movement should have two vice-presidents represented on the party’s executive council.
Most of the province outside of Edmonton is bleak for the social democratic party, but Lethbridge has provided a glimmer of hope that the NDP plan to build on. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP saw their support double to 27% and in the 2012 provincial election, Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips placed a strong second in a three-way race won by PC MLA Greg Weadick.
Three years before the next provincial election, a public debate tour might not be where you would expect to find the leaders of two political parties. Breaking convention, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith and Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason are joining forces to bring provincial politics to college and university campuses across Alberta. In the second of a planned seven stops, the two leaders stood at their podiums in front of a crowd of 400 at the University of Alberta last night to debate the future of Alberta.
It made me wonder when was the last time one party leader faced another in such a public arena and reflect on how this format is more humanizing than the sterile television studio we typically watch our political leaders debate in. Needless to say, it was a highly entertaining evening.
Ms. Smith and Mr. Mason playfully sparred over issues facing the energy sector, pipelines, the economy, post-secondary education, health care and public services.
On so many issues, it was refreshing to see two distinct opinions being debated. It was also refreshing that, for a change, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives were not always the centre of attention. Highlighting the point of the debate tour, Mr. Mason urged the crowd to “think past the PC government,” reminding them that he was in Grade 11 when the Tories first formed government in Alberta.
On government spending, Mr. Mason cleverly pledged his party would not raise taxes, but reversing tax cuts implemented by former Tory finance ministers Stockwell Day and Steve West. Ms. Smith affirmed that new pipelines would help Alberta restore its revenue stream, and worried that the government was becoming too centralized, especially in health care and potentially in post-secondary education.
“I’m not an expert in post-secondary education, but guess what, neither is Thomas Lukaszuk.” – Danielle Smith
On the topical issue of pipelines, Mr. Mason reaffirmed his party’s support for refining bitumen in Alberta, rather than creating refinery jobs in Texas and China. Ms. Smith avoided commenting on the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, instead focusing on the Energy East proposal that would pump oil from Alberta to New Brunswick (which Mr. Mason said he also supports).
While it may seem odd that the two opponents would so comfortably share the stage, there is method to this strategy. After recent budget cuts and government scandals, the two parties are betting that Albertans will be less enamoured with Premier Alison Redford‘s Tories when the next election approaches.
If the Wildrose wants to defeat the Tories in the next election, they not only need to steal votes away from the four-decade old political dynasty, they need other parties to do so as well. While the Wildrose does not have a strong base of support in Edmonton, the NDP are well-positioned to steal votes away from the Tories in the provincial capital (the NDP increased their vote share in Edmonton from 18% in 2008 to 21% in 2012).
If this sounds a tad familiar, there are some parallels that can be drawn to the strategy used by Conservative leader Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton to destroy Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party in the mid-2000s (except in this case, the Martin Liberals are the Redford Tories).
If you missed tonight’s debate, check out on of the upcoming debates near you:
September 25 – Medicine Hat College
September 26 – University of Lethbridge
October 3 – Red Deer College
October 10 – MacEwan University
October 17 – Mount Royal University
When word first broke that a leaky pipeline near the central Alberta town of Sundre had poured an estimated 1000 to 3000 barrels of oil into a tributary of the Red Deer River, Premier Alison Redford was quick to respond. That afternoon, the Premier, flanked by Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen and local Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, held a media conference near the location of the spill.
Despite the quick response, which is a change from the days when it felt like these types of leaks were publicly ignored by our political leaders, Premier Redford’s media conference cannot change the fact that oil spills and leaking pipelines have already become a regularly reported occurrence in Alberta. The latest leak comes at a crucial time when the Government of Alberta and Enbridge Inc are pushing the construction of a new oil pipeline that would travel through Alberta and British Columbia to the port at Kitimat.
As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson has pointed out, the latest leak only confirms the suspicions and fears that some British Columbians have about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline:
B.C. will only agree to the pipeline if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risk. That is an argument the Alberta government has not managed to put forward.
Political support for the project is also in question. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a vocal supporter of the pipeline, has somewhat moderated her tone as her party’s electoral fortunes continue to slip further in the public opinion polls (the BC Liberals have been trailing the NDP in the polls since September 2011). The BC Conservative Party, led by septuagenarian former Member of Parliament John Cummins, are competing with Premier Clark’s Liberals for second place, and have come out in favour of the pipeline.
Taking advantage of the unease about the environmental impact of the pipeline, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix launched a petition against the construction of the pipeline which respond to legitimate concerns about the navigation of oil-filled supertankers through the narrow Douglas Channel.
In the land of political spin, Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway claimed last week that the company had secured the support for the pipeline from 60% of First Nations communities along the proposed corridor. The Coastal First Nations group disputed that number, accusing Enbridge of expanding its corridor by 80 kilometres to boost the number of supporters. The group claimed many of the First Nations listed by Enbridge as supporters are located outside of any area that could be impacted by a potential spill.
Although the next federal election could be nearly three years away, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is capitalizing on the concerns central Canadian and British Columbian voters about the effect of oilsands development on the environment and its effects on traditional manufacturing industries (a la Dutch Disease). Everyone from former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have chimed in to criticize Mr. Mulcair.
There is irony in Mr. Mulroney shaming Mr. Mulcair for playing regions against each other, considering that some of Mr. Mulroney’s more unpopular policies led to the divisive regionalization of Canadian politics following the 1993 election.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives have proven numerous times over the past nine years, leveraging social and regional wedge issues can lead to great electoral success. Mr. Mulcair would be foolish not to take a page from Prime Minister Harper’s book. While conservative pundits and politicians denounced Mr. Mulcair’s criticisms, the political strategy, at least in the short-term, does not appear to have hurt NDP chances in voter-rich regions outside the prairie provinces. A recent poll showed the federal NDP in a statistical tie with the governing Ottawa Conservatives.
There are no shortage of internet conspiracy theories about the mysterious Bilderberg Group conference, but now Alberta Premier Alison Redford will know the truth about the invite-only private annual meeting of the world’s top neo-liberal financial, business, and political elites.
Premier Redford has been invited the the event, which is being held in Virginia from May 31 to June 3. Only a small group of Canadian political leaders have been invited to attend, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, and former premiers Mike Harris and Gordon Campbell, to name a few.
As the emperors of industry behind the Bilderberg Group continue to push failed neo-liberal economic policies that have helped create crumbling markets across the globe, the unbounded potential of Alberta’s natural resource wealth will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion.
Premier Redford’s decision to attend this meeting earned immediate denunciation from Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith criticized the Premier for not staying in Alberta to confront NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who was in the province yesterday to visit Fort McMurray and tour an oilsands operation. Reaction to Mr. Mulcair’s visit drew a supportive comment from Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake, who told the Edmonton Journal:
“It seems like his interests are not necessarily out of alignment with what most Canadians would be interested in – a healthy sustainable environment.”
Breaking from the cries of outrage displayed by many of her Conservative counterparts, Premier Redford has taken a nuanced approach to responding to Mr. Mulcair’s comments that Alberta’s natural resource wealth has contributed to a high Canadian dollar and the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing industry.
Rather than playing into Mr. Mulcair’s strategy to leverage a wedge issue among many voters outside of Alberta (especially in the economically depressed and voter rich southern Ontario) who are uncomfortable with the West’s economic growth and resulting environmental issues, Premier Redford has largely played it cool when responding to criticisms of the oilsands.
For all the criticism of Mr. Mulcair’s strategic play, it provides further evidence that the NDP Official Opposition under his leadership are prepared to use the same type of wedge politics that Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives have successfully used over the past eight years. It should be noted that Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party attempted to emulate the same type of wedge politics in the recent provincial election.
Premier Redford’s calm response is a break in style from recent political leaders like former Premier Ralph Klein, who expressed little interest in taking a leading role on the national stage.
As well as a change in tone, Premier Redford has made a number of political moves that suggest a shift toward Alberta’s provincial government becoming a serious player on the national stage, including beginning discussions with other provincial leaders about a [still vaguely defined] National Energy Strategy.
Earlier this month, Premier Redford announced the opening of an Alberta Office in Ottawa. Ms. Smith criticized the announcement, suggesting that the 27 Conservative Party Members of Parliament were doing a good enough job advocating for Albertans in the national capital. As both Ms. Smith and Premier Redford know, many of those Conservative MPs showed various levels of support for the Wildrose Party in the recent election. As a former lobbyist herself, Ms. Smith will undoubtedly be aware that successful lobbying includes more than meeting with politicians.
One person rumoured to be in line for the appointment as the Alberta government’s lobbyist in Ottawa is former Finance Minister Ted Morton, who is a former colleague of now-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In Ottawa yesterday, Calgary-Centre Conservative MP Lee Richardson announced he had been hired as Premier Redford’s Principal Secretary and senior strategist. Before first heading to Ottawa in the 1980s, Mr. Richardson was the Chief of Staff to Premier Peter Lougheed, who may have been Alberta’s last provincial leader who was also a significant player on the national stage.
Global leaders were shocked yesterday when a new poll commissioned by QMI-Sun News Media showed Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party has made significant headwaters against the governing Progressive Conservatives.
There are serious questions being raised about the results of this poll, which make me question the results. For example, the regional breakdown of party support includes only 81 respondents surveyed from southern Alberta, which results in an unreliably high 11% margin of error (via @calgarygrit). The optimistic results for the Wildrose Party, which already receives daily enthusiastic editorial support from right-wing Sun media, leads me to take with a grain of salt any political polling produced by this media network.
Most legitimate polls, including those conduced by Leger Marketing and Environics, have shown the Tories with 45%-55% support province-wide and the three main opposition parties – Wildrose, NDP, and Liberals – grouped together in the mid-teens. A number of recent polls, including one conducted by Return on Insight, have produced results suggesting that the Wildrose Party has begun to break from the pack of opposition parties, which is not unbelievable at this point.
Recent heavy-handed actions by Premier Alison Redford suggest that the establishment of the 41-year governing party is beginning to worry about their electoral fortunes.
The release of negative radio ads (which were tame in my mind) suggests that the Tories are feeling pressure to hit back at harsh criticism by the Wildrose Party about new laws limiting blood alcohol levels to 0.05%.
Suspending all Legislative and Government committee pay for PC MLAs was a reaction to wide-spread criticism of an absent committee. The drastic move may also have been a shot across the bow of unhappy PC backbench MLAs and former cabinet ministers, who some insiders say have been sowing discontent towards their party’s new direction. The departure of former Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove, who now sits as an Independent MLA and will not be seeking re-election, is one example of the tensions between Premier Redford and loyalists of the former Premier.
It is not difficult to imagine some Tories expressing discomfort with Premier Redford’s move to discipline her former leadership competitor Gary Mar. The majority of the current PC MLAs supported Mr. Mar’s leadership bid in 2011.
The PCs are deliberately focusing their attacks on their largest perceived threat, the Wildrose Party, ignoring the current official opposition Liberals. Premier Redford’s appeal to political moderates has led to more than a few prominent Liberal supporters migrating to the PC Party, including two-term Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor who crossed the floor to the PCs in November 2011. As Alberta’s dominant big tent political party, the Tories will naturally benefit from neutralizing any potential centrist opposition while trying to push the other opposition parties to the ideological fringes.
Email inboxes across the province yesterday were treated a to the “bing” signalling a new PC Party online newsletter touting Premier Redford’s fulfilled promise to hold a “Full judicial inquiry into queue jumping.” Of course, the decision to allow the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA), led by a retired judge, to investigate allegations of queue jumping is a pretty loose interpretation of an actual “Full judicial inquiry”.
To quote Premier Redford’s leadership campaign email newsletter from June 14, 2011 (ASCENT: Alison Redford’s Campaign Newsletter Issue 7):
“Albertans want answers regarding the allegations of queue jumping by wealthy and well-connected people. Alison also wants answers. This week, she became the first candidate to call for a full judicial inquiry into queue-jumping.”
Created in 2002 as a result of the Report of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Health, the mandate of the HQCA is to “promote patient safety and health service quality.” Of course, resistance by politicians to holding a real judicial inquiry is not surprising. Real judicial inquiries are uncontrollable and politically dangerous, just ask former Prime Minister Paul Martin how his judicial inquiry worked out for him.
A new survey released in the National Post by Forum Research Inc. shows Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives with 38% province-wide support and the opposition Wildrose Party sitting at 29%. This survey shows the Liberals at 14%, New Democratic Party at 13%, and the Alberta Party with 3% province-wide support.
Surveys conducted by Environics, Angus Reid, and Lethbridge College in the final months of 2011 tell a different story, showing the Tories with a commanding lead placing more than 20% ahead of the opposition parties. Finding different results, the Forum survey shows the PCs up one-percent from a previous survey conducted by the same firm in December 2011 and the Wildrose up six points in the same period of time. I will wait to see whether other surveys begin to show similar results before I begin to believe that the PCs and Wildrose are this close in electoral support.
It is important to remember that surveys and polls are snapshots of where a population is at an exact moment in time. They are helpful at detecting trends, but as all political watchers should remember – campaigns matter – and Albertans will have an opportunity to see their political parties in full electoral action in the coming months.
Without Premier Ed Stelmach as their lightening-rod in Calgary perpetually unhappy oil company community, the Wildrose Party appears to have lost the steam from the high point they sat at in mid-2010. In response, they are trying their best to cast Premier Alison Redford as a flip-flopper and have come out strong with negative advertising aimed at the Tories. There is plenty to criticize in the Tory record book, but the relentless angry and outrageous attacks lend little suggestion that the Wildrose Party would be a very pleasant crew if they ever form government.
As I said in the National Post, there are not many people talking about the Wildrose Party forming government these days – except Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith appears to be doing very little to manage the expectations of her party’s core activists, many whom are still wearing the [wild]rose coloured glasses they donned when the their party hit the peak of its meteoric rise in 2010.
Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake. While the political environment was different, the most appropriate example may be the Alberta Liberal experience following the infamous 1993 election. With early polls showing a meteoric rise in the polls for the long-outcast Liberal Party, leader Laurence Decore had pumped expectations of forming government so-high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories. The Liberals have not come close to this high-point since.
I also point to the quick rise and fall of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day or Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who both filled their supporters minds with great expectations of electoral glory, only to disappoint when the votes were counted.
What results of the Forum survey and other surveys suggest to me is that the PCs remain Alberta’s big-tent political party – one that both blue conservatives and moderate liberals are comfortable joining – and that the opposition is increasingly polarizing to the political left and right.
The rise of the conservative Wildrose Party to what may become the default opposition and the increase in support for the social democratic NDP may leave a difficult space for the moderate opposition parties that want to occupy the political centre – the Liberal and the Alberta Party.