Tag Archives: Peter Lougheed

Firing the Election Commissioner is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta

In an unusual but not unheard of piece of political theatre, New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley was removed from the Legislative Assembly today when she refused to apologize for accusing the UCP government of obstruction of justice as it dissolves the independent Office of the Election Commissioner.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP

Rachel Notley (Source: Facebook)

Notley knew what she was doing, and did not take it lightly, as she was willing to be thrown out of the Assembly for a day in order to make her point. This is the first time in recent memory that a leader of the official opposition has been removed from the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney was on a plane to Texas safely avoiding controversy when his United Conservative Party government introduced the omnibus bill.

Bill 22: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprise Act, a 174-page omnibus bill, is packed with legislative changes, including major changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans, cuts to historical and sports groups, and dissolves the Office of the Election Commissioner. That last move in effect fires Commissioner Lorne Gibson and likely shuts down his years-long investigation into the UCP’s 2017 leadership campaign that has already led to more than $200,000 in fines.

The Election Commissioner’s investigation is related to illegal or irregular donations to the so-called Kamakaze campaign of Jeff Callaway, the former Wildrose Party president whose brief run for the UCP leadership is considered to have been a stalking-horse for front-runner Kenney. The RCMP are conducting a separate on-going investigation into the UCP leadership campaign.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney (Source: Daveberta.ca)

Kenney’s campaign closely collaborated with Callaway’s campaign, and Matt Wolf, now the Premier’s Executive Director of Issues Management, played an intimate role. But that’s not the shady backroom business that is being investigated by the Commissioner or the RCMP.

The Office of the Election Commissioner was created in 2017 because it was determined that the Chief Elections Officer did not have the resources or political independence to launch thorough investigations into violations of Alberta’s election finance laws.

Wildrose MLAs argued against the creation of his office and UCP supporters have both despised and dismissed Gibson’s investigations, but it is the timing and brazenness of the firing that was shocking.

Before it was tabled for First Reading in the Assembly, Government House Leader Jason Nixon moved to fast-track Bill 22 by severely limiting debate to one hour at each stage in the Legislative process.

Finance Minister Travis Toews has framed dissolving the Office of the Election Commissioner, with its $1 million annual budget, as a money saving decision. But at the same time, the UCP government is spending $2.5 million on a public inquiry to intimidate its political opponents and is providing a $30 million public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry through the creation of Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.

The UCP are changing the rules because people involved in the party broke the rules and were starting to get caught. Kenney knew that firing the Election Commissioner would be unpopular, but he is clearly willing to spend significant political capital to end the investigations into the Kamikaze campaign. It is a cynical move that is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta.

Notley asks LG to not give Royal Assent to Bill 22

Lois Mitchell

Lois Mitchell (Source: LG website)

Notley has asked Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell to not sign Bill 22 when it passes third reading.

It is clear that the best interests of Albertans would be served by allowing the Office of the Election Commissioner to continue its investigations into violations of Alberta’s elections laws, an unlikely outcome if Bill 22 passes, but it is both a serious request and a risky and potentially ineffective political move to ask the Lieutenant Governor to intervene (as she is likely to decline, or worse, simply not respond to the request). 

That said, the Lieutenant Governor does have a power known as reservation, which has rarely been exercised over Canadian history, and probably for good reason. The powers exist in Section 55 of the Constitution Act, and explained plainly, it means the Lieutenant Governor may adopt one of three courses of action in regard to any legislation passed by the Assembly: they may assent, they may “withhold” assent, or they may reserve their assent for “the Signification of the Queen’s Pleasure.”.

I am aware of two examples in recent history in which a Lieutenant Governor opted to withhold Royal Assent to a bill passed by a provincial legislature.

John C Bowen Alberta Lieutenant Governor

John C. Bowen

In 1937, Lieutenant Governor John Bowen refused to give Royal Assent to three bills passed by Premier William Aberhart’s Social Credit government, including the Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to hand over the names and addresses of their sources to the government, and to print government rebuttals to stories the provincial cabinet objected to. The unconstitutionality of the three bills was later confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1961, Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Frank Bastedo opted to withhold Royal Assent for a mineral rights bill, which was later approved through an order-in-council passed by the federal cabinet in Ottawa.

There have been two recent cases in Alberta’s history where Lieutenant Governor’s have publicly mused about withholding assent.

Ralph Steinhauer Alberta Lieutenant Governor

Ralph Steinhauer (Source: Alberta Lieutenant Governor on Flickr)

In 1977, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Steinhauer, the first person of Aboriginal heritage to be appointed to the post, considered withholding Royal Assent and publicly spoke against Bill 29:The Land Titles Amendment Act.

The bill introduced by Premier Peter Lougheed’s PC government was designed to prevent Aboriginal land claims in the northern Alberta, including the oilsands producing areas.

And in 2000, Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole publicly suggested she might have a long talk with Premier Ralph Klein before granting Royal Assent to Bill 11, a controversial health care bill.

And in one of the most odd-ball political plays including the  Lieutenant Governor: the Kudatah. Opponents of Notley’s NDP government collected signatures for a petition to present to the Lieutenant Governor to hold a a plebiscite on the carbon tax and Farm safety laws or else they would enact a secret clause in the Elections Act to overturn the results of the May 2015 election (or something like that). With everything else that is going on lately, I don’t think Albertans need or want a repeat of that.

Kenney’s Alberta Autonomy Panel given questions answered 15 years ago by Klein’s Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation Committee

Things are getting pretty weird in Alberta.

Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.

Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.

Kenney’s panel is both a continuation of his personal political campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s Liberal Party was re-elected with a large minority government, and a reaction to the frustration felt by many of the 70 per cent of Albertans who voted for Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party.

While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.

Panel members include former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (who has openly warned about separatism), former one-term Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans (who recently wrote a blog post asking if Trudeau has committed treason), current UCP MLAs Drew Barnes, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao, Fraser Institute senior fellow and University of Alberta academic Moin Yahya, Canada West Foundation board chair Oryssia Lennie, former Alberta Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Jason Goodstriker, and Peter Lougheed’s son Stephen Lougheed.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity

Donna Kennedy-Glans

The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:

  • withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
  • replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
  • ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
  • opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
  • forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
  • creating an Alberta Constitution.

The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.

The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.

The panel’s mandate and the questions it is being tasked with asking are remarkably similar to the questions asked by the MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by premier Ralph Klein in November 2003.

Chaired by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Ian McClelland (a former Reform Party Member of Parliament) and co-chaired by Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, members of the committee included Calgary-Fort MLA Wayne Cao, Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk, Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths, Calgary-Currie MLA Jon Lord, Calgary-North Hill MLA Richard Magnus, St. Albert MLA Mary O’Neill, and Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk.

The MLA committee was created in the wake of the infamous 2001 Firewall Letter, signed by right-wing luminaries Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, Andy Crooks, Ken Boessenkool, and future prime minster Stephen Harper, and in response to small but loud fringe groups like the Alberta Independence Party and the Separation Party of Alberta.

And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government. 

Ian McClelland

The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.

The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:

Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommends that Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)

Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required). By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)

Mary Anne Jablonski

Police Force: The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)

Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)

Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)

Our Future:The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)

The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.

This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.


Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again

In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.

The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.

In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.

Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.

(Photo source: Facebook)

Premier Rachel Notley delivered a pre-campaign speech at a rally in downtown Calgary (photo credit: @SKGreer on Twitter)

Notley is the Alberta NDP’s strongest asset. Don’t expect to see ‘Team Kenney’ logos on UCP lawn signs.

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley delivered a pre-campaign speech at a rally in downtown Calgary today (photo credit: @SKGreer on Twitter)

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.

A PC Party advertisement from the 1971 Alberta election.

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.

Alberta Separatism is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. It’s embarrassing and a bad idea.

Reading the pages of the Postmedia newspapers or the #ableg hashtag on Twitter you might believe that Albertans from roughneck Fort McMurray to trendy Kensington are calling for Independence and rising up in arms against their political overlords in Ottawa. 

Nope.

A flurry of recent opinion-editorials and columns in the pages of Canada’s Postmedia newspapers have been fanning the flames of discontent and frustration in Alberta. The discontent and perennial alienation from Ottawa is mostly a result of the economic slump and a delay in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but it is difficult to believe that there is any real appetite for Albertans to leave Canada, and the consequences that would follow.

University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz wrote in the Financial Post newspapers this week that an “Albexit” could draw inspiration from the United Kingdom’s disastrous “Brexit” from the European Union. Mintz drew inspiration from another European dumpster fire in 2015 when he penned another cringeworthy Financial Post op-ed predicting that “Alberta is not yet Greece, but it’s heading along that path.”

Three years later, Alberta is not Greece and probably should not be looking to Brexit for inspiration.

The arguments for Alberta’s separation from Canada are so weak and the concept of forming an Alberta Republic is so ridiculous that even the thought of writing this article made me cringe. It is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. But because I am a sucker for punishment, here I go.

Among the many of the disastrous consequences of Alberta leaving Canada would be that it would become virtually impossible to get any new pipelines constructed to the deep water ports that pipeline proponents argue the province’s oil industry needs. 

If you believe it has already been acrimonious to get the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion built in two provinces, just imagine how difficult it would be to negotiate a pipeline project with a suddenly hostile foreign government, whether it be the prime minister of Canada in Ottawa or the president of the Pacific Republic of British Columbia in Victoria. Not to mention the inconvenient fact that the Government of Canada actually owns said pipeline and its expansion project.

Some will argue that the United States of America would open its borders to Alberta or even welcome it as the 51st State, but it seems unlikely that the American government would want to antagonize Ottawa by dealing with a landlocked rogue nation and cause trouble on it’s northern borders.

American corporations already dominate our economy, which saves the US government the messy business of having to govern us. And the likelihood that most Albertans would be inclined to vote for the Democratic Party would also make the statehood route less appealing for many in America’s political establishment.

The Canadian Government saved Trans Mountain by purchasing the pipeline and the expansion project just as Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was preparing to withdraw their application for expansion. The government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid $4.5 billion for the pipeline and project, and it is expected Ottawa could spend another $7 billion on the project after it meets the necessary conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal. 

The Federal Court of Appeal ordered a stop to the project in August 2018 after the National Energy Board and federal government failed to conduct a proper environmental impact assessment of the increase of marine traffic and failed to properly consult First Nations communities along the route in the final phase of the approval process. 

While Trudeau clearly sees the pipeline expansion as a national priority worth spending serious political and real financial capital on, it is unlikely to bring him positive electoral returns in Alberta in 2019. Despite purchasing the pipeline, ensuring it will be built, and announcing $1.6 billion in loans and financial support to the oil and gas industry, support for Trudeau in Alberta has dropped like a lead balloon.

We didn’t ask for the opportunity to go further into debt as a means of addressing this problem,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in response to the federal government’s bailout package.

It is unclear what Alberta’s politicians want to be done in the meantime. Many are calling the pipeline the only solution to Alberta’s economic problems. The big problem with that argument, if you believe pipelines are the solution, is that even if the Trans Mountain expansion project meets the conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2019 it might not actually be finished construction until 2022 or 2023. And even if other failed pipeline projects are resurrected, they might take even longer to complete.

That a Prime Minister named Trudeau is not popular in Alberta is no shock. The ingrained hatred for Trudeau and his father in the minds of many Albertans ensures that no matter what the Liberal government in Ottawa does to support our province, it will be seen as either a failure or a hostile attack.

While separatist sentiments bubble up in Alberta politics every decade or so, the last serious political push happened more than 35 years ago, when Western Canada Concept candidate Gordon Kesler won a February 17, 1982 by-election in the former Social Credit fortress of Olds-Didsbury.

The separatist MLA said at his swearing-in ceremony that he had “a lot of responsibility to those who believe in freedom and free enterprise,” but then spent the next few months in the Assembly railing against the metric system and official bilingualism. He and his party were crushed by Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative juggernaut in the November 1982 general election.

Other separatist parties have come and gone since, but they have all faded in the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.

And with provincial and federal general elections expected to be held in the next 10 months, Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and federal opposition leader Andrew Scheer are only too happy to stoke the flames or western alienation and resentment over pipelines, equalization payments, and new energy regulations included in Bill C-69: An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Meanwhile, outside of the margins of conservative opinion writers and anonymous twitter accounts, two recent polls show that while Albertans might be a little angrier, support for separation remains consistently low.

A recent poll conducted by the research company Ipsos found that “Albertans are a little angrier at the moment, but across the west there is little interest in separation and most measures of connection to Canada are consistent with prior polls taken conducted as long ago as 1997.

The level of support for the idea of an independent Alberta is roughly the same as it was in surveys conducted in 2014 and 2016,” said Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “Four years ago, with a Progressive Conservative government in Edmonton and a Conservative government in Ottawa, the findings were similar to what is observed in 2018.”

The vast majority of Albertans remain proud Canadians regardless of which party has been elected to run the government in Ottawa. The frustration felt by many Albertans towards Ottawa over pipelines construction delays and the low international price of oil should not be ignored, but let’s not pretend that separating from Canada is a viable solution to our economic problems, because it’s not.

Who might and might not be invited to the Leaders’ Debate in Alberta’s 2019 election?

Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.

We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.

Most readers of this website will remember Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice‘s infamous “math is difficult” rebuttal to New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley during the 2015 debate. The comment was viewed by many as sexist and the embodiment of a 44-year old political dynasty way past it’s best before date.

Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.

Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.

Stephen Mandel: Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel will almost certainly be invited to join the debate even though he is not currently an MLA. Mandel served as a PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from October 2014 to May 2015 and was defeated by NDP MLA Bob Turner in 2015. The Alberta Party elected one MLA in 2015 – Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark – and now has three MLAs due to floor-crossings by former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and UCP MLA Rick Fraser.

David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.

The Derek Fildebrandt Question: Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.

Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.

Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.

As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.


A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections

Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:

1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.

The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”

At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.

1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.

1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.

An alternative debate that included leaders of smaller parties was also televised. That debate included the leaders of the Communist Party, Confederation of Regions, Alliance Party and Green Party. Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson refused to participate, arguing that the Social Credit party should have been included in the main leaders debate.

1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts. 

2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.

2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.

The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.

2008 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast on Global, CTV and CBC: PC Party leader Ed Stelmach, Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman. Hinman was the Alberta Alliance Party’s sole elected MLA in the 2004 election before the party changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance (he would be defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008).

The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election). 

2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.

Smith was invited to join the debate despite her party not having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The Wildrose Party was represented in the Assembly by four MLAs when the election was called. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore 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.

Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.

2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.

The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.

(photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Kinder Morgan drops a Sunday afternoon bombshell in the never-ending Trans Mountain Pipeline dispute

“Alberta is prepared to do whatever it takes to get this pipeline built” – Rachel Notley

It was a busy Sunday afternoon in Alberta politics.

We appear to have reached another stage in what feels like a never-ending political dispute over the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. Late on Sunday afternoon, Kinder Morgan released a statement declaring that it was “suspending all non-essential activities and related spending on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.”

The company plans to “consult with various stakeholders in an effort to reach agreements” by May 31, 2018.

It feels like a big win for British Columbia Premier John Horgan and opponents of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. But this announcement by Kinder Morgan could also be part of a strategy to increase the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to convince Horgan to back down from his opposition to the pipeline.

Kinder Morgan Inc. is the key player in this dispute but has remained largely silent in the public debate. But when the Texas-based company finally spoke this afternoon, all the political players jumped to attention.

Notley responded to Kinder Morgan’s announcement with a message that is pitch perfect for Alberta-ears. Notley called on Trudeau to stand up for Alberta’s interests as he has for economic interests in Ontario and Quebec. And in a move that will remind Albertans of Peter Lougheed, Notley went as far to say that “Alberta is prepared to be an investor in the pipeline” if opposition to the pipeline caused private investors to flee.

Trudeau responded very clearly with a tweet declaring that “The Trans Mountain expansion will be built.” And federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr reinforced support for the pipeline in a written statement.

All that said, it remains unclear what the federal government will do to stop what is mostly verbal threats by the BC government to stop the pipeline.

In a statement released today, Horgan stated that “the federal process failed to consider B.C.’s interests and the risk to our province” – a sentiment that most Albertans might agree with on many other issues. But with the BC NDP government now trying to jump-start the west coast liquid natural gas industry, it seems clear that neither climate change or the transportation of natural resources are the actual reasons for opposing this pipeline.

Creating political obstacles that could convince Kinder Morgan to lose interest in the project is part of Horgan’s strategy, and maybe one of the final tools in the now infamous ‘toolbox’ referred to in the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC NDP Caucus.

The Notley government is expected to introduce legislation giving the government the authority to limit oil and gas shipments to BC, a move that could have serious political and economic repercussions for Alberta, BC and Canada. I would imagine this drastic move by the Alberta government would provide some incentive for Trudeau to figure out how he might provide an opportunity for Horgan to gracefully save face on this issue.

I expect this might not be the last time this never-ending political dispute makes big news on a Sunday afternoon.

Peter Lougheed Alberta Premier Now

Week 1 Update from the Calgary-Lougheed by-election

Photo: Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. The Calgary-Lougheed electoral district is named after Lougheed.

It has been one week since the Calgary-Lougheed by-election was called. The by-election is being held on Dec. 14, 2017, but voters in this district also have the option of voting in advance polls on Dec. 6, 7, 8 and 9, 2017.

This is the third by-election since the general election of 2017 that swept the New Democratic Party into government. And like the previous two by-elections, this one will be held in a district where voters elected a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015.

Four candidates have so far been nominated to stand in the by-election:

Phillip van der Merwe, New Democratic Party

Premier Rachel Notley was on-hand with Alberta NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe at tonight’s opening of the party’s campaign office in Calgary-Lougheed. Having just returned from speaking engagements in Vancouver and Toronto, where she pitched the benefits of oil pipelines, Notley returned to Calgary days after the Conference Board of Canada projected Alberta’s economy could grow by 6.7 percent in 2018.

But do not expect the NDP to spend much time focusing on economic issues. They are doing their utmost to make sure Jason Kenney’s opposition to the recent Gay-Straight Alliance law and his support from anti-abortion groups remains a topic of discussion.

This will be a tough election for the NDP, as this area of southwest Calgary is considered bedrock conservative territory. In the recent Calgary mayoral election, voters in this part of Calgary supported conservative Bill Smith over progressive Naheed Nenshi.

Jason Kenney, United Conservative Party

UCP candidate Jason Kenney drew a big crowd of supporters when he opened his campaign office on Nov 19, 2017. The recently elected UCP leader is almost universally considered the favourite to win this by-election.

Kenney and his supporters have started to claim that Albertans’ home heating bills will increase by 75 percent because of the province’s Carbon Levy. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips denied Kenney’s claims, describing them as ‘patently false,’ but the UCP has capitalized on confusion about the provincial and federal carbon taxes in order to draw connections between the Notley NDP and the Trudeau Liberals.

The claims are reminiscent of Kenney’s rhetoric and photo-op from December 31, 2016, when he insinuated the same Carbon Levy would lead to a spike in automobile gas prices. That didn’t happen. With constant predictions that the sky is falling on the issue of a carbon tax and rampant truthiness on other issues, Kenney is sounding more and more like Chicken Little.

David Khan, Liberal Party

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader

David Khan

Liberal Party leader David Khan announced he will stand as his party’s candidate in this by-election. The Liberals currently hold only one seat in the Legislature, Calgary-Mountain View represented by former leader and fourth-term MLA David Swann.

This will be Khan’s third election attempt since 2014 and his first since becoming leader earlier this year.

He first ran as his party’s candidate the 2014 Calgary-West by-election, where he placed 3rd with 8.5 percent of the vote. In the 2015 general election he ran in Calgary-Buffalo, where he placed 3rd with 24.7 percent of the vote (the constituency was represented by Kent Hehr from 2008 to 2015).

The Liberals will host an “Ugly Christmas Sweater & Karaoke Party” fundraiser at Khan’s campaign office on December 9, 2017.

Romy Tittel, Green Party

Romy Tittel Alberta Green Party Leader

Romy Tittel

Recently elected Green Party leader Romy Tittel will run as her party’s candidate in the by-election. An online statement said she plans to champion “Doughnut Economics” based on Kate Raworth’s 21st century vision for future economic health and prosperity.

Tittel was selected as the party’s leader at a November 5, 2017 meeting in Red Deer. She previously ran for the federal Green Party in the 2015 general election in Foothills, where she placed 4th with 3.25 percent of the vote.

No candidate, Alberta Party

The Alberta Party announced this week that it will not be running a candidate in the by-election. Party leader Greg Clark, who is stepping down as party leader next year, called the results of the by-election “a foregone conclusion,” suggesting that the party would have no chance of defeating Kenney.

This is the second consecutive by-election in which the party’s has declined to run a candidate. In a Feb. 29, 2016 media release about the Calgary-Greenway by-election, party leader Greg Clark said “Running in this byelection is not the best use of our resources as we build towards 2019.”

Sitting out this by-election presents a missed opportunity for the Alberta Party to debut itself following its revival last weekend in Red Deer. But having their candidate get clobbered by Kenney would take a bite out of their narrative that they are a growing home for moderate conservative voters. By not running a candidate, the Alberta Party saves themselves the embarrassment of placing third, fourth or fifth in this by-election.

Get ready for a by-election in Calgary-Lougheed

Photo: A map of the Calgary-Lougheed constituency.

With Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney expected to resign tomorrow in order to provide new United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney an opportunity to enter the Legislative Assembly, a by-election will need to be called by May 1, 2018.

Dave Rodney MLA Calgary Lougheed

Dave Rodney

The exact timing of the by-election will be determined by Premier Rachel Notley but the smart money is on it being called soon. Every day that Kenney is not tied up with Legislative duties in Edmonton, he will be campaigning across the province.

Despite being a close race in the 2015 election, with Rodney finishing 502 votes ahead of New Democrat Mihai Ion, the Orange Wave is now at low tide in Calgary. It seems likely that Kenney should have an easy time being elected in this constituency, which has elected conservative MLAs since it was first created in 1993 (but as well all know, by-elections can sometimes produce unexpected results…).

There is some irony that Kenney, who is in the midst of an ongoing feud with the Lougheed family, would become the MLA for a constituency named after Peter Lougheed. As a Member of Parliament, Kenney was quoted in 1999 describing the “neo-Stalinist make-work projects of the Lougheed and Getty years.

Presented with the chance to directly challenge Kenney, will Liberal Party leader David Khan carry his party’s banner in the by-election? His chance of victory are slim to none, but it would give him an opportunity to campaign and potentially face Kenney in any local all-candidates debates (if Kenney participates).

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader

David Khan

The by-election also provides an opportunity for the Alberta Party to run a candidate. The party did not participate in the last Calgary by-election in Calgary-Greenway, but the recent floor-crossing of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and potential future floor-crossings by former PC MLAs could provide some momentum for the upstart party.

The Calgary-Lougheed constituency was first created in 1993 and was represented by Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning until 1997. PC MLA Marlene Graham then represented the constituency until 2004, when Rodney was first elected.

This would be the second time in recent history that a sitting MLA resigned in order to allow a party leader to run in a by-election. Len Webber resigned as MLA for Calgary-Foothills in 2014 to trigger a by-election for PC Party leader Jim Prentice. And in 1998, former Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell stepped down as MLA for Edmonton-McClung to allow new party leader Nancy MacBeth to run in a by-election.

I have created a dedicated webpage to track party nominations and the candidates running in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election.

Here is a look at election results from Calgary-Lougheed for the General Elections from 1993 to 2015:
 

 

No place for second place in the UCP?

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede AlbertaFormer Wildrose leader and recent UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean was the only UCP MLA not assigned a role in the new Official Opposition critic roster.

Jean told reporters that he declined to accept any critic role, and despite the ill will generated towards each other in the leadership race, it seems hard to believe Kenney would completely shut-out the former party leader.

But this move, or lack thereof, will undoubtably fuel rumours that Jean is considering leaving politics. His resignation would trigger a by-election in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, which he has represented since May 2015.

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

The rise and fall of (Pierre) Trudeaumania in Alberta

Trudeau's Tango Alberta Darryl Raymaker

Trudeau’s Tango

There is perhaps no greater myth in Alberta politics than that the National Energy Program, which all Albertans are told to believe brought untold devastation to the oil sector and salted the earth for the federal Liberals in this province for decades to come.

Looking beyond the myth, most Albertans might be surprised to learn that by the time the NEP was launched, it had already been twelve years since the (Pierre) Trudeau Liberals had last elected an MP in Alberta.

Long-time Calgary Liberal Darryl Raymaker does his share of myth-busting as he delves into a period of political optimism, generational changes and missed opportunities that swept through Alberta in the late 1960s and early 1970s in his new book, Trudeau’s Tango. Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

An active member of the Liberal Party of Canada at the time, Raymaker’s book is rich with stories and anecdotes from the offices of party insiders and the trenches of the campaign trail during the Trudeaumania election of 1968. That election saw a federal Liberals breakthrough in Alberta, with four MPs elected, but a long-string of missteps and mistakes led to the party being shut out in the province four years later (and not electing another MP from Alberta until 1993).

Raymaker provides useful insight into the fraught relationship between the four Alberta Liberal MPs and their Ottawa masters, between Trudeau and Calgary’s nouveau rich oil industry, as well as the federal party’s reaction to the shifting ground that led Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives to unseat the long-governing Social Credit Party in 1971.

One of the most fascinating stories Raymaker includes in his book is about the failed attempt to negotiate a political coalition between the federal Liberals and the provincial Social Credit Party. The political coalition was an attempt to solidify federal Liberal gains and keep Lougheed’s Tories at bay. The marriage negotiations failed, and as Raymaker argues, helped drive many traditional federal and provincial Liberals into Lougheed’s big-tent PC Party.

The institutional memory that Raymaker shares in this book is invaluable to anyone wanting to understand the politics of a period that had a significant impact on Alberta’s politics in the following decades.

While the context may be different, the book provides some parallels to today’s Alberta politics –  the electoral breakthrough by the (Justin) Trudeau Liberals in 2015, Trudeau’s friendly relationship with the government of NDP Premier Rachel Notley, and the ongoing political battles over oil pipelines and climate change.

Darryl Raymaker will be launching Trudeau’s Tango in Edmonton on Tuesday, at a free event open to the public at Audreys Books on Jasper Avenue. Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault will be sharing a few words at the event and facilitating a discussion after Raymaker’s talk.

Edmonton Book Launch of Trudeau’s Tango
Audreys Books, 10702 Jasper Avenue
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Ernest Manning, Joseph Tweed Shaw, Peter Lougheed, Harry Hays, and Alexander Rutherford are a few of the Alberta politicians with electoral districts bearing their name.

Alberta’s odd tradition of naming electoral districts after former politicians

Become famous in Alberta politics and one day you could have a provincial electoral district named in your honour.

It has become a custom in recent decades in Alberta for electoral districts to be named after former politicians. As far as I can tell, Alberta and Quebec appear to be the only provinces who have widely embraced the practice of of naming districts after historical figures.

John Courtney

John Courtney

In a 2000 edition of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, University of Saskatchewan Professor John Courtney noted that in 1991 the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing urged a shift in naming electoral districts away from geographic place names, including hyphenated names, to a recognition of distinguished Canadians and important historic events or locations.

“Canadians often decry their limited knowledge of their own history and fail to recognize the accomplishments of those who have made outstanding contributions to the country,” Courtney wrote, suggesting it would “be a welcome change from ponderous directional reference points and an excessive reliance on hyphenated place names.”

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

In Alberta, at least 10 out of the 87 current electoral districts bear the name of a political figure from Alberta’s history. When compiling this list, it was important to make the distinction between electoral districts that have been specifically named after individuals and districts named after communities that were already named after individuals (ie: Calgary-Currie, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Livingstone-Macleod, and St. Albert).

Looking through the list, I discovered a few interesting facts. For instance, despite Alberta’s reputation as an unfriendly political environment for Liberal partisans, there are today more electoral districts named after former Liberal MLAs than there are actual Liberal MLAs in the Alberta Legislature.

Elmer Roper

Elmer Roper

The earliest instance of electoral districts being named after individuals may have been in Alberta’s first election. Two districts were created in 1905 – Victoria and Alexandra – which may have been named after Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.

Why and when naming districts after historical figures began in more modern times might a little more difficult to determine. The Calgary-Egmont district, named after Frederick George Moore Perceval, 11th Earl of Egmont, was created in 1971 and existed until it was renamed Calgary-Acadia in the 2012 election.

The Calgary-McCall district first appeared in the 1971 election and was either named after First World War ace fighter pilot Fred McCall or the airfield that was named after him (McCall Air Field became the home of the Calgary International Airport after 1966). Also created in 1971 was the Calgary-McKnight district, which was either named for McKnight Boulevard or the boulevard’s namesake, Second World War flying ace Willie McKnight. The district was renamed Calgary-Nose Creek for the 1993 election.

In 1986, the Calgary-Shaw district was created and appears to have been named in honour of Joseph Tweed Shaw, who represented west Calgary as an MLA and MP in the 1920s and 1930s. He served as leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party from 1926 to 1930.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

The next instance occurred in 1993, when the Calgary-Lougheed, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Rutherford, Edmonton-McClung, and Edmonton-Roper districts were created, named after former Premiers Peter Lougheed, Ernest Manning and Alexander Rutherford, one of the Famous Five and former MLA Nellie McClung, and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Elmer Roper. Lougheed, Manning and Roper were alive at the time but had retired from politics many years before.

The original recommendation from the MLA committee that oversaw the redrawing of the electoral map at the time had the Manning and McClung districts in difference locations from where they now exist. Manning was originally to be located in southwest Edmonton and McClung in northeast Edmonton, until it was later discovered that Ernest Manning once owned a home in northeast Edmonton Also, Manning Drive, which was named for Manning in 1972, is in the district. An amendment introduced in the Assembly swapped the two closer to their current locations on the electoral map.

While the other names remain on the electoral map, the Edmonton-Roper district was renamed Edmonton-Castle Downs in 1997.

Laurence Decore Alberta Liberal Leader

Laurence Decore

In 2004, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended the creation of the Calgary-Hays, Calgary-Mackay and Edmonton-Decore districts named after former Calgary mayors Harry Hays and Donald Mackay and former Edmonton mayor and MLA Laurence Decore. The Decore district was created from Edmonton-Glengarry, which Decore represented in the Assembly from 1989 until 1997.

Six years later, two more districts were named after former politicians. The first was Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley was named in honour of former MLA and NDP leader Grant Notley, who represented the area in the Assembly from 1971 until 1984.

Grant Notley

Grant Notley

And the second, created through an MLA introduced amendment in the Assembly after the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s final report had been tabled, is the only example I could find of a district being named after an individual who has recently retired from political life.

On October 26, 2010, Progressive Conservative MLA Kyle Fawcett introduced an amendment to rename Calgary-North Hill to Calgary-Klein, after former premier Ralph Klein, who had been retired from elected office for only three years. Fawcett, who represent North Hill, admitted that Klein had never actually represented that area of Calgary as an MLA, but that he was born and raised in the community of Tuxedo Park in the district.

The amendment was accepted by the Assembly, but it raises questions about the lack of process of honouring individuals by including their names in electoral districts. Unlike the process used to name parks, public spaces and schools used by municipal governments and school boards to honour notable community members, there does not appear to be a clear process in naming electoral districts.

The 2009/2010 Commission recommended in its final report that the Assembly consider adopting a protocol for the naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions. It is unclear whether any protocol has been adopted or whether the current commission will continue the trend of recommending naming new districts after political figures from Alberta’s history.

The Famous Five

If the current Electoral Boundaries Commission does name any districts in honour of notable Albertans, I would recommend they choose those names in honour of a century of women being allowed the right to vote in elections (women of European ancestry, at least). One way to do this is for the already existing Edmonton-McClung district be joined by four new electoral districts named in honour of the other members of the Famous FiveEmily MurphyIrene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Opposition to Daylight Saving Time in Alberta since the 1970s.

Thomas Dang MLA

Thomas Dang

Edmonton-South West MLA Thomas Dang announced last week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly in the 2017 spring session that would abolish Daylight Saving Time. The biannual practice of turning the clock forward by one hour in the spring and back one hour in the fall has a long and controversial history in Alberta.

DST was introduced in Alberta after a 1971 province-wide plebiscite resulted in 386,846 votes (61.47%) in favour of adopting the change. This followed the first plebiscite, which took place in 1967 and resulted in a narrow defeat for the Daylight Saving Time change (248,680, or 51.25%, against the change).

While the time change is anecdotally unpopular, a CBC report suggested that lobbyists representing big-box stores, sporting and recreational goods manufacturers, barbecue and charcoal retailers, shopping malls and golf courses remain big supporters of Daylight Saving Time.

National Post columnist Colby Cosh chimed in today, taking a totally reasonable if it’s not broken why fix it? approach to the debate.

Since it was introduced in Alberta, there have been a handful of attempts by opposition critics and government backbenchers to abolish the practice or at least raise concerns about Daylight Saving Time.

A newspaper advertisement promoting DST in 1967.

A newspaper advertisement opposing DST in 1967.

In 1978, Spirit River-Fairview MLA and New Democratic Party leader Grant Notley tabled a petition in the Assembly from 36 constituents “living in an area of the province that comes closest to having the midnight sun,” which called on the government to hold a referendum or plebiscite at the time of the next provincial election.

In 1983, Walt Buck, an Independent former Social Credit MLA representing the Clover Bar constituency, asked in Question Period whether the Progressive Conservative government “if any studies have been done as to the feasibility of leaving daylight saving time year-round?

Premier Peter Lougheed was quick on his feet with a non-response to Buck, “I have to admit I haven’t had a question on that subject since possibly 1972, and I would be somewhat concerned to ask the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Economic Development. So the question is quite properly directed to me. I’ll have to take consideration and decide who will be the fortunate person to whom I delegate the answer.

Lacombe PC MLA Ronald Moore introduced private members’ bill in 1991 and 1992 which proposed the adoption of daylight saving time year-round. Both bills were introduced into the Assembly but did not make it further than first reading and were not debated.

In March 2015, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske tabled a petition organized by Ruby Kassian calling for an end to Daylight Saving Time. More than year later, in December 2016, Vermilion-Lloydminster PC MLA Richard Starke tabled a petition urging the government to introduce legislation to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act and require the observance of Central Standard Time in Alberta.

Daylight Saving Time now longer than it was in 1972

The first Daylight Saving Time was observed in Alberta at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday in April in 1972.

In 1987, Attorney General Jim Horsman introduced Bill 2: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to first Sunday in April.

In 2006, Justice Minister Ron Stevens introduced Bill 4: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November. This was in response to the same change made by the United States Congress in 2005.

Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Floor Crossing! What to make of Tory MLA Sandra Jansen joining the NDP?

Progressive Conservative Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen took to the podium with Premier Rachel Notley this afternoon to announce that she is crossing the floor to join the governing New Democratic Party Caucus.

It would have been hard to imagine only one year ago that we would witness a PC MLA join the NDP but nothing should surprise us in Alberta politics anymore. Ms. Jansen has spent the past 18 months as an unwelcome moderate in a largely conservative caucus of 9 PC MLAs and it is hard to see what other options she may have had.

“Most Albertans are reasonable, moderate, pragmatic people,” Ms. Jansen was quoted as saying in an NDP caucus press release. “And most Albertans want a reasonable, moderate, pragmatic government. I believe we are getting that kind of government from Premier Notley.”

“I also believe that is absolutely not what would be on offer from those who are taking over the Progressive Conservative Party,” Ms. Jansen said. “The best traditions of the Peter Lougheed legacy in Alberta politics are being pursued by Premier Notley. And that legacy is being kicked to the curb by the extremists who are taking over my former party.”

There could not be a more direct shot at her conservative opponents in the PC and Wildrose parties but mostly PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney.

In the opposition benches, Ms. Jansen has been a voice for moderate conservatism in the Legislative Assembly, clashing with her conservative MLA colleagues, including interim party leader Ric McIver, on numerous occasions. She also faced a backlash from conservative activists when she decided to publicly endorse Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo during last year’s federal election.

Last month Ms. Jansen announced plans to run for the PC Party leadership, building a campaign team that included Ms. Naidoo and strategist Stephen Carter. But she dropped out of the race last week, claiming that Mr. Kenney’s social conservative supporters had bullied her at the party’s annual convention over her progressive views on abortion and gay rights. She has also been the target of fierce sexist harassment on social media.

With Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party in full-swing, it has become increasingly clear that there is less room for the moderates and liberals who played a key role in the party’s broad governing coalition from 1971 until 2015. Ms. Jansen was the voice of the “progressive wing” in the PC Caucus and she will certainly sit in the “conservative wing” of the NDP, which is a fascinating development in the evolution of the Alberta NDP’s centre-ish political coalition two years ahead of the next election.

While I expect Ms. Jansen had an opportunity to consider joining MLA Greg Clark in the Alberta Party or run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, returning to a position where she can influence government policy would have certainly been more appealing than joining or leading a smaller opposition caucus.

Although she is a moderate, Ms. Jansen has clashed with the NDP on a few occasions. In November 2015, Ms. Jansen accused then-Status of Women Minister Shannon Phillips of having “lost the authority to govern” after a heated debate over budget estimates and the old PC government’s record.

Her strong connections to former premier Alison Redford’s government are also notable.

A broadcaster by trade, she traded in her journalist’s hat for a job working in Ms. Redford’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in 2011. Shortly after that she was elected as a PC MLA and served as associate minister of families and community safety from 2013 until after Ms. Redford’s departure in 2014.

With this floor crossing, the NDP Government Caucus is one MLA short of having an an equal number of women and men, what I expect is a first in Canadian history. As far as I can tell, she is the first MLA, from any party, to cross the floor to join the NDP in Alberta’s history.

Ms. Jansen will sit as a backbench government MLA but we should expect she will soon make her way into cabinet in the new year.

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

Notley searches for her Lougheed moment by demanding pipelines for Trudeau’s carbon tax

Demanding the federal government help “break the landlock” and support the construction of oil pipelines from Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips drew a line for Alberta’s support of the Justin Trudeau government’s proposed national carbon pricing plan. In a statement released today, Ms. Notley stated that the Alberta government would not support the federal carbon pricing plan without federal support for increased “energy infrastructure” (a.k.a. oil pipelines).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

There is nothing more Albertan than a good old fashioned political battle between the provincial government and Ottawa over energy issues. Premier Notley may be hoping this standoff could be reminiscent of the heated political disputes that took place between the governments of Premier Peter Lougheed and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Mr. Lougheed, an iconic figure in Alberta politics, political fights with Ottawa can help boost a politician’s popularity at home.

When Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice began casting the New Democratic Party as “extremists” during the 2015 election, Ms. Notley frequently turned to quotes by Mr. Lougheed to support her party’s positions on issues like raising corporate taxes.

Ms. Notley’s NDP have been vocal supporters of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline since she became party leader in 2014. Now, as government, the Alberta NDP’s support for oil pipeline expansion has contributed to an increasingly deep divide between the national and provincial NDP in this province. The national NDP, with strong support in anti-pipeline constituencies in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, has played a much less supportive role in advocating for Alberta’s oil industry.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

The Alberta government’s criticism of the federal government puts Ms. Notley in the company of conservative Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a constant critic of Ottawa. But unlike Mr. Wall’s government, which has dragged its feet on tackling climate change, Ms. Notley’s government cannot be accused of doing nothing to address climate change. Alberta’s NDP government has led the charge with its flagship ‘Climate Leadership Plan‘ which includes its own carbon tax and an aggressive phasing out of dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Alberta NDP plan enjoys the support of environmental groups and oil and gas industry heavyweights like Cenovus, Suncor, CNRL and Shell.

Meanwhile, opposition groups like the Wildrose Party are literally hoping to rehash the political battles of the 1980s. The official opposition Wildrose Party circulated a meme online today comparing the national carbon tax announcement to the unpopular National Energy Program of the 1980s. The Wildrose Party continues to be fierce critics of the federal Liberals and NDP but party leader Brian Jean has yet to offer any alternative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Ironically, the Wildrose Party’s 2015 election platform proposes to “Ensure Alberta’s standards for CO2 emissions and pollutants are in line with national and international standards.” This statement was written during a time when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister and a national climate change plan was nowhere on the agenda. It is amazing how quickly politics can change in a short seventeen months.

Breaking the landlock,’ which I predict will become the latest political buzzword, is analogous to the “bitumen bubble” that former premier Alison Redford warned Albertans of in a televised address in 2014. Both buzzwords are part of a public campaign to build pipelines that would presumably allow for easier export of Alberta’s oil, and allow the private companies exporting the oil to sell Western Canadian Select at a lower discount rate than in previous years. This probably would not make a significant difference to Alberta until the international price of oil rebounds.

Over the past year, Ms. Notley has shown her willingness to work with Mr. Trudeau on a wide-range of issues. This may have led the Prime Minister to expect he would find an ally in Ms. Notley in his bid to implement a national carbon pricing plan. But by attaching strings to Alberta’s support for a national carbon pricing plan, Ms. Notley is playing a political game that could pay out political dividends at home. In a fight between the Alberta government and Ottawa, as Mr. Lougheed discovered, you can bet that nine times out of ten, Albertans will side with Edmonton.


Here is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in the House of Commons today announcing the national carbon pricing plan:

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley NDP

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.


The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

6 reasons why Alberta history will be kind to Ed Stelmach

Five years ago today, Ed Stelmach began the process of quietly stepping out of the political spotlight by announcing his resignation as Premier of Alberta after nearly five years in the office.

The mild-mannered farmer from the Village of Andrew dedicated more than twenty-five years of his life to municipal and provincial politics and led the Progressive Conservative Association to win one of its largest electoral victories in its forty-four years as government. Despite this win, his party’s Calgary establishment never forgave him for defeating their choice for leader in the 2006 leadership race.

On January 25, 2011, facing dangerous ideological divisions in his party and caucus, Mr. Stelmach announced his decision to resign. On October 7, 2011, he was replaced as premier and party leader by Calgary MLA Alison Redford.

While there were certainly controversies and missteps during his time as premier, Mr. Stelmach made a number of significant decisions that have had a positive effect on our province. Considering my history with the man, some readers may be surprised to learn that I believe history will be kind to Alberta’s thirteenth Premier. Here’s why.

Six reasons why Alberta history will be kind to Ed Stelmach

1) Mr. Stelmach reinvested in public services and infrastructure. After years of neglect, his government tackled the province’s growing deferred maintenance budget by investing billions of dollars into public infrastructure.

The Municipal Sustainability Initiative and the $1 billion GreenTrip Fund provided to municipalities allowed for the expansion of public transit in Alberta’s fast-growing cities. A series of 5% increases to the health care budget helped to stabilize the see-saw of unpredictable funding allocated by his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

2) The creation of the Capital Region Board helped de-escalate the tensions and narrow the deep divisions between the dozens of municipalities in the Edmonton region. While tensions still exist in some corners of the capital region, Mr. Stelmach helped usher a détente‎ by forcing the municipal politicians to use a process for resolving grievances and planning the future.

3) The creation of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness set a bold plan in motion to eliminate homelessness in our province by 2017. While homelessenss will not be eliminated by 2017, the provincial plan along with plans to end homelessness in CalgaryEdmonton and other cities, thousands of Albertans have been successfully housed through programs like Housing First.

4) The introduction of the Lobbyist Registry helped shine a spotlight into the shadowy world of political lobbying and horse-trading. Although not foolproof, the registry gives Albertans a chance to see who is being paid to influence their elected officials on a daily basis.

5) During his first year in office, Mr. Stelmach concluded a deal with the Alberta Teachers’ Association in which the province agreed to contribute $2.1 billion towards the $6.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In exchange, Alberta’s 34,000 teachers  agreed to a five-year contract. This is a stark contrast to his predecessor and successor, who waged war on Alberta’s public sector workers, their pensions and their unions.

6) In the spirit of former Premier Peter Lougheed, Mr. Stelmach moved the Tories back to the centre of the political spectrum. While he did not stay to face them in an election, he recognized that to compete with the right-wing Wildrose Party, then led by Danielle Smith, he needed to move his party to the middle, rather than the political right. While this angered his opponents both inside and outside his party, this decision may have helped save his party from political defeat in the 2012 election. Had he remained leader of the PC Party, he might still be Premier of Alberta today.

While he never enjoyed the same level of personal popularity as Mr. Klein, I suspect the actions Mr. Stelmach took while in office will have a longer lasting positive impact in this province than those of his immediate predecessor.

(This post is an updated version of an article first published in 2013)