Categories
Alberta Politics

The Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election and the Alberta Politics Time Machine™

The calm before the storm. The deep breath before the plunge.

Tomorrow is the day.

Tomorrow is by-election day in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

They’ve been overshadowed by Jason Kenney’s leadership review, the occupation of Ottawa, a blockade at Coutts, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but tomorrow the people of northern Alberta’s famed boom town get their say.

They get to choose an MLA.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader
Brian Jean

Brian Jean is the favourite to win.

He’s the former MLA, former MP, and former leader of the Wildrose Party.

He’s Fort Mac’s golden boy.

Now he’s the United Conservative Party candidate.

He’s also Jason Kenney’s worst enemy and if he wins he’ll become an even bigger thorn in the Premier’s side ahead of the April 9 leadership review.

Kenney beat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and is now openly campaigning against him in the leadership review.

Jean isn’t the only anti-Kenney candidate in the race.

Alberta NDP candidate Ariana Mancini in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election
Ariana Mancini

NDP candidate Ariana Mancini is campaigning hard.

The NDP are cautiously optimistic about their chances but it’s a real long shot and know they are the underdog.

Even with the NDP leading the UCP by 15 points in province-wide polls and Kenney’s approval ratings in free fall, there is still a big gap to close in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

The UCP won the riding with 66 per cent of the vote in 2019.

Competing with Jean for disaffected conservative voters is another former Wildrose Party leader, Paul Hinman.

Hinman now leads the separatist Wildrose Independence Party.

He’s another long-shot candidate.

He’s also living proof that by-elections can produce weird and unpredictable results.

What do I mean?

Hop in and join me in the Alberta Politics Time Machine™.

Paul Hinman Wildrose Independence Party MLA
Paul Hinman

One year after Hinman was lost his Cardston-Taber-Warner seat in the 2008 general election he shocked political watchers by winning a by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore in the city’s southwest.

It was a real country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse situation.

But Hinman isn’t the only example of how by-elections can be sometimes have shocking results.

The Liberals stunned political watchers when Craig Cheffins won in the Calgary-Elbow by-election to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark very nearly repeated history in 2014 when he placed a painfully close second to PC cabinet minister Gord Dirks in another Calgary-Elbow by-election.

“But Dave,” you say, “aren’t those just fancy urban Calgary ridings?”

Hold on.

There’s more.

The Liberals won the 1992 by-election in Three Hills.

Yes. That’s right. Three. Hills.

Laurence Decore Alberta Liberal Leader
Laurence Decore

Deficit hawk Liberal leader Laurence Decore recruited farm realtor Don MacDonald in that by-election.

It was a sign of how well the Liberals were doing as much as how poorly the old Progressive Conservatives had tumbled under Don Getty’s beleaguered premiership.

“This is the heartland of Conservative Alberta,” Decore told a boisterous crowd of supporters in Three Hills on the night of MacDonald’s win.

He won with a stunning 2,476 lead over the second place Social Credit candidate.

The PC placed third.

“This is rural Alberta. This is where it’s not supposed to happen. This is where Liberals are supposed to be the anathema of everything that this area stands for,” Decore said. “Not only are we winning but we’re winning handsomely.”

The Liberals even came within a hair of winning a by-election in Little Bow a few months earlier.

Yes. Little. Bow.

That’s the deep south and it’s where conservatives usually win big.

The Reform Party of Canada was on the rise and, just like Three Hills a few months later, Reformers were split between the provincial Liberals and Tories in that by-election.

Reformer-turned-Liberal Donna Graham finished 262 votes behind Reformer-turned-Tory winner Barry MacFarland.

It was a close race.

Gordon Kesler
Gordon Kesler

And then there’s the big by-election win that people always talk about when Alberta separatism periodically peaks in the polls: Western Canada Concept’s Gordon Kesler winning the 1982 Olds-Didsbury by-election.

It was the only time a separatist party candidate has been elected to the Alberta Legislature.

People were mad.

Mad at Pierre Trudeau.

Mad at Peter Lougheed.

And boy did they show it.

But Kesler only had a few months as an MLA before Lougheed shifted gears and steamrolled the WCC into electoral oblivion in the November 1982 general election.

Ok. Buckle up.

Let’s take the time machine back even further.

Young PC candidate Bill Yurko stole the Strathcona East seat vacated by retired Premier Ernest Manning in 1969, foreshadowing the demise of Social Credit only a few years later.

Even the New Democrats have squeaked in a surprise by-election win, though you’ll have to go way back to find it.

Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. 1966.

Garth Turcott becomes the first Alberta NDP MLA in the province’s history.

It was a seat with a proud history of radical coal miner unionism, socialism and communism but like most of Alberta it had been held in the tight grip of the Socreds for over three decades.

Turcott’s team brought in a professional organizer and used new campaigning techniques like “doorknocking.”

Federal NDP leader Tommy Douglas even lent Turcott’s campaign a hand and drew hundreds of people to a by-election rally in the riding.

NDP leader Neil Reimer and first ever NDP MLA Garth Turcott shortly after his 1966 by-election win.

Douglas roasted Premier Ernest Manning for standing in the way of public health care.

“He has been the spearpoint of the attack on medicare,” Douglas said of the Alberta Premier.

It’s probably how Rachel Notley would describe Jason Kenney today. She’d be right.

But that’s for another column.

Slide back to the present. March 14, 2022.

What a wild ride.

I’d love to take the time machine to tomorrow night to see how the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election turns out but our tank is almost empty (and radioactive plutonium almost costs as much as a tank of gas these days!).

So we’ll have to take a big deep breath and wait to see if Brian Jean reclaims his old seat tomorrow night.

It might be a Jean slam dunk, but as we just saw on our little journey through Alberta history – sometimes by-elections can have unexpected results.

Voting stations are open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Vintage campaign ads from the 1967 Alberta Election

Going through some files last night I rediscovered some screenshots of newspaper advertisements from Alberta’s 1967 election. I posted them on Twitter and Instragam earlier today, but as fast as those social networks flow the images will be lost in the feed before long, so I thought I would share them here as well.

But first, a little bit of background on the significance of the May 23, 1967 general election in Alberta:

  • It was the seventh and final election in which Premier Ernest Manning led the Social Credit Party, which had formed government since 1935. Social Credit MLAs were elected in 55 of 63 districts but this election marked the first time since 1955 that the party earned less than half of the popular vote. It would be the last time Albertans elected the Social Credit Party to form a government.
  • It was the first election that Peter Lougheed led the Progressive Conservatives. The party formed official opposition with six MLAs, including future premier Don Getty and former PC Member of Parliament Hugh Horner, who acted as Lougheed’s rural lieutenant. The party had been shut out of the Legislature in the 1963 election.
  • It was the last time until 1986 that the Liberal Party elected MLAs, three, to the Legislature. Party leader Michael Maccagno was re-elected in Lac La Biche, a district he had represented since 1955. Also standing as Liberal candidates were well-known Calgary Liberal Daryl Raymaker, who ran in Calgary-Queens Park, and J. Bernard Feehan, father of current Edmonton-Rutherford NDP MLA Richard Feehan, who ran in Edmonton-West
  • The first New Democratic Party MLA elected to the Legislature in Alberta, Garth Turcott, was defeated. He became an MLA after winning a by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest in 1966. Party leader Neil Reimer succeeded in increasing the party’s vote to 15 per cent, an increase of 6 per cent from the previous election, but the party failed to elect any MLAs.
  • Future NDP leader Grant Notley was defeated in Edmonton-Norwood. Alderman Ivor Dent was unsuccessful as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-North East but would be elected mayor in the 1968 election.
  • Defeated PC Party candidates in this election included future Prime Minister Joe Clark, who lost by 461 votes to Social Credit MLA Art Dixon in Calgary-South (Dixon would go on to defeat PC candidate and future Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong in 1971).
  • This election marked the last time an Independent candidate was elected in a general election. Independent Clarence Copithorne defeated Coalition MLA Frank Gainer in Banff-Cochrane.
  • As far as my research could find, this was the first election that included an in-person leaders debate. Manning, Lougheed, Reimer and Maccagno gathered at a debate sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience in the packed church. This was the last time party leaders would meet for a debate until the 1993 election.
  • This was the last provincial election where the voting age was 21 years old and the first which allowed voting by Indigenous people with Treaty Status.
Ernest Manning Social Credit Alberta 1967 election
A Social Credit Party ad featuring Premier Ernest Manning.
An ad for Peter Lougheed leader of the Progressive Conservatives and candidate in Calgary-West.
An ad for Peter Lougheed leader of the Progressive Conservatives and candidate in Calgary-West.
An ad for Michael Maccagno, leader of the Liberal Party and MLA for Lac La Biche.
An ad for Michael Maccagno, leader of the Liberal Party and MLA for Lac La Biche.
An ad for Dave Russell, the PC Party candidate in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An ad for Dave Russell, the PC Party candidate in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An ad promoting the Social Credit Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta's 1967 election.
An ad promoting the Social Credit Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta’s 1967 election.
An ad promoting New Democratic Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta's 1967 election.
An ad promoting New Democratic Party candidates in Calgary in Alberta’s 1967 election.
An ad for Liberal Party candidate R.J. Gibbs in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An ad for Liberal Party candidate R.J. Gibbs in Calgary-Victoria Park.
An NDP ad in Alberta's 1967 election.
An NDP ad in Alberta’s 1967 election.

All of these ads were found in the Calgary Herald. If you liked these, check out some of the ads from Alberta’s 1971 general election.

Categories
Alberta Politics

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.

Categories
Alberta Politics

From the Depths of Hansard: Highways, Hemlock and Marmalade

Gordon Miniely Alberta MLA
Gordon Miniely

Combing through Hansard, I frequently come across amusing, witty and interesting transcripts of debates that have occurred in the Alberta Legislature since the record keeping service began 45 years ago.

Over the weekend I came across an amusing exchange between two MLAs on May 16, 1972.

Gordon Miniely, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Centre, interrupted Charles Drain, the Social Credit MLA for Pincher Creek-Crowsnest, during the latter MLA’s lengthly contribution a debate over highway right of way, speed limits and and rules of the road.

May 16, 1972:

Charles Drain Alberta MLA
Charles Drain

MR. MINIELY: Mr. Chairman, just a short announcement. The members of the press gallery — as a matter of interest to all members — have undertaken to purchase poppy tea laced with hemlock for all members still in attendance at 1:00 a.m.

MR. DRAIN: Mr. Chairman, this is very encouraging and I am just hoping that they include marmalade. I am now impelled to make a 40-minute speech. With the encouragement that I have received from the hon. members of the press, I will just proceed with this. So brace yourselves.