It’s a magical time at daveberta.ca. We’ve now entered a zone where I am tracking candidates running in three separate elections: municipal, federal, and now provincial.
With the announcement by the Alberta NDP that they are opening candidate nominations for the expected 2023 election in spring 2021, they have had their first candidate announced plans to run for a nomination.
Outreach and community engagement specialist Julia Hayter announced on Twitter yesterday that she plans to run for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Edgemont.
Hayter was the NDP candidate in that north west Calgary district in the 2019 election, where she earned 34 per cent of the vote against United Conservative Party candidate Prasad Panda.
She previously served as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Varsity NDP MLA Stephanie McLean and sought the nomination in that district until switching the Calgary-Edgemont ahead of the 2019 election.
The NDP have also opened nominations in Banff-Kananaskis. No candidates have announced their plans to run as of yet.
And, as usual, if you know of any municipal, provincial and federal candidates planning to run, please let me know and I will add them and their social media links to the various lists. Thank you!
The recent mini-cabinet shuffle is being followed by a series of staffing changes among the senior ministerial ranks of the United Conservative Party government.
Announced during last week’s shuffle that saw Kaycee Madu appointed Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer put in charge of a newly rebranded economic ministry and Tracy Allard promoted to Municipal Affairs, was the departure of Premier Jason Kenney’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin, who is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.
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Other changes announced today include the departure of the Premier’s Director of Community Relations Ariella Kimmel, who will now take the role of Chief of Staff to Schweitzer. Kimmel replaces current Chief of Staff Kris Barker, who will now become a Senior Policy Advisor in the office of Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.
More changes in Room 307 include, Julia Bareman leaving Finance Minister Travis Toews office to join the Premier’s office as a Policy Advisor and Manager of Stakeholder Relations Siobain Quinton and Executive Assistant Clancy Bouwman moving to part-time roles as they pursue post-secondary studies.
Staffing changes in ministerial offices include:
Brock Harrison has been appointed as Executive Director of the UCP Caucus, moving on from his role as Chief of Staff to the Minster of Children’s Services. Harrison is a long-time political staffer, having served as Communication Director of the Wildrose Caucus and in the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
Current press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services Lauren Armstrong will become the new Chief of Staff. Alberta Proud spokesperson Becca Polak will take over as Press Secretary in this office. Polak was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View ahead of the 2019 election.
At the UCP Caucus, Harrison replaces Robyn Henwood, who will take over as Chief of Staff to Community and Social Services Miniser Rajan Sawhney. Current Chief of Staff Ryan Hastman will move into a new role which has yet to be announced.
Current Indigenous Relations Press Secretary Ted Bauer has been promoted to Chief of Staff in Minster Rick Wilson’s office and UCP Caucus Director of Communications Joseph Dow will take over as Press Secretary in this office.
Riley Braun, the current Chief of Staff in Indigenous Affairs, will become a senior advisor in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
Jonah Mozeson has been promoted from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Mozeson is married to Jamie Mozeson, who is currently the Chief of Staff to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish.
Long-time Kenney ally, Blaise Boehmer has been appointed as Senior Press Secretary in the Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, moving over from his role as Special Advisor to Agriculture & Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. Bohemer was director of communications for Kenney’s UCP leadership campaign and the manager of communications and engagement for the UCP caucus from 2017 to 2018. He previously worked as director of research and operations for the Saskatchewan Party Caucus in Regina.
Kalee Kent has been appointed a Legislative Assistant in the office of Minster of Environment & Parks Jason Nixon, moving from her current role as Ministerial Assistant in the Office of the Municipal Affairs Minister. Kent was Constituency Development Director for the UCP from 2016 to 2019 and previously worked for the Saskatchewan Party and Regina-Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty.
Jason Kenney touted Alberta’s low taxes, educated work-force and efficient power prices to the Indian media during a trip to meet with government ministers and business leaders on the subcontinent this week, according to a report from the CBC.
Meanwhile, back in Alberta, political watchers are scratching their heads, wondering why Kenney, actually only the leader of the Official Opposition United Conservative Party, would contradict some of his main criticisms of the New Democratic Party government while he is overseas?
In the clip referred to the in CBC article, Kenney sounded more like actual Premier Rachel Notley or Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, than the anti-NDP Kenney that Albertans have got to know over the past year and half.
Kenney has spent the past two years rallying against NDP ‘ideological’ and ‘risky’ high-taxes that he argues have destroyed our province’s mythical “Alberta Advantage.” He has also warned that electricity prices could soon spike because of the NDP’s shift toward renewable energy and away from dirty coal-fired power plants.
The truth is that the Kenney we heard from India is correct. Alberta’s taxes are low, (I have argued they are lower than they should be), our electricity prices are stable, and our excellent public education system has produced a highly-educated workforce. And Alberta’s economy is growing, albeit at a slower rate than the over-heated boom-times we all became accustomed to, according to recent projections.
Probably a little confused about what they were hearing from Kenney’s trip, the NDP raised questions about the ethics of the opposition leader’s trip abroad. I am a little skeptical about whether there are actually any ethical breaches, but there still remains unanswered questions about how the trip to the subcontinent actually began and who or what organization is paying for it.
Kenney says he was invited by the High Commission of India, which is probably true, but it seems unusual for a foreign government to extend an invitation like this to the leader of a provincial opposition party.
The trip was publicly announced mid-week last week and Kenney was on a plane by Friday with his United Conservative Party delegation of Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen. It is not clear whether the UCP will publicly release the itinerary of Kenney’s visit, as would be released with any actual ministerial visit.
Despite his current role as a provincial opposition politician, Kenney very much remains a nationally-minded politician (with frequent trips to Ottawa in his schedule) and has strong connections to conservative politicians in other parts of the world. And he is no dummy. Putting aside the tongue and cheek opening sentence of this article, I doubt Kenney is misrepresenting himself to Indian Government officials by pretending to be a Minister of the Crown. But I think it is entirely possible that he is presenting himself in India as the next Premier of Alberta.
The UCP does not have a trade policy, at least not one they have released for Albertans to see, so it is also not clear what kind of promises or commitments he is making to Indian government officials and business people.
Perhaps the UCP leader is so confident that his party will win a solid majority in next year’s election that he already feels comfortable embarking on international trips on Alberta’s behalf. Kenney has room to be confident, but not to be complacent.
According to two polls, his party’s lead ahead of the NDP has shrunk from 24 percent in April 2018 to 14 percent in July 2018. This is obviously still a very healthy lead, but it’s only a stone’s throw away from becoming a competitive election.
Perhaps the reason for this narrowing of the polls is that Notley’s has largely outmaneuvered him on the pipeline issue, leaving him largely sitting on the sidelines. Despite the alternate universes that some media pundits exist in, Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for the oil industry and pipeline expansion (to the chagrin of some environmentally-minded NDP activists).
As I have written in the past, there is value in public officials making international trips to promote Alberta. But the value of overseas trips by government officials remain almost impossible to calculate, and a visit like this by a provincial opposition leader, even a former federal cabinet minister like Kenney, will likely have little impact on actual trade relations between India and Alberta.
As noted in some media coverage of Kenney’s overseas adventure, this is not the firs time an opposition leader from Alberta has made an international trip. NDP leader Brian Mason received approval from the Speaker of the Assembly to use public funds to visit Alaska in 2007 to study that State’s royalty structure.
Liberal leader Kevin Taft stayed closer to home when he travelled to Winnipeg in 2007 to promote his idea for turning western Canada into an oil refining super-hub. And in the 1993 election, it was reported that NDP leaderRay Martin brought reporters to a hospital in nearby Montana as a way of focusing attention on medicare.
Having a high-profile nomination challenger like Millions unseat an incumbent in a nomination contest, especially as she is one of two women MLAs in the UCP caucus, would be embarrassing for the UCP.
Pitt’s caucus colleagues are rallying with support. Thirteen UCP MLAs (Nathan Cooper, Tany Yao, Jason Nixon, Mike Ellis, Todd Loewen, Rick Strankman, David Hanson, Scott Cyr, Glenn van Dijken, Prab Gill, Dave Schneider, Mark Smith and Wayne Drysdale) and Calgary Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie have publicly endorsed Pitt’s nomination bid through videos on her Facebook page.
It is unusual for an incumbent to garner so many endorsements in a nomination contest from other MLAs unless that incumbent is in danger of being defeated. It is also not clear if the endorsements will have an impact on the outcome of the nomination contest.
I am told that Pitt is fairly popular among her UCP MLA colleagues, but that she might not have laid the ground work needed in Airidrie to fend off a nomination challenge from someone as high-profile as Millions.
Controversy arose earlier this month when a member of the local UCP board of directors resigned after disagreeing with the local association’s decision to donate the $16,000 remaining in the bank account of the defunct local Wildrose Party association to the Alberta Fund political action committee.
The Alberta Fund PAC was created to supportBrian Jean‘s candidacy in the 2017 UCP leadership race and is run by former Wildrose Party president David Yager. Pitt endorsed Jean in the leadership race.
The UCP nomination vote in Airdrie-East will be held on June 20, 2018 from 11:00am to 8:00pm at the Town and Country Centre in Airdrie.
NDP nominate Phillips and Sabir
Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips has been officially nominated as the New Democratic Party candidate in Lethbridge-West. Phillips was first elected in 2015, earning 59 percent of the vote and unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Greg Weadick. Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir was expected to be nomination as the NDP candidate in Calgary-McCall at a meeting on June 12, 2018.
Former PC MLA runs for Alberta Party nomination
Dave Quest is running for the Alberta Party nomination in Strathcona-Sherwood Park. Quest represented the district from 2008 to 2015 as a PC MLA. He served as Associate Minister for Seniors from 2013 to 2014. He briefly planned to run for municipal office in Strathcona County ahead of the 2017 elections but withdrew before the nomination deadline.
Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock – Monty Bauer, a grain farmer from Thorhild, is challenging MLA Glenn van Dijken for the UCP nomination. Bauer has been endorsed by former Westlock-St. Paul Conservative MP Brian Storseth.
Brooks-Medicine Hat – Conservative activist S. Todd Beasley is seeking the UCP nomination. Beasley was an organizer for the anti-NDP Alberta Wide Rallies held in 2016 and is the organizer behind the ‘Stop the Shock‘ group, which opposes the closure of dirty coal-fired power plants in Alberta.
Calgary-Edgemont: Prasad Panda was nominated as the UCP candidate in this district. Panda was first elected as the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills.
Calgary-Shaw Brad Leishman is seeking the UCP nomination. Leishman was the Wildrose Party candidate in this district in the 2015 election.
Cypress-Medicine Hat – Drew Barnes has been acclaimed in the UCP nomination in this district covering the southeast corner of Alberta. Barnes was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2012 and was re-elected in 2015.
Edmonton-Meadows – Sant Sharma is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-Manning – Manwar Khan is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Edmonton-South – Pramod Kumar is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Atul Ranade is seeking the UCP nomination. Ranade was a declared candidate for Mayor of Edmonton in 2017 but did not enter the race on nomination day.
Edmonton-Whitemud – Payman Parseyan has withdrawn from UCP nomination contest in Edmonton-South and is now seeking the UCP nomination in the neighbouring Edmonton-Whitemud district.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland – Dale Johnson is seeking the UCP nomination.
West Yellowhead – Maryann Chichak announced on her Facebook page that she has withdrawn from the UCP concest. Chichak has served as Mayor of the Town of Whitecourt since 2013 and was the Wildrose Party candidate in Whitecourt-Ste. Anne in the 2012 election.
Photo: Alberta political party nomination candidates: Mike Walsh, Stephanie McLean, Leela Aheer and Craig Coolahan.
Here is the latest update to the list of candidates running for political party nominations ahead of Alberta’s expected 2019 provincial general election:
Calgary-Buffalo: Megan Brown is seeking the United Conservative Party nomination int his downtown Calgary district. Brown is the executive director of Common Sense Calgary, a conservative municipal political group with strong ties to Preston Manning’s Manning Centre. She ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow in the 2015 election.
Calgary-Klein: MLA Craig Coolahan is seeking the NDP nomination. Coolahan was first elected in 2015, defeating two-term PC MLA Kyle Fawcett by 3,220 votes.
Calgary-Falconridge: Calgary realtor Pete de Jong is seeking the UCP nomination.
Calgary-North: City of Calgary lawyer Paul Frank is seeking the UCP nomination. Frank previous ran for the federal Conservative Party nominations in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in 2014 and Calgary-Heritage in 2017. He also ran as an Independent candidate in Alberta’s 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election.
Calgary-Varsity: MLA Stephanie McLean is seeking the NDP nomination. McLean was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Status of Women and Minister of Service Alberta.
Chestermere-Strathmore: MLA Leela Aheer is seeking the UCP nomination in this newly redrawn metro Calgary district. Aheer was first elected as a Wlidrose MLA in the Chesteremere-Rockyview district in 2015.
Edmonton-City Centre: LGBTQ activist Dylan Chevalier is seeking the Liberal Party nomination in this downtown Edmonton district. The area was represented by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman from 1997 until 2015, when she was unseated by New Democrat David Shepherd.
Edmonton-West Henday: MLA Jon Carson is seeking the NDP nomination in this newly redrawn west Edmonton district. Carson was first elected in 2015 in the Edmonton-Meadowlark district. In 2016, Carson introduced a private members bill intended to enhance consumer protection for automobile repairs.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake: Mike Walsh is seeking the UCP nomination in this central Alberta district. Walsh is the former president of the now-defunct Progressive Conservative association and is currently serving his second term on Penhold Town Council. The district is currently represented by former Wildrose and current UCP MLA Don MacIntyre (known for his climate-change denying views).
Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright: Lloydminster-based financial advisor Garth Rowswell is seeking the UCP nomination. Rowswell served as campaign manager for Wildrose candidate Danny Hozak in the 2015 election and he is currently the secretary of the local UCP association.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at email@example.com. I will add them to the list.
The construction of a new cancer centre in Calgary was a big issue in the last election, so a recent comment by a United Conservative Party MLA Glenn van Dijken about the new Calgary Cancer Centre being a “fancy box” certainly gave van der Merwe some extra material to use while campaigning at the doors. But while health care is one of the issues he spoke most passionately about during our chat, jobs and the economy remain a top issue for many Calgary voters.
While the economy has stabilized since 2014 and is showing signs of growth, van der Merwe was honest about the slow recovery in Calgary.
“Officially, if you look at all the indicators the recession is over, but we are certainly empathetic to the fact that this has maybe not translated to families yet,” said van der Merwe. “People are hurting and we know there is still more work to do and that’s exactly why we have to continue.”
“I can tell you that families are very concerned about Mr. [Jason] Kenney’s 20 percent budget cuts and what that will mean in the economy alone – just ripping the bottom from under it,” said van der Merwe, echoing statements made by Premier Rachel Notley about the dangers of UCP budget cuts.
And on the NDP’s chances in a future election, van der Merwe believes that 2015 election was more than the “accident” that the NDP’s opponents tend to frame it as.
“I think people are underestimating what happened in 2015, thinking that it was purely a protest vote. And while there obviously was elements of that, I think it was a sign that Alberta has changed,” said van der Merwe. “And that is what we are finding in this race.”
“Mr. Kenney is out of touch with what Calgary wants. Not only is his social stance out of touch with the 21st century, period, but it’s out of touch with what Albertans and Calgarians want,” said van der Merwe.
Kenney and the UCP tied themselves in knots last month over the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools, an issue the NDP were eager to let their opposition stumble over.
“Alberta is not the Alberta it was 20 years ago, and that’s a good thing.”
Here is a quick look at what the other by-election candidates have been up to:
UCP leader Jason Kenney hosted a well-attended town hall meeting in Calgary-Lougheed on December 5, 2017. He was also spotted campaigning alongside Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda and Fort McMurry-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao.
Green Party leader Romy Tittel released her party’s manifesto for democracy, which calls for the adoption of a Proportional Representation electoral system, the banning of all election donations and use of mass media for campaign communications, and the creation of citizen initiated legislation through online petitions.
All-Candidates Debate: The Calgary Leadership Forum is hosting an all-candidates debate for Calgary-Lougheed on December 10, 2017 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Braeside Community Hall (11024 Braeside Drive SW, Calgary).
Today’s announcement by the TransCanada Corporation that it would no longer pursue the construction of the Energy East Pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick triggered a storm of statements, accusations and criticisms from politicians trying to drive their political narratives.
While the reasons for the TransCanada Corporation withdrawing its plans are likely influenced more by economics than by politics, there will certainly be political implications for the politicians – like Premier Rachel Notley – who have tethered their governing agenda to the approval of pipeline projects.
So, politics being politics, here is a quick look at who is blaming who for the demise of the Energy East Pipeline:
The TransCanada Corporation blames existing and likely future delays caused by the National Energy Board regulatory process, associated costs and challenging “issues and obstacles” facing the project.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley blames “a broad range of factors that any responsible business must consider.”
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant doesn’t blame the TransCanada Corporation, but recognizes “recent changes to world market conditions and the price of oil have negatively impacted the viability of the project.”
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall blames Justin Trudeau, the federal government, and Montreal mayor Denis Coderre.
Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr blames the decision to cancel the pipeline project as a business decision.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer blames Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Alberta Liberal MPs Randy Boissonnault, Amarjeet Sohi and Kent Hehr blame “current market challenges related to world market conditions and lower commodity prices.
Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel blames “Liberal ideological opposition to the wealth and prosperity of western Canada, to the detriment of the nation as a whole.”
United Conservative Party interim leader Nathan Cooper blames the Alberta NDP.
UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean blames Rachel Notley, Justin Trudeau and Denis Coderre.
UCP leadership candidate Jason Kenney blames the Alberta NDP carbon-tax and social license, and the Trudeau Liberals. He later also blames Denis Coderre.
Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.
For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.
There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.
An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.
A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.
The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.
Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.
What does this mean for the NDP?
While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.
Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.
Kenney has stated that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.
Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.
What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?
Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.
Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.
Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet
Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.
But according to the MLA committee membership list released on Dec. 13, 2016, Fildebrandt is no longer Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, a role he has filled since June 2015. The chair of the financial oversight committee is traditionally filled by an MLA from the Official Opposition. Fildebrandt has been replaced by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.
While relinquishing the chair role could be seen as a demotion caused by conflict with his party’s leadership, it likely means that Fildebrandt, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and aggressive critic of the NDP, can now play a more active and vocal role on the committee.
By-elections can produce unexpected results. While they are important snapshots of the political mood of an electorate at a certain point in time, the results can be poor indicators of outcomes of future general elections.
Alternatively, the Calgary-Greenway by-election is a must-win for the PC Party, which has dropped down to eight MLAs from 70 MLAs before the 2015 election. PC candidate Prab Gill needs to retain this by-election to signal his party will continue to be a viable alternative to the NDP.
A win by the PC Party would also throw a wrench into the plans of the official opposition Wildrose Party, which has been aggressively attacking the new NDP government since it took office less than a year ago. A Wildrose win might be a final nail in the coffin of the PC Party.
The past few years in Alberta politics have reminded us that politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a very tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choices of Premier Rachel Notley, Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Wildrose leader Brian Jean, here is a list of eleven Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2016.
Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Deron Bilous faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan can work as the provincial economy faces declining international oil prices.
Greg Clark (Calgary-Elbow): As leader of the one MLA Alberta Party opposition, Greg Clark is punching above his weight in getting media attention and working hard to position himself as a moderate conservative alternative to the NDP and Wildrose Parties. He was also the only opposition MLA to propose an alternative budget and climate change plan in 2015.
Nathan Cooper (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): With a detailed knowledge of Assembly rules and procedure, Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper will prove to be a valuable asset to the rookie Wildrose Caucus.
Deborah Drever (Calgary-Bow): Elected as a New Democrat and sent into legislative exile as an Independent after embarrassing social media posts were reported, she has been the target of relentless personal attacks by Wildrose MLAs and anonymous internet trolls. She has redeemed herself as a well-spoken representative and shepherded her first private members’ bill – Bill 204 – to unanimous approval in the Legislature. Expect Ms. Drever to be invited to rejoin the NDP caucus in 2016.
Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): Probably the most high profile Wildrose MLA, Derek Fildebrandt is the loudest critic of the NDP government. But his hyper-partisan outbursts, including an embarassing fight with a Globe & Mail reporter and an angry tweet directed at the Assembly Speaker, are not necessarily the kind of attention his MLA colleagues are pleased to receive. Can he tone down the rhetoric and offer reasonable solutions and alternatives in 2016?
Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): As Health and Seniors Minister, Sarah Hoffman is well-spoken and smart as a fox. She can explain complex issues and spar with the opposition with ease. She is a contender for strongest member of Rachel Notley’s cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.
Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): Sandra Jansen is the voice of the moderate wing of the Progressive Conservative Party. She has publicly clashed with interim leader Ric McIver over his decision to endorse the federal Conservatives, and with Wildrose supporters over her decision to endorse Liberal candidates in the 2015 federal election. Her record as a vocal opponent of a merger with the Wildrose would make her a candidate to watch in her party’s next leadership race.
Prasad Panda (Calgary-Foothills): When he won a Sept. 2015 by-election in Jim Prentice’s former constituency, he became the Wildrose Party’s only MLA from Calgary. He has been quite quiet since his win, but Mr. Panda’s performance as MLA over the coming years could determine how far his rural-based party might expand its presence in Alberta’s largest city.
Shannon Phillips(Lethbridge West): Smart, passionate and a fierce partisan, Shannon Phillips impressed many with her calm and cool delivery of Alberta’s climate change plan ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference in Nov. 2015. As Environment and Parks Minister, she helped bring together oil industry leaders and environmental groups to endorse the province’s plan. Selling the plan and its carbon tax to Albertans over the next year will be a serious test of Ms. Phillips’ political skills.
Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): As a critic of Bill 6, Richard Starke took a more reasoned approach to criticizing the farm safety law and avoided the hysterical and negative reactions characteristic of his counterparts in the Official Opposition caucus. One of two remaining rural PC MLAs, he is said to be interested in making a bid for his party’s leadership.
The Under 30s: Another result of the massive turnover in the legislature last year was a significant drop in the average age of Alberta’s MLAs, from 53 to 40 years old. Among the newly elected younger MLAs are a handful who are under thirty-years old (including Ms. Drever, who is noted above).
While it is not uncommon to have one to two under-30s elected to the Assembly from time to time, I cannot remember a time when so many were elected at once. It is a refreshing change, as younger Albertans bring a very different perspective than the typical older, greyer elected representative.
Former Calgary alderman Bob Hawkesworth has been appointed Executive Director of Premier Rachel Notley’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary. A press release sent out on Nov. 7 states that Mr. Hawkesworth will be responsible for “the day-to-day operation of McDougall Centre, including stakeholder relations, communications and outreach services.”
Mr. Hawkesworth is a familiar name in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixonattacked the announcement as “a patronage appointment while Albertans across the province are hurting.” It seemed odd that the Wildrose caucus did not choose their only MLA from Calgary, Mr. Panda, to respond to the appointment. Maybe they are still preparing themselves for the rigours of a 9:00 a.m. start time?
Was this appointment based on political connections? It is hard to argue it is not. We can expect Ms. Notley to hire who she knows and who she trusts to these top positions. Mr. Hawkesworth might be the most well-connected and well-known partisan New Democrat in Calgary (Finance Minister Joe Ceci, another former alderman, might be the only other Calgary New Democrat as well connected). And he did earn endorsements from a number of conservatives during his by-election bid, including Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake andformer mayor Rod Sykes.
This appointment of a long-time party loyaltist also signals that the NDP don’t have a broadly developed network of fresh talent to draw from in Calgary and southern Alberta, which may explain the large number of out-of-province hires. Many Calgary progressives I speak with regularily, some who are affiliated with Mr. Nenshi’s mayoral campaigns, are completely unfamiliar with the NDP’s political networks in their city, mostly because these networks are just now being built.
Despite electing 15 MLAs in Calgary, the NDP only earned 35 percent of the city-wide vote in the May 2015 election. It will largely depend on these 15 MLAs in Calgary and their colleagues in Banff-Cochrane, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to develop those networks through the work they do on the ground in their constituencies over the next four years.
The appointment of Mr. Hawkesworth does raise the question about Ms. Notley’s pledge to operate differently than the old PC government. In fact, only a few months ago, the NDP government publicly fired and criticized former Alberta representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield for being a political appointee.
Mr. Merrifield was a partisan political appointee, hired by former Premier Jim Prentice, because he knew him and believed he could trust him to do a good job. Just as I am sure Ms. Notley knows and believes she can trust Mr. Hawkesworth to do a good job running the Premier’s office in at the McDougall Centre.
Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew from twelve to thirteen today with the appointment of Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee to the posts of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta.
Ms. Larivee takes over those roles from Deron Bilous. Mr. Bilous, one of the four NDP MLAs elected before this year’s orange chinook swept across Alberta, is now the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, a new department created from elements of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation and International and Intergovernmental Affairs.
With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table the provincial budget in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 27, the creation of this new ministry is meant to send a message about the importance of job creation and economic diversification. It was announced today that the budget will also include an “economic development plan” that will help provide some direction for this initiative.
The provincial budget is expected to include significant investment in public infrastructure and job creation projects to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by the drop in the international price of oil.
Calgary No Longer the Centre of Alberta’s Political Universe
The appointment of a rural northern Alberta MLA to cabinet has already generated complaints from some Calgary-based pundits. Only four of thirteen cabinet ministers represent constituencies south of Edmonton, including Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.
Over the course of its 44 years in power, the old Progressive Conservative government was led by Calgarians for more than three decades – Premiers Peter Lougheed(1971 to 1985), Ralph Klein(1992 to 2006), Alison Redford (2011-2014) and Jim Prentice(2014-2015).
It is suspected that former Alderman Bob Hawkesworth would have been appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs if he had won a September by-election in the Calgary-Foothills riding. If this is true, Calgarians can rightfully ask why one of the other eleven NDP MLAs in Calgary wasn’t appointed to cabinet. But they would be mistaken to believe they are the only group the provincial government is trying to represent.
As an MLA representing a large rural constituency, Ms. Larivee’s appointment to the Municipal Affairs post is more likely a tip of the hat to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties. An incredibly well-connected lobby group during the PC Party’s time in power, the AAMDC has found itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.
The group was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many of its officials have used the group as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former cabinet minister Jack Hayden).
As a registered nurse who worked in a community health care setting, Ms. Larivee will understand some of the challenges facing the rural and remote communities represented by the AAMDC. It just so happens that Ms. Larivee’s new job starts a month before her first large event as minister – the AAMDC’s annual general meeting on November 17 and 18.
Alberta’s New Cabinet
Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona) – Premier
Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) – Economic Development and Trade
Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne) – Agriculture and Forestry
Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort) – Finance and Treasury Board President
David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) — Education and Culture and Tourism
Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo) Justice and Aboriginal Affairs
Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton Glenora)— Health and Seniors
Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake) – Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta
Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) – Infrastructure and Transportation
Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley) – Energy
Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West) – Environment and Parks and Status of Women
Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall) – Human Services.
Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview) – Advanced Education, and Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour
Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda became his party’s only MLA from Calgary with a fairly decisive win in yesterday’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills, stealing the constituency away from the Progressive Conservatives. PC candidate Blair Houston finished third in the constituency that elected former Premier Jim Prentice in another by-election ten months ago and in a general election only four months ago.
The New Democrats mounted what appeared to be a strong campaign with candidate Bob Hawkesworth, but the governing party was only able to finish with second place in the by-election.
The NDP lost some ground in this by-election, holding 25.7 percent of the vote compared to the 32.3 percent earned by candidate Anne Wilson in the May 5, 2015 general election but still significantly more than the 3.7 percent earned by the NDP candidate in the October 2014 by-election. The results suggest that the NDP “orange chinook” from May 2015 has not completely dissipated as some would have argued and that NDP have developed a base of support in the city that was non-existent only a few months ago.
An NDP loss in this by-election would not have been a notable outcome had that party not intentionally raised the stakes of the results by pouring significant resources into the campaign, including high-profile endorsements of Mr. Hawkesworth and at least three campaign visits by Premier Rachel Notley. The loss does not spell the end of the NDP in Calgary but it does demonstrate that the party faces strong conservative opposition in the city, which should come as a surprise to no one.
Media commentaries will likely frame the Wildrose win as a rebuke of NDP policies in Calgary-Foothills, which it was, but at a more interesting level the results of this by-election are reflective of the divide between the Wildrose and the PC Party.
While the electoral outcomes were different from the last election, the percentages of the combined PC and Wildrose votes were 59.8 percent, up slightly from their combined vote of 58 percent in May 2015. This is a major decline from the October 2014 by-election, when the two conservative parties dominated with a combined 88 percent of the vote.
Conservative voters were split in this by-election, but Mr. Panda’s win will give the Wildrose Party potent ammunition to argue that the old PC Party is not a viable conservative alternative to the NDP in the three and a half years leading up to the next general election. The by-election results do suggest that in Calgary, the mostly rural based Wildrosers could still have some hard work ahead of them, as the PC Party is at the very least “still standing.”
The Wildrose caucus will now grow from 21 to 22 MLAs, making it the largest official opposition since the Liberals had 31 MLAs in the early-1990s. The PCs have 9 MLAs in the Legislature.
Here are the unofficial results from the September 3, 2015 by-election (66/66 polls reporting):
Prasad Panda, Wildrose: 4,877 (38.3%) Bob Hawkesworth, NDP: 3,270 (25.7%) Blair Houston, PC: 2,7,46 (21.5%) Ali Bin Zahid, Liberal: 791 (6.2%) Mark Taylor, Alberta Party: 610 (4.8%) Janet Keeping, Green: 377 (2.9%) Antoni Grochowski, Independent: 46 (0.36%)
Today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills is the first major litmus test for Alberta’s political parties in the post-Progressive Conservative political world. After forty-four years of PC Party-government in Alberta end earlier this year, politics in this province could still be in flux.
Despite considerable conservative strength in Calgary-Foothills, the NDP have willingly turned low expectations into high stakes by pouring significant resources into this by-election. Ms. Notley has personally visited the constituency at least three times to campaign alongside Bob Hawkesworth, a well-known candidate with thirty-years of experience in municipal and provincial office in Calgary.
Talk in political circles is that he would be a shoe-in for a cabinet spot if elected, maybe as Minister of Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour or Minister of Infrastructure.
But the decline of the international price of oil and recent energy-sector layoffs may have voters in this constituency sticking with their conservative options. The opposition parties have been quick to blame NDP plans to review resource royalties for making the economic situation worse.
The war of words in the by-election got nasty after it was discovered that a Chinese-language pamphlet circulated by Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda’s campaign accused the NDP of being communists. The Wildrose campaign claimed the translation was unintentional but it is difficult to believe this would be a mistake.
There is a reason why the communist message was only included in the Chinese-language material. According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, 12.4% of homes in Calgary-Foothills identify Chinese as their household language and 24.1% of the population in the constituency is of Chinese ethnic origin.
The presence of an increasingly depressing PC Party, represented by candidate Blair Houston could spoil an easy Wildrose victory. Mr. Houston’s campaign material claims that “only the moderate can defeat the extremes,” sending a strong message that there is still significant distrust between the two conservative parties.
The split between Wildrose and PC conservatives is evident among conservative activists on the internet.
An army of Wildrose twitterati launched online attacks yesterday against Calgary-North West PC MLA Sandra Jansen for her support of former television news anchor Nirmala Naidoo, who is running as the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Rocky Ridge, which overlaps with the Calgary-Foothills constituency.
Ms. Jansen responded that she is not a member of the federal Conservative Party and is under no obligation to support their candidates (her pragmatic reply is unlikely to appease her Wildrose critics).
As litmus tests, by-elections can be indicators of citizens approval or disapproval of a governing party at a given time, but by-election results are not necessarily indicators of how voters will cast their ballots in the future.
The Progressive Conservatives swept four by-elections in October 2014, including one in Calgary-Foothills, leading many political observers to believe that Mr. Prentice was an unstoppable political juggernaut. Only ten months later, Mr. Prentice is gone, the NDP have a majority government, the Wildrose rebounded into official opposition and Alberta has been thrown into a new political reality.
It is anyone’s guess what comes next after today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills.
Unofficial results from today’s by-election will appear on the Elections Alberta website after 8:00 p.m.