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Alberta Politics

It’s an open rebellion. UCP MLA Todd Loewen calls on Jason Kenney to resign

Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen has resigned as chair of the United Conservative Party Caucus and is calling on Premier Jason Kenney to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign
Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign
Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign
Letter from Todd Loewen calling of Jason Kenney to resign

In a letter posted on his Facebook page at  11:52 p.m. last night, Loewen, a former Wildrose Party MLA who was first elected in 2015 and supported Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race, announced his resignation as chair and explained the reasons for his calling on Kenney to step down.

Loewen was one of 18 UCP MLAs who openly criticized the government’s COVID-19 health restrictions, so it was surprising that the reasons listed in his letter were not related to the government’s response to COVID-19. Instead, Loewen criticized Kenney for his handling of negotiations with physicians, plans to expand open-pit coal mining in the Rockies and losing the trust of Albertans.

“We did not unite around one man,” Loewen wrote, taking a direct shot at Kenney’s leadership.

Kenney has always had lower approval and popularity ratings than his party, but over the last year his approval ratings have plummeted and he has begun to drag his party down with him. The UCP has polled behind Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP in every public poll since November 2020 and the NDP raised twice as much money as the UCP in the first three months of 2021.

Challenges to Kenney’s leadership have been growing.

UCP constituency presidents and activists have signed a letter calling on Kenney to resign and for a leadership review to be held, and there have been rumblings of major unhappiness in the UCP caucus for months, but this is the first time a UCP MLA has called on the Premier to step down.

There is now an open rebellion against Kenney in the UCP caucus.

The Premier has no choice but to now remove Loewen from the government caucus. If he doesn’t, it will show that he has clearly lost control of his caucus and the loyalty of his MLAs.

As I have written before, the UCP Kenney helped create is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be led.

Now we wait to see how Kenney reacts.


Update: David Hanson, the UCP MLA for Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, has posted on Facebook that he supports Loewen’s letter calling on Kenney to resign. Hanson was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 and was one of the 18 UCP MLAs who publicly criticized the government’s COVID-19 health restrictions. He also endorsed Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race.

MLA David Hanson's Facebook post supporting Todd Loewen's letter calling on Jason Kenney to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party.
MLA David Hanson’s Facebook post supporting Todd Loewen’s letter calling on Jason Kenney to resign as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Update: The UCP Caucus virtual meeting, which was scheduled to take place at 9:00 a.m. today has been cancelled.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is the King of Not Managing Expectations

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London.” 

That was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s response on April 11, 2020 that the Legislative Assembly should stop meeting in-person to avoid spreading COVID-19 to MLAs, staff and their families.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

Unlike Parliament in Ottawa, other provincial legislatures, and most school boards across Alberta, our Legislature did not shift to online sessions when the pandemic began, instead continuing to meet in-person with a pre-arranged limited attendance by MLAs.

That Churchillian resolve to keep the Legislature in session abruptly disappeared on Sunday morning when Government House Leader Jason Nixon issued a press release announcing that the Legislative Assembly would be suspended for at least the next two weeks.

The press release states this is in response to the third wave of COVID-19, which has arrived in Alberta with a vengeance. And with almost 23,000 current active cases in the province, things look bleak.

Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state. (source: Trevor Tombe)
Alberta now has more new daily confirmed cases than any other province or state in North America. (source: Trevor Tombe)

The business of Assembly committees will continue through the traditional conference call system, but the regular business of the Assembly will stop instead of doing what many other Albertans  in a similar situation have done for the past 14 months – go on Zoom.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley quickly disputed Nixon’s claims that the opposition was consulted, saying instead they were just told what was going to happen.

“The first item on the agenda for Monday must be an emergency debate on Jason Kenney’s failing pandemic response,” Notley said her own Sunday morning press release.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

The surprise suspension of the in-person Spring session is probably a good idea, and a practice that should have been adopted a year ago.

Our legislators, including a growing group of UCP MLAs who are publicly critical of public health restrictions, spent last week in their constituencies could risk unknowingly bringing the virus back to the Legislature with them (it was revealed two weeks ago that staff in the Premier’s Office had tested positive for COVID-19).

But why now, 14 months after the pandemic started?

That’s where this feels like politics played into this last minute decision to lockdown the Legislature.

It is a big departure from Kenney’s chest puffing at the beginning of the pandemic, when he would frequently quote and evoke the memory of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Great Britain through the Second World War.

“The work of democracy does not end in a crisis. The British House of Commons met every day during the blitz of the Luftwaffe on London,” Kenney said as the pandemic began to spread last April.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Churchillian is not how most people would describe Kenney’s leadership since the pandemic began. His start-stop half-measures approach to COVID has proved ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus. It has also annoyed Albertans and made his United Conservative Party look not so united.

Suspending the Legislature means Kenney will not have to answer hard questions from the media and the NDP opposition about his government’s response to the third wave of the pandemic, paid sick leave for working Albertans, or the recently announced unpopular $90 annual fee to enter Kananaskis Country.

It also puts some physical distance between Kenney and his critics inside the UCP.

In normal times, it would make sense for the Premier to want MLAs in Edmonton where his staff could keep a watchful eye and hold a tight leash, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference anymore.

Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)
Angela Pitt

Kenney won’t have to answer tough questions about Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, who recently walked back comments about vaccinations, and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who issued another public statement criticizing the government’s public health measures. It is starting to feel like Kenney’s critics in the UCP Caucus are driving the government’s agenda.

Probably meaning to channel Churchill, Kenney was all big talk last year when the UCP government passed laws clamping down on protesters who would block bridges, pipelines, or anything the cabinet deems as “critical infrastructure.”

He had no shortage of words to denounce protesters in Montreal who decapitated a statue of Sir  John A. Macdonald.

He even launched a much-hyped public inquiry to investigate alleged enemies of Alberta’s oil industry.

But when it came to the 2,000 Albertans openly violating public health rules by attending the “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” in Bowden over the weekend, Kenney could only muster a string of strongly worded tweets.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Facing the biggest challenge of his premiership, Kenney is clearly out of his depth. While he may be a successful political tactician during election campaigns, he has consistently been unable to rise to the occasion as leader of a government during this pandemic crisis.

Two weeks ago, he said Alberta was on track to beat the COVID variants that are now sky-rocketing across the province. Last year, he downplayed COVID by comparing it to the flu. And just last month he repeatedly said that this summer would be Alberta’s best ever.

If he wore a crown, Kenney would be the King of Not Managing Expectations.

Maybe someone can ask him about it if he returns to the Legislature in two weeks?

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 73: Alberta politics is never boring

There is rarely a week in Alberta politics that is boring.

On this episode of the Daveberta Podcast we discuss the recent fundraising numbers that show the NDP crushed the UCP in the first three months of 2021 and what that could mean for the rest of the year. And we dive into the mailbag to answer some great questions from listeners about whether Premier Jason Kenney can survive the mounting challenges to his leadership, how the Dairy Queen scandal could impact the 2023 election, and much more.

We also talk about Midlife, a new book that our producer, Adam Rozenhart, has contributed to. Learn more and get your limited-edition copy of Midlife at midlifebook.ca.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended listening/reading

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Alberta Politics

It sucks to be Jason Kenney

Down in the polls, down in popularity, fighting off a caucus and party revolt and facing a vicious third wave of a global pandemic is probably not how Jason Kenney imagined he’d be spending the second anniversary of his party’s sweeping win in the April 16, 2019 election.

When he rode into the victory party in his leased blue Dodge Ram, Kenney looked like an unstoppable political force. The long-time politician imported from Ottawa to Alberta to unite the province’s two quarrelling conservative parties thumped the incumbent Alberta NDP in every region of the province, save Edmonton and a handful of districts in Calgary and Lethbridge.

To paraphrase a headline from another province, Kenney could have kicked a dog and still got elected.

But after spending two years burning through political capital and making new enemies on an almost daily basis, there is a real question whether Kenney will make it until the next election.

Factions of his caucus and party are rebelling against him, demanding the lifting of public health restrictions just as COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in Alberta and calling for his resignation as party leader.

Despite his reputation as a workaholic and micro-manager, his government’s actions and communications in response to the pandemic have been muddled, confusing, and unclear. And now, with cases almost at the same level as Dec. 2020 and hospitalizations closing in on 600, his government appears to be unwilling to introduce new public health measures to slow the growth of the virus.

He was forced to turn tail on universally unpopular plans to privatize provincial parks and allow open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.

It seems like nearly every school board in the province has rejected his government’s draft K-6 curriculum, which has been almost universally panned by parents and educators as overly politicized, American-focused, and out of date.

His government lost its bid to overturn the federal government’s carbon tax at the Supreme Court and now his Ottawa ally Erin O’Toole has now embraced his own version of the carbon tax.

And there has been almost no movement on the three big promises he so effectively honed in on in 2019: Jobs, Economy, and Pipelines. And if there has been movement, it’s been backward.

Now three years in, it looks like the one thing Kenney has been most effective in is making enemies, and, in many cases, enemies of people who would otherwise be allies.

Led by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the Kenney government decided it was a smart idea to launch a full scale attack against Alberta’s doctors in the middle of the global pandemic.

The government only recently backed down from its attacks on doctors, but it’s clear there is very little trust or goodwill between physicians and the government, especially as long as Kenney continues to back Shandro as Health Minister.

His relationship with the truth has been questioned as well, as he has become known for embellishing stories – like the superspreader birthday party in Athabasca – or twisting anecdotes to fit his own political narratives – like the crying restaurant owners who he claimed fled socialism in Venezuela.

His job approval ratings are in the tank, his party has fallen behind the NDP in every polls since last Nov., and today Elections Alberta announced that his party raised just half the amount of money as Rachel Notley’s NDP in the first three months of 2021.

Albertans are unhappy. Party members are unhappy. UCP MLAs are unhappy. Cabinet ministers are unhappy.

A month ago, the UCP executive narrowly avoided calls from disgruntled constituency association presidents to hold a leadership review at the party’s 2021 annual meeting by preemptively scheduling a review to take place during the 2022 convention, months ahead of the expected 2023 election.

Delaying the leadership review was designed to both give Kenney time to recoup his leadership approval among the public and the party, and threaten the dissenters with a potential leadership race months before the next election. But it looks like that didn’t quell the unrest in the party. His internal critics are calling his bluff.

Multiple reports allege that Kenney threatened his caucus with calling an early election if he did not have their support, but it was so clearly an empty threat. The UCP would lose the election if it were held tomorrow and Rachel Notley would be Premier again.

Unfortunately for Kenney, the United Conservative Party he helped create is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be lead.

At this rate, Kenney might not last the summer, which he has repeatedly promised will be the “best summer in Alberta’s history.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

NDP clobbers UCP in first quarter fundraising. Notley’s party raised twice as much cash as Kenney’s UCP in the first three months of 2021

The Alberta NDP raised twice as much money as the United Conservative Party in the first quarter of 2021, according to financial documents released today by Elections Alberta.

This marks the third quarter in the last year that Rachel Notley’s NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP. Not only have Albertans been showing their unhappiness with Jason Kenney’s UCP in the polls, they are clearly showing it by voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.

Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the first quarter of 2021:

  • NDP: $1,186,245
  • UCP: $591,597
  • Alberta Party: $48,194
  • Wildrose Independence Party: $36,883
  • Pro-Life Political Association: $33,261
  • Alberta Liberal Party: $31,798
  • Green Party: $5,010.00
  • Independence Party: $1,559.25

Notley’s NDP are on a roll, leading in the polls and continuing to dominate in fundraising. Despite losing government two years ago, the NDP appear to have solidified a larger base of donors who contribute donations in smaller amounts. Sixty-eight per cent of individual donations received by the NDP in the first quarter were in denominations of less than $250, compared to 39 per cent for the UCP.

At first glance, it would appear as though many of the UCP’s wealthier donors, who in previous years contributed a maximum annual donation in the first quarter, have not yet donated this year. This could be a big indication with a growing unhappiness in the direction of the UCP and Kenney’s leadership over the course of the past year.

The Pro-Life Political Association, which was known as the Social Credit Party before it was taken over by anti-abortion activists in 2016, went from raising nothing for the past few quarters to raising more than $33,261 in the last three months. It is unclear why the effectively dormant party that ran only one candidate in the last election and whose previous leader resigned to become a monk is now active.

The Alberta Advantage Party, Communist Party and the Reform Party raised no funds during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 72: The COVID 18 and the Curriculum Catastrophe

Alberta politics moves at a mile a minute and there’s no time to waste. On this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, we dive into the United Conservative Caucus rebellion against mild public health restrictions to fight COVID-19 and challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, the controversial draft K-6 curriculum, and the government’s toxic relationship with Alberta doctors and public sector unions.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Music featured in this episode: Prairie Soil by Johnny Bomblast and Dave Harris.

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Alberta Politics

UCP backbenchers revolt against mild public health restrictions as COVID third wave hits Alberta

New cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and the third wave of the global pandemic is hitting Alberta, but that did not deter a group of nearly 20 United Conservative Party MLAs from publicly speaking out against the provincial government’s implementation of mild public health restrictions in response.

Like the virus, the group of COVID critics inside the UCP Caucus has grown exponentially from the original six-pack of MLAs who publicly spoke out against public health measures at the beginning of March. The public letter signed by 15 UCP MLAs criticized Premier Jason Kenney for moving back to Step 1 of the province’s mild public health measures in response to the spike in new cases, which is largely a result of a vicious new variant of the deadly virus.

The group of 15 includes Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who made an unusual move for a Speaker of the Assembly to publicly criticize the government, and already open COVID critics Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt, who recently split from the national End the Lockdown Caucus after Ontario MPP Randy Hillier posted a social media meme comparing public health restrictions to the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The UCP group also includes Tracy Allard, whose Christmas vacation to Hawaii cost her her job of Municipal Affairs Minister.

The letter signed by the 15 MLAs was soon after endorsed by Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell and West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, who also serves as the parliamentary secretary for small business. Also signalling support for the letter’s intentions was Calgary Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel-Garner, who serves as the Official Opposition Health Critic in Ottawa.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams, a long-time Kenney acolyte from Ottawa, did not endorse the letter but posted a video on social media criticizing the decision by Alberta Health Services to close down the rebel GraceLife Church, which had been holding in-person services in defiance of the government’s public health orders. He was joined in this call by Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who was kicked out of the federal Conservative caucus for his extreme social conservative views.

Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)
Active COVID-19 cases in Alberta (chart from @CBCFletch on Twitter)

That the leaders of the UCP caucus mutiny appear to largely be from the former Wildrose caucus, or Wildrose-wing of the party, is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

It was also clear during Kenney’s press conference on Tuesday that he expected a negative reaction from his caucus. A significant portion of Kenney’s lecture was dedicated to managing MLAs expectations and acknowledging the differences of opinion in his caucus. Difference of opinion is one thing, but this is something entirely different.

The public health restrictions that Alberta fell back to earlier this week are nothing close to what restrictions have looked like in jurisdictions that have actually implemented lockdowns. Alberta schools are still open for in-person classes, and Albertans can still gather with up to 10 people outside, go shopping for non-essential items, get a haircut or a massage, dine or have drinks on a restaurant patio, and exercise at a gym with a personal trainer.

Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney on April 6, 2021.

There is no doubt a lot of Albertans are frustrated about how the provincial government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Kenney government has not helped itself by releasing a string of confusing and inconsistent public health measures and messaging to Albertans about the government’s response.

While public opinion polling suggests many Albertans would like the government to impose stronger measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus, there is a loud minority who want to see the current restrictions lifted.

It is yet to be seen whether the revolt will extend beyond this strongly worded letter, but there is little doubt these MLAs are actively undermining the work being done by public health professionals and health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The caucus revolt is probably a reflection of deepening regional and partisan divides in Alberta, with most of the COVID Caucus MLAs representing largely rural and small town districts. It is notable that no UCP MLAs from Calgary, so far the hardest hit in the third wave, have publicly joined the revolt.

It also suggests that the United Conservative Party is not as united as its leader would like Albertans to believe.

Kenney’s personal approval ratings and support for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic plummeted over the past 13 months, and his party has floundered in the polls, finishing behind Rachel Notley’s NDP in a handful of recent voter opinion polls. The rise of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party in rural Alberta has some backbench UCP MLAs nervously looking over their right shoulders.

In some ways, the revolt probably serves as a welcome distraction to some in the UCP from the never ending string of scandals and policy failures, most recently the failure to stop the Carbon Tax at the Supreme Court, the loss of $1.5 billion of public money when the Keystone XL Pipeline was cancelled, the failure to sign a new contract with Alberta doctors, the retreat on open-pit coal mining, and the open rebellion by parents against the draft K-6 curriculum.

Under normal circumstances it would be hard to believe that this kind of caucus revolt would happen on a day when more than 1,300 new cases of COVID were reported and doctors are calling for a circuit breaker response, but in today’s world of Alberta politics, it would be harder to believe this would happen if the UCP were not floundering so deeply in the polls.

The original 15 UCP MLAs who signed the letter

  • Tracy Allard, MLA Grande Prairie
  • Drew Barnes, MLA Cypress-Medicine Hat
  • Nathan Cooper, MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  • Michaela Glasgo, MLA Brooks-Medicine Hat
  • Dave Hanson, MLA Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul
  • Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler
  • Todd Loewen, MLA Central Peace-Notley
  • Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka
  • Angela Pitt, MLA Airdrie-East
  • Roger Reid, MLA Livingstone-Macleod
  • Miranda Rosin, MLA Banff-Kananaskis
  • RJ Sigurdson, MLA Highwood
  • Mark Smith, Drayton Valley-Devon
  • Jason Stephan, Red Deer-South
  • Glenn van Dijken, Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock
Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 71: Peace, Order and Good Carbon Taxes

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach joins the Daveberta Podcast for a rousing discussion about the Supreme Court of Canada’s big decision about the federal carbon tax, the politics of climate change in Canada, and what Alberta’s next oil boom might look like.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading (coming soon)

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 70: Who was the most unpopular Premier in Alberta history?

We dive into our mailbag and answer some great questions sent in by Daveberta Podcast listeners. From the possibility of a United Conservative Party leadership review to Premier Jason Kenney’s new health care-friendly talking points to the Alberta Party leadership to the unpopularity of premiers Richard Reid and John Brownlee, you sent us a lot of great questions!

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP swaps “fiscal reckoning” for a kinder gentler budget slashing hand

It took about a year but Alberta’s United Conservative Party government finally pivoted away from its “fiscal reckoning” rhetoric in exchange for a more kinder and gentler tone. In this year’s Provincial Budget, tabled in the Legislative Assembly today, “Protecting Lives and Livelihoods” has replaced the doom and gloom messages promoted by Finance Minister Travis Toews for most of 2019 and 2020.

The change in talking points and press conference backdrops is a reflection of a change in Albertans’ priorities since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. The UCP’s “jobs, economy and pipelines” slogan that more accurately reflected the mood of many Albertans back in April 2019 has been replaced with talking points focused on funding health care and creating jobs. It is also an acknowledgment that cheerleading the slashing of public services has become politically unpalatable.

But what marks a pivot in messaging does not necessarily mark a change in the political project. The broad and deep budget cuts that Toews was said to be lobbying for are probably only put on hold until next year and the UCP is still moving forward with plans to privatize large swaths of the health care system and layoff more than 11,000 health care workers.

We’re not on a path of cost cutting. We’re on a path of delivering government services most efficiently,” Toews told CTV after the government announced it plans to cut the size of the public service workforce by 8 per cent.

It’s pretty clear they are on a path of cost cutting.

Colleges and universities are seeing a third year of big budget cuts. And plans to rollback salaries for remaining public sector workers are still in the works – and will likely spark further labour unrest with public sector unions.

It was probably determined by the UCP braintrust that during a global pandemic they could impose massive funding cuts to public services or cuts to public sector wages, but not both at the same time.

So, as well as shifting blame for Alberta’s financial problems onto public sector workers, Toews put blame on the federal government for standing in the way of resource development. Of course, Toews did not mention the billions of dollars of federal emergency pandemic funding that has poured into provincial coffers over the past year.

As it enters its second year of its term as government, we could now be seeing the UCP try to lay the groundwork for its re-election campaign in 2023.

The shift in messaging suggests the UCP has recognized how far its previous messaging had pulled it down in the polls.

Premier Jason Kenney‘s reluctance to pivot off his pipeline and economy messages, as well as his aggressive tone deaf attacks on anyone who dared to criticize his government – even as the criticism is coming from an increasing number of regular Albertans – is certainly a big reason the UCP has dropped in the polls and the Premier’s personal approval ratings are in the tank.

If Kenney is able to survive as party leader until 2023, he will face off against an increasingly popular Rachel Notley, who will be the first former Premier to run for re-election in Alberta’s history. Recognizing that Calgary could be the main electoral battleground of 2023, Notley and most of her caucus have basically become part-time residents of the province’s largest city.

Shifting to health care as its main issue puts the UCP firmly in territory where the Alberta NDP has much stronger footing. The UCP talking about supporting health care is like the NDP talking about supporting oil pipelines. Regardless of how hard they try, the UCP will have a hard time convincing Albertans that all of a sudden it is the great defender of the public health care system.

And despite Toews’ talk about the need for fiscal restraint, there is still money for UCP vanity projects like the Canadian Energy Centre, which is allocated $30 million annually to publish op-eds in the National Post and right-wing news websites and buy advertisements on Facebook.

The new budget also allocates $2 million to create an Environmental, Social and Governance Secretariat to stem the tide of divestment from the oil sands. The new mini-war room would report directly to the Premier’s Office.

It is unclear why Alberta requires two energy war rooms that appear to duplicate the work of the Department of Energy, the Department of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, the Alberta Energy Regulator’s communications department, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and the Invest Alberta crown corporation. Perhaps Kenney is trying to create more work for the Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter?

What the budget has in common with previous budgets is a lack of a plan to deal with Alberta’s long-time and self-inflicted revenue problems. Meanwhile, the UCP has focused heavily on criticizing government spending through the MacKinnon Report and the growing list of reports from international management consulting companies.

Toews’ budget speech also neglected to mention the giant elephant in the room – the $1.5 billion the Alberta government lost when betting on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was cancelled by United States President Joe Biden on his first day in office.

But the government’s continued over-reliance on unstable revenue from natural resource royalties and its unwillingness to consider raising Alberta’s artificially low tax rates means that the problem will persist. Like previous governments, the UCP appear to be praying a bump in international oil prices will save the province’s balance sheet.

If it feels like you have read this last part before, it is because I have basically written this exact same thing on every Budget Day since I launched this website 16 years ago.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 68: The 1976 Coal Policy and stopping open-pit mining in Alberta’s Rockies

Kevin Van Tighem joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss one of the biggest issues in Alberta politics today – the expansion of open-pit coal mining in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Kevin explains how the 1976 Coal Policy protected larges swaths of the Rocky Mountains from open-pit coal mining and the impact these large scale industrial projects would have on local wildlife habitat, local economies, and the water that millions of Albertans depend on.

We discuss the influence of mining companies over the Alberta government, the reasons why Energy Minister Sonya Savage rescinded the policy last spring, and what kind of improvements could be included in a new coal policy.

Kevin Van Tighem is a conservationist, former Superintendent of Banff National Park, and author whose books include Our Place: Changing the Nature of Alberta. You can read his columns in AlbertaViews Magazine.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading

Categories
Alberta Politics

Notley’s NDP raised more cash than Kenney’s UCP in the final months of 2020

The Alberta NDP raised more money from individual Albertans than the United Conservative Party in the final quarter of 2020, according to financial documents released today by Elections Alberta.

This marks the second time in the last year that the opposition NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP, suggesting Albertans are voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.

Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the fourth quarter of 2020:

  • NDP $2,322,490.38
  • UCP $1,921,813.21
  • Alberta Party $50,738.66
  • Wildrose Independence Party $45,863.49
  • Liberal Party $44,746.87
  • Green Party $17,847.00
  • Alberta Advantage Party – $4,055.00
  • Independence Party – $2,990.40
  • Communist Party – $100.00

This marks the first time since the UCP was created that the NDP have fundraised more money over the course of a year. According to the Elections Alberta disclosures, the NDP raised $5,061,979.02 in 2020 with the UCP narrowly behind at $5,046,322.52.

The Alberta Party, Wildrose Independence Party, Liberal Party and Green Party also saw increases in their quarterly fundraising, though they remain significantly behind the two major parties.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 66: Aloha! Making sense of Alberta politics in 2021

Dr. Jared Wesley joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss Jason Kenney’s leadership of the United Conservative Party, Rachel Notley’s focus on health care during the pandemic, the Alberta Party and Wildrose Independence Party leadership races, and the equalization referendum and Senate nominee elections that will coincide with the October municipal elections.

We also break down the first week of year that saw UCP MLAs in hot water after spending the Christmas break on hot holidays.

Dr. Wesley is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta and the lead researcher for Common Ground.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading/Listening:

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Alberta Politics

Kenney’s weak response to Hot Holiday Scandal exposes rifts inside the UCP

You could almost feel the collective anger of Albertans building as news trickled out yesterday that more and more United Conservative Party MLAs had ignored their own government’s COVID-19 recommendations to stay home and cancel any non-essential international travel over the Christmas break. 

Despite receiving the same recommendations against non-essential international holidays that every other Albertan has been told by the government since March 2020, at least five UCP MLAs, including one cabinet minister, decided the recommendations put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 did not apply to them and instead jetted off to hotter locales.

As of today, we know the following UCP cabinet ministers, MLAs and senior political staffers have travelled internationally in recent weeks, or are just now returning home from abroad:

  • Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie and Minister of Municipal Affairs, was in Hawaii.
  • Jeremy Nixon, MLA for Calgary-Klein and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Supports, is returning from Hawaii.
  • Pat Rehn, MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, is returning from Mexico.
  • Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan and Treasury Board member, has returned from Las Vegas.
  • Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South and Treasury Board member, is returning from Arizona.
  • Jamie Huckabay, Chief of Staff to Premier Jason Kenney, has returned from the United Kingdom.
  • Michael Forian, Press Secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and 2019 Conservative Party candidate, was in Hawaii.
  • Eliza Snider, Press Secretary to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, was in Hawaii.

Premier Jason Kenney has publicly shrugged off the hot holidays, claiming international travel was good for the economy despite his own government’s pandemic recommendations that Albertans don’t do it.

He has refused to fire or publicly discipline the MLAs for ignoring the public health recommendations that millions of Albertans abided by when they cancelled their own winter vacations and Christmas family gatherings.

Kenney says he was unaware of the trips, but it seems unlikely that a politician known for being a intense micromanager and workaholic would not have some inkling that this was happening.

The Premier’s weak response to the jet-set MLAs could suggest a few things: 1) he’s fine with them ignoring the recommendations, 2) there are more MLAs or staffers who travelled overseas on non-essential trips, or 3) support for his leadership in UCP Caucus and Party is tenuous and he cannot afford to discipline so many backbenchers at once.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford fired Finance Minister Rod Philips for attempting to cover up his Christmas vacation to a Caribbean island.

In Alberta, the lack of consequences for making such poor and tone-deaf decisions has stripped back Kenney’s populist-veneer and exposed an arrogant and elitist culture of exceptionalism within the leadership of the UCP.

For her part, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley says all of her party’s 24 MLAs remained in Alberta during the Christmas break.

Perhaps the only good news for Kenney is that the MLA hot holiday scandal, or Alohagate and Hawaiigate as some are calling it, is a distraction from the provincial government’s disappointingly slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

While waiting in the departures lounges of various international airports, some of the UCP MLAs published likely pre-written statements on their social media accounts saying they will now comply with the recommendations and return to Alberta. How thoughftul of them.

With the handful of UCP MLAs now on their way home, there are signs of a growing rift in the party, as two UCP MLAs are now publicly speaking out against the vacationing colleagues.

In a statement published on Facebook, Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones refused to apologize for the sun-seeking MLAs:

Since the most recent COVID-19 measures were announced, a number of my constituents requested guidance related to their own potential holiday travels. I have always encouraged my constituents to follow the public health measures including the following:

“An official global travel advisory remains in effect. Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.”

“The Canada/U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel.”

Michaela Glasgo, the UCP MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, was much more direct, describing the trips as “a major lack of judgment.”

“The directive that we were given was the same as every Albertan, which was to remain responsible, and ultimately I think this was a major lack of judgment shown by some of my colleagues,” Glasgo told CHAT NEWS.

Former UCP MLA Scott Cyr called it a “slap in the face.

Former right-wing talk radio icon Dave Rutherford took to his Facebook page to unload on Kenney.

“Dammit, I’m pissed off that my premier, the guy in whom we had placed such high hopes for principled leadership, has ignored all of the sacrifices that we have all made to fight this virus because ‘we are all in this together,” wrote Rutherford. “Obviously not.”

Ralph Leriger, Mayor of Westlock, also had some strong words in response to the vacationing MLAs and called on Premier Kenney to resign.

Ralph Leriger Mayor of Westlock Kenney Resign
A tweet from Ralph Leriger, Mayor of Westlock

I expect many Albertans are feeling the same way.

Categories
Alberta Politics

What lies ahead for Alberta’s political parties in 2021

With 2020 on its way out here is quick look at what might await Alberta’s political parties in 2021:

United Conservative Party: The UCP will continue pushing through a legislative agenda and ideological project that includes mass privatization of public services and public land, and big job losses for public sector workers.

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

The UCP’s inability to pivot off its agenda has been demonstrated clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic as Health Minister Tyler Shandro continued his fight against Alberta doctors, planned layoffs of thousands of nurses and health care workers, and schemed to privatize large swaths of the public health care system.

Kenney’s inconsistent approach to the pandemic has likely alienated him from both Albertans who would like to see more serious public health measures taken and those who think being required to wear a face-mask in public spaces is too far.

A federal election in 2021 might distract Albertans from the UCP’s mismanaging of the COVID-19 pandemic, so expect the UCP to ramp up attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. Increasing attacks of the federal government and next year’s promised referendum on equalization and Senate nominee election could also serve as a distraction from poor economic growth and the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit by incoming United States President Joe Biden.

Kenney’s approval ratings took a big hit in 2020 and the UCP has dropped considerably in the polls since 2019. If their leader looks like he has become a liability for re-election in 2023 then expect a change at the top. Conservative parties in Alberta are ruthless with leaders who stop looking like winners, just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

The good news for Kenney is that he is only two years into his government’s four year term in office which leaves him with some time to turn around his political fortunes. But the clock is ticking and the tire-kickers could soon be kicking.

Alberta NDP: It is not often that political leaders in Canada are given a second chance, but despite losing the 2019 election Rachel Notley remains in firm control of her New Democratic Party.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Notley’s moderate NDP is leading or tied with the UCP is three of the four recent voter intention polls released during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and has maintained competitive fundraising levels, but the next election is still more than two years away.

The potential for strikes by public sector workers in 2021 could test the NDP’s political coalition. The NDP’s opponents will inevitably try to use any major labour disputes as a wedge between the party’s union activist wing and its more moderate and centrist supporters.

The key to an NDP victory in 2023 will be a breakthrough in Calgary, smaller urban centres like Lethbridge and Red Deer, and a small handful of suburban and rural ridings scattered across Alberta. The NDP swept those regions in 2015 and Notley has already signalled through her constant visits and social media posts that her focus in 2021 will be Calgary, Calgary, and more Calgary.

Alberta Party: Finding a new permanent leader should be the top focus of this tiny moderate conservative party. The Alberta Party has become home to a small group of disenchanted former Progressive Conservatives unhappy the combative tone and social conservative politics of the UCP. The party lost all its seats in 2019 but continues to poll around 10 per cent support in most surveys. In a two-party political environment, the Alberta Party needs to give Albertans a reason to vote for it that is beyond just not being the UCP or NDP.

Alberta Liberal Party: The Liberals not only need to find a new leader, they need to find a reason to exist. After forming Official Opposition for 19 years, the Liberal vote collapsed in 2012, saw almost all of its supporters migrate to Notley’s NDP in 2015 and lost its only seat in the Assembly in 2019. With the NDP now comfortably occupying the space held by the Liberals in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals need a raison d’être in Alberta.

Green Party: Yes, Alberta has a Green Party. The Greens have been issuing a steady stream of press statements that plant the party firmly to the left of the moderate NDP on climate change, the environment and pipelines. It seems unlikely that the party will make any electoral breakthroughs in the near future, but they could put pressure on the NDP to remember that it still has a progressive wing.

Wildrose Independence Party: Also looking for a new leader in 2021, the child of a merger between the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit group in 2020 is now led by former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

While separatist sentiment appears to be waining the further time passes from the last federal election, Hinman has clamped on to the anti-mask and anti-COVID restrictions groups as his focus, appearing at demonstrations in the two cities.

A number of UCP MLAs have expressed similar views, leading some political watchers to believe that one UCP MLA in particular – Drew Barnes – could be auditioning for Hinman’s job if his public comments become too much for the UCP.

The other fringe separatist parties: The Alberta Advantage Party and Independence Party of Alberta are also looking for new leaders. Advantage Party leader Marilyn Burns, a former Wildrose supporter, resigned in the fall amid a leadership challenge and has announced plans to run for the position again. Former Wildrose constituency president Lenard Biscope is now interim leader.

Communist Party of Alberta: Carry on, Comrades.

Thoughts? What do you think awaits Alberta’s political parties in 2021?