It appears that the UCP will allow Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner to enter the leadership race, if she chooses, even though she has not had a current party membership for the full past six months as required (there is no doubt she is a committed Conservative partisan).
A similar request for an exemption by former Liberal Party leader Raj Shermanwas denied.
Kenney’s caretaker cabinet shuffle
Outgoing Premier Jason Kenney announced a cabinet shuffle to fill in the spots left by ministers leaving to run in the race to replace him.
Changes to the caretaker cabinet, which will be in place until a new Premier takes office after the October 6 UCP leadership vote, include:
Minister of Environment and Parks and Acting President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Jason Nixon becomes President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.
Associate Minister of Status of Women Whitney Issik becomes Minister of Environment and Parks.
Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones becomes Minister of Children’s Services.
Minister of Infrastructure Prasad Panda becomes Minister of Transportation.
Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women.
Deputy Government Whip Brad Rutherford becomes Chief Government Whip and Minister without Portfolio.
Unsurprisingly, everyone on the list is considered a loyalist, and a few, notably Issik, Milliken, and Rutherford, are considered vulnerable to strong NDP challenges in the next election.
Issik, Jones and Armstrong Homeniuk have publicly endorsed former finance minister Travis Toews for the UCP leadership, who is widely considered the establishment favourite in the race.
The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.
Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.
Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.
Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.
It was a strong kick-off.
Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.
Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.
It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).
Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.
This time she’s backing Sawhney.
Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow.
Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.
The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.
He’s met half his goal so far.
Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.
For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.
The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt.
She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.
First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.
Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”
She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.
The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.
The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).
Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.
But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy.
Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.
Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”
And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray.
Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor.
He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.
So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.
And there could be more.
We’ll know soon enough.
July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.
The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.
August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.
No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.
The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.
Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.
It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.
Liberal Party seeks new leader
The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.
Former party leader David Khanstepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.
Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.
Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.
Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.
Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.
These four have registered others are expected.
Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.
“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.
Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.
So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.
And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.
The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.
UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.
Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.
Kenney stunned political watchers by announcing he is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after getting the support of only 51.4 per cent of members in the leadership review.
He had claimed last week that 50%+1 was enough for him to stay, but that obviously wasn’t enough.
It wouldn’t have worked.
It was the weakest of mandates.
Winning by such a narrow margin was probably the worst case scenario for Kenney.
With 51.4 per cent there is no way Kenney could have confidently walked into tomorrow morning’s UCP Caucus meeting and commanded the loyalty of the party’s MLAs.
There’s no way he could have demanded his opponents fall in line or leave the party.
So, he’s resigning.
The UCP is deeply divided and the leadership race was and acrimonious end to Kenney’s three years in the Premier’s Office.
But he might have been the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the party moving forward in any positive way with one year left before the provincial election.
The aggressive and in-your-face reactions from Kenney and his political staff to any criticism of his agenda has made him deeply unpopular with almost every single voting demographic in Alberta.
And it dragged down his party.
Kenney leaving avoids the inevitably showdown between him and his opponents in caucus that would have likely divided the party even further.
He’ll leave that showdown to someone else.
Now the UCP will have to choose a new leader.
It’s not clear whether Kenney will resign immediately and be replaced by an interim leader or whether he will stay on as Premier until a leadership race is held.
We’ll find out soon.
Names that immediately come to mind for potential interim leaders are Nate Horner, Sonya Savage, Nathan Neudorf, Ric McIver, Rajan Sawhney and Nate Glubish – all MLAs who probably won’t run for the permanent job.
And that’s where things get interesting, or troubling, depending on your point of view.
While Kenney was unpopular across the board, his biggest critics inside his party come from the unruly political-right – and they are mostly unhappy with how he handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenney called them “lunatics.”
Former Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith and exiled UCP MLA Drew Barnes probably fall pretty neatly into this column.
They both want the job.
Then there’s the Kenney loyalists.
Doug Schweitzer endorsed Kenney last week. He’s expected to run.
Jason Nixon is Kenney’s chief lieutenant. He’s said to be eying the job.
Travis Toews is also in Kenney’s inner circle. He’s said to have supporters who have been quietly preparing a run for months.
And then there’s Members of Parliament Shannon Stubbs and Michelle Rempel Garner. They haven’t said they’d run, but their names get mentioned when you talk to UCP supporters.
There will be others.
Kenney didn’t specifically say he wouldn’t try to reclaim his job in a leadership race. But even if his political career isn’t over, it seems unlikely right now that he’d try to reclaim the UCP leadership.
It’s an unceremonious result for the popular former federal cabinet minister and darling of movement conservatives who jumped into provincial politics six years ago to build a new conservative party.
It is a big change from three years ago, when Kenney led the newly minted UCP to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and win a big majority government.
On that election night he looked unstoppable.
Long gone are the days when anyone in Alberta politics is unstoppable.
I’m trying something new. I’m hoping to share some thoughts on Alberta politics and history on a new Substack and share the platform with some pretty smart people.
“Jason Kenney has neglected Calgary-North East, an ever-growing community with no new schools, skyrocketing insurance premiums and during the devastating hailstorm, he did not raise a hand to help us;” Brar said in a press release. “Rachel is the only leader with the real vision to make life more affordable for Albertans and create jobs by diversifying the economy.”
According to his press release, Brar has taught at Olds College, Bow Valley College and SAIT and currently owns a small business. He earned Bachelor of Business Administration from Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from University of London.
“By running as the Green Leader in Banff – Kananaskis, this district will finally get the attention it deserves. Rachel Notely and Jason Kenny treat Banff – Kananaskis like a notch on their belts,” Wilkie said. “Right now you see the Bow Valley interests being pitted against those in Bragg Creek and more urban areas like Springbank. While no one is properly taking the time to collaborate with theTsuut’ina and Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda Nations.”
“That is unacceptable and it is time for a new direction to move forward, especially on issues that affect everyone from community safety to economic prosperity,” said Wilkie.
The Edmonton firefighter was chosen as leader of the Green Party in March 2020. He holds an MA in Disaster Emergency Management.
The riding was represented by NDP MLA Cam Westhead from 2015 to 2019 and was home to the closest race between the UCP and NDP outside of the major urban centres in the last election and is a riding the NDP are hoping to pick up in the next election.
Demographic changes in the Bow Valley are creating a more competitive electoral landscape, and the UCP’s attempts to close and privatize provincial parks, open the Rockies to open-pit coal mining, and implementation of a fee to visit Kananaskis Country have proven to be deeply unpopular in the riding, which is currently represented by UCP MLA Miranda Rosin.
Meanwhile, much further north, Green Party of Alberta vice-president Brian Deheer could run for his party in the upcoming Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election but won’t announce his candidacy until the by-election is called.
“I feel it would be premature for me to comment until the election date has been set, and until it is clearer whether I’d be the candidate,” he recently told Lakeland This Week.
Deheer was the Green Party candidate in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the 2019 provincial Fort McMurray-Conklin in the 2018 provincial by-election, in Fort McMurray-Athabasca in the 2014 federal by-election, and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the 2015, 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
With hundreds of submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm and the winners will be announced shortly after that.
2. Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2021? – VOTE
Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
Ric McIver, Minister of Municipal Affairs
Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Transportation
Honourable mentions to runners-up Minister of Health Jason Copping and Minister of Finance Travis Toews. It is also worth noting that a large number of people chose to submit various versions of “none of the above.”
3. Who was the best opposition MLA of 2021? – VOTE
Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West
Honourable mention to runners-up Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd and Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi..
4. Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2022? – VOTE
Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Brian Jean, (potentially future) MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche
Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud
Honourable mentions to runners-up Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner and Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang.
5. What was the biggest political play of 2021 in Alberta? – VOTE
Brian Jean’s political comeback
Jason Kenney’s “Open For Summer/Best Summer Ever” COVID-19 plan
Jyoti Gondek’s election as Mayor of Calgary
What was the biggest political issue of 2021 in Alberta?
In some past years this category has been a dog’s breakfast, but like last year, this year your choice was clear. COVID-19 was the clear choice of the overwhelming majority of people who submitted in this category. The global COVID-19 pandemic defined Alberta politics in 2021, with the failure of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Open For Summer” plan and the fourth wave that followed garnering the most submissions.
It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.
That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.
It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.
Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.
Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.
Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.
Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.
The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.
Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.
Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.
But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.
Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.
I bet it grows again in a few months.
Shuffled around …
Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.
Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.
Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.
Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.
New in cabinet…
Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.
Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.
Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.
Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.
Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.
Out of cabinet…
Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.
Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.
Other non-cabinet changes today included:
Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.
After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.
Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.
Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.
According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”
“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.
Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.
Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.
In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.
A handful of UCP MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, are now publicly calling on the Kenney to apologize for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions by hosting a boozy Sky Palace patio party that was caught on camera.
The photos of Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, and senior political staff dining at a booze filled table atop the penthouse patio of the notorious Sky Palace circulated on social media this week.
Kenney and company were clearly breaking the government’s own public health restrictions. But, instead of admitting they made a mistake and moving on, the Premier’s political staff jumped on social media to aggressively attack anyone who criticized their leader, claiming they did not break any rules.
Kenney’s comments were incredibly insensitive in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Residential School in Kamloops. Kenney’s comments prompted strong responses from the Confederation of Treaty Six First Nations and the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.
Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, the UCP MLA for Calgary-North East, also called on Kenney to apologize for his boozy Sky Palace patio party.
“If they have committed a mistake, they must accept it openly. (The) photo clearly speaks,” Sawhney said on RED 106.7 FM in Calgary.
Meanwhile, Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is calling on the Kenney government to launch a public inquiry into the cost of its public health restrictions.
In this case, the attempted coverup was probably worse than the crime. Most Albertans would probably have accepted a quick apology from Kenney and his senior cabinet ministers for the rule breaking that so obviously occurred in the photos.
Kenney’s inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his staff’s overly aggressive attacks on anyone who pointed out what was clearly happening in the photos, has only given his opponents in the UCP caucus another reason to publicly criticize him.
The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.
Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.
Jim Dinning – His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.
Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.
The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.
Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.
While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.
Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.
Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.
Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.
With the Legislative Assembly returning to start the spring session at the end of the month, there was another big shuffle of ministerial chiefs of staff at the Legislature today.
In the Premier’s office, Pam Livingston is now Deputy Chief of Staff. Livingston recently served as Chief of Staff to Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon and was executive assistant to Justice Minister Verlyn Olson and Seniors and Community Supports Minister Greg Melchin.
There has been significant turnover in Premier Jason Kenney’s office over the past six months, with his three most senior advisors departing – Howard Anglin to Oxford, David Knight Legg to Invest Alberta, and Jamie Huckabay as a result of last month’s hot holiday scandal. The departure of these three is said to have created no shortage of chaos in Kenney’s office at a time when internal stability should be essential.
Livingston will be replaced in Nixon’s office by Megan Griffith, who previously served as Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan’s Minister of Rural & Remote Health.
Janet MacEachern, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister of Labour & Immigration Jason Copping since 2019, is the new Director of Talent in the Premier’s Office, replacing Amber Griffiths who will be taking maternity leave.
Ariella Kimmel, Chief of Staff to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, is leaving and will be replaced by Jonah Mozeson, who currently works as Chief of Staff to Minister Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu.
Riley Braun, who currently serves as Senior Advisor to Madu, will replace Mozeson as Acting Chief of Staff.
Also leaving is Robyn Henwood, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney and previously served as Director of the United Conservative Party Caucus.
Henwood will be replaced by Kulshan Gill. Gill was acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2019 provincial election after an unsuccessful bid to win the party nomination in Edmonton-Manning.
Veteran political communicator Jerry Bellikka is replacing Mat Steppan as Chief of Staff to Energy Minister Sonya Savage. Bellikka recently returned to the Legislature to work as Press Secretary for the Minister Community and Social Services.
Also apparently departing Savage’s office is Press Secretary Peter Brodsky, who only recently joined the Energy Minister’s office after previous Press Secretary Kavi Bal joined the Premier’s Office as Director of Strategic Planning.
Steppan is now Chief of Staff to acting Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, who was appointed to the dual role following Tracy Allard’s return from a Hawaiian vacation last month.
Jonathan Koehli, McIver’s current Chief of Staff for the dual role, will now become Chief of Staff to Copping in Labour & Immigration.
Before he returned to work at the Legislature in January 2020, Koehli previously served as Chief of Staff to Finance Minister Robin Campbell before the Progressive Conservative Party’s defeat in the 2015 election.
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.
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.
Submissions will close on Dec. 8, 2019 at 6:00 pm and the top three choices in each category will be included in a round of voting starting on Dec. 9, 2019. Voting will be open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end edition of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.
Legislative Assembly Speaker Nathan Cooper initiated the first ever Alberta MLA awards to give MLAs an opportunity to vote for their colleagues in a number of categories. MLAs Tracy Allard, David Eggen, Nate Horner, Shane Getson, Janis Irwin, Martin Long, Angela Pitt, Rajan Sawhney, and Travis Toews were recognized by their peers for extraordinary work in service of the people of Alberta. More than half of the 87 MLAs returned the anonymous ballots, according to a report by Canadian Press reporter Dean Bennett.
It is perhaps less unusual because the premier in question is Jason Kenney. As a federal cabinet minister he was praised by fellow partisans for his role in expanding Conservative Party’s outreach into New Canadian communities that had previously been the strongholds of the Liberal Party, a strategy that appeared solid until its collapse in 2015.
And while Kenney is currently the Premier of Alberta, he very much remains a national politician and one of the leaders of Conservative movement in Canada, frequently speaking at partisan fundraisers and events hosted by right-wing think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manhattan Institute.
Kenney’s interest in the federal campaign is no surprise. Much of the United Conservative Party campaign in Alberta’s recent provincial election focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Kenney had pledged his efforts to defeat in the October 21 federal election. And it is probably the worst-kept secret in Canadian politics that Kenney still harbours federal leadership ambitions. Ambitions that could be realized sooner than expected if Scheer stumbles in this election.
This is the first federal election in decades that both the federal and provincial Conservative parties in Alberta are marching in lock-step. The creation of the United Conservative Party in 2017 was just as much about the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties as it was creating harmony between the dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties.
This campaign trip to Ontario is not Kenney’s first, but it is much more extensive than his previous visits.
Kenney made an appearance at a fundraiser earlier this year in Brampton-North, where his former ministerial staffer Arpan Khanna is running for the Conservatives. Khanna managed Kenney’s Toronto office during his time as Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of National Defence.
Flying to Ottawa today, Kenney launched his campaign tour with Conservative candidates Brian St. Louis in Nepean and Abdul Abdi in Ottawa-West Nepean.
While Kenney’s Ontario itinerary does not appear to be publicly available, UCP sources tell me that he is scheduled to spend the rest of the weekend canvassing door-to-door with Markham-Stouffvillecandidate Theodore Antony, attending a BBQ for Brampton-Centre candidate Pawanjit Gosal, headlining a rally with Vaughn-Woodbridgecandidate Teresa Kruze, and attending an event at the Canadian Coptic Centre in support of Conservative candidates in Mississauga, among about ten other appearances.
Kenney is not the first Alberta politician to spend some time campaigning in this region of Ontario. Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney was in the area over the summer to campaign with Conservative candidates Sean Weir in Oakville North-Burlington and Ramandeep Singh Brar in Brampton-South.
If the federal Conservatives have any chance of forming government, it is believed that this is the region where that party will need to gain seats from the Liberals.
While Kenney campaigns in Ontario, he is also acutely aware of how this sort of intervention can go awry. Kenny was one of the senior Conservative Party officials who scolded then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein for contributing to his party’s defeat in the 2004 federal election.
Two days after that election was called, Klein publicly mused that his health-care reforms could possibly violate the Canada Health act, a statement which senior officials in the Conservative Party said helped Paul Martin’s Liberal Party shore up support in Ontario.
“There’s pretty much unanimous consensus in the federal party that these remarks weren’t helpful,” Kenney told the Calgary Herald in 2004. “Suggesting the Alberta government was prepared to announce violations of the Canada Health Act two days after an election was giving the Liberals a big fat one over centre plate.”
Few politicians can sustain themselves in a permanent campaign-mode like Kenney can. Anyone who has been paying attention to Alberta politics over the past few years can attest that he hasn’t stopped campaigning since his jumped into provincial politics in 2017. He is a career politician who can probably out-hustle almost any of his peers, but he also carries a few suitcases worth of political baggage on his trip east.
On the issue of gun control, which the Liberals raised at the beginning of the campaign, how will Kenney’s decision to publicly endorse vigilante gun justice in rural Alberta play in suburban Ontario? Kenney will be speaking to crowds of friendly Conservative voters, but I would not be surprised to see the Liberals bird-dog Kenney on this issue during his Ontario tour.
While Kenney is certainly not a separatist, he is trying to do what many past Alberta premiers have done in order to position themselves as the province’s great defender against the political interests of Central Canada.
Stoking western alienation will help solidify Kenney’s support among Conservative voters at home but it could also poison Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa even further if Trudeau’s Liberals are re-elected on October 21. This could help explain why no Alberta premier has parlayed their provincial success to federal politics – something Kenney may want to consider as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario this weekend.
Notley plays coy about her federal vote
Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the official opposition, continues to play coy when asked who she is planning to vote for in the October 21 federal election. “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate’s best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona,” Notley told CBC.
While I would be surprised if Notley did not vote for McPherson on October 21, it does demonstrate the deep distrust between the provincial and federal wings of the NDP in Alberta over issues like the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. While some former NDP MLAs defeated in the April 2019 election have been actively campaigning for federal NDP candidates, Notley and her current 24 NDP MLA caucus remain nowhere to be seen on the federal campaign trail in Alberta.
The kamakaze campaign that just won’t die
CBC investigative reporters have dived deep into the allegations of fraud and misuse of voting kiosks by Kenney’s campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest. According to CBC, the RCMP, which has been tight-lipped on the status and focus of its investigation, will only say it continues to investigate allegations of fraud as it relates to the 2017 UCP leadership race.
One of the results of a change in government is a mass turnover in the political staffers who occupy the offices of the premier, cabinet ministers and caucuses. As a new government enters office in Alberta, there are many dozens of political jobs that need to be filled. Here is a quick glance at some of the political staffers who have been hired to fill key roles since the United Conservative Party formed government in Alberta:
As has already been widely reported, former UCP Caucus Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay is now Chief of Staff in Premier Jason Kenney’s office. Joining him in Kenney’s office are Howard Anglin as Principal Secretary, Katy Merrifield as executive director of communications and planning, and Christine Myatt as press secretary and deputy director of communications. Anglin previously served as executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, deputy chief of staff in the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Chief of Staff to Kenney while he was the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Merrifield was communications director to former B.C. premier Christy Clark and senior advisor to the BC Liberal Party.
Paul Bunner has been hired as a Speechwriter in the Premier’s Office. Bunner served as a speechwriter and communications advisor in the office of Prime Minster Harper and as editor of the right-wing C2C Journal website, which is part of the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education.
Former UCP Caucus communications advisor Harrison Fleming is a special communications advisor in Executive Council.
Former Daveberta Podcast co-host Ryan Hastman is Chief of Staff to Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney. Natasha Kornak is Sawhney’s press secretary. She is the co-founder of the Story of a Tory blog with Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo.
Jamie Mozeson is Chief of Staff to Minister for Service Alberta Nate Glubish. Mozeson was the director of operations at the UCP Caucus and ran for the federal Conservative nomination in the Sturgeon River-Parkland district in 2016. Glubish’s press secretary is Tricia Velthuizen, a former Wildrose and UCP Caucus staffer and candidate for Edmonton City Council in 2017.
Jonah Mozeson, who is married to Jamie Mozeson, is the press secretary in the Office of the Minister Justice and Attorney General Doug Schweitzer. His mother, Laurie Mozeson, was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the 2019 election.
Craig Bellfontaine is Schweitzer’s Chief of Staff. Until recently he was a Toronto-based lawyer at the firm Farken and is a former federal Conservative ministerial staffer. Schweitzer’s Ministerial Assistant Kalyna Kardash is a former Outreach Coordinator for the UCP Caucus and Party during the election campaign.
Andrea Smotra is Chief of Staff to Minister of Energy Sonya Savage. Smotra was the director of election readiness for the UCP and previously worked as Regional Affairs Advisor in the office of Prime Minister Harper and deputy director of issues management for Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
Nicole Williams is Chief of Staff to Education Minster Adriana LaGrange. Williams is a former lobbyist and ministerial assistant who was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-West Henday in the recent election. Colin Aitchison is LaGrange’s press secretary. Until recently he was the Issues Manager for Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa McLeod.
Warren Singh is Chief of Staff to Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Singh previously served as director of government relations with NAIT and vice-president policy and outreach with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Before that he served in various chief of staff roles in the old PC government. Steve Buick is Shandro’s press secretary. Buick served as press secretary to former health minister Stephen Mandel and as a policy advisor to health minsters Gene Zwozdesky and Fred Horne. Previous to that he served as Director of Media Relations and Issues Management for Capital Health.
Kris Barker recently resigned from the UCP board of directors to start his new job as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir. Barker was elected at the party’s annual general meeting as the Edmonton Regional Director. He is married to Kara Barker, who ran as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Riverview. Fir’s press secretary Justin Brattinga is a former BC Liberal Caucus staffer.
Mark Jacka is Chief of Staff to Transportation Minister Ric McIver. Jacka previously served as UCP Constituency Development Coordinator, as an assistant to Edmonton-West MP Kelly McCauley and as Director of Political Operations for the Wildrose Party. Brooklyn Elhard is McIver’s press secretary. She previously served as Scheduling and Tour Coordinator for the UCP leader.
Tim Schultz is Chief of Staff to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen. Schultz previously served as chief of staff to the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education and the Minister of Finance in Progressive Conservative governments from 2008 to 2012.
Mandi Johnson is Chief of Staff to Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer. She previously worked for the PC, Wildrose and UCP Caucus. She is married to James Johnson, the Director of Research at the UCP Caucus. Payman Parseyan is Aheer’s press secretary. He ran for Edmonton City Council in 2017 and was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Whitemud.
TJ Keil is chief of staff to Minster of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter. Keil previously worked as a Senior Stakeholder Relations Consultant with Alberta Real Estate Association and ran for the PC Party in Edmonton-Strathcona against first-time NDP candidate Rachel Notley in 2008.
Steven Puhallo is chief of staff to Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz. He previously as chief of staff to various BC cabinet ministers from 2001 to 2008 and more recently was President and CEO of Cowboy Gaming (Canada), a country and western themed free online bingo and casino. Lauren Armstrong is Schulz’s press secretary. Armstrong worked as Kenney’s press secretary while he served as Minister of National Defence in Ottawa and until recently was chief of staff to Calgary city councillor Jeromy Farkas.
Former Wildrose Caucus staffer and Alberta Counsel communications lead Tim Gerwing is the press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu.
Former Hill & Knowlton senior consultant Jessica Goodwin is press secretary to Minister of Finance Travis Toews.
Ted Bauer is press secretary to Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Wilson. Bauer is the former Communications and Media Coordinator for Homeward Trust Edmonton and editor for Global News and CityTV.
And looking at the legislative branch:
Robyn Henwood is executive director of the UCP Caucus. Henwood will be known by political watchers as the chair of the party’s leadership election committee and as campaign manager for Len Rhodes’ election campaign in Edmonton-Meadows.
Brianna Morris is deputy director of the UCP caucus. She previously served as Senior Advisor to the UCP House Leader and as a Legislative and Outreach Assistant in the Wildrose Caucus.
Tim Uppal is also a Stakeholders Relations Manager for the UCP Caucus. Uppal served as the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Sherwood Park from 2008 to 2015 and is currently the nominated federal Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods.
As has already been noted in a previous post, former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen is now the CEO of the Wellington Advocacy lobbyist company. Matt Wolf, who served as Kenney’s Deputy Chief of Staff and director of the UCP campaign war room, is now a vice-president with public affairs giant Hill & Knowlton. Also with new jobs outside of government are UCP President Erika Barootes and former UCP Caucus director of issues management Peter Csillag have been hired by the Toronto-based public affairs company Enterprise.