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alberta politics: 3 things more important than hal walker that happened today.

Today’s much hyped Wildrose Alliance news conference in Calgary did not live up to expectations. When announced yesterday that leader Danielle Smith would “be making an important political announcement” about the her party, the speculation was rampant. Was Preston Manning signing his endorsement pledge? Was Tom Flanagan going be their campaign manager? Was Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth going to step down to let Ms. Smith to run in a by-election? Were more PC MLAs going to cross the floor?

The news turned out to be ever so underwhelming. Party president Jeff Calloway has stepped down to allow disenchanted former Ralph Klein advisor Hal Walker to enter the role. Last September, Mr. Walker let it be known to the world that he strongly disliked Premier Ed Stelmach when he widely circulated an email that oozed the with entitlement of a longtime-insder who no longer had the ear of the powerful. The underwhelming announcement sparked a some very entertaining social media satire from the political crowd on Twitter this afternoon (follow #waptopstory to see what I mean).

While the underwhelming story of Mr. Walker and the hilarious online reaction grabbed headlines, do not be convinced that nothing important happened today in Alberta politics. Here are three things that you should be paying attention to:

1) Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne has announced the start of consultations for a new Alberta Health Act. The Act would seek to merge currently existing health care laws under one piece of mega-legislation. As was the case when the PCs created the Post-secondary Learning Act in 2003, the devil will be in the details of what is left in legislation and what will be moved into regulation (or just left out). In a media release, Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen said: “The Alberta Hospitals Act, and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act both provide core legal underpinnings for our public system. If they are repealed and not strengthened under the new legislation, it could open the doors wide for a full two-tiered, parallel private health market in the province immediately.”

2) Premier Stelmach announced on the Rutherford Show this morning that Alberta will not be holding a Senate election anytime soon. The terms of Alberta’s current three Senators-in-Waiting will expire in November 2010, but instead of holding an election to replace them, Premier Stelmach and his cabinet will decide in a closed door cabinet meeting to extend their terms. Aside from being anti-democratic, the move also undercuts the opposition parties who were preparing for a Senate election to coincide with the October municipal elections. The Wildrose Alliance began seeking Senate candidates last week and I am told that the new Alberta Party was also organizing a campaign to support a candidate this fall. At this point, Premier Stelmach might as well appoint the Senators-in-Waiting.

3) Alberta’s new Mental Health Patient Advocate is longtime PC-insider Fay Orr. Ms. Orr worked as a media relation advisor to now Senator Elaine McCoy in the early 1990s and in the 1993 election she was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Norwood (she placed third behind Liberal Andrew Beniuk and New Democrat Ray Martin). Following the election, she served as Premier Klein’s spokesperson and was appointed as managing director of the Public Affairs Bureau in 2000 (a position where current PAB Director of New Media and Internet Communications Tom Olsen described her as ‘the chief of all Alberta government talking heads‘). Soon after that, Ms. Orr served as Deputy Minister for a number of Departments, including Community Development; and Government Services, and until today, the Department of Children and Youth Services.

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Dave Taylor David Swann Debby Carlson Gene Zwozdesky Kevin Taft

alberta liberal attrition.

Today’s news that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leaving the Liberal caucus is big news for political watchers, but it is far from the first time that an MLA has left the Alberta Liberal Caucus. Due to many circumstances, ten MLAs have departed the Liberal Caucus before their term has ended over the past 16 years.

2006: One-term Edmonton-Manning MLA Dan Backs was expelled from the Liberal caucus by party leader Kevin Taft due to “ongoing friction” between the MLA and his colleagues. Mr. Back sat an an Independent MLA. After unsuccessfully seeking the PC nomination in 2008, Mr. Backs ran as an Independent and placed third behind Tory Peter Sandhu and New Democrat Rick Murti.

2004: Leader and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson both left the Liberal caucus to run as federal Liberal candidates. Dr. Nicol eared 21.5% support against Conservative MP Rick Casson, and Ms. Carlson placed only 5,000 votes behind Edmonton-Strathcona Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

2000: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Sue Olsen left the Liberal caucus to run peruse a career in federal politics. Ms. Olsen was unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Edmonton-Centre East MP Peter Goldring.

1999: One-term Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Pamela Paul left the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent MLA after domestic issues made it difficult for her to work with her caucus colleagues. She did not seek re-election in 2001.

1998: Two-term Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky left the Liberals over a dispute with leader Nancy MacBeth. One month later, he joined the Progressive Conservative caucus and is currently the Minister of Health & Wellness.

1996: Former leader and Redwater MLA Nick Taylor left the Liberal caucus when he was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

1995: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Andrew Beniuk was expelled from the Liberal caucus and sat as an Independent before joining the PCs in 1996. Mr. Beniuk was defeated by Liberal Sue Olsen in the 1997 election. Mr. Beniuk attempted political comebacks as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Glengarry in 2001 and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in 2008.

1994: Edmonton-Beverly-Belmont MLA Julius Yankowski and Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Paul Langevin left the Liberals to sit as Independent MLAs before joining the PC caucus in 1995 and were both re-elected in 1997. Mr. Langevin retired in 2001 and Mr. Yankowski was defeated by New Democrat Ray Martin in 2004.

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Danielle Smith Deron Bilous Kent Hehr Ray Martin Tony Vandermeer

alberta politics: state of the opposition.

They may have dropped to the fourth largest party in the Legislative Assembly in 2010, but the NDP are the first out of the starting gate to nominate a candidate for the 2012 election. The Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP have scheduled their nomination for May 5, 2010. As far as this blogger knows, local teacher and 2008 Edmonton-Centre candidate Deron Bilous is the only candidate seeking the nomination. The constituency was represented by NDP MLA Ray Martin from 2004 until his narrow defeat to Tory Tony Vandermeer in 2008. Under the interim proposed boundary changes for 2012, the new Edmonton-Clareview constituency would reduce Mr. Vandermeer’s 2008 margin of victory down to 101 votes. With recent polls looking quite different than those of 2008, past results could mean very little in two years.

Word has it that a recent shake up in the NDP was not limited to their departing Executive Director. Some recent turnover on the board of executive officers has introduced some fresh blood onto the tiny party’s central bureau (since no table officers are listed on the NDP website, it is left to this kind of speculation). While they are reported to have raised $681,000 in 2009, insider sources have told me that slower economic times have contributed to a decline in individual donations in 2010, making staff layoffs likely.

Not too far behind in their search for candidates is the Liberal Party, who I have been told are hoping to nominate candidates in Edmonton-Decore, Edmonton-Glenora, Edmonton-McClung, Edmonton-Mill Woods, and Edmonton-Rutherford by Fall 2010. The Liberals are reported to have raised $768,000 in 2009, but are struggling to even hold their support in the polls, a problem that has some Liberals talking about a palace coup.

The Liberals may also be looking for a candidate to run in an upcoming by-election if rumors that one of two Calgary MLAs run for Mayor this Fall. A growing number of Liberals in Calgary are seriously talking about supporting a Mayoral bid by popular Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr. One Liberal told me that Mr. Hehr “is seriously considering running for Mayor, and is currently arranging lunches with former Bronco heavy weights.” A by-election in Calgary-Buffalo would be an ideal opening for a new party with a potential candidate who has extensive experience organizing a winning election in that progressive downtown constituency.

Meanwhile, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is taking advantage of not being burdened with the responsibility of holding a seat in the Assembly by delivering campaign style stump speeches across the province. Ms. Smith’s party remains strong in the polls and raised nearly $700,000 in 2009 (most since she became leader in October 2009.

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Bettie Hewes Bob Hawkesworth Derek Fox Don Getty Don Tannas Kurt Gessel Laurence Decore Marie Laing Norm Weiss Ray Martin

Alberta’s Great Family Day Debate of 1989.

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take for granted the holiday on the third Monday of February may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day was incredibly controversial when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

Kurt Gesell MLA Alberta
Kurt Gesell

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC MLA Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989

Don-Tannas-Alberta MLA
Don Tannas

Don Tannas (PC MLA Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

Norm-Weiss-Alberta-MLA
Norm Weiss

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP MLA Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC MLA Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie-Hewes-Alberta-MLA
Bettie Hewes

Bettie Hewes (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek-Fox-Alberta-MLA
Derek Fox

Derek Fox (NDP MLA Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Don Getty (PC MLA Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie-Laing-Alberta-MLA
Marie Laing

Marie Laing (NDP MLA Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob-Hawkesworth-Alberta-MLA
Bob Hawkesworth

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP MLA Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Mr. Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [editor’s note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

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James Ford Laurie Hawn Lewis Cardinal Linda Duncan Mary MacDonald Peter Goldring Rahim Jaffer Ray Martin Ryan Hastman Tim Uppal

canada’s 2008 federal election: 365 days later.

One year ago today, just over 50% of Albertans made their way to the polls to vote in the 2008 Canadian Federal Election. While just over two years since the previous election, last October saw some Edmontonians (and Strathconans) paint their electoral map with a little more diversity of colours (even if it only resulted in one actual change in electoral representation). A year out, here is a look at some of the more interesting ridings from 2008 and what the electoral races may shape up to look like in the next election.

Edmonton-Centre

2008 results
Laurie Hawn, C – 22,634 (49%)
Jim Wachowich, Lib – 12,661 (27.4%)
Donna Martyn, NDP – 6,912 (15%)
David Parker, G – 3,746 (8.1%)
Peggy Morton, ML – 203 (0.4%)

I expected closer results in this riding during the last election, but if only one thing were clear about the 2008 election, it is that the Liberals under Stephane Dion had zero momentum in western Canada. After narrowly defeating Liberal MP Anne McLellan in 2006, a low voter turnout allowed Conservative Laurie Hawn to widen his margin of victory into a comfortable lead in 2008 when facing off against consumer advocate and Liberal candidate Jim Wachowich (the total voter turnout dropped by over eleven thousand votes and over 9,000 Liberal voters stayed home, dropping that party’s support by over 9,000 votes between 2006 and 2008).

This riding has been the focus of both Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative and Liberal resources since 1993 and the prospect of three strong candidates in the next election could make this Edmonton riding a centre of attention once again. Hawn is a strong campaigner, but he is now facing two hard working challengers who have already began campaigning door-to-door. Liberal Mary MacDonald is a lawyer, Ph.D., former Deputy Chief of Staff to McLellan, and former provincial Liberal candidate. New Democrat Lewis Cardinal is an educator, activist, and former candidate for City Council. Some people will inevitably bemoan the potential for vote-splitting between the two main challengers, but I am looking forward to watching three strong candidates make this riding competitive in the next election. If Edmonton-Centre becomes home to a serious three-way race, I would wager that anything could happen.

Edmonton-East

2008 results
Peter Goldring, C – 21,487 (51.3%)
Ray Martin, NDP – 13,318 (31.8%)
Stephanie Laskoski, Lib – 4,578 (10.9%)
Trey Capnerhurst, G 2,488 (5.9%)

This riding could be one to watch in the next election. With the collapse of the Liberal-vote in 2008 (likely caused by the previously mentioned Dion-factor and the last minute withdrawal of candidate Jim Jacuta), former MLA Ray Martin was able to capitalize and boost the NDP vote by 13% to a solid second place finish. The riding has been represented by MP Peter Goldring since 1997, but the eclectic collection of citizens in this riding supported NDP MP Ross Harvey in 1988 and Liberal MP Judy Bethel in 1993.

Although Goldring has perfected the art of invisibility as a backbench MP, he still hold an incumbency advantage and I wouldn’t underestimate Martin, who has once again been nominated as the NDP candidate in the next election. A seasoned elections veteran, Martin’s political drive has led him to be elected the MLA for Edmonton-Norwood from 1982 to 1993, Edmonton Public Schools Trustee from 2001 to 2004, MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 2004 to 2008, and Leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition from 1986 to 1993. I have also heard that along with Edmonton-Strathcona, the NDP are planning to focus much of their resources on this riding, which was their second strongest Alberta finish in 2008.

Edmonton-Sherwood Park

2008 results
Tim Uppal, C – 17,628 (35.8%)
James Ford, Ind – 15,960 (32.4%)
Brian LaBelle, NDP – 6,339 (12.8%)
Rick Szostak, Lib – 5,575 (11.3%)
Nina Erfani, G – 3,678 (7.4%)

In 2008, Independent conservative James Ford rode a strong wave of Strathcona County-concentrated discontent after a shady Conservative nomination process chose former Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont candidate Tim Uppal over local favorite Jacquie Fenske.

Ford’s strength led this riding to the second closest results in the province, but I wonder whether a second run by Ford would result in the same level of discontent. This has been a strong conservative riding and includes areas that are represented on a provincial level by Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Iris Evans. If the voters in this riding are now less offended by the internal party shenanigans than they were a year ago, I would imagine that they will return to a traditional Conservative voting pattern.

Edmonton-Strathcona


2008 results
Linda Duncan, NDP – 20,103 (42.5%)
Rahim Jaffer, Con – 19,640 (41.6%)
Claudette Roy, Lib – 4,279 (9%)
Jane Thrall, Grn – 3,040 (6.4%)
Kevan Hunter, ML – 147 (0.3%)

A year ago today, NDP candidate Linda Duncan edged out long-time Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer in a close election race. Initially planning a comeback, Jaffer is now dealing with some personal issues in Ontario and the Conservatives have nominated Ottawa insider Ryan Hastman as their standard bearer. Both candidates and their teams have been busy canvassing door-to-door over the summer months in this extremely geo-politically polarized riding (as you can see by the poll results from the map above).

Since the last election, a number of people have noted to me that Duncan has become somewhat of a ghost in Edmonton. I will give Duncan the benifit of a doubt that she is still mounting the learning curve that all elected officials face during their first couple years in office, but I am sure that Hastman’s campaign will focus on this point.

Expect a flood of resources and high-profile MP visits to the riding from both the NDP and Conservatives to continue before the next election (NDP leader Jack Layton has visited this riding at least 4-5 times since October 2008). The collapse of the Liberal vote helped vault Duncan to her victory, but it shouldn’t be underestimated how strong her organization and her campaign momentum were in the last election. If she is successful in her next election, she will be the first NDP MP to be re-elected in Alberta’s history. The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate in this riding, but Michael Ignatieff spent the Canada Day long weekend in the riding.

(Thanks to Jordan C. for the map)