Alberta Politics

guest post: the real worry about election 2012.

By: Richard Liebrecht

Going into the election, the two-person caucus of Brian Mason and Rachel Notley was well known among media insiders and observers for punching above their weight in earning coverage. Having served as communications officer for the caucus, I like to think I also played a small part in that excellent coverage. You get it by being relevant and timely.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader 2012 Election
Brian Mason

But relevancy and timeliness weren’t required this past election. New Democrats got solid coverage everyday. As did the Liberals, PCs and Wildrose. When I say solid, as a professional public relations practitioner (read: flack), I mean uncritical, straight-up recording of events and releases. I know that some press releases were literally re-written into stories and published.

Early in the campaign, the New Democrats sent Mason into a sports store to buy an Oilers jersey. Five cameras showed up just to get tape. It was way too easy.

Had it not been for a blogger talking about conscience rights and the Wildrose, and a P.C.-connected tweeter highlighting gay-damning comments from a Wildrose candidate, the election may have been nothing but a bunch of rehashed press releases and horserace stories.

I’m not here to slam reporters, however. I count many as friends, and I formerly worked for the Edmonton Sun.

Perhaps that’s why the slack coverage of the election is in my mind easily explained – this election was the product of a dwindling media presence in this province. It’s a national and international trend that’s seeing the reporting industry shrink while economies and populations are at historically large sizes.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012
Danielle Smith

Firstly, newsrooms were under resourced this election. The Wildrose at times had only one reporter aboard their mammary motor coach, despite their surge in the polls. The reporters who may have been assigned to it were instead covering multiple campaigns in a day because there just weren’t enough bodies to put someone full time with each campaign.

I know that reporters had found Hunsperber’s blog, but didn’t have time to look through it extensively enough to find the trouble posting.

Secondly, editors are desperate to cover every bit of news available. Sounds good, but thanks to short staffing, they’ve been forced to choose: do original work and let some news slip by, or throw all your resources into making sure you have all the news that’s everyone else is doing. Their choice is evident when several cameras showing up for a guy buying a hockey jersey. Every station was worried they may not have the shot. And God help that editor if they tweet a picture of it 30 minutes later than another outlet. This is the blowfish act of outlets too proud to show that there’s little meat left on the bones.

Allan Hunsperger Wildrose Party Edmonton South West
Allan Hunsperger

It’s scary to think that Hunsperger’s blog may not have come to light before Election Day. Premier Smith would have had damage control to do, no doubt – but also no one to answer to for four years. The tidal wave of strategic voting may never have been triggered. Who knows what else media missed?

While a shrivelled press corps makes getting out my story as a PR flack easier, as a citizen I know that’s a dangerous state. While truth can be relative, it is relatively objective. I hope and expect media will be out there wading through the facts and opinions with genuine, untainted curiosity to expose lies and half-truths. Media, at its best, is a bulwark of accountability. When that accountability dwindles, then so too does the warning of punishment for spinning half-truths and even lies, as some dishonourable members of my profession do. Corruption and confusion come unheralded and unstoppable.

None of this is inevitable in a growth society. As news consumers, we have two important choices to make. We can decide to reward enterprising journalism with our readership, or continue to loyally follow a shrunken media into irrelevance. We can decide to pay for subscriptions to good journalism, or we can continue to live under the illusion that news is free.

Demand news with insightful analysis, interesting human perspectives, exploration of new angles and lots of background research. And pay for it.

While handfuls of journalists will continue to lose their jobs if media continues to whither, it’s you who next election may unwittingly vote for someone or something you didn’t even know you were voting for.

Richard Liebrecht (@wardofcanada) is a public relations specialist. He’s formerly communications officer for Alberta’s NDP opposition, where he consulted on communication strategy. He’s also a former staff reporter at the Edmonton Sun. He blogs at

Alberta Politics

assembly housekeeping: new staff, new speaker, & new public accounts committee chair.

As the Opposition Caucuses and Parties reorganize following electoral changes caused as a results of the April 23 election, there will be a number of staff and role changes in Assembly. The new Assembly will convene for the first time to elect a new Speaker on May 23, 2012 and listen to the Speech from the Throne on May 24, 2012.

New Speaker

Gene Zwozdesky
Gene Zwozdesky

As the result of the retirement of long-time Progressive Conservative MLA Ken Kowalski, the Speaker’s Office is vacant for the first time since 1997. Vying to become the new Assembly Speaker are former cabinet minister and Edmonton-Mill Creek PC MLA Gene Zwozdesky, Deputy Speaker and Calgary-Fort PC MLA Wayne Cao, former cabinet minister and Red Deer-North PC MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, and long-time Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman. (Both Mr. Cao and Ms. Jablonski have exited the race).

Before his appointed as Minister of Aboriginal Relations last week, West Yellowhead PC MLA Robin Campbell was seen by some political insiders as a front-runner in this race.

This new Speaker will be selected by sitting MLA’s through a secret ballot and because this election is traditionally not a whipped vote, it can sometimes lead to interesting and unexpected results. When Mr. Kowalski was selected as Speaker in 1997, many political observers believed it was the Liberal and NDP MLA’s who helped him defeat Premier Ralph Klein‘s preferred choice, then-Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

Opposition Staff Housekeeping

For the first time in 19 years, the Liberal Opposition Caucus will not be the Official Opposition in the Assembly. The Liberal Caucus, led by Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman, will undergo staff and research budget downsizing due to the number of Liberal MLAs shrinking from 8 to 5. The Liberal Caucus recently released its MLA critic and committee assignments.

Jonathan Huckabay Liberal candidate Edmonton-Manning
Jonathan Huckabay

A recent listing on the Government of Alberta website shows that Dr. Sherman’s long-time adviser Jonathan Huckabay will return to his role as Chief of Staff of the Liberal Caucus Office. Mr. Huckabay entered that role earlier this year when former MLA Rick Miller resigned to focus on his election campaign in Edmonton-Rutherford. When the election was called, Mr. Huckabay stood as a Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Manning, where he placed fourth with just over 1,000 votes.

Recently the party’s candidate in Cypress-Medicine Hat, Jon Mastel is Dr. Sherman’s new Executive Assistant.

Senior Communications Advisor Earl J Woods announced in a blog post last week that he would be leaving the Liberal Caucus, where he has worked for six and a half years (if you are looking to hire a great writer, contact Mr. Woods).

In the NDP Opposition Caucus, which doubled in size from 2 to 4 MLAs, Communications Officer Richard Liebrecht announced on Twitter last week that he was moving on from his role in the Legislature Annex. A former Reporter for Sun Media and the Hinton Parklander, Mr. Liebrecht started his job with the NDP in November 2010. He also previously worked for the Liberal Party of Canada.

The NDP are also hiring a number of constituency staff positions.

While the Wildrose Party‘s new role as Official Opposition will mean additional staff and research funding, a party position was made vacant following the election of Shayne Saskiw in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, the Wildrose Party is hiring a new Executive Director.

New Public Accounts Committee Chairperson

Hugh MacDonald MLA
Former MLA Hugh MacDonald

For the first time since 2001, someone other than Hugh MacDonald will serve as chair of the important Public Accounts Committee, which has ability to scrutinize government spending. Mr. MacDonald served as the MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 until the recent election when he chose to retire from the Assembly. While he sometimes appeared to be relentlessly focused on discovering scandal in the Tory government, Mr. MacDonald was easily one of the hardest working MLA’s under the Dome.

The role of Public Accounts Committee Chair traditionally falls to a MLA representing the Official Opposition Caucus, meaning that one of the 17 Wildrose Party MLA’s will fill this role when the new Assembly convenes next week. Second-term Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, who will also serve as Official Opposition Finance Critic, could be a powerful force in this important role. Calgary-Fish Creek Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth served as the Wildrose representative on the committee before the election.

Previous to Mr. MacDonald, former Liberal MLAs Lance White and Muriel Abdurahman filled the role as Chair.

Alberta Politics

alberta politics notes 11/19/2010

After a week-long break, MLAs returned to the Assembly for a week that started with three-sided tailing ponds and ended with an emergency debate on health care.

Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman at 2010 Premier's Pancake Breakfast.

Emergency Debate on Health Care
Edmonton-Meadowlark PC MLA and parliamentary assistant for Health & Wellness Raj Sherman got the attention he was looking for when he wrote a blunt email to the Premier, and several MLAs, cabinet ministers, and medical colleagues. The letter continued a month long media firestorm on the state of emergency room wait times in Alberta.

As Question Period ended yesterday, Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman succeeded in her bid to hold an emergency debate, which lasted for just over an hour and showcased some of the most passionate debate I have seen in the Assembly this year. This was the second attempt by the opposition during this session to initiate an emergency debate on this topic. A motion to extend the debate during the afternoon was defeated when a number of PC MLAs who did not want to extend their four day week on the Assembly floor (Ron Liepert, Jeff Johnson, and Barry McFarland as tweeted by Liberal caucus Chief of Staff Rick Miller). UPDATE: Mr. Miller has commented below that his tweet was naming the three PC MLAs for not standing in support of the initial vote to have an emergency debate, not to vote against extending the debate past 4:30pm.

MLA Laurie Blakeman initiated the emergency debate.

For Dr. Sherman, the big question is what does his political future hold? After embarrassing the Premier and his caucus on this sensitive file, it is questionable how much longer his colleagues will tolerate an independence streak. With three former PC MLAs having crossed to the Wildrose Alliance in the past year, the Tories need to balance maintaining caucus unity without being too disciplinary with their more independent-minded MLAs. This is a balancing act that has proved difficult in the 68 MLA PC caucus.

New Rural Municipalities Leader
The AAMDC Annual Conference was held this weekend and Bob Barss was elected as their new President. Mr. Barss is the Reeve for the Municipal District of Wainwright No. 61. He was first elected in to Council in 1995 and became Reeve in 1997. Mr. Barss replaces Municipal District of Taber Reeve Don Johnson, who has served in the position since 2004. The conference included speeches from provincial cabinet ministers Hector Goudreau, Rob Renner, Ray Danyluk, Heather Klimchuk, Jack Hayden, Luke Ouellette, and Premier Ed Stelmach.

Liberal Party AGM
The Liberal Party is holding its annual general meeting on November 27 and will elect three of its executive committee members, President, Vice-President (Policy), and Secretary. Edmonton Regional Director Erick Ambtman has declared his intentions to run for President. Current President, Debbie Cavaliere, was appointed on an interim basis after former President Tony Sansotta resigned in July. Ms. Cavaliere will be seeking election as VP (Policy) and current Secretary Nancy Cavanaugh will be seeking re-election for her position.

New NDP Communications Guy
Richard Liebrecht started his new job as the Communications Director for the NDP Caucus this week. Mr. Liebrecht is a former reporter for the Edmonton Sun and editor at the Hinton Parklander. Mr. Liebrecht replaces another former Sun reporter Brookes Merritt, who recently left the NDP Caucus for a job at the Public Affairs Bureau.

The former Libertarian leader wants to carry the Wildrose flag in Calgary-Hays.

Libertarian leader goes Wildrose
Dennis Young is seeking the Wildrose Alliance nomination in Calgary-Hays. The former leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada, Mr. Young earned  265 votes in his 2008 campaign in Calgary-Southwest, which was won by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Note: Mr. Young is still listed as leader on the Libertarian Party website, but lists himself as the former leader on his campaign website). View the updated list of declared and nominated provincial election candidates.

Distracted drivers
Alberta has a new distracted driving law that will prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

Alberta Party (new) media coverage
If you missed the coverage of last weekend’s Alberta Party policy conference, there is no shortage of online news stories and blog posts. Here is a run-down from media and participants of the policy convention and recent Big Listens.

Todd Babiak: Alberta Party hopes to gain foothold with “post-partisan politics”
Dave Berry: Political Crowdsourcing
Samantha Power: Party of the Young
The Unknown Studio Podcast: The Brierley Patch
Mack Male: The Alberta Party’s Big Listen
Edwin Erickson: Moving right along then…
Gerard McLellan: Sunday morning at the Alberta Party policy convention
The Roundhouse: Alberta Party Policy Convention – Part 1
Alberta Party policy convention – Aftermath
Chris Labossiere: Tired and yet inspired
David King: Carpe Diem
Ken Chapman: The Alberta Party is on the Move and Making Waves
Max Fawcett: Mission Impossible?
Duncan Kinney: Feed-in Tariffs, Geothermal and Carbon Disclosure – My experience at the Alberta Party Policy Convention
Jeremy Barretto: Why the Alberta Party is a game changer, not late to the game

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.