Three years ago, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the unquestioned leader of the Conservative movement in Canada. He was the national conservative standard bearer.
Now, Kenney is politically toxic.
And as the deadly fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, he was in hiding.
His absence is mostly an attempt to avoid embarrassing his federal cousins in Ottawa, who until today have been grateful for his disappearance, and facing an unruly caucus of United Conservative Party MLAs already unhappy with his leadership, but it also means he has been out from public sight as new COVID cases skyrocketed, hospitals and intensive care units began to overflow, and more Albertans have died of the deadly disease.
Twenty-four more Albertans died yesterday. More than 90 Albertans have died over the past eight days.
Kenney reemerged for the second time in almost two months today to announce the end of his Best Summer Ever.
Joining Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Kenney declared a public state of emergency and bumbled his way through a confusing new list of public health restrictions and a not a vaccine passport vaccine passport system that largely puts the burden on businesses to figure out (something his party was fundraising off its opposition to weeks ago and he described as illegal a few months ago).
Like the previous three waves of the pandemic, Kenney waited until the health care system was in crisis before acting. If Albertans comply with the new restrictions, we can hope that the number of COVID cases decrease. But not removing the restrictions too quickly, like he has before, will probably be key to its success.
When medical experts and media questioned how quickly Kenney removed the public health restrictions, he and his staff aggressively attacked and dismissed their warnings about a fourth wave.
Kenney eagerly pushed for 70 per cent of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 to get vaccinated in order to lift restrictions in time for the Stampede. The government offered lucrative lotteries and prizes, and even $100 cash cards, to convince Albertans to get vaccinated but it does not appear to have moved the needle to where we need it to be. Alberta still lags behind the rest of the country.
Kenney’s Open for Summer plan was all optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic was over with none of the vigilance required to make sure it actually was.
But don’t expect Kenney to volunteer to face the consequences for his actions.
Responding to his critics at today’s press conference, Kenney initially apologized for the results of his Open for Summer decision only to retract his apology minutes later when answering a question from Postmedia columnist Rick Bell, telling Bell that “I won’t apologize.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago, Kenney has failed to lead Albertans through the biggest health crisis in a generation.
Postmedia’s two main political columnists in Alberta’s daily newspapers blasted Premier Jason Kenney for his weak response to UCP MLAs who ignored government recommendations to stay home and cancel all non-essential international travel to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
At least four UCP MLAs, including Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, hopped on planes and jetted off to hot holiday destinations this December. Kenney’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, also travelled to the United Kingdom to visit family.
While most of us were painfully isolating ourselves from family and friends, trying to decide if we should even risk the grocery store, these people were heading to Hawaii, Mexico the U.K. and the U.S.
By Saturday morning there were seven confirmed UCP politicians and officials who jumped ship for holiday, the latest being MLAs Tanya Fir and Jeremy Nixon.
Maybe Kenney can’t fire any because there are so many. This is a genuine scandal that shows no sign of fading away.
When I first heard about the controversy swelling around United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney‘s former domestic arrangements, I was very reluctant to write about or event comment on the issue. It even took me a few days to be convinced that it might be more than just the political pot-shot of the week.
Kenney’s past domestic arrangements ballooned into a big political issue this week when it was revealed that, for a period of time while serving in Ottawa, the former seven-term MP and senior cabinet minister designated the basement of his parents home in a Calgary retirement community as his primary residence.
During his time in Ottawa from 1997 to 2016, Kenney appears to have always designated his primary residence in Calgary, which is to be expected even if he did not spend much time in the city during his time as a senior cabinet minister. This is probably not uncommon for a lot of MPs or cabinet ministers. But it did mean he was eligible for a $900 per month subsidy to pay for the cost of his secondary residence in Ottawa.
There is no hard evidence that Kenney actual broke any House of Commons rules – rules written by MPs for MPs – but his decision to declare his primary residence as the basement of his parents house in a Calgary retirement community is… very unusual, to say the least.
Then there is also the related issue of Kenney donating $399.00 to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party while his primary residence was in Alberta, an act he was prohibited from doing unless he was a resident of Ontario.
The only reason Albertans are talking about this controversy, and why I am writing about it, is Ottawa-based lawyer Kyle Morrow, who for the past few months has been sharing a treasure-trove of research and political criticisms of Kenney on social media. Morrow is originally from Alberta and was the Liberal Party candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka in the 2012 provincial election. But from his political perch in Ottawa, Morrow has been researching and tweeting all sorts of tidbits and information about Kenney from his 19 years as an Ottawa politician.
The UCP and the usual cast of characters, including Postmedia columnists Licia Corbella and Rick Bell, quickly leapt to Kenney’s defence, claiming that this was an unfair personal attack by Morrow against Kenney and his elderly mother, and dismissing anyone who attacks the party leader as a victim of Kenney Derangement Syndrome.
The furious response by the UCP leads me to believe that Morrow hit a very sensitive nerve by raising this issue. Despite it already being part of Kenney’s public record from his time in Ottawa, the party clearly did not like it being talked about at all. But the tone and volume of their response has only drawn more attention to the issue.
All this political ruckus does raise the question about what a young Jason Kenney, who burst onto Alberta’s political scene in the early 1990s in the form of an aggressive anti-tax crusader, would have to say about the unusual living arrangements of his senior self. There is more than a little bit of irony that Kenney made a name for himself at the start of his political career as a fierce critic of Progressive Conservative excess, including PC MLAs who were themselves twisted in knots over their own housing expense scandal before the 1993 election.
This is not the first time Kenney has faced controversy over his MP expenses. In 2001, he was criticized for spending $121,000 on taxpayer funded flights for MPs, in part, to allegedly campaign for Stockwell Day‘s bid to retain the leadership of the Canadian Alliance.
But like that controversy, I doubt this will damage Kenney’s electoral prospects to any significant extent.
Kenney’s UCP is sitting with a mighty comfortable lead over the NDP in every public poll that has been released in the past year and the party raised a whopping $3,922,950.21 in the final four months of 2018.
And it is possible that Kenney’s critics have jumped the shark.
The fairly wonkish details that surround Kenney’s unusual housing arrangements make it difficult to explain in easy and short soundbites and will likely be lost on most Alberta voters. Some political watchers have expressed the opinion that it could be seen as a witch-hunt gone too far and an issue that allows Kenney to highlight his relationship with his family, which is not a side we have seen since the career politician jumped back into provincial politics in 2017.
While this story did not originate from the New Democratic Party, it does fit with the hit-a-week the governing party has been launching at Kenney for more than the past year. And while there is hope among the NDP that the growing number of controversies will develop into a narrative around Kenney and the UCP, none of the individual controversies, even ones that are easier to explain, appear to be hitting the intended target.
Kinder Morgan Inc. has given the provincial and federal governments a deadline of May 31, 2018 to sort out the political dispute over the expansion of the already existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. But it appears as though federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau saying the federal government is willing to offer significant financial support to the corporation to compensate for any inconveniences our Canadian system of federalism and democracy may cause the Texas-based corporation.
Singh shows up to the party:Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh finally waded into the debate over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline today. Singh tweeted that “Liberals are giving Texas oil company #KinderMorgan a blank cheque while dumping all the risks on Canadians. Rigged process, First Nations & local communities shut out, oil spill threats, science ignored & now billions on the line It’s clear this pipeline should not be built.”
Singh’s choice to oppose the pipeline reflects the composition of his federal caucus of 43 Members of Parliement, which includes 1 MP from Alberta and 14 MPs from British Columbia.
Giant new provincial park: Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips announced the creation of five new wildland provincial parks covering 1.3 million hectares of new protected areas in northern Alberta. Along with the Wood Buffalo National Park, and the Caribou Mountains Wildland Provincial Park these new wildland provincial parks are the biggest contiguous legislated protection the world’s boreal forest. According to a Government of Alberta press release, the new protected areas were created through a partnership with the provincial and federal governments, the Tallcree First Nation, Syncrude and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
“Other planning processes underway will further protect under-represented ecosystems and habitats for woodland caribou. We look forward to Alberta becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada to achieve the benchmark of 17 per cent of its landscapes as legislatively protected areas as landscape planning is completed in other parts of the province,” Dyer said.
Do as I say, not as I do: It was not long ago that United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney declared that “I believe that we can have a respectful debate on ideas without resorting to the nasty politics of personal destruction.”
But this week, Kenney unleashed the nasty politics of personal destruction against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a column written by Postmedia’s Rick Bell. Of Trudeau, Kenney claimed that “He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. This guy is an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl. He can’t read a briefing note longer than a cocktail napkin, O.K.”
Kenney’s harsh words give an indication of how relations between Alberta and Ottawa could sour if he becomes Premier of Alberta in 2019.
It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.
Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.
Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”
A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!” Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.
Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.
Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.
CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.
As of this afternoon, the Speaker's office in the #ableg had not received notice that @Dfildebrandt was suspended from the #WRP .
Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.
The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.
Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley said “with respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”
A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.
For four years, Progressive Conservatives told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. Today, it now appears that the leaders of the two parties have now put the past four years behind them and are joining forces.
Following a Tuesday, Dec. 16 caucus meeting, it is being reported that six of the Wildrose Official Opposition’s 14 MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, have decided to leave their party to join the 43-year governing PC. Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell reported yesterday that PC leader Jim Prentice offered a “Reunification Agreement” as incentive to his opposition colleagues.
The governing PC Caucus will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 17 and are expected to discuss the acceptance of the six MLAs into their ranks. The addition of the six would bring the total number of Tories to 69 of 87 MLAs in the Assembly. The remaining eight Wildrose MLAs would remain Official Opposition.
The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson reports that a cabinet shuffle could happen as early as Thursday to make room for the new MLAs.
Some sources say that Ms. Smith could become Mr. Prentice’s Deputy Premier and Mr. Anderson, a former PC MLA who joined the Wildrose in 2010, could be appointed to a senior ministry. Another potential cabinet appointment could be former Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, who crossed the floor earlier this month.
Once source speculated that current PC ministers like Kyle Fawcett or Maureen Kubinec could be shuffled out of cabinet to make room for their new caucus-mates.
The phenomonally rapid collapse of the Wildrose Party raises questions about the unstable foundation of the party. Splits in the party became public after the loss of four by-elections and as Ms. Smith battled with party’s activists over an equality motion and her position in the Gay-Straight Alliances debate.
Just six months ago, the Wildrose Party was out-fundraising and outpolling the 43-year governing PCs. Only three months since becoming PC leader, Mr. Prentice has been able to demoralize, destabilize and now co-opt his main opposition.
The departure of the six could damage the Wildrose Party beyond repair and remove it as a viable political force in Alberta, at least in the short-term. Whatever your opinion of the party, the floor crossings are certainly a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast a ballot for Wildrose candidates in order to send the PCs a message.
Wildrose Party activists are pledging to fight any formal merger between the two parties, but the loss of high-profile leader Ms. Smith is a death-blow to the party.
The loss of Ms. Smith to the government benches and the crippling of her soon to be former party is also a blow to democracy in Alberta. After coming very close to winning the 2012 election, the Wildrose have been the most effective and aggressive opposition parties in recent memory. Their work exposed corruption and cronyism in the government and ended the careers of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.
It is unclear who will replace Ms. Smith as leader of the Official Opposition, but candidates could includeShayne Saskiw or Drew Barnes. Neither have the provincial profile of their predecessor.
While the blow to the Wildrose could rob the non-conservative opposition parties of a conservative vote split in the next election, the decline of the Wildrose creates opportunities for other opposition leaders. This is especially true for new NDP leader Rachel Notleyand Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who now have an opportunity to present an alternative vision to Mr. Prentice’s (and Ms. Smith’s) 43-year governing PC Party.
About 2,000 Albertans from every corner of the province braved the -33C windchill yesterday to defend their modest pension plans at a rally in Edmonton’s Churchill Square. Many municipal and provincial employees are concerned that Finance minister Doug Horner‘s proposed changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans could impact their retirement security.
Despite rhetoric about ‘gold-plated pension plans,’ the average full pension under the Local Authorities Pension Plan is only $15,000 per year.
After receiving a tip about a suspicious record in the Alberta Government Flight Manifests, I asked Ms. Redford on Twitter why a government plane flew empty to Palm Springs and returned to Calgary with her, her daughter and two members of her security detail onboard in April 2013.
Ms. Redford did not respond to my tweet, but her communications director Stefan Baranski did. He explained that the flight brought the premier back to Alberta from her vacation home in order to attend former premier Ralph Klein‘s memorial service.
While the cost of the $9,200 flight to and from Palm Springs is not as salacious as Ms. Redford’s $45,000 flight to South Africa, it is unclear why the premier did not return to Alberta on one of the many commercial flights available in the six days before the memorial service.
Speech from the Throne & Budget A Speech from the Throne will open the spring sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly today at 3:00 p.m. The 2014 provincial budget will be tabled by Mr. Horner on the afternoon of Thursday, March 6.
NDP to nominate the first candidate of the 2016 election
As was first reported last week on this blog, the Alberta NDP will hold a candidate nomination meeting on March 4 in the Edmonton-Riverview constituency. The NDP are expected to nominate Lori Sigurdson, manager of professional affairs with the Alberta College of Social Workers, as their candidate. The constituency is currently represented by PC MLA Steve Young.
UPDATE: Delegates to the PC Party convention in Red Deer have voted 77% not to hold a leadership review, leaving Ms. Redford firmly in the leader’s chair for the time being. This is a solid endorsement, though the vote indicates that opposition inside her party ranks is still a concern.
This “teaser” video released before the Progressive Conservative Party Annual Meeting focuses on “trust.”
There was no mention of the ‘Socred Retreads‘ in Premier Alison Redford‘s speech to Progressive Conservative Party faithful last night. Unlike her speech to her party’s annual general meeting in November 2012, Ms. Redford took no partisan thrusts at the opposition Wildrose Party during her speech at this year’s PC Party convention. Instead, she promised to continue her party’s “legacy of success.“
Demonstrating the organizational strength of a party that has been in office for 42 years, the PC Party is said to have drawn up to 1,500 delegates and observers to their annual convention in Red Deer.
Although the event has attracted the attention of partisan faithful, most regular Albertans turned elsewhere for their Friday evening entertainment. According to the ticker on the party’s website, only 40 viewers appeared to tune in to the the online streaming of Ms. Redford’s opening speech. With the Grey Cup kicking off tomorrow in Saskatchewan, the Canadian Football League will attract significantly more attention for the Saskatchewan Roughriders – Hamilton Tiger-Cats game.
While delegates will spend time today discussing issues and party policy, the main event of this weekend’s gathering is Ms. Redford’s leadership review. Each delegate will have the opportunity to vote on whether they would like to hold a leadership race to replace Ms. Redford or to keep the current leadership.
Managing expectations before the vote, staunch supporters of the Premier began to lower expectations this week. Former party campaign manager Susan Elliott told the Globe & Mail that “Anything in the 60s is good. And anything in the 70s is actually a triumph.” While Ms. Redford does have her detractors inside her caucus and party, and recent budget cuts have threatened to unravel her new electoral coalition of moderates and former Liberals, it appears unlikely that party faithful will turn on their leader this weekend.
With Ms. Redford’s staff working hard to stack the meeting with supporters, it would be an organizational failure if her support at this convention reaches even the low 70% range.