Morishita was Mayor of Brooks from 2016 to 2021 and was first elected as a city Councillor in 1998. He was President of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association from 2017 to 2021 and became leader of the Alberta Party in September 2021.
Then-party leader Stephen Mandel was defeated in his bid for election in Edmonton-McClung, as were incumbent Alberta Party MLAs Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow and Rick Fraser in Calgary-South East.
This is Morishita’s second time running for provincial office.
In 2001, he finished second with 15 per cent of the vote in Strathmore-Brooks as the Liberal Party candidate behind then-Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Lyle Oberg.
Brooks-Medicine Hat is a natural place for Morishita to run in the next election, but it will be an uphill battle. Incumbent United Conservative Party MLA Michaela Frey was elected in 2019 with 60 per cent of the vote.
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Heather Eddy has announced her plans to seek the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Klein. Eddy was the Director of Human Resources for Suncor from 2009 to 2015 and currently runs her own independent HR company.
“I want to champion job creation in the energy industry and all industries,” Eddy said in a press release announcing her candidacy. “I’m passionate about the environment and want to position Alberta to lead the transformation to a new energy economy and to get to net-zero by 2050, as has been committed by Leader Rachel Notley.”
Eddy holds an M.Sc. in Global Human Resource Management and is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources. She lives in the Tuxedo Park neighbourhood.
The Alberta Party hasn’t been making many headlines lately, but there will soon be a significant staff change in the ranks of the small moderate conservative party. The party announced today that former Progressive Conservative executive director Troy Wason is taking over as interim executive director of the Alberta Party, replacing outgoing interim executive director Mark Taylor.
A well-respected long-time PC Party activist, Wason took over as executive director of the PC Party following the long-time governing party’s defeat in the 2015 election and resigned on the dayJason Kenney became that party’s leader in 2017.
Wason’s joining the Alberta Party could provide some internal direction for the party, which lost all of 3 of its seats in the 2019 election. The party continues to struggle to define itself and remains without a bigger key player – a permanent leader.
The Alberta Party has been without a permanent leader since the resignation of former leader Stephen Mandel in June 2019. The role remained vacant until earlier this year when former Fort Sasktachewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske was named as interim leader, solidifying the party’s image as a refuge for former PC supporters uncomfortable with the social conservative flavour of the United Conservative Party and unable to support the moderate New Democratic Party.
The party was expected to have held a leadership race in 2020 but, like most other things, it was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Alberta Party will soon be seeking applications for a new leader.
The party announced through a press release today that on June 30, 2019 Stephen Mandel will step down as leader 15-months after he was elected into the role. The former three-term Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister ran for the leadership in 2018 after MLA Greg Clark was ousted in a successful bid by former PC Party members to take over the Alberta Party.
This was Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback.
Prominent Progressive Conservatives like Mandel, Katherine O’Neill, Dave Quest, Sue Timanson, and Stephen Khan hoped to turn the Alberta Party into a home for former PC supporters disenchanted by what became the United Conservative Party.
Policy direction under Mandel shifted further to the economic-right but the party steadfastly refused to describe itself as conservative, sticking instead to the ambiguous “centrist” label. In a province where many eligible voters self-identify as conservatives, it remains puzzling why a political party run by conservatives and presenting a moderate conservative program would actively distance itself from the description.
The Alberta Party under Mandel increased the party’s vote from 2.2% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019, but failed to win any seats in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike 2015, when the party focused all of its resources to successfully elect Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2019 the Alberta Party spread thin its resources by running a province-wide campaign and a full-slate of candidates.
But the Alberta Party campaign stumbled out of the starting gate early in the campaign, with Mandel and a handful of candidates and chief financial officers being banned from running in the election by Election Alberta after missing their financial disclosure deadlines. The bans were lifted after court challenges by Mandel and the other candidates but it damaged the party’s chances of being seen as a serious contender in an election dominated by the UCP and NDP.
The party earned significant media coverage but struggled to gain traction and hit a ceiling of 12 percent in polling during the campaign. Mandel’s significant of name recognition in Edmonton was not able to help the Alberta Party break the dominance of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the provincial capital city. The NDP won 19 of 20 seats in Edmonton.
Mandel finished third behind NDP MLA Lorne Dach and UCP challenger Laurie Mozeson in Edmonton-McClung, which includes parts of the area he represented on city council before his time as mayor. The party’s two incumbent MLAs, Clark and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. The party’s third MLA, former NDPer Karen McPherson, declined to run for re-election.
From the very beginning, Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback was a strange endeavour. And despite Mandel’s nine-years as a popular big city mayor with a significant list of accomplishments, his final appearance on the political scene will largely be a footnote in Alberta’s history (unless, of course, this was not his final comeback…).
Alberta Party finances…
The Alberta Party’s financial disclosures from the 2019 election have not yet been released, but the 2018 annual financial disclosures paint a picture of a party in financial disarray. The Alberta Party raised $525,430 in 2018 while running a $137,964 deficit.
In a May 25, 2019 email sent to members explaining the financial situation, the party explained that it had cycled through three CFOs in 2018 and that larger than expected expenses related to the creation of the party’s proprietary Customer Relationship Management database and “too large of an AGM” put the party in a deficit position.
The email told members that “[t]he Party is not broke but will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future.”
Until Kiryakos’ resignation, it appeared that the UCP had filled its slate of 87 candidates with the nomination of Sanjay Patel in Edmonton-Ellerslie and Heather Sworin in Edmonton-Mill Woods. The UCP is expected to appoint a new candidate to replace Kiryakos before the March 29, 2019 candidate nomination deadline.
Trustees call out leaders on education funding, Kenney reignites the GSA issue
Trustees from Public and Catholic school boards across Alberta gathered in Calgary and Edmonton today to call on provincial political party leaders to explain how they plan to fund expected growth in student population in the public education system.
“Politicians who will not commit to more funding at a time when 15,000 new students will join our classrooms next year need to come clean that they really are planning to cut to Education” Edmonton Public School trustee Bridget Stirling said in a press release.
“We have not recovered from the Klein cuts of the 1990s. More students and fewer dollars is a recipe for a crisis in our classrooms. At the very bare minimum, all parties must commit to funding new student enrollment growth for the next year,” Stirling said.
NDP leader Rachel Notley stated that an NDP government would provide funds to help with the enrolment increases.
It is not clear to me if Kenney responded to the trustees’ challenge, but he did release his party’s education platform today, promising to reinforce standardized tests and lift the cap on the number of charter schools in Alberta and allow charter schools to own property. He also reopened the Gay-Straight Alliance debate by announcing plans to repeal protections implemented by the NDP that bars school administrators from notifying parents if their kids join one of the clubs (potentially outing gay kids to their parents).
Notley announces big expansion of affordable childcare program
Notley announced her party’s plan to expand the pilot project $25/day childcare program to cover all childcare across Alberta. Notley said at an event at Calgary’s SPARK Centre that the plan would include adding 13,000 daycare spaces to the current 62,000 spaces in the province. With the youngest population in Canada, the cost and availability of childcare is a particularly important issue for many Albertans.
While I would have preferred the NDP be a little more ambitious, by subsidizing the entire cost of childcare, even at $25/day this kind of program would make a big difference in the lives of many Alberta families.
United Conservative Party executive director Janice Harrington released a statement this evening announcing that Randy Kerr has been removed as the party’s candidate in the new Calgary-Beddington district. Here is an excerpt from Harrington’s statement:
“Effective immediately, Mr. Randy Kerr has been removed as the UCP’s candidate in the constituency of Calgary-Beddington.
“In the last 48-hours, new information has come to our attention indicating Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
“To be clear, the Party is not making any allegations against Mr. Kerr regarding the legitimacy of his contribution to the Callaway Leadership, not against Mr. Callaway or his Campaign. This is not the Party’s rule to judge, and the Party does not in any way oversee financial contributions to leadership campaigns.
“However, it is our conclusion that Mr. Kerr was not sufficiently forthcoming with the Party’s earlier inquiries, and for that, he has been removed as a candidate.
“The Party has also proactively provided this new information to the appropriate office – that of the Elections Commissioner. Given that the matter is now with the Commissioner, it is inappropriate for us to comment further.
According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, Kerr donated $4,000 to Callaway’s leadership campaign in 2017. The disclosure was released months ago, so it is unclear what Harrington meant when she wrote that “Mr. Kerr was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
Earlier this week, UCP staffer posted a creepy video online of Gill meeting with an NDP staffer in an apparent attempt to discredit him. Kenney later accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP.
The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.
Harrington also announced that the UCP has appointed Josephine Pon as their candidate in this district. Pon had been defeated by Kerr in the August 2018 nomination contest.
Meanwhile, Karen McPherson, one of three Alberta Party MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, announced on social media today that she has decided against running for re-election when the provincial election is called.
McPherson had already been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Beddington, which replaces much of her the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill district she currently represents. She was first elected as an New Democratic Party MLA in 2015 in, unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Neil Brown, and left the NDP in 2017 to sit as an Independent and later joined the Alberta Party caucus.
The NDP have nominated Amanda Chapman as its candidate in Calgary-Beddington.
Non-Beddington related news
The Alberta Party has announced two new nominated candidates: Wayne Rufiange in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock and Jason Beekman in Taber-Warner. Rufiange recently sought the Alberta Party nomination in Morinville-St. Albert, but was defeated by Neil Korotash. Rufiange is principal of R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock.
The Liberals have nominated a handful of new candidates: Robin Macintosh in Calgary-Elbow, Michael Macdonald in Calgary-Klein, and Wilson McCutchan in Calgary-Lougheed. McCutchan was the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-West in the 2012 election, where he earned 7.4 per cent of the vote. And Shirley Ksienski has replaced previously nominated candidate Rork Hilford in Calgary-Glenmore.
The Green Party has announced Brian Deheer will be that party’s candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district. Deheer was a candidate for the leadership of the party in 2017 and 2018, and in the 2015 election had the party’s strongest showing in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, where he earned 2.8 percent of the vote. He was the federal Green candidate in the 2014 Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election and in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake during the 2015 federal general election. He most recently ran in the Fort McMurray-Conklin by-election, where he earned 0.72 percent of the vote.
Four more candidates affiliated with the Alberta Independence Party have filed their papers to run as Independent candidates: John Morton in Edmonton-City Centre, Kenneth Morrice in Calgary-Hays, Todd Wayne in Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ben Maddison in Lethbridge-West.
Currently operating as an unregistered political party, Alberta Independence Party will need 44 candidates approved by Elections Alberta in order to gain official party status in the upcoming election.
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Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”
Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.
Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.
Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.
“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”
A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”
Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.
There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.
Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.
Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.
Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.
It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.
Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.
Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.
Voting for the UCP nomination will take place on October 25 and 26, 2018, only days before the fall session of the Legislative Assembly begins on October 29, 2018.This will mark first time Goodridge, and fellow rookie MLA Devin Dreeshen of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, will sit in the Assembly as MLAs.
The electoral boundary changes in northeast Alberta are significant. When the election is called, Fort McMurray-Conklin will be dissolved and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will be created, increasing the population of the district from around 26,000 to 44,166.
Richard Starke is considering running for re-election, but it is not clear whether the Independent MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster would run as an Independent candidate or join a political party before the election was called. Starke was elected as a Progressive Conservative in the 2012 and 2015, and would be expected to run for re-election in the new Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright district.
“I have not decided yet whether I will seek a third term as MLA,” Starke wrote when contacted. “If I run, it could be as an independent or I may seek a nomination for one of the parties. That decision will be made in due course; I have no timeline for any announcement.”
Starke is recognized by Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner as a Progressive Conservative MLA, but that recognition does not mean much outside the Legislative Grounds in Edmonton. He declined to join the UCP Caucus when the remaining PC Party MLAs joined the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus to form the new party in July 2017.
The remnant of the PC Party, which governed Alberta from 1971 to 2015, is now legally controlled by the UCP board of directors. This means, if he does decide to run for re-election, there is little to no chance Starke will be listed as a PC Party candidate on the ballot in the next election.
Starke would face at least seven challengers for the UCP nomination in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, including his Wildrose Party challenger from the previous two elections, the wife of a retiring UCP MLA, and another past PC Party candidate. It seems unlikely that he would cross to the NDP, but stranger things have happened.
One of Starke’s former colleagues, Doug Grittiths, will be delivering the keynote speech at the Alberta Party annual general meeting, being held on October 19 and 20, 2018 at the Edmonton Expo Centre.
Griffiths served as PC MLA for Wainwight from 2002 to 2004 and Battle River-Wainwright from 2004 to 2015, and served in cabinet with Starke as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Service Alberta. Griffiths endorsed Starke in the March 2017 PC Party leadership contest, as did former PC cabinet minister and current Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel.
The Alberta Party has seen its legislative caucus expand from 1 to 3 MLAs over the past year with the addition of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser, but the party has struggled to generate excitement among voters. Four public opinion polls released since April 2018 show support for the Alberta Party ranging from 5.1 percent to 11 percent province-wide.
Mandel has had a bit of a rough few weeks ahead of this annual meeting, first scrambling to explain to his party’s membership why he agreed to meet with the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, disqualifying Yash Sharma as the party’s nominated candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie, and defending a poorly delivered and tone-deaf comment about women in politics.
kd lang named to the Alberta Order of Excellence
Singer and song-writer kd lang has finally received the recognition she deserved this week as she was awarded to the Alberta Order of Excellence. The honour granted to to lang was praised by Premier Rachel Notley, who tweeted that she is “a trailblazer, opening doors and bravely championing many causes, including LGBTQ2S+ rights.” Notley’s congratulatory comments are a far cry from the backwards attitudes and actions of some Alberta MLAs twenty-five years ago.
In January 1993, Alberta PC MLAs blocked a motion to congratulate lang on her musical awards and achievements. Some rural PC MLAs were said to be annoyed at anti-beef comments she had made a few years before, but that was not the only reason. The Globe & Mail reported in January 1993 that some backbench PC MLAs said they did not support sending a message of congratulations to the singer because she had openly declared she is a lesbian.
“Frankly, it makes them look very bad,” said William Roberts, the Edmonton-Centre NDP MLA who introduced the motion to congratulate lang. “I think people would say there are a lot of narrow-minded people in Alberta.”
lang had only a short, cryptic message for her detractors at the time: “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”
McLean was elected with 43.9 percent of the vote in the 2015 election, and along with this district’s history of electing Liberal Harry Chase from 2004 to 2012, the NDP see holding Calgary-Varsity as a priority in 2019.
She was later a spokesperson for the Alberta Status of Women Action Committee and ran for the Alberta NDP in Calgary-Bow in the 1993 election and in Calgary-McCall during a 1995 by-election. She also ran for the leadership of the Alberta NDP, challenging then leader Ross Harvey and earning 118 votes to Harvey’s 177 at the party’s 1995 convention.
She enters the nomination contest in Calgary-Varsity as Notley’s approval numbers have jumped following the Premier’s tough talk in response to the latest setbacks in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.
Calgary-Bow – Lawyer Byron Nelson is seeking the UCP nomination. Nelson was the Progressive Conservative Party candidate in this district in 2015 and ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2017 (he finished in third place with support from 2.7 percent of the voting delegates at the party’s convention). Harry Fleming has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest and is now working as a Communications Advisor at the UCP Caucus office.
Camrose – Steven Hansen is seeking the Alberta Party nomination and Trevor Miller is seeking the UCP nomination. Miller was the Wildrose Party candidate in Wetaskiwin-Camrose in 2012, where he placed second with 31.8 percent of the vote. The UCP nomination contest in this district is turning into a Wildrose Stomp, as Miller faces Jackie Lovely, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015, and Brandon Lunty, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election.
Edmonton-Glenora – Glen Tickner is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Lethbridge-East – Motivational speaker and consultant Kimberly Lyall is seeking the UCP nomination.
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Calgary-Elbow has a long-history in conservative partisan lore, having been represented by former premiers Ralph Klein and Alison Redford and past deputy premier David Russell, but it has also been a marginal district at times.
Danielle Larivee was nominated as NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake. Larivee was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Children’s Services and Minister for the Status of Women. Before her election Larivee worked as a Registered Nurse in public health in northern Alberta.
NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt is expected to be nominated as his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 20, 2018. Schmidt was first elected in 2015, earning 68 percent of the vote in the 2015 election. He now serves as Minister of Advanced Education and will face a rematch against UCP candidate David Dorward, who Schmidt defeated in 2015 and placed a strong second against in 2012.
Edmonton-Gold Bar is a former Liberal Party stronghold, having been represented by party heavy-weights Bettie Hewes from 1986 to 1997 and Hugh MacDonald from 1997 to 2012, though support for the party collapsed to an abysmal 3.1 percent in the 2015 election.
Issik is a long-time party activist, having worked as a campaign manager for Jim Prentice’s brief run for the federal Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady (who is now seeking the UCP nomination in that district), and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election. LaBerge is president of Channel Energy Inc. Schuman is an insurance company account executive and until July 2017 was the Media Coordinator for United Liberty, the political action committee created by now-Freedom Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt.
Past Wildrose Party candidates Kathy Macdonald and Jeremy Nixon are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Klein on September 22, 2018. MacDonald is a retired Calgary police officer and was the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Foothills and 2015 Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill. She also ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills. Nixon ran in this district under the Wildrose banner in 2012 and 2015. He is the brother of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.
Deron Bilous is expected to be acclaimed for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on September 23, 2018. Bilious has represented this district since 2012 and was re-elected in 2015 with 73.8 percent of the vote. He currently serves as Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. This district has deep NDP roots, having been represented by former city councillor Ed Ewasiuk from 1986 to 1993 and former party leader Ray Martin from 2004 to 2008.
Camrose – Brandon Lunty is seeking the UCP nomination. Lunty was the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election, placing third with 29 percent of the vote behind PC MLA Rick Fraser and New Democrat Mirical Macdonald.
Calgary-Falconridge – Christopher Steeves has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in this new east Calgary district. He served as a councillor with the City of Chestermere from 2005 to 2017.
Sherwood Park – Sean Kenny is the fourth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this suburban Edmonton area district.
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In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss the latest news in Alberta politics, including Premier Rachel Notley’s response to the quashing of approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, how rumours of an early federal election could impact Alberta’s 2019 election, and Ryan’s favourite topic, the Alberta Party.
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
The polls suggest the United Conservative Party is poised to form government in 2019, but how united the caucus actually is remains questionable.
Calgary-Greenway UCP MLA Prab Gill issued a statement yesterday announcing that he has left the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA following the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of ballot-stuffing and ballot-snatching at a party meeting in the new Calgary-North East district on June 30, 2018.
Gill had already resigned as UCP caucus deputy whip on July 11, 2018, and with his departure from the UCP caucus he leaves his roles as Official Opposition critic for seniors, housing and multiculturalism. He had been planning to challenge Anand Chetty and Tariq Khan for the UCP nomination in Calgary-North East.
Carruthers served as president of the PC Party from 1992 to 1994 and oversaw the party’s 1992 leadership contest, which he at the time described as “the greatest exercise in democracy ever seen in our province.” He was appointed as an Alberta Family and Youth Court Judge in 1996 by then-Justice Minster Brian Evans.
Carruthers’ report and its contents, which prompted Gill’s departure from the UCP caucus, has not been made public.
Nasty internal power struggles were common in old PC Party
Gill was first elected as the PC MLA for Calgary-Greenway in a 2016 by-election following the death of PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar. Gill was first appointed as the PC Party candidate but a backlash from party members led to the party allowing a contested nomination, which he then won.
In the by-election, he narrowly defeated his main opponent, Wildroser Devinder Toor, by 335 votes and faced harsh criticism from the Wildrose Party for his support of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the October 2015 federal election.
Prab Gill is the sixth MLA to leave the United Conservative Party caucus since it was formed on July 24, 2017.
1. Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt left the UCP caucus on August 15, 2017 after he was charged with hunting and shooting a deer on private property without permission. He currently sits as an Independent Conservative MLA in the Assembly.
2. Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser left the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA on September 12, 2017. He joined the Alberta Party caucus on January 9, 2018 and ran for that party’s leadership.
3. Dave Rodney resigned as MLA for Calgary-Lougheed on November 1, 2017 in order to trigger a by-election to allow Kenney to enter the Legislative Assembly. Rodney was first elected as a PC MLA in 2004.
Mandel was elected on the first ballot with 66 percent of the vote, defeating Calgary lawyer Kara Levis, who placed second with 18 percent, and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, who placed third with 16 percent. 4,613 of the party’s 6,443 members participated in the vote.
Mandel served as mayor of Edmonton from 2004 to 2013 and as a city councillor from 2001 to 2004. He represented the Edmonton-Whitemud district as a Progressive Conservative MLA from 2014 to 2015 and was Minister of Health until his defeat in 2015 to New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner.
The Alberta Party currently has three Calgary MLAs in the 87 MLA Legislative Assembly. It is widely rumoured that lone-PC MLA Richard Starke could cross the floor to join the Alberta Party caucus this spring. Starke was endorsed by Mandel in last year’s PC Party leadership race.
While the Alberta Party has framed itself as a “centrist” alternative to the two main political parties in the province – the NDP and the UCP – the party’s policies reveal it to be a conservative party in a similar vein as the old PC Party.
A co-founder of the Wildrose Party and vocal critic of the UCP, Burns was the only candidate in the race. She was a candidate for the leadership of the Alberta Alliance Party in 2005 and was a candidate for that party in Stony Plain in the 2004 election.
The party is in the process of registering but is not yet recognized as an official party by Elections Alberta.
Following former leader Greg Clark’s resignation in Nov. 2017, the race flew largely under the radar of most Alberta politics watchers until former PC cabinet minister and three-term Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel threw his name into the contest. Calgary lawyer and federal Liberal official Kara Levis was the first candidate to join the race in late 2017.
By all accounts the race has been civil and the interactions between the three leadership campaigns have been friendly and cordial.
Membership sales for the leadership vote were cut off yesterday at noon. Voting will take place online from Feb. 25 to 27, 2018.