Thanks to the Alberta NDP Caucus for posting their video from the annual Press Gallery Christmas Party on YouTube. Thanks to the NDP, Wildrose Alliance Caucus, and Independent MLA Raj Sherman for sharing their sense of humour with Albertans. This video is hilarious.
Raj Sherman (Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark)
The Emergency Room Doctor turned MLA shook the Tory establishment when he went public with his concerns about how the PC government has handled health care. Dr. Sherman saved special criticism for former Health Minister Ron Liepert, who was responsible for the creation of Alberta Health Services. An over-night folk hero to many, Dr. Sherman was suspended from the PC caucus and became the target of a whisper campaign to undermine his credibility, which started with a phone call placed by MLA Fred Horne. Dr Sherman has said he may take legal action against those involved in the smear campaign. In three weeks, Dr. Sherman’s public criticisms of the PCs health care record made him the de-facto leader of the opposition in the last two months of 2010.
Dr. Sherman made this list in 2008, when I described him as “one of the brighter stars in the vast expanse of dim lights in the Alberta Legislature.”
Doug Griffiths (PC Battle River-Wainwright)
Thinking out of the box has kept this perennial Parliamentary Assistant away from the cabinet table, where he would likely excel. Doug Griffiths’ appointment as the Parliamentary Assistant for Finance and Enterprise is the latest in a series of lateral moves from his previous roles as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Solicitor General. After trying to start a public discussion about how a provincial sales tax could reduce government dependency on natural resource revenue, Mr. Griffiths became the target of his own colleagues who shot down his idea at the 2010 PC Party convention and by the Wildrose Alliance, who used Mr. Griffiths’ comments as a fundraising-focused attack campaign. He also hit the road this year as the author of a new book, 13 Ways to Kill your Community.
In last year’s list, I wrote of Mr. Griffiths: “With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.”
Rob Anderson (Wildrose Airdrie-Chestermere)
First-term PC MLA Rob Anderson‘s floor-crossing from the PCs to the Wildrose in January 2010, along with fellow PC MLA Heather Forsyth, set the tone for Alberta politics in 2010. He may have less political experience than his three fellow Wildrose MLAs (two of which are former PC cabinet ministers), but what he does not have in age or years of experience he makes up in political tenacity. If leader Danielle Smith is unable to win a seat in the next provincial election, Mr. Anderson is in a good position to take over the role.
Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock)
Making his third appearance on this list, Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski celebrated his 31st year as an MLA by micro-managing the communications of and denying a requested increase in funding to the Wildrose Alliance caucus, which grew from one to four MLAs over the past 12 months. Ex-Speakers David Carter and Stan Schumacher criticized his decision to block Wildrose funding and the Calgary Herald even called for his resignation. While unreasonable under these circumstances, Speaker Kowalski allowed for a second (and successful) motion from Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman for an emergency debate on health care during the fall sitting of the Assembly.
Kent Hehr (Liberal Calgary-Buffalo)
What started as a tongue-in-cheek campaign by Liberal caucus staffers became reality when first-term Liberal MLA Kent Hehr launched his candidacy for Mayor of Calgary. Although he was a popular candidate in a crowded field, Mr. Hehr was unable to create the kind of momentum that launched Naheed Nenshi into contention. Mr. Hehr dropped out of the Mayoral contest when his poll numbers showed he was far behind, but that did not hurt his political credibility as he returned to the Assembly as the Official Opposition Justice Critic.
Dave Taylor (Independent Calgary-Currie)
After an unsuccessful run for the Liberal leadership in 2009, Dave Taylor was not satisfied with the leadership of his rival David Swann and left the Liberal Opposition to sit as an Independent in April 2010. As one of the more effective opposition critics in the Liberal caucus, losing Mr. Taylor likely cost the Official Opposition in media attention and also an MLA who held the support of many of his former talk radio hosts at the popular AM770 and 630CHED stations.
Cindy Ady (PC Calgary-Shaw)
Alberta’s Minister of Parks and Tourism rode the Alberta train as our province’s ambassador to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While handing out White Cowboy hats and iPod Touches, Minister Ady made sure that Alberta was the topic of discussion for the international media and tourists traveling to the Olympic events in Whistler.
Gene Zwozdesky (PC Edmonton-Mill Creek)
Crowned as the “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky was responsible for fixing the mess created and mend the fences destroyed by previous Minister Ron Liepert. Minister Zwozdesky has been more open and accessible than his predecessor, but the real challenge will be for him to actually deliver real improvements to a health care system that has been seen constant political interference and restructuring over the past twenty years.
Kyle Fawcett (PC Calgary-North Hill)
On the night of the October municipal election, the backbench Tory MLA who once described Premier Ed Stelmach as “a man of extraordinary vision,” also had a loose twitter finger. As the Purple Revolution swept his city, Mr. Fawcett tweeted that Calgarians had made a “Big Mistake” by electing Naheed Nenshi as Mayor.
Carl Benito (PC Edmonton-Mill Woods)
Where do I start? A broken promise to donate his entire salary to a scholarship fund for students in his constituency and blaming his wife for forgetting to pay his municipal property taxes. Mill Woods, your MLA is a real winner.
According to the Edmonton Journal, government caucus whip Robin Campbell has confirmed that Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has been suspended from the PC caucus and will sit as an Independent MLA.
As the only medical doctor in the PC caucus, Dr. Sherman shook the political establishment last week with a bluntly worded email to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and his medical colleagues about the state of Emergency Room wait times in Alberta. On Friday, Dr. Sherman told the Edmonton Journal that he’d “had enough” and was “fed up.” In that interview, Dr. Sherman reserved some particularly harsh criticism for Alberta Health Services Board Chairman Ken Hughes and former Health Minister Ron Liepert.
Dr. Sherman is the fifth PC MLA to leave or be ejected from the governing caucus since the 2008 election.
Long-time Calgary-Glenmore MLA Ron Stevens retired in 2009. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier was kicked out of the PC caucus after speaking out about the state of health care in Fort McMurray in 2009. Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth left the PC caucus to join the Wildrose Alliance in January 2010. Mr. Boutilier joined Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth this summer.
There are now two Independent MLAs in the Legislature. The other is Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor, who left the Liberal caucus earlier this year.
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly resumes for Fall Sitting in a constantly changing political environment.
As the leaves fall and winter approaches, so does the resumption of the venerable institution known as the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Much has changed since last year’s Fall Sitting in Edmonton.
When MLAs return to the Assembly next Monday, they will have a few unfinished business to continue. The summer months have been far from quiet on Alberta’s political landscape. Premier Ed Stelmach has focused on promoting the oilsands to both audiences internationally and at home, including a tour with Hollywood Film Director James Cameron.
There were three pieces of legislation that were left undealt with at the end of the Spring sitting. The Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act, 2010 (Bill 16) which will ban the use of handheld mobile telephones while driving is back up and two private members Bills that may have little chance of reaching third reading. The Municipal Government (Local Access and Franchise Fees) Amendment Act, 2010 (Bill 203) and the Fiscal Responsibility (Spending Limit) Amendment Act, 2010 (Bill 204) are two private members bills that may have very little chance of reaching third reading. Bill 203 was introduced by Calgary-North Hill PC backbencher Kyle Fawcett, who recently had his knuckles rapped for boneheaded comments made over Twitter. Bill 204 was introduced by Airdrie-Chestermere Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson and may be blocked from ever reaching third reading by the Tory majority in the Assembly.
The Alberta Health Act will likely be the most contentious piece of legislation introduced in this sitting of the Assembly. Originally framed as a replacement for already existing pieces of health care legislation, the PC Government has since backed off after receiving an earful from Albertans in province-wide consultation meetings. The previously expected Alberta Health Act may be a shell of what it was envisioned to be when it is introduced in the next few weeks, but it could leave the door open for further legislative reforms (after the next election?).
At a media conference yesterday, Minister Gene Zwozdesky accepted recommendations from the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health, led by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne, but used his time to take a defensive stance against his critics. Minister Zwozdesky and Mr. Horne were also unable to fully explain the purpose of their proposed non-legally-binding Health Charter when questioned by reporters. The purpose of the new Alberta Health Act was challenged by Edmonton-Riverview MLA and Liberal Health Critic Kevin Taft, who labelled the Health Charter idea as “vacant” and predicted that the new Act “will be filled with platitudes that have no legal standing and have no recourse.”
I fully expect a continuation of the blood fued between the Wildrose Caucus and Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski to continue over the next session. Since the Wildrose Caucus grew to three MLAs with the floor-crossing of Mr. Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth in January 2010, Speaker Kowalski has used his power on the Members’ Services Committee to block any further increases in funding to the now third party caucus (the two MLA NDP Caucus still receives more funding that the 3 MLA Wildrose Caucus) and even demand that Danielle Smith‘s name be removed from media releases. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose Alliance Party in June 2010, but has remained as an Independent MLA in order to secure more research and communications funding (when he officially joins the Wildrose Caucus next week, their combined funding will decrease).
Since last session, the Wildrose have declared war on Speaker Kowalski outside the Assembly by nominating Senator-in-Waiting Link Byfield as their candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Speaker Kowalski has represented variations of that constituency since 1979. Mr. Byfield has been endorsed by former Conservative Members of Parliament John Williams and David Chatters.
Not to be outdone by the insurgent Wildrosers, the PC Party will be holding their Annual Convention in Calgary on October 29 and 30. I am told by a number of sources that the Convention will also serve as the kickoff for a series of “discussion sessions” with PC Party members billed as Speak Easies which will attempt to reconnect the party leadership with an increasingly disillusioned voter-base in the year before the party celebrates its fortieth year in government.
After a brutal Spring sitting that included the high-profile departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor from the Official Opposition Caucus, Liberal Opposition leader David Swann is looking to improve his party’s position this Fall. Dr. Swann is attempting to hitch his horse close to the Reboot Alberta group, which has attracted many partisan and non-partisan activists to its ranks during its two previous gatherings. In an email sent out today from his Calgary-Mountain View constituency office email, Dr. Swann implored his supporters to join him in attending the next Reboot Alberta meeting in Edmonton on November 5 and 6.
The NDP Caucus is probably feeling rightfully jubilant for the election of their Director of Research, Sarah Hoffman, to the Edmonton Public School Board, but those feeling of excitement may be tempered as they enter the Fall Sitting short-staffed. In early October, Communications Director Brookes Merritt left the NDP Caucus to accept a job with the Government of Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau. Until they find a replacement, Chief of Staff Jim Gurnett is covering the Communications portfolio.
The NDP will be reporting tomorrow on the results of their province-wide “Earning your trust” tour that saw Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason make summer policy announcements in a handful of cities across the province. The NDP will also be holding their annual convention in Red Deer on November 4, which will include British Columbia NDP leader Carole James as the keynote speaker (assuming that she is still leader on November 4).
Outside the dome of the Assembly Building, there are some very real political changes happening. The new Alberta Party held its Annual General Meeting in Red Deer at the beginning of October and after months of touring the province holding Big Listen events, that party will hold their first policy convention in the same city on November 13.
The new Alberta Party has also moved forward with the hiring of their provincial organizer Michael Walters. The party will also undoubtedly benefit from having many of its members involved in recent municipal election campaigns, including Alberta Party Vice-President Chima Nkemdirim, who was the Campaign Director for Naheed Nenshi’s successful Mayoral campaign in Calgary. Mr. Walters was also heavily involved in the Election Day get out the vote organization that helped get Mayor Stephen Mandel re-elected in Edmonton.
Also not to be ignored is the role that the Wildrose Alliance played in recent municipal elections in the province’s two largest cities. The party has already hired organizers and been nominating candidates for the next provincial election, but leader Danielle Smith’s foray into the City Centre Airport issue in Edmonton and the Airport Tunnel issue in Calgary should not be ignored. Many Wildrose organizers active in the campaigns of Calgary Mayor candidate Ric McIver and Edmonton Mayor candidate David Dorward. While they may not walk away with voters lists, it is clear that they are taking advantage of any opportunity to get an organizational edge over the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
A lot of attention has been paid to Mayor-elect Nenshi’s victory in the Calgary Mayoral contest (and rightfully so), but he was not the only new Mayor elected on October 18. Seven of Alberta’s medium sized municipalities also elected new Mayor’s this week. In the north west city of Grande Prairie, Bill Given unseated Mayor Dwight Logan. East of Edmonton, Linda Osinchuk unseated Mayor Cathy Olesen to become Mayor of Strathcona County, Rajko Dodic was elected as the new Mayor of Lethbridge. Along the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, Jeff Mulligan defeated incumbent Mayor Ken Baker in the City of Lloydminster. In the City of Wetaskiwin, Bill Elliot defeated incumbent Mayor Don Montgomery. In Airdrie, Peter Brown defeated incumbent Mayor Linda Bruce. In Alberta’s newest City, Steve Christie was elected Mayor of Lacombe, replacing the retiring Mayor Judy Gordon (who also served as the PC MLA for Lacombe-Stettler from 1993 to 2004). There was a lot of political change happening across Alberta on October 18, 2010. Of course, it is too soon to tell whether this will foreshadow a provincial election expected in March 2012.
The Fall Sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will likely open with a low level of substantive legislation and legislative debate, but outside the Dome there will be no shortage of new characters and exciting politics.
This email landed in my email inbox today. The Wildrose Alliance has nominated eight candidates for the next election (only 79 candidates away from a full-slate). As far as I am aware, the only other party to have nominated a candidate for the next election is the NDP, who have nominated Deron Bilous in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
The Wildrose Alliance Party is pleased to announce the following candidates:
• MLA Rob Anderson in Airdrie
• MLA Heather Forsyth in Calgary – Fish Creek
• MLA Paul Hinman in Calgary – Glenmore
• John Carpay in Calgary – Lougheed.
John practices law in Calgary. He is the former Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the former Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
• Harpreet Nijjar in Calgary – Northern Hills.
Harpreet, a graduate of the University of Calgary, is an award winning young entrepreneur who runs an insurance brokerage.
• Shayne Saskiw in Lac La Biche – St. Paul – Two Hills.
Shayne, a graduate of the U of A, practices law in north eastern Alberta and was a former VP Policy for the Alberta PCs.
• Milvia Bauman in Medicine Hat.
Milvia is an entrepreneur and community leader in Medicine Hat. She is currently the Chair of the Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce and Medicine Hat Safe Community Association.
• Danny Hozack in Vermillion – Lloydminster.
Danny farms in Streamstown Alberta. He is a long time conservative activist and has served on the boards of the Alberta Beef Producers, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and Marwayne Minor Hockey.
The Office of Speaker Ken Kowalski launched their latest institutional offensive in their ongoing campaign against Wildrose Alliance. A series of letters from Legislative Clerk David McNeil were sent to the tiny conservative caucus demanding that because their leader is not an MLA, that they immediately stop mentioning her name in their press releases. This kind level micro-management by the Speaker’s Office is unprecedented.
Legislative Financial Services Director Scott Ellis sent letters to Wildrose MLAs demanding that they and their staff avoid political party interests in their caucus activities, effectively asking them to be non-partisan partisans. The following letter and attachments from Mr. Ellis to Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson effectively demands the removal of any mention of the word “Wildrose” from his constituency website:
Memo to Rob Anderson As much as I disagree with their policy and political agenda, I am having a difficult time not having a little sympathy for the Wildrose caucus on this issue. When I worked for the Alberta Liberal Party, I remember the frustration of the communications staff at the Official Opposition caucus when the Speaker’s Office would refuse funding material that was arbitrarily deemed “too red” or that the Leader’s name was displayed “too prominently.”
While the Speaker’s Office has a duty to insure that caucuses are not using the public funds allocated to them in overtly partisan ways, it is painting this gray area black. Legislative politics is inherently partisan to a certain degree, and while I believe the Wildrose MLAs may be edging near the line of inappropriate usage, it is clear that Speaker Kowalski’s Office is continuing to target them for political and, ironically, partisan reasons.
Enilghtened Savage may have beat me to the punch with the link to the report, but posted below are the Alberta, Calgary, and Edmonton maps from the Final Report of Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission (pdf). It appears the sleuthing author of the aforementioned blog discovered the link to the report which had been loaded online before it has been officially posted on the Boundaries Commission website. You can download the full report here (pdf). Score 1 point for the citizen media.
UPDATE: The EBC appears to have removed the original link to the report, so I have replaced the above links with new ones provided by Enlightened Savage. You should be able to download the final report now.
Overall, I believe that the members of the Electoral Boundaries Commission have presented a fair report given the guidelines and political environment in which they were operating. I would have liked to see the commission merge some of the larger sparcely populated rural constituencies in the north of the province, but I understand the arguments for allowing exceptions in special circumstances.
Airdrie/Foothills-Chestermere: Large areas of Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson‘s former Airdrie-Chestermere constituency have been merged with Fiance Minister Ted Morton‘s Foothills-Rockyview riding to create Rockyview-Chestermere. It is unlikely that Mr. Anderson will challenge Minister Morton in the next election, so he may opt to run in the new Airdrie constituency.
North Calgary: There is a significant amount of shuffling in this area of Calgary. I’m not familiar enough with the area to say if it reflects communities of interest. I imagine that there will be an ample amount of confusion created when anyone talks about either Calgary-North Hill (singular) and Calgary-Northern Hills (plural). Anyone?
Edmonton-Centre: I was pleased to see that my riding remains intact. The boundaries make sense for Edmonton’s downtown constituency.
Edmonton-Glenora: Glenora has been shifted further west than was proposed in the interim report, moving more Tory polls into the constituency. They new boundaries also remove the NDP-voting polls north of downtown that were included in the interim boundaries report and cut out the Liberal-voting polls west of Mayfield road that were included in Glenora during the 2008 election. It could create a more favourable electoral situation for PC MLA Heather Klimchuk, who will face strong challenges from the Liberals and former NDP MLA David Eggen.
Edmonton-McClung: McClung has been split in two. I believe that the northern half is where former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy‘s stronger polls were located, so David Xiao might run for re-election in the new Edmonton-Southwest constituency in 2011. Elsalhy is planning on running again, so these changes could be good news for him.
Fort McMurray-Conklin/Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Independent MLA Guy Boutilier will have the choice of running in one of these two constituencies in the next election. Mr. Boutilier is widely expected to join the Wildrose Alliance at this weekend’s policy convention in Red Deer. Mr. Boutilier was elected as the PC MLA for Fort McMurray in 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2008.
St. Albert/Sturgeon: I am surprised that St. Albert has not reached the size to have two constituencies of its own. I was not surprised to see that the towns of Morinville and Legal are still included in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, though it would make much more sense for those communities to be included in a Sturgeon Valley riding that lumped in with a constituency that stretches all the way to Swan Hills.
Minority Report: Commissioner Allyson Jeffs wrote a minority report arguing for Edmonton and Calgary to receive more than the three additional constituencies awarded in this Final Report. The politically uncomfortable necessity of removing large numbers of rural seats in favor of new urban ones was solved when Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced legislation that increased the number of MLAs from 83 to 87. In 2003, Commissioner Bauni Mackay
penned a minority report opposing Edmonton’s loss of one-seat in that Final Report.
“The Stelmach administration’s sticky fingerprints are all over this report,” Blakeman says. “There’s been major tinkering with boundaries in Edmonton to reflect personal requests from Tory MLAs. Edmonton-Southwest, for example, is a mess.”
“…once again they displayed their disrespect for democracy in Alberta and fear of losing the next election by pressuring the Commission to make the changes that they believe will favour the PC Party.”
“Generally the boundaries make sense. The NDP has a solid chance in several Edmonton ridings, and we plan to run a full slate of candidates in the next election.”
Five backbench Tory MLAs voted today to deny the Wildrose Alliance increased funding for their now three MLA caucus. As the third largest party in the Assembly, the Wildroses receive $395,000, which is much less than the $561,000 received by the two MLA NDP Opposition and $1,537,000 received by the eight MLA Liberal Opposition. The Liberals and NDP supported the motion to increase funding for the Wildroses.
Until Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is elected, an all-party committee of provincial politicians has decided her party’s caucus will not receive all potential funding.
“Until she steps up to the plate and runs for a position in the next election, we stay where we’re at,” Government Whip Robin Campbell said Monday afternoon.
The argument presented by Mr. Campbell is the continuation of the on-going political games that have been happening on the committee level at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. While PC MLAs on this committee argued that the presence of a party leader should determine funding levels, at another MLA committee last week Tory MLAs argued that the Assembly had no business regulating donations to party leadership elections that would select these leaders.
Beyond the partisan rhetoric, there appears to be little basis to determining funds for offices internal to the Assembly based on the leadership of an external party. Albertans do not directly elect party leaders in General Elections, so why should their public funds be tied to the presence of party leaders in the Assembly? If past examples are taken into account, I do not believe that any special “leaders funding” was denied between the time that Nancy MacBeth was selected as Liberal leader and her victory in the 1998 Edmonton-McClung by-election. Of course, precedents and logical arguments are not always surefire ways to win arguments at Legislature committees.
Another argument in favour of denying the funding is because two of the three Wildrose MLAs (Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth) were elected under a different banner in the 2008 election. Supporters of this argument claim that funding should be denied until they run in a by-election to prove that their constituents support the floor-crossing.
There are still a lot of Tory loyalists who feel their blood boiling when they think of the rookie MLA and Klein-era cabinet minister turning their backs on the governing party. Of course, this same argument was not applied to a handful of Liberal MLAs crossed the floor to the Klein Tories in the 1990s, including current Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky.
Under the same logic, why should an MLA who leaves a party to sit as an Independent MLA not be held to the same standard? Should funding be denied to former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor until a by-election is held to confirm his status as an Independent MLA? Would there be an exemption for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier, who was ejected from the PC caucus in protest?
This political problem for the PCs began in 1997, when MLAs voted to grant the two MLA NDP caucus official party status even though they did not meet the the official four MLA status. The decision at the time was just as political, though it was aimed to weaken a then-stronger and larger Liberal opposition. The NDP also continue to pose a very minor electoral threat to the PCs. The Tories are having a difficult time applying the same standards to the three MLA Wildrose opposition. The reason why the Wildroses were denied increased funding was because they are seen as a political threat.
PC MLAs can try their hardest to bleed the Wildroses dry inside the Assembly, but it will not stop their larger political problem – the growing crowds of Albertans that Ms. Smith is continuing to attract as she travels across the province.
The creation of a national securities regulator has created an interesting split in Alberta’s conservative movements. The national regulator, championed by the Ottawa Conservatives is strongly opposed on the provincial-level in Alberta by the Wildrose Alliance and governing Progressive Conservative parties.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith in a May 26, 2010 media release:
“As I have travelled the province and met with business leaders, many have talked about the importance of choice in terms of where they raise money and have their affairs regulated.”
“If the federal government plans to take away this choice from Alberta’s entrepreneurs, we hope that the Government of Alberta will aggressively pursue its intervention against this intrusive law.”
“Alberta is not opposed to improving on the system we have, but we are opposed to the federal government acting unilaterally in an area that is provincial jurisdiction.”
“A federal regulator headquartered in Toronto could make it harder for these and other Alberta businesses to raise funds for growth and development.”
“If we open the door to federal intrusion in this area, we will be potentially inviting intrusion into other areas of provincial jurisdiction governing finance, such as insurance, pensions and financial institutions. Most Albertans don’t want this, and this is why we have joined forces with Québec to challenge the legality of this unprecedented federal power grab.”
Airdrie-Chestermere Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson in a May 26, 2010 media release:
“If businesses want to participate in a nationally-regulated system, they should be free to opt-in to that kind of arrangement. If businesses want to participate in a provincially-regulated system, then they should be free to continue.”
“Today we have 13 regulators, 13 sets of rules and 13 sets of fees. We need to lower barriers, not multiply them.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Toronto Star:
“As an Albertan, I have no interest in seeing this sector centralized in Toronto.”
What happens if Alberta decides to opt out of the national securities regulator? Heather Zordel, a securities lawyer with Cassels Brock, told the Hamilton Spectator:
“If Alberta is not participating, where does that leave you? Well, that leaves you with an unfortunate situation where the co-ordination effort is going to have to be dealt with through the offices of the people that do participate.”
History shows that Albertans should be cautious of ceding autonomy to central Canadian institutions – especially in relation to our natural resources – but this appears to be more complex than a typical Ottawa versus Alberta struggle. Alberta’s New West Partnership allies, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, suspicious silence on the issue begs the question of how much this really has to do with the state of the conservative movement in Alberta? Perhaps Minister Morton’s beating the war drums against Ottawa has more to do with the Wildrose Alliance than a national regulator.
The 2010 Spring session of the Alberta Legislature wrapped up yesterday with little fanfare. Ending a month and a half earlier than the increasingly pointless Legislative calendar had scheduled, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs seemed happy to cut short one of their roughest sessions in decades. Here are some thoughts on how each of the parties fared during the 2010 Spring session:
Entering their 39th year in office, the Progressive Conservatives caucus appeared to list from left to right and back again during this session. The massive cuts expected in the 2010 budget never emerged (and the cuts that did take place were largely overshadowed by funding to health care and education). Their flagship bill, the Competitiveness Act, is already becoming largely forgotten in the minds of most political watchers and did not have the public splash impact that was likely intended.
The PCs faced criticism over sending junkets of Cabinet Ministers to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games while the Assembly was in session to hobnob with international business leaders on the Alberta Olympic Train. The PCs also made changes that lowered the amount of resource royalties collected by the provincial government, effectively undoing in one day the long process of industry consultation, economic study, and public relations that they had undertaken prior to the 2008 election.
Their political machinery is still well-financed, but the PC Party leadership appears disconnected from mainstream Albertans. Premier Stelmach’s weak public speaking skills were crutched by some of the cabinet ministers who were shuffled into new positions in February and have made an impact this Spring. Most notably, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Finance Minister Ted Morton, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, and Solicitor General Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau have performed fairly well in their new roles. In the Health Care file, Minister Zwozdesky appears to have spent much of the past three months travelling the province attempting to extinguish the fires set by his predecessor (now -Energy Minister Ron Liepert). While his style has brought a much friendlier tone to his position, there are still remains unanswered questions around issues ranging from seniors’ pharmacare to the future of Alberta Hospital Edmonton.
As criticisms have increased from outside the Legislature, it appears that a few PC backbenchers are increasingly unwilling to read the puff-ball questions that they regularly line up for. Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA George VanderBurg, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen, and Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale have asked some pretty tough questions and have noticeably got under the skin of some cabinet ministers during Question Period.
Premier Stelmach and his cabinet ministers will undertake a province-wide tour over the summer to talk with Albertans (and try to win back the hearts and minds of PC supporters who have flocked to the Wildrose Alliance). The optimist in me hopes that the tour will actually be effective in reconnecting our elected government officials with Albertans.
With the exception of Health critic Kevin Taft and Calgary International Airport-tunnel advocate Darshan Kang, the Official Opposition Liberals struggled to focus during this session. David Swann‘s rag-tag Liberal caucus gained some attention after releasing a new oil and gas policy, but have had a difficult time finding a role in the new and increasingly dominant political narrative being developed between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance.
The very public departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and his verbal lashing of Dr. Swann in the media seemed to be the most memorable moment for the Liberals during this session, though internally, they are probably better off without Mr. Taylor. The Liberals won a reprieve from negative attention when a motion by backbench PC MLA Verlyn Olson temporarily removed the independence of Public Accounts Committee chairman Hugh MacDonald. While I believe Dr. Swann’s performance actually improved after Mr. Taylor’s departure, similar to their federal counterparts, the provincial Liberals biggest weakness is their focus on daily tactics, rather than long-term strategy to form government.
With the addition of former PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, the WRA caucus was boosted to third-party status for the first time. Ms. Forsyth’s Mandatory Reporting of Child Pornography bill was passed on third reading (I cannot remember any time that an opposition MLAs private members bill was passed into legislation). The Wildrose Alliance was faced with the challenge of not becoming the NDP of the right and have been strategic in what issues they chose to focus on (ie: opposing the centralization of regional health authorities into Alberta Health Services).
With three MLAs in the Assembly, seatless leader Danielle Smith has spent the majority of her time during this session criss-crossing the province, speaking to town hall meetings, trade shows, chambers of commerce, and anyone interested in meeting with the newly anointed Dauphine of Alberta politics (a very smart decision in my mind).
The NDP caucus of Brian Mason and Rachel Notley did what they do well this session: get media attention. Rather than striking out on their own when their position in the Question Period line-up was in jeopardy, they joined with the Liberals and Wildrose Alliance at the press gallery podium to present a united front against this change. On the policy front, the NDP released a report on Health Care that was generated after a series of town hall meetings.
Outside the Legislature, the NDP appear to be stalled in the polls and have not been able to capitalize on the destabilization inside the Liberal Party. At their 2009 convention, Nova Scotia NDP organizer Matt Hebb advised his Alberta cousins to build a bigger tent of supporters and to act like a party of government by taking a pragmatic and constructive approach to politics. “Act like a party of government, don’t talk about it,” was Mr. Hebb’s message. Judging by the daily outrage and ankle bitting during Question Period, it does not appear that the two MLAs have heeded Mr. Hebb’s advice.
Independent MLAs Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor now share the lonely northwest corner of the Assembly floor. It was suspected that Mr. Boutilier might join the Wildrose Alliance caucus (his 2008 campaign manager has joined the WRA), but he may be too much of a wildcard for a party that is riding high in the polls and posturing to form the next government. More recently, there have been rumors floating that Mr. Taylor would like to acquire the leadership of the newly reorganized Alberta Party and reshape it into his own image (knowing the people involved in the Alberta Party, this might not be a welcoming prospect).
Since the 2008 election, five of 83 MLAs have forced the changing of seating arrangements on the Assembly floor. There has not been this much movement across the Assembly floor between elections since the early 1990s, which saw some significant Liberal by-election victories, a New Democrat cross to the PCs, a PC leave to sit as an Independent, and a handful of right-leaning Liberals cross to the PCs. It is also the first time since 1989 that an opposition party other than the Liberals or NDP have had more than one MLA in the Assembly (the Representative Party elected two former Social Credit MLAs in 1986).
This was the final session for long-time Canadian Press reporter Jim MacDonald, who will be retiring from his role in May. After 27 years working for Canadian Press, Mr. MacDonald has become an institution in the Press Gallery. During my time as a spokesperson for the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, Mr. MacDonald was always the most nerve-racking reporter in a media scrum – always asking the toughest questions and not taking spin for an answer. He will be missed.
On a final note, I feel the need to recognize Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who is normally a very good columnist, but during this spring session has written some excellent columns about politics in Alberta.
– Don Braid has all the latest news on the Highwood PC revolt, including the letter sent by Constituency officials to PC Party President Bill Smith.
– Sometime campaign manager Don Lovett is reporting insider rumours about heightened tension between Liberal Party leader David Swann and his party executive committee. As reported in the Alberta Political Notes 3/09/2010, the tension is nothing new and may create some interesting confrontation at the upcoming Liberal Convention in May 2010.
– According to How’d they Vote, since the beginning of the current session of Parliament on March 3, Alberta MPs Ted Menzies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Linda Duncan, Mike Lake, and Rob Merrifield are the Alberta MPs who have spoken the most on the floor of the House of Commons. Alberta MPs Brian Storseth, Peter Goldring, and Rob Anders have not spoken a word since the beginning of the current Session.
– Calgary-West MP Rob Anders is the latest Conservative Party convert to the Wildrose Alliance (not to be confused with Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson).
– Via Trish Audette, a new politics magazine has launched in Canada. The first issue features an interview with Danielle Smith and includes a photograph taken by yours truly, which the editors failed to credit under the Creative Commons licensing (#FAIL).
This landed in my inbox this afternoon:
Subject: Executive Committee Resignation
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:56:49 -0700
Dear Members of the Executive Committee:
Mr. Shayne Saskiw, until today our VP of Policy and Resolutions, has left us to join the WAP. Although we only received his letter of resignation a few minutes ago, we have expected this move for some time and we also expect the WAP to issue a news release this afternoon. Please refer any media calls to me or to Jim Campbell.
Many of you will know that Mr. Saskiw is one of MLA Rob Anderson’s best friends and we believed that Mr. Saskiw would follow Mr. Anderson. We feel it is appropriate that Mr. Saskiw go where he might be more comfortable and we wish him luck. We always hate to lose a volunteer, no matter whether he or she is a member of the Executive or a member of a constituency board. We value our volunteers and the incredible efforts they make on our behalf -therefore, I want to express my thanks and appreciation to you for your continued hard work.
As we had anticipated this move, I have already spoken to an individual who is willing to assume Mr. Saskiw’s duties until the 2010 AGM and Convention, when the position is up for election. It is important that we put this person in place as soon as possible so that planning for the 2010 Policy Conference can continue without pause, and I hope for your approval of my proposal at our meeting on Saturday.
Again, thank you for all that you do. I am confident that 2010 is going to be a very good year for PC Alberta and I look forward greatly to seeing you all in two days.
Mr. Saskiw’s position on the PC website is already listed as vacant.
Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition.
Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party’s policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith’s only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.
Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party’s upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.
Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as “draconian,” but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier’s reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith’s party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).
An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as “a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP” and suggested that her “delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best.” I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.
The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge’s One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer’s Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.
Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.
With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?
UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga’s list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.