I was thrilled to spend an hour with Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED today to talk about American and Alberta politics.
We covered a lot of ground, including the political theatre between United States President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union address, the federal Conservative Party leadership race and whether a Draft Kenney campaign will start anytime soon, political party fundraising returns from 2019, Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the NDP into Alberta’s 2023 election, and whether the Canadian Energy Centre is worth it’s $30 million annual budget (spoiler: it’s not).
Standing in front of diverse group of supporters at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Premier Rachel Notley announced that Alberta’s next provincial general election will be held on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.
Notley’s campaign kick-off speech gave a good idea what the New Democratic Party’s narrative will be in this election campaign – creating a clear contrast in character, leadership and trust between Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney.
“Jason Kenny isn’t working for you. He wants two Albertas – one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. He wants two Alberta’s, divided over people’s rights,” Notley said.
“I want to build one Alberta. I say we stick together through this final stage – from adversity to recovery to shared prosperity – that we take care of each other,” she said.
As I have written before, campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.
The two main party leaders have divergent popularity among voters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley has fairly respectably approval ratings, making her the NDP’s strongest asset. On the flip side, Kenney’s approval ratings fall far below support for his party, meaning that he is far from his party’s strongest asset in the minds of many voters.
The NDP’s decision to launch the election in Calgary was not a shock, as the party needs to maintain a hold on its seats in Alberta’s largest city if it wants to be re-elected on April 16. At this point, it is hard to believe the NDP will hold most of their seats in Calgary but the governing party is realistically expected to be competitive in 5 or 6 districts in the city.
Notley also spoke about her government’s commitment to education and health care, including the long-overdue construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and the economy and oil pipelines.
The Notley NDP still have an electoral math problem, with the UCP leading in the polls in Calgary and rural Alberta, but after this week’s internal UCP turmoil, the NDP are probably feeling as confident as they ever were going to be before the May 31 deadline to hold the provincial election.
Speaking with a handful of tradesmen standing behind him at a job site in Leduc, Kenney launched his first press conference of the election campaign trying to steer the focus away from Ford’s resignation and the Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal. Kenney returned to his key messages around jobs, the economy and pipelines – and how he believed the NDP have failed in these areas.
Kenney’s message will resonate with a lot of Albertans who have felt unease and frustration with the drop in the international price of oil, high than usual unemployment levels, and delays in oil pipeline construction. And the UCP hopes this message will resonate in the Edmonton region, where the NDP swept almost every seat in the 2015 election.
So, as the election gets going, expect the Kenney to try to stick to these three key messages while the NDP focus on contrasting Notley with her main opponent. Let the games begin!
Elections Commissioner issues new fines for donations to Callaway leadership campaign
Maja McAllister and David Ruiz were issued letter of reprimand for donating $4,000 to Jeff Callaway, registered UCP leadership contestant, with funds given or furnished by another person.
Darcy McAllister was issued one administrative penalties of $4,000 for donating $4,000 to Callaway’s campaign with funds given or furnished by another person, and a second administrative penalty of $4,000 for furnishing $4,000 to Maja McAllister for the purpose of making contribution to Callaway’s campaign, according to the Election Commission website.
Writ Day Hot Take
I spoke with 630CHED host Ryan Jespersen this morning moments after Notley wrapped up her speech announcing the election. Here is my hot take:
The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.
According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.
One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.
Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform.
In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.
Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.
Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.
But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.
Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.
A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65.
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.
Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?
Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics.
There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise.
According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.”
The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.
Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.
Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.
Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.
In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.
With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.
Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.
As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.
According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.
With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.
Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.
McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.
Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.
Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).
As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:
Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
It was a late night watching the results come in last night, but I was up early this morning to join Ryan Jespersen‘s post-election panel discussion about yesterday’s municipal election results. If you missed it this morning on 630 CHED, here is the panel discussion with myself, Jespersen, Lana Cuthbertson and Kim Krushell:
And here is Jespersen’s morning interview with Don Iveson, fresh from his landslide re-election as Mayor of Edmonton:
Levels of Twitter-ability among some local election candidates varies. While some candidates, like Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont Conservative candidate Mike Lake, Edmonton-Strathcona Conservative Ryan Hastman, and Edmonton-Centre Liberal Mary MacDonald, have or are beginning to demonstrate an more nuanced understanding of Twitter, the social media literacy of most candidates appears to be lacking. It makes me wonder if some candidates just checked off “social media” on their campaign do-list, but are not sure why they are actually doing it.
Most candidates have begun their Tweets and Facebook Pages to blast out one-way messages about 1) how great their campaign is going, 2) how awesome their party leaders are, 3) how amazing their party’s policies are, or 4) how terrible the other parties/leaders and their policies are for Canada. For example, only three of the last 50 tweets posted by Edmonton-Centre Conservative MP Laurie Hawn have been responses to other twitter users. The remaining 47 tweets fit into the previously mentioned four categories.
Yelling loudly in a room packed with people
Operating in a one-way social media bubble obviously lessens the chance of making embarrassing mistakes, but makes for a boring Twitter feed. A friend described recently, sending one way Tweets is kind of like standing in a crowded room and yelling. Believe me, election candidates, you probably do not want to be “that guy.”
At least in the first two weeks of the Federal Election campaign, I have found many members of the national media to be the most engaging and interesting people to follow on Twitter. Follow @Kady@ScottFeschuk and @DavidAkin to see what I mean.
Follow the election on Twitter
To follow the election tweets on Twitter, #yegfed for Edmonton federal election news, #elxn41 or #cdnpoli for Canada-wide election news.
Creative online ads
On a more cheeky and creative side of the online campaign, both the Liberals and NDP have created two ads that have caught the attention of some online users:
Hey Stephen Harper, stop creeping me on Facebook!
NDP Hamster Wheel Ad
Remember, social media is a tool.
As I have written before, it is important to remember that social media is a tool. Social media is an important additional tool to complement traditional campaigning, but it does not replace actually connecting citizens in-person.