The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. With the current session of the Legislature expected to end at the end of this week, it is unlikely the law will be renewed.
The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.
The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.
Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Alberta is the only province with a general election process to select Senate nominees, which have been held in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.
Only a handful of Alberta’s elected Senators have actually been appointed to the upper chamber, as the election process exists outside of the Constitution and can be ignored by the federal government. Current Conservative Senators Doug Blackand Scott Tannas, elected in 2012, and Betty Unger, elected in 2004, were appointed to the Senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
With the exception of the 1989 election, when LiberalBill Code placed second, only the conservative Reform Party, Progressive Conservative, Alberta Alliance, Social Credit and Wildrose Party, and the environmentalist Evergreen Party have participated in the elections. Progressive candidates have also run as Independents without the backing of their political parties. In 1998, future NDP candidate Guy Desrosiers stood as an Independent Senate candidate (and placed third with 16.7% of the vote).
A high-level of rejected, declined and spoiled ballots in the Senate elections suggests that many Albertans are unengaged in this process. More than 178,000 ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined in the 2004 Senate election, amounting to 19 percent of Albertans who showed up to the polls. In 2012, more than 189,000 Senate election ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined, compared to only 7,822 in the provincial general election held the same day.
A new Senate appointment advisory board created by the federal Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the October 2015 electionwill review nominated Canadians who meet the criteria of demonstrating a record of leadership in community service or professional expertise, a proven record of ethics and integrity and knowledge of the Senate’s role. It is unclear whether the new advisory board will place future provincially-endorsed elected nominees in higher consideration.
The current Alberta NDP government has not officially announced it will not renew the Senatorial Selection Act, but a speech from now-Premier Rachel Notley in 2009, while she was debating amendments to extend the Act until Dec. 31, 2016, strongly suggests that it will not be renewed again this year:
“…this is a piece of legislation that we can’t support because, quite frankly, it just provides a foundation to continue with what is currently a very ineffective system on the federal level.
As has been previously stated, our view is simply that the Senate should be abolished. It is not something that reflects the democratic makeup of our country. The historical rationale behind appointing a Senate has long since dissipated in terms of sort of the historical political concerns that underlay the initial construction of the Senate. The current elements of the Senate that we would effectively be promoting and encouraging the continuation of are, in my view, quite unacceptable.
Whether we elect our Senators or whether we have elections where the government chooses to appoint our Senators, we’re still dealing with the current situation, which is that the Senate itself does not reflect the national population distribution in that, you know, Alberta has six Senate seats, and New Brunswick, with about one fifth of Alberta’s population, has 10 seats. Eligibility for appointment in the Senate is still based in part on property ownership, and once appointed, Senators just get to hang around there until 75.
Whether we have this legislation or do not have this legislation, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Having had this legislation, we’ve actually, if anything, encouraged the continuation of the Senate. We’ve encouraged buy-in to what is a fundamentally antidemocratic institution.
You know, this was something that came up originally as a means to make a political point when there were substantive discussions around Senate reform a long, long time ago. There have been no meaningful discussions around Senate reform for, I would suggest, about a decade at least.
This piece of legislation will simply give credence to what continues to be a dysfunctional system and one that is costly and one that has long since outlived its purpose. The bill has outlived the purpose, the process in Alberta has outlived the purpose, and frankly the Senate has outlived its purpose. For that reason, we cannot support the bill.”
Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is not running for the PC Party leadership
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel announced yesterday that he will not run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. Mr. Mandel was seen as a great hope by many Edmonton Tories, who believed him to be the outsider who could breath some fresh air into the stuffy corridors of the Alberta Legislature. Mr. Mandel would have been 70-years old by the time the next election would be called.
Former cabinet minister Gary Mar has ruled himself out as a candidate, as has former Finance minister Jim Dinning. Conservative MP James Rajotte is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but it seems unlikely. Senator Scott Tannas briefly expressed interest, but has since declined.
The former MP and chairman of Alberta Health Services served on Premier Alison Redford‘s transition team before he jumped back into electoral politics in 2011. Running for the PC nomination in Calgary-West, Mr. Hughes lost and then won a subsequent vote against former MLA Shiraz Shariff. Upon his election, he was immediately appointed Minister of Energy, one of the most coveted positions in cabinet.
If Finance minister Doug Horner is going to run for the leadership, which may not a certainty, he is expected to wait until after the provincial budget is passed before resigning from cabinet. Mr. Horner’s support for controversial changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plan, which could negatively impact the retirement security of more than 300,000 Albertans, will certainly dog him during the campaign.
Currently scheduled to break on June 5, Premier Dave Hancock suggested this week the spring session of the Assembly might be cut short before May 15. That also happens to be the first day that candidates for the PC Party leadership can pick up their nomination packages and pay $20,000 of the $50,000 entry fee. Nominations close on May 30 and accepted nominees will be announced at a party event on June 2.
Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be preparing a run for the leadership include Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Energy minister Diana McQueen, and Infrastructure minister Ric McIver. Of this group, perhaps only Mr. McIver, a first-term MLA and former Calgary alderman, could realistically argue he is an outsider.
Union donations in Alberta
Labour unions traditionally make up a small percentage of donors to Alberta’s political parties, and when they donate, it is typically to one party in particular.
According to financial disclosures from Elections Alberta, the large majority of political donations made by trade unions in the first quarter of 2014 were made to the Progressive Conservatives, with more than $18,000. The province’s social democratic NDP, the traditional party of organized labour, collected slightly more $6,100 in union donations in the same period.
In 2006, it was $15,000, in 2011, it was $40,000, and in 2014, the fee to become a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race is $50,000.
Senior officials from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party gathered in Red Deer last night to discuss timelines, entry fees and the rules that will help shape their party’s 2014 leadership race.
The first ballot vote will be held on September 6, 2014 and, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on that ballot, the top two candidates will compete on a second ballot held on September 20, 2014.
The combination of a short campaign period (5 months and 18 days) and a high entry fee could limit the number of candidates able to enter the race.
In order to run a campaign, candidates will need to raise significant amounts of funds in a very short period in addition to the cost of the entry fee. In 2011, Gary Mar‘s frontrunner campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million on his leadership bid (collecting more than $200,000 in debt). Alison Redford‘s campaign spent $1.3 million.
It is not known whether the PCs will limit the amounts that individual campaigns are allowed to spend or if they will require the disclosure of financial donors to the leadership campaigns.
The practical reality for the PC Party is that they needed to consider high entry fees in order to help finance the organization and promotion of the leadership campaign. As leadership candidates sap funds that would normally fill party coffers, the party needs to quickly recuperate the costs of the leadership race after in order to prepare for a general election in 2016 (or sooner).
Leadership candidates emerge, kind of…
Defying expectations that cabinet ministers should resign their posts when running in a party leadership race, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, 60, launched a public “exploratory committee” website at a press conference yesterday. A “serious” person, according to quotes on his website, Mr. Hughes does not appear to be serious about whether he should be a candidate in this race.
On the peripheries of public attention, it appears as though Stephen Mandel, 68, could be preparing to come out of retirement. The recently retired three-term mayor of Edmonton is rumoured to be preparing a campaign team to test the waters. Mr. Mandel will be 70 years-old by the time the next election is called.
Also said to be interested in mounting a leadership bid is former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice. The former Calgary Member of Parliament is currently serving as a Senior Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He recently accepted a role as Enbridge’s envoy to northern British Columbia’s First Nations communities in their bid to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat.
Liberal leader makes fundraising pitch
In a fundraising email sent yesterday, the Liberal Party announced that leader Raj Sherman will match all donations made to the party before March 31, 2014. According to Alberta’s political finance laws, individuals can only donate a maximum of $15,000 each year.
As a physician, Dr. Sherman has also frequently made donations to the Liberal Party through his professional corporation, raising his limit to $30,000. And as the Daryl Katz-PC Party donation fiasco taught us in 2012, you can always depend on family members or employees to make donations as well.
There has been plenty of activity this week as candidates from all political parties put forward their names to run in Canada’s next federal election, scheduled to be held in October 2015.
Wooing voters and potential candidates alike, both New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau travelled through Alberta this week. Mr. Muclair visited Edmonton and attended party events with provincial NDP leader Brian Mason. Mr. Trudeau was a headliner at well-attended Liberal Party rallies in Okotoks, Calgary and Edmonton.
Award-winning country music artist George Canyon has announced his intentions to seek the Conservative Party nomination in the new Bow River riding. Mr. Canyon will coordinate his campaign with John Barlow, who is seeking the Conservative by-election nomination in neighbouring Macleod riding (an eastern portion of the new Foothills riding will become part of Bow River when the next federal general election is called).
While he would be a star candidate for the Conservatives, he is expected to be joined by a large group of local conservatives interested in seeking the nomination.
Calgary Forest Lawn Abdul Mohamud has announced his plans to seek the Liberal Party nomination in this new east Calgary riding.
Calgary Shepard Tom Kmiec, a former staffer to Calgary MP Jason Kenney, is the first candidate to announce his candidacy for the the Conservative nomination in this new south east Calgary riding.
Lawyer and Metis advocate Harold Robinson has joined the Liberal Party nomination in Edmonton-Centre. Mr. Robinson will face entrepreneur Randy Boissonnault in his party’s yet to be scheduled contest. The Edmonton-Centre Liberals announced on their Twitter account this week that 2011 candidate Mary MacDonald would not seek the nomination.
PC MLA Janice Sarich is reportedly campaigning for the Conservative Party nomination in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding. Ms. Sarich was an Edmonton Catholic school trustee from 2001 to 2007 and was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Decore in 2008. It is unclear whether current Edmonton-East MP Peter Goldring will seek his party’s nomination in the new riding. Mr. Goldring has represented the area in Ottawa since 1997.
There are at least six candidates running for NDP nomination in Edmonton-Griesbach. The riding association is hosting a candidate meet and greet on January 31.
Edmonton-West The Globe & Mail reports that Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao is preparing to seek the Conservative nomination in the new Edmonton-West riding. This would not be Mr. Xiao’s first foray into federal politics. In 2004 he was defeated by Laurie Hawn in the Conservative nomination contest in Edmonton-Centre.
Following the resignation of Conservative MP Brian Jean, rumours continue to swirl about who could seek the party nominations in an upcoming by-election.
Former Wood Buffalo municipal councillor Don Scott, who was elected MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2012, is suspected by some to be eyeing the Conservative nomination, but might be hard pressed to leave his provincial cabinet post. Expected to seek the nomination is Laila Goodridge, a Fort McMurray-native and current constituency assistant to Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt.
Former Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA and current Wood Buffalo deputy mayor Guy Boutilier is being talked about as potentially seeking either the Conservative or Liberal Party nominations. First elected under the PC banner in 1997, Mr. Boutilier joined the Wildrose Party in 2011 and was defeated in the 2012 election.
Investment advisor Doug McArthur will challenge incumbent MP Jim Hillyer for the Conservative Party nomination in the new Lethbridge riding.
While no Wildrose MLAs from the area have officially endorsed a candidate in this race (as far as I have seen), Mr Barlow has received the endorsement of former Highwood PC MLA George Groeneveld and Ms. Mathieson has the endorsement of former Livingstone-Macleod PC MLA David Coutts.
Peace River-Westlock Peace River school administrator Terry Hogan is the first candidate to announce plans to seek the Conservative nomination in this new sprawling south west northwest Alberta riding.
While I was a student at the U of A, I had the pleasure of taking some courses with Dr. Urquhart focusing on public policy and Canadian constitutional politics. He ended up being one of my favourite professors and I look forward to voting for him in the Senator-in-Waiting election.
Most of the Wildrose and PC Senate candidates are expected to sit with the Conservative Senate Caucus if elected and subsequently appointed (I have heard some speculation that one of the PC candidates would sit as a PC in the Senate).
With an election call expected in the next three to six weeks, Alberta’s opposition parties are busily nominating candidates to stand in the upcoming vote. Some parties, like the Wildrose Party and the NDP, are close to nominating a full-slate, while the Liberals are scrambling to catch up. The Alberta Party and EverGreen Party are only expected to nominate a small number of candidates.
The Progressive Conservatives are expected to appoint their final candidate in Calgary-West on February 16. This appointment will replace previously nominated candidate Shiraz Shariff, who was disqualified by the PC Party last week.
Battle River-Wainwright: Midge Lambert is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Ms. Lambert was the Green Party candidate in Wetaskiwin-Camrose in the 2008 election. The NDP are holding a nomination meeting on February 21 where Terry Zalwalski is expected to be acclaimed. Mr. Zalwalski was the NDP candidate in the federal riding of Vegreville in the 1993 election.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Retired municipal administrator Roy Doonanco has been nominated as the Wildrose candidate, replacing previously nominated candidate Chuck Farrer.
Calgary-Elbow: William Hamilton has been nominated as the EverGreen Party candidate.
Calgary-Fish Creek: Nazir Rahemtulla is the nominated Liberal candidate in this south Calgary constituency.
Calgary-Fort: Said Abdulbaki has been nominated as the Liberal candidate in this east Calgary constituency. I am unclear whether this is the same Mr. Abdulbaki who ran for the Wildrose Alliance in Calgary-Montrose in 2008 and for the Wildrose nomination in Chestermere-Rockyview in 2011.
Calgary-Hays: Brian MacPhee will stand under the Liberal Party banner. Mr. MacPhee was the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Southeast in the 2011 election.
Calgary-Northern Hills: Stephanie Woodlund was recently nominated as the NDP candidate.
Calgary-South East: Marta Warszynski was chosen as the NDP candidate in a nomination meeting held earlier this week.
Calgary-Varsity: Jackie Seidel, Director of Field Curriculum at the University of Calgary Faculty of Education, was chosen as the NDP candidate this week, replacing previously nominated candidate Cynthia Caldwell.
Cardston-Taber-Warner: Aaron Haugen was nominated as the NDP candidate this week, replacing previously nominated candidate Barbara Eng-Bonthoux.
Cypress-Medicine Hat: Manuel Martinez is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate on March 2, replacing previously nominated candidate Scott Riable. Mr. Martinez was his party’s candidate in the 2008 election.
Edmonton-Ellerslie: The NDP nomination contest is heating up. Rod Loyola, Kevin Wright, and one other candidate are seeking the nomination. Former Liberal MLA Bharat Agnihotri, who was previously nominated as his party’s candidate in the upcoming election, appears to no longer be the candidate.
Edmonton-South West: Former Catholic School Trustee Rudy Arcilla was nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in this newly created constituency. Served as a trustee from 2007 to 2010.
Edmonton-Whitemud: Rick Szostak is the nominated Liberal candidate in this constituency. Mr. Szostak was previously the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Sherwood Park in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: Spencer Dunn is the nominated Liberal Party candidate.
Highwood: Miles Dato was recently nominated as the NDP candidate.
Leduc-Beaumont: Dave Stasiewich has been chosen as the Wildrose candidate.
Little Bow: Everett Tanis is the Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Tanis was the 2008 Liberal candidate in this constituency, earning 1,080 votes. In 2011, he was honoured as Picture Butte’s Citizen of the Year.
Medicine Hat: Graham Murray is the nominated EverGreen Party candidate
Last week, Prime Minister Stephen HarperappointedBetty Unger to the Senate of Canada. Ms. Unger was chosen as one of Alberta’s Senators-in-Waiting in the 2004 election and is the third elected Senator to be made a member of Canada’s appointed Upper House.
This spring in conjunction with the 2012 General Election, the Province of Alberta will be holding another election to choose a new batch of Senator-in-Waiting candidates.
While Alberta’s previous Senator-in-Waiting elections quickly became quirky sideshows that attracted a crowd of unknown partisan insiders, the candidates lining up for the 2012 election may bring a higher level of seriousness to the contest. Seeking the nomination for the Progressive Conservative candidacy are lawyer Doug Black, Calgary Police Commission Chairman Mike Shaihk, businessman Scott Tannas, City of Leduc Mayor Greg Krischke, and past-President of NAIT Sam Shaw.
I have heard three main arguments by members of these parties against participating in the Senate election. Here are the arguments and the responses:
Argument #1: The non-conservative opposition parties do not have the resources to run a candidate in the Senate election. Having limited resources does not stop any of the parties from putting a name on the ballot. I believe it is a disservice to the voters not to have an alternative to the two conservative parties on the ballot. There is also political value in having a Liberal, NDP, or Alberta Party candidate on the ballot. These candidates will receive many votes, provide a natural opposition choice for thousands of Albertans, and they can generate positive media coverage for the parties (even if they don’t win).
Argument #2: The Prime Minister is not obligated to appoint the Senator-in-Waiting. True. If the elected candidate is not appointed it would showcase how serious the Prime Minister is about elected Senators.
Argument #3: [From NDP supporters]: The NDP has a policy supporting the abolition of the Senate. I believe this is a bad policy, but even so, this would not stop the NDP from running candidates in the election. What better way to promote the abolishment of the Senate than to run a candidate in the very election that could choose Alberta’s next Senators?
The NDP now forms the Official Opposition in the House of Commons and has no representation in the Senate, where the Liberals form the Opposition. The NDP in Ottawa have rejected previous attempts by their supporters to represent the New Democrats in the Senate. When Lillian Dyck was appointed to represent Saskatchewan in the Senate in 2005, the NDP refused to recognize her as a member of their Parliamentary Caucus. She now sits with the Liberal Caucus.
If these opposition parties do not step up to the plate, Albertans can once again expect a Senator-in-Waiting election dominated by conservative politicians. Candidates from these three parties would challenge the dominant narrative that the two conservative parties are the only contenders in the next provincial election. It would be a real missed opportunity for them to sit on the sidelines.
Candidates must submit a non-refundable fee of $4000 and collects the signatures of 50 current PC Party members from Alberta’s five regions. Once they have gone through this process, they will be required to enter a special vote in February 2012, giving an indication about when then next provincial election may be called. Those participating in the vote will include constituency association presidents, nominated PC candidates, voting members of the party executive committee, and four elected delegates from each of the 87 constituency associations.
Federal Conservative Party operative Vitor Marciano has already announced his intentions to run in the Senate election under the Wildrose Party banner. It is likely that all three of these candidates would sit with the federal Conservative caucus if elected to the Senate.
Alberta’s last Senate election, held in 2004, was boycotted by the Liberals and NDP. The lack of serious opposition candidates left Albertans to choose from a cast of right-wing characters ranging from the PC candidates to the Social Credit and Alberta Alliance. When the votes were counted, three PCs and one Independent candidate were elected, but many Albertans were disenfranchised by the lack of non-conservative candidates.
According to Elections Alberta, during the 2004 Senate elections 85,937 voters declined to cast a ballot in the election (equating to 4.2% of eligible voters, or 9.7% of the voters who received ballots) and 84,643 ballots were rejected (that equates to 9.5% of the total ballots cast).
Even though four of Alberta’s six Senate seats are currently held by appointed federal Liberal Party members (including former Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell), sources say the party is unlikely to participate in next year’s Senate election. The Liberals have only participated in one Senate election in Alberta, which feels to me like a missed opportunity for much needed publicity.
One long-time party insider suggested to me this weekend that choosing retiring Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald to carry the Liberal Party banner in next year’s Senate election could be a fitting tribute to the long-time party stalwart. Known for his hard work and (sometimes over the top) passionate criticisms of the PC government, the opposition MLA would almost surely spark more interest in the Senate race than the generic conservative party candidates will on their own.
It would be a long-shot, but if the federal Liberal Party is interested in building a base of support Western Canada, running an even half-serious campaign in a Senate election would be a good place as any to start. Even if it is a long-shot, and it is, I am sure that I am not the only person who would enjoy the irony of watching Prime Minister Stephen Harper being forced to appoint a fiercely partisan Liberal like Hugh MacDonald to the Senate of Canada.