Alberta’s United Conservative Party government opened up a new front in its fight for more provincial autonomy with a proposal to withdraw Alberta workers from the Canada Pension Plan and create an Alberta Pension Plan.
Premier Danielle Smith joined Finance Minister Nate Horner and pension engagement panel chairperson and former finance minister Jim Dinning on stage to announce a sunshine and apple pie forecast for a new Alberta Pension Plan.
The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.
Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.
Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.
Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.
It was a strong kick-off.
Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.
Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.
It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).
Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.
This time she’s backing Sawhney.
Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow.
Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.
The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.
He’s met half his goal so far.
Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.
For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.
The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt.
She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.
First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.
Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”
She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.
The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.
The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).
Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.
But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy.
Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.
Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”
And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray.
Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor.
He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.
So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.
And there could be more.
We’ll know soon enough.
July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.
The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.
August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.
No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.
The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.
Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.
It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.
Liberal Party seeks new leader
The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.
Former party leader David Khanstepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.
The only exception to the wave of unchallenged nominations is in Edmonton Strathcona, where Tunde Obasan and Rick Peterson are seeking the Conservative nomination to challenge New Democratic Party MP Heather McPherson, who was also acclaimed, in the next federal election. This is the only district in Alberta not currently represented by a Conservative MP.
Meanwhile, there is a surprise east of Edmonton. Two candidates have announced their plans to seek the Liberal Party nomination in the Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan district east of Edmonton. Tanya Reeb Holm and Ron Thiering are seeking the nomination at a meeting scheduled for June 22, 2021. Thiering was acclaimed as the party’s candidate in this riding in 2019 and finished in third place with 9.9 per cent in that year’s federal election.
Incumbent Member of Parliament Garnett Genuis has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate.
John Kuhn has been nominated as the separatist Maverick Party candidate. Kuhn was elected as mayor of the southern Alberta town of Bassano in 2007 but resigned four months later.
Banff-Airdrie: MP Blake Richards has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Richards was first elected in 2008. Tariq Elnaga has been nominated as the Maverick Party candidate. Elnaga is Vice President of the Cochrane Roping Club and the Chute Experience Director with the Airdrie Pro Rodeo.
Battle River-Crowfoot – Doug Karwandy has been nominated as the Maverick Party candidate.
Calgary-Centre: Sabrina Grover is seeking the Liberal Party nomination in this central Calgary district. Grover is a Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer Nutrition International and Principal of Provoke Public Relations. She was active in the Progressive Conservative Party in the mid-2010s. The district was represented by Liberal MP Kent Hehr from 2015 to 2019. Michael Pewtress is running as an Independent candidate in this district.
Calgary Forest Lawn: MP Jasraj Singh Hallan has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Hallan was first elected in 2019.
Calgary Heritage – MP Bob Benzen has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Benzen was first elected in the 2017 by-election held to replace former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Calgary Nose Hill: Jessica Dale-Walker is seeking the Liberal Party nomination.
Calgary Rocky Ridge: Dave Robinson has been nominated as the Maverick Party candidate.
Calgary Skyview: Harry Dhillon has been nominated as the People’s Party candidate.
Calgary Signal Hill: Ajay Coop has been nominated as the Maverick Party candidate.
Edmonton Centre: MP James Cumming has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Cumming was first elected in 2019 when he defeated Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault.
Edmonton Griesbach: MP Kerry Diotte has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Diotte served one-term on city council before he was elected to the House of Commons in 2015.
Edmonton Riverbend: MP Matt Jeneroux has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Jeneroux was first elected as MP in 2015 and previously served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-South West from 2012 to 2015. Shawn Gray is seeking the NDP nomination, which is scheduled to take place on June 15.
Edmonton West: MP Kelly McCauley has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. McCauley was first elected in 2015.
Edmonton Wetaskiwin: Tyler Beauchamp has been nominated as the People’s Party candidate. Travis Calliou no longer running as a Veterans Coalition Party candidate.
Foothills: MP John Barlow has been acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate. Barlow was first elected in 2015.
Grande Prairie-Mackenzie: Benita Pedersen has been nominated as the People’s Party candidate.
Dr. Jared Wesley joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss Jason Kenney’s leadership of the United Conservative Party, Rachel Notley’s focus on health care during the pandemic, the Alberta Party and Wildrose Independence Party leadership races, and the equalization referendum and Senate nominee elections that will coincide with the October municipal elections.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
While much of my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta focused on Canadian politics, one of my favourite courses covered a topic far away from the prairies – the Habsburg Monarchy. It was a combination of an unfamiliar topic and a passionate professor that made this course memorable. So my interest was piqued when the words “South Tyrol” began circulating in Alberta political circles this week.
“Should Alberta be an autonomous Province? South Tyrol has” asked Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post linking to a website showcasing facts about the autonomous province in northern Italy.
I expect many German-speaking South Tyroleans would probably prefer to re-join their linguistic cousins in Austria than remain in Italy.
I am not sure which other province or region Alberta would join if we adopt what might be Pitt’s version of an autonomous-province. Perhaps Frederick Haultain’s dream of a Province of Buffalo could be finally be realized if Alberta merged with its smaller cousin to the east, Saskatchewan? Or maybe British Columbia’s Peace Country will finally be released to unite with its northwestern Alberta cousins?
But Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is certainly whittling down the number of possible candidates.
Stephan apologized to the Legislative Assembly this week after describing other Canadian provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” in a speech about federal fiscal policies and equalization program.
The rookie MLA and sole UCP backbencher appointed to the powerful Treasury Board committee also claimed that “Alberta must liberate itself from this mess.”
While Alberta is not going to separate from Canada, the final report from the government-appointed Fair Deal Panel will include recommendations to increase provincial autonomy from Ottawa.
The panel and its open-mic town hall meetings were both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep control of the latest burst of separatist fervour. The separatist fervour from Alberta’s right-wing fringe, despite the media attention it generated, now appears to have mostly died out.
The panelists included former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, former Progressive Conservative MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, Peter Lougheed‘s son Stephen, and perennially disgruntled UCP backbencher MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat and fellow backbenchers Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis and Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. The panel was tasked with making recommendations on topics including withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency, opting out of federal programs like pharmacare, forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer, and forming a provincial police force.
The NWMP had been created in 1873 and was part of the federal government’s suppression of the North West Rebellion in 1885, but, by 1917, Ottawa’s attention was focused on the First World War and there was little federal interest in enforcing provincial prohibition laws that had been enacted in 1916.
The APP merged into the RCMP in 1932 following negotiations between the provincial and federal governments during the Great Depression. The agreement to offload the costs associated with policing to the RCMP stipulated that former provincial police officers who transferred to the federal police would maintain their seniority and be eligible to receive pensions in accordance with their years of service.
When officers hung up their blue APP uniforms on April 15, 1932, it was reported in the Calgary Daily Herald that it took more than a month for the red RCMP uniforms to arrive in Alberta. So during the short period following the return of the federal police, RCMP officers worked in civilian clothes or, for those who worked as police in Alberta before 1917, wore the uniforms of the old NWMP.
While Alberta politicians have generally expressed pleasure with contracting policing responsibilities to the federal government, there have been several attempts to reinstate a provincial police force.
The next notable attempt to reinstate the APP came in 1937 from Edson MLA Joseph Unwin, the Whip of the Social Credit government caucus. Unwin introduced a motion to abolish the RCMP in Alberta and replace it with an Alberta Provincial Police Force.
Unwin argued that it was preferable that “the police force in the province should be indisputably at the exclusive orders of the attorney general.” Given this comment and the context of the time, it is fairly safe to speculate that Unwin was hoping to create a police force that would enforce the Social Credit ideological and political agenda in Alberta.
Unwin introduced the motion the same week he was arrested on charges of libel and counselling to murder in what would become known as the Bankers’ Toadies scandal.
Unwin and British Social Credit expert George Frederick Powell were arrested when police raided the party headquarters following the printing of a pamphlet advocating the “extermination” of nine prominent Edmontonians. The nine men, labelled as “Bankers’ Toadies,” included Conservative Party leader David Duggan and Senator and former mayor William Griesbach.
Unwin was sentenced to 3-months hard labour for the libel charge, which was later overturned on appeal. He did not resign as an MLA when he went to jail and his return to the Legislature was celebrated by Social Credit MLAs with a “snake dance” on the floor of the Assembly.
Various PC MLAs called for the creation of a provincial police force during the 1980s and early 1990s but most of those calls were quickly discredited because they were usually followed closely by racist comments about RCMP officers wearing turbans or speaking French.
Anti-oil patch activist Wiebo Ludwig called for the creation of a provincial police force during his brief run for the Social Credit Party leadership in 2000 before having withdraw from the race after a judge refused to waive the conditions of his bail.
Motions recommending the creation of a regional police force or to make public studies conducted to assess the creation of a provincial police force were introduced by Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths in 2003 and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol in 2004 were debated in the Legislature but gained no real traction.
Premier Ed Stelmach defeated Morton in the leadership race and signed a 20-year agreement with the federal Conservative government that would have the RCMP continue as Alberta’s police force until March 31, 2032.
“This is wonderful news for the province and for Albertans,” Stelmach said in an August 2011 press release. “This agreement makes good financial sense for Alberta and strengthens a valuable relationship with a partner who continues to play a key role after more than a century keeping Alberta communities safe.”
The Fair Deal report will have to be publicly released before we know for sure what it recommends, but a move to create a new provincial police force in 2020 would face two powerful political factors
First, systematic racism and police violence against people of colour in the Canada and the United States has led to mounting calls to “defund the police.” Massive protests calling out systematic racism have taken place across the country, including a 15,000-strong rally outside the Legislature in Edmonton and similar rallies in Calgary and around the province. City councils and police commissions are now facing increased public pressure to reign in budgets and address systematic racism in the civilian police forces.
Second, Kenney has said that a great reckoning is coming for Alberta’s finances, which will likely mean more massive job cuts in the public sector across Alberta. If the Kenney is laying-off teachers and nurses, it will be difficult for him to explain to Albertans that he needs to spend money on creating a brand new police force. A lack of finances was the main reason why the provincial police were disbanded in 1932.
Creating a new provincial police force in this context would be incredibly tone deaf and completely unnecessary. But like many political decisions being made in Alberta lately, the world appears to be moving in one direction and our government moving in another. It kind of reminds me of those Habsburgs just over a century ago.
While there does not appear to be an obvious heir apparent, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s name immediately comes to mind as a potential successor. But is appears as though Kenny could just be a visitor in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.
Kenney told Postmedia columnist Don Braid yesterday he had “absolutely no intention” of running for the leadership and offered what appears to be an early endorsement of former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.
Kenney is respected by Conservative partisans and, as long as he can keep up his winning streak, will remain one of the most prominent leaders of the Conservative movement in Canada.
Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.
Winning as a Conservative in Alberta is a much easier task than winning in other parts of Canada, including populous regions like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario during the federal election resulted in dismal returns for Conservative candidates, and a recent poll shows his approval ratings in Alberta have plummeted by 15-points since his government tabled an unpopular provincial budget, which serves as a reminder that while he is a skilled politician, he is not invincible.
Which is why he might be reluctant to jump back into federal politics.
Being premier of a large province is certainly a more influential office, at least it is in 2019, and comes with more prestige than being leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa. But staying in Alberta means he is not one-step away from becoming Prime Minister of Canada, which many people still speculate is his goal.
Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.
But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.
Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.
While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.
The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:
withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
creating an Alberta Constitution.
The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.
The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.
Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.
And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government.
The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.
The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:
Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommendsthat Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)
Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required).By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)
Police Force: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)
Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)
Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)
Our Future: “The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)
The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.
This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.
Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again
In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.
The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.
In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.
Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.
The report is an endorsement of the United Conservative Party government plan to implement deep cuts to public sector funding, a wide-range of drastic changes to how Alberta’s public services are delivered (or delivered at all), and the use of legislative tools to interfere with the collective bargaining process.
When reading the panel’s report and recommendations, it is important to remember this is not a neutral or academic document. The MacKinnon Report is very much a political document written by political people who were appointed because they share the government’s vision.
Despite her past political affiliation as an NDP cabinet minister in Saskatchewan, MacKinnon’s fiscal conservative views make her more likely to feel welcome in the UCP or the Fraser Institute than in a party led by Rachel Notley or Jagmeet Singh. For decades MacKinnon has been a champion of fiscal conservatism and more recently provided an enthusiastic endorsement that was prominently displayed in the UCP’s election platform.
The MacKinnon Report calls for funding freezes or cuts to public services across the board, including increased privatization of health services, changing the funding formula for Alberta schools (and likely introducing more private and charter schools), increasing government control of post-secondary institutions and lifting the current freeze on tuition fees, and downloading more infrastructure costs on municipalities.
In yesterday’s press conference announcing the report, MacKinnon suggested that “fewer hospitals” could be a solution to cutting the health care budget, which should raise giant red flags in rural communities across Alberta. During her time as Saskatchewan’s finance minister, 52 rural hospitals were closed as a result of budget cuts.
The recommended cuts and creation of legislative mechanisms to interfere with the collective bargaining processes are likely designed to create strife with public sector unions whose members would be directly impacted by these cuts – a group that the UCP is eager to pick fights with.
For anyone who grew up or lived in Alberta in the 1990s, it may feel like deja-vu.
When premier Ralph Klein and treasurer Jim Dinning imposed drastic cuts on public services, Albertans were told that balancing the budget and paying down the provincial debt was necessary to get Alberta’s fiscal house in order. At the time, a young anti-tax crusader named Jason Kenney cheered on those cuts, going so far as to tell the Western Report that “Education will be the toughest area to cut, but it will also be the most important. If the government backs down on this one, then the entire Klein revolution will fail.”
Successive governments, both Progressive Conservative and NDP, spent decades trying to fix the damage those short-sighted cuts had on Alberta’s communities, public infrastructure and public services.
The “blue ribbon” panel was created to provide an endorsement of Premier Kenney’s political program, and, if its recommendations are adopted, could be the most radically ideologically conservative agenda Albertans have seen in decades. It is a far cry from the technocratic conservative agenda meticulously implemented by former prime minister Stephen Harper, who Kenney served dutifully in Ottawa.
Unlike Harper, there is no indication that Kenney is interested in half-measures or incrementalism.
Alberta still has a big revenue problem
The narrow mandate of this panel was a missed opportunity to actually address the fiscal challenges facing Alberta, which includes issues with revenue ranging from low taxation and over-dependence on oil and gas royalty revenues.
The report briefly mentions that over-dependence on unreliable natural resource revenue is an issue, but the panel was specifically told not to provide recommendations to fix the revenue problem – only spending. Both MacKinnon and Finance Minister Travis Toews repeated the government’s well-used talking points during yesteday’s press conference – that Alberta has a spending problem and not a revenue problem.
The report frequently compares public sector spending in Alberta with British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, but only when it comes to government spending. The big problem with comparing Alberta with our provincial counterparts on the spending side is that our revenue – generated through taxes – is significantly lower than every other province.
If Alberta had the same level of taxation as BC, which is the second lowest in Canada, then Alberta could have no deficit and could be collecting billions of dollars in additional revenue each year.
By not addressing the revenue challenges faced by the Alberta government, the MacKinnon Report shows it was created to justify the spending cuts and privatization of public services that the UCP was likely already planning to implement. Remember, this is a political document.
It’s hard to criticize the MacKinnon Report without also laying some criticism at the feet of the past PC and NDP governments who did not fix Alberta’s revenue problems when they had the chance. Had the NDP been as aggressive in fixing Alberta’s long-standing revenue problems as the UCP will be in attacking government spending, we might not be reading the MacKinnon Report today.
One of the results of a change in government is a mass turnover in the political staffers who occupy the offices of the premier, cabinet ministers and caucuses. As a new government enters office in Alberta, there are many dozens of political jobs that need to be filled. Here is a quick glance at some of the political staffers who have been hired to fill key roles since the United Conservative Party formed government in Alberta:
As has already been widely reported, former UCP Caucus Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay is now Chief of Staff in Premier Jason Kenney’s office. Joining him in Kenney’s office are Howard Anglin as Principal Secretary, Katy Merrifield as executive director of communications and planning, and Christine Myatt as press secretary and deputy director of communications. Anglin previously served as executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, deputy chief of staff in the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Chief of Staff to Kenney while he was the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Merrifield was communications director to former B.C. premier Christy Clark and senior advisor to the BC Liberal Party.
Paul Bunner has been hired as a Speechwriter in the Premier’s Office. Bunner served as a speechwriter and communications advisor in the office of Prime Minster Harper and as editor of the right-wing C2C Journal website, which is part of the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education.
Former UCP Caucus communications advisor Harrison Fleming is a special communications advisor in Executive Council.
Former Daveberta Podcast co-host Ryan Hastman is Chief of Staff to Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney. Natasha Kornak is Sawhney’s press secretary. She is the co-founder of the Story of a Tory blog with Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Glasgo.
Jamie Mozeson is Chief of Staff to Minister for Service Alberta Nate Glubish. Mozeson was the director of operations at the UCP Caucus and ran for the federal Conservative nomination in the Sturgeon River-Parkland district in 2016. Glubish’s press secretary is Tricia Velthuizen, a former Wildrose and UCP Caucus staffer and candidate for Edmonton City Council in 2017.
Jonah Mozeson, who is married to Jamie Mozeson, is the press secretary in the Office of the Minister Justice and Attorney General Doug Schweitzer. His mother, Laurie Mozeson, was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the 2019 election.
Craig Bellfontaine is Schweitzer’s Chief of Staff. Until recently he was a Toronto-based lawyer at the firm Farken and is a former federal Conservative ministerial staffer. Schweitzer’s Ministerial Assistant Kalyna Kardash is a former Outreach Coordinator for the UCP Caucus and Party during the election campaign.
Andrea Smotra is Chief of Staff to Minister of Energy Sonya Savage. Smotra was the director of election readiness for the UCP and previously worked as Regional Affairs Advisor in the office of Prime Minister Harper and deputy director of issues management for Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
Nicole Williams is Chief of Staff to Education Minster Adriana LaGrange. Williams is a former lobbyist and ministerial assistant who was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-West Henday in the recent election. Colin Aitchison is LaGrange’s press secretary. Until recently he was the Issues Manager for Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa McLeod.
Warren Singh is Chief of Staff to Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Singh previously served as director of government relations with NAIT and vice-president policy and outreach with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Before that he served in various chief of staff roles in the old PC government. Steve Buick is Shandro’s press secretary. Buick served as press secretary to former health minister Stephen Mandel and as a policy advisor to health minsters Gene Zwozdesky and Fred Horne. Previous to that he served as Director of Media Relations and Issues Management for Capital Health.
Kris Barker recently resigned from the UCP board of directors to start his new job as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir. Barker was elected at the party’s annual general meeting as the Edmonton Regional Director. He is married to Kara Barker, who ran as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Riverview. Fir’s press secretary Justin Brattinga is a former BC Liberal Caucus staffer.
Mark Jacka is Chief of Staff to Transportation Minister Ric McIver. Jacka previously served as UCP Constituency Development Coordinator, as an assistant to Edmonton-West MP Kelly McCauley and as Director of Political Operations for the Wildrose Party. Brooklyn Elhard is McIver’s press secretary. She previously served as Scheduling and Tour Coordinator for the UCP leader.
Tim Schultz is Chief of Staff to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen. Schultz previously served as chief of staff to the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education and the Minister of Finance in Progressive Conservative governments from 2008 to 2012.
Mandi Johnson is Chief of Staff to Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer. She previously worked for the PC, Wildrose and UCP Caucus. She is married to James Johnson, the Director of Research at the UCP Caucus. Payman Parseyan is Aheer’s press secretary. He ran for Edmonton City Council in 2017 and was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Whitemud.
TJ Keil is chief of staff to Minster of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter. Keil previously worked as a Senior Stakeholder Relations Consultant with Alberta Real Estate Association and ran for the PC Party in Edmonton-Strathcona against first-time NDP candidate Rachel Notley in 2008.
Steven Puhallo is chief of staff to Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz. He previously as chief of staff to various BC cabinet ministers from 2001 to 2008 and more recently was President and CEO of Cowboy Gaming (Canada), a country and western themed free online bingo and casino. Lauren Armstrong is Schulz’s press secretary. Armstrong worked as Kenney’s press secretary while he served as Minister of National Defence in Ottawa and until recently was chief of staff to Calgary city councillor Jeromy Farkas.
Former Wildrose Caucus staffer and Alberta Counsel communications lead Tim Gerwing is the press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu.
Former Hill & Knowlton senior consultant Jessica Goodwin is press secretary to Minister of Finance Travis Toews.
Ted Bauer is press secretary to Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Wilson. Bauer is the former Communications and Media Coordinator for Homeward Trust Edmonton and editor for Global News and CityTV.
And looking at the legislative branch:
Robyn Henwood is executive director of the UCP Caucus. Henwood will be known by political watchers as the chair of the party’s leadership election committee and as campaign manager for Len Rhodes’ election campaign in Edmonton-Meadows.
Brianna Morris is deputy director of the UCP caucus. She previously served as Senior Advisor to the UCP House Leader and as a Legislative and Outreach Assistant in the Wildrose Caucus.
Tim Uppal is also a Stakeholders Relations Manager for the UCP Caucus. Uppal served as the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Sherwood Park from 2008 to 2015 and is currently the nominated federal Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods.
As has already been noted in a previous post, former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen is now the CEO of the Wellington Advocacy lobbyist company. Matt Wolf, who served as Kenney’s Deputy Chief of Staff and director of the UCP campaign war room, is now a vice-president with public affairs giant Hill & Knowlton. Also with new jobs outside of government are UCP President Erika Barootes and former UCP Caucus director of issues management Peter Csillag have been hired by the Toronto-based public affairs company Enterprise.
Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson has already issued fines of $15,000 against Callaway’s campaign manager and former UCP nomination candidate, Cameron Davies, and $3,500 against donor Karen Brown. And last week, UCP executive director Janice Harrington announced that Calgary-Beddington candidate Randy Kerr had been removed because he “was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.”
The story comes the day after heavy-hitters from western Canada’s Conservative establishment, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former prime minister Stephen Harper, rallied around Kenney following rumours that Jean was preparing to jump back into politics – with the Alberta Party or Freedom Conservative Party.
As Premier Rachel Notleynoted to the media today, if the leader of another major political party was tied up in such an investigation, the UCP would be calling for their resignation. Notley is right, but do not expect Kenney to step aside anytime soon.
With the conservative political establishment rallying to Kenney’s defence, barring criminal charges being laid or Kenney-connected UCP organizers being perp walked in handcuffs, it is unlikely he would step aside because of or even during the course of this potential RCMP investigation. And even if Kenney did step aside, Jean now seems like a very unlikely choice to replace him. The role of interim leader would be a better fit for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who ably filled the role as interim leader during the UCP leadership contest.
An RCMP investigation is serious business and would take time before coming to a resolution, meaning that it would likely not be until after the election that Albertans learn the results of an investigation. I have heard some calls for Notley to delay the election call until after this potential investigation is concluded, pushing beyond Alberta’s unique three-month fixed election window, which seems unlikely but not impossible.
Even with a significant lead in most public opinion polls, the timing of this announcement is bad news for the UCP. It is without a doubt that we will hear leaders and candidates from the other parties use the words “UCP” and “RCMP” in the same sentence very frequently over the next few weeks.
NDP put health care on their pre-election legislative agenda
The Throne Speech and Bill 1: Protecting Public Health Care Act, could be the last big pre-election opportunity for the NDP to push forward an election narrative on an issue that plays to their strengths.
Public health care is traditionally a strong issue for the NDP and stability in the health care system has been a hallmark issue for the NDP government. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has steered the public health care system clear of the perpetual lurch from crisis to crisis that happened under the old Progressive Conservative governments.
It is unknown how many days or weeks the NDP plan to take for this spring session, but I am told that many NDP staffers and organizers are already “on vacation” from their day jobs working hard on campaigns across the province.
CBC has released a report report with new information related to the collusion between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns during the 2017 UCP leadership contest: “The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”
In a statement released on January 15, 2019, Strankman lamented the state of hyper-partisanship in Alberta politics and claimed that the UCP was “not including the grassroots principles of strong conservative Albertan values.”
It is not clear whether Strankman plans to seek re-election as an Independent candidate in 2019.
In 2015, Strankman introduced the Election (Restrictions on Government Advertising) Amendment Act, into the Assembly. The private members’ bill would have restricted the ability of government to make announcements and advertise during of election and by-election periods. The bill died on the order paper when it was referred to the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee.
He is perhaps most well-known for being jailed in 2002 after being charged under the Customs Act for taking 756 bushels of wheat across the American border in protest of the Canadian Wheat Board. He was later pardoned by Prime Minster Stephen Harper.
For UCP activists, and Jason Kenney in particular, the fight in Calgary-North West likely feels personal. Jansen was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and re-elected in 2015 before crossing the floor to the NDP in 2016. But Conservative anger was directed at Jansen before her floor-crossing.
Jansen’s support for her friend Nirmala Naidoo, who ran as a Liberal candidate in the 2015 federal election, drew the ire of the legions of federal Conservatives who were moving to take over the PC Party following its defeat in the 2015 election (Naidoo’s Conservative competitor, now Member of Parliament Pat Kelly, is endorsing UCP nomination candidate and pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage).
Jansen attempted a mount a campaign for the leadership after her party’s disastrous results in the last election but was all but drummed out of the party by social conservatives allied with Kenney.
Her moderate views on social issues like abortion and rights for sexual minorities, as well as her role as a former communications manager and key supporter of former premier Alison Redford contributed to the mounting tension from more hard-line conservatives.
Jansen accused Kenney of wanting to destroy the PC Party in his plans to merge with the Wildrose Party. And when push came to shove at the PC Party’s annual convention in 2016, Jansen was shoved hard by social conservative activists and soon after decided to leave the party.
For Conservative partisans, this was the biggest betrayal.
As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road and the Green Line C-Train route.
Jansen plays a big role in Premier Rachel Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary, but her tendency to get involved in petty arguments with Conservative partisans on social media distracts from the NDP government’s narrative. As I have written in the past, she could probably spend less time arguing on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.
Uniting the Right meant CPC-UCP unity too
Regardless of whether Jansen wins or loses the next election, she should take it as a complement that a Conservative heavy hitter like Harper would personally campaign against her. She should wear it as a badge of honour.
Harper likely remains popular among Conservatives in particular and Calgarians in general, and his support for Kenney’s UCP is not surprising. Harper endorsed Kenney’s leadership bid last year and was rumoured to be one of the driving forces behind the scenes in the PC-Wildrose unity referendum last year.
Harper is now the chairman of the International Democratic Union, an international club of right-wing political parties from 63 countries. His congratulatory tweet to extreme right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in April 2018 raised eyebrows among political watchers. Orbán was re-elected after campaigning on a platform that included hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric.
But the federal Conservative connections to the UCP go deeper than Harper. Organizationally, the UCP has become an extension of the Conservative Party of Canada in Alberta, with most Conservative MPs actively involved or endorsing candidates in UCP nomination races. This is a significant change since the 1990s, when the provincial PC Party and the federal Reform Party were at each other throats.
Despite forming the opposition, the UCP are not the underdogs going into the next election. The next election campaign will represent the first time in more than 25-years that the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta will be marching in lock-step.
While this may give Conservatives a big boost in an election campaign, it is yet to be seen whether a UCP government would stand up for the interests of Albertans over partisan gain if faced by a Conservative government in Ottawa.
Not first time a Calgary-North West MLA targeted
It is reminiscent of another election in Calgary-North West more than two decades ago. Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker had represented the district since 1989 and had become a major thorn in the side of Premier Ralph Klein going into the 1997 election.
Bruseker was described at the time as being a relentless and ferocious critic of Klein during the Multi-Corp Inc. share affair, in which the premier was accused of promoting a company his wife had shares in.
It was reported during that campaign that PC Party campaign manager Rod Love had a poster hanging in his office of Bruseker framed by the crosshairs of a rifle scope.
The PCs poured significant resources into Calgary-North West and, when the dust settled in March 1997, Bruseker was unseated by Tory Greg Melchin by a margin of 1,964 votes.
In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman discuss whether Derek Fildebrandt‘s Freedom Conservative Party will be relevant in the next election, Rachel Notley‘s role at the recent Council of the Federation meeting in New Brunswick, the decision by Greyhound to withdraw from western Canada, and Edmonton-Mill Woods MP Amarjeet Sohi‘s new job as Minister of Natural Resources (and pipelines).
We also discuss some of the latest political gossip, including the departure of Prab Gill from the United Conservative Party and Stephen Harper’s re-emergence on the political stage (and whether he’s softening the ground for a political comeback).
You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts online. We’d love to hear what you think of this episode, so feel free to leave a review where you download, comment on the blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are always thankful to our hard working producer, Adam Rozenhart, who helps make each episode of the Daveberta Podcast sound so great.
Willie Hoflin is the fourth candidate to join the UCP nomination contest in Fort McMurray-Conklin. Hoflin’s website describes him as a 40-year Syncrude employee and past campaign manager for former Fort McMurray MLAs Guy Boutilier and Adam Germain. Hoflin left the PC Party in June 2010 to join the Wildrose Party.
Calgary-Acadia – Amina Beecroft is seeking the UCP nomination. Beecroft is an accounting and finance instructor at Mount Royal University. She is the former president of the Calgary-Acadia Progressive Conservative Association and the current president of the UCP in that district.
Calgary-Bow – Harry Fleming is seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Bow. Fleming is an assistant with Harper & Associates, the company founded by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the Conservative Party of Canada’s defeat in the 2015 election. He also served as Calgary vice-president of the Progressive Conservative Youth of Alberta from 2016 to 2017 and president of the University of Ottawa Conservative Club from 2014 to 2015.
Calgary-Currie – Nicholas Milliken is seeking the UCP nomination. Milliken is a lawyer and CEO of Brolly Legal Recruitment. He is the great grandson of Alberta MLA William Howson, who represented Edmonton in the Alberta Legislature from 1930 to 1936 and led the Alberta Liberal Party from 1932 to 1936.
Calgary-Edgemont – Beth Barberree is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Barberree is a practicing massage therapist and the owner of Massage at the Club. She was the Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Hawkwood in the 2015 election, earning 4.5 percent of the vote.
Calgary-Mountain View – On April 14, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley became the first NDP candidate officially nominated to run in the next election. Ganley was first elected as the MLA for Calgary-Buffalo in 2015, but recently announced she would seek re-election in the neighbouring Calgary-Mountain View district. The district is currently represented by four-term Liberal MLA David Swann, who has announced he plans to retire from politics when the next election is called.
Edmonton-City Centre – Robert Philp is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Philip is a former judge and in June 2014 was appointed Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Edmonton-Mill Woods – The NDP have scheduled a nomination meeting to take place on May 6, 2018. Incumbent MLA and Minister of Labour Christina Gray is expected to be nominated. Gray was first elected in 2015, earning 64 percent of the vote.
Lacombe-Ponoka – MLA Ron Orr is seeking the UCP nomination. Orr was first elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, earning 35 percent of the vote. In November 2017, the former Baptist pastor suggested that the legalization of marijuana in Canada could lead to a communist revolution.
Lethbridge-East – The NDP have scheduled a nomination meeting for May 6, 2018. Incumbent MLA Maria Fitzpatrick is expected to be nominated. Fitzpatrick was first elected in 2015, earning 47 percent of the vote. Unlike most southern Alberta districts, Lethbridge-East has a long history of bucking the province-wide conservative trend. From 1993 to 2011, this district was represented by Liberal MLAs Ken Nicol and Bridget Pastoor. Pastoor crossed the floor to the PCs in 2011 and was re-elected in 2012.
Peace River – Shelly Shannon is the fifth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this district. Shannon is the advertising manager of the Postmedia owned Peace River Record Gazette and is the past president of the Peace River and District Chamber of Commerce. She previously served as a regional director for the now-defunct PC Party.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at email@example.com. I will add them to the list.