With hours of the election being called yesterday, Premier Alison Redford kicked-off the Progressive Conservative campaign at the campaign office of Edmonton-Glenora MLA Heather Klimchuk.
First-term MLA Ms. Klimchuk is facing one of the most hotly contested races in the province, with strong challenges by former public school trustee and Alberta Party candidate Sue Huff, former Liberal MLA Bruce Miller, former NDP MLA Ray Martin, and past mayoral candidate and Wildrose candidate Don Koziak. The central Edmonton constituency has become a swing-riding in recent elections, but it was once held by Tory MLA’s Lou Hyndman and Nancy Betkowski.
After the campaign launch, Twitter reported her having visited a Tim Horton’s on the way to visit the campaign of new candidate Steve Christie in Lacombe-Ponoka. Last week, Mr. Christie replaced two-term MLA Ray Prins, who resigned after it was revealed he was being paid to chair a legislative committee that had not met in four years.
Eager to grab a scoop, two major television networks released the results of polls they commissioned in recent days. An Ipsos Reid online poll commissioned by Global News reports that the PC and Wildrose Party are tied at 38% support. The online poll surveyed 890 Albertans participating in Ipsos Reid’s online household panel (I am unclear how big the pool of Albertans in this online panel is). A CTV News commissioned ThinkHQ survey shows 44% of Albertans surveyed say the PCs don’t deserve to be reelected. No details of how these results were collected, sample size, or margin of error were included in the online news report. Poor reporting of these polls aside, these results could represent a shift in attitudes over the past month.
Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman will kickoff his party’s southern Alberta campaign at MLA Kent Hehr‘s Calgary-Buffalo campaign office this morning. Continuing to focus on health care and Premier Redford’s decision not to hold an independent judicial inquiry into health care issues, Dr. Sherman will be joined by a guest speaker who will talk about the issue of bullying and intimidation.
The Liberals are quickly filling their slate of nominations and I will update my list as I become aware of the new candidates.
Fresh from launching their election platform, the Alberta Party held campaign launches in Calgary and Edmonton. Leader Glenn Taylor, who is running in the West Yellowhead constituency, joined candidates at Ms. Huff’s campaign office in Edmonton-Glenora.
NDP leader Brian Mason is visiting the campaigns of Edmonton-Calder candidate David Eggen and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview candidate Deron Bilous today, and will make an announcement about his party’s health care platform.
Perhaps a sign of things to come in this election campaign, the PC’s launched their first salvo against Ms. Smith yesterday afternoon on an issue that no one would have predicted. Following the Ontario Appeal Court’s decision saying that prostitutes’ rights are violated by some criminal law, the PC’s released quotes from a Calgary Herald column penned by Ms. Smith in 2003 where she advocated legalizing the sex trade.
Some of Ms. Smith’s libertarian views may pose a threat to the conservative coalition of like-minded libertarians and social conservatives that she has worked hard to build. I have little doubt the Tories will take every opportunity to expose these types of cleavages in Ms. Smith’s record, with the purpose of breaking her coalition, as well as pushing wavering moderate conservatives back into the Tory camp.
Opinions that politicians have put out into the public sphere are fair game for use by opponents and are a cautionary tale for columnists, bloggers, or even tweeters with electoral ambitions. Loose tweets sink fleets and columns supporting the legalization of prostitution will be used against you.
With a provincial election expected to be called early next week, three of Alberta’s main political parties – the Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats, and Wildrose Party – have nominated full-slates of 87 candidates. The official opposition Liberal Party, with 60 candidates nominated, is rushing to fill their remaining 27 candidacies. Expected to nominate more than 30 candidates in this election, the Alberta Party has already nominated 27 candidates. The Evergreen Party, which has risen from the financial ashes of the defunct Green Party, has sixteen candidates nominated across the province. [Last week, I spoke on CBC Calgary’s The Eyeopener how different political parties are progressing in candidate nominations].
Calgary-Bow:Ellen Phillips has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Calgary-Buffalo: Comedian and writer Cory Mack has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in this downtown Calgary constituency.
Calgary-East: Ali Abdulbaki has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate.
Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill: The Alberta Party has nominated Jason Webster and the Liberals have nominated Don Thompson.
Drayton Valley-Calmar: The Liberals have nominated Chantel Lillycrop as their candidate.
Edmonton-Castle Downs: Kim Cassady has been chosen as the Liberal Party candidate in this north Edmonton constituency. Mr. Cassady ran in the 2010 City Council election and was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Highlands in the 2001 provincial election. Previous to his first provincial run, he worked for Edmonton-Glenora Liberal MLA Howard Sapers.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood: The Liberal Party has nominated University of Alberta student Keegan Wynychuk as their candidate. The Alberta Party has announced Cameron McCormick will be their candidate.
Edmonton-Manning: Official Opposition Chief of Staff Jonathan Huckabay was chosen as the Liberal Party candidate in this north east Edmonton constituency. Mr. Huckabay worked as legislative assistant to PC MLA’s until Raj Sherman was suspended from the governing caucus. The Alberta Party has nominated Mark Wall, professor of Church History and Theology and Dean of Students at Vanguard College.
Edmonton-Strathcona: University of Alberta student Ed Ramsden has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: Matthew Levicki has been nominated as the Evergreen Party candidate.
Livingstone-Macleod: The Liberals have appointed Alex Macdonald as their candidate in this south west Alberta constituency. Mr. Macdonald works as a strategic advisor to Liberal leader Dr. Sherman at the Assembly and played a key role in former Liberal leader Laurence Decore‘s campaigns in the early 1990s.
Sherwood Park: Teacher Chris Kuchmak has been chosen as the Alberta Party candidate.
Whitecourt-Ste. Anne: Vern Hardman has been acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate. In 2011, Mr. Hardmand was an unsuccessful candidate for the PC nomination in the neighbouring Stony Plain constituency.
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly resumes for Fall Sitting in a constantly changing political environment.
As the leaves fall and winter approaches, so does the resumption of the venerable institution known as the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Much has changed since last year’s Fall Sitting in Edmonton.
When MLAs return to the Assembly next Monday, they will have a few unfinished business to continue. The summer months have been far from quiet on Alberta’s political landscape. Premier Ed Stelmach has focused on promoting the oilsands to both audiences internationally and at home, including a tour with Hollywood Film Director James Cameron.
The Alberta Health Act will likely be the most contentious piece of legislation introduced in this sitting of the Assembly. Originally framed as a replacement for already existing pieces of health care legislation, the PC Government has since backed off after receiving an earful from Albertans in province-wide consultation meetings. The previously expected Alberta Health Act may be a shell of what it was envisioned to be when it is introduced in the next few weeks, but it could leave the door open for further legislative reforms (after the next election?).
At a media conference yesterday, Minister Gene Zwozdesky accepted recommendations from the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health, led by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne, but used his time to take a defensive stance against his critics. Minister Zwozdesky and Mr. Horne were also unable to fully explain the purpose of their proposed non-legally-binding Health Charter when questioned by reporters. The purpose of the new Alberta Health Act was challenged by Edmonton-Riverview MLA and Liberal Health Critic Kevin Taft, who labelled the Health Charter idea as “vacant” and predicted that the new Act “will be filled with platitudes that have no legal standing and have no recourse.”
I fully expect a continuation of the blood fued between the Wildrose Caucus and Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski to continue over the next session. Since the Wildrose Caucus grew to three MLAs with the floor-crossing of Mr. Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth in January 2010, Speaker Kowalski has used his power on the Members’ Services Committee to block any further increases in funding to the now third party caucus (the two MLA NDP Caucus still receives more funding that the 3 MLA Wildrose Caucus) and even demand that Danielle Smith‘s name be removed from media releases. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose Alliance Party in June 2010, but has remained as an Independent MLA in order to secure more research and communications funding (when he officially joins the Wildrose Caucus next week, their combined funding will decrease).
Since last session, the Wildrose have declared war on Speaker Kowalski outside the Assembly by nominating Senator-in-Waiting Link Byfield as their candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Speaker Kowalski has represented variations of that constituency since 1979. Mr. Byfield has been endorsed by former Conservative Members of Parliament John Williams and David Chatters.
Not to be outdone by the insurgent Wildrosers, the PC Party will be holding their Annual Convention in Calgary on October 29 and 30. I am told by a number of sources that the Convention will also serve as the kickoff for a series of “discussion sessions” with PC Party members billed as Speak Easies which will attempt to reconnect the party leadership with an increasingly disillusioned voter-base in the year before the party celebrates its fortieth year in government.
After a brutal Spring sitting that included the high-profile departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor from the Official Opposition Caucus, Liberal Opposition leader David Swann is looking to improve his party’s position this Fall. Dr. Swann is attempting to hitch his horse close to the Reboot Alberta group, which has attracted many partisan and non-partisan activists to its ranks during its two previous gatherings. In an email sent out today from his Calgary-Mountain View constituency office email, Dr. Swann implored his supporters to join him in attending the next Reboot Alberta meeting in Edmonton on November 5 and 6.
The NDP Caucus is probably feeling rightfully jubilant for the election of their Director of Research, Sarah Hoffman, to the Edmonton Public School Board, but those feeling of excitement may be tempered as they enter the Fall Sitting short-staffed. In early October, Communications Director Brookes Merritt left the NDP Caucus to accept a job with the Government of Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau. Until they find a replacement, Chief of Staff Jim Gurnett is covering the Communications portfolio.
Outside the dome of the Assembly Building, there are some very real political changes happening. The new Alberta Party held its Annual General Meeting in Red Deer at the beginning of October and after months of touring the province holding Big Listen events, that party will hold their first policy convention in the same city on November 13.
The new Alberta Party has also moved forward with the hiring of their provincial organizer Michael Walters. The party will also undoubtedly benefit from having many of its members involved in recent municipal election campaigns, including Alberta Party Vice-President Chima Nkemdirim, who was the Campaign Director for Naheed Nenshi’s successful Mayoral campaign in Calgary. Mr. Walters was also heavily involved in the Election Day get out the vote organization that helped get Mayor Stephen Mandel re-elected in Edmonton.
Also not to be ignored is the role that the Wildrose Alliance played in recent municipal elections in the province’s two largest cities. The party has already hired organizers and been nominating candidates for the next provincial election, but leader Danielle Smith’s foray into the City Centre Airport issue in Edmonton and the Airport Tunnel issue in Calgary should not be ignored. Many Wildrose organizers active in the campaigns of Calgary Mayor candidate Ric McIver and Edmonton Mayor candidate David Dorward. While they may not walk away with voters lists, it is clear that they are taking advantage of any opportunity to get an organizational edge over the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
A lot of attention has been paid to Mayor-elect Nenshi’s victory in the Calgary Mayoral contest (and rightfully so), but he was not the only new Mayor elected on October 18. Seven of Alberta’s medium sized municipalities also elected new Mayor’s this week. In the north west city of Grande Prairie, Bill Given unseated Mayor Dwight Logan. East of Edmonton, Linda Osinchuk unseated Mayor Cathy Olesen to become Mayor of Strathcona County, Rajko Dodic was elected as the new Mayor of Lethbridge. Along the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, Jeff Mulligan defeated incumbent Mayor Ken Baker in the City of Lloydminster. In the City of Wetaskiwin, Bill Elliot defeated incumbent Mayor Don Montgomery. In Airdrie, Peter Brown defeated incumbent Mayor Linda Bruce. In Alberta’s newest City, Steve Christie was elected Mayor of Lacombe, replacing the retiring Mayor Judy Gordon (who also served as the PC MLA for Lacombe-Stettler from 1993 to 2004). There was a lot of political change happening across Alberta on October 18, 2010. Of course, it is too soon to tell whether this will foreshadow a provincial election expected in March 2012.
The Fall Sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will likely open with a low level of substantive legislation and legislative debate, but outside the Dome there will be no shortage of new characters and exciting politics.