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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s big win

Losing Calgary was the plan Smith shared with Rick Bell months before the 2023 election

Danielle Smith has never been interested in building a big tent political party.

It was October 2022 when Smith landed in hot water with United Conservative Party MLAs from Calgary when she told Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that she would be okay with her party losing half its seats in that city.

Fast forward seven months and that’s what happened when Smith’s UCP were re-elected on May 29, 2023.

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Alberta Politics

Controlling Everything Everywhere All At Once

NDP’s Oscar-winning film inspired catch phrase captures the UCP moment in Alberta politics

“Danielle Smith wants to control everything, everywhere, all at once…”

In the middle of the weekly chaos of Alberta politics, a catch phrase inspired by an Academy Award winning film has captured one of the driving themes of Alberta politics today.

Danielle Smith wants to control everything. Pensions, police, health care, schools, local councils. Any dollar spent anywhere in the province, and any decision made by anyone. Everything,” NDP MLA Kyle Kasawski first said in an April 29 press release.

Kasawski is the rookie MLA from Sherwood Park who became the opposition’s sole Municipal Affairs critic when co-critic Sarah Hoffman joined the NDP leadership race earlier this year.

While Municipal Affairs can sometimes be a sleepy file, on both the ministerial and critic side, it has been front and centre over the past month as Premier Danielle Smith and Minister Ric McIver rein in municipal and university funding agreements with the federal government and expand the provincial cabinet’s power to fire locally elected officials and overturn municipal bylaws.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s UCP comes down hard on Alberta’s municipalities

Changes will send chills through municipal councils and create a lot of grief for MLAs

One of my goals when I moved Daveberta over to this Substack newsletter in 2022 was to take a different approach to writing about Alberta politics. For 17 years I published, sometimes, almost daily commentary on Alberta politics. Now, being on this site gives me a chance to take a breath, observe, and not feel like I need to rush analysis of what’s happening on our province’s political scene.

With that in mind, it has been very interesting to watch over the past week how Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party government has unrolled its suite of changes to municipal governance and local election laws, and responded to the loud backlash from municipal leaders.

The UCP has spent a lot of political capital and government resources in its ongoing jurisdictional fights with the federal Liberal government in Ottawa, but Smith’s sovereignty agenda isn’t limited to challenging the powers of the federal government. This week’s Bill 20, Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act and last month’s Bill 18, Provincial Priorities Act are aimed at removing decision making powers from Alberta’s locally elected leaders and increasing the powers of the provincial government.

The drastic changes to the Local Authorities Election Act and the Municipal Government Act introduced by Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver gives the provincial government sweeping powers to overturn municipal bylaws and increased powers to remove locally elected municipal mayors, councillors, and school board trustees.

Changes also include legalizing corporate and union donations to municipal candidates and introducing a formal structure for political parties in municipal elections in Calgary and Edmonton.

It’s hard to imagine how most of these changes would improve municipal government or municipal elections, or that there is even broad support for some of these changes (there isn’t).

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Alberta Politics

How the Heritage Fund was launched

It was 1975 and Lougheed’s PCs were swimming in oil money like Scrooge McDuck

The Heritage Savings Trust Fund was front and centre in Premier Danielle Smith‘s pre-budget televised speech last week, so there’s a good chance Albertans are going to hear a lot about it when Finance Minister Nate Horner rises in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon to table the provincial government’s annual budget.

In her 8-minute address to Albertans, Smith said she wants to funnel oil and gas royalty revenues into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to increase it to between $250 and $400 billion by 2050. A report to the Standing Committee on the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund reported the fund had a market value of $21.6 billion in 2023.

Many Albertans know the patriotic version of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund story – a visionary rainy day bank account created in the 1970s by former premier Peter Lougheed meant to preserve Alberta’s oil wealth for future generations. But like many political stories that reach legendary status it is missing a lot of relevant historical context.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s transgender youth policy isn’t really about parental rights

“Parental rights” has a long history in Alberta and it’s not what it sounds like

When you write about politics for long enough you begin to notice certain themes and issues that pop up perennially year to year.

So when Premier Danielle Smith’s office released a 7-minute video last week laden with messages about parental rights, my mind immediately wandered back to the first time I heard that term in 2006.

Those were heady days to be a political writer in Alberta. The Ralph Klein era was coming to an end and there was a whiff of change in the air.

From the Progressive Conservative backbenches came a private members’ bill that, under the guise of parents rights, would force schools to notify parents anytime school material included a mention of same-sex marriage and that no student be required to attend or teacher be required to teach that part of the course. This was less than one year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada.

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Alberta Politics

10 things I’m watching in Alberta politics in 2024

From the price of oil to the influence of right-wing populist groups to the NDP leadership race and more

January is usually a quiet month in politics, making it a good time to look ahead at what to expect in the year to come. Here are ten things I will be watching that could have a big impact on Alberta politics in 2024:

1. Price of oil

Alberta is probably the only province where the international price of oil is at the top of the Premier’s daily briefing notes. The price of oil not only has a big impact on a lot of Albertans’ jobs, but also the provincial government’s revenue stream.

Relying heavily on the price of oil to pay for the day to day operations of public services, the Alberta government’s 2023/2024 budget projected as much as 25 percent of its revenue will come from oil and gas royalties.

If we go into this coming fiscal year starting April 1 with $72 per barrel, that might put the government into a situation where they either have to revise their spending plans or face a modest deficit,” University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe told CBC.

In Alberta, governments live and die by the price of oil.

2. Influence of right-wing populist and separatist groups

Without a doubt the influence of populist and separatist groups has grown in Alberta politics in recent years. Nowhere is this more pronounced than inside the governing United Conservative Party since Danielle Smith became Premier in October 2022 after riding the wave of populist discontent that pushed out former premier Jason Kenney.

In the closing months of 2023, newly elected UCP President Rob Smith spent nearly two hours on a livestream hosted by Alberta Prosperity Project CEO Chris Scott and past Independence Party of Alberta candidate Kerry Lambert.

The APP has advocated for the creation of a Republic of Alberta and is currently calling for a referendum on Alberta’s independence from Canada. Scott gained notoriety in conservative circles during the COVID-19 pandemic when his restaurant in the central Alberta hamlet of Mirror remained open in contravention of public health rules.

Also, in the final days of 2023, the UCP highlighted an endorsement from University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper in its year-end fundraising pitch on social media. Cooper has compared Alberta to pre-revolutionary colonial America in 1775 and has called for a referendum on separation from Canada. He is also a co-founder of the Free Alberta Strategy, an autonomist documentchampioned by Premier Smith’s Chief of Staff Rob Anderson.

And, on January 24, Smith will host and interview American media personality and conspiracy theorist Tucker Carlson at an event in Calgary that has been promoted by the APP and other influential right-wing groups like Alberta Proud, and Take Back Alberta (which is reported to be under investigation by Elections Alberta).

3. The race to replace Rachel Notley

It is hard to imagine the modern Alberta NDP without Rachel Notley, but she announced last week that she will not lead the NDP into the 2027 election and will step down as leader when her successor is chosen, likely later this year.

The leadership race jockeying has already begun, with at least five MLAs sending signals that they plan to run: Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, and Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse.

The NDP Provincial Council will meet on January 27 to discuss timelines and rules for the leadership race. The winner of the race will lead the 38-MLA NDP Caucus into 2025 and the party into the 2027 provincial election.

I am planning to write a lot more about this leadership race in the weeks and months to come.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith hosts Alberta’s largest call-in talk show: the United Conservative Party

Any good talk radio host understands that the show doesn’t belong to the host, it belongs to the listeners. And if this past weekend’s annual general meeting is any indication, talk radio host-turned-Premier Danielle Smith might be taking a similar approach as leader of the United Conservative Party.

Aside from a nod to protecting parental rights during her keynote speech, Smith largely stood out of the way as more than 3,700 delegates packed into Calgary’s BMO Centre to vote on party policy and elect a new executive board. It was an impressive crowd and probably the largest provincial political convention in Alberta’s history.

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Alberta Politics

Nate Horner’s hooked on a pension feeling

More confusing messaging about the Alberta Pension Plan

As Alberta’s United Conservative Party government continues its big $7 million advertising push to convince Albertans to leave the Canada Pension Plan and start a separate Alberta Pension Plan, Finance Minister Nate Horner told CTV’s Vassy Kapelos that the province’s decision on whether or not to hold a referendum on leaving the CPP will be based on a “high level feeling from many sources.”

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Alberta Politics

Look who’s running in the UCP AGM Board elections

What to make of Take Back Alberta, the Unity Slate, and everybody else on the ballot.

With the United Conservative Party’s November 3 and 4 Annual General Meetingfast approaching, the party’s Board of Director elections are a major focus of attention.

The UCP board is the governing body of the organization and is made up of seventeen elected directors, party leader Premier Danielle Smith, and two non-voting MLAs who serve as Caucus liaisons. The two MLA spots, which are chosen through a vote of UCP MLAs, are currently filled by Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely and Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson.

Half of the UCP director positions are up for election this year and the sweeping success of the slate of candidates backed by the social conservative Take Back Alberta group at last year’s AGM has fuelled a lot of speculation about what might happen in this election.

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Alberta Politics

Net-zero a no-go for Alberta’s UCP government

Never a dull week in Alberta politics

Fresh from launching a pro-Alberta Pension Plan advertising campaign, the Alberta government has launched another advertising campaign asking Canadians to email their Member of Parliament to encourage them to oppose the federal government’s draft Clean Electricity Regulations (most Alberta MPs are Conservatives, so they are probably already opposing it).

The government’s “Tell the Feds” ad campaign warns that electricity prices could quadruple and Albertans could face blackouts during -30C temperatures if the draft federal regulations are adopted.

Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz, MLA for Calgary-Shaw and 2022 UCP leadership race candidate, has been the government’s point-person in opposing the draft federal regulations.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Pension Plan games begin. But why?

“More Alberta, less Ottawa”

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.

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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith enjoys a honeymoon summer

It’s been a quiet, but not boring, post-election summer in Alberta

Conventional wisdom tells us that the summer months are a quiet and boring time in politics, but not so in Alberta. It’s not often there is an actual quiet and boring political summer in this province.

Two summers ago was the Best Summer Ever disaster and the summer before that was the first COVID-19 summer. Before that was the Summer of Repeal.

And last summer, one of the most unexpected political comebacks happened right before our eyes. Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, who had been written off by most political watchers after her disastrous decision to cross the floor in 2014, defined the summer of 2022 and the United Conservative Party leadership vote that followed.

But this year’s political summer was a fairly quiet, albeit incredibly smoky, affair.

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Alberta Politics

Find your buddy: NDP pairs veteran and rookie MLAs in energy, finance, health and municipal affairs critic roles

The Alberta NDP Caucus released the list of critic roles that its roster of 38 Official Opposition MLAs have been tasked to fill.

Every NDP MLA has been assigned a role as a critic or in the caucus leadership, which is not unusual for provincial oppositions in Alberta. But, because of the unusually large size of the opposition caucus, there are more critics than cabinet ministers to shadow.

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Alberta Politics

Take Back Alberta bringing Jordan Peterson and Tea Party politics to Alberta

A controversial right-wing media personality with a huge online following will soon be entering the election fray.

Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson is making three speaking tour stops in the Alberta next week and will almost certainly provide fodder for local conservative media columnists to chew on.

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Alberta Politics

A short history of leaders’ debates in Alberta elections

United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith and Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley will face each other at 7:00 pm tonight in the only televised leaders debate of Alberta’s election campaign.

This is the first time Alberta has had a TV debate featuring only two party leaders, but both people taking the stage have experience doing this before.

This is Notley’s third televised debate since 2015 and it’s Smith’s second.

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