It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.
But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.
The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.
Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.
The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.
Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.
The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.
The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.
With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.
While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.
Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.
If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.
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.
Former local party local president RJ Sigurdson defeated incumbent MLA Wayne Anderson and two other challengers to secure the United Conseravative Party nomination in Highwood on October 16, 2018. Sigurdson previously served as the local constituency president for the UCP and PC Party in the district south of Calgary.
Anderson faced a nomination challenge from Sigurdson, Carrie Fischer, a former Okotoks town councillor and mayoral candidate who ran for the PC Party against Anderson in 2015, and former Wildrose and PC Party activist Dean Leask.
Sigurdson had been endorsed by from former Highwood PC MLA George Groeneveld, former Okotoks mayor Bill McAlpine, and former PC MP Doug Fee.
Anderson had been endorsed by fellow UCP MLAs Leila Aheer, Nathan Cooper, Ric McIver, Jason Nixon, Dave Schneider, Pat Stier, Glenn van Dijken, and Tany Yao, as well as former PC cabinet minister Jon Havelock and Okotoks mayor Bill Robertson. And Leask had been endorsed by former cabinet minister Ted Morton and former area MP Grant Hill.
Anderson was first elected in 2015 as Wildrose Party candidate and currently serves as the UCP Advanced Education critic. He is the second UCP MLA to lose the party’s nomination to run in the next election. Rancher and political party scion Nate Horner defeated two-term MLA Rick Strankman in Drumheller-Stettler UCP nomination contest earlier this month.
Anju Sharma is expected to be acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate after two other candidates, James Moore and Walter Espinoza, withdrew from the contest.Abdi Bakal is also expected to be acclaimed as the Liberal Party candidate in this district on October 17, 2018. The district is currently represented by New Democratic Party MLA Christina Gray.
October 18, 2018 – Calgary-Elbow NDP
Janet Eremenko is expected to be acclaimed as the NDP candidate. Eremenko was a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 11 in the October 2017 election where she finished third with 20 percent of the vote. The district is currently represented by Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark.
October 18 & 20, 2018 – Airdrie-Cochrane UCP
Five candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in this district northwest of Calgary: Ian Chitwood, Peter Guthrie, Morgan Nagel, Mauri Stiff, and Laura Talsma.
Chitwood is director of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. Guthrie is a former owner of a Mr. Lube franchise in north east Calgary and a former co-owner of a ranch near Castor. Nagel is a Cochrane town councillor and previously worked as a organizer for Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign and the Manning Centre. Talsma is a Registered Nurse at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and Bethany Cochrane Long Term Care facility in Calgary.
Peter Guthrie is endorsed by former sportscaster and recent Airdrie-East UCP nomination candidate Roger Millions and former Rocky View County councillor and Calgary-Centre MP Eric Lowther. Nagel has the endorsements of Cochrane town councillors Alex Reed and Patrick Wilson. Stiff has been endorsed by Airdrie UCP MLA Angela Pitt, who is running for re-election in the neighbouring Airdrie-East district. Talsma is endorsed by UCP MLA Jason Nixon and brief UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway.
October 20, 2018 – Calgary-Shaw UCP
Five candidates are seeking the UCP nomination in this southwest Calgary district: past Wildrose Party candidates Brad Leishman and Mark Mantei, party activist and past federal Conservative nomination candidate Jack Redekop, communications professional Rebecca Schulz, and Daniel McLean.
Leisheman and Redekop have endorsed the right-wing Parents for Choice in Education group, and Mantei appears to have the support of the right-wing Progressive Group for Independent Business through the group’s president Sid Helischauer and PGIB-backed Calgary-Peigan candidate Tanya Fir, and UCP MLA Tany Yao. Rebecca Schultz is endorsed by Member of Parliament Stephanie Kusie, UCP MLAs Nathan Cooper and Jason Nixon and former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
Calgary-Shaw is currently represented by NDP MLA Graham Sucha and was previously represented by Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson from 2012 to 2015.
October 20, 2018 – Calgary-Varsity NDP
NDP stalwart Anne McGrath is expected to be acclaimed as her party’s candidate in this redrawn district. McGrath returned to Alberta from Ottawa in 2015 to serve as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office in Edmonton and then moved to Calgary to serve as Executive Director of the Premier’s Southern Alberta Office at the McDougall Centre.
Two current MLAs, Stephanie McLean and Michael Connolly, and one other candidate, Julia Hayter, have withdrawn from the contest in this district. Hayter is now running for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Edgemont.
Glasgo is a Constituency Assistant for Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes and is a contributor to the Story of a Tory blog. Her nomination campaign featured two events with Donna Trimble, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, a group that campaigned against the NDP government’s Gay-Straight Alliance legislation.
Calgary-Buffalo – UCP members in this downtown Calgary district will select their candidate for the next election on July 21, 2018. The two candidates vying for the nomination are Megan McCaffrey and Tom Olsen.
Calgary-Falconridge – Deepak Sharma has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in this northeast Calgary district, becoming his party’s second candidate nominated to run in the next election.
Calgary-Foothills – Jennifer Wyness is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. She placed second in the Ward 2 contest in Calgary’s 2017 municipal election, finishing with 36 percent to incumbent councillor Joe Magliocca‘s 49 percent.
Calgary-Mountain View – Dean Brawn has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest. Brawn was a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 7 in the 2017 municipal election.
Calgary-North – Melanie Wen is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Calgary-Shaw – Bronson Ha has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Edmonton-CastleDowns – Mohamad Rahall has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Edmonton-City Centre – Taras Zakordonski is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-Decore – Karen Principe is seeking the UCP nomination. Principe placed a very close third in Ward 3 in Edmonton’s 2017 municipal election.
Edmonton-Glenora – Carla Stolte has withdrawn her nomination as the Alberta Party candidate in this district. She had been nominated as the party’s candidate on June 25, 2018.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood – Janis Irwin is seeking the New Democratic Party nomination in this long-time NDP-held district. Irwin was the federal NDP candidate in Edmonton-Griesbach in the 2015 election, where she placed a strong-second behind Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte.
Another frequently named potential candidate, Bill Moore-Kilgannon, announced in a note on Facebook that he will not be seeking the nomination. He will continue his role as president of the local NDP association instead.
Edmonton-North West – Ali Eltayeb was acclaimed as the UCP candidate in this new northwest Edmonton district.He is the owner and manager of Liberty Tax franchises in Edmonton.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland – Don McCargar is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. McCargar made headlines in 2016 when he put his $7.5 million Parkland County mansion for sale. The palatial home included a sauna, wet bar, six-vehicle garage, and a car wash, as well as herringbone marble tiles covering the floors and hand-painted dome murals adorning the ceilings.
Leduc-Beaumont – MLA Shaye Anderson was acclaimed as the NDP candidate in his district. Anderson was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Municipal Affairs. Taurus Pawluk is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in this district.
Lethbridge-East – Angela Zuba is seeking the UCP nomination. Zuba is a development manager with Lethbridge College and the former CEO of the Canadian Home Builders Association in the Lethbridge region.
Lesser Slave Lake -Judy Kim-Meneen has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
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. Thank you!
Ryan leads this week’s ‘So you want to be a candidate‘ segment with useful fundraising tips for Albertans wanting to run in next year’s election. And we answer a few great questions from our listeners.
Fifteen years ago, in Jan. 2001, six prominent Conservative lobbyists and university professors, including future prime minister Stephen Harper and provincial cabinet minister Ted Morton, penned the Firewall Manifesto.
In reaction to the re-election of the Ontario-based Liberal government, the Firewall Manifesto called for then-premier Ralph Klein to build a firewall around Alberta by taking a number of actions, including the creation of an Alberta police force, an Alberta pension plan and the reduction of funds transferred from Alberta to the federal government*. Thankfully for Albertans, Mr. Klein ignored the Manifesto.
Fast-forward to Feb. 2016 and Alberta’s economy has slowed following a sharp decline in the international price of oil. For the first time in decades, Alberta’s traditionally cash-flush government is asking for economic and financial assistance from the rest of Canada.
Alberta’s current economic situation and the drive to expand oil pipelines across Canada serve as an important reminder about why building bridges is more effective than burning bridges and erecting (fire)walls between our province and the rest of the country.
Thank goodness we didn’t build that firewall.
*It is completely unclear how this actually would have been done.
“Instead of listening to Mr. Prentice,” Ms. Notley was quoted as saying by AlbertaPolitics.ca, “I’ll listen to premier Peter Lougheed, who said that it’s time for Alberta to consider a corporate tax increase. Like Mr. Lougheed, I believe what we’ve set out today is a common sense better approach, an approach that builds instead of tearing down.”
Ms. Notley has used the “Lougheed defence” numerous times since Jim Prentice began casting his opponents as “extremists” when he first called the election two weeks ago. The NDP platform feels neither extreme or even typically NDP, at least for the Alberta NDP.
By calling for a moderate 2% increase to corporate taxes and a careful review of the royalties Albertans collect for their resources positions Ms. Notley is positioning herself as a sensible alternative to Mr. Prentice, who has refused to discuss raising royalties or corporate taxes.
While Mr. Prentice criticized the NDP platform, his party has yet to turn its serious attacks on Ms. Notley, instead focusing on rural conservative Wildrose opposition led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean.
Last week, Mr. Prentice unleashed a gang of cabinet ministers on Mr. Jean and the PCs have constantly tried to knock the new leader off-balance. Only selected as leader weeks before the election was called, Mr. Jean’s campaign is not nearly as polished or controlled as that of former leader Danielle Smith in the 2012 election.
For example, responding to criticism from the PC Party that his party’s platform was not properly costed, Mr. Jean said: “[o]ur plan is awesome — it’s the most detailed fiscal plan proposed by any Canadian opposition party during an election.” Although I do not doubt that Mr. Jean and his team are doing the best they can under the circumstances (the party was eviscerated in December when Ms. Smith led most Wildrose MLAs into the PC Caucus), I have serious doubts that it is the “most detailed fiscal plan proposed by any Canadian opposition party during an election.”
As the PC campaign focuses on Mr. Jean, Mr. Prentice’s star does not appear to shine as brightly as it did only mere months ago. As Lethbridge political scientist Faron Elliswrote in his Calgary Herald blog, the “Jim Prentice as saviour” narrative has come to a crashing end.
While polls suggest the PCs could form a minority government for the first time ever (and what an interesting scenario that would present), it is hard to imagine the 44-year long PC regime not winning a majority. But it is clear that Mr. Prentice’s gambit to run an election focused on the unpopular provincial budget is being met with cool reviews on the doorsteps.
Nineteen school boards raised concerns this week that growth of the student population, expected to be 12,000 students in September 2015, is not accounted for in the PC budget. A number of boards, including the Edmonton Catholic School District, have circulated memos outlining numerous program cuts that will be implemented if additional stable funding is not received from the provincial government.
The PCs have also faced criticism from former PC Finance Minister Ted Morton, who has returned to right-wing academia and says PC MLAs did not understand the government would be on the hook for $26 billion when they voted to support a refinery project northeast of Edmonton in 2008.
I have made the following updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if you have additions to the list. Thank you.
Calgary-Bow: Troy Millingtonannounced on Twitter that he will seek the Alberta Party nomination. Mr. Millington was the Alberta Party candidate in the 2014 Calgary-West by-election.
Calgary-Cross: Alyx Nanji has now declared his intentions to seek the PC nomination in this east Calgary constituency (he initially announced he would seek the PC nomination in Calgary-Bow). Mr. Nanji is a former staffer to PC MLA Ted Morton and recently completed a degree at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. Also in Calgary-Cross, Ricardo Miranda will seek the New Democratic Party nomination scheduled for Feb. 21, 2015.
Calgary-Lougheed: Mihai Ion is seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for Feb 21, 2015.
Calgary-Shaw: Graham Sucha is seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for Feb 21, 2015.
Cardston-Taber-Warner: Municipal District of Taber Reeve Brian Brewinis challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Gary Bikman for the PC nomination. Mr. Brewin was first elected to Taber municipal council in 1998 and has been endorsed by Brooks Mayor Martin Shields (nominated federal Conservative candidate in Bow River) and former PC MLA Bob Bogle.
Former MLA Paul Hinman is said to be considering a run for the Wildrose nomination. Mr. Hinman was the MLA for this constituency from 2004 to 2008 and Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012.
Strathmore-Brooks: Former Canadian Taxpayers Federation lobbyist Derek Fildebrandt announced this week that he will run for the Wildrose Party in this southern rural constituency. Last year, Mr. Fildebrandt was rumoured to be eyeing the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Bow. The constituency is currently represented by MLA Jason Hale, a former Wildrose MLA who crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in December 2014. Update: Update: The Brooks Bulletin reports that County of Newell Reeve Molly Douglass will challenge Mr. Hale for the PC nomination.
Whitecourt-Ste. Anne: Oniel Carlier is seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for Feb 27, 2015. Carlier is a Regional Representative at Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“Rat-free, PST-free and Liberal-free” has been a Conservative mantra in Alberta since the reign of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But is this trifecta now in jeopardy?
The decline of government revenues caused by the drop in the price of oil has once again sparked the discussion around resource diversification and tax increases in Alberta. And with talk of economic doom and gloom, Premier Jim Prentice is managing expectations and preparing Albertans for the upcoming provincial budget and likely a Spring provincial election.
Will the budget include deep funding cuts or tax increases? Under most circumstances, deep budget cuts would be the natural choice for the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, but there is growing speculation that Mr. Prentice could be softening the ground for the introduction of a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) in Alberta.
At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government. Diversifying income sources with a five or six per cent sales tax could help soften the blow of the dreaded $7 billion gap that Mr. Prentice has warned will face the provincial budget if oil prices do not increase by next year.
Late last year, Mr. Prentice declared in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he would not consider introducing a PST, but the Premier has changed his tune in 2015, saying that everything is on the table.
In the aftermath of the last major economic downturn in June 2008, when the price of oil dropped from a high of $145 per barrel in July to a low of $30 per barrel in December 2008, PC cabinet ministers like Doug Griffithsopenly mused about PST. When prices increased, resource royalties once again poured in provincial coffers and Alberta’s political class moved away from the PST discussion.
Facing a decline in the price of oil in 1984, Premier Peter Lougheed publicly mused about introducing a sales tax, but did not act on it.
The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, introduced by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995, states that a referendum must be held before a Provincial Sales Tax can be introduced. The PCs have shown in the past that they have no problem sweeping away old laws like this one. In 2009, the PC government amended their much touted Fiscal Responsibility Act which prohibited deficit budgets in order to pass a deficit budget.
Relying on a boom-bust economy, a real lack of long-term financial planning has been the biggest weakness of the 43-year governing PC Party.
The introduction of a PST would be a bold and courageous move – one that could land Mr. Prentice in Alberta’s history books beside statesmen like Mr. Lougheed and Ernest Manning. And while under normal circumstances this would be a kiss of death to a Premier’s political career, we may now be witnessing a once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a sales tax.
The Wildrose Opposition is both leaderless and in complete disarray, and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals could have a difficult time protesting a move that could majorly diversify the government’s revenue stream. And with the departure of Derek Fildebrandt late last year, the local Tax Outrage Industry is lacking a major spokesperson.
As reported on David Climenhaga‘s blog, Conference Board of Canada chief economist Glen Hodgson also weighed in on Alberta’s tax dilemma: “Not having a provincial consumption or sales tax is highly popular and has been great politics, but it denies the provincial government a steady and stable source of revenue through the business cycle.”
To get a grasp of how embarrassingly low our tax rates current are in Alberta, Kevin Taft in his 2012 book, Follow the Money, says that Alberta could increase its tax rates by $11 billion and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.
Critics will argue that a sales tax would unfairly penalize low income Albertans, and they are right. The government should also scrap the short-sighted flat tax and return to a real progressive income tax system. Alberta is currently the only province with a Flat Tax, the odd-ball brain child of former Treasurer Stockwell Day.
While Albertans look with envy at Norway’s $900 billion petroleum fund, it could be decades before our government imposes meaningful increases in natural resource royalties. The PCs bowed to political pressure from the oil and gas industry and paid a significant political price when trying to implement meaningful increases to resource revenues in the late 2000s.
The strongest opposition to the introduction of a PST may come from inside the PC caucus. Many PC MLAs are said to be unconvinced that Albertans would support a PST, and the presence of 11 anti-tax former Wildrose MLAs in the government caucus could stiffen the opposition from within. Skeptical MLAs would probably be correct that they will receive a blowback from Albertans in the short-term, but the right decisions are not necessarily the most popular when they are initially implemented. And without a credible government-in-waiting, now could be the the only time the PCs could implement a PST.
Alberta should strive to remain rat-free forever, but on the revenue front, we need to break our dependency on resource revenues that cripple our provincial government each time there is a hiccup in the market.
You are Jim Prentice. You have the podium and the attention of Alberta’s media. You are the next Premier of Alberta. You can dream big. You could promise to replace all of Alberta’s aging hospitals by 2020, to build a high-speed railway from Calgary to Edmonton, to forge a new relationship with municipalities through Big City Charters, or reinvent the way Alberta is governed. Heck, you could even promise to implement your party’s long-list of unfulfilled promises from the last election.
While many Albertans will probably support the idea of term-limits for their elected officials, from a practical standpoint it does not appear that a lack of term-limits are a real problem in Alberta politics. By my count, 80% of Alberta’s 86 current MLAs were elected within the last ten years and the last two Premiers – Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford – did not survive two terms in office.
The most recent notable exception was Ken Kowalski, who retired before the last election after 33 years as a PC MLA (and his three decade long political career in provincial politics is very uncommon). The current longest serving MLA is Pearl Calahasen, who has represented Lesser Slave Lake since 1989.
Promises of term-limits are also not a new issue in Alberta politics. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said in 2012 that, if elected, she would only serve two-terms as Premier (her party constitution had it enshrined until it was removed in 2013). And, in 2011, PC leadership candidate Ted Morton proposed term-limits for Premiers.
Despite Mr. Prentice’s announcement, not long ago, the PC Party mocked and demonized their opponents for proposing term-limits for MLAs and the Premier. In a 2010 newsletter, the party he wants to lead compared MLA term-limits to “the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.”
The timing of this announcement is notable. On August 23, 2014, Alberta’s PC Party will become Canada’s longest-serving governing party ever (beating the record of the Nova Scotia Liberals, who governed that province from 1882 to 1925). And August 30, 2014 will mark 43 years since the PC Party won its first election in 1971. Perhaps term-limits for parties in government is a more worthwhile idea (but probably just as hard to implement).
It is hard to see Mr. Prentice’s term-limit pledge as anything but an attempt to distract Albertans from lacklustre leadership contest and the ongoing government spending and airplane scandals (and the PC government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions).
Mr. Prentice’s front-runner campaign is appearing less dynamic and more vulnerable each day and rumours continue to circulate that less than 30,000 PC Party memberships have been sold, compared to more than 100,000 that were sold in that party’s 2011 contest.
With two weeks left before PC members vote to choose their next leader, Mr. Prentice’s campaign is desperately trying to spark some excitement in the minds of its supporters. With today’s term-limit announcement, they appear to have missed the mark, by a long-shot.
Sources say that controversial Member of Parliament Rob Anders is preparing to run for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in new rural Bow River riding east of Calgary. The six-term MP has represented Calgary-West since 1997 but lost a heated Conservative nomination contest in the new Calgary-Signal Hill riding to former Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Liepert in April 2014.
It had been speculated that Mr. Anders could run in the neighbouring riding of Calgary-Rocky Ridge. It is unclear whether Mr. Anders, who has the endorsement of senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney, will be approved by the Ottawa Tories as their candidate in this new riding.
It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).
If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?
Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.
Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.
But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.
Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.
Another Progressive Conservative MLA is about to jump into the federal arena. Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao will announce this week that he will seek the Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-West.
An email circulated to Conservative supporters in Edmonton says that Mr. Xiao will make the announcement at 10 a.m on Tuesday March 4th, 2014 at the Edmonton Glenora Club. The email included a pamphlet with endorsements from former premier Ed Stelmach, former mayor Stephen Mandel, former cabinet minister Ted Morton and current cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.
After failing to secure the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Centre in advance of the 2004 election, Mr. Xiao unseated Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy in 2008. He defeated Mr. Elsalhy in a rematch in the 2012 election. Mr. Xiao has been criticized for claiming extravegant travel expenses, which were $35,000 in 2012.
Mr. Xiao is the third MLA to jump into federal politics.
Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber is seeking the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation.
Will former provincial cabinet minister Ron Liepert make the jump into federal politics?
With the launch of the TimeToDoBetter.ca website today, rumours began to spread that the former two-term Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA turned consultant could challenge ultra-conservative Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in the new Calgary Signal Hill riding.
Mr. Liepert’s candidacy would surely spark another proxy-war between the supporters of the provincial PC and Wildrose parties first seen in last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election.
This would not be the first time these two men have publicly sparred. In 2009, Mr. Liepert accused Mr. Anders of campaigning against him in the 2008 provincial election. Many of Mr. Anders associates have joinedDanielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party, including his close confident Andrew Constantinidis, who ran to replace Mr. Liepert in the 2012 provincial election.
While many of his supporters flocked to the new provincial party, some in the Wildrose establishment see Mr. Anders as a political liability whose ideology could challenge their attempt to rebrand as a moderate conservative alternative to the governing PCs.
In the conservative bloodbath that is sure to ensue if the rumours are true, I would expect nothing less than for Mr. Anders and conservative entertainer Ezra Levant to slice directly at Mr. Liepert’s jugular. They will be sure to remind their conservative base about Mr. Leipert’s record as the Health minister who created the centralized Alberta Health Services and the Finance minister who introduced deficit budgets and talked about increasing taxes.
Mr. Liepert’s ties to the provincial PC establishment date back to the Peter Lougheed era, when he worked at the Legislative Assembly and was appointed as a staff member at Alberta’s trade office in Los Angeles. He first ran for the PC Party in 1993, first in an unsuccessfully bid for the party nomination in Edmonton-Glenora and then as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Highlands-Beverly (in the election he was defeated by his Liberal opponent, Alice Hanson). He was first elected to the Assembly in 2004 as the PC MLA for Calgary-West.
Mr. Leipert is no slouch. In provincial politics, he thrived off the cut and thrust of partisan conflict. Whether he could win the Conservative Party nomination against Mr. Anders is yet to be seen.
Since he was first elected in 1997, Mr. Anders has been challenged by many high profile conservatives and easily defeated all of them in nomination battles.
At the age of 24, Mr. Anders, then a young Republican Party provocateur, returned to Canada to defeat nine other candidates to win his first Reform Party nomination in Calgary-West. His election coincided with the election of a group of young conservative Reformers, including Jason Kenney and Rahim Jaffer.
If he is challenged by Mr. Liepert in the upcoming nomination, it would not be the first time a high-profile politico who has attempted to end Mr. Anders career in Ottawa.
In 2004, future Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford made her first jump into electoral politics with an unsuccessful nomination bid against Mr. Anders. Mr. Liepert was her campaign manager.
In 2000, he was unsuccessfully challenged by Calgary-Currie PC MLA Jocelyn Burgener (now a poet) and in 2009 he faced future Calgary-Varsity PC MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans. With the help of Mr. Levant, he nastily branded Ms. Kennedy-Glans as a “Liberal saboteur” and a “bizarre cross between a radical feminist and an apologist for a women-hating Arab dictatorship.”
Internal nomination contests are not the only area Mr. Anders has faced challengers. In the 1997 election, alderman and future mayor Dave Bronconnier led an unsuccessful campaign against him as the Liberal Party candidate. In the 2000 election, Mr. Anders defeated both former Calgary-North West Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker and PC candidate Jim Silye (a Reform Party MP for Calgary-Centre from 1993 to 1997). Wind energy entrepreneur Justin Thompson earned 29% as the Liberal candidate in the 2004 election, the highest of any of Mr. Anders challengers. And the 2006 and 2008 elections, former Calgary Board of Education trustee Jennifer Pollock carried the Liberal banner against Mr. Anders.
Despite these high-profile challengers from inside and outside his party, Mr. Anders has yet to face electoral defeat in the political arena.
The ghosts of Senate reform will haunt Prime Minister Stephen Harper as his party establishment gathers in Calgary on Halloween to discuss and debate party policy. After more than seven years in office, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have accomplished little on the issue of reforming the Canadian Senate.
Who would have thought that a Senate scandal involving Conservative appointees could potentially be one of the defining stories of Mr. Harper’s third-term as Prime Minister? Was Mr. Harper not the Prime Minister who vowed to reform Canada’s archaic upper house of Parliament?
After being ejected from Conservative Party ranks, Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau, all appointed by Mr. Harper, have proven to be incredibly dangerous liabilities. Accused of improper spending and expenses, the three former Conservatives have turned on their former party and are drawing national attention to alleged improper activities of Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Senate reform was a defining policy for the now defunct Reform Party of Canada and a historical grievance that many western Conservatives hoped would finally be resolved when the Canadian Alliance (the Reform Party’s rebranded name) merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. While the crusade for a Triple-E Senate (equal, elected and effective) helped propel the Reform Party onto the national stage in the early 1990s, there does not appear to be much political appetite for this type of reform among Canada’s political leaders.
Since becoming Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Harper has appointed at least 52 of the Senate’s 106 members, including many failed Conservative party candidates or close associates of the Prime Minister. Despite his claims that he would approach the Senate differently, Mr. Harper has proven by his actions that he is not much different than Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, or Paul Martin.
In Alberta, the only province to have held elections for Senate nominees, the votes have attracted low levels of attention and there is no indication that the upper chamber is more effective with the three current elected nominees that have been appointed.
Popular Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, seen by many as a potential successor to Mr. Harper, announced today that his government will revoke its support for Senate nominee election in favour of supporting abolishment of the Senate. This positions Mr. Wall alongside Official Opposition NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who has embraced NDP’s long-standing position that the Senate should be abolished.
At the annual meeting, NDP leader Brian Mason will not face a leadership review, but his party activists will debate some changes to party operations. One topic of debate will be whether the party holds annual conventions or moves to biennial conventions. Party members are also expected to debate whether the Labour movement should have two vice-presidents represented on the party’s executive council.
Most of the province outside of Edmonton is bleak for the social democratic party, but Lethbridge has provided a glimmer of hope that the NDP plan to build on. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP saw their support double to 27% and in the 2012 provincial election, Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips placed a strong second in a three-way race won by PC MLA Greg Weadick.