They also delved into the latest candidate nomination news, including recent UCP votes in Calgary-North and Lethbridge-East, former CBC reporter John Archer’s candidacy in Edmonton-South West, and whether we are ever going to find out the true identity of the mystery UCP candidate in Red Deer-South. They also opened the mailbag to answer some of the questions you have sent us over the past few weeks.
We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download. You can also comment on the blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And a huge thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, who keeps us on track and makes each episode of the Daveberta Podcast sound so great.
New Democratic Party MLA Nicole Goehring was nominated as her party’s candidate in Edmonton-Castle Downs, a district she has represented since 2015. Goehring won her first election with 64.5 percent of the vote, unseating four-term Progressive Conservative MLA and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk. Since her election, Goehring has served as the Government of Alberta’s Liaison to the Canadian Armed Forces and as chairperson of the Standing Committee on Families and Communities.
Calgary-Bow – NDP MLA Deborah Drever is expected to be nominated as her party’s candidate at a selection meeting on January 26, 2019. Drever was first elected in 2015 and faced considerable backlash from her political opponents when it was discovered she had made controversial posts on social media. She redeemed herself as a well-spoken representative and shepherded her first private members’ bill – Bill 204 – to unanimous approval in the Legislature in 2015. She rejoined the NDP caucus shortly after that.
Calgary-Currie – Joshua Codd has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in this southwest Calgary district. Codd is currently a Constituency Assistant for Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann.
Calgary-Shaw – MLA Graham Sucha is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in this district on January 27, 2019. Sucha was elected as the MLA for this district in 2015, earning 31.3 percent of the vote ahead of PC MLA Jeff Wilsonwith 30.7 percent and Wildroser Brad Leishman with 30.4 percent.
Drayton Valley-Devon – Steve Goodman is seeking the Freedom Conservative Party nomination. Goodman is a Senior Community Peace Officer with Brazeau County.
Edmonton-Ellerslie – Richard Corbin and Todd Ross appear to have withdrawn from the Alberta Party nomination contest days after another candidate, Chuck McKenna, also withdrew. The Alberta Party briefly posted a tweet congratulating Corbin on becoming the party’s candidate in the district but that tweet appears to have been removed.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville – Rebecca Trotter is the Green Party candidate in this district east of Edmonton. Trotter is the President of RM Trotter Management Incorporated and a Sergeant at Arms for Rotary International
West Yellowhead – Zack Seizmagraff is the Liberal Party candidate in this district. Seizmagraff was the federal Liberal Party candidate in Yellowhead in the 2011 election, earning 2.87 percent of the vote.
Who is the mystery UCP star candidate in Red Deer-South?
To the chagrin of local members, the UCP announced in early December that the party was delaying the selection meeting in Red Deer-South until 2019 in order to give time for a “high profile individual” run join the contest. The local UCP association is organizing an all-candidates forum on January 31, 2019, and only the original four candidates contesting the nomination, the true identity of the unnamed star candidate remains a mystery.
The UCP has now scheduled nomination meetings in Lethbridge-East and Calgary-North to take place on February 9, 2019. I will post a preview of these contests next week.
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!
Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.
In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.
With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.
Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.
As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.
According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.
With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.
Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.
McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.
Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.
Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).
As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:
Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
According to reports from Postmedia, when asked about Gay-Straight Alliances, Kenney told the editorial board of the Calgary Herald and Sun that he would allow schools to inform parents if their students join a Gay-Straight Alliance.
Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students – which is why having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.
As Postmedia columnist Paula Simons wrote today, ”…why should publicly-funded schools treat GSAs differently than they’d treat any other student-led club? Why, that is, unless deep deep down, we still do believe that it is, in fact, a shameful, dangerous thing to be gay — or to associate with gay friends.”
Now that Kenney has secured the leadership of the PC Party, he is now effectively running for the leadership of the Wildrose Party – which he wants to merge his party into.
Kenney is known for his social conservative views and he shied away from publicly commenting on social issues during the PC leadership race. But now that he is running against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean for the leadership of a new conservative party, we are beginning to see his open appeal to the party’s social conservative base.
While Kenney’s comments are directed toward social conservative voters he will need to win the leadership of a new conservative party, they are reckless. Allowing schools to “out” students to their parents would undermine the ability of Alberta students to create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.
Crouse drops out of Liberal leadership race, Lukaszuk in?
The only candidate running for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party has dropped out two days before the nomination deadline.
St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse announced on his website that he was withdrawing from the race for personal reasons. Crouse’s candidacy would have been a big catch for the Liberal Party, which currently only has one MLA in the Alberta Legislature.
Rumours are swirling that Crouse’s departure could make way for former Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk to potentially enter the Liberal Party leadership race before the March 31 deadline. The former deputy premier and 2014 PC leadership candidate publicly trashed his PC Party membership card after Kenney won the party leadership on March 18.
The race is being held to choose a replacement for past leader Raj Sherman, another former Tory MLA who crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2011. He resigned as leader in January 2015.
Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.
Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.
Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.
An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.
Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.
PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.
It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.
Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.
The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.
I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.
Gotfried and the Red Menace
Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.
This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankmanapologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?
Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.
There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.
Main photo: Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)
His only opponents, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson, earned 21 percent and two percent support from the voting delegates.
Kenney’s leadership bid was more of a hostile takeover than a traditional leadership campaign. The central point of his platform was his plan to dissolve the 8-MLA PC Party and form a new party with the official opposition Wildrose Party. Kenney has said he plans to meet with Wildrose leader Brian Jean on Monday to further discuss his plans.
Over the course of the campaign, Kenney and his legions of social conservative supporters, many who also happen to be card-carrying members of the Wildrose Party, worked tirelessly to marginalize progressive voices in the party. Two leadership candidates, Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, said they and their supporters faced threats and bullying by Kenney’s supporters before they dropped out of the race. Jansen later crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party and Khan endorsed Starke.
Kenney’s reputation for being a focused campaigner helped him win an overwhelming number of delegates at the local constituency votes. The lethargic and uninspiring campaigns mounted by his opponents were left in the dust.
Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race. The progressives who showed up in droves to vote for Ed Stelmach in 2006 and Alison Redford in 2011 stayed home this time. Or maybe they, like Sandra Jansen, like what they see from Rachel Notley’s NDP government?
Clark claims that a number of former PC MLAs and activists, including former deputy premier and vocal Kenney critic Thomas Lukaszuk, are in discussions with his party. This may be related to an upcoming “unite the centre” event in Red Deer that former PC MLA and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is said to be behind. Another former PC MLA, Heather Klimchuk, said in an interview on The Broadcast podcast that she is watching St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse‘s campaign to lead the Liberal Party.
What we discovered today is that less than two years after Alberta’s natural governing party lost its first election in 44 years, the PC Party is a shell of its former self and was ripe for a takeover by Wildrose Party supporters.
In his victory speech, Kenney confidently told delegates at the PC Party convention that he plans to repeal all the changes made by the NDP when he becomes Premier in 2019. That would mean the repeal of policies unpopular with conservatives, like the carbon tax, the Climate Leadership Plan and new farm safety laws, all introduced by the NDP.
If Kenney is true to his word this would also mean that corporate political donations would be reintroduced, small business taxes would be increased, the minimum wage would be lowered, school fees would be increased, the wealthiest Albertans would get tax cuts, and laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination would be repealed.
When Kenney pledged today to repeal all of the changes made by the NDP, he was not talking to the now former progressive-wing of the PC Party. He was talking to the social conservative and rural base of the Wildrose Party.
Now that the takeover of the PC Party is complete, Kenney will set his sights on his main challenger for the leadership of a new conservative party, Wildrose leader Brian Jean.
I keep hearing from my friends involved in the PC Party that a social conservative like Mr. Kenney cannot be allowed to win this race.
The third-place PC Party, which formed government in Alberta from 1971 until 2015, have abandoned its former one-member one-vote system that threw open the doors to any Albertan who wanted to participate. The party’s next leader will be chosen by locally elected delegates – 15 from each of the province’s 87 constituencies.
The PC Party committee drawing up the rules for the leadership race has decided that of each group of 15 elected delegates, ten which will be open to any local party member wishing to become a delegate and five reserved for local party officials. This is somewhat similar to the Superdelegate system used by the Democratic Party in the United States.
The adoption of this Superdelegate system means the thousands of Wildrose Party supporters who may purchase PC Party memberships to support Mr. Kenney may have a smaller impact than if all 15 delegate spots were wide open. It will likely make it more difficult for Mr. Kenney to succeed in his hostile take over the Alberta’s PC Party.
But stopping Mr. Kenney would mean someone would actually have to run against him.
We have heard rumours of that Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzeris aiming to run, with the support from the party’s monied Calgary establishment. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was connected to Jim Prentice‘s 2014 leadership campaign. Also said be considering a run is Byron Nelson, another Calgary lawyer and a past PC election candidate.
I am told that more than a few moderate Tories are warming up to the idea of supporting soft-spoken veterinarian Richard Starke, one of two remaining rural PC MLAs. Sandra Jansen has also been talked about as a voice of the party’s ‘progressive’ wing. She is despised by federal Conservative activists for throwing her support behind two Calgary Liberal Party candidates in the last federal election.
Will there be a candidate from Edmonton? The NDP remain popular and ahead in the polls in the capital city, which elected New Democrats in every constituency in the 2015 election.
Former Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk has been rumoured but his support of funding cuts to the University of Alberta, his close association with former premier Alison Redford and his strange $20,000 cell phone bill are significant political impediments. According to a recent ThinkHQ poll, his disapproval rating in Edmonton sits around 50 percent.
City Councillor Michael Oshry has mused about running but his real goal might actually be to secure his spot as a PC candidate in Edmonton-McClung in the next election, a seat that the PCs might be able to pick up. Lawyer Harman Kandola, who was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2015 is also said to be testing the waters for a run.
I have heard some PC Party members wish party president Katherine O’Neill would join the leadership race. The former Globe & Mail reporter and past PC candidate has been criss-crossing the province at the same speed as Mr. Kenney and his big blue truck, though it is probably too late for the party president to shift gears into a leadership vote this close to the official start of the campaign.
Mr. Kenney has spent the summer travelling around the province preaching his gospel of merging the PCs and Wildrose Party to defeat the risky, dangerous and scary socialists in Edmonton. But it might not necessarily a bad thing that Mr. Kenney has sucked up all the PC leadership oxygen this summer. In doing so he has defined the narrative of this part of the campaign – merging the PCs with the Wildrose – an idea that 1,000 PC Party members, including many who will now vote as Superdelegates, loudly rejected at their annual general meeting earlier this spring.
Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.
Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.
The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.
Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.
Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.
Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.
Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].”
Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.
New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.
If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.
Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.
There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.
There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly underminedby internal party disputes and self-inflictedembarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.
The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.
A surprisingly strong turnout of 1,001 registered participants at last weekend’s Progressive Conservative Party annual general meeting in Red Deer gave party stalwarts a glimmer of hope for the third-place party but there remain some significant challenges facing Alberta’s old natural governing party.
What the PCs do have is a new president. Katherine O’Neill won a contested vote to replace Prentice-loyalist Terri Beaupre, who announced months ago that she would step down at the annual meeting.
Ms. O’Neill is a former Globe & Mail reporter (known as Katherine Harding when she wrote for the G&M) who ran as a PC candidate in the Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2015 election. As a party vice-president, she spent much of the past year traveling the province holding engagement sessions with local party officials about the future of their party after its electoral defeat.
The PCs also have a new voting system. Party delegates chose to abandon their open one-member one-vote leadership election process in favour of a more closed system where each constituency association chooses delegates to vote at a leadership convention.
The leadership race is expected be held sometime between August 2016 and May 2017.
For four decades, the PC Party’s strongest unifying factor was that it held power as government. But now that they are in opposition as the third-party, the PC Party has struggled to define its purpose for existence. The upcoming leadership race will sort out some of these issues and help define the direction of the party over the next three years.
So, who wants to run for the PC Party leadership? No one, yet, but here is a list of some potential candidates:
Richard Starke – A veterinarian and PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012. He served as Tourism Minister in premier Alison Redford’s government. He is one of two PC MLAs from rural Alberta elected in the 2015 election.
Sandra Jansen – First elected as MLA for Calgary-North West in 2012, she served as associate minister of family and community safety in Ms.Redford’s cabinet. Before her election she was a TV news anchor and worked in Ms. Redford’s office at the McDougall Centre. Even though she fumbled her party’s Gay-Straight Alliance law in 2014 (something she regrets), Ms. Jansen continues to be seen as a voice of the Progressive-wing of the party. Her endorsement of two federal Liberal candidates in last year’s election raised the ire of conservative partisans.
Ric McIver – The current acting leader was first elected as MLA for Calgary-Hays in 2012 and was an alderman on Calgary City Council for nearly a decade before then. Mr. McIver served as a cabinet minister from 2012 to 2015 and was caught up in the Sky Palace scandal while serving as Infrastructure Minister. He sits firmly in the Conservative-wing of the PC Party and sometimes sounds like he would be more comfortable in the Wildrose caucus. He placed second with 11.7 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.
Jason Kenney – There has been speculation in the media that the Conservative Member of Parliament may consider seeking the leadership. I do not put much weight in this speculation, as Mr. Kenney’s politics align more closely with the Wildrose Party and his ambitions appear to be federal. Mr. Kenney was first elected as an Calgary MP in 1997.
Thomas Lukaszuk – A prolific tweeter, former cabinet minister and deputy premier, Mr. Lukaszuk served as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs from 2001 until he was defeated in the NDP sweep of 2015. Known as a social moderate in the PC Party, he placed third with 11.4 percent in the 2014 PC leadership race.
Brad Ferguson – The President and CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was a keynote speaker at a well attended breakfast organized by Conservative partisans earlier this year, which raised eyebrows among some young business conservatives looking for an outsider to bring new blood into the party.
In 2012, staff called for then-university president Frits Pannekoek to retire, citing questions around illegal donations to the PC Party and the institution’s finances, including the depletion of its reserve fund.
In June 2015, Athabasca University interim president Peter MacKinnonreleased a task force report on the university’s sustainability, which indicated the institution was facing insolvency in the 2015/2016 financial year. The report blamed over-reliance on tuition fees, the state of its information technology infrastructure, as well as staff compensation and the university’s location, for the university’s financial difficulties.
While the task force report focused on alarming terms like ”insolvency,” the university had small surpluses in its 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 budgets.
Some observers in the community have suggested that Mr. MacKinnon is playing chicken with the government in an attempt to force new Advanced Education Minister Lori Sigurdsonto commit to keeping the university in Athabasca.
Current Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon was a student representative on Mr. MacKinnon’s task force.
Politically speaking, it may have been an easier decision for the new government to make if an NDP MLA was not currently representing the area. If the constituency had remained PC territory, the NDP would not have to worry about Mr. Piquette’s re-election chances in 2019.
Now the NDP government is stuck in an odd position. Even if the new government wanted to relocate the institution, it would not be difficult to reallocate extra funds in the provincial budget to cover the deficits.
The new government also faces the question about what to do with the university’s board of governors after years of controversy. Like several universities and colleges across Alberta, the board is headed by someone with strong political connections to the old governing party.
Acting chair Marg Mrazek is a former president of the PC Party. While the Post-Secondary Learning Act gives the government the ability to replace the board, with Ms. Mrazek’s term is set to expire on July 24, 2016 the NDP may wait until that date before replacing the Tory appointee.
In many ways, Athabasca University is a microcosm for the challenges of regime change after forty-four years of Progressive Conservative government in Alberta.
But Athabasca University may be able to use its NDP connections to apply pressure to the new government. Mr. MacKinnon is the husband of former Saskatchewan NDP MLA and Finance Minister Janice MacKinnon, who served in Roy Romanow‘s cabinet in the 1990s. Premier Rachel Notley‘s Chief of Staff, Brian Topp, was Mr. Romanow’s deputy chief of staff during that period.
While the new government has been able to remain coy about the future of the institution in its first four months in office, residents of Athabasca will demand to know what the NDP has planned for their university. They may find out this week when Ms. Sigurdson is scheduled to meet with Ms. Mrazek and Mr. MacKinnon.
When Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly gather on June 11 to choose a new Speaker, the seating chart will be unlike anything Albertans have seen in this province’s 110 year history. Premier Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats will occupy the majority of the seats, the Wildrose Party will sit as Official Opposition, and for the first time in 44 years the Progressive Conservative MLAs will sit in the opposition benches.
And with these historical precedents in mind, it will undoubtably be a tough transition for the remaining PC MLAs and their party, who have no institutional memory of how to operate in opposition.
The PC Party has actually appointed a transition team to help navigate the party into opposition. While other provincial conservative parties in Canada can rely on their federal counterpart for assistance, it has been long suspected that many in the Conservative Party of Canada favour the more conservative Wildrose Party over the PCs.
A big challenge facing PC MLAs in the upcoming session of the Legislature is to simply be relevant now that they are no longer in government. Interim leader Ric McIver announced his caucus critic roster today (see the list below) and it will be fascinating to watch how those MLAs perform in their new roles. It is still yet to be seen what the motley crew of nine MLAs that make up the PC Caucus have in common politically, other than wanting to have been elected into government, or if they can even work together as a team.
Who does and does not vie to become the party’s seventh leader in the past ten years will also be telling. Former cabinet ministers Mr. McIver and Manmeet Bhullar are frequently named as possible contenders, as is former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who was unseated by Nicole Goehring in the NDP sweep of Edmonton. What political direction these potential leaders would lead the new party is unknown.
Because of its history and bitter political differences, future floor crossings are not a palatable option and a merger of the PC Party and Wildrose Party would probably not be a match made in heaven. If it is possible for the PC Party to survive outside of government, could it play a role in Alberta politics as an urban based conservative opposition?
Here is the PC Opposition Caucus critic roster for the upcoming session of the Legislature:
This was supposed to be an election campaign about the provincial budget, or at least that is what Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice told Albertans when he called the election one year earlier than the legislated fixed election day.
Despite ignoring the results of own government’s online budget survey, Mr. Prentice and his party plotted forward with their own pre-election budget and “10-year plan,” which was designed to also serve as the PC Party’s re-election platform. Mr. Prentice claimed he needed to call the early election to seek a mandate for a budget that would usher in “generational change” but that same budget is now being amended on the campaign trail.
Mr. Prentice announced today that, despite weeks of defending the decision, he will reverse the unpopular decision to slash the Charitable Donations Tax Credit included the budget. Cutting tax credit for charitable donations from 21% to 12.75% was expected to have dramatically impacted the abilities of not-for-profit organizations and charities to raise funds.
[Note: The generous tax credit for donations made to political parties was not touched.]
While reversing the cut to the charity tax credit is positive, it is disappointing that his party’s plummeting support in the polls was the apparent impetus for Mr. Prentice’s reversal. Cutting the charity tax credit was a bad decision from the beginning. If the polls continue to show the PC Party in a tough electoral position, it now might not be unexpected for Mr. Prentice to reverse more decisions that only a few weeks ago were set in stone in the provincial budget.
The charity tax credit flip flop is eerily reminiscent of what Albertans witnessed under the PC Party recently led by Alison Redfordfrom 2011 to 2014. Numerous times during her premiership, Ms. Redford would make an unpopular decision and spend weeks defending her position only to change her position after it had already damaged her politically (see: the $45,000 flight to South Africa).
Now that Mr. Prentice has reopened the provincial budget for discussion, here are a few other items that the PC Party should consider changing:
Recent polls show a three-way split in support between the Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic and Wildrose Parties have generated some interest in Alberta’s provincial election campaign but with 24 days left until voting day we can expect a lot to change. Here is a quick review of what the politicians were saying and political parties were spinning in the first week of this election campaign.
Mr. Prentice targeted his opponents as extremists while moderating his own tone around Alberta’s economy. Before the election was called, Mr. Prentice’s repeated doom-and-gloom messages led opposition critics to name him “Grim Jim.” The PCs are attempting to present Mr. Prentice as the balanced (a.k.a. safe) candidate, as opposed to the extremist (a.k.a. dangerous) leaders of the opposition.
The recent provincial budget included almost sixty tax and fee increases, including increases to personal taxes but no increases to corporate taxes, which appears to have been a political miscalculation on the part of the PCs. The government’s own budget survey results showed 69% of Albertans support a corporate tax increase, a point the NDP has stressed.
PC MLAs and candidates took to social media to post different variations of a message that 8,900 jobs would be lost if corporate taxes were increased by 1%. It is unclear what study the 8,900 jobs number originates from.
Creating more confusion around corporate tax increases, a PC press release from April 9 stated ‘Prentice pointed out that more than 95% in Alberta are small businesses, employing fewer than 50 people, and questioned those who would put those jobs at risk with a corporate tax increase.” This is a good talking point, if not for the issue that small businesses do not pay corporate tax rates.
According to the Department of Finance website, small businesses earning $500,000 of less profit each year pay a separate 3% small business tax, not the 10% corporate tax applied to companies earning more than $500,000 in profit annually. The PCs dropped the corporate tax rate in Alberta from 15% in 2001 to the current 10% in 2006.
NDP leader Rachel Notleylaunched her party’s election campaign in Edmonton and travelled to Calgary and Lethbridge to campaign with candidates in those cities. It is notable that the NDP are focusing resources on candidates outside of Edmonton, where the party has traditionally been weak. Calgary-Fort candidate Joe Ceci, Calgary-Varsity candidate Stephanie McLean and Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips were prominently placed at Ms. Notley’s side during photo-ops at these stops
NDP messaging in the first week of the campaign focused on the economy. Ms. Notley announced the creation of a Job Creation Tax Credit for businesses as the first NDP election promise, providing balance from their calls for corporate tax increases. The credit sounds reasonable, but much like the PC Party’s 8,900 job loss argument, I am skeptical about this credit creating 27,000 new jobs. The NDP also announced that in-province refining and upgrading is also a top priority. Before the election was called, Ms. Notley’s unveiled her party’s plans to create a Resource Owners’ Rights Commission.
The NDP responded to Mr. Prentice’s “extremist” claims with an “extremist of the week” press release quoting former Premier Peter Lougheed’s support of increased corporate taxes and former Deputy Premier (and current PC candidate) Thomas Lukaszuk support for in-province refining and upgrading.
Focusing on rural Alberta, Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned in southern Alberta and his Fort McMurray constituency this week. While the campaign trail in Strathmore-Brooks, Mr. Jean and candidate Derek Fildebrandt cleverly walked around town with a giant arrow in hand pointing out services and commodities, like alcohol and gas, which became more expensive due to tax increases in the recent provincial budget.
Mr. Jean released his party’s “Five Priorities” that include positions on taxes, health care, education, democracy and rural Alberta. Part of the Wildrose plan to balance the budget by 2017 without raising taxes includes cutting 3,200 management jobs, including 1,600 in Alberta Health Services and 1,600 in the Government public service.
The Wildrose announced they would sell the Kananaskis Golf Course, a publicly owned and privately-operated golf course that the provincial government had paid millions of dollars to repair after it was damaged by floods in 2013.
The Wildrose Party also nominated new candidates this week including City Councillor Buck Buchanan in Red Deer-North, past mayoral candidate Shelley Biermanski in St. Albert, Don Koziak in Edmonton-Glenora and Ian Crawford in Edmonton-Riverview.
The Green Party published a media release criticizing the PC Government’s record on environmental regulation, describing it as a “fake, not authentic, regulation and thus an insult to the intelligence, dignity and trusting nature of Albertans.” The release takes issue with the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and calls on the government to create a regulator that understands the impact of proposed activity and puts rules in place to prevent any unacceptable impacts.
The Parkland Institute released a new report looking at political values of Albertans. Public Interest Alberta released its “Priorities for Change” report as a resource for political candidates in this election And Change Alberta has returned to rank the progressive candidates most likely to win in constituencies across Alberta.
The Alberta Legislature returned for what is expected to be short sitting before an expected Spring election. With the provincial budget scheduled to be tabled on March 26 and the last major round of Progressive Conservative candidate nominations being held on March 28, many political observers are speculating that the writ of election could be called on March 30, 2015. If the writ is dropped on March 30, the 2015 election will be held on April 27, 2015.
Making amends for Bill 10 The backwards Gay-Straight Alliance law introduced by PC MLA Sandra Jansen in December 2014 was heavily amended and passed on the first day of this Assembly sitting. When Bill 10 was first introduced last year, it faced harsh public criticism from across the country as it would have allowed school boards to ban the student-led clubs and force students to appeal those decisions through the courts. The newly amended version will do the opposite.
This is a big win for Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who’s private members’ bill – Bill 202 – forced PC MLAs into some very uncomfortably conversations about gender, sexuality and bullying in Alberta schools last year. At its core, this debate was really about whether the government should block students from setting up clubs, and the initial version of Bill 10 was largely considered to be Jim Prentice’s first big fumble as Premier. The amended law will likely defuse any backlash to the original controversial legislation during the upcoming election.
During the Bill 10 debates, opposition MLAs were joined by PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths and Jason Luan, who spoke out against the government’s bill. Sources say PC Caucus staff were directed to keep a watchful eye over Mr. Lukaszuk after his outspoken criticism of the GSA bill.
The Wildrose Sideshow The Wildrose Party held its first leadership debate this week in Red Deer. The three candidates – Drew Barnes, Brian Jean and Linda Osinchuk – face the significant challenge of trying to generate public interest in a leadership vote only weeks before a general election is expected to be called. The party’s new leader will be announced on March 28, 2015.
PC nomination controversy Recent PC nomination candidate Dixie Dahlstedt submitted an official complaint to the PC Party about the conduct of the party’s recent nomination vote in the Bonnyville-Cold Lake constituency. Ms. Dahlstedt’s complaint lists a series of objections about the organization of the nomination and calls for the party to conduct an inquiry.
PC nomination hopefuls Don Martin and Balraj Manhas told Metro Edmonton they were unfairly pushed out of candidate nomination contests in Edmonton-Decore and Edmonton-Ellerslie. Both constituencies are currently represented by PC MLAs who were acclaimed as candidates in the next election.
That town from Footloose… The southern Alberta Town of Taber has become the source of national ridicule and confusion after town councillors voted to ban yelling, swearing and spiting. The new bylaw also allows police to break up assemblies of three or more people, which is likely unconstitutional. But the biggest surprise to this writer is that Taber has its own municipal police force, which is incredibly uncommon for a town of its size in Alberta.