Is Alberta ready to face the challenges of climate change?
Climate activist and communicator Chris Gusen joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss Alberta politics, climate justice, and a Green New Deal on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.
Chris shares some insight into his transition from his role as the Alberta government’s Director of Identity to his current volunteer efforts with Extinction Rebellion and Climate Justice Edmonton, and what meaningful action against climate change could look like in Alberta.
As always, a big thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the show sound so good.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
The 1358th chapter of the ongoing saga of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project ended today as the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously ruled to dismiss four challenges by First Nations in British Columbia.
Speaking in Montreal today, Premier Jason Kenneylauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, telling reporters that “I have my disagreements with Prime Minister Trudeau on a number of issues … but I think they did realize there has to be at least one project that gets Canadian energy to global markets so we can get a fair price.”
3000 kilometres away from Alberta is probably a safe distance for Kenney to effuse some praise for Trudeau, something he likely wouldn’t be caught dead doing back home. But praising Trudeau for a pipeline that is deeply unpopular in Quebec while he is in that province’s largest city is a shrewd piece of political theatre on Kenney’s part.
Since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017, Kenney has used the pipeline as a cudgel against his political opponents, tarring Trudeau and former premier Rachel Notley as opponents of a project they spent incredible amounts of political capital to see completed.
The creation of the publicly funded Canadian Energy Centre (aka The Energy War Room), a government-sponsored public relations company run by failed UCP candidate Tom Olsen and boasting a $30-million annual budget, has been front and centre in the government’s new approach.
The court ruled that First Nations have no veto and cannot refuse to compromise or insist a project be cancelled, and found that the federal government made genuine effort to consult and accommodated concerns raised by First Nations communities.
While this decision is expected to be appealed by First Nations groups at the Supreme Court, and will likely have political implications if UNDRIP is implemented in Canada, it is likely that the next round of opposition to the pipeline project will come in the form of civil disobedience and direct action.
This isn’t over yet.
UCP releases radical health care report, and look! Jason Kenney is leaving the country, again!
Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it seems pretty darn convenient that Premier Kenney was on a plane to Quebec when Health Minister Tyler Shandro shared a stage with Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu and Ernst & Young spokesperson John Bethel (who attentive readers will remember as the 2004 federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-East) in announcing the release of the international management corporation’s $2-million report on Alberta Health Services.
The report is big and bristling with the kind of ideological and predictable recommendations that you would expect from the right-wing Fraser Institute, which was cited a few times in the report. Privatization of services ranging from long-term care to security, gutting of collective agreements and salary rollbacks, and closure of rural hospitals were among the many recommendations included in the report.
While Shandro was clear that he would not risk further alienating his party’s rural base by closing rural hospitals, despite the report’s recommendations, the report did deliver the UCP with a powerful talking point – $1.9 billion in potential savings.
The report suggests that if all its recommendations were implemented, the government could potentially save $1.9 billion in costs to the health care system (of course, many of those costs could be transferred to patients). It might be unlikely that all of the recommendations will be implemented, but expect to hear Shandro repeat that $1.9 billion number, a lot.
Meanwhile, Kenney will soon leave Quebec for meetings in Washington D.C.
Kenney’s office stops releasing public travel itineraries
The Premier’s Office under Kenney appears to have stopped publicly releasing the Premier’s itinerary ahead of inter provincial or international trips. Previous premiers commonly released a brief daily itinerary that listed who or which organizations the Premier and their staff were scheduled to meet with.
A lack of publicly released itinerary meant that Albertans discovered on Twitter that Kenney’s trip to New York City in September 2019 included a speech at a reception hosted by the right-wing Manhattan Institute. It was also revealed by the Alberta Today newsletter through Freedom of Information requests that Kenney also held court at a historic speakeasy in midtown Manhattan, an event that was not listed in the standard government press release announcing his trip.
Kenney’s office also did not release an itinerary for his December 2019 trip to London, UK, citing concerns that individuals he was meeting with could be targeted by climate change advocacy groups.
With no journalists from Alberta accompanying Kenney on his international trips, the release of public itineraries is an important way to ensure some basic accountability and transparency when the Premier is travelling out of province on the public dime.
Note: Past requests for public itineraries of Premier Kenney’s international trips have gone unanswered by the Premier’s Office.
The results across Canada were a mixed colour of red, orange, green, blue, and bleu as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is returning to Ottawa to form a new Liberal minority government. But the results in Alberta were anything but mixed.
The Conservative Party earned 69.2 percent of the total vote in Alberta in Monday’s federal election, which is 3 percent higher than the party’s previous high-water mark of 66.8 in Alberta in the 2011 federal election.
It is no surprise that the vast majority of Albertans voted Conservative and that nearly all of the province’s elected Members of Parliament are also Conservative. This has happened in virtually every election since I was born, and about 25 years before that too.
Conservative candidates were elected or re-elected in most ridings in ranges from 70 percent to over 80 percent. It appears that Battle River-Crowfoot remains the strongest Conservative voting riding in Canada, with 85 percent of voters in that riding supporting the Conservatives.
Conservatives also dominated in Alberta’s two largest cities, earning 69 percent in Calgary, and 63 percent of the vote in Edmonton, which voted overwhelmingly for the Alberta NDP in the recent provincial election.
The Conservative Party and its predecessor parties have dominated Alberta for decades, and the Conservative have represented the majority of Alberta’s federal ridings since 1958, and have held all of the province’s seats from 1972 to 1977, 1977 to 1988 and 2006 to 2008.
This election has once again reminded Canadians of the regional divides in our country but it should also not be a surprise. Regional division is a feature of Canadian politics and our First Past the Post electoral system exaggerates these divides.
While the NDP convincingly held off Conservative challenger Conservative Sam Lilly and Liberal Eleanor Olszewski, this election further exposed fractures between the provincial and federal NDP in Alberta.
McPherson’s opponents delighted in a decision by Rachel Notley to withhold her endorsement of McPherson until days before election day but it appears to have had no impact on the results in the riding. McPherson finished with 47 percent of the vote, four points ahead of now-former MP Linda Duncan‘s results from 2015.
The Liberals saw their province-wide vote total in Alberta cut to 13.7 percent, down from 24.6 percent in 2015. The personal unpopularity of Trudeau in Alberta, fuelled by angst and frustration with the current economic situation and the consistently low international price of oil, made it very unlikely that the Liberals would do well in Alberta in 2019.
Despite Sohi’s loss in Monday’s election, the congenial and personally popular politician is frequently named as a potential candidate for Edmonton’s 2021 mayoral election if Don Iveson decides not to seek re-election.
What could a Liberal minority government mean for Albertans?
The prospect of the Liberal minority government influenced by the NDP and Greens could lead to the introduction of new national programs that will benefit Albertans – including universal pharmacare and dental care, and expanded childcare coverage – and the prospect of real electoral reform that could ease some of the rigid political divides we saw in Monday’s election.
Trudeau announced today that his government plans to move ahead with the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, despite delays caused by court challenges from First Nations communities. Because the construction of the pipeline project does not require any votes of Parliament, the minority situation is not likely to impact the construction of the project.
Oil pipeline aside, the Liberals are expected to push forward on their climate change plans, including the introduction of a federal carbon tax in Alberta next year. In what could be a sign of changing times, New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs announced his plans to create a provincial carbon tax, dropping his opposition the federal carbon tax.
Kenney still campaigning…
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is showing no sign he plans to end his campaign against Trudeau, announcing this week that he has sent a letter to the prime minister outlining the Alberta government’s demands, including a plan for a resource corridor and changes to the equalization formula (none of which Trudeau campaigned for ahead of Monday’s election).
Kenney has announced plans to hold a series of town hall meetings to gauge voter frustration following the federal election. This could be similar to the MLA Committee on Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by Ralph Klein and chaired by Edmonton MLA Ian McClelland in 2004, which travelled the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto (the committee’s final report rejected most of the manifesto’s proposals).
The town halls are both a relief valve and a steering wheel that allows people to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney, as Klein would say, to try to keep ahead of the crowd.
The results in Alberta and bot-driven promotion of the #wexit hashtag on Twitter have fuelled a surge of media interest of Alberta separatism, an idea that has no wide-spread support in this province.
Many Albertans are feeling a real sense of frustration with the federal government, as Monday’s election results demonstrate, but there is no evidence that Albertans are flocking en masse to separatism. None.
In the heart of Canada’s oil country, the biggest crowd I have ever seen in this province rallied down the streets of downtown Edmonton to the steps of the Alberta Legislature for today’s Climate Strike march.
The crowd of more than 10,000 converged on the Legislature grounds to hear from a long list of speakers, but they were mostly all there to hear from Greta Thunberg. The 16-year old international environmental activist announced three days ago that she would be in Edmonton and the massive turnout today is a testament to her star power, the remarkable on the ground organization of climate justice and indigenous groups in Alberta, and the growing importance of climate change in Alberta – and in Monday’s federal election.
“And we are not doing this because we want to. We aren’t doing it because it’s fun. We’re aren’t doing it because we have a special interest in the climate or because we want to become politicians when we grow up,” Thunberg told the massive crowd.
“We are doing this because our future is at stake.”
Thunberg avoided talking about the federal election or hot button local issues like the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project and oilsands emissions, and instead focused on the need to recognize the science and the political action that leaders need to take to address climate change.
Organizers of the Climate Strike in Edmonton included Climate Justice Edmonton, Edmonton Youth for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, and Beaver Hills Warriors. Along with Thunberg, speakers at the rally included Saddle Lake Cree Nation Headwoman, Pamela Quinn, student and organizer with Edmonton Youth for Climate Luke Nelson, Dene Tha First Nation youth activists Lynn Morin and Portia Morin, Climate Justice Edmonton organizer Batul Gulamhusein, student Edmonton Youth for Climate organizer Madison Prairie.
The 30 or so trucks that formed the pro-oil convoy that travelled from Red Deer and Nisku to downtown Edmonton made some noise, as did small groups of red hatted counter-protesters, but they were eclipsed by the sheer size of the crowd of Albertans participating in the Climate Strike.
There has been a lot of commentary about the fragility of pro-oil protesters who felt the need to counter-protest a 16-year old. But as political observer Chris Henderson posted on Twitter yesterday, they should feel threatened. Everywhere Greta Thunberg goes, she resonates orders of magnitude higher, just like she did today in Edmonton.
‘Alberta doesn’t matter’ is a comment I have heard frequently during this federal election campaign. Alberta does matter in this election, but not for all the most obvious reasons.
With the Conservative Party in a position to once again sweep Alberta, it is no surprise that the party leaders and parties are not spending much time or resources in the country’s fourth largest province.
This lack of electoral competitiveness, partly a result of Albertans’ historical choice to vote loyally for the Conservative Party and partly a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system, means that there is little incentive for the other parties to direct many resources or attention our way during federal elections.
As a politically astute friend of mine pointed out, by time she leaves Edmonton after tomorrow’s climate strike at the Legislature, 16-year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg will have spent more time in Alberta during this election than any of the federal party leaders.
But while the vast majority of ridings in this province will likely elect Conservative candidates on October 21, it is a stretch to say Alberta doesn’t matter. On a national level, Alberta politicians could play a big part in whichever party forms government.
Kenney, along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, will play prominent political roles as key supporters of Scheer in the national Conservative movement. The mood among United Conservative Party MLAs would likely be incredibly jubilant for the remainder of this fall session of the Alberta Legislature.
Efforts will also be made to remove the national carbon tax and climate change initiatives but opposition from Quebec Premier François Legault would likely stall any plans to create a National Energy Corridor for future pipeline projects.
Scenario B: Liberals form government
If the Liberals form government, then any Liberal MPs elected from Alberta would almost certainly be appointed to cabinet. If the Liberals form government without any MPs from Alberta, which was the case from 1972 to 1977 and 1979 to 1984, there would need to be some serious creative thinking about how our province could be best represented in the federal government.
Kenney would likely continue his national campaign against Trudeau and could be widely touted as a potential successor to Scheer, which could kickoff a Conservative leadership race before a future federal election and a UCP leadership race in Alberta.
The UCP government would continue to oppose the federal carbon tax and climate change programs implemented by the federal Liberals. Kenney has also pledged to hold a province-wide referendum on reopening negotiations for the national equalization formula if the Liberals form government, a vote that would be held on the same day as the 2021 municipal elections.
Operating as a provincial-wing of the Conservative Party of Canada, the UCP would likely continue to scramble its MLAs and cabinet ministers across the province and country campaigning with Conservative candidates in vote-rich areas in Ontario and Quebec. The UCP would likely print another round of anti-Trudeau bumper stickers for its supporters to slap on the back of their trucks or cars.
It would be very difficult to imagine Alberta’s UCP government having a productive working relationship with a re-elected Liberal government in Ottawa.
Scenario C: The NDP form government
Maybe one of the more unlikely scenarios in this election, but if Singh leads the NDP to win this election, or if the NDP holds the balance of power in a minority parliament, then every MP, including one from Alberta, could play a big role in the next parliament.
It is difficult to explain the level of political insanity an NDP government in Ottawa would cause in the halls of the Alberta Legislature – in both the UCP and Alberta NDP caucuses.
The Pipeline and Climate Change
No look at Canadian politics in 2019 is complete without mentioning the pipeline. Almost every realistic scenario in this federal election has the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project being constructed, as it is supported by both the Liberals and Conservatives.
The Trudeau government spent a significant amount of political and real financial capital when it purchased the pipeline project before Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was about to shut it down, but there is no sign of any electoral payoff because of it for the Liberals in Alberta.
The lack of electoral payoff for such a significant investment does not provide much political incentive for future federal governments to make large investments in Alberta’s fossil fuel infrastructure.
The oil pipeline has become a symbol of political frustration in Alberta. Western alienation is a permanent feature of Alberta politics and it tends to ebb and flow depending on which party has formed government in Ottawa. Frustration caused by the decline of the international price of oil in 2014 is real, emotionally driven, and increasingly drawn along partisan lines.
There is a distinct feeling of a lack of urgency about dealing with climate change in Alberta that sets us apart from much of the rest of Canada. Not only do we risk becoming increasingly isolated on the national and international stage, but if our own provincial leaders continue to demonstrate they do not take climate change seriously we risk having solutions imposed on us.
In a House of Commons dominated by Liberal, NDP, Green and Bloc Quebecois MPs who were elected on platforms that prominently featured climate change policies, it is hard to imagine that Alberta will not matter.
Alberta matters a lot in this election, and we are probably going to matter a lot more after the October 21 election, whether we like it or not.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. 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.
The NDP campaign has revolved around Notley, who is the party’s strongest asset, with signs showing her name and smiling face appearing as frequently as local candidate’s in electoral districts across Alberta.
While the 20 to 30 per cent province-wide lead that the United Conservative Party held months ago appears to have evaporated into a 6 to 10 per cent lead, most polls show the NDP are still in second place in Calgary. With the NDP appearing to hold a healthy lead in Edmonton and the UCP dominating in rural Alberta, the narrative in the final week of the campaign has become all about Calgary.
But the regional divide is only one part of the picture. As Jason Markusoff noted in his Maclean’s election newsletter, some polls suggest there is a significant divide in party support among men and women, with one poll showing the UCP leading among men by 16 points and the NDP leading among women by 1 point. The prominence of nasty social conservative comments raised in this campaign, like the ones made by UCP candidate Mark Smith from Drayton Valley-Devon, has likely contributed to this gender divide.
Scheer’s appearance comes days after Kenney has threatened to enact legislation to shut off the flow of oil and gas to British Columbia if that province’s government opposes the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Such a move would almost certainly be unconstitutional, which is why the NDP passed but never proclaimed the law, and would likely foster more opposition to Alberta’s efforts than create support.
But back to Scheer… it is somewhat unusual to see a federal Conservative party leader campaigning in a provincial election in Alberta.
It is important to recognize that the merger of the PC and Wildrose parties in 2017 was just as much about uniting those two parties as it was creating a dominant provincial conservative party that would march in step with the Conservative Party in Ottawa. With this in mind, Kenney remains very much a national politician with ambitions beyond the Premier’s Office in Edmonton.
Scheer’s appearance on the campaign trail will come the day after it was revealed that his campaign chair, Hamish Marshall, allegedly threatened to sue the UCP over voting security during the party’s 2017 leadership race. CBC reported that email addresses fraudulently attached to party memberships were used to cast ballots in the party’s leadership race and there were virtually no safeguards against the practice.
In 1972, PC cabinet minister Dave Russellpublicly suggested that Alberta should annex parts of the North West and Yukon territories: “It makes sense in view of transportation and pipelines,” Russell told the Calgary Herald on April 19, 1972.
We are in pre-election mode in this episode as Dave and Ryan discuss the health care and education curriculum debate between the New Democratic Party and United Conservative Party, the unsurprising recent Trans Mountain Pipeline report from the National Energy Board, and the latest from the SNC-Lavalin/Justin Trudeau/Jody Wilson-Raybould fiasco.
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.
Reading the pages of the Postmedia newspapers or the #ableg hashtag on Twitter you might believe that Albertans from roughneck Fort McMurray to trendy Kensington are calling for Independence and rising up in arms against their political overlords in Ottawa.
A flurry of recent opinion-editorials and columns in the pages of Canada’s Postmedia newspapers have been fanning the flames of discontent and frustration in Alberta. The discontent and perennial alienation from Ottawa is mostly a result of the economic slump and a delay in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, but it is difficult to believe that there is any real appetite for Albertans to leave Canada, and the consequences that would follow.
Three years later, Alberta is not Greece and probably should not be looking to Brexit for inspiration.
The arguments for Alberta’s separation from Canada are so weak and the concept of forming an Alberta Republic is so ridiculous that even the thought of writing this article made me cringe. It is the political equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum. But because I am a sucker for punishment, here I go.
Among the many of the disastrous consequences of Alberta leaving Canada would be that it would become virtually impossible to get any new pipelines constructed to the deep water ports that pipeline proponents argue the province’s oil industry needs.
If you believe it has already been acrimonious to get the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion built in two provinces, just imagine how difficult it would be to negotiate a pipeline project with a suddenly hostile foreign government, whether it be the prime minister of Canada in Ottawa or the president of the Pacific Republic of British Columbia in Victoria. Not to mention the inconvenient fact that the Government of Canada actually owns said pipeline and its expansion project.
Some will argue that the United States of America would open its borders to Alberta or even welcome it as the 51st State, but it seems unlikely that the American government would want to antagonize Ottawa by dealing with a landlocked rogue nation and cause trouble on it’s northern borders.
American corporations already dominate our economy, which saves the US government the messy business of having to govern us. And the likelihood that most Albertans would be inclined to vote for the Democratic Party would also make the statehood route less appealing for many in America’s political establishment.
The Canadian Government saved Trans Mountain by purchasing the pipeline and the expansion project just as Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. was preparing to withdraw their application for expansion. The government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid $4.5 billion for the pipeline and project, and it is expected Ottawa could spend another $7 billion on the project after it meets the necessary conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal.
The Federal Court of Appeal ordered a stop to the project in August 2018 after the National Energy Board and federal government failed to conduct a proper environmental impact assessment of the increase of marine traffic and failed to properly consult First Nations communities along the route in the final phase of the approval process.
While Trudeau clearly sees the pipeline expansion as a national priority worth spending serious political and real financial capital on, it is unlikely to bring him positive electoral returns in Alberta in 2019. Despite purchasing the pipeline, ensuring it will be built, and announcing $1.6 billion in loans and financial support to the oil and gas industry, support for Trudeau in Alberta has dropped like a lead balloon.
“We didn’t ask for the opportunity to go further into debt as a means of addressing this problem,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in response to the federal government’s bailout package.
It is unclear what Alberta’s politicians want to be done in the meantime. Many are calling the pipeline the only solution to Alberta’s economic problems. The big problem with that argument, if you believe pipelines are the solution, is that even if the Trans Mountain expansion project meets the conditions set by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2019 it might not actually be finished construction until 2022 or 2023. And even if other failed pipeline projects are resurrected, they might take even longer to complete.
That a Prime Minister named Trudeau is not popular in Alberta is no shock. The ingrained hatred for Trudeau and his father in the minds of many Albertans ensures that no matter what the Liberal government in Ottawa does to support our province, it will be seen as either a failure or a hostile attack.
While separatist sentiments bubble up in Alberta politics every decade or so, the last serious political push happened more than 35 years ago, when Western Canada Concept candidate Gordon Kesler won a February 17, 1982 by-election in the former Social Credit fortress of Olds-Didsbury.
The separatist MLA said at his swearing-in ceremony that he had “a lot of responsibility to those who believe in freedom and free enterprise,” but then spent the next few months in the Assembly railing against the metric system and official bilingualism. He and his party were crushed by Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative juggernaut in the November 1982 general election.
Other separatist parties have come and gone since, but they have all faded in the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.
Meanwhile, outside of the margins of conservative opinion writers and anonymous twitter accounts, two recent polls show that while Albertans might be a little angrier, support for separation remains consistently low.
A recent poll conducted by the research company Ipsos found that “Albertans are a little angrier at the moment, but across the west there is little interest in separation and most measures of connection to Canada are consistent with prior polls taken conducted as long ago as 1997.”
“The level of support for the idea of an independent Alberta is roughly the same as it was in surveys conducted in 2014 and 2016,” said Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “Four years ago, with a Progressive Conservative government in Edmonton and a Conservative government in Ottawa, the findings were similar to what is observed in 2018.”
The vast majority of Albertans remain proud Canadians regardless of which party has been elected to run the government in Ottawa. The frustration felt by many Albertans towards Ottawa over pipelines construction delays and the low international price of oil should not be ignored, but let’s not pretend that separating from Canada is a viable solution to our economic problems, because it’s not.
The First Minister’s Meeting, oil prices, and Premier Rachel Notley’s performance on the national stage are where we started the discussion in this episode. Dave and Ryan also delved into the latest nomination news and what 2019 holds for Alberta politics, including when the next provincial and federal elections could be called.
We also discuss our choices for theDaveberta Best of Alberta Politics 2018 Survey. Submissions will close on December 12, 2018 at 12:00pm and the top three choices in each category will be included in a round of voting starting on December 13, 2018. Voting will be open until December 19 and the winners will be announced on December 20, 2018.
Thanks to everyone who sent us questions for this episode. We had so many great questions that we have recorded a special episode dedicated to answering your questions that will be published for your listening pleasure on December 24, 2018.
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.
The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.
According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.
One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.
Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform.
In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.
Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.
Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.
But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.
Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.
A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65.
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.
Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?
Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics.
There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise.
According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.”
The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.
Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.
Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.
McLean was elected with 43.9 percent of the vote in the 2015 election, and along with this district’s history of electing Liberal Harry Chase from 2004 to 2012, the NDP see holding Calgary-Varsity as a priority in 2019.
She was later a spokesperson for the Alberta Status of Women Action Committee and ran for the Alberta NDP in Calgary-Bow in the 1993 election and in Calgary-McCall during a 1995 by-election. She also ran for the leadership of the Alberta NDP, challenging then leader Ross Harvey and earning 118 votes to Harvey’s 177 at the party’s 1995 convention.
She enters the nomination contest in Calgary-Varsity as Notley’s approval numbers have jumped following the Premier’s tough talk in response to the latest setbacks in the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.
Calgary-Bow – Lawyer Byron Nelson is seeking the UCP nomination. Nelson was the Progressive Conservative Party candidate in this district in 2015 and ran for the leadership of the PC Party in 2017 (he finished in third place with support from 2.7 percent of the voting delegates at the party’s convention). Harry Fleming has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest and is now working as a Communications Advisor at the UCP Caucus office.
Camrose – Steven Hansen is seeking the Alberta Party nomination and Trevor Miller is seeking the UCP nomination. Miller was the Wildrose Party candidate in Wetaskiwin-Camrose in 2012, where he placed second with 31.8 percent of the vote. The UCP nomination contest in this district is turning into a Wildrose Stomp, as Miller faces Jackie Lovely, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015, and Brandon Lunty, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election.
Edmonton-Glenora – Glen Tickner is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Lethbridge-East – Motivational speaker and consultant Kimberly Lyall is seeking the UCP nomination.
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