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Alberta Politics

More turmoil in Kenney’s Caucus: UCP MLA Richard Gotfried resigns as chair of the Calgary Caucus and criticizes “hypocrisy” in government leadership

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried is the latest member of the United Conservative Party Caucus to publicly criticize his party’s leadership.

According to a statement and comments on Facebook, Gotfried resigned as chair of the UCP’s Calgary Caucus last Thursday so that he can have “even more latitude to speak unreservedly on matters of principle, ethics and government/caucus operations…”

“I call upon all elected representatives at all levels of government across our province to show leadership, to act responsibly and to avoid the hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make and the sacrifices/responsible behaviour we have been asking of each and every Albertan for the past 15 months,” Gotfried wrote in a post on his MLA Facebook page.

Gotfried’s statement was written in a very respectful tone and didn’t name Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews or Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon, who were pictured in the photos of the boozy Sky Palace patio party that circulated on social media last week, but reading between the lines it was pretty clear who his message was directed to.

Richard Gotfried United Conservative Party MLA Calgary-Fish Creek
Richard Gotfried’s statement on Facebook

The timing of Gotfried’s statement follows the release of the final report of the Facility-based Continuing Care Review that Gotfried led, which was almost completely overshadowed by the boozy Sky Palace patio party and Kenney’s ill-timed lecture in defence of Sir John A Macdonald.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Gotfried is the sponsor of Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act, a government bill designed to shield owners of long-term care centers from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

He was first elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 under the UCP banner. He endorsed Kenney in the 2017 PC Party leadership race.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-Two Hills MLA David Hanson, and cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Rajan Sawhney have publicly called on Kenney to apologize for violating the government’s own COVID-19 public health rules by hosting the boozy patio party on the 11th floor balcony of the Federal Building in Edmonton.

Kenney and his staff continue to deny he broke any rules.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen were ejected from the UCP Caucus three weeks ago after Loewen called on Kenney to resign as leader of the party.


Notley leads only united party left in AlbertaRachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

In a clear contrast to what is happening in the UCP Caucus, delegates to the Alberta NDP convention this past weekend gave Rachel Notley’s leadership a huge endorsement. When the ballots were counted, 98.2 per cent of NDP delegates endorsed Notley’s leadership in the mandatory leadership review vote held at every NDP convention.

The convention included the usual debate over policy positions and motions and a host of panels featuring Democratic strategists from Arizona and municipal politicians from rural Alberta.

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Alberta Politics

Kenney’s reaction to boozy Sky Palace patio party photos sparks another UCP Caucus rebellion

Any appearance that Premier Jason Kenney had regained control over his United Conservative Party caucus three weeks ago when rebel MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen were ejected was shattered this weekend.

A handful of UCP MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, are now publicly calling on the Kenney to apologize for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions by hosting a boozy Sky Palace patio party that was caught on camera.

The photos of Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, and senior political staff dining at a booze filled table atop the penthouse patio of the notorious Sky Palace circulated on social media this week.

Boozy Sky Palace Patio Party Jason Kenney Tyler Shandro Travis Toews Jason Nixon
One of the now infamous boozy Sky Palace patio party photos.

Kenney and company were clearly breaking the government’s own public health restrictions. But, instead of admitting they made a mistake and moving on, the Premier’s political staff jumped on social media to aggressively attack anyone who criticized their leader, claiming they did not break any rules.

But some UCP MLAs remain pretty unconvinced.

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, a leader of the UCP’s COVID-18, posted on Facebook that it was clear that Kenney and the senior cabinet ministers were breaking public health restrictions.

“Looking at these photos it seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated,” wrote Pitt.

Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills UCP MLA David Hanson posted on Facebook that he agreed with Pitt. “I’m with you Angela. Albertans are angry, again, and rightly so, disappointing,” Hanson wrote.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer (source: YouTube)

And today, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, who also serves as Deputy Leader of the UCP and Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women, called on Kenney to “sincerely apologize” for breaking public health rules.

Aheer also took Kenney to task over his long-winded lecture defending Sir John A. Macdonald and claims that critics of Canada’s first Prime Minister are engaging in “cancel culture.”

Kenney’s comments were incredibly insensitive in light of the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former Residential School in Kamloops. Kenney’s comments prompted strong responses from the Confederation of Treaty Six First Nations and the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta.

Jason Kenney Rajan Sawhney Calgary North East
Jason Kenney and Rajan Sawhney (source: YouTube)

Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, the UCP MLA for Calgary-North East, also called on Kenney to apologize for his boozy Sky Palace patio party.

“If they have committed a mistake, they must accept it openly. (The) photo clearly speaks,” Sawhney said on RED 106.7 FM in Calgary.

Meanwhile, Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan is calling on the Kenney government to launch a public inquiry into the cost of its public health restrictions.

In this case, the attempted coverup was probably worse than the crime. Most Albertans would probably have accepted a quick apology from Kenney and his senior cabinet ministers for the rule breaking that so obviously occurred in the photos.

Kenney’s inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his staff’s overly aggressive attacks on anyone who pointed out what was clearly happening in the photos, has only given his opponents in the UCP caucus another reason to publicly criticize him.

This is certainly not the type of criticism that a Premier with a 16 per cent approval rating should be courting.

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Alberta Politics

Who could replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party?

With all the talk of challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s embattled leadership of the United Conservative Party, his and his party’s plummeting approval ratings and lacklustre fundraising in the first three months of 2021, there has been surprisingly little talk about who might be in a position to succeed Kenney if he is pushed out of office.

Here is a quick list of a few conservative politicians who could possibly be in the running to replace Kenney as leader of the raucous UCP:

Drew Barnes – First elected in the Wildrose sweep of southern rural Alberta in 2012, Barnes refused to cross the floor with his colleagues in 2014 and was re-elected as the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat in 2015.

The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.

Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.

Using social media Cooper has helped demystify the Office of the Speaker through informative and humourous videos. But many felt he stepped over the line by taking positions on politically charged issues, something the Speaker is traditionally expected to avoid. Earlier this month he was called out by Kenney and was forced to back down after signing a public letter with 14 other UCP MLAs calling for public health restrictions to be lifted just as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta.

Jim Dinning His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.

Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.

Brian Jean – Jean won the leadership of the Wildrose Party on the eve of the 2015 election and helped save the party from oblivion. But there wasn’t much room left for him in the UCP after losing the leadership race to Kenney in 2017.

The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.

Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.

While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.

Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer – The current Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and former Minister of Justice, Schweitzer was first elected as the UCP MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2019 after unseating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. The former downtown Calgary lawyer and former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and later ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest.

Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.

Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The  accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 70: Who was the most unpopular Premier in Alberta history?

We dive into our mailbag and answer some great questions sent in by Daveberta Podcast listeners. From the possibility of a United Conservative Party leadership review to Premier Jason Kenney’s new health care-friendly talking points to the Alberta Party leadership to the unpopularity of premiers Richard Reid and John Brownlee, you sent us a lot of great questions!

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, 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.

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Alberta Politics

Some Assembly Required: Wildrosers make for a raucous caucus

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is back in session next week after a weeklong Constituency Break that immediately followed last Thursday’s budget announcement. While Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have been testing out their new health care friendly talking points this week, pandemic politics inside the United Conservative Party caucus threaten to derail the Premier’s Spring agenda.

An unofficial “end the lockdown caucus” inside the UCP caucus, which originally included outspoken MLA Drew Barnes and Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt – but now appears to have expanded to include former Wildrose MLAs Todd Loewen, Ron Orr, Dave Hanson and rookie MLA Michaela Glasgo (according to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell) – is causing problems for Kenney.

The group of disgruntled backbenchers are unhappy they are being kept out of the loop on public health decisions and want COVID public health measures lifted more quickly and on a regional basis. That most of the six-pack of UCP dissenters come from the former Wildrose caucus is not surprising. The former opposition party was notoriously raucous and unwilling to bow to the kind of centralized party leadership that Kenney would have become accustomed to during his many years in Ottawa.

But they aren’t alone. I’m told that there may be another 10 to 20 UCP backbenchers who are supportive of the six-pack but haven’t said so publicly and number of them are agitating for a leadership review to happen before the 2023 election.

Barnes in particular continues to play a game of chicken with Kenney, almost daring the Premier to kick him out of the caucus. After he was overlooked for a cabinet spot following the 2019 election, Barnes has been outspoken on his support for Alberta autonomy from Canada, has called on Kenney to appoint him as Minister of Autonomy, and most recently declared that he has not yet decided whether he will endorse the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews last week.

Kenney has been very cautious not to alienate the right-wing of his party, which explains why he hasn’t come down hard on Barnes in the past, but with more UCP backbenchers speaking out against the Premier it is beginning  to look like he’s losing control.

That Barnes remains in the UCP caucus today is a sign that Kenney is desperate not to have another conservative party represented in the Assembly – a split that would immediately undermine the entire “United Conservative” project that Kenney helped spearhead four years ago.

Already 1 Independent

Already outside the UCP Caucus is Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, who is sitting as an Independent after he was removed from the UCP caucus following a chorus of calls for his resignation by local municipal leaders and the revelation of questionable expense claims. This all happened after a Christmas vacation to Mexico got him caught up in the hot holiday scandal.

While he now sits in the far corner of the opposition benches, Rehn has been acting on social media as if he is still a UCP MLA by regularity posting government press releases and statements.

New Municipal Affairs Minister?

And speaking of the hot holiday scandal, Kenney has yet to appoint a new Minister of Municipal Affairs following the resignation of former minister Tracy Allard after her unfortunate hot holiday in Hawaii.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver has been serving in a double-role as Municipal Affairs Minister, and there is some speculation that that Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton might be up for a promotion. The affable former Spruce Grove city councillor i chair of the UCP Capital Regional Caucus and Kenney’s special envoy to private sector unions.

Rodeo is back

Calgary-North UCP MLA Muhammad Yaseen has introduced a private members’ bill that would make rodeo the official sport of Alberta.

This is not the first time this idea has come up in the Legislative Assembly. Another UCP MLA introduced a private members’ motion calling for this last year and way back in 2008, outgoing Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft did the same (I worked on the caucus communications support for Taft’s motion).

The naysayers may claim it is just a distraction, that it would be controversial, and just play into outdated stereotypes. They are probably correct, but I say go for it. Yahoo! Yeehaw! Saddle up!

(Photo source: Travel Alberta)

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Alberta Politics

UCP swaps “fiscal reckoning” for a kinder gentler budget slashing hand

It took about a year but Alberta’s United Conservative Party government finally pivoted away from its “fiscal reckoning” rhetoric in exchange for a more kinder and gentler tone. In this year’s Provincial Budget, tabled in the Legislative Assembly today, “Protecting Lives and Livelihoods” has replaced the doom and gloom messages promoted by Finance Minister Travis Toews for most of 2019 and 2020.

The change in talking points and press conference backdrops is a reflection of a change in Albertans’ priorities since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. The UCP’s “jobs, economy and pipelines” slogan that more accurately reflected the mood of many Albertans back in April 2019 has been replaced with talking points focused on funding health care and creating jobs. It is also an acknowledgment that cheerleading the slashing of public services has become politically unpalatable.

But what marks a pivot in messaging does not necessarily mark a change in the political project. The broad and deep budget cuts that Toews was said to be lobbying for are probably only put on hold until next year and the UCP is still moving forward with plans to privatize large swaths of the health care system and layoff more than 11,000 health care workers.

We’re not on a path of cost cutting. We’re on a path of delivering government services most efficiently,” Toews told CTV after the government announced it plans to cut the size of the public service workforce by 8 per cent.

It’s pretty clear they are on a path of cost cutting.

Colleges and universities are seeing a third year of big budget cuts. And plans to rollback salaries for remaining public sector workers are still in the works – and will likely spark further labour unrest with public sector unions.

It was probably determined by the UCP braintrust that during a global pandemic they could impose massive funding cuts to public services or cuts to public sector wages, but not both at the same time.

So, as well as shifting blame for Alberta’s financial problems onto public sector workers, Toews put blame on the federal government for standing in the way of resource development. Of course, Toews did not mention the billions of dollars of federal emergency pandemic funding that has poured into provincial coffers over the past year.

As it enters its second year of its term as government, we could now be seeing the UCP try to lay the groundwork for its re-election campaign in 2023.

The shift in messaging suggests the UCP has recognized how far its previous messaging had pulled it down in the polls.

Premier Jason Kenney‘s reluctance to pivot off his pipeline and economy messages, as well as his aggressive tone deaf attacks on anyone who dared to criticize his government – even as the criticism is coming from an increasing number of regular Albertans – is certainly a big reason the UCP has dropped in the polls and the Premier’s personal approval ratings are in the tank.

If Kenney is able to survive as party leader until 2023, he will face off against an increasingly popular Rachel Notley, who will be the first former Premier to run for re-election in Alberta’s history. Recognizing that Calgary could be the main electoral battleground of 2023, Notley and most of her caucus have basically become part-time residents of the province’s largest city.

Shifting to health care as its main issue puts the UCP firmly in territory where the Alberta NDP has much stronger footing. The UCP talking about supporting health care is like the NDP talking about supporting oil pipelines. Regardless of how hard they try, the UCP will have a hard time convincing Albertans that all of a sudden it is the great defender of the public health care system.

And despite Toews’ talk about the need for fiscal restraint, there is still money for UCP vanity projects like the Canadian Energy Centre, which is allocated $30 million annually to publish op-eds in the National Post and right-wing news websites and buy advertisements on Facebook.

The new budget also allocates $2 million to create an Environmental, Social and Governance Secretariat to stem the tide of divestment from the oil sands. The new mini-war room would report directly to the Premier’s Office.

It is unclear why Alberta requires two energy war rooms that appear to duplicate the work of the Department of Energy, the Department of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, the Alberta Energy Regulator’s communications department, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and the Invest Alberta crown corporation. Perhaps Kenney is trying to create more work for the Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction Grant Hunter?

What the budget has in common with previous budgets is a lack of a plan to deal with Alberta’s long-time and self-inflicted revenue problems. Meanwhile, the UCP has focused heavily on criticizing government spending through the MacKinnon Report and the growing list of reports from international management consulting companies.

Toews’ budget speech also neglected to mention the giant elephant in the room – the $1.5 billion the Alberta government lost when betting on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was cancelled by United States President Joe Biden on his first day in office.

But the government’s continued over-reliance on unstable revenue from natural resource royalties and its unwillingness to consider raising Alberta’s artificially low tax rates means that the problem will persist. Like previous governments, the UCP appear to be praying a bump in international oil prices will save the province’s balance sheet.

If it feels like you have read this last part before, it is because I have basically written this exact same thing on every Budget Day since I launched this website 16 years ago.

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Alberta Politics

Doing the Minimum: Kenney’s Covid Plan

Premier Jason Kenney emerged from ten days in seclusion to announce new measures in response to the record-breaking daily increases in COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

Far below the “circuit-breaker lockdown” that had been called for by public health experts, the new plan announced by Kenney is mostly previously made suggestions that are now loosely enforced rules with a lot of exceptions. And they are just as confusing at the previous restrictions.

Middle schools and high schools will move to online instruction, but restaurants, bars and casinos will remain open. There was no mention of allowing the federal CovidAlert tracing app to be activated in Alberta, even as our province’s contact tracing capacity has collapsed. And because the contract tracing has largely stopped, it is unclear what data Kenney’s government used when creating these new targeted measures.

The new rules are mostly directed at Calgary and Edmonton, with no face-mask requirements or permanent expanded business restrictions in rural areas. Alberta is now the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.

The exemptions for rural Alberta communities, as well as exemptions for indoor social gatherings in churches, suggest the the United Conservative Party government is prioritizing appeasing it’s main political constituencies – rural Albertans, libertarians, social conservatives, and industry lobby groups like Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business – over taking the advice of public health experts.

Kenney frequently frames the government’s options as either “total lockdown” or “the minimum” measures, but as we know from other provinces and countries there are many actions that can be taken that the Alberta government is unwilling to do.

In a harshly worded column in the Globe & Mail, Andre Picard described Kenney’s announcement as “inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending to do something.”

The half-measures announced today are undoubtably the result of political bargaining within a cabinet and caucus that appear unprepared or unwilling to take drastic action to protect Albertans by stopping the spread of the virus. It is hard to imagine any past Alberta government, whether it be Progressive Conservative or New Democrat, making these types of concessions during a public health crisis.

During the press conference, Kenney repeatedly spoke about the need to protect the economy and “the poor,” but the economy is people and any economic recovery won’t happen until the virus is contained. Government has the ability and responsibility to provide financial supports for all Albertans who are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

True to form, Kenney also took a moment to chastise public sector workers who collect a “public paycheque.” It is notable that none of the measures announced by Kenney were specifically aimed at relieving the pressure on understaffed hospitals and care centres where over-worked frontline nurses, doctors and health workers risk their lives to face the pandemic everyday. In fact, the fiscal update released earlier in the day by Finance Minister Travis Toews actually described public sector workers as a drain on the economy.

The Kenney government had eight months to plan and prepare for a second wave that was widely predicted but it appears that in their eagerness over the summer to shift the political narrative back to pipelines and the economy, Kenney has been caught flat footed.

The UCP government had eight months where it could have supported health care workers and educators, built up contact tracing capacity, and put in place plans for the second wave. But instead the UCP cabinet pulled an all-nighter and threw together a patch-work plan in eight hours.

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Alberta Politics

Ministerial staff changes follow UCP mini-cabinet shuffle

The recent mini-cabinet shuffle is being followed by a series of staffing changes among the senior ministerial ranks of the United Conservative Party government.

Announced during last week’s shuffle that saw Kaycee Madu appointed Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer put in charge of a newly rebranded economic ministry and Tracy Allard promoted to Municipal Affairs, was the departure of Premier Jason Kenney’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin, who is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.

Other changes announced today include the departure of the Premier’s Director of Community Relations Ariella Kimmel, who will now take the role of Chief of Staff to Schweitzer. Kimmel replaces current Chief of Staff Kris Barker, who will now become a Senior Policy Advisor in the office of Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.

More changes in Room 307 include, Julia Bareman leaving Finance Minister Travis Toews office to join the Premier’s office as a Policy Advisor and Manager of Stakeholder Relations Siobain Quinton and Executive Assistant Clancy Bouwman moving to part-time roles as they pursue post-secondary studies.

Staffing changes in ministerial offices include:

  • Brock Harrison has been appointed as Executive Director of the UCP Caucus, moving on from his role as Chief of Staff to the Minster of Children’s Services. Harrison is a long-time political staffer, having served as Communication Director of the Wildrose Caucus and in the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
  • Current press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services Lauren Armstrong will become the new Chief of Staff. Alberta Proud spokesperson Becca Polak will take over as Press Secretary in this office. Polak was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View ahead of the 2019 election.
  • At the UCP Caucus, Harrison replaces Robyn Henwood, who will take over as Chief of Staff to Community and Social Services Miniser Rajan Sawhney. Current Chief of Staff Ryan Hastman will move into a new role which has yet to be announced.
  • Current Indigenous Relations Press Secretary Ted Bauer has been promoted to Chief of Staff in Minster Rick Wilson’s office and UCP Caucus Director of Communications Joseph Dow will take over as Press Secretary in this office.
  • Riley Braun, the current Chief of Staff in Indigenous Affairs, will become a senior advisor in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
  • Jonah Mozeson has been promoted from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Mozeson is married to Jamie Mozeson, who is currently the Chief of Staff to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish.
  • Long-time Kenney ally, Blaise Boehmer has been appointed as Senior Press Secretary in the Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, moving over from his role as Special Advisor to Agriculture & Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. Bohemer was director of communications for Kenney’s UCP leadership campaign and the manager of communications and engagement for the UCP caucus from 2017 to 2018. He previously worked as director of research and operations for the Saskatchewan Party Caucus in Regina.
  • Kalee Kent has been appointed a Legislative Assistant in the office of Minster of Environment & Parks Jason Nixon, moving from her current role as Ministerial Assistant in the Office of the Municipal Affairs Minister. Kent was Constituency Development Director for the UCP from 2016 to 2019 and previously worked for the Saskatchewan Party and Regina-Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty.
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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 59: The Fiscal Reckoning and Alberta’s 70-year old Revenue Problems

After a very eventful summer in Alberta politics, Dave and Adam tackle big questions about Alberta’s fiscal challenges (and revenue problems) and Premier Jason Kenney’s promised ” fiscal reckoning,” the mini-cabinet shuffle, Erin O’Toole’s win in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, what a return to school during a global pandemic looks like, and more. We also answer some great questions submitted by listeners.

Thank you to everyone who submitted recommendations for the Alberta Politics Summer Reading List. With summer coming to an end, now is time to start thinking about what Alberta politics books you want to read while cozying up next to a warm fire this fall.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, 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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 52: Jobs, economy and pipelines? COVID-19 pushes small business to the brink.

Justin Archer joins Dave Cournoyer and Adam Rozenhart on this remotely recorded episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, how our political leaders are responding to the pandemic and crashing oil prices.

Justin Archer
Justin Archer

We also discussed the Alberta government’s investment in the Keystone XL Pipeline and the need to support economic diversification and the tech sector in Alberta.

Justin Archer is partner at Berlin Communications and a professional communications strategist based in Edmonton, Alberta.

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 PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, 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.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics

COVID-19 overtakes plummeting oil prices as biggest worry in Alberta this week

A week ago, Alberta’s politicians were reeling from another spectacular drop in the international price of oil and debating what that could mean for the province’s budget. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, felt like a distant threat seven days ago, but that is not the case tonight.

The provincial government announced today that all classes at Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and in-person classes at post-secondary institutions are cancelled until further notice and that daycares and pre-schools would be closed as measures to avoid spreading the virus, which has been confirmed to have infected 56 Albertans.

The closures will certainly send many families scrambling to make childcare arrangements for tomorrow morning, but was likely a necessary decision.

The City of Calgary has declared a local state of emergency, though city manager David Duckworth is quoted as saying that, as of Tuesday, City employees who need to stay home to look after their children will have to use banked time or vacation time. This feels like the kind of unpopular decision that the City will be forced to walk back in the next 48 hours, similar to the public shaming the Calgary Flames received over the weekend.

Working Albertans forced to stay home because they are sick or need to take care of their children because of the school closures should not only be assured their job security, they should be assured their pay.

A period of social distancing is upon us and it is necessary.

The House of Commons and other provincial legislatures have announced plans to suspend their current sittings in order to avoid playing a role in spreading the virus. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was diagnosed with COVID-19. Edmonton Members of Parliament Michael Cooper and Kerry Diotte recently attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C., where an attendee was later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Political watchers in Alberta will be watching to see if similar measures are taken when our Alberta Legislature reconvenes tomorrow.

The United Conservative Party government of Premier Jason Kenney is in the midst of pushing its budget through the legislative committee process, but the decline in the price of oil, the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s decision today to pour an additional $500 million into public health care, means the budget tabled by Finance Minister Travis Toews two weeks ago is unrecognizable and unneeded.

The UCP government should completely halt its austerity agenda of cuts and layoffs, which has already resulted in thousands of public sector job cuts, and focus on supporting Alberta’s public sector workers as they play a critical role in facing this global pandemic.

What should Albertans do?

Listen and trust the advice of public health professionals. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw continues to do an excellent job presenting her daily public updates in a clear, concise and plain-spoken manner.

It is important for all of us to take this situation seriously.

Practice social distancing, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, clean your phone. Just as importantly, be kind and reach out to friends, family and neighbours who might be having a difficult time. We can get through this.

Also, pick up your phone, call or email your MLA and tell the government to stop picking fights with Alberta’s nurses, doctors, and health care workers – the public sector workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Budget 2020: This is no way to run a household.

It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.

But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.

The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.

The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.

Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.

The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.

The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.

With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.

While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.

Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.

If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.

This is no way to run a household.

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Alberta Politics

War Room’s Twitter tirade against New York Times sends embarrassment shivers across Alberta.

Time to shut down the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Shoot, shovel, and shut up,” was how former Alberta premier Ralph Klein suggested some of the province’s self-respecting ranchers could deal with the mad cow disease crisis of the mid-2000s. And it is time that Premier Jason Kenney heeded Klein’s words and applied the same advice to the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

The Energy War Room, as Kenney called it during and after the 2019 election campaign, has been fraught with embarrassing missteps and blunders since it was created in October 2019, but today marked peak embarrassment for the CEC.

The Calgary-based publicly-funded private public relations company and blog was caught under fire today for posting a series of tweets attacking the New York Times and sharing links claiming the 169-year old newspaper of record held anti-Trump and anti-Semitic biases and a “very dodgy” record.

The CEC’s childish tirade of tweets appear to have been posted in response to a Times article about the decision by some of the world’s largest financial institutions to stop investing in oil production in Alberta.

Some international banks, pension plans and financial institutions appear to have included the impact of climate change into their long-term investments plans and have decided to move away from investing in some carbon-intensive resource extraction industries like Canada’s oilsands.

According to the Times, “BlackRock, the worlds largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands.”

Sonya Savage

The Times article noted that “Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday,” which is a shocking departure from Kenney’s pledge he would use “the persuasive power of the premier’s bully pulpit to tell the truth of our energy industry across the country.”

CEC Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Tom Olsen publicly apologized on Twitter for the unprofessional tweet storm against the Times, a statement that is now being widely reported.

Olsen, a former United Conservative Party candidate and lobbyist, was appointed to the role when the CEC was launched in October 2019. The CEC is a private corporation created by the Alberta government and receives $30-million annually from the Alberta government to ostensibly correct misinformation about the oil and gas industry, but in reality appears to be doing a poor job conducting public relations for the oil and gas industry.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Another member of the CEC’s staff is Mark Milke, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, former senior fellow of the Fraser Institute and lead author of the UCP’s 2019 election platform. Milke is the Executive Director in charge of Research, according to the CEC’s website.

Existing as a private corporation with a board of directors that includes Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, the CEC is not subject to the freedom of information rules that make other government institutions and agencies more transparent to the public and the media. Despite receiving $30-million annually from the government, the CEC appears to have no accountability mechanisms and its internal operations are kept secret.

While Kenney was recently lauded for changing his message about an eventual transition away from of oil (I suspect he is coopting language rather than changing his mind), some of the good for Alberta that his trip to Washington DC last week may have done has at least been partially damaged by the latest PR disaster exploding through the War Room in downtown Calgary.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

What started a few months ago as a $30-million annual public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry is starting to become a running joke that might hurt Alberta, and its oil and gas industry, more than it helps it.

As Finance Minister Travis Toews asks Albertans to accept deep cuts to public health care and education and for public employees to take salary rollbacks in his Feb. 27 provincial budget, it will become increasingly difficult to convince Albertans that the CEC’s $30-million annual budget is not a giant waste of money.

In this case, Kenney should take his own conservative free-market advice and let private sector industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the legions of public relations professionals working for Canada’s oil and gas companies handle their own public relations.

As Ralph Klein might suggest, it’s time for Kenney to take the Canadian Energy Centre behind the proverbial barn and stop this embarrassing initiative from doing any more damage to Alberta’s reputation at home and abroad.

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 46: Best of Alberta Politics in 2019

With a provincial election, a change in government, a federal election, and much more in between, 2019 was a big year in Alberta politics. Tina Faiz and Natalie Pon join Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the year in Alberta politics and their hopes and wishes for 2020. 

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and served as a press secretary and acting chief of staff for the Alberta NDP government. Natalie Pon is a conservative activist and former member of the United Conservative Party interim joint board.

And with more than 2,000 votes cast, they also discuss the results of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey and their picks in each category.

Thanks to everyone who voted and congratulations to the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey:

Best Alberta MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona
Best Cabinet Minister: Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier, Minister of Health & MLA for Edmonton-Glenora
Best Opposition MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona
MLA to Watch in 2020: Janis Irwin, MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 election: Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake
Biggest political issue in 2019: Budget cuts

And a huge thanks to our talented producer, Adam Rozenhart, who always makes the podcast 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 PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, 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.

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You contact us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

Thank you for listening and see you in 2020!

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