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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems

Twenty-nine more Albertans died of COVID-19 yesterday and nearly 1,000 Albertans are in hospital because of the virus, including more than 220 people in intensive care units.

Premier Jason Kenney is in big trouble and a minor cabinet swap isn’t going to solve his problems.

Kenney swapped Health Minister Tyler Shandro with Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping in an apparent hope that this might salvage his leadership amid growing calls for his resignation.

Shandro has been a lightning rod as Health Minister, but that was by design. Every decision he made had Kenney’s stamp of approval. He was doing as he was told.

Swapping Shandro for Copping in the middle of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is more about politics than good governance.

The blow to Kenney’s leadership after the failure of his Open for Summer plan that led to a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta is not going to be fixed with a cabinet shuffle. 

Kenney’s plummeting popularity probably helped cost Erin O’Toole his chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2021. And the Premier almost certainly contributed to a sharp decline in Conservative support in Alberta that cost his federal cousins four seats in the province.

A few months ago it was almost unimaginable that the Conservatives would actually lose seats in Alberta in this federal election. But the NDP picked up an additional seat and the Liberals might have won two. 

But Kenney’s political woes are not all recent.

Since becoming Premier he has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time.

His party’s financial health has also been hit hard. There have been three straight financial quarters in a row when Kenney’s UCP fell short of Rachel Notley’s NDP in fundraising. The Alberta NDP has been in the lead in every public poll since November 2020.

Calls for a leadership review are growing from UCP constituency associations and party executives like vice-president Joel Mullen. Even former deputy leader Leela Aheer has publicly questioned why he hasn’t stepped down. And the right-wing Western Standard website has reported on a rumour that country music star and two time Conservative candidate George Canyon might run for the party presidency on the platform of forcing a vote on Kenney’s leadership.

The UCP Caucus is holding a mandatory in-person meeting tomorrow, where, I imagine the growing number of disgruntled MLAs will have a lot to say about their leader’s future.

UCP waited until after the election to ask for federal help

Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who is in charge of Alberta’s Emergency Management Office, waited until the day after the federal election to send a letter to federal minister Bill Blair requesting help from the Ottawa to deal with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCP government waited until after Sept. 20 to request help because they didn’t want to embarrass the federal Conservatives during the election. Let that sink in.

The government’s plea for help from the federal government and other provinces will almost certainly undermine Kenney’s argument that Alberta is being treated unfairly by the rest of Canada, a key part of the reason for a province-wide referendum in October to ask for the equalization formula to be removed from the Constitution.

New Senate Nominee candidates

The nomination deadline passed at 12:00 pm yesterday for candidates to enter the Senate Nominee Election, which is being held in conjunction with two province-wide referendums and municipal elections on October 18, 2021.

Recent People’s Party of Canada candidates Ann McCormack, Kelly Lorencz, and Nadine Wellwood filed their papers to run as Senate Nominee candidates before the polls closed in the federal election in which they were defeated.

Also recently joining the Senate Nominee Election are Town of Ponoka Mayor Richard Bonnett, who ran for the Liberal Party in the 2004 federal election, and former Slave Lake Mayor and physician Karina Pillay.

Brian Jean’s favourite hobby is trolling Jason Kenney on the internet

With a provincial by-election expected to be called in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in the next five months, Kenney’s arch-enemy, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, is musing online that he might run as a candidate. Jean asked for feedback from his followers on Facebook about whether he should run in the by-election in the area he represented as an MLA from 2015 to 2018.

Since leaving elected office in 2019, Jean has flirted with Alberta separatism and recently publicly mused about running for the leadership of the Alberta Party, which he did not. He has also called on Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

The by-election will be held to replace former UCP MLA Laila Goodridge, who was elected as the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake in the Sept. 20 federal election.

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Alberta Politics

“I won’t apologize.” Jason Kenney fails to lead Alberta through the biggest crisis in a generation

Three years ago, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the unquestioned leader of the Conservative movement in Canada. He was the national conservative standard bearer.

Now, Kenney is politically toxic.

And as the deadly fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, he was in hiding.

His absence is mostly an attempt to avoid embarrassing his federal cousins in Ottawa, who until today have been grateful for his disappearance, and facing an unruly caucus of United Conservative Party MLAs already unhappy with his leadership, but it also means he has been out from public sight as new COVID cases skyrocketed, hospitals and intensive care units began to overflow, and more Albertans have died of the deadly disease.

From @CBCFletch on Twitter
From @CBCFletch on Twitter

Twenty-four more Albertans died yesterday. More than 90 Albertans have died over the past eight days.

Kenney reemerged for the second time in almost two months today to announce the end of his Best Summer Ever.

Joining Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Kenney declared a public state of emergency and bumbled his way through a confusing new list of public health restrictions and a not a vaccine passport vaccine passport system that largely puts the burden on businesses to figure out (something his party was fundraising off its opposition to weeks ago and he described as illegal a few months ago).

Like the previous three waves of the pandemic, Kenney waited until the health care system was in crisis before acting. If Albertans comply with the new restrictions, we can hope that the number of COVID cases decrease. But not removing the restrictions too quickly, like he has before, will probably be key to its success.

Poking a big hole in Kenney’s decision to declare Alberta ‘reopened for good’ in time for the Calgary Stampede back in July, Hinshaw admitted the Premier’s much-promoted “Open for Summer” plan that removed nearly all public health restrictions led to the COVID-19 fourth wave that has hit Alberta.

When medical experts and media questioned how quickly Kenney removed the public health restrictions, he and his staff aggressively attacked and dismissed their warnings about a fourth wave.

Kenney eagerly pushed for 70 per cent of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 to get vaccinated in order to lift restrictions in time for the Stampede. The government offered lucrative lotteries and prizes, and even $100 cash cards, to convince Albertans to get vaccinated but it does not appear to have moved the needle to where we need it to be. Alberta still lags behind the rest of the country.

Kenney’s Open for Summer plan was all optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic was over with none of the vigilance required to make sure it actually was.

But don’t expect Kenney to volunteer to face the consequences for his actions.

Responding to his critics at today’s press conference, Kenney initially apologized for the results of his Open for Summer decision only to retract his apology minutes later when answering a question from Postmedia columnist Rick Bell, telling Bell that “I won’t apologize.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago, Kenney has failed to lead Albertans through the biggest health crisis in a generation.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 77: Back from the Best Summer Ever

We are back from the summer with the first episode of Season 4 of the Daveberta Podcast and we dive right into Alberta’s response to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, speculation about how long Jason Kenney might last in the Premier’s Office, the federal election, municipal political parties and slates and much much more.

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.

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.

Thanks for listening. Have a safe and fun summer.

Recommended reading and listening:

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Alberta Politics

Shandro drags his feet on new COVID-19 measures, Kenney has disappeared… again.

The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Alberta hard. Forty-four Albertans are reported to have died of COVID-19 over the past six days. 1,522 new cases were announced yesterday. 679 Albertans are in hospital. 154 are in an Intensive Care Unit. Hundreds of surgeries are being cancelled because of the fourth wave.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro emerged yesterday at a press conference billed as an announcement to reduce pressure on hospitals, but he did not announce any further public health measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. In fact, Shandro’s bizarre press conference was really about nothing.

When asked repeatedly by reporters, Shandro once again danced around the question of vaccine passports, which have the support of nearly 80 per cent of Albertans according to some polls.

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley is calling on the province to implement a vaccine passport system instead of putting the burden on businesses to figure out their own patchwork system.

Like in the past waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, expect Alberta’s United Conservative Party government to drag its feet in response to the fourth wave before implementing measures after facing weeks of criticism.

And Premier Jason Kenney has disappeared again, likely to reappear on September 21, after the federal election is over.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney has mastered the ability to anger the maximum number of Albertans possible at any given time

I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a government that has so successfully mastered the ability to make decisions that will almost immediately anger the maximum number of Albertans possible as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government has done over the past two years.

Open-pit coal mining, privatizing provincial parks, attacking doctors, attacking nurses, writing a draft school curriculum that would take the education system back to the 1950s are just a few of the almost universally unpopular policies this government has thrown itself into, and now – as the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits Alberta – paying unvaccinated Albertans $100 to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The response to the spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations announced by Kenney was almost uuniversally panned by everyone – including the gaggle of conservative political pundits and columnists who can usually be depended upon to print defences and justifications for the government.

Political watchers who praised Kenney for throwing off public health restrictions at the beginning of the summer and declaring Alberta open for the summer are now openly questioning the UCP’s mind-boggling latest move.

One hundred dollars is much cheaper than paying for an unvaccinated Albertan who ends up in the now overflowing Intensive Care Units, the idea of paying people who did not get vaccinated when the majority of Albertans flocked to their clinics and pharmacies to get the jab is, well, pretty insulting – and tone deaf.

And the almost arbitrary move to impose a curfew on alcohol sales to 10:00 p.m., while granting immediate exemptions to a handful of rural rodeos, but not Calgary’s Pride events, suggests that this move could be more about what is politically palatable than what might work to stop the spread of COVID-19.

At the beginning of the summer, Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro stood on the banks high above Edmonton’s River Valley and declared that Alberta was open for summer. They even had vanity baseball hats made that said “Alberta Best Summer Ever.” Then cases started to rise, as did hospitalizations, and Kenney disappeared on a late summer vacation.

So, the question on the minds of many Albertans, and one that has been frequently asked since the pandemic began in early 2020: is this the best for Albertans or is this the best that Kenney could get his UCP cabinet and caucus to agree to?

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney’s rush to declare COVID-19 over leaves a lot of Albertans behind

It’s been more than one month since Premier Jason Kenney announced the end to public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID and a week after he announced the province would stop tracking the virus, end contact tracing and remove the legal requirement for people with COVID symptoms to self-isolate. 

This rush to remove public health restrictions has left a lot of Albertans confused and uncomfortable with his sudden decisions as cases of the Delta Variant increase and hundreds of thousands of Albertans under the age of 12 remain ineligible for vaccines as the start of the school year rapidly approaches.

Kenney appears eager to claim victory over COVID and give him and his United Conservative Party a political win in the face of bottomed-out approval in the polls and a steady pattern of lacklustre party fundraising.

A Best Summer Ever 2021 hat posted by Ben Harper, a staffer working in Premier Kenney's office (source: Twitter)
A Best Summer Ever 2021 hat posted by Ben Harper, a staffer working in Kenney’s office (source: Twitter)

For months, Kenney boasted that Alberta would have the Best Summer Ever in 2021. Staff in the Premier’s Office even had special baseball hats made declaring it such.

The original announcement to remove public health measures, including mandatory face-masking in public indoor spaces, was made ahead of Canada Day (or the long-abolished “Dominion Day” as Kenney has often called our national holiday). But it was the Calgary Stampede that Kenney wielded and waved like a carnival balloon sword against any Albertan who dared criticize his government’s rush to claim the pandemic is over.

Canada has made big gains in vaccinating people against COVID-19, despite earlier predictions by some that we might not have access to vaccines for years. In fact, cases where federal vaccine supply could not match provincial distribution were rare, and completely non-existent in Alberta. Yet, Alberta remains below the national average for full vaccination rates – and some regions of the province are sitting at troublingly low levels of vaccinations. 

A vaccine lottery, dubbed lottovaxx, was launched to push Alberta above the artificial hurdle that Kenney placed to remove restrictions and allow the Stampede to open its gates. A hunting lottery and trips to hot destinations were added, but it appears to have barely moved the needle.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has endorsed Kenney’s plan as the government’s chief spokesperson on the topic, but even she had to issue an op-ed today trying to counter the loud chorus of critics.

After more than a month out of the public spotlight, Hinshaw was once again thrust into a role that Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro had filled since the Stampede. All of a sudden, Kenney began insisting that Hinshaw was the person in charge.

Despite her endorsement, Hinshaw is in the lonely position of being the only, or one of the only, medical professionals in Alberta to publicly support Kenney’s rush to remove COVID testing, tracing and isolation requirements.

Whether or not it is intentional, Hinshaw is now doing political damage control for the Kenney government.

It is inevitable that we would have removed public health restrictions at some point. As vaccination rates increase, it is expected that COVID-19 cases will be mostly limited to the unvaccinated, which again still includes hundreds of thousands of Alberta kids who can’t choose to get vaccinated.

Parents and teachers are left with no plan and little reassurances about what will happen when their unvaccinated kids return to school and childcare in September.

Kenney’s and Hinshaw’s assurances to parents that they will need to figure it out on their own have not been confidence inspiring.

Albertans with legitimate concerns and questions about the pace of Kenney’s plan have been dismissed by Hinshaw as having “anxiety” or by the Premier’s staff as wanting a “permanent lockdown.” These dismissive and aggressive responses communicated by the government are insulting and patronizing a broad group of parents with legitimate concerns and fears, well earned a year and a half into a public health crisis.

That the government still isn’t able to effectively communicate with the public about these measures is an indication that they are either largely indifferent or completely inept.

If we have learned anything over the past 18 months, it is that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably best approached with a healthy mix of vigilance and optimism. But the UCP government’s approach is all optimism that the pandemic is over and no vigilance to ensure it actually is. We constantly heard from Kenney that we were headed to the Best Summer Ever, but his eagerness to put COVID behind him has left a lot of Albertans behind.

It has been a traumatic and tough 18 months for a lot of people.

Millions of Albertans found themselves working from home, not working at all, thrust into homeschooling and childcare, and in addition to that, many of us have mourned family, friends and colleagues who have died of COVID-19 or other ailments that we have not been able to properly grieve.

Kenney’s Best Summer Ever promise appears to apply largely to the Premier and his small group of insiders the Best Summer Ever hats were made for, who have been able to dine al fresco on a government patio, take in the private parties and open bars at the 2021 Stampede, fire automatic weapons with the Taber Police and many other perks they are indulging in while the Legislature is out. For many Albertans, that slogan and swag hats are a crass and insensitive response to what should be a summer of reflection, recuperation and preparation for the coming school year.

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Alberta Politics

When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing

It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.

That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.

It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.

Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.

Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.

Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.

Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.

The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.

Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.

Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.

But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.

Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.

I bet it grows again in a few months.


Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.
Premier Jason Kenney, Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani and the new cohort of cabinet ministers.

Shuffled around …

Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.

Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.

Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.

New in cabinet…

Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.

Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.

Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.

Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.

Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.

Out of cabinet…

Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.

Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.

Other non-cabinet changes today included:

Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.

After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.

Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.

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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

It sucks to be Jason Kenney

Down in the polls, down in popularity, fighting off a caucus and party revolt and facing a vicious third wave of a global pandemic is probably not how Jason Kenney imagined he’d be spending the second anniversary of his party’s sweeping win in the April 16, 2019 election.

When he rode into the victory party in his leased blue Dodge Ram, Kenney looked like an unstoppable political force. The long-time politician imported from Ottawa to Alberta to unite the province’s two quarrelling conservative parties thumped the incumbent Alberta NDP in every region of the province, save Edmonton and a handful of districts in Calgary and Lethbridge.

To paraphrase a headline from another province, Kenney could have kicked a dog and still got elected.

But after spending two years burning through political capital and making new enemies on an almost daily basis, there is a real question whether Kenney will make it until the next election.

Factions of his caucus and party are rebelling against him, demanding the lifting of public health restrictions just as COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in Alberta and calling for his resignation as party leader.

Despite his reputation as a workaholic and micro-manager, his government’s actions and communications in response to the pandemic have been muddled, confusing, and unclear. And now, with cases almost at the same level as Dec. 2020 and hospitalizations closing in on 600, his government appears to be unwilling to introduce new public health measures to slow the growth of the virus.

He was forced to turn tail on universally unpopular plans to privatize provincial parks and allow open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains.

It seems like nearly every school board in the province has rejected his government’s draft K-6 curriculum, which has been almost universally panned by parents and educators as overly politicized, American-focused, and out of date.

His government lost its bid to overturn the federal government’s carbon tax at the Supreme Court and now his Ottawa ally Erin O’Toole has now embraced his own version of the carbon tax.

And there has been almost no movement on the three big promises he so effectively honed in on in 2019: Jobs, Economy, and Pipelines. And if there has been movement, it’s been backward.

Now three years in, it looks like the one thing Kenney has been most effective in is making enemies, and, in many cases, enemies of people who would otherwise be allies.

Led by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the Kenney government decided it was a smart idea to launch a full scale attack against Alberta’s doctors in the middle of the global pandemic.

The government only recently backed down from its attacks on doctors, but it’s clear there is very little trust or goodwill between physicians and the government, especially as long as Kenney continues to back Shandro as Health Minister.

His relationship with the truth has been questioned as well, as he has become known for embellishing stories – like the superspreader birthday party in Athabasca – or twisting anecdotes to fit his own political narratives – like the crying restaurant owners who he claimed fled socialism in Venezuela.

His job approval ratings are in the tank, his party has fallen behind the NDP in every polls since last Nov., and today Elections Alberta announced that his party raised just half the amount of money as Rachel Notley’s NDP in the first three months of 2021.

Albertans are unhappy. Party members are unhappy. UCP MLAs are unhappy. Cabinet ministers are unhappy.

A month ago, the UCP executive narrowly avoided calls from disgruntled constituency association presidents to hold a leadership review at the party’s 2021 annual meeting by preemptively scheduling a review to take place during the 2022 convention, months ahead of the expected 2023 election.

Delaying the leadership review was designed to both give Kenney time to recoup his leadership approval among the public and the party, and threaten the dissenters with a potential leadership race months before the next election. But it looks like that didn’t quell the unrest in the party. His internal critics are calling his bluff.

Multiple reports allege that Kenney threatened his caucus with calling an early election if he did not have their support, but it was so clearly an empty threat. The UCP would lose the election if it were held tomorrow and Rachel Notley would be Premier again.

Unfortunately for Kenney, the United Conservative Party he helped create is an institutional mix of former Progressive Conservatives, who do not tolerate leaders who look like they are going to lose, and Wildrosers, who just don’t want to be lead.

At this rate, Kenney might not last the summer, which he has repeatedly promised will be the “best summer in Alberta’s history.”

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 72: The COVID 18 and the Curriculum Catastrophe

Alberta politics moves at a mile a minute and there’s no time to waste. On this episode of the Daveberta Podcast, we dive into the United Conservative Caucus rebellion against mild public health restrictions to fight COVID-19 and challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, the controversial draft K-6 curriculum, and the government’s toxic relationship with Alberta doctors and public sector unions.

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.

Music featured in this episode: Prairie Soil by Johnny Bomblast and Dave Harris.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta back to Step 1 after a long-weekend of confusing COVID communications

While most Albertans stuck close to home or gathered in small groups to celebrate Easter over the long weekend, the usual fun of watching the kids hunt for chocolate eggs on Sunday morning was accompanied by a growing unease about the third-wave of COVID-19 that has hit Alberta.

Cases started to rise late last week, and over the weekend the province was reporting up to 1,100 new cases of COVID each day. But despite the growing spike of new cases, our elected officials were nowhere to be seen.

A daily thread of ominously vague tweets from the office of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was the source of most information released by the government over the four-day long weekend.

Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets also announced a series of outbreaks of COVID-19 variants in parts of the province but did not include any specific details about where those outbreaks were happening. The tweets also stated that the variant came to Alberta from a traveller, but it appeared as though reporters who asked where that traveller came from were given different answers.

Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo tried to put a positive spin on Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets when she tweeted that it was good news that hospitalizations were “stable” but there was no explanation what that meant and it was clear the backbench United Conservative Party MLA was just as out of the loop as the rest of us.

The third wave of COVID had arrived and our leaders took the weekend off.

A press conference originally scheduled for Monday was bumped to Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. It was then rescheduled to 4:30 p.m., but as Premier Jason Kenney was joining Dr. Hinshaw, it ended up being delayed until 4:45 p.m.

When he finally arrived at the podium, Kenney announced that the province was going back to Step 1 restrictions. When Kenney was done, Health Minister Tyler Shandro took to the podium to essentially repeat the Premier’s speaking notes.

This is far from a circuit breaker that we are seeing in other provinces or a lockdown that we have seen in other countries or the COVID Zero approach that has nearly eliminated the virus in the Atlantic provinces and northern territories.

Kenney acknowledged that many Albertans are frustrated with the length of the pandemic and has tried to square the blame on the federal government over vaccine supply. A good part of Kenney’s speech was dedicated to caucus management, as many of his UCP MLAs are openly critical of public health restrictions and many more have expressed these views behind closed doors.

But it has become clear that Kenney’s start-stop approach to dealing with the pandemic and his government’s selective willingness to enforce the rules has contributed to the fatigue – and growing anger that Kenney is unwilling to make tough decisions that could alienate part of his conservative base of supporters.

Taking a step back to Step 1 today was a good choice, but it seems likely that it will take more serious actions to stop the renewed spread of the COVID-19 variant in Alberta. If this doesn’t work, look for increased restrictions in the next week or two.


Nenshi not running for re-election

The big political news coming out of Calgary today was the announcement by Mayor Naheed Nenshi that he will not seek re-election in the October municipal elections.

First elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2013 and 2017, Nenshi has dominated Calgary politics and reshaped many Canadians’ views of Calgary as a more urban, more progressive and more forward-thinking city. He is a giant in Alberta politics and he will be missed.

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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.

Recommended Reading

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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

The first week of January is usually a sleepy time in Alberta politics – not this year!

The first week of January is typically a sleepy time in Alberta politics, but 2021 is an incredible exception.

They found Tany Yao! And he’s staying in Mexico

Tany Yao UCP MLA Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo
Tany Yao

MLA Tany Yao has re-emerged in Mexico and appears to be defying Premier Jason Kenney’s directive to MLAs to immediately return home after “disconnecting” following a stressful year of passing a one-page private members’ bill that easily passed through the Legislative Assembly on November 16, 2020.

The United Conservative Party MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo apparently turned his cell phone off after he arrived in Mexico on Dec. 26, avoiding news of the hot holiday scandal that started to envelope his government last Friday. He will return to Alberta on Jan. 9, according to media reports.

Kenney goes into hiding after firing cabinet minister 

Kenney was nowhere to be seen the day after he announced on Facebook that he was asking for the resignations of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and his Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay and demoting the handful of UCP MLAs who ignored advice to stay home and jetted off to hot destinations over the Christmas break.

Leger Poll Disapprove Kenney COVID-19 Alberta
A recent Leger poll showing that 69% of Albertans disapprove of how the Kenney government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and new Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver took point at the COVID-19 press conference yesterday, thanking Albertans for being angry at the government over the MLAs ignoring the recommendations to stay home and avoid non-essential international travel, claiming the government feels the same way.

Kenney’s last public appearance was on last Friday, when he took to the podium to defend Allard’s Hawaiian vacation and claim that he has been encouraging international, despite 9-months of telling Albertans to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

On top of the troubles in his sun-seeking Caucus, a recent Leger poll showed that 69 per cent of Albertans disapprove of how the Kenney government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slave Lake Town Council calls for Pat Rehn to resign

Pat Rehn

The biggest political news of the day came from up north.

With his Mexican vacation cut short by public outrage, Pat Rehn will have returned home to face a letter signed by the entire Slave Lake Town Council calling for his resignation as the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake. But the letter isn’t about his hot holiday.

“We have lost faith that you have the ability and the desire to undertake the work which is required of an MLA. On behalf of the Town of Slave Lake and those we represent, we are asking for your resignation as MLA for the Lesser Slave Lake constituency,” the letter, signed by Mayor Tyler Warman and all the town Councillors said. 

Warman used to be a supporter of Rehn’s and donated $500 to the Lesser Slave Lake UCP association in 2019, according to Elections Alberta records.

Tyler Warman

The letter accuses the first-term backbench MLA of consistently missing meetings with local officials, not living in the constituency and spending “more physical time managing his business in Texas” than being physically present in the constituency.

In all my years writing about Alberta politics, I cannot recall a municipal council being forced to take this sort of drastic action against a local MLA. The town council must have felt they had exhausted all other options in trying to work with Rehn, who was first elected in 2019 after unseating NDP cabinet minister Danielle Larivee in the UCP sweep of rural Alberta.

Rehn responded on Facebook with a statement that does more to spin the issue than address the concerns raised by Slave Lake town council.

His response does not deny missing meetings with local officials or refute the allegations that he spends more time in Texas than in his constituency by saying he “doesn’t own property in Texas.”

But perhaps the most tone deaf part of Rehn’s response is when he accused Slave Lake Town Council of trying to “sow political division.”

Rehn, who just returned from a hot holiday in Mexico after his government asked every Albertan to cancel their own Christmas gatherings and holiday trips, has no moral authority to accuse anybody in Alberta of “sowing disunity.” He has done that himself.

Here is the letter: