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Alberta Politics

Mike Nickel running for mayor for a third time

A screenshot from MikeNickel.ca on Jan. 19, 2021 announcing his plans to run for Mayor of Edmonton.
A screenshot from MikeNickel.ca on Jan. 19, 2021 announcing his plans to run for Mayor of Edmonton.

Mike Nickel is running for Mayor of Edmonton, according to a statement on his website.

Frequently the lone voice of right-wing discontent on City Council, it has been rumoured for months that Nickel has been preparing a run.

But until now Nickel has yet to officially announce his candidacy. It is unclear whether this was intended as an official announcement or if it is a website publishing mistake.

This would mark Nickel’s third time running for mayor after unsuccessful bids in 1998 and 2001. He placed second with 16 per cent of vote in 1998 and third with 19 per cent in 2001. He later served on city council from 2004 until he was defeated in 2007 by a little known rookie candidate by the name of Don Iveson. Nickel returned to council in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017.

Nickel made an unsuccessful bid for the United Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-South ahead of the 2019 provincial election, claiming then that he had accomplished all he could in municipal politics.

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Alberta Politics

Three more Conservative MPs nominated to run in next federal election

With it becoming increasingly likely that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could call a federal election in the next few months, the federal Conservative Party has been quietly nominating candidates in Alberta. The party holds all but one seat in Alberta and has nominated six of its incumbent Members of Parliament to seek re-election when the writs of election are drawn.

I have added the three most recent candidates to be nominated to the list of federal nomination candidates:

  • Earl Dreeshen in Red Deer-Mountain View. Dreeshen has represented Red Deer in the House of Commons since 2008 and is the father of Devin Dreeshen, the United Conservative Party MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
  • Michelle Rempel Garner in Calgary-Nose Hill. Rempel Garner has served as a Calgary MP since 2011.
  • Damien Kurek in Battle River-Crowfoot. Kurek was first elected in 2019, succeeding longtime area MP Kevin Sorensen.

I am told that the Liberal Party opened its candidate nomination process in early November 2020 but no candidates have been officially nominated in Alberta as of today.

Jaro Giesbrecht has announced his plans to seek the Liberal Party nomination in Banff-Aidrie. Giesbrecht briefly sought the Liberal nomination ahead of the 2019 federal election but withdrew from the contest. He was the Liberal Party candidate in Calgary-Peigan in the 2019 provincial election.


I was thrilled to join the West of Centre Podcast this week with host Kathleen Petty and fellow guests Jen Gerson and Ryan  Jespersen to discuss Alberta politics and the state of independent media in Alberta.

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Alberta Politics

Pat Rehn booted from UCP Caucus. Town Councils called for MIA MLA to resign

Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn has been removed from the United Conservative Party caucus, according to a statement released by Premier Jason Kenney. It is not clear whether Kenney unilaterally removed Rehn himself or whether it was the result of a vote by UCP MLAs.

Rehn was caught up in the recent hot holiday scandal after a year-end trip to Mexico, but the political problems facing the first term MLA were bigger than that.

The entire town council of Slave Lake, the largest municipality in his northern Alberta district, called on him to resign for being an absentee MLA and apparently being unwilling to live or spend time in the region since he was elected in 2019. The letter also alleged that he spent “more physical time managing his business in Texas” than being physically present in the constituency.

The town council of High Prairie was also planning to send a similar letter to the MIA MLA.

Recent reports suggest that while in Alberta he spent almost all his time in Edmonton rather than in the district he was elected to represent.

This is not the first time the local councils have raised concerns with the UCP government about Rehn’s lack of presence in the region but it appears that his becoming a political problem for Kenney was the final straw for the absent backbencher.

This marks the first time that Kenney, reluctantly it appears, has removed an MLA from the UCP caucus. After initially defending them in a strange press conference, Kenney bowed to public pressure and removed Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as Municipal Affairs Minister and accepted the resignation of his Chief of Staff, Jamie Huckabay, for their overseas travel over the holidays.

Five other sun-seeking backbench UCP MLAs, including Rehn, who were discovered to have gone on hot holidays after the government spent months telling Albertans to avoid non-essential international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were removed from their committee roles.

Here is Kenney’s statement:

Rehn will now sit as an Independent MLA, the only Independent in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. When the Assembly reconvenes in February, it will have 62 UCP MLAs, 24 NDP MLAs and 1 Independent.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 66: Aloha! Making sense of Alberta politics in 2021

Dr. Jared Wesley joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss Jason Kenney’s leadership of the United Conservative Party, Rachel Notley’s focus on health care during the pandemic, the Alberta Party and Wildrose Independence Party leadership races, and the equalization referendum and Senate nominee elections that will coincide with the October municipal elections.

We also break down the first week of year that saw UCP MLAs in hot water after spending the Christmas break on hot holidays.

Dr. Wesley is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta and the lead researcher for Common Ground.

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/Listening:

Categories
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:

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney’s weak response to Hot Holiday Scandal exposes rifts inside the UCP

You could almost feel the collective anger of Albertans building as news trickled out yesterday that more and more United Conservative Party MLAs had ignored their own government’s COVID-19 recommendations to stay home and cancel any non-essential international travel over the Christmas break. 

Despite receiving the same recommendations against non-essential international holidays that every other Albertan has been told by the government since March 2020, at least five UCP MLAs, including one cabinet minister, decided the recommendations put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 did not apply to them and instead jetted off to hotter locales.

As of today, we know the following UCP cabinet ministers, MLAs and senior political staffers have travelled internationally in recent weeks, or are just now returning home from abroad:

  • Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie and Minister of Municipal Affairs, was in Hawaii.
  • Jeremy Nixon, MLA for Calgary-Klein and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Supports, is returning from Hawaii.
  • Pat Rehn, MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, is returning from Mexico.
  • Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan and Treasury Board member, has returned from Las Vegas.
  • Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South and Treasury Board member, is returning from Arizona.
  • Jamie Huckabay, Chief of Staff to Premier Jason Kenney, has returned from the United Kingdom.
  • Michael Forian, Press Secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and 2019 Conservative Party candidate, was in Hawaii.
  • Eliza Snider, Press Secretary to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, was in Hawaii.

Premier Jason Kenney has publicly shrugged off the hot holidays, claiming international travel was good for the economy despite his own government’s pandemic recommendations that Albertans don’t do it.

He has refused to fire or publicly discipline the MLAs for ignoring the public health recommendations that millions of Albertans abided by when they cancelled their own winter vacations and Christmas family gatherings.

Kenney says he was unaware of the trips, but it seems unlikely that a politician known for being a intense micromanager and workaholic would not have some inkling that this was happening.

The Premier’s weak response to the jet-set MLAs could suggest a few things: 1) he’s fine with them ignoring the recommendations, 2) there are more MLAs or staffers who travelled overseas on non-essential trips, or 3) support for his leadership in UCP Caucus and Party is tenuous and he cannot afford to discipline so many backbenchers at once.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford fired Finance Minister Rod Philips for attempting to cover up his Christmas vacation to a Caribbean island.

In Alberta, the lack of consequences for making such poor and tone-deaf decisions has stripped back Kenney’s populist-veneer and exposed an arrogant and elitist culture of exceptionalism within the leadership of the UCP.

For her part, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley says all of her party’s 24 MLAs remained in Alberta during the Christmas break.

Perhaps the only good news for Kenney is that the MLA hot holiday scandal, or Alohagate and Hawaiigate as some are calling it, is a distraction from the provincial government’s disappointingly slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

While waiting in the departures lounges of various international airports, some of the UCP MLAs published likely pre-written statements on their social media accounts saying they will now comply with the recommendations and return to Alberta. How thoughftul of them.

With the handful of UCP MLAs now on their way home, there are signs of a growing rift in the party, as two UCP MLAs are now publicly speaking out against the vacationing colleagues.

In a statement published on Facebook, Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones refused to apologize for the sun-seeking MLAs:

Since the most recent COVID-19 measures were announced, a number of my constituents requested guidance related to their own potential holiday travels. I have always encouraged my constituents to follow the public health measures including the following:

“An official global travel advisory remains in effect. Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.”

“The Canada/U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel.”

Michaela Glasgo, the UCP MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, was much more direct, describing the trips as “a major lack of judgment.”

“The directive that we were given was the same as every Albertan, which was to remain responsible, and ultimately I think this was a major lack of judgment shown by some of my colleagues,” Glasgo told CHAT NEWS.

Former UCP MLA Scott Cyr called it a “slap in the face.

Former right-wing talk radio icon Dave Rutherford took to his Facebook page to unload on Kenney.

“Dammit, I’m pissed off that my premier, the guy in whom we had placed such high hopes for principled leadership, has ignored all of the sacrifices that we have all made to fight this virus because ‘we are all in this together,” wrote Rutherford. “Obviously not.”

Ralph Leriger, Mayor of Westlock, also had some strong words in response to the vacationing MLAs and called on Premier Kenney to resign.

Ralph Leriger Mayor of Westlock Kenney Resign
A tweet from Ralph Leriger, Mayor of Westlock

I expect many Albertans are feeling the same way.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Braid and Bell blast Kenney over weak response to UCP MLAs hot holidays

Postmedia’s two main political columnists in Alberta’s daily newspapers blasted Premier Jason Kenney for his weak response to UCP MLAs who ignored government recommendations to stay home and cancel all non-essential international travel to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

At least four UCP MLAs, including Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir, hopped on planes and jetted off to hot holiday destinations this December. Kenney’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, also travelled to the United Kingdom to visit family. 

Don Braid in the Calgary Herald:

While most of us were painfully isolating ourselves from family and friends, trying to decide if we should even risk the grocery store, these people were heading to Hawaii, Mexico the U.K. and the U.S.

By Saturday morning there were seven confirmed UCP politicians and officials who jumped ship for holiday, the latest being MLAs Tanya Fir and Jeremy Nixon.

Maybe Kenney can’t fire any because there are so many. This is a genuine scandal that shows no sign of fading away.

Rick Bell in the Calgary Sun:

Premier, what the hell is going on?

To quote George Orwell, one of your favourite authors, it appears some in your government believe “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Premier, you won’t be able to smart your way out of this one with a few show-off quotations from Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister.

You won’t be able to get us to buy what you’re selling this time by talking about keeping calm and carrying on, patting us on the head and rolling out the keep-a-stiff-upper-lip routine.

It’s a cruel insult now.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Mele Kalikimaka from Tracy Allard and the UCP

Aloha Alberta! 🌺

It’s been a great week on the sunny Big Island! The weather in Hawaii is fantastic and we are really enjoying continuing our family tradition this year. The pandemic has been a real drag back in Alberta, so it felt like a great time to hop on a plane and escape to a tropical paradise! Wake boarding is a real thrill!

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

At the tiki bar yesterday we were thrilled to bump into some UCP staffers who are spending Christmas in Hawaii too! So much fun! 🎉

I’m looking forward to being back soon and attending to my duties as the minister responsible for Alberta’s emergency management agency. I hope the vaccine distribution is going well and everyone is exercising personal responsibility back home!

We wish you could all be here with us! See you soon. ❤️

🌴 Merry Christmas (or Mele Kalikimaka as the locals say!)

Tracy Allard
UCP MLA for Grande Prairie
Minister of Municipal Affairs


This letter is satire, but Tracy Allard’s Christmas vacation to Hawaii in the middle of a global pandemic, when her government was telling Albertans to stay home and avoid non-essential international travel, was not.

Jeremy Nixon

It also appears that Calgary-Klein UCP MLA and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services Jeremy Nixon traveled to Hawaii last month , Calgary-Peigan UCP MLA Tanya Fir went to Las Vegas, and Lesser Slave Lake UCP MLA Pat Rehn may have spent the Christmas break in Mexico.

Premier Jason Kenney’s Chief of Staff, Jamie Huckabay, reportedly also spent Christmas with his family in the United Kingdom, returning through the United States in order to circumvent Canada’s ban on flights from the UK.

Categories
Alberta Politics

What lies ahead for Alberta’s political parties in 2021

With 2020 on its way out here is quick look at what might await Alberta’s political parties in 2021:

United Conservative Party: The UCP will continue pushing through a legislative agenda and ideological project that includes mass privatization of public services and public land, and big job losses for public sector workers.

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

The UCP’s inability to pivot off its agenda has been demonstrated clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic as Health Minister Tyler Shandro continued his fight against Alberta doctors, planned layoffs of thousands of nurses and health care workers, and schemed to privatize large swaths of the public health care system.

Kenney’s inconsistent approach to the pandemic has likely alienated him from both Albertans who would like to see more serious public health measures taken and those who think being required to wear a face-mask in public spaces is too far.

A federal election in 2021 might distract Albertans from the UCP’s mismanaging of the COVID-19 pandemic, so expect the UCP to ramp up attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals. Increasing attacks of the federal government and next year’s promised referendum on equalization and Senate nominee election could also serve as a distraction from poor economic growth and the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit by incoming United States President Joe Biden.

Kenney’s approval ratings took a big hit in 2020 and the UCP has dropped considerably in the polls since 2019. If their leader looks like he has become a liability for re-election in 2023 then expect a change at the top. Conservative parties in Alberta are ruthless with leaders who stop looking like winners, just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

The good news for Kenney is that he is only two years into his government’s four year term in office which leaves him with some time to turn around his political fortunes. But the clock is ticking and the tire-kickers could soon be kicking.

Alberta NDP: It is not often that political leaders in Canada are given a second chance, but despite losing the 2019 election Rachel Notley remains in firm control of her New Democratic Party.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Notley’s moderate NDP is leading or tied with the UCP is three of the four recent voter intention polls released during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and has maintained competitive fundraising levels, but the next election is still more than two years away.

The potential for strikes by public sector workers in 2021 could test the NDP’s political coalition. The NDP’s opponents will inevitably try to use any major labour disputes as a wedge between the party’s union activist wing and its more moderate and centrist supporters.

The key to an NDP victory in 2023 will be a breakthrough in Calgary, smaller urban centres like Lethbridge and Red Deer, and a small handful of suburban and rural ridings scattered across Alberta. The NDP swept those regions in 2015 and Notley has already signalled through her constant visits and social media posts that her focus in 2021 will be Calgary, Calgary, and more Calgary.

Alberta Party: Finding a new permanent leader should be the top focus of this tiny moderate conservative party. The Alberta Party has become home to a small group of disenchanted former Progressive Conservatives unhappy the combative tone and social conservative politics of the UCP. The party lost all its seats in 2019 but continues to poll around 10 per cent support in most surveys. In a two-party political environment, the Alberta Party needs to give Albertans a reason to vote for it that is beyond just not being the UCP or NDP.

Alberta Liberal Party: The Liberals not only need to find a new leader, they need to find a reason to exist. After forming Official Opposition for 19 years, the Liberal vote collapsed in 2012, saw almost all of its supporters migrate to Notley’s NDP in 2015 and lost its only seat in the Assembly in 2019. With the NDP now comfortably occupying the space held by the Liberals in the 1990s and 2000s, the Liberals need a raison d’être in Alberta.

Green Party: Yes, Alberta has a Green Party. The Greens have been issuing a steady stream of press statements that plant the party firmly to the left of the moderate NDP on climate change, the environment and pipelines. It seems unlikely that the party will make any electoral breakthroughs in the near future, but they could put pressure on the NDP to remember that it still has a progressive wing.

Wildrose Independence Party: Also looking for a new leader in 2021, the child of a merger between the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit group in 2020 is now led by former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

While separatist sentiment appears to be waining the further time passes from the last federal election, Hinman has clamped on to the anti-mask and anti-COVID restrictions groups as his focus, appearing at demonstrations in the two cities.

A number of UCP MLAs have expressed similar views, leading some political watchers to believe that one UCP MLA in particular – Drew Barnes – could be auditioning for Hinman’s job if his public comments become too much for the UCP.

The other fringe separatist parties: The Alberta Advantage Party and Independence Party of Alberta are also looking for new leaders. Advantage Party leader Marilyn Burns, a former Wildrose supporter, resigned in the fall amid a leadership challenge and has announced plans to run for the position again. Former Wildrose constituency president Lenard Biscope is now interim leader.

Communist Party of Alberta: Carry on, Comrades.

Thoughts? What do you think awaits Alberta’s political parties in 2021?

Categories
Alberta Politics

Did the UCP back down from its plans to delist Alberta provincial parks?

The devil will be in the details but it appears as though the Alberta government may have backed down from its plans to delist or close 175 of Alberta’s provincial parks.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

Albertans from all corners of the province have rightfully feared that delisting parks and re-classifying them as crown land would remove environmental protections from the land and almost certainly lead to it being sold away to the highest bidder.

I will approach this announcement with caution and skepticism and will wait for more information, but it is very clear that growing public pressure forced the United Conservative Party to make this announcement.

Alberta conservation and environmental groups mounted an aggressive public advocacy campaign called Defend Alberta Parks in support of provincial parks after Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon unilaterally announced the changes without any public consultation earlier this year.

The campaign was arrogantly dismissed by Premier Jason Kenney who casually accused it of being run by “foreign special interest groups” and “green left organizations.” But if you take a drive through almost any neighbourhood in Alberta you are bound to spot green and white Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs.

We discussed this issue and the impact of the campaign with Annalise Klingbeil on episode 55 and episode 63 of the Daveberta Podcast.

Here is the press release from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association in response to the announcement:

“The good news Albertans needed”: Provincial government announces 175 Alberta parks sites will no longer be delisted or closed

December 22, 2020

CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters are happy to see the Government of Alberta’s announcement that all parks included in the February “Optimizing Alberta Parks” plan, which stated that 175 parks sites would be delisted or closed, will now retain their current designations and associated protections.

“This is the good news Albertans needed as we say goodbye to 2020,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta. “After months and months of fighting to keep these parks from losing their protection, we can celebrate the recent announcement from the Government of Alberta.”

The announcement states that “All sites will maintain their parks designations, regardless of whether they have confirmed an operational partnership. All sites will remain protected in law, and are accessible to Albertans for recreation and enjoyment.”

While the release states that there are now 170 parks partnerships, this list includes all the previous Facility Operating Agreements and partnerships, and thus it is unclear exactly how many new partnerships have been found.

“We look forward to transparent operating agreements between all partners and Alberta Environment and Parks to ensure that high standards of conservation and responsible recreation are upheld within all of these sites,” adds Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator with CPAWS Northern Alberta.

While the plan announced in February will not go forward, there is still risk that these areas could lose protection as legislative changes to Alberta’s parks system are expected under the province’s new Crown Land Vision. Our teams will be working to ensure that all of these areas and the entire provincial parks system maintain equivalent or stronger protections under any proposed changes to park legislation.

We encourage all Albertans who believe in the importance of a strong parks and protected area system to take this opportunity to share their opinion through the Government of Alberta’s public engagement on the Crown Land Vision. We encourage everyone to keep their Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs up and keep the pressure on to ensure that any changes only strengthen and improve the protection of Alberta’s parks.

But today, the more than 21,000 Albertans who wrote a letter to their MLA in opposition to the plan to delist and close parks have a reason to celebrate and should be proud that they stood up for their parks.

CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters, along with the Alberta Environment Network, thank the Alberta government for listening to Albertans and providing some much-needed clarity on provincial parks planning that has been called for over the last year. Our teams look forward to hearing further details on parks partnerships and the protections planned for these sites under the Crown Land Vision.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Former PC activist Troy Wason takes over as Alberta Party new executive director

The Alberta Party hasn’t been making many headlines lately, but there will soon be a significant staff change in the ranks of the small moderate conservative party. The party announced today that former Progressive Conservative executive director Troy Wason is taking over as interim executive director of the Alberta Party, replacing outgoing interim executive director Mark Taylor.

Troy Wason
Troy Wason

A well-respected long-time PC Party activist, Wason took over as executive director of the PC Party following the long-time governing party’s defeat in the 2015 election and resigned on the day Jason Kenney became that party’s leader in 2017.

Wason’s joining the Alberta Party could provide some internal direction for the party, which lost all of 3 of its seats in the 2019 election. The party continues to struggle to define itself and remains without a bigger key player – a permanent leader.

The Alberta Party has been without a permanent leader since the resignation of former leader Stephen Mandel in June 2019. The role remained vacant until earlier this year when former Fort Sasktachewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske was named as interim leader, solidifying the party’s image as a refuge for former PC supporters uncomfortable with the social conservative flavour of the United Conservative Party and unable to support the moderate New Democratic Party.

The party was expected to have held a leadership race in 2020 but, like most other things, it was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney introduces Alberta’s not-a-lockdown lockdown

Amid a month-long spike in new COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced increased measures and restrictions on businesses that include closing casinos, bar and in-person dining in restaurants, and a province-wide mandatory face-mask requirement. The measures are necessary but come after weeks of feet-dragging by provincial leaders.

Weaker measures introduced two weeks ago proved ineffective but you will not hear Premier Jason Kenney admit it, and you will not hear him call the new measures a lockdown.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Despite loud warnings from physicians, public health professionals and health care unions over the past month that the government was not taking serious enough action to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, Kenney’s government attacked and mocked those calling for some of the same measures he introduced today.

At times it has seemed as as though Kenney was more concerned with not doing anything that might alienate elements of his political base than he was in taking measures to actually stop or slow the spread of the virus. This concern about his voter base appears to also include an avoidance of the word “lockdown,” despite it being an appropriate description of what the government has implemented.

The government’s new measures still fall short of the “circuit-breaker” lockdown proposed by health care professionals and the more comprehensive plan proposed by New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley.

As of today, there are 20,388 active cases province-wide and have been 640 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Still no federal app

The measures announced by Kenney still did not include the activation of the federal CovidAlert app in Alberta. The federal app has become one of the latest targets of partisan attacks against Ottawa, with cabinet minister Jason Nixon referring to it as the “Trudeau Tracing App.”

Despite the adoption of the ABTraceTogether App early in the pandemic, it has proven ineffective and is reported to have only been effectively used 19 times since it was launched in the spring.

Unlike Alberta’s app, the federal app allows contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 across provincial boundaries.

Schweitzer shows a little humanity, some leadership potential

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Along with Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the press conference announcing the increased measures featured Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.

Engaging in a bit of mischief-making, Lethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips mused about Schweitzer’s performance and potential leadership ambitions. While Phillips’ commentary was certainly designed to create mischief, she may have a point.

Compared to Kenney, who remains robotic, unemotional and prone to partisan outbursts, and Shandro, who appears to perpetually carry a giant chip on his shoulder, Schweitzer sounded like a real human being. While he does have a serious ‘dude bro’ vibe and his comments today were weighed down by business jargon, he was a much clearer and sympathetic communicator than his two colleagues.

Shannon Phillips NDP MLA Lethbridge West
Shannon Phillips

Kenney has displayed almost complete command and control over the United Conservative Party and Caucus since taking over as leader in 2017, but he has clearly failed to demonstrate leadership during the biggest crisis in a generation. Recent polls show Kenney’s leadership approval ratings have continued to plummet, the NDP are leading in province-wide support, and only 25 per cent of Albertans approve of how the UCP government has responded the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenney may be in complete control of his party today, but history shows that Conservative parties in Alberta can be ruthless towards leaders who become liabilities at the ballot box. Just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 64: Pandemic, Partisanship, and Post-Secondary Education in Alberta

Melanee Thomas University of Calgary
Melanee Thomas

Melanee Thomas joined Dave Cournoyer for a deep dive into Alberta’s politics during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the relationship between the provincial and federal governments, and how Albertans’ political self-identification could be influencing Premier Jason Kenney’s decision to avoid serious public health measures including a province-wide mandatory mask mandate. Thomas also shared what it has been like to teach at a university during the global pandemic.

Thomas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary.

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.

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Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta politics this week… where do I even start?

It’s 9:30 p.m. I’m sitting down in my living room with the intention of writing a piece about what happened in Alberta politics this week. But where the heck do I even start?

I could write about Premier Jason Kenney‘s growing focus on not alienating anti-vaxxers following his recent announcement about the potential distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021. Or I could write about how Health Minister Tyler Shandro amplified Kenney’s comments that basically amount to protecting anti-vaxxers from a vaccine that could stop a pandemic that has almost ground many part of our society and economy to a halt this year.

I could also write about Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s announcement today that there were more than 1,800 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths in Alberta. Overworked doctors and nurses also remain concerned that understaffed hospitals could be overwhelmed by the growing number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And Alberta remains the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.

I would like to write about the steady stream of information leaks coming from the Alberta government to the media and the NDP opposition, which has led to stories about public health advice presented to cabinet, modelling projections and the government’s plans to set up Red Cross and federal government field hospitals in Alberta.

I could write about how in a radio interview this week, Kenney singled out the South Asian community in northeast Calgary as spreaders of COVID-19. I could also write about City Councillor George Chahal‘s response, tweeting that Kenney “should focus on those knowingly putting our frontline workers and their families at risk by violating public health orders, not the people working the jobs we need to keep our city going during a global pandemic.”

I might also write about the handful of recent public opinion polls that suggest the Kenney government is continuing to flounder. Kenney’s approval rating has dropped to 40 per cent, according to a recent Angus Reid survey, and the United Conservative Party fell behind the New Democratic Party in a voter intention poll conducted by Environics and commissioned by CUPE Alberta.

But I also might pen a piece about how politicians from other provinces are starting to refer to Alberta to downplay the spread of COVID in their own provinces.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, the wife of Kenney’s former colleague the late Jim Flaherty, singled out Alberta during Question Period at Queen’s Park earlier this week.

“You want to speak about who is in crisis? Have you taken a look at Alberta, where they’re doubling up patients in intensive care units? We’re not doing that in Ontario,” Elliott said.

And our neighbours to the north are even asking questions about us. Northwest Territories MLA Kevin O’Reilly is asking whether the territory will stop sending patients to Alberta.

I might delve into why the Alberta government has left at least $300 million on the table that could be used to pay top-up wages to health-care workers, correctional officers, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta Senator Paula Simons asked about that in Ottawa this week.

Or I could write about how the Alberta government’s own data seems to contradict Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon‘s claims about provincial parks being shuttered and privatized because of low usage.

I could try to figure out what in the world Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan means when he raised red flags about “socialist decarbonization” during a private members statement in the Legislative Assembly this week. But that might take a series of think-pieces to even attempt to explain.

Now I’m getting tired, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts and a tweet from William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, about the Alberta government’s stubborn refusal to adopt the federal CovidAlert Tracing app.

Good night.

Categories
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.