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Alberta Politics

Week 1 Update from the Calgary-Lougheed by-election

Photo: Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed. The Calgary-Lougheed electoral district is named after Lougheed.

It has been one week since the Calgary-Lougheed by-election was called. The by-election is being held on Dec. 14, 2017, but voters in this district also have the option of voting in advance polls on Dec. 6, 7, 8 and 9, 2017.

This is the third by-election since the general election of 2017 that swept the New Democratic Party into government. And like the previous two by-elections, this one will be held in a district where voters elected a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015.

Four candidates have so far been nominated to stand in the by-election:

Phillip van der Merwe, New Democratic Party

Premier Rachel Notley was on-hand with Alberta NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe at tonight’s opening of the party’s campaign office in Calgary-Lougheed. Having just returned from speaking engagements in Vancouver and Toronto, where she pitched the benefits of oil pipelines, Notley returned to Calgary days after the Conference Board of Canada projected Alberta’s economy could grow by 6.7 percent in 2018.

But do not expect the NDP to spend much time focusing on economic issues. They are doing their utmost to make sure Jason Kenney’s opposition to the recent Gay-Straight Alliance law and his support from anti-abortion groups remains a topic of discussion.

This will be a tough election for the NDP, as this area of southwest Calgary is considered bedrock conservative territory. In the recent Calgary mayoral election, voters in this part of Calgary supported conservative Bill Smith over progressive Naheed Nenshi.

Jason Kenney, United Conservative Party

UCP candidate Jason Kenney drew a big crowd of supporters when he opened his campaign office on Nov 19, 2017. The recently elected UCP leader is almost universally considered the favourite to win this by-election.

Kenney and his supporters have started to claim that Albertans’ home heating bills will increase by 75 percent because of the province’s Carbon Levy. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips denied Kenney’s claims, describing them as ‘patently false,’ but the UCP has capitalized on confusion about the provincial and federal carbon taxes in order to draw connections between the Notley NDP and the Trudeau Liberals.

The claims are reminiscent of Kenney’s rhetoric and photo-op from December 31, 2016, when he insinuated the same Carbon Levy would lead to a spike in automobile gas prices. That didn’t happen. With constant predictions that the sky is falling on the issue of a carbon tax and rampant truthiness on other issues, Kenney is sounding more and more like Chicken Little.

David Khan, Liberal Party

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader
David Khan

Liberal Party leader David Khan announced he will stand as his party’s candidate in this by-election. The Liberals currently hold only one seat in the Legislature, Calgary-Mountain View represented by former leader and fourth-term MLA David Swann.

This will be Khan’s third election attempt since 2014 and his first since becoming leader earlier this year.

He first ran as his party’s candidate the 2014 Calgary-West by-election, where he placed 3rd with 8.5 percent of the vote. In the 2015 general election he ran in Calgary-Buffalo, where he placed 3rd with 24.7 percent of the vote (the constituency was represented by Kent Hehr from 2008 to 2015).

The Liberals will host an “Ugly Christmas Sweater & Karaoke Party” fundraiser at Khan’s campaign office on December 9, 2017.

Romy Tittel, Green Party

Romy Tittel Alberta Green Party Leader
Romy Tittel

Recently elected Green Party leader Romy Tittel will run as her party’s candidate in the by-election. An online statement said she plans to champion “Doughnut Economics” based on Kate Raworth’s 21st century vision for future economic health and prosperity.

Tittel was selected as the party’s leader at a November 5, 2017 meeting in Red Deer. She previously ran for the federal Green Party in the 2015 general election in Foothills, where she placed 4th with 3.25 percent of the vote.

No candidate, Alberta Party

The Alberta Party announced this week that it will not be running a candidate in the by-election. Party leader Greg Clark, who is stepping down as party leader next year, called the results of the by-election “a foregone conclusion,” suggesting that the party would have no chance of defeating Kenney.

This is the second consecutive by-election in which the party’s has declined to run a candidate. In a Feb. 29, 2016 media release about the Calgary-Greenway by-election, party leader Greg Clark said “Running in this byelection is not the best use of our resources as we build towards 2019.”

Sitting out this by-election presents a missed opportunity for the Alberta Party to debut itself following its revival last weekend in Red Deer. But having their candidate get clobbered by Kenney would take a bite out of their narrative that they are a growing home for moderate conservative voters. By not running a candidate, the Alberta Party saves themselves the embarrassment of placing third, fourth or fifth in this by-election.

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Alberta Politics

Calgary-Lougheed by-election set for December 14, 2017

Photo: Calgary-Lougheed NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe. (Photo source: YouTube)

A provincial by-election will be held in Calgary-Lougheed on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Jason Kenney
Jason Kenney

The by-election was necessitated by the resignation of United Conservative Party MLA Dave Rodney on October 30, 2017 to allow his party’s new leader, Jason Kenney, to seek a seat in the Legislative Assembly. Kenney was officially nominated as his party’s candidate earlier this week and is widely seen as the favourite to win the by-election.

“In this by-election, Calgary-Lougheed voters can tell the NDP to stop their job-killing policies, stop quadrupling the province’s debt and stop raising our taxes,” Kenney said in a press release, setting a curmudgeonly tone for the by-election campaign.

Along with a strong party organization in this fairly safe Conservative voting electoral district, Kenney will have the support of various Conservative political action committees.

The New Democratic Party will nominate physician Phillip van der Merwe as their candidate on Saturday, November 18, 2017. van der Merwe practices medicine at a Family Practice and Vasectomy Clinic in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood. He was the co-chair of the PCN Physician Leads Executive when Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced a new agreement with the province’s doctors to overhaul the primary care network system.

van der Merwe is also openly gay and married, which could create some interesting politics because of Kenney’s opposition to the recently passed Bill 24, which prevents teachers from outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances to their parents.

According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, van der Merwe donated $1,500 to Alberta Party leader Greg Clark‘s campaigns in the 2014 by-election and 2015 general election in Calgary-Elbow.

van der Merwe told Postmedia’s Don Braid that he was running for the NDP “because I don’t believe the NDP is anything but a good centrist alternative for all Albertans … an inclusive and welcoming party.”

The other parties have yet to announce their candidates, though there is speculation that new party leaders David Khan of the Liberal Party and Romy Tittel of the Green Party will join the race. The Alberta Party is also expected to run a candidate in this by-election.

Here is a look at election results from Calgary-Lougheed for the General Elections from 1993 to 2015:
Categories
Alberta Politics

AAMDC wants a Rural Alberta Electoral Advantage

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties approved a resolution opposing the recommendations included in the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission this week at their annual meeting in Edmonton. The organization representing municipal districts and counties opposes the dissolution of three rural districts and is calling for an amendment to Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

A press release issued by the AAMDC states the organization has no issue with the creation of new urban seats to support the significant growth in the urban centres, but feels strongly these seats should not be created at the expense of rural Alberta.

“To suggest that effective representation will be achieved by decreasing the number of long-standing rural seats will disservice rural Alberta greatly,” AAMDC president Al Kemmere said in the news release. “Rural communities are an intrinsic part of Alberta and as such, deserve to have a voice in our democratic institutions.”

Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act limits the number of districts represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly to 87. Presumably, the AAMDC would like to see an increase to the total number of MLAs in order to offset the loss of rural representation in the Assembly.

In 2010, then-Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced Bill 28: Electoral Division Act, which increased the total number of electoral districts represented in the Legislature from 83 to 87. It was widely believed that this increase was an attempt to quell political opposition to any decrease in rural representation by the large caucus of rural Progressive Conservative MLAs.

The Commission’s final report recommends the creation of three new urban districts to reflect significant population growth in urban municipalities such as Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, Edmonton and Spruce Grove. The report’s recommendations also reflect the considerable growth of suburban and acreage communities in counties surrounding these urban areas.

While most areas of the province have experienced some level of population growth since the last time electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2011, some rural areas east of Red Deer and in east central Alberta have experience a decline in population.

The elimination of rural districts will result in geographically larger rural districts. This will pose increased challenges to MLAs who will need to represent more sprawling and geographically diverse constituencies, but the elimination of rural districts is inevitable unless their populations increase at a rate larger than the growing urban areas.

Rural Alberta has experienced a significant decline in electoral representation over the past fifty years, partly due to population growth in the urban centres but mostly due to the gradual elimination of intentional political gerrymandering of electoral districts, which created a lopsided over-representation of rural MLAs in the Assembly.

In the 1967 election, rural Albertans were 31 percent of the population but rural areas represented 44 of 63 electoral districts in the province. That rural overrepresentation declined only slightly in the 1971 election, when rural Albertans represented 27 percent of the population and 42 of 75 electoral districts.

The blatant overrepresentation of rural areas over the province’s growing urban areas continued under the old PC government until at least the mid-1990s. Rural gerrymandering was once a hallmark of Alberta’s political history, but recent Electoral Boundary Commissions worked to equalize representation of rural and urban areas in the Assembly.

Politics and Rural Representation

When the Commission’s final report is introduced for debate in the Assembly, which could happen in the coming weeks, we can expect the United Conservative Party caucus to oppose many of the recommended changes. While there are legitimate concerns with some of the boundary changes impacting rural areas, the UCP will use the report’s recommendations to attack the urban-based New Democratic Party, which is already unpopular in rural Alberta.

Unlike the PC caucus in 2010 and the UCP caucus in 2017, the governing NDP caucus is largely composed of MLAs representing urban districts in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The relatively small rural NDP caucus, which includes Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Economic Development Associate Minister Jessica Littlewood, does not have the numerical leverage over their colleagues that rural caucuses have had in the past.

The decreasing influence of rural MLAs in Alberta governments since 2012, when the Wildrose Party swept into opposition, led the AAMDC to find itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

For many years, the AAMDC was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many rural politicians had used the organization as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former county reeves Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk and Ed Stelmach).

The PCs under Redford’s leadership struggled to communicate rural interests in government and it is unclear if the current NDP government even has much of a rural agenda.

This week’s announcement from Shaye Anderson that the government will provide a tax credit for uncollectible education property taxes on defunct oil and gas properties, known as orphan wells, should be popular among rural municipal leaders. But previous transgressions, like the fumbled passage of Bill 6 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants early in the NDP’s term in government created significant resentment in rural areas. These issues will pose a major challenge for NDP MLAs seeking re-election in rural districts in the 2019 election.

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Alberta Politics

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll
Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill
Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths
Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party
Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.
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Daveberta Podcast

Pilot Episode: Julie Payette and Jason Kenney

Daveberta Podcast Alberta PoliticsIn a first of what we expect to be a regular feature, I have joined forces with conservative political commentator Ryan Hastman in launching the Daveberta Podcast.

In our pilot episode, recorded on November 5, 2017, Ryan and I were joined by our talented producer Adam Rozenhart to talk about why we are starting a podcast, recent comments made by Governor General Julie Payette about science and faith, and Jason Kenney’s new role as leader of the United Conservative Party and what that could mean for Alberta politics.

We hope you enjoy listening to this podcast. Ryan and I plan to start regular recordings of this show soon, so if you enjoy it or have suggestions for topics of future episodes please let us know.

Thanks for listening.

Dave

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney and the Secret Gay-Straight Alliance Agenda

Despite pledging to build a big tent conservative party, Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party MLAs appear to be doing their best this week to define themselves as the voice of social conservatism in Alberta. While I was convinced this new Conservative party would be disciplined enough to avoid being caught in the trap they found themselves in 2014 and again earlier this year, their actions this week suggest otherwise.

Mike Ellis MLA Calgary-West United Conservative Party
Mike Ellis

UCP opposition to Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, has caught the party on the wrong side of public opinion and on the wrong side of history. The bill would protect the privacy of students who decide to participate in a student-organized Gay-Straight Alliance and prevent those students to be outed to their parents by teachers or school administrators.

While introducing an amendment to Bill 24, Calgary-West UCP MLA Mike Ellis suggested GSAs could be a cover for the teaching of a covert sexual education curriculum. Ellis told the Assembly that his party “unequivocally support GSAs” but he believed the bill “deliberately or unwittingly erodes parental rights.”

“…it’s deeply disappointing that the members opposite continue to peddle dangerous conspiracy theories instead of accepting the simple fact that this is about protecting kids,” said Calgary-Hawkwood NDP MLA Michael Connolly in response to Ellis’ proposed amendment.

While Ellis did not actually use the words ‘secret gay agenda’ when suggesting GSAs could have a covert sexual education curriculum (which they do not), one of Kenney’s prominent supporters is actually saying just that.

Ted Byfield Alberta United Conservative Party
Ted Byfield

Conservative commentator and former Alberta Report publisher Ted Byfield, age 88, shared some pretty disgusting opinions  about GSAs on his blog, referring to the student-organized anti-bullying clubs as “sex clubs” designed to push a homosexual agenda.

“If my son or daughter, having reached, say, the age of ten or eleven, is lured into a school sex club, is persuaded that he or she must be homosexual, acts accordingly, acquires HIV and then AIDS and remains crippled for life, whom do I sue?” wrote Byfield. “The government, or the minister that helped bring this tragedy upon us?”

Byfield’s blog post made a powerful argument for why Bill 24 is necessary to protect LGBTQ students, wrote Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson.

I was surprised to discover the recent announcement that Byfield will be awarded a Senate 150 Medal by Edmonton Conservative Party Senator Betty Unger. The medal recipients were chosen “in recognition of their significant contributions to their communities.” According to a message on Unger’s Facebook page, the medals will be presented in a ceremony on November 14.

Michael Connolly NDP MLA Calgary Hawkwood
Michael Connolly

Despite the opposition of the UCP and some outdated conservative commentators, educators and school board trustees continue to voice their support for the NDP’s Bill 24.

Cheryl Low, chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, told the Calgary Herald that the changes included in Bill 24 align with the school division’s current procedures.

David Keohane, superintendent of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, told the St. Albert Gazette that his board appears to be in compliance with the new bill. “Job number one is ensuring the safety and well-being of a child while they’re at school,” Keohane told the Gazette, noting that outing a child before he or she is ready can harm them.

John Lehners, chair of the Grande Prairie Public School District, told the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune that “I don’t think we’d have a lot of problems adhering to (the new requirement) because I think a lot of our policies reflect that.”

Despite school trustees from across the province voicing their support for Bill 24, Kenney argues that teachers should be allowed to decide when to inform parents when a student joins a GSA.

“We trust highly trained educators to use their professional judgment to make decisions in the best interests of children, particularly given that this policy applies to children as young as five years of age,” Kenney said in a press conference on November 2. It is unclear where Kenney found evidence that five year olds have been organizing GSAs, which seems like a fairly silly and weird claim.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Greg Jeffery, says his organization supports Bill 24. Jeffery also says a lack of response by Kenney is the reason he has been unable to arrange a meeting to discuss education issues with the new UCP leader.

Perhaps the most convincing argument I have heard this week in response to Kenney’s opposition to Bill 24 came in the form of a comment on Facebook:

“I’m frustrated by the way he is using the “teachers know better than politicians” line. Actually, as a teacher, we don’t. The point of the legislation is that the student gets to decide when and to whom they come out, because that is best for the mental health of the student. I feel like he is trying to frame the issue to make himself appear that he is on the side of the teachers, when in reality, many support this bill because it supports the mental health of some of our most vulnerable students. He says he doesn’t want to out LGBTQ+ students, when mere months ago he was saying exactly that to pander to his social conservative base. So frustrating.”

Kenney’s reaction to Bill 24 this week actually surprised me. I did not expect the UCP leader to embrace a progressive agenda, but I believed a 20-year veteran of Ottawa politics would at a bare minimum take a reasonable approach to creating safe school environments for students, not, as Postmedia columnist Paula Simons tweeted this week, sound an “air raid siren of homophobia.”

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Alberta Politics

Kenney’s UCP comes out against NDP’s latest Gay-Straight Alliance bill

Photo: Jason Kenney with UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Leela Aheer, Ric McIver and Prab Gill on October 30, 2017.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced on November 7, 2017 that his party’s MLAs will vote against Education Minister David Eggen’s Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay-Straight Alliances.

David Eggen

Kenney’s declaration of opposition to the bill came the morning after UCP Legislature leader Jason Nixon told reporters that UCP MLAs would be allowed a free-vote on the bill. It is not clear whether their unanimous opposition is the result of a free-vote, or whether the unanimity reached was directed by Kenney.

The bill would prohibit school administrators from informing parents when students join GSAs, which are student organized safe space clubs, or anti-bullying clubs. A study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

The bill has the support of Premier Rachel Notley‘s 54 New Democratic Party MLAs, 2 Alberta Party MLAs and Liberal MLA David Swann, making its passage into law almost certain. Numerous public school board trustees have voiced their support for the bill.

Medicine Hat Public School Division board chair Rick Massini, told Medicine Hat News that “…GSAs are instrumental in providing students with a sense of security and safety. Certainly, for some kids, having that information shared with parents would be pretty devastating for them. I am glad to see there is something formal in place to protect them.”

Fort McMurray Catholic School District board chair Paula Galenzoski told Fort McMurray Today that “Our board has always been supportive of our LGBT community and LGBT students, and the health and inclusion of all students. If a person isn’t able to stay safe in their environment, then we’re failing big.”

Even former MLA Jeff Wilson, who served as a Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Shaw from 2012 to 2015, is urging UCP MLAs to vote in favour of Bill 24.

The NDP see Bill 24 as an important law to protect students that also has the added benefit of being a wedge issue that has divided conservatives in the past. When private members motions and bills supporting GSAs were brought to the Legislature in 2014 by then-Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman, the debate led to a damaging public split between moderate and social conservatives in the Wildrose and PC caucuses.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

The political message of Bill 24 is directly aimed at Kenney, who was widely criticized after commenting to Postmedia’s Calgary editorial board that parents should be informed when students join a GSA. The comments created imagery of state-sanctioned outing of gay kids who might be fearful of their family’s reaction.

The issue even caused the normally front-and-centre Kenney to go into hiding, reemerging one month later at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative fundraiser at a posh downtown Vancouver restaurant.

As a wedge issue I am not sure how many votes this bill alone will move from the UCP to the NDP column in the next election. I suspect it serves primarily to solidify support for the NDP on this already clearly defined issue, while drawing out the social conservative tendencies of Kenney and his UCP.

Creating safe school environments for students is critical, but reigniting the political debate on this overwrought issue risks creating a distraction from the NDP’s broader education agenda.

The UCP opposition to Bill 24 contradicts much speculation that Kenney would pivot toward more moderate stances on social issues. But as I wrote last month, I suspect Kenney and the UCP are betting that Albertans will forgive their social conservative stances when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular economic policies. Notley and the NDP are betting that this bill to protect Alberta students will convince voters consider otherwise.

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Alberta Politics

A wild first week back at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley rallies her NDP Caucus MLAs before the start of the fall legislative sitting on Oct. 30, 2017. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta Flickr)

NDP focus their attacks on Kenney

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta
Jason Kenney

A first-time visitor to the Assembly this week could have confused Premier Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats with the Official Opposition as backbencher after backbencher asked government ministers to explain the damage that new UCP leader Jason Kenney would do to Alberta. The NDP even released a handful of attack ads on Facebook, targeting Kenney’s comments about outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances.

The NDP want to define Kenney and the UCP early in his mandate and are eager to respond to the vicious attacks targeted at them by the Wildrose Party, Kenney’s supporters, and now the UCP since the 2015 election. But this week’s opening shots were over-kill.

We cannot expect political parties to avoid playing politics, especially as we approach the next provincial election. The NDP have every right to challenge Kenney on his controversial statements but the government should carry itself with a little more dignity than it did this week with it’s staged criticisms of the new UCP leader in the Assembly.

New GSA and anti-age discrimination laws

Kathleen Ganley Alberta MLA
Kathleen Ganley

Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, which provides legal protections for students wanting to form anti-bullying clubs in Alberta schools and prevents administrators from outing students to their parents.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley tabled Bill 23: Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, which adds “age” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in cases of tenancy, goods, services and accommodation. The bill puts an end to adults-only apartment buildings as of Jan. 1, 2018 and gives condo owners a 15-year grace period to implement the new rules. Seniors-only housing is exempt.

UCP trying to tie Notley to Trudeau

United Conservative Party leader in the Legislature Jason Nixon started Question Period each day this week with a question to the Premier about oil pipelines and the relationship between Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As I wrote earlier this week, the UCP clearly sees a political advantage in trying to tie the Notley government to the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa.

The National Post’s Stuart Thomson has written an exceedingly good article that focuses on Kenney’s political views and the influence of the Calgary School on his version of Conservative ideology.

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader
David Khan

Ottawa comes to the UCP Caucus

Following Kenney’s victory in last weekend’s UCP leadership race, more than 20 UCP Caucus staffers, mostly former Wildrose Caucus staff, lost their jobs at the Legislative Assembly.

According to AlbertaPolitics.ca writer David Climenhaga, Kenney has hired a handful of his close advisors, many from his years in Ottawa, to run the UCP Caucus: Chief of Staff Nick Koolsbergen, Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf, Calgary Office Manager Blaise Boehmer, Communications Director Annie Dormuth, Director of Operations Jamie Mozeson, Daniel Williams, Peter Bissonnette and Andrew Griffin.

Liberals get traction on PAC Attack

Constant criticism from Liberal Party leader David Khan and David Swann, his party’s lone MLA, appears to be generating results in their crusade against Political Action Committees. Khan made PACs a big issue following his win in the party’s leadership race earlier this year. Notley has said new laws governing PACs will be introduced soon, most likely in the Spring of 2018.

Alberta Party should get Official Status

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA
Greg Clark

Now with two MLAs in the Alberta Party Caucus, the third largest caucus in the Assembly wants to be granted official party status, which would give Greg Clark and Karen McPherson increased resources and a more prominent role in daily Question Period.

Section 42 of the Legislative Assembly Act states that “recognized party status” shall be granted to a caucus with at least 4 MLAs and a party that received at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent election.

Clark has pointed out that the NDP were granted official party status when only two of the party’s MLAs were elected in 1997, 2001 and 2008. But in each of those elections, the NDP met the second criteria of earning more than 5 percent of the vote. The Alberta Party currently meets neither of these criteria, having only earned 2.8 percent of the province-wide vote in 2015.

New Democrats who might oppose granting the Alberta Party official status should be reminded of their own party’s situation 35 years ago, when first-term Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin introduced a private members bill that would have lowered the threshold of recognized party status to one MLA. At the time, huge Progressive Conservative majorities were the norm, and in the 1982 election the only elected opposition consisted of two New Democrats and two Independent MLAs (both former Social Credit MLAs who would later form the Representative Party of Alberta).

The four-MLA threshold is arbitrary and the vote results from the previous election should be irrelevant in recognizing the creation of new caucuses. The Alberta Party should be granted recognized party status, provided with additional resources and given a more prominent role in Question Period now that their caucus has doubled.

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Alberta Politics

Get ready for a by-election in Calgary-Lougheed

Photo: A map of the Calgary-Lougheed constituency.

With Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney expected to resign tomorrow in order to provide new United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney an opportunity to enter the Legislative Assembly, a by-election will need to be called by May 1, 2018.

Dave Rodney MLA Calgary Lougheed
Dave Rodney

The exact timing of the by-election will be determined by Premier Rachel Notley but the smart money is on it being called soon. Every day that Kenney is not tied up with Legislative duties in Edmonton, he will be campaigning across the province.

Despite being a close race in the 2015 election, with Rodney finishing 502 votes ahead of New Democrat Mihai Ion, the Orange Wave is now at low tide in Calgary. It seems likely that Kenney should have an easy time being elected in this constituency, which has elected conservative MLAs since it was first created in 1993 (but as well all know, by-elections can sometimes produce unexpected results…).

There is some irony that Kenney, who is in the midst of an ongoing feud with the Lougheed family, would become the MLA for a constituency named after Peter Lougheed. As a Member of Parliament, Kenney was quoted in 1999 describing the “neo-Stalinist make-work projects of the Lougheed and Getty years.

Presented with the chance to directly challenge Kenney, will Liberal Party leader David Khan carry his party’s banner in the by-election? His chance of victory are slim to none, but it would give him an opportunity to campaign and potentially face Kenney in any local all-candidates debates (if Kenney participates).

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader
David Khan

The by-election also provides an opportunity for the Alberta Party to run a candidate. The party did not participate in the last Calgary by-election in Calgary-Greenway, but the recent floor-crossing of former NDP MLA Karen McPherson and potential future floor-crossings by former PC MLAs could provide some momentum for the upstart party.

The Calgary-Lougheed constituency was first created in 1993 and was represented by Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning until 1997. PC MLA Marlene Graham then represented the constituency until 2004, when Rodney was first elected.

This would be the second time in recent history that a sitting MLA resigned in order to allow a party leader to run in a by-election. Len Webber resigned as MLA for Calgary-Foothills in 2014 to trigger a by-election for PC Party leader Jim Prentice. And in 1998, former Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell stepped down as MLA for Edmonton-McClung to allow new party leader Nancy MacBeth to run in a by-election.

I have created a dedicated webpage to track party nominations and the candidates running in the Calgary-Lougheed by-election.

Here is a look at election results from Calgary-Lougheed for the General Elections from 1993 to 2015:
 

 

No place for second place in the UCP?

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede AlbertaFormer Wildrose leader and recent UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean was the only UCP MLA not assigned a role in the new Official Opposition critic roster.

Jean told reporters that he declined to accept any critic role, and despite the ill will generated towards each other in the leadership race, it seems hard to believe Kenney would completely shut-out the former party leader.

But this move, or lack thereof, will undoubtably fuel rumours that Jean is considering leaving politics. His resignation would trigger a by-election in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, which he has represented since May 2015.

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Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney as the face of Conservatism in Alberta

When the Legislative Assembly resumes for its fall sitting on Monday, there will be a new seating plan.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader
Brian Jean

A new Official Opposition United Conservative Caucus made up of twenty-two former Wildrose MLAs and six former Progressive Conservative MLAs will make its debut.

Richard Starke of Vermilion-Lloydminster will continue to sit as a lone PC MLA and former UCP MLA Rick Fraser of Calgary-South East will join exiled former Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt as Independent MLAs. Former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson will join Greg Clark in doubling the Alberta Party Caucus. And sitting alongside Premier Rachel Notley in the government front-benches will be newly appointed Minister of Infrastructure Sandra Jansen, who left the PCs to join the NDP last November.

Leading the new United Conservative Party Caucus will be former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney, who won yesterday’s leadership vote with 61 percent, defeating former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who finished with 31 percent, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who finished a distant third with 7 percent.

Kenney does not have a seat in the Assembly and indicated today that Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney will resign on November 1, 2017 in order to create a by-election for his party’s new leader. Rodney was first elected in 2004.

David Eggen

As the new leader of the Official Opposition, Kenney will face some immediate issues as the Assembly reconvenes. He will need to reorganize his caucus office staff, reassign his party’s MLAs to new critic roles, and set an opposition agenda for the next 16 months. Kenney will do his best to avoid the bozoeruptions that plagued the former Wildrose MLAs in his UCP caucus and pivot to issues that will solidify his party’s conservative base.

As Kenney enters his new role as the new face of Conservatism in Alberta, the NDP will hope that Albertans forgive their more unpopular policies when reminded of the new UCP leader’s more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric.

Education Minister David Eggen will introduce legislation making it illegal for schools to “out” students who join gay-straight alliances. Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances will reopen an issue that had conservative politicians tying themselves in knots after Kenney told a Postmedia editorial board that he would support teachers outing students who join GSAs.

Eggen has said most schools have been working with the province to establish codes of conduct against discrimination and adopt policies to protect LGBTQ youth, but a small group of mostly publicly-subsidized private schools are resisting. This bill could reignite the debate over the existence of publicly-subsidized private schools, some of which charge tens of thousands of tuition per student in order to attend.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

Despite calls from their political allies, Notley’s NDP government has avoided overhauling the structure of Alberta’s school system. But open resistance by private schools over GSAs, and by publicly-funded Catholic Superintendents wanting to dumb-down the Sexual Education curriculum, could force a debate over accountability of public funds being provided to these religious schools.

Kenney has been a vocal supporter of the Catholic schools, claiming that Notley’s opposition to a dumbed-down Sexual Education curriculum is the “statist ideology of the NDP on steroids.”

Of course, Notley is not telling publicly-funded Catholic schools not to teach Catholicism, she is telling them that they must teach consent and acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (welcome to the 21st century).

Alberta is one of a few remaining provinces that provides full public funding to Catholic schools. Former PC MLA David King, who served as education minister from 1979 to 1986, has collected close to 1,000 signatures in an online petition demanding a referendum on the future of publicly funded Catholic schools in Alberta.

David King

On the flip-side, as Kenney enters his role as UCP leader, he will hope that Albertans forgive his more bizarre social conservative views and rhetoric when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.

Repealing farm safety laws and the government’s climate leadership plan, including the carbon tax and phase-out of dirty coal-fired power plants, were two of his key promises, along with much chest-thumping about withdrawing from Canada’s equalization program (which is not something any province can do, because the funds are collected through Canadian federal income taxes, not by the provinces).

We can expect Kenney to spend a lot of time criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has developed a relatively friendly working relationship with Notley’s government on issues ranging from oil pipeline construction to climate change. With deep connections to the Conservatives in Ottawa, expect a Kenney-led UCP to march in lockstep with their federal cousins on these issues.

Justin Trudeau

Notley’s NDP subtly shifted their messaging last year, focusing on launching new programs and projects they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the Kenney-led UCP, who they will argue would attack public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has said that if he becomes Premier in 2019, the months that follow would be known as the “Summer of Repeal” as his government would immediately move to repeal legislation passed by the NDP since 2015. The trouble with Kenney’s promise to repeal all of the NDP’s agenda is that, despite anger from conservatives still bitter from losing the 2015 election, some of the changes introduced by Notley’s NDP are popular among Albertans.

Would a UCP government cancel the construction of the Cancer Treatment Centre and the Green Line in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Would Kenney close schools and hospitals, like his political role model Ralph Klein did in the 1990s? Expect the NDP start asking these questions when MLAs meet in Edmonton tomorrow.

This weekend’s UCP leadership vote and the resumption of the Legislative session tomorrow marks a huge change in Alberta’s political landscape. Alberta politics has changed drastically over the past two years, and even the past decade. The next few weeks, and the next 16 months, in Alberta politics will be fascinating to watch.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta NDP tops fundraising for 3rd quarter in a row, UCP expected to catch up in 4th quarter

Elections Alberta released the financial disclosures showing the results of political party fundraising in the third quarter of 2017.

Here are my quick thoughts on the latest fundraising numbers:

  • The NDP continue to demonstrate an impressive ability to raise money in Alberta. The NDP has raised the most of any party in the first three quarters of 2017.
  • This is the United Conservative Party’s first-ever quarter of fundraising, and I expect the party will raise significantly larger amounts in the next quarter when it has a permanent leader and when annual contribution limits reset before the first quarter of 2018.
  • This was likely the final quarter that the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties will report any significant fundraising amounts. Both parties are now controlled by the board of directors of the UCP. Funds donated to the two parties in the third quarter cannot be transferred to the UCP or any other party.
  • The Alberta Party is attempting to position itself as a centrist alternative to the NDP and UCP, but it will not be much of a political force going into the 2019 election if it party cannot start raising significantly more funds than it has in the first three quarters of 2017. I would not be surprised if these embarrassingly low fundraising returns raise questions inside the party about the future of Greg Clark‘s leadership. I expect the influence of the Alberta Together group and the influx of former PC Party officials into the Alberta Party will force the issue at the party’s annual general meeting on November 18, 2017.
  • A number of third-party advertisers (frequently referred to by the media as Political Action Committees) raised significant amounts of funds in the third quarter. I hope to delve a little deeper in this issue in a future post.
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Alberta Politics

You’ll be surprised who is on Elections Alberta’s list of banned candidates

A ruling by Court of Queen’s Bench Mr. Justice William Tilleman has lifted a ban imposed on past election candidate Jamie Lall, allowing him to run in the next provincial election if he chooses. Section 57 of Alberta’s Election Act allows the Chief Elections Officer to deem an individual as prohibited from being nominated as a provincial election candidate for a period of eight or five years if they fail to file the proper financial statements with Elections Alberta following the election.

Hugh Sommerville
Hugh Sommerville

Before changes were made to Alberta’s elections laws in 1983, the head of Elections Alberta had the authority to rule individuals indefinitely ineligible to stand for provincial office if they failed to submit their financial returns on time. Three individuals are still listed as being indefinitely ineligible to run as a candidate.

“These things can happen when you’re 22 years old, and get talked into running,” wrote Hugh Sommerville in an email to the publisher of this website. The respected Drumheller-based lawyer was surprised to learn that 38 years after he stood as a provincial election candidate, he is still listed by Elections Alberta as being indefinitely ineligible to run again.

Sommerville has been elected to the board of the Law Society of Alberta and was appointed to the Alberta Health Services Board of Directors in 2015, but in 1979 he ran as a candidate for the New Democratic Party in the Three Hills constituency. He earned 222 votes.

Jamie Lall PC Chestermere Rocky View
Jamie Lall

“I ended up being ineligible because my campaign spent absolutely no money, and my campaign manager left the province for employment in Saskatchewan without filing papers to say that,” Sommerville wrote. “I was working in Fort McMurray at the time, and my mail was being sent to the family farm. By the time I actually received notice that my campaign manager had neglected to file, I was already on the naughty list,” he wrote.

The other two past candidates listed as indefinitely ineligible are Claire Williscroft, another NDP candidate in the 1979 election, and Barry Cook, an Independent candidate in the 1982 election.

“I suppose I should look into whether it is possible to get my name off the list after 38 years,“ Sommerville wrote, noting that he has no intention of running in any future provincial election.

As for Lall, he is now a member of the United Conservative Party but says he is not sure if he will run in the next provincial election, expected to be held in 2019.

UPDATE: Sommerville has been removed from the list.


Included on the list of individuals prohibited from running or serving as chief financial officers until May 9, 2024, are Edmonton City Council candidates Tony Caterina and Rocco Caterina. The senior Caterina, Tony, ran as a Progressive Conservative the 2015 election, and his son Rocco, served as his chief financial officer.

Tony Caterina told Metro Edmonton in June 2016 that he filed his financial disclosures, but was unable to retire an $11,000 deficit he incurred during the campaign.

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Alberta Politics

No Thanks and So Long. Former PC MLA Rick Fraser leaves the UCP to sit as an Independent

Photo: Former PC MLAs Richard Starke (left) and Rick Fraser (right) at the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade (Photo from Facebook). 

The recently formed United Conservative Party may be leading in the polls but the party is looking a lot less united. One of the party’s 28 MLAs, Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, announced on social media this morning that he was leaving the UCP caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Fraser, who was re-elected for a second term as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2015, is the third politician to leave the ranks of the UCP since it was formed in July 2017. Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke declined to join the UCP and decided to continue sitting as a PC MLA in the Assembly shortly after he party was founded. Then, in August 2017, the party’s co-finance critic Derek Fildebrandt resigned from the caucus after an expenses controversy and a traffic-accident related court battle.

In his resignation letter, Fraser gave a number of reasons for his departure, ranging from social and economic issues to the party’s increasingly polarizing hyper-partisan tone. While the UCP does not yet have any official policies, or even a permanent leader, it is seems clear that Fraser is uncomfortable with the direction that the province’s largest conservative party is heading.

Social issues are the achilles heel for the UCP, just as they were for the party’s previous incarnation, the Wildrose Party.

The two main candidates for the leadership of the party,  Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, are openly appealing to the party’s social conservative and rural base of supporters and have been extremely reluctant to discuss any social issues. And as we saw in this week’s UCP leadership debate, only Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer was willing to come out in support of gay rights, taking Kenney to task for his silence.

Earlier this year, Wildrose MLAs were tying themselves in knots over student-organized Gay-Straight Alliances and whether school administrators should be required to inform parents if their children joined one of the anti-bullying clubs. The debate, which was triggered by comments Kenney made to the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary, was painful and acrimonious to watch.

And while the party’s interim governing board has issued a statement in support of LGBTQ rights, support for that position by some of UCP MLAs and party members is questionable.

The unanimous position among the UCP leadership candidates to repeal the carbon tax without proposing any alternatives to reform or replace it suggests that none of them see climate change as a serious issue.

Comments, tweets and Facebook posts promoting climate change denial and skepticism have been rampant among the former Wildrose MLAs in the UCP caucus. Earlier this year, Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes helped fund a film promoting climate science skepticism. And last year, Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman was  forced to apologize – twice – after penning an article comparing Alberta’s carbon tax to the Holodomor – the Ukrainian genocide of the 1930s.

An MLA’s first responsibility is to their constituents, and if Fraser does not feel he can effectively represent the people of Calgary-South East as a member of the UCP, he has every right to leave that caucus. He was elected under that banner of the Progressive Conservative Party and now that party is now essentially defunct.

Fraser writes in his letter that he will consult his constituents before making any future decisions, which means he might be open to joining another party sometime in the future. I am willing to bet that Greg Clark , leader of the upstart conservative-lite Alberta Party, is making some phone calls today.

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Alberta Politics

Tracking MLA endorsements in the UCP leadership race

Members of the United Conservative Party will be selecting the party’s first permanent leader on October 28, 2017. After of this week’s fee payment deadline, four candidates will be listed on the ballot: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Jeff Callaway.

Of the 28 UCP MLAs represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, nineteen have endorsed candidates in this leadership race (I am including Jean, the only sitting MLA in the contest, who has obviously endorsed himself). Here is a map showing which UCP MLAs have endorsed which leadership candidate as of September 14, 2017.Brian Jean: Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Rocky View), Wayne Anderson (Highwood), Dave Hanson (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills), Todd Loewen (Grande Prairie-Smoky), Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake), Angela Pitt (Airdrie), Ron Orr (Lacombe-Ponoka), Dave Schneider (Little Bow), Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), Glenn van Dijken (Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock), Tany Yao (Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo)

Jason Kenney: Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays), Jason Nixon (Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre), Mark Smith (Drayton Valley-Devon), Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler)

Doug Schweitzer: Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)

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Alberta Politics

What if Paul Hinman had lost the 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore?

Former Wildrose Alliance Party leader Paul Hinman staged an odd and brief reappearance on Alberta’s political stage this week when he announced his plans to run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party. But when the Sept. 12, 2017 deadline for candidates to deposit a $57,500 fee had passed, Hinman did not appear to make the cut.

Hinman’s blip on the political radar this week got me thinking about the bigger role he has played in shaking up Alberta’s political environment. Not as a major player but as a secondary character.

His time as leader and sole MLA representing the social conservative Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Alliance from 2004 to 2009 was fairly unremarkable, but it was the role he played after he resigned as leader that had a much bigger impact in our province’s political history.

After he was defeated in his bid for re-election in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008, Hinman was returned to the Legislature by a 278-vote narrow victory in a September 2009 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. The seat was previously represented by deputy premier Ron Stevens and was believed to be a Progressive Conservative urban stronghold.

Even though he would again be unsuccessful in his bid to get re-elected in the following general election, Hinman’s win undoubtably added to the momentum of Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance going into the 2012 election.

But what would have happened if Hinman had lost that by-election race in Calgary-Glenmore?

Hinman’s by-election win provided early credibility for the Wildrose Alliance by showing that the party could elect candidates in long-held PC Party constituencies. Without this by-election win, the Wildrose Alliance’s momentum could have stalled or slowed going into the 2012 election.

Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts finished only 278 votes behind Hinman. Had she won the by-election, David Swann might have stayed on as party leader instead of resigning in 2011. A win in Glenmore might have led the Liberals to experience a resurgence in support going into the 2012 election, building on the party’s 2008 gains in Calgary. Or maybe the PCs would have simply won back the constituency in the following general election, as they did in 2012.

Popular city councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart placed third as the PC candidate in the by-election, which was not really a reflection of voters feelings towards her but of the unpopularity of then-premier Ed Stelmach in Calgary. If Colley-Urquhart had held on to Glenmore for the PCs, would PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson have crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in January 2010?

And an even larger ‘what-if’ question is, if Hinman had not won the by-election and his party’s momentum had sputtered, would Stelmach have resisted pressure from his cabinet and party to resign in 2011? Would he still be premier today?

While Hinman’s narrow win in a 2009 by-election is now an obscure footnote in Alberta’s political history, its impact on our province’s political environment and the split it helped create in the conservative movement in Alberta was huge.

Thinking about these kinds of scenarios can be endless fun for politicos (or at least for me).