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Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nenshi not running for re-election

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

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

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Alberta Politics

Meet Billy Briquette. Alberta War Room launches Ethical Coal Mining cartoon for kids.

Move aside Bigfoot Family, there’s a new cartoon on the block. Meet Billy Briquette!

The Canadian Energy Centre is launching a new cartoon series to educate young Albertans about the virtues of open pit coal mining in the Alberta Rocky Mountains.

Billy Briquette
Billy Briquette

“We’re taking our campaign against Sasquatch Family to the next level,” said CEC CEO Tom Olsen, who appeared at a Thursday morning press conference standing beside a life-sized Billy Briquette mascot.

The 100-episode cartoon series will feature Billy Briquette as he joins his friends Nixy the Wild Horse and Bobby Bitumen as they use teamwork to stop villains ranging from local town councils and country music stars to eco-left European bankers and coal dictators. Billy will also be joined in Episode 37 by his Australian cousin, Hector.

“My friends, for a long time oil has been in the crosshairs of the radical-urban-eco-bohemian-marxist-left and now they are targeting our democratic coal,” said Premier Jason Kenney, also standing uncomfortably close to the smiling life-sized piece of coal.

“Let me be clear, Alberta’s ethical mountain top removal of coal needs a champion and that’s why we’re introducing you to Billy today,” Kenney said.

The cartoon series also received praise from senior Alberta cabinet ministers.

“Changes to the Film and Television Tax Credit make productions like Billy Briquette possible,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and director of the Canadian Energy Centre.

“I’m thrilled that productions like Billy Briquette will help drive diversification and provide customers to open pit coal mines across Alberta,” Schweitzer said.

“Alberta – with large coal reserves – is perfectly positioned to continue to offer investment in a stable and ethical democracy,” said Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

“Billy Briquette will showcase this to young Albertans and the investors across the world,” said Savage, who is also serves on the War Room’s board of directors.

Along with a wide variety of branded merchandise, bumper stickers and a theme song performed by Tom Olsen and the Wreckage, the life-sized lump of coal mascot is expected to visit more than 100 Alberta elementary schools in the next year. The cartoon series will be integrated into the new provincial Social Studies curriculum and be mandatory viewing for students in Grades One through Six.

After Netflix declined a proposal to stream the series, it was decided that the $25 million animated production will be viewable exclusively on the Canadian Energy Centre YouTube page. 

Author’s note: Readers will note that today is April 1 and, as the Canadian Energy Centre is exempt from FOIP, we are unable to confirm that plans for the Billy Briquette cartoon series and associated merchandise are in the works.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 71: Peace, Order and Good Carbon Taxes

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach joins the Daveberta Podcast for a rousing discussion about the Supreme Court of Canada’s big decision about the federal carbon tax, the politics of climate change in Canada, and what Alberta’s next oil boom might look like.

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 (coming soon)

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Alberta Politics

Former Alberta MLA Shaye Anderson running for NDP nomination in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Former Alberta NDP MLA Shaye Anderson announced on Twitter this weekend that he is seeking the federal NDP nomination in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

https://twitter.com/sandersonNDP/status/1373710864927223808

 

Anderson was a shop steward with the United Steelworkers and a technician for Telus when he was first elected as MLA for Leduc-Beaumont in the 2015 Orange Wave. He served as Minister of Municipal Affairs from 2017 until his defeat in the 2019 election to United Conservative Party candidate Brad Rutherford.

Anderson announced last year that he and his family had moved back to his hometown of Duncan on Vancouver Island.

In an interview with Alberta View Magazine in 2018, Anderson recalled how growing up in the Cowichan Valley shaped his politics:

So where I grew up, the Cowichan Valley, is a big resource area. My dad’s in forestry, as are a lot of people I know. And when I was born, in 1975, Tommy Douglas was our MP for one term—which I didn’t know until I got elected. So it makes sense why we were usually NDP. We were labour and blue collar, right? That said, my parents always told me, “Get informed. It doesn’t matter who you vote for but make sure you understand why.” 

If successful in his nomination bid, Anderson would face Green Party MP Paul Manly when the next federal election is called. Manly was first elected in a May 2019 by-election and is the son of former NDP MP James Manly.


Anderson continues the long-tradition of Alberta politicians jumping into electoral politics in British Columbia.

  • Former Calgary-Bow Progressive Conservative MLA Alana DeLong was the BC Liberal candidate in Nanaimo-North Cowichan in the 2017 provincial election and the Conservative candidate in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford in the 2019 federal election.
  • Former cabinet minister and Red Deer-North PC MLA Stockwell Day ran in Okanagan-Coquihalla after becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance and served as MP until 2011.
  • One-time St. Albert NDP candidate Michelle Mungall served as the NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston from 2009 to 2020 and in various cabinet roles during this period.
  • Michael Charrois, who ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Castle Downs in the 2001 election, was the federal NDP candidate in North Vancouver in 2008 and 2011 and the BC NDP candidate in North Vancouver-Seymour in 2017.
  • Former Edmonton-Belmont NDP MLA Tom Sigurdson ran for the BC NDP nomination in Burnaby-Willingdon ahead of the 2005 provincial election.
  • Former Edmonton-Glengarry PC MLA Rollie Cook currently serves as an elected member of the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District.
  • Former Slave Lake mayor Val Meredith served as the Reform Party MP for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley and Surrey—White Rock—South Langley from 1993 to 2004. Meredith has since moved to Calgary and is now leading the candidate selection committee for the separatist Maverick Party.
  • Former Edmonton mayor Vincent Dantzer served as the PC MP for Okanagan North from 1980 to 1988.
  • Macleod MP Ernest Hansell was Alberta Premier Ernest Manning‘s handpicked choice to lead the Social Credit Party into British Columbia’s 1952 election. When the Socreds unexpectedly won the election, Hansell remained an Alberta MP and W.A.C. Bennett was chosen to become Premier.
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Alberta Politics

NDP first out of the gate opening candidate nominations for 2023

It’s a magical time at daveberta.ca. We’ve now entered a zone where I am tracking candidates running in three separate elections:  municipal, federal, and now provincial.

With the announcement by the Alberta NDP that they are opening candidate nominations for the expected 2023 election in spring 2021, they have had their first candidate announced plans to run for a nomination.

Outreach and community engagement specialist Julia Hayter announced on Twitter yesterday that she plans to run for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Edgemont.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose
Prasad Panda

Hayter was the NDP candidate in that north west Calgary district in the 2019 election, where she earned 34 per cent of the vote against United Conservative Party candidate Prasad Panda.

She previously served as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Varsity NDP MLA Stephanie McLean and sought the nomination in that district until switching the Calgary-Edgemont ahead of the 2019 election.

The NDP have also opened nominations in Banff-Kananaskis. No candidates have announced their plans to run as of yet.

And, as usual, if you know of any municipal, provincial and federal candidates planning to run, please let me know and I will add them and their social media links to the various lists. Thank you!

 

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Alberta Politics

MLA Recall focuses on punishing politicians rather than making them better representatives

Another MLA Recall bill has been introduced into the Alberta Legislative Assembly, and this one looks like it will actually pass and become law.

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

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu introduced Bill 52: Recall Act in the Assembly for first reading today. If it becomes law, the bill would allow for a by-election to be called in a provincial electoral district where the signatures of at least 40 percent of the eligible voters are collected. Unlike previous Recall efforts, Madu’s bill expands recall to municipal councillors and school board trustees.

Forty percent is likely a high enough threshold to avoid frivolous, or maybe any, actual Recall by-elections. While there are certainly some circumstances where constituents are united in unhappiness with their elected officials, this bill seems to be more of a signal that the United Conservative Party has checked off a box on its to-do list than actually create a mechanism to improve democracy in Alberta.

Instead of being fearful of a revolt by their own voters, it is more likely that MLAs will be concerned that well-funded special interest groups, like the the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, could swoop into their district with a legion of paid volunteers to rabble-rouse and cause trouble for local representatives.

It might be more proactive to limit recall, like they have in the United Kingdom, to politicians who are convicted of criminal offenses or providing false or misleading expenses claims while in office.

Our democratic institutions do need to be tinkered with and improved, but so much of the focus of efforts like MLA Recall are focused on punishing elected officials rather than empowering them to do a better job. So rather than finding new ways to fire politicians, which Albertans have done a fairly consistent job in the past two elections, we should be creating ways they can do better jobs for us.

Being a backbench MLA in a government caucus is not a glamorous job. They are told where to be and how to vote on most issues. Most rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate meaningful independence without facing the wrath of the Caucus Whip or the Leader’s Chief of Staff. And, when time comes for re-election, their nomination papers require the ultimate endorsement of the party leader.

One way that individual MLAs could empower themselves would be to change the standing orders to allow MLAs who are not in cabinet an increased opportunity to introduce private members bills. Right now MLAs earn the ability to introduce private members bills through a lottery, meaning that some MLAs will never have the chance to introduce a law into the Legislature.

And private members’ bills are only debated on Monday’s, severely limiting their ability to get attention and get passed into law.

Accountability of democratic officials is important, and that is why we have elections every four years. And as Albertans have enthusiastically demonstrated over the past two elections, they will not hesitate to dramatically unseat MLAs and governments if they feel the need.

It would be better for democracy in Alberta if we focused on ways to empower MLAs to better represent Albertans inside and outside the Assembly, rather than creating new ways to punish them.

History of Recall Legislation in Alberta

Madu’s Bill 52 marks the eleventh MLA Recall bill to be tabled in the Assembly since 1936.

1936: Bill No. 76 of 1936: A Bill Providing for the Recall of Members of the Legislative Assembly was introduced by the Social Credit government and passed after their surprising win in the 1935 election. The bill required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election.

1937: The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River constituency.

1993Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Gary Dickson introduced Bill 203: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill was defeated in a 42-34 vote in the Legislature.

1995: Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici introduced Bill 224: Parliamentary Reform and Electoral Review Commission Act, which would have created a commission to study a handful of issues, including recall. The bill passed first reading but was never debated.

1996: Lethbridge-East Liberal MLA Ken Nicol introduced Bill 206: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. This bill was defeated in a 37-24 vote in the Legislature.

1997: Bill 216, Recall Act was introduced by Edmonton-Manning Liberal MLA Ed Gibbons but was never debated in the Legislature. If passed into law, the bill would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

2010Calgary-Glenmore Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman introduced Bill 208: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 33 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. Reached second reading but was not debated further.

2015Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer introduces Bill 206: Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election if 20 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill passed first reading and died on the order paper.

2016: Drayton Valley-Devon Wildrose MLA Mark Smith introduces Bill 201: Election Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election is 66 per cent of the electorate’s signatures from the previous general election was collected in 60 days on a sanctioned petition. The bill was defeated in second reading.

2019: Drayton Valley-Devon United Conservative Party MLA Mark Smith introduces Bill 204: Election Recall Act, which would allow Albertans to trigger a by-election in a riding where 40 per cent of registered voters have signed a petition recalling their MLA. The bill died on the order paper after it passed second reading.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

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

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

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

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

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics

Some Assembly Required: Wildrosers make for a raucous caucus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Already 1 Independent

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

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

New Municipal Affairs Minister?

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

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

Rodeo is back

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

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

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

(Photo source: Travel Alberta)

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 68: The 1976 Coal Policy and stopping open-pit mining in Alberta’s Rockies

Kevin Van Tighem joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss one of the biggest issues in Alberta politics today – the expansion of open-pit coal mining in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Kevin explains how the 1976 Coal Policy protected larges swaths of the Rocky Mountains from open-pit coal mining and the impact these large scale industrial projects would have on local wildlife habitat, local economies, and the water that millions of Albertans depend on.

We discuss the influence of mining companies over the Alberta government, the reasons why Energy Minister Sonya Savage rescinded the policy last spring, and what kind of improvements could be included in a new coal policy.

Kevin Van Tighem is a conservationist, former Superintendent of Banff National Park, and author whose books include Our Place: Changing the Nature of Alberta. You can read his columns in AlbertaViews Magazine.

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

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

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics

Who opposes Kenney’s decision to allow open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies? Basically everybody.

The United Conservative Party government’s decision to unilaterally rescind a 1976 Coal Policy that protected large swaths of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and Foothills from open-pit coal mining has hit a nerve with Albertans.

Similar to the UCP government’s decision to close or privatize more than 160 provincial parks, which the government began to slowly back away from after widespread opposition in 2020, the decision to rescind the Coal Policy and enthusiastically support open-pit coal mining is an issue that is facing opposition across Alberta.

The opposition to the Coal Policy reminds me somewhat of the fight over electrical transmission lines that the old Progressive Conservative government stumbled into in the mid-2000s. In both cases, Conservative governments forgot how to listen to and speak with to their long-time rural supporters – and in the case of the PCs there were big consequences in the following election.

But in this case, the coal issue transcends the urban-rural divide that Alberta politicians sometimes like to exploit.

Albertans are proud of our Rocky Mountains. And we are acutely aware of how exploding the tops off those mountains would destroy habitat and pollute the water sources that millions of Albertans depend on.

Highwood UCP MLA RJ Sigurdson, who’s district includes part of the area directly impacted by the decision, says he is listening to his constituents concerns but he has not broken with his government on the issue. Livingstone-Macleod UCP MLA Roger Reid claimed the decision was made by the Alberta Energy Regulator, even though the policy was actually rescinded by Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Describing the Peter Lougheed-era Coal Policy as outdated, Premier Jason Kenney dismissed the opposition by claiming critics of open-pit coal mining were mostly “city-dwellers.” But the chorus of opposition from Albertans who actually live on the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies tells the true story.

Who opposes the Kenney government’s decision to remove the 1976 Coal Policy?

The opposition to Kenney’s removal of the coal policy has been building since 2020, with ranchers, farmers and conservation, hunting, recreation and environmental groups, and the NDP opposition raising the alarm. But the opposition to Kenney’s coal push got a big boast when country music artists Corb Lund, Paul Brandt, Terri Clark, and kd lang, Heartland actor Amber Marshall, and television’s Terry Grant (aka the Mantracker) spoke out against the removal of the Coal Policy and in favour of protecting the Rockies and Foothills from open-pit coal mining.

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations – Landowners and the Ermineskin and Whitefish Lake First Nations have filed separate requests for a judicial review of the decision, which they argue was made without legally required consultations. (Alberta Native News, Jan. 18, 2021)

Municipal District of Ranchlands – Several groups are seeking intervenor status to join the ranchers seeking a judicial review: the M.D. of Ranchland, the Bearspaw, Siksika, Kainai and Whitefish First Nations, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Alberta Hiking Association, the Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, the Alberta Wilderness Association and the Livingstone Landowners Group. (CBC, Jan. 20, 2021)

Town of Claresholm: Town Council voted to send a letter following up on a June 20, 2020 letter to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Energy, and to cc MLA Roger Reid and Premier Jason Kenney raising concern over the rescindment of the 1976 Coal Policy. (Town of Claresholm, Jan. 25, 2021)

Foothills County – Foothills councillors are expressing their concern with a lack of policy around coal mining in southern Alberta. Council agreed to draft a letter to the provincial government regarding the controversial application for the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, an $800-million coal mining operation proposed in the Crowsnest Pass by Benga Mining Ltd., a subsidiary of Australian parent company Riversdale Resources. (Okotoks Today, Jan. 25, 2021)

Town of Edson – Edson officials penned a letter to the premier on Jan. 19 that asked the province to reopen closed, already-developed metallurgical mines instead of moving forward with new ones. (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Village of Longview – “We are definitely not in favour of it,” said Kathie Wight, mayor of Longview, a community of 334 that looks out on the rangelands and mountains of the province’s southwest. “More public consultation needs to be taken into consideration.” (Global News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Town of Nanton – The Town of Nanton has sent a letter, signed by the mayor, to Alberta’s premier stating its concerns about open pit coal mining in southwest Alberta. In the Jan. 20 letter, the Town first thanks Premier Jason Kenney and Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, for the government’s Jan. 18 announcement cancelling 11 recently issued coal leases and the pause in issuing coal lease sales in former “Category 2” lands, which include large swaths of the Eastern Slopes and were previously protected. (Nanton News, Jan. 27, 2021)

Town of OkotoksOkotoks Town Council passed a motion to draft a letter addressed to Premier Jason Kenney and other members of the provincial government regarding the recently rescinded 1976 Coal Policy. The letter would request an immediate rollback on the rescinding of the policy, a consultation process on the desired changes to the policy, and an impact report on how the project may affect local water. (Okotoks Online, Jan. 28, 2021)

Town of High River – “Coal exploration is causing irreparable damage to the landscapes and watersheds as well as adversely affecting the public’s access, use and enjoyment of Crown lands,” says the letter from town council in High River, about 55 kilometres south of Calgary. (CBC, Feb. 1, 2021)

Town of Canmore – Canmore Mayor John Borrowman will write a letter to Premier Jason Kenney urging him and the UCP government to reinstate the 1976 Coal Development Policy that was rescinded last year. (Rocky Mountain Today, Feb. 2, 2021)

Kainai-Blood Tribe – The Kainai-Blood Tribe will be launching a legal challenge against the Government of Alberta over its decision to unilaterally rescind the 1976 Coal Policy. (Lethbridge Herald, Feb. 2, 2021)

Town of Turner Valley – Turner Valley town council voted in favour of submitting a letter to the provincial government regarding coal exploration, joining several other Alberta towns in doing so. The letter includes several requests, including for the provincial government re-instate the 1976 Coal Policy, to institute a consultation process with relevant stakeholders, and for an analysis of environmental, hydrological, economic, and recreational impacts of the proposed changes. (Okotoks Online, Feb. 3, 2021)

Siksika First Nation– Siksika First Nation is launching a legal challenge against the province’s decision to rescind its coal policy, effectively allowing open-pit coal mining in the Rockies. (Calgary Herald, Feb. 4, 2021)

City of Airdrie – City council voted unanimously Feb. 1 to offer support to municipalities in southern Alberta that are advocating against the development of open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. At the Feb. 1 meeting, Airdrie resident Jessica Jacobs submitted a letter to council as public correspondence, urging the City to take a stance against the Grassy Mountain Coal Project – an $800-million coal mining operation that has been proposed in the Crowsnest Pass. (AirdrieToday.com, Feb. 5, 2021)

City of Lethbridge – Lethbridge could be joining a chorus of communities across southern Alberta to voice concerns about the UCP government’s decision to rescind a 45 year old policy on coal mining. Councillors will discuss an official business resolution next Tuesday (Feb. 9) which, if adopted would have the mayor write to Premier Jason Kenney and the Ministers of Environment and Energy requesting the policy be reinstated. (MyLethbridgeNow.com, Feb. 5, 2021)

It has been reported that the Town of Black Diamond and Clearwater County are also expected to discuss the issue in the coming weeks. Calgary City Council will discuss the issue at a Feb. 8 meeting.


Listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast to hear this weekend’s podcast discussion about the Coal Policy with writer and conservationist Kevin Van Tighem.

Categories
Alberta Politics

The Truth, the Coal Truth and nothing but the Truth

The Government of Alberta Trade Branch once operated a COAL TRUTH OFFICE in Winnipeg in an apparent effort to market the sale and defend the reputation of Alberta mined coal for domestic use.

A full-page newspaper ad from the Alberta COAL TRUTH OFFICE (published in the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 13, 1923)
A full-page newspaper ad from the Alberta COAL TRUTH OFFICE (published in the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 13, 1923)

Today it is easy to ask why the office was located in Winnipeg of all places, but when the office opened in 1920, the Chicago of the North was the third largest city in Canada, a centre of trade and commerce, and a major stop in the Canadian railway.

We now know that burning dirty coal to generate electricity is a big driver of climate change and that open-pit coal mining has horrible impacts on the environment and drinking water. But one hundred years ago, the Alberta government was aggressively marketing the sale of coal for domestic and industrial use in Manitoba and Saskatchewan while facing stiff competition from already established coal sellers.

Even though this story took place a century ago, there are some similarities to our current day that are unmistakable, namely that the current United Conservative Party government is enthusiastically jumping back into the open-pit coal mining business and indulging in its own oil propaganda office and inquisition.

Easily accessible public records about the provincial government’s Coal Truth Office are sparse, but I have cobbled together some of what I was able to uncovered about Alberta’s original Energy War Room.

According to media reports from the time, the Winnipeg-based office was established in 1920 and maintained “a staff of Fuel Engineers for the purpose of assisting you in any problems which you may have particular to your equipment or fuels.”

The office also published a book, COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE, which was sold for 50 cents and included lengthy instructions about how to use Alberta coal and why Alberta coal was a superior coal.

“Statistics quote the Province of Alberta as having 70 per cent of Canada’s visible coal resources. While this represents an enormous number pf tones of coal, it must be remembered that civilization is using fuel at an alarming rate,” wrote Provincial Secretary Herbert Greenfield in the 1923 edition the propaganda booklet. “Therefor the need for economy.”

The Alberta government even attempted to brand Alberta coal as more ethical and efficient than coal from other sources. 

An image in COAL TRUTH: ALBERTA STORED SUNSHINE
An image in COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE

“There is no country in the world that has such an abundance of similar coals. There are no raw coals in the world which have such desirable characteristics for domestic purposes as Alberta Domestic Coal – NOT excepting hard coal,” wrote George Pratt, the chief engineer stationed in the Coal Truth Office.

“Coal is the greatest necessity of Canada, yet the coal consumer takes the least interest in it, his policy being to leave it to whoever cares to take a hand,” Pratt wrote. “The individual coal buyer must be made to realize that he must get out and do something to help himself if he wishes to safeguard his interests.”

The Coal Truth Office was also active in defending the reputation of Alberta coal companies when, in the early 1920s, the federal government launched a public inquiry into an alleged price-fixing combine by Alberta-based coal companies.

The Alberta government’s legal representative in Winnipeg, J. B. Hugg, even urged the Commissioner to move the public inquiry’s activities into a private setting so that the publicity would not damage Alberta’s interests.

An image in COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE
An image in COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE

Hugg argued that advertisements published since the commission commenced investigations were misleading, deceiving and defrauding the public.

“I am instructed to say that the government of Alberta is deeply concerned in the Alberta coal industry,” Hugg was reported by the Winnipeg Tribune to have told the inquiry.

“By a series of advertisements, the coal buying public are being mislead, deceived and defrauded,” Hugg argued. “Alberta domestic coals of the highest value with long established records, are being slandered and grossly and deliberately misrepresented, and at the same time foreign coals wholly unsuited for domestic use are being passed off on the public and are being falsely represented as being most satisfactory and most efficient.”

“The government of Alberta urgently requests that you immediately investigate the activities of those persons who are misleading the public with regard to Alberta coals and endeavouring to reap a quick and unjustifiable profit out of the prejudices which they are arousing by making statements  to the public regarding the very matters which are subject to this investigation,” Hugg continued.

It does not appear that the Public Inquiry’s Commissioner accepted the Alberta representative’s argument that a veil of secrecy should be drawn over the inquiry.

The rapid expansion of Alberta’s coal industry in the 1910s and 1920s did not come without strife.

Striking coal miners in Drumheller
Striking coal miners in Drumheller (source: Glenbow Museum)

In 1919, more than 6,500 Drumheller coal miners went on strike under the banner of the One Big Union to fight for better working and living conditions, and higher wages. The striking miners were brutally repressed by “special constables” hired by the largest mining companies in the Red Deer River Valley. The RCMP and Alberta Provincial Police turned a blind eye to the violence by the para-military mining company police.

Coal mining communities in the Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, like Blairmore and Nordegg, would become hotbeds for radical politics over the next two decades. Radical Labour and Communist candidates were routinely elected to municipal councils and the provincial legislature during this time.

A poem on the back cover of COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE
A poem on the back cover of COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINESUNSHINE

Somewhat mirroring the current political debate over oil pipelines, transportation of coal became an issue of concern.

With railway costs becoming prohibitive, Alberta’s Provincial Secretary and Grouard MLA Jean Cote stood in the Legislative Assembly in 1921 to call for the creation of a dedicated transportation corridor on the Saskatchewan River to transport coal from Alberta to Winnipeg and beyond.

It is not entirely clear when the Alberta Coal Truth Office was shuttered, but the final mention of it I have been able to find was a report in the Winnipeg Tribune that the building at 277 Smith Street that housed the Coal Truth Office had burned down in Dec. 1924. According to the news report, “included in the loss is a new issue of the “Coal Truths” booklet with the original drawings and other valuable material.”

It is unclear whether the Coal Truth Office ever reopened after the fire.

Categories
Alberta Politics

The race to become Edmonton’s next mayor is about to get crowded

Former City Councillor Kim Krushell has announced her candidacy in Edmonton’s 2021 Mayoral election at a press conference this week.

Krushell represented northwest Edmonton’s Ward 2 from 2004 to 2013 but her city hall career began in the mid-1990s when she worked as executive assistant to Councillor Lillian Staroszik and Larry Langley. She left municipal politics in 2013, becoming President of Lending Assist.

While Krushell never ran for provincial political office, she has past ties to the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party. She was the President of the PC Party association in Edmonton-Calder in the early 2000s and later served as Edmonton regional director and budget director for the PC Party until Jason Kenney became party leader in 2017.

With current Mayor Don Iveson not running for re-election, Krushell joins already announced candidates Cheryl Watson, Brian Gregg, Greg Zawaski, and, as was first reported on this website on Jan. 19, Councillor Mike Nickel.

Another former city councillor, Michael Oshry, is also said to be assembling a mayoral campaign team, and former councillor and Member of Parliament Amarjeet Sohi is rumoured to be considering a run for mayor.

And a number of new candidates have announced their plans to run for City Council:

Gino Akbari, Gabrielle Battiste and Tony Caterina have announced their plans to run in in the central Edmonton Ward O-day’min. 

Tony Caterina City Councillor PC MLA Candidate
Tony Caterina

Caterina is a four-term City Councillor from northeast Edmonton who is running in the new downtown Ward because his current Ward 7 is being heavily redistributed between the new Ward Metis and Ward tastawiyiniwak (ᑕᐢᑕᐃᐧᔨᓂᐊᐧᐠ).

The boundary change puts Caterina in a position where if he did not choose a brand new ward to run in, he could have either run in the north half of his current ward, facing off against Councillor Jon Dziadyk, or in the south side of his current ward, which now stretches south of the North Saskatchewan River to Bonnie Doon and King Edward Park. He previously ran in downtown as the Alberta Alliance candidate in Edmonton-Centre in the 2004 provincial election.

Caterina will be running in the area vacated by two-term Councillor Scott McKeen, who announced this month that he will not be seeking re-election. McKeen ran against Caterina in Ward 7 in 2010 and endorsed his main challenger, Kris Andreychuk, in the 2017 campaign. 

Edmonton City Council's new Ward boundaries with new Indigenous names.
Edmonton City Council’s new Ward boundaries with new Indigenous names.

In Ward Metis, which includes the southern half of Caterina’s current ward, Ashley Salvador and Liz John-West have filed their nomination papers. Salvador is an urban planner and President and Chair of YEGarden Suites. John-West is the Regional Service Director for WJS Canada and was a candidate in the 2017 municipal election.

In Edmonton’s south west Ward sipiwiyiniwak, first-term Councillor Sarah Hamilton has announced her plans to seek re-election. 

Ashley Salvador Ward Métis City Council candidate Edmonton
Ashley Salvador

And in Edmonton’s northeast, Lana Palmer and Tricia Velthuizen are running in the new Ward Dene. Palmer is a local photographer. Velthuizen is Press Secretary to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish, and previously worked for the United Conservative Party and Wildrose Party caucuses.

Recently announced candidates in Ward Papastew include student Haruun Ali (who had previously announced his candidacy in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi), DJ and entertainment company owner Tarcy Schindelka, and Byron Vass.

Local celebrity Dan Johnstone has announced his plans to run in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi. Johnstone, who also goes by the nickname “Can Man Dan,” previously ran for city council in Ward 10 in 2013, in Ward 12 in a 2016 by-election, and mounted a brief campaign for the Alberta Party nomination in Edmonton-South ahead of the 2019 provincial election.

Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Michelle Draper announced she will not be seeking re-election. Draper has represented Ward B on the Edmonton Public School Board since 2013.

For the Edmonton Catholic School District, Sandra Palazzo is running for re-election in Ward 72, Carla Smiley in Ward 73, Alene Mutala in Ward 75, and Lisa Turchansky is running in Ward 76.

As with previous elections, I am maintaining a list of people who have declared their intentions to run for mayor, city council, or school board in the October 18, 2021 municipal elections. 

Categories
Alberta Politics

2017 Jason Kenney to 2021 Jason Kenney: No More Billion Dollar Boondoggles!

For Immediate Release

EDMONTON – Leaning outside the window of his big blue truck, 2017 Jason Kenney denounced 2021 Jason Kenney for his decision to gamble $1.5 billion of taxpayers dollars on the failed Keystone XL Pipeline project. The pipeline, which had its permit cancelled by President Joe Biden this week is expected to cost Alberta taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

2017 Jason Kenney
2017 Jason Kenney

“A $1.5 billion dollar boondoggle, that what 2021 Jason Kenney signed us up for with his disastrous pipeline deal,” 2017 Kenney said. “This is one of the single largest expenditures by a government in the history of Alberta.”

“The rotten fruit of the Keystone XL deal, which the province harvested on Tuesday, was inevitable given the kind of sweetheart deal given to yet another private company with tax dollars,” 2017 Kenney said. “For too long, politicians like 2021 Jason Kenney have pretended they were businessmen, investing with other people’s money and they made an absolute failure of it.”

“With $1.5 billion, we could have built a mega-hospital or 50 new schools! $1.5 billion to do something the private sector was doing already, just to interfere in the market,” 2017 Kenney said.

2021 Jason Kenney
2021 Jason Kenney

“This reckless, out-of-control investment has sent billions of Albertans’ hard-earned tax-dollars into a fiscal train-wreck.”

“2021 Jason Kenney needs to get out of the business of business, out of the losing business of picking winners and losers,” 2017 Kenney said. “When 2021 Jason Kenney is risking your money instead of his own, you might as well send him to the casino. He has no incentive to get it right.”

“This costly boondoggle stuck Alberta taxpayers with a very expensive write-down,” Kenney said. “I call on 2021 Jason Kenney to release the terms of its secret $1.5 billion deal immediately. What does he have to hide?”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Notley’s NDP raised more cash than Kenney’s UCP in the final months of 2020

The Alberta NDP raised more money from individual Albertans than the United Conservative Party in the final quarter of 2020, according to financial documents released today by Elections Alberta.

This marks the second time in the last year that the opposition NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP, suggesting Albertans are voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.

Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the fourth quarter of 2020:

  • NDP $2,322,490.38
  • UCP $1,921,813.21
  • Alberta Party $50,738.66
  • Wildrose Independence Party $45,863.49
  • Liberal Party $44,746.87
  • Green Party $17,847.00
  • Alberta Advantage Party – $4,055.00
  • Independence Party – $2,990.40
  • Communist Party – $100.00

This marks the first time since the UCP was created that the NDP have fundraised more money over the course of a year. According to the Elections Alberta disclosures, the NDP raised $5,061,979.02 in 2020 with the UCP narrowly behind at $5,046,322.52.

The Alberta Party, Wildrose Independence Party, Liberal Party and Green Party also saw increases in their quarterly fundraising, though they remain significantly behind the two major parties.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

Categories
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.