Categories
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).

Categories
Alberta Politics

The big revenue problem facing Alberta that none of our politicians want to talk about

As the Alberta New Democratic Party passes the half way mark of their first four-year term in office and the United Conservative Party chooses its next leader, a big question that remains unanswered in Alberta politics today is how, in the long-term, the Alberta government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old Progressive Conservative government led by Ralph Klein used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but fiscally irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue that the PCs were depending on.

After their election in 2015, Rachel Notley‘s NDP took steps to diversify government revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes. Even after those increases, Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and those increases were nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta
Jason Kenney

The positive news is that Alberta’s economy is recovering, but unless the international price of oil recovers, the government will remain in a deficit situation for the foreseeable future.

While I support Notley’s smart choice to continue investing in public services and capital infrastructure projects during the course of the economic recession, it is not clear that the NDP have a real plan to deal with Alberta’s revenue challenges in the long-term.

It is unlikely that the government will revisit Alberta’s comparatively low royalty rates anytime soon, and the NDP appear unwilling to start a discussion about introducing a provincial sales tax, at least until after the next election. A sales tax could help alleviate the government revenue problems and would be smart move for the province in the long-term.

It is an odd sight to read Finance Department documents that both lament a large budget deficit and boast about low taxes. The NDP inherited one big bad habit from the old PC government and have been unable to break from it.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede AlbertaBut if you think the candidates for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party are coming up with new, bright ideas for Alberta’s long-term future, think again. Political rhetoric about returning to the mythical “Alberta Advantage” and calls for drastic cuts to both government spending and revenue are mostly what Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer have proposed.

It is meat for the party base, but not exactly inspiring plans for Alberta’s future.

I get the impression that while they are playing from different sides of the political spectrum, both the NDP and the UCP’s prospective leaders are praying that oil prices recover enough to avoid having to raise taxes or slash the budget to shreds.

Alberta has a revenue problem. And the sooner someone is willing to “take the tax bull by the horns,” as my colleague David Climenhaga wrote, and begin planning for a more sustainable government revenue stream, the better off future generations of Albertans will be.


Schweitzer wants to lower the minimum wage

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Doug Schweitzer says he would cut Alberta’s minimum wage from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour, because it is “right choice for Albertans whose livelihoods count on it the most.”

While he is likely referring to the livelihoods of business owners, it would be the wrong choice for the people impacted the most – the lowest wage working Albertans who would have their wages cut from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour.

It is safe to say that Schweitzer has earned much, much more than $12.20 per hour at his downtown Calgary job as a partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Mid-week Alberta Politics Roundup

Photo: Kent Hehr with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. (Photo from Kent Hehr’s Facebook Page)

It has been a busy week for me, so without the time to write a full column-type post, here is a quick summary of what I have been watching in Alberta politics over the past few days.

Calgary MP moved in Trudeau cabinet shuffle

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr was appointed Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities this week as part of a fairly significant shuffle in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Hehr had previously served as Minister of Veterans Affairs, a post he had held since his election in 2015. Though the move is viewed as a demotion at worst or a lateral move at best, there is no indication that the shuffle was a reflection on Hehr’s performance as minister, which appeared to fulfill competently.

As a former amateur athlete and leader in the Canadian Paraplegic Association, Hehr appears to be a good fit for this role.

While the Minister of Sports is traditionally seen as a junior level position in cabinet, the prospect of Calgary bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Canada joining with the United States and Mexico in a bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup could increase its political importance.

Meanwhile, Calgary-Skyview Liberal MP Darshan Kang announced he would take a medical leave of absence due to stress caused by allegations of sexual harassment that have dogged the federal politician over the past few weeks.

Alberta MPs in Ottawa Shadow Cabinet

Following this week’s federal cabinet shuffle, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer announced a new roster of Official Opposition critics. Alberta Conservative MPs in the shadow cabinet include: International Development critic Ziad Aboultaif, Agriculture and Agri-Food critic John Barlow, Status of Women critic Rachael Harder, Science critic Matt Jeneroux, National Revenue critic Pat Kelly, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship critic Michelle Rempel, and Natural Resources critic Shannon Stubbs.

NDP Minister continues his Coal Tour

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous continues his town hall tour of Alberta’s coal communities this week. In the Town of Hanna, Bilous and mayor Chris Warwick announced $450,000 in funding create Community Action Teams led by the Cactus Corridor Economic Development Corporation to focus on initiatives identified in a report by the Hanna Climate Change Strategy Task Force.

While Bilous left Hanna with more questions than answers, he deserves some credit for traveling to these communities holding these town halls – something the NDP government should have done two years ago.

UCP candidate calls on Alberta to national Manitoba port

Jeff Callaway was looking to generate headlines for his United Conservative Party leadership campaign, and he succeeded with his proposal for the Alberta government to nationalize and build a pipeline to access Manitoba’s Port of Churchill. Federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton, who is the MP for  Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, called on the federal government to nationalize the port of Churchill in Dec. 2016.

Low federal NDP membership numbers in Alberta

Speaking of the federal NDP, the party released the breakdown of membership numbers by province ahead of its September leadership vote. Despite having one of only two NDP governments in the country, the federal NDP only recorded having 10,188 members in Alberta, compared to 52,200 in Ontario and 31,974 in British Columbia.

The low participation rate may have a lot to do with the deep political divide between the Alberta NDP and its federal and provincial counterparts over the expansion and construction of oil pipelines, which is a priority for Rachel Notley’s government. To my knowledge, no Alberta NDP MLAs have released public endorsements for any of the federal NDP leadership candidates.

Garry Keller joins the UCP caucus

Until recently he was rumoured to be eyeing the federal Conservative nomination in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election, but it was announced today that Garry Keller, a former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, would join the United Conservative caucus as a special advisor.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta Politics Roundup: It rarely slows down, even in the summer

Photo: Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, and Little Bow MLA David Schneider. (credit: Brian Jean’s Facebook page)

It feels like politics rarely slow down in Alberta, even in the summer. Here is a quick look at some of what has been happening:

New UCP caucus has a spending problems

A day after the United Conservative Party lined up to criticize Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, it was revealed that the UCP caucus is facing a $337,000-deficit this year. The report triggered criticism of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (pictured in the photo above) from Bonnyville-Cold Lake UCP MLA Scott Cyr and party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer.

Cyr said Wildrose MLAs were stonewalled when they requested information about ballooning staff at the former official opposition caucus office.

Schweitzer said the new party will not be a credible voice for fiscal management if it cannot manage its own internal budget. Schweitzer has described Jean’s leadership platform as “big government” and is proposing deep cuts to the provincial budget if he becomes premier in 2019.

Bilous hosts town halls in Coal Communities

Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous will be spending much of the next week visiting communities impacted by the phase-out of coal fired power plants. Bilous will be hosting town hall meetings in Hanna on August 27 and 28, Forestburg on August 28 and 29, and Leduc, Warburg and Wabamun on August 31. Bilous admitted earlier this month that the New Democratic Party government needed to improve its communications with these communities (I wrote about this in Nov. 2016).

Kenney too busy to meet with kd lang

When Jason Kenney was asked why he was not attending any Calgary Pride Week events, he initially said it was because he did not get an invitation. When he received an invitation from Alberta-born internationally successful musician kd lang to meet in person to discuss LGBTQ issues, Kenney’s spokesperson said the UCP leadership candidate was too busy. It appears as though Kenney will go to far lengths not to do anything that would alienate the social conservative supporters he hopes will help make him leader of the UCP in October 2017.

Hehr on the move

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr is expected to be shuffled from his role as Minister of Veterans Affairs as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan is moved into the role. When Hehr was appointed to cabinet in 2015, he became the first Liberal cabinet minister from Calgary since the early 1970s. It is not yet known what his new role will be.

Kang expected to be booted from Liberal caucus

The Hill Times reports that Calgary MP Darshan Kang is expected to be removed from the Liberal Caucus this week “after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by a young staffer unearthed troubling findings.” Kang was elected as the MP for Calgary-Skyview in 2015 after serving two-terms as the Liberal MLA for Calgary-McCall.

Keller out of Sturgeon River-Parkland race

Gerry Keller, the former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, has decided not to enter the Conservative Party nomination to run in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election. Current candidates running for the nomination include local party organizer Jamie Mozeson, recently relocated BC-businessman Rick Peterson and political staffer Dane Lloyd.

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Derek Fildebrandt has a very, very bad week.

Photo: In happier times, as Derek Fildebrandt campaigned alongside Wildrose leader Brian Jean in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean’s Facebook Page).

Over the course of eight days, Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt went from being a potential leadership candidate to stepping down from the United Conservative Party Caucus.

As a former spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Official Opposition finance critic in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, he had earned a reputation as a relentlessly partisan critic of the old Progressive Conservative and current New Democratic Party governments. His reputation as a fiscal crusader, and his political future, were put in question this week.

Here is a quick look at the past eight days in FIldebrandt’s political world:

August 8, 2017: Former Wildrose Party finance critic and United Conservative Party finance co-critic Derek Fildebrandt announces he will not run for the leadership of the new party. He tells reporters than he will instead use his United Liberty PAC to push the party and leadership candidates to adopt libertarian policies.

He takes a direct shot at former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, now a candidate for the UCP, saying that “he is not the best man to lead the party and lead Alberta.” (Background: Jean attempted to suspend Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus in June 2016).

August 9, 2017: Postmedia reports that Fildebrandt has been renting his taxpayer-subsidized downtown Edmonton apartment on Airbnb. Fildebrandt tells the media to “Find someone under 35 with a downtown apartment that doesn’t let their apartment if they’re gone half the year.

August 10, 2017: Fildebrandt issues a statement saying he plans to donate the $2,555 he earned through Airbnb to the provincial debt. ‘I’m not interested in letting the politics of smear distract from the real issues,’ his statement read.

Rather than focusing on complaining about people trying to smear him, he should acknowledge that it was a mistake and he should apologize,” Premier Rachel Notley tells reporters.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci calls on Fildebrandt to apologize for his actions. “The public puts a lot of faith in their elected officials, and when people act like that I think they destroy that faith,” Ceci told reporters.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark calls for penalties for MLAs who break reimbursement rules and writes to Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner to ask for an audit of all MLA living expenses.

Late that night, Fildebrandt announces he is taking leave from his position as UCP finance co-critic and is leaving on vacation.

August 14, 2017: Clark releases documents that he suggests show Fildebrandt claimed meal expenses and an MLA per-diem for the same meal nine times. Fildebrandt releases a statement admitting that there “were some administrative errors in processing meal receipts.

These expense claims are concerning and appear to be part of a larger pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable for a member of the United Conservative Party caucus,” United Conservative Party leader Nathan Cooper said in an statement

August 15, 2017: CBC reports that ‘Edmonton police conducted an investigation and on June 14, 2016, charged Fildebrandt under the provincial traffic act with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to notify the owner of the damaged vehicle.’ Cooper tells CBC he did not know about the charge. The trial was adjourned until September 6, 2017, when Fildebrandt is expected to present his evidence.

Late tonight, Fildebrandt issued a statement on his Facebook page where he took two swipes at the media before announcing his plans to leave the UCP caucus and sit as an Independent MLA.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Rebel Media becomes a wedge issue in the United Conservative Party leadership race

This weekend’s violent march of Nazis and white supremacists through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia made international headlines and also had repercussions for the United Conservative Party leadership race in Alberta.

Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer who is trying to position himself as a social moderate in the contest, used this weekend’s dark events south of the border to call on Jason Kenney and Brian Jean to denounce Rebel Media. The fringe right-wing website is more of an opposition group than a media organization and is seen to be closely allied with “alt-right” organizers in Canada and the United States.

“Enough is enough. We have to be better than this in Canada. Stand up to them for a change. We all need to lead by example,” Schweitzer tweeted.

Founders of the website include Ezra Levant, who, along with Kenney was a member of the “snack pack” in the mid-1990s, and Hamish Marshall, who is Jean’s campaign manager and was campaign manager for Andrew Scheer‘s successful federal leadership bid.

Many Wildrose Party and federal Conservative politicians have supported Levant’s Rebel website on social media, through online interviews, and participation in rallies and events organized by Levant and his employees.

Schweitzer’s challenge to Jean and Kenney will undoubtedly result in nasty pushback from a legion of right-wing twitter users, which I am sure he is prepared to respond to. But drawing a line helps Schweitzer differentiate himself from the two major candidates in the race, who have both been seen to be sympathetic or supportive of Levant’s Rebel website, and signals what kind of conservatives might not be welcome in a United Conservative Party led by Doug Schweitzer.

Categories
Alberta Politics

2012 Derek Fildebrandt to 2017 Derek Fildebrandt: No Tax Dollars for Airbnb

Photos: 2012 Derek Fildebrandt (above), 2017 Derek Fildebrandt (below).

For Immediate Release

CALGARY – Standing in front of a giant inflatable pork chop, 2012 Derek Fildebrandt denounced 2017 Derek Fildebrandt for renting his government-subsidized downtown Edmonton apartment on Airbnb.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Wildrose MLA
2017 Derek Fildebrandt

“People with enough money to support themselves and rent out government-subsidized second homes on Airbnb shouldn’t be the beneficiaries of taxpayer subsidized housing,” said 2012 Derek Fildebrandt, the then-Alberta spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“Making $134,000 dollars doesn’t make you rich, but it makes you capable of standing on your own two feet. If an MLA isn’t passing the smell test then it’s time for the party leader to do the right thing, and kick this person out,” continued 2012 Derek.

“Taxpayers pay good money to help house MLAs and this money is clearly going to people who don’t need or deserve it,” said 2012 Derek.

“These news reports strongly suggest that a system intended to help MLAs is being gamed and that some people are allowing it to be gamed,” fumed 2012 Derek. “We need a full audit of MLA Housing Allowance to determine the extent of this practice.”

2012 Derek also reiterated his belief in MLA recall.

“We’ve always stood for recall but 2017 Derek makes the case better than we ever could. So we want to give Albertans, and voters in Strathmore-Brooks specifically, the right to recall their MLA,” he said.

“I am writing my nomination for the Teddy Awards this morning and 2017 Derek is at the top of my list,” said 2012 Derek, as he poked the giant pork chop with an oversized cardboard fork.

– 30 –

(The above piece is satire, but most of the quotes are adapted from CTF press releases and media reports)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Derek Fildebrandt caught renting government-subsidized apartment on Airbnb

United Conservative MLA Derek Fildebrandt has been renting his government-subsidized downtown Edmonton apartment on Airbnb, according to a report by one of Postmedia’s Edmonton newspapers.

MLAs who live outside of the Edmonton area are eligible to receive a housing allowance to use toward a residence in the capital city, but the rules appear to be silent on whether an MLA can rent their government-subsidized accommodations on Airbnb while they are not there.

According to the Postmedia report, “between January and March, eight Airbnb renters reviewed the apartment. Over the same three months, Fildebrandt claimed $7,720 for accommodation in Edmonton.”

While the housing allowance makes sense, the entitlement is certainly not meant to be a secondary source of income for the MLA.

This might not be as big surprise if Fildebrandt were some Tory good ol’ boy, but he is someone who built his political career around attacking public spending by elected officials.

From the time he arrived in Alberta to work as the local spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, he was a very spiky thorn in the side of the old Progressive Conservative government. As the Wildrose Party finance critic since 2015, he has been an unabashed partisan in his attacks against Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government.

This story comes only days after Fildebrandt announced he would not run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party. In one media report, he blamed the story on Brian Jean’s “backroom operators.”

Fildebrandt could have easily used this as an opportunity to make a point about public spending by claiming the funds he received through renting his government-subsidized Airbnb and applying for a lower housing allowance. But instead, he now says he will use the funds to help pay down Alberta’s provincial debt – after he got caught.

UPDATE: Fildebrandt announced last night that he is on-leave from his position as Finance co-critic for the United Conservative Party and is leaving the province on vacation.

Categories
Alberta Politics

UCP merger kickstarts another summer of politiking in Alberta

Photo: Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally launches his campaign to lead the United Conservative Party (source: Facebook)

It has been a busy week in Alberta politics, and it is only Tuesday.

Nathan Cooper

On Saturday, 95 percent of Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Party members who cast ballots voted in favour of amending their respective parties constitutions and create a new political party – the United Conservative Party.

Only 57 per cent of eligible Wildrose members, and 55 percent of PC member, cast a ballot, which is roughly 25,000 and 27,000 members of the two parties. It is suspected that a significant number of individuals who voted held membership in both parties, and voted twice.

Here is a quick look at what has happened since:

  • As predicted on this blog a few days ago, Nathan Cooper has been chosen as interim leader of the new 29-MLA joint-Wildrose-PC United Conservative caucus. Cooper will serve as leader of the Official Opposition, though likely not in the Assembly as the Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until after the new party chooses a permanent leader in October 2017. He is a first-term Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didisbury Three Hills and a former Wildrose caucus Chief of Staff, Carstairs town councillor, and spokesperson for the social conservative Canada Family Action group.
  • Richard Starke
    Richard Starke

    PC MLA Richard Starke will not join the new UCP caucus. Starke, who has represented Vermilion-Lloydminster since 2012, ran against Jason Kenney in the 2017 PC leadership race and opposed his plans to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party. Starke wrote on Facebook that: “My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward.”

  • Wildrose leader Brian Jean formally announced his bid for the leadership of the new party at the Apple Creek Golf Course in Rockyview County. Jean was accompanied by Airdrie Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt, who has endorsed his campaign.
  • Kenney is expected to formally announce his leadership bid on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
  • Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who is also expected to join the leadership race, vowed he would never support Jean in a leadership race. Jean briefly attempted to suspend Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus in May 2016, after the MLA’s partisan antics went too far. 
  • Long-time PC Party strategist Susan Elliott announced she will be joining the Alberta Party. Elliott managed the PC Party’s successful 2012 election campaign.
Categories
Alberta Politics

Wildrose-PC merger a big deal, but not a silver bullet for 2019

Albertans will find out on July 22 whether members of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties have voted to amend their party constitutions in order to abandon their existing parties and form a new party named the United Conservative Party.

For the vote to pass, it will need the support of 75 percent of Wildrose members and 50 percent plus one of PC Party members.

There seems to be two likely scenarios: if it passes or fails.

A) If members from both parties vote to approve the agreement and amend their party constitutions, then a joint board of directors will be appointed to govern the business of the UCP and the two existing parties. The creation of a new party will need to be approved by Elections Alberta, which I expect will happen shortly after a successful vote.

An interim leader will be appointed by the caucuses of the two parties. There is strong speculation that the interim leader will be the mild-mannered and well-respected Wildrose Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper, who has served as MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills since 2015. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried and Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda could also be contenders for interim leader position.

A leadership race will be scheduled for October 28, 2017 and four candidates have already declared their candidacy or interest in running: Wildrose leader Brian Jean, PC Party leader Jason Kenney, Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

B) If the vote fails, it is expected this would be because of opposition by Wildrose Party members. While I would be very surprised if the vote fails, it would not be the most outlandish event to occur in Alberta politics in the past decade. The Wildrose membership are known for being cantankerous and notoriously anti-establishment.

A big loss would be a huge blow to Jean’s leadership of the party and would probably spell the end of his career in provincial politics. It might also lead to Wildrose MLAs crossing the floor to the PCs, as Kenney could continue to move ahead and create a UCP regardless of a rejected vote by Wildrose members.

A Plan B could take the form of a non-compete agreement, where the two parties would not challenge each other in constituencies in the next election. This would be similar to what Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke proposed during the PC leadership race.

If technical issues hamper the vote and cause party members to question or challenge the validity of the results, it could damage the UCP before it is even officially formed.

What does this mean for the conservative movement in Alberta? 

With some prominent PC members jumping to the Alberta Party, a group of disgruntled Wildrose members threatening to start another new party and some conservatives even joining the NDP, Conservatives actually appear less united than they have been in years. While much of the Conservative establishment is backing the Wildrose-PC merger, there is a threat that it would lead to a further split into smaller conservative parties.

The outcome of the Wildrose-PC merger could be determined during the UCP leadership race, which will set the tone and policy direction of the new party. And association with unpopular positions could dog the candidates.

Jean is trying to appeal to rural Wildrose supporters while convincing urban conservatives that he is a centrist. Kenney is associated with social conservative causes and sparked controversy when he told a Postmedia editorial board he would support outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances. And Fildebrandt’s leadership campaign can be expected to bring a blunt message of ‘weaponized conservatism‘ and painful funding cuts to public services.

What does this mean for the NDP?

While the NDP have mostly stayed out of the Wildrose-PC merger fray, they will be eager to define the new Conservative party as angry and uncompassionate right-wingers who are out-of-touch with modern and increasingly urban Alberta.

Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party has subtly shifted their messaging over the past year, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans.” This will provide the NDP with a significant contrast to the UCP, who they will argue would attack the public services and hurt Alberta families.

Kenney has stated 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 in Calgary or the new hospital in south Edmonton? Would a UCP government lower the minimum wage, increase school fees and cancel the $25/day childcare program? Expect the NDP to make sure Albertans are asking these questions.

What does this mean for Alberta Together and the Alberta Party?

Moderate and centrist Conservatives who have left the PC Party to support the Alberta Together political action committee and the Alberta Party also have an interest in seeing the UCP branded as Wildrose 2.0 in the minds of Alberta voters.

Since being elected as MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015, Greg Clark has punched above his weight in generating media attention while his party has floundered at fundraising and constituency organization. The recent injection of centrist PC activists into his party might be a boon for fundraising and organizing, especially if the UCP is cast as just a new Wildrose Party.

Wildrose-PC merger not a silver bullet

Since the morning after the NDP’s victory in the 2015 election, many Conservatives have talked about merging the Wildrose and PCs parties as if it were a silver bullet to winning the next election. While the NDP have not been the most popular government in Alberta history, Conservatives underestimate Rachel Notley at their own peril. Notley is a smart and savvy political leader and, as 2015 proved, she is an incredibly talented campaigner.

And, as the past two elections have proven, Conservatives in Alberta have a track record of shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times.


I joined Brock Harrison and Shaye Ganam on July 21, 2017 to chat about Alberta politics and the July 22 vote on 630CHED. Here is the audio recording of our discussion.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Another Season of Stampede Politicking in Calgary

Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta
Rachel Notley

Politicians of all stripes descended on Alberta’s largest city this week for the annual Calgary Stampede festivities.

Though most of them have probably never ridden a horse or woke up at 5am (or earlier) to start their day on the farm, they were almost all brandishing big shiny belt buckles, wrangler-style shirts and cowboy hats of various sizes (and if they are lucky, they weren’t wearing them backwards).

Alberta’s NDP caucus held their annual summer caucus meeting in Calgary this week, which allowed most of the 54 NDP MLAs to scatter across the city to attend pancake breakfasts and BBQ lunches that could be found on almost every street corner this week.

The NDP had a particularly strong presence at Stampede events this year, signalling what many political watchers already believe – that Calgary will be a major battleground in the next provincial election. Calgarians elected fifteen NDP MLAs in the Orange Wave of 2015 but the party still remains organizationally weak in this city.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

Premier Rachel Notley and various cabinet ministers used the week in Calgary to make a series of funding announcements, including loosening restrictions on restaurant patios, construction industry tax credits, improvements to the Canada-Alberta Job Grant and business grants for Alberta’s food processing and booming craft beer industry.

Already campaigning for the leadership of the currently non-existent United Conservative Party, Brian Jean was spotted attending some events that a leader of the right-wing Wildrose Party would not expected to be seen at – such as the annual United Nurses of Alberta BBQ and LGBTQ events. This is likely an attempt to differentiate himself from his social conservative leadership rival Jason Kenney.

Kenney, who is earning a reputation as the potshot king of Alberta politics, offered to pay for Notley to take a course in economics this week. Notley, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Alberta and a Law Degree from Osgoode Hall, rightfully pointed out the arrogance of Kenney’s comments.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta
Jason Kenney

Meanwhile, Alberta Together, a political action committee for the Alberta Party, attracted a sizeable group of disgruntled former PC Party members unhappy with Kenney’s leadership to an event this week in Calgary.

By the end of Sunday, most of the politicians visiting Calgary will have hung up their cowboy hats and packed away their boots and denim until next year. But while the Calgary Stampede may be the biggest political event of the season, it is only the beginning of what will be a summer full of political campaigns and maneuvering.

Wildrose MLA blames “hack job” for anti-Trudeau tweet

Speaking to a radio station in his Drumheller-Stettler constituency, Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman claimed the “electronic sphere” and a “hack job” were responsible for a tweet posted by his MLA twitter account last week accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being a “gutless puke.”

The tweet appeared to have been sent in response to Trudeau’s initial plans not to attend this year’s Stampede, which he later changed (Trudeau was attending the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany earlier this week).

The tweet, which was deleted moments after it was posted, was first reported on this blog last week.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Two weeks until decision day for Conservatives in Alberta

On July 6, 2016, Jason Kenney officially launched his campaign to capture the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives and lead them into a merger with the right-wing Wildrose Party. After 19-years as an Ottawa politician, Kenney was easily able to stage a hostile take-over the broken and battered former governing party.

One year later, Kenney is campaigning to convince PC and Wildrose members to approve the creation of a new party in a July 22 vote, while also campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be created United Conservative Party (whether Conservatives are actually more united now is a completely different question).

A vote of 50 percent plus one is needed from PC Party members to approve the deal, but a steeper 75 percent support vote is needed from Wildrose Party members to fulfill their end of the agreement.

As has been pointed out before, it is expected that many conservative activists will purchase memberships in both the PC and Wildrose parties in order to vote twice on July 22.

Some Wildrosers are nervous that the three-quarters support could be hard to achieve.

On most days it can be hard to get 75 percent of Wildrose members to agree what day of the week it is,” one former Wildrose Party member told me, referring to the raucous reputation and anti-establishment tendencies of the party’s membership. But with the political careers of so many prominent Conservative politicians tied to the success of the July 22 vote, it is hard to believe it would be allowed to fail.

But just in case, a Plan B might be needed.

Rona Ambrose
Rona Ambrose

Four candidates have officially declared their interest in running for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party, when and if it is actually formed: Kenney, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer and Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Both Jean and Kenney have essentially been using their parties as vehicles to promote their leadership campaigns while also setting up separate political action committees. Fildebrandt has created United Liberty PAC and his leadership bid appears to be at least partly inspired by the strong showing by Maxime Bernier in Alberta during the recent federal Conservative leadership race.

It may just be wishful thinking by some conservatives, but speculation continues that former federal Official Opposition leader Rona Ambrose could enter the race. Ambrose recently resigned her seat in Parliament and is expected to begin a new role in Washington D.C. She, along with a crowd of Conservatives MPs, also endorsed Kenney after he announced his bid for the PC leadership a year ago.

Another Wildrose Bozo-Eruption

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Hamburg, Germany to meet with world leaders at the G20 summit, some conservatives are angry he is not instead attending the Calgary Stampede.

Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, who has represented Drumheller-Stettler since 2012, posted a tweet on July 4, 2017 which appeared to accuse Trudeau of being a “Gutless puke” for not attending the Stampede (see the screenshot).

The tweet was deleted moments after it was posted.

Categories
Alberta Politics

All roads lead to Red Deer and the Alberta Party for homeless politicos

Red Deer and the Alberta Party are frequent destinations for disaffected politicos in search of a new political home.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

Led by former Progressive Conservative Party president Katherine O’Neill and backed for former cabinet minister Stephen Mandel, disaffected Tories are booking their flights to the central Alberta city this weekend to discuss bringing centrists “together,” presumably under the banner of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Together political action committee, led by O’Neill, has been created to search for a new home for centrists unhappy with the rightward direction of the established Conservative parties in the province.

The Alberta Party has been home to some very different stripes of politicos since it was founded in the early 1980s. The party had little success as a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party during its first two decades of existence and made minor headlines when it was involved in unsuccessful merger negotiations with the Alberta Alliance (the predecessor of the Wildrose Party) in the mid-2000s.

It was only a only a few short years ago that another group of disaffected political activists, mostly Liberals and Greens, with a few PCs and New Democrats tossed in the mix (including myself), also met in Red Deer to discuss the creation of a new political… something. Those meetings back in 2010, following the landslide victory that Premier Ed Stelmach led the PCs to in 2008, led to the creation of what has become the current version of the Alberta Party.

Dave Taylor MLA

Dave Taylor

The party, which was nothing more than a great name at the time, was inherited by former Green Party supporters in 2009 (the Green Party of Alberta was disbanded in 2009) and soon after Hinton mayor and past NDP candidate Glenn Taylor became the party’s leader. Two-term Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor became the party’s first MLA in 2011 after he left the then-Official Opposition Liberals.

The reinvention of the Alberta Party in 2010 dramatically shifted the tiny party into the limelight for a short period in the early 2010s, when it was seen as a potential successor to the failing Liberal Party brand in Alberta. But Stelmach’s decision to retire and Alison Redford’s ascendancyto what at the time looked like a reinvigorated ProgressiveConservative Party stole the wind from the Alberta Party’s sails.

The Alberta Party bandied around merger discussions with the Liberal Party before the 2012and 2015 elections, but nothing came of it. Rather than merging or accepting a floor crossing, the Alberta Party decided to endorse Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s re-election bid in Edmonton-Centre in 2015 (the five-term MLA was defeated by New Democrat David Shepherd in the orange tidal wave that swept the capital city).

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in the mid-1990s, was elected as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015. And since then, Clark has tried to position his party as a new home (and a safe refuge) for PCs who are uncomfortable with Jason Kenney’s social conservative leadership and the planned merger with the Wildrose Party to create the United Conservative Party.

Like those disaffected Liberals, Greens and New Democrats who gathered under the Alberta Party banner in the early 2010s to create a new alternative to the PCs, this group of disaffected PCs are gravitating toward the Alberta Party to create a new alternative. Some of the big names associated with the weekend gathering were involved in the PC Party’s epic defeat to Rachel Notley’s NDP in the 2015 election.

The Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, and a home for disaffected politicos without a home. Whether or not this latest group to wander over will make themselves at home in the Alberta Party is yet to be determined.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Categories
Alberta Politics

Looking past pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement looks pretty good for BC

“Mark my words, that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made.” – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

Alberta politicians, media and pundits are unsurprisingly focused on what the governing agreement between British Columbia New Democratic Party leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver will mean for the future of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

The agreement would have the province’s three Green Party MLAs support the 41 NDP MLAs on confidence motions and money bills in the Legislative Assembly, allowing the NDP to form a minority government. Christy Clark‘s Liberals have 43 MLAs, one MLA short of a majority.

Aside from oil pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement commits to holding a referendum  on proportional representation in fall 2018 (though it is not clear what form of proportional representation will be proposed) and reforming BC’s wild-west election finance laws (banning corporate and union donations, placing limits on individual donations, and limiting party loans to banks and financial institutions).

The agreement also commits to appointing a commission to create a plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage, preserving public health care and education, and improving funding for public transit. While some of the points are intentionally vague, overall it reads like a fairly positive guide for the next BC government.

Andrew Weaver Green Party British Columbia
Andrew Weaver

But back to that pipeline from Alberta, the agreement states: “Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”

The pipeline expansion has already been approved by the federal government, but faces opposition from the public and the courts in BC. In an article earlier this month, James Wilt outlined three ways the BC government could stop or slow down the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

Political opposition to the pipeline from an Green-supported NDP government in BC could create a lot of political trouble for Rachel Notley‘s NDP government in Alberta. There is no shortage of irony that the NDP-Green agreement could create a world of political problems for the most progressive and environmentally-friendly government Alberta has ever had.

Despite the Notley government’s Climate Leadership Plan, disagreement over oil pipelines has lead to a significant split between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts outside the province.

John Horgan BC NDP Leader Premier
John Horgan

Notley has been steadfast in her support for the pipeline, and as far as Alberta politicians go, she is probably in the best position to negotiate some sort of political compromise with a future Premier Horgan. The two politicians know each other and many NDP political staffers in Edmonton have deep connections to the BC NDP. Alberta’s Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips even worked in the BC NDP campaign war-room in 2013.

In many ways, it would be easier for the BC NDP, and probably the federal NDP, if Alberta was governed by climate change denying conservatives. At least then they would be able to oppose these oil pipelines without the kind of complications that having an NDP government in Alberta has caused for them.

It is not clear when, or if, Horgan and Weaver will be able to enact their agreement. Clark has said she will remain in office for the time-being, likely until her Liberal Party loses a confidence vote in the Legislative Assembly. When that takes place could determine the political future of the pipeline, and who will be representing BC when the Council of the Federation meets in Edmonton from  July 17 to 19, 2017.

Schweitzer is back, again, probably

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is not running in the PC leadership race.
Doug Schweitzer

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who pulled the plug on his bid to leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party last September and backed Jason Kenney instead, has announced his plans to run for the currently non-existent United Conservative Party. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was involved in Jim Prentice‘s campaign for the Alberta PC Party leadership in 2014. He served as Kenney’s scrutineer when the ballots were counted in the 2017 PC leadership race.

Schweitzer’s candidacy is entirely dependent on whether members of the Wildrose and PC parties vote to form a new party on July 22, which I expect will happen.