With the Legislative Assembly returning to start the spring session at the end of the month, there was another big shuffle of ministerial chiefs of staff at the Legislature today.
In the Premier’s office, Pam Livingston is now Deputy Chief of Staff. Livingston recently served as Chief of Staff to Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon and was executive assistant to Justice Minister Verlyn Olson and Seniors and Community Supports Minister Greg Melchin.
There has been significant turnover in Premier Jason Kenney’s office over the past six months, with his three most senior advisors departing – Howard Anglin to Oxford, David Knight Legg to Invest Alberta, and Jamie Huckabay as a result of last month’s hot holiday scandal. The departure of these three is said to have created no shortage of chaos in Kenney’s office at a time when internal stability should be essential.
Livingston will be replaced in Nixon’s office by Megan Griffith, who previously served as Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan’s Minister of Rural & Remote Health.
Janet MacEachern, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister of Labour & Immigration Jason Copping since 2019, is the new Director of Talent in the Premier’s Office, replacing Amber Griffiths who will be taking maternity leave.
Ariella Kimmel, Chief of Staff to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, is leaving and will be replaced by Jonah Mozeson, who currently works as Chief of Staff to Minister Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu.
Riley Braun, who currently serves as Senior Advisor to Madu, will replace Mozeson as Acting Chief of Staff.
Also leaving is Robyn Henwood, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney and previously served as Director of the United Conservative Party Caucus.
Henwood will be replaced by Kulshan Gill. Gill was acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2019 provincial election after an unsuccessful bid to win the party nomination in Edmonton-Manning.
Veteran political communicator Jerry Bellikka is replacing Mat Steppan as Chief of Staff to Energy Minister Sonya Savage. Bellikka recently returned to the Legislature to work as Press Secretary for the Minister Community and Social Services.
Also apparently departing Savage’s office is Press Secretary Peter Brodsky, who only recently joined the Energy Minister’s office after previous Press Secretary Kavi Bal joined the Premier’s Office as Director of Strategic Planning.
Steppan is now Chief of Staff to acting Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, who was appointed to the dual role following Tracy Allard’s return from a Hawaiian vacation last month.
Jonathan Koehli, McIver’s current Chief of Staff for the dual role, will now become Chief of Staff to Copping in Labour & Immigration.
Before he returned to work at the Legislature in January 2020, Koehli previously served as Chief of Staff to Finance Minister Robin Campbell before the Progressive Conservative Party’s defeat in the 2015 election.
Hinkley was elected in 2015 with 43.7 percent of the vote, defeating two-term Progressive Conservative MLA and Minister of Agriculture Verlyn Olson by 1,578 votes. A nomination meeting has been scheduled in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin for January 8, 2018.
Morgan Bamford is seeking the NDP nomination in the new Camrose district, which includes the eastern portions of the Wetaskiwin-Camrose district. A nomination meeting in this district is scheduled to take place on February 2, 2019.
Pincott served on Calgary City Council from 2007 to 2017 and was nominated as a the NDP candidate in this district on October 25, 2018 and was seen as a star candidate to replace outgoing NDP MLA Brandy Payne.
– Former St. Albert city councillor Neil Korotash is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in the new Moriville-St. Albert district. Korotash teaches Biology and Urban Agriculture at Morinville Community High School and he sought the PC Party nomination in Spruce Grove-St. Albert ahead of the 2015 election. In 2001, Korotash became the youngest city councillor in St. Albert history when he was elected at age 21 in that year’s municipal elections.
The Alberta Party has scheduled a nomination meeting in Morinville-St. Albert for January 19, 2019.
– Tariq Chaudhry has withdrawn from the United Conservative Party nomination contest in Edmonton-Mill Woods and is claiming in an affidavit that Jason Kenney and the UCP cost him more than $25,000. Chaudhry claims Kenney encouraged him to run and asked him to sign up and pay for the $10-membership fee for 1,200 new members. Chaudhry claims he spent $6,000 on memberships and that Kenney’s campaign asked him to organize Eid Mubarak events in 2017 and 2018, on which he spent $20,000, “so Mr. Kenney could be seen speaking to the Edmonton Muslim Community.” Chaudhry is the owner of the Maharaja Banquet Hall.
– Will Carnegie is seeking the Green Party nomination in Calgary-East. Carnegie is the president of the Forest Lawn Community Association.
– The NDP have now scheduled 20 nomination meetings in January and February, in what is expected to be a flurry of candidacy selection activity ahead of the next election. Along with the 15 meetings mentioned in my previous update, meetings will be held in Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, Calgary-Edgemont and Calgary-Hays on February 2, 2019, and in Calgary-Beddington and Calgary-Glenmore on Feb. 3, 2019.
– The UCP have nominated candidates in 79 of Alberta’s 87 electoral districts. The eight remaining nomination contests to be held for the UCP will take place in Calgary-North, Edmonton-Ellerslie, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, Edmonton-Meadows, Edmonton-Mill Woods, Edmonton-Strathcona, Lethridge-East, and Red Deer-South. Dates for these nomination meetings have not yet been scheduled.
McLean resigns as MLA
Former cabinet minister Stephanie McLean has resigned as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Varsity. McLean resignation takes place less than two months before Alberta’s fixed election period begins on March 1, 2019. McLean was appointed to cabinet as Minister of Service Alberta in February 2016 and removed from cabinet in June 2018 following her announcement that she did would not run for re-election in 2019.
McLean’s resignation comes as no surprise as it has been rumoured for months that she was unhappy about her current status in the NDP caucus and looking for leave politics before the next election. McLean did not attend the session of the Legislative Assembly in fall 2018.
McLean was first elected in 2015, securing 43.9 percent of the vote. Long-time NDP stalwart Anne McGrath has been nominated to run for the in this district when the next election is called.
Photo: Premier Rachel Notley, Janet Hinkley, and Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley (source: Facebook)
With yesterday’s announcement by Premier Alison Redford that she will resign on March 23, 2014, the Progressive Conservative caucus will need to select an interim premier and the PC Party is required to hold a leadership contest to select a new leader.
Deputy Premier Dave Hancock and Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson have been rumoured as potential choices for interim premier until the party selects a new leader.
UPDATE: Dave Hancock is the new Premier of Alberta until the PC Party is able to hold a leadership vote. Candidates for the interim position are said to have included Doug Griffiths, Frank Oberle, and Verlyn Olson (who declined).
According to section 14.2 of the PC Party constitution, a leadership race must be held between four and six months from the time previous leader resigns. This means the vote will need to be held between July 23, 2014 and September 23, 2014.
Unlike previous PC leadership races, according to recently changed party rules, if no candidate earns a majority of votes on the first ballot, only the first and second candidate move to the second ballot vote. Previously, three candidates would move to the second ballot.
The future of the PC Party could be determined by the candidates who step forward to become its next leader and, for the time being, the next premier of Alberta. As blogger David Climenhaga writes, “[v]ery possibly the quality of the field will be a weathervane for the party’s chances of survival.”
With that in mind, here are some potential candidates who could run for the leadership of Alberta’s PC Party:
Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays)
A former Calgary Alderman and mayoral candidate, Mr. McIver was first elected to the Legislature in 2012. Upon his election he immediately joined cabinet and served as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, becoming a high profile member of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Because of his conservative political leanings, some observers were surprised when he shunned the Wildrose in favour of being a star Tory candidate in the last election.
Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs)
Until recently, the former deputy premier had become the most recognizable face of the PC government. Serving as the unofficial premier while Ms. Redford traveled the globe on trade missions, his combativeness and growing public profile may have been the reason he was demoted to labour minister in December 2013. It has long been suspected that Mr. Lukaszuk has aspirations to occupy the premier’s office.
Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert)
Currently the Finance minister, Mr. Horner was first elected as MLA in 2001. He placed third in the 2011 PC leadership race and became an ally of Ms. Redford’s after the leadership race. Born into a political family, his father Hugh Horner was Lougheed-era minister, his grandfather Ralph Horner was a Senator, and three of his uncles served as Members of Parliament.
Member of Parliament representing south Edmonton since 2000, Mr. Rajotte chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. He is said to be considering his options after he was once again looked over for a spot in the federal cabinet.
Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia)
The current minister of Justice and Solicitor General is relatively young compared to others on this list, but Mr. Denis is a long-time politico. A lawyer and former business partner of federal Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, he could earn the support of his party’s shrinking right-wing. A “Draft Jonathan Denis for Premier” Facebook page has already been created.
Donna Kennedy-Glans (Calgary-Varsity)
The first-term MLA left the PC caucus earlier this week, blasting what she described as a culture of entitlement. A former senior executive in Calgary’s corporate oil sector, Ms. Kennedy-Glans would bring business experience, deep pocketed friends and, now, an independent streak, to a candidacy for leadership.
The sure-bet to win the 2011 PC leadership race was quickly whisked away to Hong Kong after losing to Ms. Redford. Since then, the former cabinet minister has been far away from the lime-light while serving as Alberta’s envoy to Asia. It is unclear whether he would try a second time to win his party’s leadership.
Oft-talked about as a potential premier, the retired mayor of Edmonton has not shown any signs he is actually interested in the job. After nine years as mayor of Alberta’s capital city, Mr. Mandel left office in October 2013 as a well-respected civic leader. He has since been critical of Ms. Redford’s government’s policies, but is is unclear why he would want to lead the deeply divided caucus.
Last week, he was publicly criticizing Premier Alison Redford for her over-priced $45,000 trip to South Africa (see below) and faced a threat of expulsion from the Progressive Conservative caucus. This week, coincidentally, Edmonton-Riverview PC MLA Steve Young faces a new set of revelations dating back to his time as a Sergeant with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).
The $45,000 trip to South Africa
It’s the story that won’t disappear. People across Alberta shook their heads in disbelief when they learned the government spent $45,000 to send Ms. Redford and her executive assistant, Brad Stables, to attend Nelson Mandela‘s funeral in South Africa. Bringing Mr. Stables added an estimated $20,000 to the cost. It is unclear why he was required to travel with Ms. Redford to South Africa. Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil made the same trip for less than $1,000. He did not require an executive assistant to accompany him.
Pension changes decreed
Finance minister Doug Horner is proposing significant changes to the province’s public pension plans, which could impact the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Albertans. But you wouldn’t have read about it in the last election. The 2012 PC Party platform, “Alberta by Design,” does not once mention the word “pension.”
A report from Auditor General Merwan Saher this month chastised the government for not properly consulting with stakeholders about the proposed changes that will impact their members. The Local Authorities Pension Plan board has not endorsed Mr. Horner’s proposed changes.
Anti-labour law blocked by the courts
Court of Queen’s Bench Mr. Justice Denny Thomasissued an injunction halting the Redford government’s controversial Bill 46. Rammed through the Assembly in December 2013, the anti-labour law allowed the Tories to circumvent a neutral arbitration process which could have awarded fair salary increase for public sector employees. Bill 46 would have imposed a salary freeze. Advanced Education minister Dave Hancock said the government will appeal the court’s decision.
“Today starts a new era in marketing for farmers,” Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson boasted in a press released in August 2012, as the federal government dismantled the Canadian Wheat Board. This week, Mr. Olson claimed he would push for greater rail system accountability.
The Wildrose opposition has been equally enthusiastic about the Canadian Wheat Board’s demise (one of its MLAs, Rick Strankman, was once charged for violating the board). But not to be outdone by Mr. Olson, Wildrose MLAs Shayne Saskiw and Drew Barnes are now hosting town hall meetings from Streamstown to Spirit River about the challenges of individual farmers are facing dealing with the large railway corporations.
Alberta’s Progressive Conservative MLAs are kicking off another year of international travel as Premier Alison Redford, cabinet ministers and backbenchers check their luggage and rack up the air mile points with flights touching down at all points across the globe.
Departing on January 9, Ms. Redford will circle the globe on a sixteen day trip that will see her visit New Dehli, Mumbai and Bangalore, India and then to Davos, Switzerland to promote Alberta’s oil. She will be joined at the beginning of her trip by Intergovernmental Affairs minister Cal Dallas, Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj at the Petrotech 2014 conference.
Mr. Bhullar and Mr. Bhardwaj will join Ms. Redford for her trip to India (Update: No public itinerary has been released for Mr. Bhullar and Mr. Bhardwaj’s trip to India, so it is unclear how long they will be travelling through that country), but Mr. Dallas will split off the from the premier with a visit to Singapore. In May 2012, the Alberta government announced plans to open new trade offices in India and Singapore, as well as in Brazil and the United States.
Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk will visit Harbin, Shanghai and Hangzhou, China from January 3 to 10, where he will sign memorandums of understanding with Chinese government science departments and attend the opening ceremony of the Harbin Ice Festival. It is unclear whether he will learn about the People’s Republic approach to workplace safety and workers rights to fit with his new role as Labour minister.
This will be the fourth visit to Harbin by an Alberta cabinet minister since 2012.
Fourth-term PC backbencher Alana DeLong is headed on two trips this month. The Calgary-Bow MLA will attend Pacific North West Economic Region legislative visits in Olympia, Washington and Boise, Idaho from January 13 to 16 and in Juneau, Alaska from January 21 to 23.
The estimated cost for these international trips, including travel, accommodation and meals for politicians and staff in January 2014 is estimated at $218,160.
Map: MLA travel from November 2011 to December 2013
Since my last update in September 2013, government cabinet ministers and MLAs made trips to Istanbul, San Antonio, Washington DC, Shanghai, Harbin, Seoul, Daegu, Beijing, Tokyo, Chicago, Warsaw and London. Since November 2011, Alberta’s cabinet ministers and MLAs have travelled to 24 countries on official government business. By the end of January 2014, it will be 26.
The Government of Alberta re-announced plans last week to open new trade offices in Chicago and Singapore, and yet to be announced locations in India, Brazil, and California. The Alberta Government is currently operating trade offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, London, Munich, Mexico City, and Washington D.C.
The re-announcement opening the new offices coincided with the release of the provincial government’s International Strategy document. Reading the document, Albertans can learn how the government is “Taking a Team Alberta approach,” “Strengthening Alberta’s position on the ground” and “Promoting Alberta within the Canada Brand.” Overflowing with buzzwords and jargon, the document reads as if it came fresh off the desk of some high-paid consultant.
Since Alison Redford became Premier in November 2011, cabinet ministers and backbench Tory MLAs have made trips to twenty-one different countries. During that time, cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs have made fourteen trips to Washington D.C., highlighting the importance that the current government is placing on its relationship with the United States and the construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
Trips to more than a dozen countries in Asia, including twelve trips to Hong Kong (now home to Alberta’s appointed representative and former Tory leadership candidate Gary Mar), also show the importance the government is placing on trade expansion to Asia. Currently, Finance Minister Doug Horner is traveling through China and Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson is visiting Kazakhstan.
“Building Markets” and “Building Alberta.” are two slogans that anyone who has read a recent government press releases or listened to recent ministerial speeches will be familiar with. The key words were spoken by government ministers more than 70 times in the recent sitting of the Legislative Assembly. Are regular Albertans noticing? On Twitter, almost the only tweets that include the #buildingmarkets and #buildingalberta hashtags are coming from accounts belonging to Tory MLAs or their paid employees.
Soon after raising the point of privilage, Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky overruled and denied Danielle Smith and her Wildrose MLAs an opportunity to ask any questions related to the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest in the tobacco lawsuit. In response, most of the 17 MLA Wildrose caucus stormed out of the Assembly Chamber in protest (the dramatic effect was lessened when a number of Wildrose MLAs quickly returned to their seats in order to ask questions not related to the tobacco conflict claims).
In a bizarre twist, Speaker Zwozdesky held up a Government of Alberta press release as evidence that the Premier did not mislead the Assembly because the final decision to select the law firm was signed by her successor, then-Justice Minister and current Agriculture Minster Verlyn Olson. The Speaker then declared that it matters not whether the Premier selected the law firm, she did not mislead the Assembly because her successor signed the contract.
Taking full advantage of the attention of the Twittersphere and the Press Gallery, the Wildrose Party cried foul and complained that the ruling was an affront to democracy (Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman wrote “SHILL” on the back of his notebook, leaving political watchers to suspect the message was directed at Speaker Zwozdesky). Tories claimed the rookie Wildrose MLAs simply did not understand the rules of Westminster-style parliamentary procedure.
Since entering office, Premier Redford has tended to initially respond slowly to political crises confronting her party and respond decisively once the issue has become a political problem. Whether it be the infamous No-Meet Committee, the never ending MLA pay issues, the Allaudin Merali expense fiasco, the Tories default strategy appears to be to ignore the issue in hopes that it will disappear.
It has been five days since CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnellfirst reported on the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest and the Tories are still stumbling through a public relations debacle that should have been easy to resolve.
Whether or not Premier Redford is in an actual conflict of interest, the Tories are doing a good job looking guilty and the opposition is only happy to help them on their way.
Until its licence was temporarily suspended on September 27, more than one-third of Canadian beef was processed in the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta. The plant processed 4000 cows a day and produces 3000 steaks each minute. The sheer size of this plant raises serious questions about the centralization of the packing industry in Canada and the implications for food security after E.coli contamination in beef produced at the plant has poisoned 10 Canadians. Meanwhile, new E.coli cases in British Columbia and Hong Kong are reported to be linked to XL Foods.
XL Foods and their parent company Nilsson Brothers Inc. have done an incredible job sowing confusion among Canadians by refusing to speak with the media, only releasing a pre-recorded audio statement late last week.
As Globe & Mail health columnist Andre Picard wrote this week, “transparency is the hallmark of good crisis communication,” and in the case of this E.coli contamination, this is a textbook case of failing to communicate. As Mr. Picard’s wrote in his column, the communications failure is a result of foot-dragging and inappropriate beef boosterism from XL Foods, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Minister Ritz.
“When you’re poisoning people, even unintentionally, a voice message three weeks into the outbreak doesn’t cut it, nor do ministerial blandishments, nor do CFIA press releases whining that “investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness can be complex.” – Andre Picard (Globe & Mail, October 7, 2012).
Also ignoring the opportunity to discuss food safety issues in the beef industry is Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, who will be hosting a lunch-hour 100% Alberta beef barbecue on the Legislative Assembly grounds. Ms. Smith, Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Strathmore-Brooks MLA Jason Hale will play the role of champions of Alberta’s beef industry while serving beef burgers at the October 10 lunch (hopefully they will be thoroughly cooked).
Premier Redford and Alberta’s legislators should be standing up for the beef industry not by retreating to old populist tendencies, but by demanding answers from XL Foods, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Minister Ritz to ensure that this does not happen again.
The bleeding of large portions of the PC Party’s rural social conservative wing to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party in the April 2011 election could be a blessing for Premier Redford and her government. Keeping the Wildrose Party electorally contained in the rural south and central regions of the province, while focusing on issues that will appeal to the rapidly growing and diverse urban populations in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Calgary, Edmonton could be a solid strategy to provide a more forward-looking government agenda and preserve the PC Party’s electoral dominance in the coming decades.
In the three years leading into this year’s election, the Wildrose proved extremely successful in using wedge issues like property rights and the construction of electrical transmission lines to drive traditional PC voters in rural southern and central Alberta constituencies into their electoral camp. If they have not already, the PC brain trust should take note of similar strategies that will keep the Wildrose Party at bay in urban centres.
No longer forced to appease a more conservative rural base of MLAs and supporters, Premier Redford has an opportunity to lead a new urban agenda for Alberta, especially with the urban-based Liberal and NDP opposition pushed to the margins. With potential strong allies in Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, Premier Redford could make strides on issues like reinvesting in Alberta’s Heritage Fund and investing in urban public transit and transportation infrastructure.
If expected patterns of population growth continue, it is the urban areas which will receive additional constituencies in the Alberta Legislature when the boundaries are redistributed.
Alison Redford – Premier
Thomas Lukaszuk – Deputy Premier
Doug Horner – Minister of Finance & President of Treasury Board
Dave Hancock – Minister of Human Services
Cal Dallas – Minister of International & Intergovernmental Relations
Diana McQueen – Minister of Environment & Sustainable Resource Development
Fred Horne – Minister of Health
Ken Hughes – Minister of Energy
Jeff Johnson – Minister of Education
Verlyn Olson – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Jonathan Denis – Minister of Justice & Solicitor General
Doug Griffiths – Minister of Municipal Affairs
Robin Campbell – Minister of Aboriginal Relations
Heather Klimchuk – Minister of Culture
Manmeet Bhullar – Minister of Service Alberta
Wayne Drysdale – Minister of Infrastructure
Stephen Khan – Minister of Enterprise & Advanced Education
Ric McIver – Minister of Transportation
Christine Cusanelli – Minster of Tourism, Parks, and Recreation
Wildrose is under attack! The same people that caused the Liberal Party of Canada to be in power for 13 uninterrupted years now have Wildrose in their crosshairs. They want nothing more than to see the Redford PCs re-elected to impose their big government knows best, ivory tower views on all of us.
Much has been written about how much the electoral battle between Alberta’s PCs and the Wildrose Party is a continuation of the long-standing family feud between moderate Tories and Reform Party minded conservatives of yesteryear.
Premier Redford, who was a staffer to former Prime Minister Joe Clark, stepped up to challenge controversial right-winger Rob Anders for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-West before the 2004 federal election. Ms. Redford was defeated. (Ms. Redford’s ex-husband’s father was the last PC MP for Calgary-West and was defeated by Reform Party candidate Stephen Harperin 1993). PC campaign manager Susan Elliott was the national director of the former PC Party of Canada and a few of Premier Redford’s cabinet ministers, including Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson and Lethbridge-West MLA Greg Weadick were federal PC candidates during the height of the Reform Party’s strength in Western Canada.
The Wildrose Party campaign includes a number of former Reform Party and federal Conservative stalwarts, including Mr. Fryers (who was Chief of Staff to Preston Manning), campaign manager Tom Flanagan (who was strategist for the Reform Party), Senate candidate and strategist Vitor Marciano (who is a long-time federal Conservative Party operative), and Jim Armour (an Ontario-based consultant and former Communications Director to Mr. Manning and Prime Minister Harper). Former federal Conservative candidate also Ryan Hastman joined the Wildrose Party staff shortly after the 2011 federal election.
Calgary-Southeast Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney was reported to have said that “any attempt to hurt Wildrose by linking them to old Reform movement will backfire.”
With a few exceptions most Members of Parliament have kept a low-profile during this provincial campaign. Westlock-St. Paul Conservative MP Brian Storseth was spotted in the Bonnyville A&W with Ms. Smith earlier this week. Edmonton-Spruce Grove Conservative MP Rona Ambrose has endorsed Spruce Grove-St. Albert PC candidate and Deputy Premier Doug Horner.
On the NDP side, Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan has endorsed Edmonton-Gold Bar candidate Marlin Schmidt. Quebec NDP MP Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet will be campaigning with Mr. Schmidt today. The shift in electoral boundaries places Edmonton’s francophone community in Bonnie Doon into the Gold Bar constituency. The NDP are hoping that the retirement of popular Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald could be their opportunity to make electoral gains in this east Edmonton constituency.
An annual event, politicos patiently lined up to listen to the Queen’s representative sit on a throne and read a speech (and then afterward network at a giant cocktail party under the Rotunda’s giant marble dome).
Typically, these speeches are used to present vague feel-good messages about the government’s legislative agenda during that session of the Assembly. With Premier Ed Stelmach having announced that he will resign in September 2011, there is little doubt that most of the real political action overt the next eight months will take place outside the Assembly. As the experience in the provincial cabinet was parred down with the departure of leadership candidates Ted Morton, Doug Horner, and Alison Redford, this government’s Legislative Agenda is appears to be as decisive as a lame-duck. Its only saving grace may be the Provincial Budget, to be presented by Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove on Thursday, February 24.
The government legislation prepared for the Spring Session (announced via media release last week) presents a mostly light agenda, including house-keeping amendments in the Livestock Industry Diversification Amendment Act, Alberta Investment Management Corporation Amendment Act, Securities Amendment Act, Rules of Court Statutes Amendment Act, Corrections Amendment Act, and the Victims of Crime Amendment Act.
Bill 1: The Asia Advisory Council Act,, tabled immediately following today’s Throne Speech, proposes to create what its title suggests, a council to advise on Asian trade. A watered down Education Act is expected to be tabled during the spring sitting and debate on the Bill is not expected to be concluded until the Fall sitting, when a new PC leader/Premier will decide its fate.
The most interesting piece of legislation presented by the government in this session may be the Alberta Land Stewardship Amendment Act, which the government hopes will quell dissent by rural landowners concerned that government is encroaching on their property rights. The property rights issue, spurned by the development of transmission line corridors and the passage of Bills 19, 23, 30, and 50, has drawn thousands of rural Albertans to town hall meetings over the past four years. The Liberals and NDP have tried to hone in on the issue, but the Wildrose Alliance appears to have shown some short-term success in making it one of their key political wedge issues.
Health care was the issue that defined the 2010 fall sitting of the Assembly which ended last November. Emergency debates, the ejection from the PC caucus of outspoken Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman, the allegations of a smear campaign started by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, and the forced resignation of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett made for some of the most exciting political Albertans had seen until Premier Ed Stelmach’s resignation announcement in February 2011.
Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky will do his best to keep the health care file under control during this political season. He has started off fairly well with the announcement that the provincial budget, to be tabled on February 24, will include the promised 6% increase in health care funding. He has also deflected some criticism of the AHS Board of Directors by appointing five new members, including former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill, who all seem like appropriate choices. His biggest challenge will to actually prove that patient care can be improved under his guidance.
On the surface, the governing PCs will be talking about a Legislative agenda, but in reality their attention will be focused on choosing a new leader. It may be the hottest leadership contest in the province, but they are not the only party having to face the reality of a fairly fluid political environment.
With leadership contests in full-swing until Fall 2011 in three of the province’s five main political parties, Albertans may have to wait until 2012 to see another solid Legislative hit the floor of their Assembly.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul… …or robbing the Liberals and NDP to pay the Wildrose Alliance. The PC MLA-dominated Legislative committee responsible for allocating funds to Assembly caucuses voted to give in to Wildrose Alliance demands for increased caucus funding, but it came at the expense of the other three parties caucuses. While the 67 MLA PC caucus will barely notice the decrease, the slightest decrease in funding is the difference between a one more staff member or not for the opposition caucuses. Chalk this one up to another round of institutional micro-management and political games by Speaker Ken Kowalski.
Calgary’s new Political Minister Filling Ms. Redford’s former position as political minister for Calgary is long-time Calgary-Cross MLA and Minister of Children & Youth Services Yvonne Fritz.
The Provincial Government and North West Upgrading announced that a deal had been reached to begin the construction of the first phase of a new upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan. Premier Ed Stelmach called it “a bold step”, but that was not good enough for NDP MLA Brian Mason. Mr. Mason made the point of attacking Premier Stelmach, saying that despite past promises to keep upgrading jobs in Alberta, more jobs have moved to the United States.
Blakeman aims for Liberal leadership Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman announced yesterday that she is seeking the Liberal leadership. The four-term opposition MLA is the first candidate to enter the contest to replace outgoing leader David Swann. In her speech yesterday, Ms. Blakeman, the party’s Deputy Leader, explained that she had toyed with the idea of joining the new Alberta Party, but later decided to stay with her current party.
Ms. Blakeman is one half of an Edmonton political power couple with her husband Ben Henderson, who is the City Councillor for Ward 8.
Ms. Blakeman’s second V-log takes a creative angle at explaining the political spectrum.
Lukaszuk weighing his options A well-placed source has informed this blogger that Employment & Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has been weighing his options about joining the PC leadership contest.
Second Alberta Party leadership candidate Calgarian Tammy Maloney has announced that she is seeking the Alberta Party leadership. Ms. Maloney is an entrepreneur, a former Oil & Gas business analyst and IESE MBA. She also worked for the Clinton Foundation in Nigeria. Ms. Maloney’s only other challenger so far is Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, who entered the contest two weeks ago.
Carter: smooth political operator
Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson focused his latest column on the strategies of paid political operative Stephen Carter. Mr.Carter, who is known for his work for the Wildrose Alliance and Naheed Nenshi‘s campaign, is a high-profile hire on Ms. Redford’s PC leadership campaign. Watch out Rod Love, at this rate Mr. Carter is becoming Alberta’s next biggest celebrity political operative.
Morton country no more? An editorial in the Rocky View Weekly questions whether former Finance Minister Ted Morton will receive the kind of support from Airdrie-Chestermere Tories in the current PC leadership contest that he did in 2006. Five years ago Mr. Morton earned the support of 57% of PC members in that constituency, with 26% supporting Jim Dinning and 17% supporting Premier Stelmach. With the constituency now represented by Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, it will be interesting to see if conservative voters in that area are still comfortable with Mr. Morton or whether they have found a new political home.
Nomination updates: Calgary Varsity and Edmonton-Centre The list of declared and nominated candidates for the next provincial election has been updated. The nomination contest to replace two-term Calgary-Varisty Liberal MLA Harry Chase looks to be an acclamation. The only candidate to step forward appears to be Bruce Payne, a Business Representative with Carpenters’ Union, Local 2103 in Calgary. Mr. Chase surprised many political watchers when he grabbed the seat from the PCs in a close election in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008 defeating PC Jennifer Diakiw.
Meanwhile, 26-year old Drew Adamick is seeking the yet to be scheduled NDP nomination in Edmonton-Centre. Mr. Adamick was the 2008 federal Liberal candidate in Cariboo-Prince George, where he placed third behind Conservative MP Dick Harris.
The 2010 Spring session of the Alberta Legislature wrapped up yesterday with little fanfare. Ending a month and a half earlier than the increasingly pointless Legislative calendar had scheduled, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs seemed happy to cut short one of their roughest sessions in decades. Here are some thoughts on how each of the parties fared during the 2010 Spring session:
Entering their 39th year in office, the Progressive Conservatives caucus appeared to list from left to right and back again during this session. The massive cuts expected in the 2010 budget never emerged (and the cuts that did take place were largely overshadowed by funding to health care and education). Their flagship bill, the Competitiveness Act, is already becoming largely forgotten in the minds of most political watchers and did not have the public splash impact that was likely intended.
Their political machinery is still well-financed, but the PC Party leadership appears disconnected from mainstream Albertans. Premier Stelmach’s weak public speaking skills were crutched by some of the cabinet ministers who were shuffled into new positions in February and have made an impact this Spring. Most notably, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Finance Minister Ted Morton, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, and Solicitor General Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau have performed fairly well in their new roles. In the Health Care file, Minister Zwozdesky appears to have spent much of the past three months travelling the province attempting to extinguish the fires set by his predecessor (now -Energy Minister Ron Liepert). While his style has brought a much friendlier tone to his position, there are still remains unanswered questions around issues ranging from seniors’ pharmacare to the future of Alberta Hospital Edmonton.
As criticisms have increased from outside the Legislature, it appears that a few PC backbenchers are increasingly unwilling to read the puff-ball questions that they regularly line up for. Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA George VanderBurg, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen, and Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale have asked some pretty tough questions and have noticeably got under the skin of some cabinet ministers during Question Period.
Premier Stelmach and his cabinet ministers will undertake a province-wide tour over the summer to talk with Albertans (and try to win back the hearts and minds of PC supporters who have flocked to the Wildrose Alliance). The optimist in me hopes that the tour will actually be effective in reconnecting our elected government officials with Albertans.
The very public departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and his verbal lashing of Dr. Swann in the media seemed to be the most memorable moment for the Liberals during this session, though internally, they are probably better off without Mr. Taylor. The Liberals won a reprieve from negative attention when a motion by backbench PC MLA Verlyn Olson temporarily removed the independence of Public Accounts Committee chairman Hugh MacDonald. While I believe Dr. Swann’s performance actually improved after Mr. Taylor’s departure, similar to their federal counterparts, the provincial Liberals biggest weakness is their focus on daily tactics, rather than long-term strategy to form government.
With the addition of former PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, the WRA caucus was boosted to third-party status for the first time. Ms. Forsyth’s Mandatory Reporting of Child Pornography bill was passed on third reading (I cannot remember any time that an opposition MLAs private members bill was passed into legislation). The Wildrose Alliance was faced with the challenge of not becoming the NDP of the right and have been strategic in what issues they chose to focus on (ie: opposing the centralization of regional health authorities into Alberta Health Services).
With three MLAs in the Assembly, seatless leader Danielle Smith has spent the majority of her time during this session criss-crossing the province, speaking to town hall meetings, trade shows, chambers of commerce, and anyone interested in meeting with the newly anointed Dauphine of Alberta politics (a very smart decision in my mind).
Outside the Legislature, the NDP appear to be stalled in the polls and have not been able to capitalize on the destabilization inside the Liberal Party. At their 2009 convention, Nova Scotia NDP organizer Matt Hebbadvised his Alberta cousins to build a bigger tent of supporters and to act like a party of government by taking a pragmatic and constructive approach to politics. “Act like a party of government, don’t talk about it,” was Mr. Hebb’s message. Judging by the daily outrage and ankle bitting during Question Period, it does not appear that the two MLAs have heeded Mr. Hebb’s advice.
Independent MLAs Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor now share the lonely northwest corner of the Assembly floor. It was suspected that Mr. Boutilier might join the Wildrose Alliance caucus (his 2008 campaign manager has joined the WRA), but he may be too much of a wildcard for a party that is riding high in the polls and posturing to form the next government. More recently, there have been rumors floating that Mr. Taylor would like to acquire the leadership of the newly reorganized Alberta Party and reshape it into his own image (knowing the people involved in the Alberta Party, this might not be a welcoming prospect).
Since the 2008 election, five of 83 MLAs have forced the changing of seating arrangements on the Assembly floor. There has not been this much movement across the Assembly floor between elections since the early 1990s, which saw some significant Liberal by-election victories, a New Democrat cross to the PCs, a PC leave to sit as an Independent, and a handful of right-leaning Liberals cross to the PCs. It is also the first time since 1989 that an opposition party other than the Liberals or NDP have had more than one MLA in the Assembly (the Representative Party elected two former Social Credit MLAs in 1986).
This was the final session for long-time Canadian Press reporter Jim MacDonald, who will be retiring from his role in May. After 27 years working for Canadian Press, Mr. MacDonald has become an institution in the Press Gallery. During my time as a spokesperson for the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, Mr. MacDonald was always the most nerve-racking reporter in a media scrum – always asking the toughest questions and not taking spin for an answer. He will be missed.
On a final note, I feel the need to recognize Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who is normally a very good columnist, but during this spring session has written some excellent columns about politics in Alberta.
As I wrotelast week, the powers of the committee were curtailed when PC MLAs voted to create a new rule forcing Committee Chairman MLA Hugh MacDonald to have all future committee correspondence approved by Deputy Chair PC MLA Dave Rodney. When the issue was raised by opposition MLAs in Question Period, Premier Ed Stelmach, Education Minister Dave Hancock, and Deputy Premier Doug Horner have scoffed at the complaints, citing how powerless they are when it comes to influencing their backbench MLAs.