We dive into the mailbag in this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to answer questions about Alberta politics sent in by our listeners on topics ranging from the United Conservative Party’s influence on the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race to the details of the Alberta government’s Keystone XL Pipeline investment to Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s never-ending fight with Alberta’s doctors to how the 1918 Spanish influenza impacted Alberta politics and more great questions.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.
UCP executive director joins lobbyist company
It appears as though the UCP will be searching for a new Executive Director. Brad Tennant recently left the position to become a vice-president with Wellington Advocacy, a government relations company co-founded by former UCP campaign manager and UCP caucus chief of staff Nick Koolsbergen shortly after the 2019 election.
Tennant replaced former UCP executive director Janice Harrington in May 2019. Harrington was later appointed as Alberta’s health advocate and mental health patient advocate by Health Minister Tyler Shandro in November 2019.
Political operations director Jeff Henwood is now acting executive director of the party.
Greens choose new leader
Jordan Wilkie was elected as leader of Alberta’s Green Party in an online vote on March 28, 2020. Wilkie earned 71.9 percent, defeating his only challenger, Brian Deheer. Wilkie is a professional firefighter and holds a Masters degree in Disaster Emergency Management. He is the party’s sixth leader in three years and succeeds interim leader Will Carnegie, who stepped into the role following Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes resignation after the 2019 election.
Evelyn Tanaka, who ran in the 2019 federal election in Calgary-Sheperd, has been appointed deputy leader.
The Green Party nominated 32 candidates and earned 0.41 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.
News from Alberta’s separatist fringe
The tiny far-right Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party will be asking their membership to support a merger and rebrand as the Wildrose Independence Party, according to media reports. As the Wexit group is not a registered political party in Alberta, it is likely the arrangement would result in the FCP applying to Elections Alberta for a name change.
While the Chief Elections Officer has some legal discretion to approve political party names, the Wildrose moniker became available last year when the UCP amended the province’s election laws to allow the formal dissolution of both the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservative parties. Before the change, election laws in Alberta forbid the dissolution of political parties with outstanding debt, which the PC Party still held following the 2015 election.
The province’s other fringe separatist parties, the Independence Party of Alberta, the Alberta Advantage Party and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance, do not appear to have been invited to the merger.
The FCP nominated 24 candidates and earned 0.52 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.
According to information publicly available through Facebook’s Ad Library, the three ads ran on April 11 and 12, 2020. A French-language ad targeted users in Quebec, a smaller English ad targeted Alberta users, and the largest ad buy targeted users across Canada but primarily located in Ontario and British Columbia.
Similar ads are reported to have been seen on Twitter as well.
The PPE and ventilator donations were widely reported on by the mainstream media in Alberta and across Canada, so the unusually large purchase of targeted social media ads suggests that the Alberta government very much wanted Canadians in other provinces to know about their gesture of goodwill.
The Alberta government has advertised in other provinces in the past, but in most cases it was a concerted campaign over a number of weeks or months. The current and past governments have launched out-of-province advertising campaigns promoting oil pipelines and the oil industry.
But this particular two-day ad buy is unusual for other reasons.
While it would be nice to believe the donation was a genuine gesture of solidarity by Alberta’s government to its provincial brothers and sisters, it is easy to be cynical about the politics behind it.
The out-of-province Facebook ads and Kenney’s focus during his announcement on reminding Canadians about the challenges faced by Alberta’s oil and gas sector suggests there is a motive beyond pure generosity.
That motive was essentially confirmed by Matt Wolf, the Premier’s Director of Issues Management, who tweeted today in response to the Facebook ads that “If we learned nothing else in recent years, Alberta needs allies. When Alberta steps up to help the rest of Canada, best to let the rest of Canada know.”
Kenney has frequently spoken about the need for “allies” in the context of his government’s opposition to the federal carbon tax and its enthusiastic support for oil pipeline expansion in the face of “foreign funded radicals.”
The panel was created following an announcement at the November 2019 Manning Centre conference and was tasked with making recommendations that included whether Alberta should withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and whether the province should form its own police force.
With the price of oil in collapse and a pandemic sweeping the country that is demonstrating the importance of the Alberta government being able to work closely with the federal government in Ottawa and other provinces, there is likely little public appetite for this report at the moment.
Mintz’s panel will be tasked with providing economic advice to the government in light of the recent drop in oil prices. Mintz tweeted the idea about 5 hours before Kenney announced it, leaving political observers to wonder which came first: the tweet or the appointment?
The challenges facing Alberta has been clear for a long time: the Alberta government is over-reliant on revenues from unreliable oil and gas royalties to fund the daily operations of government. This has been the case for decades, including all the previous times the international price of oil has collapsed, leaving the province in an economic crisis.
The need to find alternative revenue streams is something the UCP and previous governments have been unable to accept or accomplish.
Kenney has already said a provincial sales tax is off the table, so a major solution favoured by many economist is likely a non-starter.
Mintz’s views about government spending and economics are no secret in Alberta, nor are they to Conservative politicians and political leaders who he has lent his advice to in the past. While it might be unfair to prejudge Mintz’s yet-to-be-named panel, it would be a great surprise if a strong dose of austerity, privatization, or a version of Janice MacKinnon’s Report on steroids were not included in its advice.
As one of the province’s most prominent conservative economists his appointment to lead this panel is probably predictable, but it is his political views that make the choice more interesting.
For years, Mintz has moonlighted as a political pundit in the pages of the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, penning a regular opinion column that has included some fairly cringeworthy claims targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s federal Liberal government, Alberta’s former New Democratic Party government and, more recently, providing fuel for supporters of Wexit and Alberta’s separation from Canada.
While the advice given by Mintz’s panel will certainly be of interest to many Albertans, how his own political views are reflected in the recommendations might be just as interesting, and concerning, to watch.
The total amount of donations raised by the two main parties is significant, especially when you consider how much Alberta’s political parties were raising five years previous. In 2014, the formerly governing Progressive Conservative Party raised $3,387,585.83, and the then fourth place NDP marked a record fundraising year with $482,085.
The disclosures suggest that despite losing the election, the NDP remained a financially viable political party in the second half of 2019. The annual fundraising totals for the NDP in 2020 will provide some evidence as to whether the now official opposition party can sustain its fundraising levels outside of government.
Likely to help the NDP’s fundraising efforts in 2020 is Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the party into the next provincial election.
Notley would become the first former Alberta premier to lead their party into an election after they lost government. With Alberta’s long history of political dynasties, there are only a few premiers who had led their parties to lose an election – Charles Stewart, Richard Reid, Harry Strom, and Jim Prentice all resigned following their party’s election defeats.
Not having led a dynastic party, and arguably remaining her party’s strongest asset, Notley is in a different position than some other former premiers. She remains personally popular, and some early polls would suggest her party could remain an electoral force if a vote were held today.
The NDP faces a number of significant challenges, one being its lack of organizational strength in much of rural Alberta and Calgary. The NDP elected 24 MLAs in 2019, but none from rural Alberta and the party lost considerable ground in Calgary, where it had a breakthrough in 2015.
A positive note for the provincial NDP is that attempts to connect Notley to the federal NDP, which has been demonized in Alberta for its opposition to oil pipeline projects, does not appear to have hurt its fundraising bottom line.
But while the lack of federal party presence in Alberta is a mixed blessing for the NDP, it is a strength of the UCP, which shares considerable resources with its federal cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada. The upcoming federal Conservative leadership campaign could also introduce an interesting dynamic into this relationship (more on this comings soon).
The Alberta Party remains leaderless following Stephen Mandel’s resignation shortly after his defeat in the 2019 election. It is suspected that the party will open a leadership race in the spring, after the UCP government is expected to make significant amendments to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, including rules for leadership races.
Mandel and his predecessor Greg Clark have been appointed to positions by the UCP government. Mandel now serves on the board of directors of Alberta Health Services and Clark is now chair of the province’s balancing pool.
David Khan‘s leadership was “overwhelmingly endorsed” by delegates attending last year’s Liberal Party convention, despite 2019 marking the first time since before 1986 that the party failed to elect any MLAs to the Legislative Assembly.
Delegates to the convention heard from a party committee that was convened to offer recommendations for how the Liberals should move forward in Alberta. The report was not made public.
Green Party members will vote for a new leader on March 28, 2020, following the resignation of Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes in 2019. Brian Deheer and Jordan Wilkie have declared their candidacies. This will be the party’s third leadership race since 2017.
The Green Party also announced plans to adopt a co-leader system in which two individuals will share leadership responsibilities. This is the first party in Alberta to use a system similar to Green parties in other countries and Quebec solidaire in Quebec.
Alberta’s separatist fringe gets fringier
And there continues to be a flurry of activity on the separatist fringe.
Former UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell has replaced former UCP nomination candidate Todd Beasley as President of the Independence Party of Alberta. The party currently does not have a leader.
Meanwhile, Kathy Flett, who is styled as the former interim leader of the Wexit Alberta separatist group, has joined the board of directors of the right-wing Freedom Conservative Party, which was founded in 1999 as the Alberta First Party and has at various times changed its name to the Separation Party of Alberta, the Western Freedom Party, and again to the Alberta First Party.
It could be that the Freedom Conservative Party is about to change its name once again, this time to the Wexit Alberta Party, or maybe the fringe separatists are continuing to fraction?
According to the Western Standard, a conservative website rebooted by former Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt after his defeat in the 2019 election, current federal Wexit leader Peter Downing claimed he fired Flett for attempting “to steal our trademark.”
Dozens of speakers stepped up to to the mic to share their two-minutes worth of opinions at the first “Fair Deal” Panel town hall meeting in Edmonton last night. The event in the large meeting room at the St. Michael’s Heritage Hall was well-attended, but not overflowing with crowds of angry Albertans demanding separation from Canada.
The first speaker up to the mic told the panel that he was a separatist from Quebec when he moved to Alberta in the 1980s and feels Alberta is not getting a fair deal from Ottawa. The second speaker used his two-minutes at the mic to boisterously declare that Canada was broken and that his personal Christmas wish was for Premier Jason Kenney to hold a referendum on separation.
A few speakers criticized the government for stirring up separatist sentiment, expressed hope that Alberta could collaborate with other provinces, and said they wouldn’t trust the United Conservative Party government to manage a provincial pension plan (a statement which got some enthusiastic cheers from sections of the room). But many of the speakers tended to share separatist, or at least anti-federal Liberal sentiments, venting frustrations about federal environmental laws, delivering detailed plot summaries of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and offering their expertise on constitutional issues.
In what was probably the most thoughtful two-minutes of the evening, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, Edmonton’s former historian laureate and host of the Let’s Find Out Podcast, urged the panel to focus less on what we believe we are owed and more on taking care of each other.
Chang-Yen Phillips went on to explain that a fair deal in Confederation for him would be where every province does its part to lower carbon emissions, or transition away from fossil fuels. His comments might fall on deaf ears on the panel but it was a refreshing break from the separatist rhetoric that dominated the evening.
Who stood up at the mic was also telling. While not all of the speakers were white men who appeared to be older than 60 years old, it certainly skewed toward that demographic from my view in the room.
The panel was created following the Liberal Party‘s victory in the October 21, 2019 federal election, despite the Conservative Party earning 70 percent of the vote in Alberta, and was prescribed nine policy proposals that would ostensibly make Alberta more autonomous from the federal government in Ottawa. The proposals, ranging from creating a provincial police force to withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan to barring municipal governments from making agreements with the federal government, are inspired by the Firewall Manifesto penned by a group of conservative luminaries in 2001.
Politically, the panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent separatist sentiments while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s the plan.
During their time in opposition, the UCP was very eager to blame the credit downgrades on the New Democratic Party government’s “reckless” and “ideological” agenda, but it turns out that the credit rating downgrades have more to do with structural problems facing Alberta’s finances – like our unwavering over-dependence on oil and gas royalties to fund the day to day operations of the public service. That might have been a topic at a town hall interested in a fair deal for Albertans in Alberta, but this panel has a narrow political scope – and Kenney has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is square in its sights.
There are plenty of articulate arguments to be made in favour and against pursuing the nine autonomy policies presented by the panel but they weren’t heard last night. The two-minute open mic format is a good way to let people vent and a poor way to collect meaningful information. If this is the format that is going to be used for the rest of the panel’s town hall meetings, it is difficult to believe they will gather much substantial feedback for their report to the government.
The IPA, which recently changed its name from the Alberta Independence Party to the Independence Party of Alberta, released a statement on Nov. 1, 2019 announcing that interim president S. Todd Beasley had been removed from the position and his membership had been rescinded. The party then released another statement accusing Beasley and a group of former candidates of breaking internal party rules and being in possession of books of party membership forms.
Beasley is a controversial conservative activist who was believed to be the frontrunner for the UCP nomination in Brooks-Medicine Hat before he withdrew from the contest after making derogatory remarks about Muslims.
The Alberta Independence Party fielded 63 candidates in the April 2019 provincial election and earned a total of 0.71 per cent of the province-wide vote. Party leader Dave Bjorkman resigned shortly after the election and Wexit leader Peter Downing had announced plans to seek the leadership but his supporters appear to be continuing to collect signatures to form a separate Wexit Party.
Meanwhile, another group of separatists led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise, appears to be continuing its effort to collect signatures to register the Alberta Freedom Alliance as an official party in Alberta.
As conservative partisans gather at the Westin Hotel near the Calgary International Airport tonight for the United Conservative Party annual general meeting, thousands of public sector workers are wondering whether they will have a job next year.
Despite promising during the election not to cut front-line services, it appears that today was the day that Premier Jason Kenney chose to break that promise, giving a new meaning to Black Friday for many Alberta workers.
This does not include layoffs of teachers by school boards reacting to lower than expected education funding in the provincial budget. The Calgary Board of Education announced last week that it expects to layoff 300 teachers as a results of the UCP budget. And about 90 government lawyers are expected to be laid-off by the Department of Justice, representing about 37 per cent of the lawyers working in the government’s Legal Services branch.
From hospitals to lab services to schools, these kind of layoffs will undoubtably impact frontline workers and the delivery of the excellent public services that Albertans depend upon every day.
The layoffs are expected to take place over the next three years, but this latest development comes one week after the government seized control of public sector pension funds and moved to rollback wages of public sector workers.
Unlike some previous conservative leaders in Alberta, who saw a positive role for government and public services in society, Kenney and the team of advisors surrounding him are committed to an ideological project that is bigger than just balancing the provincial budget. They want to reshape Alberta in a more free-market and individualist image that includes increased privatization of all government services and a much more combative relationship with public sector workers and the unions that represent them.
Business leaders at an exclusive Lake Louise conference today warned that ‘a declining and outdated industry, a lack of innovation and a fascination with separation’ is hurting Alberta’s image. Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, told the meeting that ongoing environmental criticism, delays in building oil pipelines and a surge of separatist sentiment recently led a major technology company to decide not to relocate its office to Calgary.
Kenney responded that he had not heard such criticism when he met with business owners in Houston last week. The list of people Kenney met with while he was in Texas has not been released to the public, but it is likely they are aware of the growing list of investment banks and pension funds that are divesting from the oil and gas because of that industry’s contribution to climate change.
But do not expect that to stop the UCP government, which continues to move at a breakneck speed implementing its political programme. Kenney may still have a lot of political capital to spend, but many Alberta workers will remember this Black Friday, when they discovered that his promises to them weren’t worth much more than the coroplast sign he made them on.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts,
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
The results across Canada were a mixed colour of red, orange, green, blue, and bleu as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is returning to Ottawa to form a new Liberal minority government. But the results in Alberta were anything but mixed.
The Conservative Party earned 69.2 percent of the total vote in Alberta in Monday’s federal election, which is 3 percent higher than the party’s previous high-water mark of 66.8 in Alberta in the 2011 federal election.
It is no surprise that the vast majority of Albertans voted Conservative and that nearly all of the province’s elected Members of Parliament are also Conservative. This has happened in virtually every election since I was born, and about 25 years before that too.
Conservative candidates were elected or re-elected in most ridings in ranges from 70 percent to over 80 percent. It appears that Battle River-Crowfoot remains the strongest Conservative voting riding in Canada, with 85 percent of voters in that riding supporting the Conservatives.
Conservatives also dominated in Alberta’s two largest cities, earning 69 percent in Calgary, and 63 percent of the vote in Edmonton, which voted overwhelmingly for the Alberta NDP in the recent provincial election.
The Conservative Party and its predecessor parties have dominated Alberta for decades, and the Conservative have represented the majority of Alberta’s federal ridings since 1958, and have held all of the province’s seats from 1972 to 1977, 1977 to 1988 and 2006 to 2008.
This election has once again reminded Canadians of the regional divides in our country but it should also not be a surprise. Regional division is a feature of Canadian politics and our First Past the Post electoral system exaggerates these divides.
While the NDP convincingly held off Conservative challenger Conservative Sam Lilly and Liberal Eleanor Olszewski, this election further exposed fractures between the provincial and federal NDP in Alberta.
McPherson’s opponents delighted in a decision by Rachel Notley to withhold her endorsement of McPherson until days before election day but it appears to have had no impact on the results in the riding. McPherson finished with 47 percent of the vote, four points ahead of now-former MP Linda Duncan‘s results from 2015.
The Liberals saw their province-wide vote total in Alberta cut to 13.7 percent, down from 24.6 percent in 2015. The personal unpopularity of Trudeau in Alberta, fuelled by angst and frustration with the current economic situation and the consistently low international price of oil, made it very unlikely that the Liberals would do well in Alberta in 2019.
Despite Sohi’s loss in Monday’s election, the congenial and personally popular politician is frequently named as a potential candidate for Edmonton’s 2021 mayoral election if Don Iveson decides not to seek re-election.
What could a Liberal minority government mean for Albertans?
The prospect of the Liberal minority government influenced by the NDP and Greens could lead to the introduction of new national programs that will benefit Albertans – including universal pharmacare and dental care, and expanded childcare coverage – and the prospect of real electoral reform that could ease some of the rigid political divides we saw in Monday’s election.
Trudeau announced today that his government plans to move ahead with the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, despite delays caused by court challenges from First Nations communities. Because the construction of the pipeline project does not require any votes of Parliament, the minority situation is not likely to impact the construction of the project.
Oil pipeline aside, the Liberals are expected to push forward on their climate change plans, including the introduction of a federal carbon tax in Alberta next year. In what could be a sign of changing times, New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs announced his plans to create a provincial carbon tax, dropping his opposition the federal carbon tax.
Kenney still campaigning…
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is showing no sign he plans to end his campaign against Trudeau, announcing this week that he has sent a letter to the prime minister outlining the Alberta government’s demands, including a plan for a resource corridor and changes to the equalization formula (none of which Trudeau campaigned for ahead of Monday’s election).
Kenney has announced plans to hold a series of town hall meetings to gauge voter frustration following the federal election. This could be similar to the MLA Committee on Alberta’s Role in Confederation created by Ralph Klein and chaired by Edmonton MLA Ian McClelland in 2004, which travelled the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto (the committee’s final report rejected most of the manifesto’s proposals).
The town halls are both a relief valve and a steering wheel that allows people to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney, as Klein would say, to try to keep ahead of the crowd.
The results in Alberta and bot-driven promotion of the #wexit hashtag on Twitter have fuelled a surge of media interest of Alberta separatism, an idea that has no wide-spread support in this province.
Many Albertans are feeling a real sense of frustration with the federal government, as Monday’s election results demonstrate, but there is no evidence that Albertans are flocking en masse to separatism. None.
It’s a silly name and a bad idea, but that isn’t stopping the latest version of Alberta’s separatist movement: Wexit.
Apparently inspired by Brexit, Grexit, Albexit, and a long list of other “-exit” suffix terms that have entered our daily conversations over the past few years, Wexit (Western-exit, I assume) has been holding meetings across the province promoting an agenda for an independent Alberta to “Enhance economic, military, and geo-political cooperation with the United States of America” and for a “Head of state to be an elected President of Alberta with an appointed cabinet.”
One of the largest donors to Alberta Fights Back during Alberta’s 2019 election was Sharon Maclise, a former Wildrose Party candidate and interim leader of the Alberta Freedom Alliance, an unregistered political party promoting Alberta’s separation from Canada.
The Wexit group’s main grievances appear to revolve mainly around Justin Trudeau being Prime Minister, the carbon tax, unemployment levels, and the delay in construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion (which is now owned by the Government of Canada). But the grievances are broader among some of the group’s supporters, including one guest speaker at a recent Wexit meeting in Red Deer who named American billionaire George Soros and Antifa as enemies of Alberta.
It is not clear how many people have actually attended the Wexit meetings, but it is not difficult to understand why separatists in western Canada feel emboldened these days.
Heated political rhetoric coming from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers about the threat posed to Alberta by Trudeau, socialists, Quebec, equalization, and nefarious foreign-funded environmental groups adds fuel to the flames of those who feel Alberta has no place in Canada or would actively campaign for separation. Kenney quickly tried to rebuke any criticism that he is anything but a dedicated federalist, but it is clear that he is stoking regional grievances in order to achieve his short-term political goal of defeating Trudeau’s Liberals in October’s federal election.
The Wexit groups also have the support of some of Kenney’s former Ottawa colleagues, including former British Columbia Member of Parliament and former Jim Prentice confidant Jay Hill, who appears to have relaunched his political career as an advocate of Alberta separatism, and former Saskatchewan MP and MLA Allan Kerpan. Hill and Kerpan are the keynote speakers at a pro-separatist event scheduled to be held in Lloydminster on August 24, 2019.
With the exception of a single by-election win for the Western Canada Concept in February 1982, separatist groups like the Independent Alberta Association, West-Fed, Western Canada Party, Western Independence Party, Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, Alberta Advantage Party, Alberta Independence Party and the Freedom Conservative Party have firmly occupied the right-wing fringes of Alberta politics.
At this point, the total lack of a viable political party, legitimate plan for separation, and any real electoral support from Albertans for the separatist agenda is a big challenge for those who dream of one-day creating a landlocked prairie petro-republic.