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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s time on the disastrous Calgary Board of Education

With Danielle Smith‘s campaign for the United Conservative Party leadership appearing to pick up momentum, and recent endorsements from Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen, Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, Edmonton-South West MLA  Kaycee Madu, and Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn suggesting the mood in the UCP caucus is shifting in her favour, some people have been sharing links of a series of articles I wrote 13 years ago about Smith’s time on the disastrous 1998-1999 Calgary Board of Education.

The series was published in the weeks after Smith won the Wildrose Alliance Party leadership in 2009.

Here are the full set of links for anyone interested in reading the series:

Reading it now, I see it’s a little awkwardly formatted, so please forgive this young blogger from 2009.

It’s also important to recognize that the Calgary Board of Education in those years wasn’t a gong show just because of Danielle Smith. It was a real group effort.

The board of trustees was so dysfunctional that it was fired by the provincial government.

Smith’s current beliefs and past record on public education became more relevant after last week’s UCP leadership candidates forum at the Alberta Teachers’ Association summer conference in Banff, which you can watch here:

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Alberta Politics

A Reverse Kudatah! Hinman loyalists retake control of the Wildrose Independence Party

There ain’t no party like a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party.

Less than two months after Paul Hinman was ousted as leader of the Wildrose Independence Party and replaced by interim leader Jeevan Mangat, it appears that a counter-kudatah (known outside Alberta as a “coup d’état”) has pushed out Hinman’s opponents.

An online statement and email to WIP members from former Wexit Alberta interim leader Kathy Flett, who identifies herself as the WIP VP Communications, says a false narrative is being put out by the former Provincial Board after a well-attended annual general meeting on July 23, 2022 in Red Deer.

“There have been repeated claims that a “Minority Group of 40 or so” members “Took Over” the AGM,” Flett writes. “The Facts tell a different story.”

“This weekend in Red Deer, history was made as Wildrose members stood steadfast for what they knew was right. Their tenacity and persistence forced those who thought they should remain on the board to finally walk out in shame.”

“What occurred yesterday is a sad example of what happens when a small group of individuals completely lose touch with the will of the majority.”

“The Wildrose Independence Party belongs to its members, not the Party Board of Governors, and, therefore, Rick Northey, Wes Caldwell, Bill Jones, et al, are no longer Governors of the Wildrose Independence Party.”

“As of this moment, they still control the party’s website and email system. As such, we advise you to disregard any communications originating from “Wildrosenation.com” until we’ve confirmed with you that it is, again, from us.”

According to Flett’s statement, the newly elected board includes President Angela Tabak (the party’s president in Cardston-Siksika), Chief Finance Officer Allan Wesley, and Secretary Gord Elliot (who until recently was President of the United Conservative Party constituency association in Calgary-North West).

The takeover appears to have pushed out President Rick Northey (the former President of the Wildrose Party association in Airdrie) and CFO Bill Jones.

As of this afternoon, the party’s website showed most of the party’s Board of Governors positions as vacant but still listed Northey and Jones, as well as former Conservative MP Rob Anders and separatist activist Bob Lefurgey as members of the party’s board.

It appears as though Hinman has been reinstated as party leader but Elections Alberta still lists Mangat as the party’s interim leader, so it’s not totally clear.

Hinman originally stepped into the role on an interim basis in 2020 but later became the party’s permanent leader when no one else ran for the leadership. He was leader of the Wildrose Alliance from 2005 to 2009 and was elected to the Legislature twice – as MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012. He briefly mounted a campaign for the UCP leadership in 2017 but withdrew before the nomination deadline and endorsed Jason Kenney.

The Wildrose Independence Party was created in 2020 as a merger of the Wexit Alberta group created after the federal Liberals were re-elected in 2019 and the Freedom Conservative Party, which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, and the Western Freedom Party.

The WIP has suffered from poor fundraising returns in recent months, raising a measly $7,613 in the second quarter of 2022, and low support in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

A recent push by UCP leadership candidates Danielle Smith, Brian Jean and Todd Loewen toward all out separatism or some form of provincial autonomy has given a second wind to Alberta separatists but sucked the wind out of the sails of the actual separatist parties.

Recent merger talks with the competing Independence Party of Alberta fell apart in June 2022. A statement on the IPA website lists Northey and Jones as key negotiators for the WIP in those talks.

The IPA, formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party, went through its own internal drama after the 2019 election and is now in the process of choosing its second new leader since that election. Former federal Liberal candidate and anti-COVID restrictions activist lawyer Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race.

All this ongoing drama is almost par for the course for Alberta’s small cottage industry of right-wing separatist parties, but it raises the big question: How do they plan to fight Ottawa when they are so busy fighting themselves?

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Alberta Politics

The Ides of March by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche is a Wildrose blast-from-the-past

March 15 – the Ides of March – is the day voters in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche riding will go to the polls to choose their new MLA.

Premier Jason Kenney waited until the very last day possible to call a by-election to replace former MLA Laila Goodridge, who resigned six months ago to run in last year’s federal election. Waiting this late to call a normal by-election would be very unusual, but this is no normal by-election.

United Conservative Party members in the northern Alberta riding rejected Kenney’s favoured nomination candidate in favour of Brian Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose Party and former MLA and MP who is openly calling on Kenney to resign.

The animosity between Kenney and Jean is well-known in Alberta, with the former having launched a Kamikaze campaign against the latter in the 2017 UCP leadership race.

Jean dropped out of provincial politics in 2018, resigning as MLA for the former Fort McMurray-Conklin riding when he was not given a spot in Kenney’s shadow cabinet. But retirement didn’t suit him, and it wasn’t long before he was regularly chirping at Kenney on social media and in the newspaper editorial pages.

He now has the UCP nomination in a normally safe UCP riding and he is openly organizing and fundraising in an effort to dump Kenney at the April 9 leadership review in Red Deer.

With no pro-Kenney candidates on the March 15 ballot, don’t expect the Premier or any cabinet ministers to be visiting the riding in the next 28-days.

MLA Rakhi Pancholi and NDP candidate Ariana Mancini (source: Twitter)
MLA Rakhi Pancholi and NDP candidate Ariana Mancini (source: Twitter)

Rachel Notley‘s NDP have nominated Fort McMurray school teacher and past candidate Ariana Mancini as their choice in the by-election. And while Mancini remains an underdog in this race, she has been joined over the past few months by a steady stream of NDP MLAs travelling north to visit the riding.

Edmonton-Whitemud NDP MLA Rakhi Pancholi was in Fort McMurray today for Mancini’s campaign launch.

While the NDP have been riding high in the poll and are flush with cash, this will be a tough riding for them to win. The UCP earned 66 per cent of the vote in 2019 and the last time voters in this area elected a New Democrat was in 1986, when Leo Piquette won in Athabasca-Lac La Biche.

But, never say never. By-elections can sometimes produce unpredictable results.

While the Kenney-Jean rivalry is the main theme going into the by-election, the candidacy of another former Wildrose Party leader makes this race even more unusual.

Separatist party leader Paul Hinman with supporters in Fort McMurray.
Separatist party leader Paul Hinman (centre) with supporters in Fort McMurray.

Former Wildrose Party leader Paul Hinman now leads and is running in the by-election for the Wildrose Independence Party – a party that not only promotes Alberta separatism from Canada, but, judging from its social media feeds, embraces a vast range of right-wing internet conspiracy theories.

The grandson of former provincial treasurer Edgar Hinman, the younger Hinman was the Alberta Alliance MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 before surprising political watchers by winning a 2009 by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore. He led the Alliance and Wildrose Alliance from 2005 until resigning in 2009 to make way for Danielle Smith.

Hinman endorsed Jean for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 and Kenney for the UCP leadership in 2017 after cancelling his own bid to lead the new party.

Now he leads the separatist Wildrose Independence Party, which was created by a merger of the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit Alberta group in July 2020. 

But that’s not where the Wildrose blast-from-the-past ends in this by-election!

Marilyn Burns Alberta Advantage Party Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election
Marilyn Burns

Running under the banner of the right-wing Alberta Advantage Party is party leader Marilyn Burns.

Burns was a candidate for the Alberta Alliance Party in Stony Plain in 2004 and ran against Hinman for the Alliance leadership way back in 2005. She was later part of a small group of Wildrosers who campaigned against the merger with the Progressive Conservative Party before helping found the Alberta Advantage Party.

Burns led the Alberta Advantage Party into the 2019 election and resigned soon after amid a leadership challenge and announced plans to run for the position again. She now appears to once again be party leader.

The second separatist candidate in the by-election, the Independence Party of Alberta‘s Steven Mellott, has never led or tried to lead the Wildrose Party (as far as I am aware).

Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita told the Daveberta Podcast that was driving to Fort McMurray this week to meet with prospective candidates.

The other parties have yet to name their candidates.

I think this is going to be a wild ride, folks.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Duncan Kinney running for Senate, Paul Hinman running for Wildrose Independence Party leadership

Progress Alberta executive director Duncan Kinney is the first candidate to file his papers with Elections Alberta to run in Alberta’s Senate Nominee Election, which is taking place on the same day as the municipal elections on October 18, 2021.

A well-known online provocateur and progressive activist, Kinney is listed as an Independent candidate in a contest where candidates can choose to have their federal party affiliations listed next to their name on the ballot.

Reached for comment, Kinney said he plans to be the only Senate candidate that wants to abolish the Senate.

“I’ll be working with my team to actually build a campaign website and a platform for this incredibly important and serious election very soon,” Kinney said, who also hosts the Progress Report Podcast.

Alberta is the only province to have held Senate Nominee elections and this will be Alberta’s fifth such election since 1989.


Paul Hinman running for Wildrose Independence Party leadership

Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman's side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.
Paul Hinman announces his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.

Paul Hinman has launched his campaign for the leadership of the Wildrose Independence Party.

The former leader of the Alberta Alliance Party and Wildrose Alliance Party has presumably resigned as interim leader of the newly renamed party, a position to which he was appointed in July 2020 after the Freedom Conservative Party and the Wexit Alberta group merged in June 2020.

As well as supporting Alberta’s separation from Canada, Hinman’s campaign focuses on opposing the mild public health restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic. His social media posts frequently promote right-wing online conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

Hinman is a standard bearer in right-wing politics in Alberta, having served as the Alberta Alliance MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2005 to 2008 and the Wildrose Alliance MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012. He was leader of the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Alliance from 2005 to 2009 and briefly ran for the United Conservative Party leadership in 2017 before dropping out and endorsing Jason Kenney.

He also made unsuccessful bids for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015 and the federal Conservative nomination in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner in 2016.

Nominations for the Wildrose Independence Party leadership will close on May 14, 2021 and the date of the leadership vote is scheduled for Aug. 28, 2021.

Another right-wing separatist party, the Independence Party of Alberta has also opened up its leadership race, with a leadership vote scheduled for Sept. 28, 2021.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Paul Hinman is back, again, maybe! Former Wildrose leader to lead new Wildrose separatist party.

Alberta’s oldest newly rebranded separatist party has a new interim leader, maybe.

Paul Hinman leader of the Wildrose Independence Separatist Party
The tweet from the Wildrose Independence Party announcing Paul Hinman as its interim leader.

A now deleted tweet from the newly renamed Wildrose Independence Party announced that former Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman is the new interim leader of the party. Unless the party’s account was hacked, it would appear that Hinman is launching another attempt at a political comeback.

The press release included with the now deleted tweet said that Hinman would speak to his new role at this week’s Freedom Talk “Firewall Plus” conference, a pro-separatist event organized by former Wildrose candidate and right-wing online radio show host Danny Hozak that features speakers including former arch-Conservative MP Rob Anders, conservative lawyer John Carpay, Postmedia columnist John Robson, and federal Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan.

The newly renamed party is a merger of the separatist Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party, which since 1999 has been known at various times as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party, and the Western Freedom Party. The party’s most recent name was adopted when banished United Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt became leader shortly before the 2019 election.

The name change does not appear to have been approved by Elections Alberta, which still lists the party under its most recent previous name on its official website. But it was reported last week that former Wildrose activist and FCP candidate Rick Northey was the party’s new president. Former Social Credit leader James Albers is also on the party’s executive.

The oldest newest separatist party on Alberta’s right-wing fringe should not be confused with the also recently renamed Independence Party of Alberta (formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party and now led by past UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell), the Alberta Advantage Party (led by former Alberta Alliance Party president Marilyn Burns), and the unregistered Alberta Freedom Alliance (led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise).

Edgar Hinman
Edgar Hinman

The United Independence Party name was also recently reserved with Elections Alberta, presumably by another former Wildrose candidate trying to start another new separatist party.

But back to the new interim leader of the new separatist Wildrose party…

The grandson of former Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman, Paul Hinman’s first foray into provincial electoral politics saw him elected in Cardston-Taber-Warner as the lone Alberta Alliance MLA in the 2004 election. Hinman inherited the leadership of the tiny right-wing party when Randy Thorsteinson (who had previously helped found the Alberta First Party) failed to win his election in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake. He endorsed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton in 2006 and led the party through an eventual split and re-merger with a faction branding itself as the Wildrose Party – and thus the Wildrose Alliance was formed. 

Hinman lost his seat in the 2008 election in a rematch with former PC MLA Broyce Jacobs. He announced plans to step down as leader shortly afterward and then surprised political watchers when he won a 2009 by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore, pumping some momentum behind Danielle Smith when she won the party’s leadership race a few months later.

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose
Danielle Smith with Wildrose MLA’s Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson in 2010.

In 2010, Hinman was joined by floor crossing PC MLAs Heather Forsyth, Guy Boutilier, and Rob Anderson (who four years later crossed the floor back to the PC Party and now hosts a Facebook video show where he promotes Alberta separatism), but, despite the party’s electoral breakthrough in 2012, Hinman was again unable to get re-elected.

Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman's side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.
Drew Barnes stands at Paul Hinman’s side as he announced his bid to once again run for the Wildrose nomination in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2015.

He endorsed Brian Jean for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 and announced his candidacy to seek the Wildrose nomination back in his old Cardston-Taber-Warner district in that year’s election but withdrew from the race a month later. Standing by Hinman’s side at this nomination launch was Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, now de facto leader of the UCP separatist caucus.

A year later he mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Conservative Party nomination in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner in 2016 but was defeated by now Member of Parliament Glen Motz.

More recently, Hinman launched a brief bid for the UCP leadership in 2017, announcing a campaign focused on parental rights and conscience rights, but when the Sept 2017 deadline to deposit the $57,500 candidate fee passed, he did not make the cut. Hinman later endorsed Jason Kenney‘s candidacy.

Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.
Paul Hinman endorsed Jason Kenney in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.

Now he might be taking over the interim leadership of the fledgeling fringe separatist party at a time when public opinion polls show that Albertans’ appetite for leaving Canada is cooling as memory of the 2019 federal election fades. If historic trends hold, then the desire for separatism will drop if it looks like the next federal Conservative Party leader can form a government in Ottawa.

Separatism is ever-present on the fringes of Alberta politics and is more of a situational tendency than a real political movement with legs but a half-organized separatist party could syphon votes away from the UCP in the next provincial election.

And with next October’s Senate nominee election likely to be a showdown between candidates aligned with the federal Conservative Party led by whoever wins this summer’s leadership race and the federal Wexit Party led by former Conservative MP Jay Hill, expect the UCP to be paying a lot of attention to these fringe separatist groups sniping at its right-flank.

If he actually does become the leader of the oldest newest separatist party, Hinman will provide some profile and credibility in political circles where conservatives are perpetually disgruntled with New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and newly disgruntled with Premier Kenney, presumably for not pushing hard enough for Alberta’s separation from Canada.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Stephen Mandel wins Alberta Party leadership. Alberta Advantage Party acclaims Marilyn Burns as leader.

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, 72, is the new leader of the Alberta Party.

Kara Levis Alberta Party
Kara Levis

Mandel was elected on the first ballot with 66 percent of the vote, defeating Calgary lawyer Kara Levis, who placed second with 18 percent, and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, who placed third with 16 percent. 4,613 of the party’s 6,443 members participated in the vote.

Mandel served as mayor of Edmonton from 2004 to 2013 and as a city councillor from 2001 to 2004. He represented the Edmonton-Whitemud district as a Progressive Conservative MLA from 2014 to 2015 and was Minister of Health until his defeat in 2015 to New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner.

He has said he will run in the next election in the Edmonton-McClung district, currently represented by New Democratic Party MLA Lorne Dach.

The Alberta Party currently has three Calgary MLAs in the 87 MLA Legislative Assembly. It is widely rumoured that lone-PC MLA Richard Starke could cross the floor to join the Alberta Party caucus this spring. Starke was endorsed by Mandel in last year’s PC Party leadership race.

While the Alberta Party has framed itself as a “centrist” alternative to the two main political parties in the province – the NDP and the UCP – the party’s policies reveal it to be a conservative party in a similar vein as the old PC Party.

Alberta Advantage Party acclaims leader

Marilyn Burns Alberta Advantage Party
Marilyn Burns

Meanwhile, much further to the fringe populist right, Edmonton lawyer Marilyn Burns has been acclaimed as leader of the anti-UCP Alberta Advantage Party.

A co-founder of the Wildrose Party and vocal critic of the UCP, Burns was the only candidate in the race. She was a candidate for the leadership of the Alberta Alliance Party in 2005 and was a candidate for that party in Stony Plain in the 2004 election.

The party is in the process of registering but is not yet recognized as an official party by Elections Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Three new right-wing candidates challenge Jason Kenney in Calgary-Lougheed by-election.

Photo: Calgary-Lougheed by-election candidates Jason Kenney (UCP), David Khan (Liberal), Lauren Thorsteinson (Reform), Phillip van der Merwe (NDP), Romy Tittel (Green) and Wayne Leslie (Independent/AAPPA). Not pictured: Larry Heather (Independent)

In addition to the four candidates I mentioned in my previous post about the Calgary-Lougheed by-election – United Conservative Party candidate Jason Kenney, New Democratic Party candidate Phillip van der Merwe, Liberal candidate David Khan, and Green candidate Romy Tittel – three more candidates put their names forward to run in the December 14, 2017 vote.

Each of the three new candidates come from the much more conservative side of the political spectrum than any of Kenney’s previously announced challengers.

Wayne Leslie – Alberta Advantage Political Party Association

Wayne Leslie will be listed on the ballot as an Independent but a press release sent out today says he has the support of the unregistered Alberta Advantage Political Party Association, a group formed by supporters of the former Wildrose Party who did not support the merger with the Progressive Conservative Party. Leslie serves as the provincial director for Calgary on the AAPPA board and, according to the press release, he is a former Calgary Police officer who believes the “unity vote” process to merge the Wildrose and PC parties was “plain corruption.”

The AAPPA’s interim leader is Gil Poitras, who is listed by Elections Alberta as having served as Chief Financial Officer for the Alberta Party in 2013 and 2014 and as the president of the Alberta Party association in Leduc-Beaumont in 2015. The AAPPA’s president is David Inscho, the former president of the Wildrose association in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills.

Lauren Thorsteinson – Reform Party of Alberta

Lauren Thorsteinson of Red Deer will run under the Reform Party of Alberta banner. The party was formed in 2014 and officially registered with Elections Alberta in 2016 by leader Randy Thorsteinson, Lauren’s father. The elder Thorsteinson led the Social Credit Party through a brief revival in the 1997 election and later formed and led the Alberta Alliance Party, which later merged with the Wildrose Party to become the Wildrose Alliance Party, when then eventually merged with the PC Party to become the United Conservative Party.

Larry Heather – Independent

Larry Heather is a social conservative activist and perennial election candidate who has run in at least twenty school board, municipal, provincial and federal elections since 1984. Most recently he ran in Calgary’s mayoral election where he earned 848 votes (0.2 percent of the vote). In 2016, he ran as an Independent candidate in the Calgary-Greenway by-election where he earned 106 votes (1.28 percent of the vote).


Notley Q&A on CBC

Premier Rachel Notley will be taking questions live on air on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM program on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 from 8:00am to 9:00am. Take advantage of your chance to engage with our premier and send in your questions.


Daveberta Podcast

Thanks to everyone who has subscribed and listened to the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it yet, download the podcast and let us know what you think. If you like what you hear, you can help us by subscribing to the podcast, submitting a review, sharing with your friends, and tuning in again next time (we will be releasing the next episode in December).

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 Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase
Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA
Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections:

Categories
Alberta Politics Guest Post

guest post: a liberal party perspective on the alberta party.

By: Justin Archer

Dave Cournoyer and I have known each other since 2005, when I got my first real job working in a junior staff position with the Alberta Liberals. Dave started working there shortly after I did, and the two of us became friends. He’s mentioned to me before that I could do a guest post at some point if there is a topic that seems to fit, but I’ve never asked to take him up on that offer until now.

Let me just explain first that I am the kind of person you’d probably expect to be in the Alberta Party. I live in a condo downtown and have a pretty good job in what is thought of as the “creative economy”. I’m politically active. I still like to think I’m young (though I did find my first grey hair the other day, which needless to say was traumatic.) I am a strong supporter of human rights, and a proponent of mostly free markets with some government intervention in the economy to protect the common good. I also know quite a few people involved in the Alberta Party, and I like them and respect them. I agree with them in a broad sense on how this province should be governed, because their values are my values.

I think they might be making a Big Mistake though, and that’s what I want to talk about here.

The first part of my argument is that there are a couple of no-such-things:
1. There is no such thing as a post-partisan political party.
2. There is no such thing as a political party that falls outside of the traditional left/right spectrum.

No-such-thing 1 is essentially self-evident. The word partisan basically means “someone who supports a cause and works to achieve some end associated with that cause” . If an organization is trying to get people elected and maybe even form a government, it’s a partisan group. It’s not even really open to interpretation, that’s just what “partisan” means. It has been suggested to me that perhaps the Alberta Party intends to introduce a less partisan style of politics to the debate. I don’t really understand what this means, but if it means something along the lines of “no talking bad about the other guys”, I would be shocked if that sentiment sticks around the nascent organization for long, if it is even there now. Which it probably isn’t. No-such-thing 2 is also quite simple: When you get down to it, what a government does is take in the money and then figure out how to spend it. If you look at how each government philosophically approaches this job, you can figure out where it sits on the spectrum.

It’s like this: Some people think that the government should take in lots of the money and make sure that everyone gets a nice amount. Those people often think that the government should be involved in lots of things and intervene in many economic transactions. Those people are on the left.

There are other people who think that the government should take in some of the money, and make sure that everyone gets at least a least a little bit. These people also usually think that the government should allow economic activity to take place free of government interference except where there is a real problem that needs fixing. Those people are in the centre.

Then there are people who think that the government should take in only a little bit of the money, and it’s up to individuals to get things for themselves. These people also usually think that the government should keep its damn nose out of pretty much everything (unless their rich friends are in trouble, in which case those rules no longer apply). These people are on the right.

I’ve heard it said by people in the Alberta Party that this party is not possible to pin down on the spectrum I’ve described above. It would be fun and exciting to think this, but it would be wrong. I haven’t seen the policy that the Alberta Party passed at its recent convention, but I would very surprised if an analysis of that policy wouldn’t reveal that the party is in the centre. In fact I’d almost guarantee it. I think if you follow Alberta politics closely and you know the people in that party and the sorts of things that those people tend to think, you’d have to agree with me.

So if the Alberta Party is in the centre, and it is partisan, it is basically the Alberta Liberal Party only cooler and better looking. What I mean is that the values are very similar, the policies are likely quite similar, but it’s a newer and more exciting organization. It has an ambitious and fun culture, lots of wonderful and smart people, and a great attitude about how to engage people in the political process. It has also embarked on a great citizen engagement process and done a great job of getting ink for its work. But the actual values, the guts of the party, are not very different from those of the Liberals.

I also think that the Alberta Party will take many votes from the Liberals. I do not buy the argument that the 60% of people who didn’t vote last time will be the deciders in the next election. I think that for the most part, people who didn’t vote last time won’t vote next time. From the inside of a political party it is easy to start to believe that there is something big happening out there, and people are getting turned on. Largely though, political activity in Alberta takes place outside of the notice of the majority of the population and people who don’t follow politics are not getting turned on. In my view the pool of votes might be a little bigger next time, but not much.

Now this is the part where it’s easy to say, “sure, well if the Liberals are so great, why aren’t all these engaged young difference makers joining up with them?” The truth is that the Liberals haven’t done a good job of answering that question. But I actually don’t know that it’s the right question to be asking.

You see, I think that we are on the cusp of one of those generational shifts in Alberta politics where a new government will come to power. If you are reading this blog you don’t need a primer in Alberta politics – we can all agree that historically there has been a one-party culture here, and when a change in government comes, it is fast and total. Many people, and particularly many rural constituencies, want to be on the side of the winning team, so support tends to move quickly to the party who looks like it may form government. I think that because of this, in the next election, small “c” conservative support will begin to drift from the PC Party to the Wildrose Alliance Party. In the election after that, that conservative support will firmly coalesce around the Wildrose Alliance Party, and that party could easily form a government at that time.

There is a strong parallel to federal politics here. Let’s be honest, the Chretien/Martin government years were made possible in large part by the split in the conservative family over much of that time period. Now that the federal conservatives are re-united under one banner, it’s not so easy for those in the centre to form a government, as we’ve continually seen. I think that this is probably one of the only times where we’ll have a similar political situation here provincially, and as moderates in this province it looks like we’re about to waste it by grouping in factions instead of realizing that we all pretty much agree on things. If centrist political organizers and voters are divided during the next five or six years between the Alberta Party, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Alberta Liberal Party, the moderates in this province will probably lose the opportunity to form a government for the next generation.

In summary my argument is this: We’re about to miss an opportunity while the conservative house is divided because of things like process and personality. I believe that process and personality are important in politics, but when you peel it all back, the values underneath are what really matter. And in the absence of a divergence on values, is it not foolish to have competing organizations?

I don’t know how to solve this. I’m not saying the Alberta Party should stop doing what they’re doing. I’m not saying the Liberals should fold up the tent. But I do think this is a real discussion that needs to take place on this side of the coming electoral opportunity, rather than a lament on the other side of it.

Anyway, thanks to Dave for letting me air this here. Please chime in in the comments.

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Justin Archer is a young guy in Edmonton who is involved in this and that around town. He grew up in Calgary but moved here about five years ago to take his first big kid job as a Liberal staffer. After a 2008 election night filled with tears and despair (but I thought we were gonna be the governm…….*sob* *sniffle*), he went to work for a Edmonton-based PR firm, where he is now a consultant. He believes that Alberta is a great place and most of the whole redneck thing is exaggerated. Follow him on Twitter @justin_archer.

Read other guest posts to this blog.