Categories
Alberta Politics

Who could replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party?

With all the talk of challenges to Premier Jason Kenney’s embattled leadership of the United Conservative Party, his and his party’s plummeting approval ratings and lacklustre fundraising in the first three months of 2021, there has been surprisingly little talk about who might be in a position to succeed Kenney if he is pushed out of office.

Here is a quick list of a few conservative politicians who could possibly be in the running to replace Kenney as leader of the raucous UCP:

Drew Barnes – First elected in the Wildrose sweep of southern rural Alberta in 2012, Barnes refused to cross the floor with his colleagues in 2014 and was re-elected as the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat in 2015.

The former Wildrose leadership candidate was appointed as the UCP’s finance critic in 2018 but was left out of cabinet when his party formed government in 2019. Since then he has been outspoken from the backbenches on Alberta separatism and autonomy and is the unofficial leader of the COVID 18 Caucus.

Nathan Cooper – The current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has been around Alberta politics for a while. First serving as Chief of Staff at the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus, Cooper was elected as the Wildrose MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in 2015. He later served as the interim leader of the UCP after it was formed in 2017 and was elected Speaker after the 2019 election.

Using social media Cooper has helped demystify the Office of the Speaker through informative and humourous videos. But many felt he stepped over the line by taking positions on politically charged issues, something the Speaker is traditionally expected to avoid. Earlier this month he was called out by Kenney and was forced to back down after signing a public letter with 14 other UCP MLAs calling for public health restrictions to be lifted just as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta.

Jim Dinning His is a name that hasn’t been talked about much in Alberta politics since he lost the 2006 PC Party leadership race to Ed Stelmach, but I have heard Jim Dinning mentioned by more than one political watcher in the past few months when discussing future UCP leadership aspirants.

Dinning has been out of elected office since 1997, but his connections to the Ralph Klein era, which many UCP supporters glorify, and his distance from the scandals and missteps that have plagued the UCP since Jason Kenney became Premier in 2019, could make him an appealing leadership candidate.

Brian Jean – Jean won the leadership of the Wildrose Party on the eve of the 2015 election and helped save the party from oblivion. But there wasn’t much room left for him in the UCP after losing the leadership race to Kenney in 2017.

The one-term MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin and former Member of Parliament resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and has since become a voice on social media and the newspaper op-ed pages in favour of Alberta autonomy from the rest of Canada.

Jason Nixon – First elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, Nixon was Kenney’s rural lieutenant in the UCP leadership race. He was re-elected as the UCP MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre in 2019 and his loyalty was rewarded with appointments as Minister of Environment & Parks and Government House Leader.

While fiercely partisan, Nixon is seen by many political watchers as one of the more politically savvy members of the UCP cabinet.

Rajan Sawhney – I’m told Minister of Community and Social Services of Alberta Rajan Sawhney’s calm demeanour and tough approach to a politically difficult file for the UCP government has impressed her colleagues. She is new to politics, first elected in 2019, so she may not have a political base to draw on but she could be a candidate to watch if she decides to throw her hat into a potential leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer – The current Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and former Minister of Justice, Schweitzer was first elected as the UCP MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2019 after unseating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. The former downtown Calgary lawyer and former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and later ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest.

Shannon Stubbs – The Conservative Member of Parliament for Lakeland was a prominent voice for the province while serving as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Resources from 2017 to 2020. She is also well-known in Alberta political circles, starting as a candidate for the PC Party in the NDP-stronghold of Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 election and later becoming a party vice-president before crossing to the Wildrose and running under that party banner in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in 2012.

Travis Toews – The current Finance Minister was appointed to the role after his election in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in 2019. The  accountant and former President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association appears to largely avoid the more partisan head-butting that many of his colleagues revel in, instead sounding at times like he is the adult in the room. Toews’ isn’t exciting but he might appeal to conservatives who want to return to old fashioned boring government.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of Recall Legislation in Alberta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Alberta Politics

On the outside looking in: smaller parties seeking new leaders

Going into the last election there were five parties represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, but on election night in April 2019 the two main political parties dominated and the smaller parties failed to elect any candidates. Since then Alberta’s smaller parties have been struggling for attention as they search for new people to lead them into the 2023 election.

The Green Party of Alberta was the first to choose a new leader, with Jordan Wilkie being selected in a March 2020 leadership vote. And it now looks like there will be at least two smaller parties holding leadership races and competing for attention in this very busy political year.

Alberta Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Party has announced its plans to kick off a leadership race on May 25, 2021. Candidate nominations will close August 31 and the Leadership will be held on October 23, 2021, one week after the municipal elections.

Interim leader Jacquie Fenske, a former Progressive Conservative MLA, has served in the role since Feb. 2020, filling the position vacated by former leader Stephen Mandel, also a former PC MLA, in June 2019. No candidates have yet to declare their plans to run for the party leadership.

The Alberta Party elected one MLA, Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2015 and grew its caucus to 3 MLAs by 2019 after floor crossings from the Alberta NDP and United Conservative Party. The Alberta Party tripped its popular vote to 9 per cent in 2019 but failed to elect any candidates to the Legislative Assembly.

Liberal Party names interim leader

Lawyer and longtime party loyalist John Roggeveen has stepped up to fill the role of interim leader of the Alberta Liberal Party until the party can select a permanent leader at a future date.

John Roggeveen has served on the party’s executive and was a candidate in Calgary-Shaw in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Calgary-Elbow in 2015 and Calgary-Fish Creek in 2019.

Roggeveen fills the role made vacant after David Khan’s resignation in November 2020. Khan is now the Senior Staff Lawyer at EcoJustice.

The party has not yet announced the dates for a leadership race.

The Liberal Party formed Official Opposition in Alberta between 1993 and 2012. The 2019 election marked the first time since the 1982 election that the Liberals failed to elect an MLA to the Legislative Assembly.

Separatist parties seek new leaders

The separatist Wildrose Independent Party will open nominations for its leadership race on April 2 and kick off its leadership race on June 5. Voting for the party’s new leader will take place on Aug. 28, 2021.

Former Alberta Alliance leader and Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman has served as interim leader since last summer. Hinman served as MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012.

No candidates have declared their plans to run as of yet, but at the party’s recent annual general meeting former Wildrose Party organizer Rick Northey was elected president, former PC Party candidate Gurcharan Garcha was selected as Edmonton Director, and former Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders was selected as a Director-at-Large.

Meanwhile, former Wexit spokesperson Peter Downing, who stepped down when that organization folded into the Freedom Conservative Party to form the Wildrose Independence Party in June 2020, now appears to have joined another separatist party. According to the Independence Party of Alberta website, Downing is now serving as its Public Safety Critic.

The Independence Party of Alberta is also currently without a permanent leader, as is the separatist Alberta Advantage Party.

Categories
Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Caterina City Councillor PC MLA Candidate
Tony Caterina

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Salvador Ward Métis City Council candidate Edmonton
Ashley Salvador

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Alberta Politics

NDP ride high as UCP fundraising plummets in second quarter of 2020

The opposition New Democratic Party has out-fundraised the United Conservative Party for the first time since 2017, according to political party financial disclosures released by Elections Alberta.

The NDP raised $1,032,796.85 between April and June 2020, almost twice as much as the governing UCP, which raised $642,677 in the second quarter of 2020.

This is almost the opposite of the first quarter of 2020, in which the UCP raised $1.2 million and the NDP trailed with $582,130.

The UCP raised $7.37 million in 2019 but has has been feeling financial strain after the conservative party racked up a $2.3 million deficit and was forced to apply for the federal wage subsidy program in order to keep its staff on payroll. The party also saw significant turnover in its staff leadership as it hired its third executive director in three years when Dustin van Vugt was hired to replaced Brad Tennant, who left earlier this year to join Nick Koolsbergen’s lobbyist company.

Alberta’s political parties largely stopped in-person fundraising events since the COVID-19 pandemic began but they all continued with their traditional aggressive email and social media appeals.

The NDP held a number of Zoom fundraisers featuring musical acts and guest speakers during the pandemic but it is the actions of the UCP that likely helped boost the NDP’s cash flow.

While the UCP would still likely be re-elected if an election were held tomorrow, public opinion polls show that Albertans do not approve of the government’s handling of health care, education and post-secondary education issues.

I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly look through the list of individual donors, but I would not be surprised if the very public fight between Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the Alberta Medical Association means there are less doctors showing up on the UCP’s list in this quarter.

The size of the donations received by the parties is also worth noting. More than half of the donations to the NDP were in amounts of $250 or less, while almost two-thirds of donations to the UCP were in denominations over $250.

One of the big successes of the UCP’s predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, was its ability to cultivate a large base of small donors, something that the UCP appears to have trended away from (the UCP received nearly 90 individual donations of $4,000 in the first quarter of 2020).

I am told that the NDP raised around $10,000 in small donations during an impromptu social media campaign encouraging supporters to donate to the NDP to celebrate Premier Jason Kenney‘s birthday on May 30.

While the UCP will likely recover their fundraising advantage or at least become more competitive with the NDP in future quarters, it does show that Kenney’s party faces some significant internal financial problems. And for the NDP, it shows that despite losing last year’s election the party under Rachel Notley‘s leadership has continued to maintain a strong base of donors during its first year as official opposition, and, presumably, as government-in-waiting.

Here is what the political parties raised during the second quarter of 2020:

The Pro-Life Alberta Political Association and Reform Party of Alberta reported no donations during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4,000 as of January 1, 2020.

Parties move to virtual conventions

The UCP and the Alberta Party have both announced plans to forgo their annual in-person conventions, opting to hold the meetings online this year.

The UCP’s virtual AGM will be held on October 16, 17 and 24 and will feature policy debates, board and executive elections and the traditional MLA bear-pit session.

The Alberta Party’s virtual annual general meeting is scheduled to be held on August 29 and will include board elections and likely discussion around the process to select a new leader.

Jacquie Fenske
Jacquie Fenske

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jacquie Fenske stepped up to become interim leader of the Alberta Party in February 2020, replacing former PC MLA Stephen Mandel who resigned after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election. Fenske previously served as MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2012 to 2015 and as a Councillor in Strathcona Country from 1995 to 1998 and 2004 to 2012.

Meanwhile, the UCP has scheduled its first major COVID-era in-person fundraiser on August 14, which will take the form of a horse race derby at a race track outside Lacombe.

Tickets to watch Kenney and UCP MLAs compete in a horse race, including a T-Rex race that will feature MLAs racing in “their t-rex dinosaur costumes,” start at $100 for the “MLA Cheer Team” and go as high as $3000 for the “Ralph Klein VIP Suite.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

VP Weissenberger, Agent-General Rodney and the ABCs of patronage

“This Alberta is a meritocracy” – Jason Kenney (April 30, 2019)

It was first reported this week by the CBC that John Weissenberger has been hired as the Alberta Energy Regulator’s new vice president of its science and innovation branch. Weissenberger is a former adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and manager of geological services with Husky, but it is his deep political connections that raised eyes this week. 

Weissenberger is a long-time conservative activist going back to the early days of the Reform Party and was Jason Kenney’s campaign manager during his successful bids for the the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative Party leadership campaigns in 2017. He was also director of the Alberta Victory Fund, the political action committee created to support Kenney’s campaign for the UCP leadership, and has been described as former prime minister Stephen Harper’s best friend.

It has also been reported that Weissenberger is a self-proclaimed ‘climate change skeptic,’ something that is unlikely to help the government’s bid to attract international investment and companies to move to Alberta.

Weissenberger’s wife, Angela Tu Weissenberger, was appointed by the UCP to the board of the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission in November 2019.

“Sherpa Dave” is Kenney’s Man in Texas

Dave Rodney MLA Calgary Lougheed
Dave Rodney

Congenial former Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney has been appointed as Alberta’s Agent General in Houston, Texas. Rodney served as the PC MLA for Calgary-Lougheed from 2004 until 2017 when he resigned to allow Kenney to run in a by-election.

Rodney’s reward for stepping down, it would appear, is a pseudo-diplomatic post with a $250,000 annual salary. The former MLA served as a backbencher for all but two of his thirteen years in the Legislature. He served as Associate Minister of Wellness from 2012 to 2014.

And as anyone who has paid close attention to Alberta politics will know, Rodney is the first Canadian to have reached the summit of Mount Everest, twice.

Rodney’s appointment is reminiscent of former Stettler MLA Brian Downey‘s appointment as chairman of the Alberta Grain Commission when he resigned his seat in 1989 to allow Premier Don Getty to return to the Assembly (Getty had lost his Edmonton-Whitemud seat to Liberal Percy Wickman in the 1989 general election).

Rodney’s appointment marks the return of the Agent General title, a term that was widely used by Alberta’s out-of-country representatives until 1996, when the Agent-General Act was repealed and the Managing Director job title was adopted.

At the time the Agent General title was abolished, it had become associated with partisan patronage following a long string of appointments that included former PC MLA Mary LeMessurier to a post in London, former MLA Fred Peacock as the Asia-Pacific Agent General, a political aide in Getty’s office as Agent General in Hong Kong, and Getty’s wife’s cousin’s husband as Agent General in Tokyo.

Tory Patronage Machine Humming

Like the engine of a blue Dodge Ram, the UCP patronage machine has revved up since the party formed government in April 2019. counting donors, which would expand the list substantially, here is a quick list of individuals with connections to Kenney, the UCP and the conservative movement who have been appointed to various agency, board and commission positions:

  • Len Rhodes was appointed as Chair of the board of directors of the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission. He was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Meadows in 2019.
  • Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of governors of MacEwan University. Sarich was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Decore in 2019 and represented the district as a PC MLA from 2008 to 2015.
  • Lily Le was appointed to board of governors of Norquest College. Le was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-City Centre in 2019.
  • Laurie Mozeson was appointed to the Municipal Government Board. Mozeson was the UCP candidate in Edmonton-McClung in 2019.
  • Karri Flatla was appointed to the Board of Governors of Lethbridge College. She was the UCP candidate in Lethbridge-West in 2019.
  • Tom Olsen was hired as CEO of the Canadian Energy Centre. He was the UCP candidate in Calgary-Buffalo in 2019.
  • Bettina Pierre-Gilles was appointed to board of Bow Valley College. Pierre-Gilles ran for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Currie ahead of the 2019 election.
  • Donna Kennedy-Glans appointed to board of governors of Banff Centre. Kennedy-Glans was the PC MLA for Calgary-Varsity from 2012 to 2015 and briefly ran for the party leadership in 2017. She was also appointed to the Fair Deal Panel.
  • Janice Harrington was appointed as Alberta’s Health Advocate and Mental Health Patient Advocate. Harrington was executive director of the PC Party and UCP from 2017 to 2019 and was previously involved in PC Party campaigns.
  • Shelley Beck was appointed to the board of governors of Medicine Hat College. Beck has worked as a constituency assistant to Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes.
  • Wayne Drysdale was appointed to the Municipal Government Board. Drysdale served as the PC and UCP MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti from 2008 to 2019. He was Minister of Transportation from 2014 to 2015.
  • Heather Forsyth was appointed to the Alberta Review Board. Forsyth served as the PC and Wildrose MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek from 1993 to 2015. She served as Solicitor General from 2001 to 2004 and Minister of Children’s Services from 2004 to 2006.
  • Lloyd Snelgrove was appointed to the Board of Governors of Lakeland College. Snelgrove served as the PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster from 2001 to 2012. He served as Minister of Finance and Enterprise from January 2011 to October 2011.
  • Bill Smith was appointed as member and vice-chair of the Public Health Appeal Board. Smith is the former president of the PC Party and was a candidate for Mayor of Calgary in 2017.
  • Andy Crooks was appointed to Municipal Government Board. Crooks was chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson in the 1990s.
  • Richard Casson was appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Lethbridge. Casson served as the Member of Parliament for Lethbridge from 1997 to 2011.
  • James Rajotte was appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta. Rajotte served as the MP for Edmonton-South West and Edmonton-Leduc from 2000 to 2015.
  • Diane Ablonczy was appointed as a member of the Council of the Alberta Order of Excellence. Ablonczy served as the MP for Calgary-North and Calgary-Nose Hill from 1993 to 2015.
  • Ted Menzies was appointed to the Board of Governors of Olds College. Menzies served as MP for Macleod from 2004 to 2015.
  • Janice MacKinnon was appointed to the Board of Governors of The University of Alberta. MacKinnon chaired the UCP government’s Panel on Alberta’s Finances in 2019.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brent Wittmeier for the inspiration for the title of this post.

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

4 reasons why Kenney’s approval ratings are low and Albertans aren’t rallying around the flag during the pandemic.

Alberta is used to being a political outlier. And in the first six months of 2020, when governments and opposition parties in most provinces put aside their political differences to face the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown, Alberta remained an outlier as neither the United Conservative Party government nor the New Democratic Party opposition put aside their differences to rally around the flag. Here are a few reasons why:

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

1. Jason Kenney is unpopular. This is not new and has been a problem that has dogged him and his party since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017. Pulling off a coup by taking over the Progressive Conservative Party and merging it with the Wildrose Party to form the UCP may have solidified his popularity among conservative partisans, but most polls have shown his approval and performance ratings dragging far below the high-water mark of UCP support in the 2019 election.

2. The United Conservative Party government is using the pandemic and economic crisis as cloud cover to continue to implement a divisive political agenda. The UCP campaigned on the slogan of “jobs, economy and pipelines,” but during the pandemic the government has barely skipped a beat in continuing its fight with rural and small town doctors, cutting funding that led to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs and thousands of layoffs at Alberta’s technical colleges and universities, and pushing the privatization and closure of Alberta’s provincial parks. And plans to layoff nurses and health care workers? That has only been delayed.

And while claiming that the government is broke, the UCP invested $1.5 billion and pledged an additional $6 billion towards the construction of a pipeline that entirely depends on Donald Trump being re-elected as President of the United States in November.

Donald Trump (source: Facebook)
Donald Trump (source: Facebook)

Probably one of the most distinguishing features of the UCP government is the inability of its ministers to admit it is wrong or has made a mistake, ever. Instead, the UCP responds by aggressively blaming its opponents, whether it be the Alberta Medical Association, the New Democratic Party, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, secret foreign-funded anti-Alberta campaigns, or nefarious urban green-left radicals with growing influence over New York City-based credit rating agencies.

Barely a day goes by where the UCP does not release a meme or video on social media attacking its opponents. Long gone are the days when the old PC Party government would focus on governing and pretend the opposition parties didn’t exist.

3. The New Democratic Party official opposition is very aggressive. While the tiny 2-4 MLA NDP caucus of the past would frequently run circles around the other opposition parties, the current 24-MLA NDP caucus is striking a different tone and operating in a similar aggressive manner to how the Wildrose Party did during its time in opposition benches from 2012-2017.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

It is perhaps not a surprise that the UCP is now trying to paint the NDP with the same “Team Angry” moniker that the PC Party slapped onto the Wildrose Party a decade ago. But the political landscape in Alberta is drastically different as both parties now exist in a competitive environment where Albertans have a taste for electoral change.

With former premier Rachel Notley at its helm and a front bench of former cabinet ministers in its caucus, the NDP are the first official opposition in decades that can legitimately call itself a government-in-waiting. But in a big way, the NDP needs to start acting like a government-in-waiting and talking confidently about what new ideas it will implement and bad UCP ideas it will repeal if or when it forms government again in 2023.

4. Nothing is actually getting done for Albertans who now face record unemployment levels and a very uncertain economic future.

Categories
Alberta Politics

15 years ago I started a blog about Alberta politics

It is remarkable how quickly time flies by. Fifteen years ago I was probably sitting on my couch in the living room of my heavily-subsidized and very run-down University of Alberta-owned residence in north Garneau when I first clicked the publish button on my brand new blogspot.com website. That was probably how Daveberta was born.

Dave Cournoyer in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)
Dave Cournoyer at a political event in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)

I was in the fourth year studying an undergraduate degree in Political Science that would be drawn out for a not insignificant number of more years as I threw myself into student union politics and activism, and then provincial politics.

I had no idea that 15 years later this website would still exist, and that it would also spin off into a podcast and lead to hundreds of media interviews, conference panels and speaking engagements, because at the time blogging was a novelty and something that a lot of people were just trying out.

Maybe I am just one of the few who had staying power?

The name Daveberta was inspired, somewhat mockingly, in response to Paulberta t-shirts donned by Paul Martin delegates attending the 2003 Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto (which I was among at the time). I figured Daveberta both sounded better and was more authentic (I am a third-generation Albertan and Martin was not).

Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.
Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.

A lot has changed in politics over the past fifteen years, for myself and Alberta.

Fifteen years ago I was heavily involved in student politics at the U of A and in Liberal Party politics, mostly at the provincial level. This website certainly had a partisan inclination when it was launched and along with CalgaryGrit.ca and AlbertaDiary.ca (now AlbertaPolitics.ca) became one of the go-to blogs focusing on Alberta politics.

Back then I was a proud a partisan and largely depended on blog aggregators, links from other blogs, and keyword searches to generate website traffic.

Today, I enthusiastically hold no party membership (my political inclinations have also significantly shifted) and depend much more on Facebook and Twitter to reach my readers.

Dave Cournoyer Justin Trudeau
Dave Cournoyer and Justin Trudeau in 2014.

Alberta politics used to be boring, or so I am told, but the past fifteen years have been anything but boring. The political landscape has witnessed a number of political upheavals, and might be a little confusing to someone from 2005. Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that have changed in Alberta politics since Daveberta.ca was launched fifteen years ago:

Alberta Legislature

Then: The Progressive Conservative Party formed a majority government with 61 MLAs, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition with 17 MLAs, the New Democratic Party had 4 MLAs, and the Alberta Alliance had 1 MLA. Ken Kowalski was the Speaker and serving his 26th year as an MLA.

Now: The United Conservative Party forms a majority government with 63 MLAs, and the NDP forms Official Opposition with 24 MLAs. Nathan Cooper is the Speaker.

"...Dave Cournoyer isn't some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut." - Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)
“…Dave Cournoyer isn’t some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut.” – Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)

Premier of Alberta

Then: Ralph Klein was in what would soon be seen as the dying days of his premiership. Klein led the PC Party to win a reduced majority government in the November 2004 election, which was dubbed the “Kleinfeld” campaign because of the lack of central narrative of the PC Party campaign. Klein would be unceremoniously dumped by PC Party members at a leadership review in 2006, and he would resign from office months later and fade into obscurity after hosting a short-lived TV gameshow in Calgary.

Now: Former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney leads a UCP majority government, after successfully staging the merger of the membership of the PC Party and Wildrose Party, and leading the party to victory in the 2019 election. Like Klein, Kenney is hell bent on dismantling the high-quality public services that Albertans depend on each day. But unlike Klein, Kenney appears to committed to a much more ideologically-driven free market agenda.

Leader of the Official Opposition

Then: Kevin Taft had just led the Liberal Party from what appeared to be the brink of oblivion to more than triple the party’s number of MLAs. The Liberals regained most of the seats it lost in the disastrous 2001 election and made a major breakthrough in Calgary, electing three MLAs in Alberta’s largest city.

Now: Rachel Notley became leader of the official opposition after four years as Premier of Alberta. She becomes the first official opposition leader in 48 years to have previously served as premier. Notley announced in December 2019 that she plans to lead the NDP into the next election, expected to be held in 2023.

The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)
The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)

Alberta separatism

Then: The week that I launched Daveberta.ca, former Western Canada Concept leader Doug Christie was traveling through Alberta trying to start another western separatist party. The Western Block Party was unable to elect any MPs and was dissolved in 2014.

Now: Fringe politicians rally around the separatist flavour of the week, now known as Wexit, and a former respected newspaper owner and a defeated Toronto politician spoke in favour of separatism at a conservative conference in Calgary. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

It continues to be a wild ride, and a pleasure to share my thoughts on Alberta politics on this website and on the Daveberta Podcast.

Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)
Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)

There are a few people who I would like to recognize and thank for inspiring and supporting me along the way (this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many people I am thankful for who helped me a long the way):

  • My family, and my beautiful wife Kyla in particular, have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of this hobby and my indulgences into Alberta politics.
  • My friend Chris Henderson, whose advice and friendship helped me navigate a number of politically challenging times.
  • My former boss at the Liberal Party, Kieran Leblanc, who is a dear-friend and someone who I definitely need to make time to meet for lunch with more often.
  • Adam Rozenhart and Ryan Hastman for helping start the Daveberta Podcast more than two years ago. The podcast continues to be a highlight for me, and a medium that I have enjoying focusing on over the past few years. (The Daveberta Podcast has been nominated in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in this year’s The Canadian Podcast Awards).

And a sincere thank you to everyone who keeps on reading this website and listening to the podcast. I may not still be writing on this website fifteen years from now, but regardless of how much longer it lasts, it has been a great experience.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney is the closest thing the Conservatives have to a “Svengali-like genius”

Six weeks after the federal election, Andrew Scheer has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, raising instant speculation about who might enter the contest to replace him.

Rona Ambrose
Rona Ambrose

While there does not appear to be an obvious heir apparent, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney‘s name immediately comes to mind as a potential successor. But is appears as though Kenny could just be a visitor in Ottawa for the foreseeable future.

Kenney told Postmedia columnist Don Braid yesterday he had “absolutely no intention” of running for the leadership and offered what appears to be an early endorsement of former interim party leader Rona Ambrose.

In response to rumours of his federal ambitions, Kenney told Postmedia’s  Stuart Thomson that “I should be flattered that they think I’m some kind of Svengali-like genius.” The thing is, Kenney is probably the closest thing to a Svengali the Conservatives have. Whether you believe he a brilliant political operator with good intentions or a sinister political beast plotting to smash his growing list of enemies likely depends on whether you are his ally or opponent (ask Rachel Notley and Brian Jean). But there is no doubt he is a skilled career politician.

He also checks a whole bunch of boxes on the list of Conservative constituency groups.

Kenney started his political career as a social conservative anti-abortion activist at a private Roman Catholic university in San Francisco. He returned to Canada to become a founder of the anti-tax Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He spent 19 years in Ottawa as a Member of Parliament and, after briefly losing some favour with the party during Stockwell Day‘s disastrous time as leader of the Canadian Alliance, proved to be a loyal solider to Stephen Harper and worked his way into a senior cabinet role. And he has deep connections to conservative think-tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (recently merged with the Fraser Institute) and New York City-based Manhattan Institute.

In less than two years, Kenney commandeered Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party and merged its membership with its decade-old bitter enemy, the Wildrose Party, by winning the United Conservative Party leadership. He then led the party to win the 2019 election. Plus, he, or his closest advisors, were not above testing the limits of what was acceptable in order to win. And since entering the Premier’s Office, he has been a master of sowing chaos and creating crisis in order to implement his political program.

Kenney is respected by Conservative partisans and, as long as he can keep up his winning streak, will remain one of the most prominent leaders of the Conservative movement in Canada.

Or maybe I’m just giving him too much credit.

Winning as a Conservative in Alberta is a much easier task than winning in other parts of Canada, including populous regions like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Kenney’s whistle-stop tour through Ontario during the federal election resulted in dismal returns for Conservative candidates, and a recent poll shows his approval ratings in Alberta have plummeted by 15-points since his government tabled an unpopular provincial budget, which serves as a reminder that while he is a skilled politician, he is not invincible.

Which is why he might be reluctant to jump back into federal politics.

Being premier of a large province is certainly a more influential office, at least it is in 2019, and comes with more prestige than being leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa. But staying in Alberta means he is not one-step away from becoming Prime Minister of Canada, which many people still speculate is his goal.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney campaigns for federal Conservatives in Ontario this weekend

With Ontario Premier Doug Ford nowhere to be seen in this federal election, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pinch-hitting for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in Ontario this weekend. Kenny will be spending a few days campaigning for federal Conservative candidates in the Ottawa region and Greater Toronto Area, a trip paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada.

It is not unusual for a provincial premier to campaign in support of their federal party of choice.  Rachel Notley shared the stage with Thomas Mulcair at a campaign rally in Edmonton in 2015 and Ralph Klein campaigned in Calgary with local Member of Parliament Bobbie Sparrow in 1993 and Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest in 1997. But it is quite unusual for a premier to be campaign for their federal party of choice in another province.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

It is perhaps less unusual because the premier in question is Jason Kenney. As a federal cabinet minister he was praised by fellow partisans for his role in expanding Conservative Party’s outreach into New Canadian communities that had previously been the strongholds of the Liberal Party, a strategy that appeared solid until its collapse in 2015.

And while Kenney is currently the Premier of Alberta, he very much remains a national politician and one of the leaders of Conservative movement in Canada, frequently speaking at partisan fundraisers and events hosted by right-wing think tanks like the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manhattan Institute.

Kenney’s interest in the federal campaign is no surprise. Much of the United Conservative Party campaign in Alberta’s recent provincial election focused on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who Kenney had pledged his efforts to defeat in the October 21 federal election. And it is probably the worst-kept secret in Canadian politics that Kenney still harbours federal leadership ambitions. Ambitions that could be realized sooner than expected if Scheer stumbles in this election.

This is the first federal election in decades that both the federal and provincial Conservative parties in Alberta are marching in lock-step. The creation of the United Conservative Party in 2017 was just as much about the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties as it was creating harmony between the dominant provincial and federal Conservative parties.

This campaign trip to Ontario is not Kenney’s first, but it is much more extensive than his previous visits.

Rajan Sawhney

Kenney made an appearance at a fundraiser earlier this year in Brampton-North, where his former ministerial staffer Arpan Khanna is running for the Conservatives. Khanna managed Kenney’s Toronto office during his time as Minister of Multiculturalism and Minister of National Defence.

Flying to Ottawa today, Kenney launched his campaign tour with Conservative candidates Brian St. Louis in Nepean and Abdul Abdi in Ottawa-West Nepean.

While Kenney’s Ontario itinerary does not appear to be publicly available, UCP sources tell me that he is scheduled to spend the rest of the weekend canvassing door-to-door with Markham-Stouffville candidate Theodore Antony, attending a BBQ for Brampton-Centre candidate Pawanjit Gosal, headlining a rally with Vaughn-Woodbridge candidate Teresa Kruze, and attending an event at the Canadian Coptic Centre in support of Conservative candidates in Mississauga, among about ten other appearances.

Kenney is not the first Alberta politician to spend some time campaigning in this region of Ontario. Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney was in the area over the summer to campaign with Conservative candidates Sean Weir in Oakville North-Burlington and Ramandeep Singh Brar in Brampton-South.

If the federal Conservatives have any chance of forming government, it is believed that this is the region where that party will need to gain seats from the Liberals.

While Kenney campaigns in Ontario, he is also acutely aware of how this sort of intervention can go awry. Kenny was one of the senior Conservative Party officials who scolded then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein for contributing to his party’s defeat in the 2004 federal election.

Two days after that election was called, Klein publicly mused that his health-care reforms could possibly violate the Canada Health act, a statement which senior officials in the Conservative Party said helped Paul Martin’s Liberal Party shore up support in Ontario.

There’s pretty much unanimous consensus in the federal party that these remarks weren’t helpful,” Kenney told the Calgary Herald in 2004. “Suggesting the Alberta government was prepared to announce violations of the Canada Health Act two days after an election was giving the Liberals a big fat one over centre plate.”

Few politicians can sustain themselves in a permanent campaign-mode like Kenney can. Anyone who has been paying attention to Alberta politics over the past few years can attest that he hasn’t stopped campaigning since his jumped into provincial politics in 2017. He is a career politician who can probably out-hustle almost any of his peers, but he also carries a few suitcases worth of political baggage on his trip east.

On the issue of gun control, which the Liberals raised at the beginning of the campaign, how will Kenney’s decision to publicly endorse vigilante gun justice in rural Alberta play in suburban Ontario? Kenney will be speaking to crowds of friendly Conservative voters, but I would not be surprised to see the Liberals bird-dog Kenney on this issue during his Ontario tour.

Kenney has also spent much of the past two years fanning the flames of western alienation against Ottawa and other provinces over the national equalization formula and the expansion of oil pipelines – but mostly against Trudeau. He has also launched a crusade against climate change and environmental groups who he and his supporters claim are funded by nefarious foreign sources.

While Kenney is certainly not a separatist, he is trying to do what many past Alberta premiers have done in order to position themselves as the province’s great defender against the political interests of Central Canada.

Stoking western alienation will help solidify Kenney’s support among Conservative voters at home but it could also poison Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa even further if Trudeau’s Liberals are re-elected on October 21. This could help explain why no Alberta premier has parlayed their provincial success to federal politics – something Kenney may want to consider as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario this weekend.


Notley plays coy about her federal vote

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now leader of the official opposition, continues to play coy when asked who she is planning to vote for in the October 21 federal election. “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate’s best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona,” Notley told CBC.

This comment will certainly not be helpful for the federal NDP in Edmonton-Strathcona, where the popular Notley remains MLA for the provincial riding of the same name. Heather McPherson is hoping to hold on to the seat held since 2008 by retiring NDP MP Linda Duncan. Many of Notley’s close supporters helped propel McPherson to a narrow victory over Paige Gorsak in a November 2018 nomination contest.

While I would be surprised if Notley did not vote for McPherson on October 21, it does demonstrate the deep distrust between the provincial and federal wings of the NDP in Alberta over issues like the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. While some former NDP MLAs defeated in the April 2019 election have been actively campaigning for federal NDP candidates, Notley and her current 24 NDP MLA caucus remain nowhere to be seen on the federal campaign trail in Alberta.


The kamakaze campaign that just won’t die

CBC investigative reporters have dived deep into the allegations of fraud and misuse of voting kiosks by Kenney’s campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership contest. According to CBC, the RCMP, which has been tight-lipped on the status and focus of its investigation, will only say it continues to investigate allegations of fraud as it relates to the 2017 UCP leadership race.

Categories
Alberta Politics

What the heck is a Wexit?

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.”

Peter Downing Wexit leader
Peter Downing

The Wexit Alberta group appears to be part of something called the “Prairie Freedom Movement,” a group who’s website promotes near identically branded “Wexit Saskatchewan”, Wexit Manitoba, and “Saskatchewan Fights Back” groups.

The Wexit group’s Alberta-branch is led by past Christian Heritage Party candidate Peter Downing, who is also the executive director of Alberta Fights Back, a third party political advertiser responsible for billboards that ask if Canada is headed for a civil war and a recent clash with Edmonton’s nude cyclist community.

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.

Jay Hill (photo credit: Jake Wright)

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.

Downing has announced his plans to run for the leadership of the Alberta Independence Party, which ran 63 candidates in the 2019 election and earned 0.7 per cent of the vote. In a post on Facebook, Downing wrote that he has spoken with Freedom Conservative Party president Stephen Burry about a merger of the two parties. The FCP was known as the Separation Party of Alberta and the Alberta First Party before former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt led it into the 2019 election to earn 0.5 per cent of the vote. 

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.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Stephen Mandel’s time as Alberta Party leader ends as a footnote in Alberta’s history

The Alberta Party will soon be seeking applications for a new leader.

The party announced through a press release today that on June 30, 2019 Stephen Mandel will step down as leader 15-months after he was elected into the role. The former three-term Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister ran for the leadership in 2018 after MLA Greg Clark was ousted in a successful bid by former PC Party members to take over the Alberta Party.

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta
Premier Jim Prentice and Health Minister Stephen Mandel in 2014.

This was Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback.

He surprised many political watchers when he was appointed to Jim Prentice’s cabinet without a seat in the Legislature in 2014, just over a year after he retired as mayor.

The first comeback was short-lived.

Mandel won a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud in late 2014 but was unseated by popular New Democratic Party candidate Bob Turner in the spring 2015 Orange Wave that swept the province.

Following Jason Kenney’s win in the 2017 PC Party leadership race, a number of moderate conservative partisans left the party over differences with the new leader’s style, history of social conservative activism and drive to merge the party with the Wildrose Party.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA
Greg Clark

Prominent Progressive Conservatives like Mandel, Katherine O’Neill, Dave Quest, Sue Timanson, and Stephen Khan hoped to turn the Alberta Party into a home for former PC supporters disenchanted by what became the United Conservative Party.

Policy direction under Mandel shifted further to the economic-right but the party steadfastly refused to describe itself as conservative, sticking instead to the ambiguous “centrist” label. In a province where many eligible voters self-identify as conservatives, it remains puzzling why a political party run by conservatives and presenting a moderate conservative program would actively distance itself from the description.

The Alberta Party under Mandel increased the party’s vote from 2.2% in 2015 to 9.1% in 2019, but failed to win any seats in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike 2015, when the party focused all of its resources to successfully elect Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, in 2019 the Alberta Party spread thin its resources by running a province-wide campaign and a full-slate of candidates.

Mandel was able to attract a slate with credible candidates, including former PC MLA Dave Quest, former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy, former St. Paul mayor Glenn Andersen, former St. Albert city councillor Neil Korotash, anti-violence advocate Manwar Khan, actor Dakota House and well-known former radio host Angela Kokott.

Lorne Dach Edmonton-McClung NDP MLA
Lorne Dach

But the Alberta Party campaign stumbled out of the starting gate early in the campaign, with Mandel and a handful of candidates and chief financial officers being banned from running in the election by Election Alberta after missing their financial disclosure deadlines. The bans were lifted after court challenges by Mandel and the other candidates but it damaged the party’s chances of being seen as a serious contender in an election dominated by the UCP and NDP.

The party earned significant media coverage but struggled to gain traction and hit a ceiling of 12 percent in polling during the campaign. Mandel’s significant of name recognition in Edmonton was not able to help the Alberta Party break the dominance of Rachel Notley’s NDP in the provincial capital city. The NDP won 19 of 20 seats in Edmonton.

Mandel finished third behind NDP MLA Lorne Dach and UCP challenger Laurie Mozeson in Edmonton-McClung, which includes parts of the area he represented on city council before his time as mayor. The party’s two incumbent MLAs, Clark and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser, were both defeated in their bids for re-election. The party’s third MLA, former NDPer Karen McPherson, declined to run for re-election.

The press release announcing Mandel’s departure states that he is pursuing his role as Chancellor of Concordia University of Edmonton, a role he was installed into on November 30, 2017, just over one month before he launched his campaign to win the Alberta Party leadership.

From the very beginning, Mandel’s second attempt at a political comeback was a strange endeavour. And despite Mandel’s nine-years as a popular big city mayor with a significant list of accomplishments, his final appearance on the political scene will largely be a footnote in Alberta’s history (unless, of course, this was not his final comeback…).


Alberta Party finances…

The Alberta Party’s financial disclosures from the 2019 election have not yet been released, but the 2018 annual financial disclosures paint a picture of a party in financial disarray. The Alberta Party raised $525,430 in 2018 while running a $137,964 deficit.

In a May 25, 2019 email sent to members explaining the financial situation, the party explained that it had cycled through three CFOs in 2018 and that larger than expected expenses related to the creation of the party’s proprietary Customer Relationship Management database and “too large of an AGM” put the party in a deficit position.

The email told members that “[t]he Party is not broke but will be operating on a tight budget for the foreseeable future.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta Election 2019: By The Numbers

Date of Alberta’s 2019 election: April 16, 2019
Date of Alberta’s next election: Between March 1 and May 31, 2023
Total number of votes cast in the 2019 election: 1,894,985
Total number of votes cast in the 2015 election: 1,488,248
District with highest voter turnout: 80.2 per cent in Grande Prairie-Wapiti
District with lowest voter turnout: 45.8 per cent in Calgary-East
Total number of re-elected MLAs: 41
Total number of new MLAs: 46
MLAs in the Government Caucus: 63
MLAs in the Opposition: 24
Number of women in the Government Caucus: 15 out of 63
Number of women in the Opposition Caucus: 11 out of 24
Most votes for a candidate: 20,579 for UCP candidate Jason Nixon in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
Highest percentage of votes for a candidate: 81.6 per cent for UCP candidate Jason Nixon in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
Longest serving re-elected MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona has served 4061 days since she was first elected in the 2008 provincial election.
Closest race: Calgary-Falconridge. UCP candidate Devinder Toor defeated NDP candidate Parmeet Singh Boparai by 96 votes.
Youngest elected MLA: Miranda Rosin, 23-years old, in Banff-Kananaskis.
Total vote for the United Conservative Party in 2019: 1,040,004
Total vote for the Wildrose Party and PC Party in 2015: 774,121
Total vote for the NDP in 2019: 619,147
Total vote for the NDP in 2015: 604,518
Total vote for the Alberta Party in 2019: 171,996
Total vote for the Alberta Party in 2015: 33,221
Total vote for the Liberal Party in 2019: 18,546
Total vote for the Liberal Party in 2015: 62,153