Municipal politicians making the leap into provincial politics is a pretty common occurrence, but less common are former provincial politicians jumping into municipal politics.
This municipal election season, there are a handful of former Alberta MLAs who have decided to put their names on the ballot to run for their local municipal council. Here are a few that I’ve noticed on the lists of local candidates:
– Former NDP MLA Annie McKitrick and former Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Quest are both running for Mayor of Strathcona County. McKittrick served as the MLA for Sherwood Park from 2015 to 2019 and as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education from 2017 to 2019. Quest served as the PC MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park from 2008 to 2015 and Associate Minister for Seniors from 2013 to 2014. He ran for the Alberta Party in the 2019 election.
– Former NDP MLA Eric Rosendahl running for Hinton Town Council. Rosendahl was the NDP MLA for West Yellowhead from 2015 to 2019.
– Former NDP MLA Colin Piquette is running to become a councillor in the Village of Boyle. Piquette served as the MLA for Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater from 2015 to 2019 and was the President of the Boyle Chamber of Commerce before he was elected to the Legislature. He is the son of Leo Piquette, who was the NDP MLA for Athabasca-Lac La Biche from 1986 to 1989.
– Victor Doerksen is running for Red Deer City Council. Doerksen was the Progressive Conservative MLA for Red Deer-South from 1993 to 2008 and Minister of Innovation and Science from 2001 to 2006. He finished seventh of eight candidates in the PC Party leadership in 2006.
– Mike Allen is running to become the next Mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Allen was the PC MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo from 2012 to 2015 with the exception of 2013 to 2014 when he sat as an Independent MLA after he was arrested in a prostitution sting operation while on a government trip to Minnesota (he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour and paid a $500 fine plus legal fees). If elected he would replace another former PC MLA, Don Scott, who was elected mayor in 2017 and is not seeking re-election.
– Former Wildrose MLA Wayne Anderson is running to become a councillor in Foothills County. Anderson was the Wildrose and United Conservative Party MLA for Highwood from 2015 to 2019.
– Former PC MLA Arno Doerksen has been acclaimed as a councillor in Newell County. Doerksen served as the PC MLA for Strathmore-Brooks from 2008 to 2012.
– Kent Hehrdropped out of Calgary mayoral election race only weeks after entering the race. Hehr served as the Liberal MLA for Calgary-Buffalo from 2008 to 2015 and as the Liberal MP for Calgary-Centre from 2015 to 2019.
– And filed under “blast from the past,” long-time municipal politician Bob Russell is running for Mayor in the City of St. Albert. Russell served on city council from 1989 to 1992, 1995 to 2001 and 2013 to 2017 and ran for mayor in 1992, but before his municipal career he was leader of the Alberta Liberal Party from 1971 to 1974.
Did I miss any former MLAs running in the municipal elections? Leave a comment below.
Alberta’s Intensive Care Units and hospitals are full of COVID-19 patients and the province now has more than half of the active cases of the deadly disease in Canada. School boards like the Edmonton Public School Board are reporting hundreds of young students have contracted the virus, forcing dozens of schools to shut down in-person classes and move to virtual classrooms. And 34 more Albertans died because of COVID-19 yesterday.
But what was the most important issue for a group of Alberta MLAs this week?
With help from the libertarian Alberta Institute, former Progressive Conservative-turned-Wildrose-turned Progressive Conservative MLA and online talk show host Rob Anderson launched the “Free Alberta Strategy,” announcing a manifesto that declares Alberta a “sovereign jurisdiction” and, among other things, would allow the province to just ignore federal laws it doesn’t like.
Anderson was joined at the online press conference by United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt (who is also the Deputy Speaker of the Legislature) and Jason Stephan, and Independent MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen. The latter two MLAs were ejected from the UCP Caucus in May 2021 after losing confidence in Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership, a sentiment that Pitt echoed during this press conference.
The Alberta Institute is led by former New Zealand political activist and Manning Centre researcher Peter McCaffrey. He also happens to be married to the institute’s former director of operations and past UCP nomination candidate Megan McCaffrey, who is now working as the Chief of Staff in Barnes’ and Loewen’ UCP Caucus-in-exile.
Legislative Assembly Speaker Nathan Cooper was also in attendance but was described as being an observer rather than a participant in the press conference.
Calling for a type of sovereignty-association with the rest of Canada, Anderson brought up a number of perennial ideas like an Alberta police force and pension plan, but then connected them to a whole swath of bad ideas that would either create needless bureaucracy or just be plain unconstitutional.
The group pled with reporters not to describe their group as separatists, but it is hard not to think of it as anything else.
It is hard to think of a more tone deaf time to fly the separatist flag in Alberta.
The actual separatist party earned 1.3 per cent in Alberta in the federal election held last week and the UCP government last week sent out a desperate plea for health care support from Ottawa and other provinces to deal with the COVID-19 fourth wave.
Just as tone deaf is Kenney’s province-wide referendum on October 18 asking Albertans to vote yes if they want the equalization formula removed from Canada’s constitution – a referendum that no one is talking about because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The one person who wasn’t at the online press conference, but who might as well have been there in spirit (literally), was Premier William Aberhart, who himself pushed through unconstitutional laws in the 1930s that would nationalize banks and force newspapers to publish government propaganda.
When the Lieutenant Governor at the time refused to sign one of his unconstitutional laws, Aberhart chained the doors and evicted the vice-regal representative from of his official residence in Government House.
UCP MLA backs down on criticism of AHS, Kenney faces leadership review and offers no new plan to stop COVID
UCP vice-president Joel Mullan was fired by the board yesterday after calling for Kenney to face a leadership review, which has now been scheduled for April 2022.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson back pedalled on his attempts to shift blame for the overcapacity ICUs on Alberta Health Services President Dr. Verna Yiu, likely as a ploy to push more privatization of the public health care system.
Kenney joined Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu yesterday not to announce further public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 but to announce the government will ban protests outside of hospitals in reaction to anti-vaccine and COVID-19 conspiracy theorist rallies that were held two weeks ago.With none of these rallies having been held in weeks, some political watchers are wondering if the protest ban is actually being aimed at health care workers who could take job action in the coming months.
I was up early this morning to join CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway on The Current to discuss Premier Jason Kenney‘s leadership challenges and the wild ride that is Alberta politics.
Take a listen to the segment where strategist Stephen Carter from The Strategists Podcast and I (separately) discuss Kennev’s leadership challenges and the wild ride that is Alberta politics.
Kenney lasts another day
He may have a plummeting approval rating, but Jason Kenney is still King of the United Conservative Party.
As I noted in the interview on The Current, Kenney is a political survivor. It appears as though he out maneuvered his growing but disorganized opposition in his party and caucus.
Kenney avoided an attempted caucus coup when a motion for a confidence vote put forward by a group of MLAs was withdrawn when they discovered it would not be a secret ballot. He has pushed off demands for a leadership review at the party’s November 2021 annual general meeting by agreeing to a leadership review in Spring 2022 instead. A review had already been scheduled for the party’s planned November 2022 annual meeting.
Moving the leadership review to next Spring gives Kenney time to organize against his opponents in the cabinet, caucus and party. If he can last that long and not turn his political fortunes around, it will be bad for his party and good for Rachel Notley‘s NDP, whose fundraisers had their prayers answered.
The NDP are hoping this financial quarter, which ends on September 30, will mark the fourth in a row that their party has raised more cash than the UCP.
Goodridge has represented the northern Alberta district since running in a 2018 by-election to replace former MLA Brian Jean.
Goodridge was appointed parliamentary secretary responsible for Alberta’s francophonie in June 2019. Before her by-election win she worked as a political staffer in Fort McMurray and Ottawa and ran for the Wildrose Party in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in the 2015 election.
Her sudden entry into federal politics and almost certain election to parliament in this very safe Conservative seat (neither a Liberal or NDP candidate have been nominated yet – but the Maverick Party has a candidate) means that a provincial by-election will be triggered in the next six months.
This will be the first by-election since Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP formed government in April 2019. Amid Kenney’s plummeting approval ratings, his party’s drop in the public opinion polls and lacklustre fundraising, a by-election in what should be a safe UCP riding will be interesting litmus test for the Premier.
Rachel Notley’s NDP are likely eager to contest a by-election, but they probably hoped their first chance would be in Calgary or a friendlier locale. The NDP didn’t win this seat in the Orange Wave of 2015 and their candidate, Wood Buffalo municipal councillor Jane Stroud, placed a distant second in the 2018 by-election and 2019 general election.
Expectations of an NDP win in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in 2021 would be low – though winning this by-election would be a big win for the NDP and a massive blow for the UCP – and Kenney.
A provincial by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche will also offer Brian Jean a chance to leave the sidelines after four years of sniping at Kenney on social media and the Postmedia opinion pages. Jean left elected politics after Kenney and a kamikaze campaign defeated him in the 2017 UCP leadership race but he has remained a harsh critic of Kenney’s leadership and has publicly flirted with Alberta separatism.
Canmore resident Sarah Elmeligi announced today that she is seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Banff-Kananaskis to run in the next provincial election. She is the first candidate to announce plans to seek the nomination.
Elmeligi is a professional biologist and conservation and land-use planner. She currently runs her own consulting company but from 2016 to 2019 she worked as a Parks Facility Planner with the Kananaskis Region and from 2009 to 2013 was a Senior Conservation Planner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Southern Alberta Chapter.
She earned a PhD from Central Queensland University in Australia and since 2013 has been conducting Grizzly Bear research in the Rocky Mountains.
“I value working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to define solutions that are good for people and good for the landscape,” Elmeligi said in a press release. “The Banff-Kananaskis Constituency is a very special place, appreciated by locals, Albertans, and international visitors for its natural splendor and varied recreational opportunities.”
Former MLA Cam Westhead, who announced on Facebook today that he would not be seeking the nomination and would instead be running for re-election as Second Vice President of United Nurses of Alberta, was the only NDP incumbent in rural Alberta to increase his vote share from 2015.
Westhead finished 3 points higher than his 2015 results from the redistributed Banff-Cochrane district and Rosin finished 7 points lower than the combined Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative results in the boundaries.
The 2019 race was geographically divided, with Banff, Canmore, and the First Nations communities in the western parts of the Bow River valley heavily voting NDP and the eastern polls, dominated by ranches, acreages and Calgary commuters, voting UCP.
Elections Alberta is reporting that it has issued $15,000 in fines against Calgary-FalconridgeUnited Conservative Party MLA Devinder Toor for violations of five sections of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. The violations are reported to have taken place during Toor’s campaign for the UCP nomination in 2018 and his campaign for election as the UCP candidate in 2019.
Section 31 of the EFCDA: Person other than CFO, accepting contributions.
Section 35(1)(a) of the EFCDA: Accepting a prohibited contribution from 2082146 Alberta Ltd. in the form of use of real property.
Section 41.4(1) of the EFCDA: Exceeding the Nomination Contest expense limit.
Section 46 of the EFCDA: Filed a false Nomination Contest Financial Statement with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Section 14(1) of the EFCDA: Fail to deposit contributions into the account on record with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Elections Alberta lists Toor’s offences during the 2019 election campaign as violations of:
Section 35(1)(a) of the EFCDA: Accepting a prohibited contribution from 2082146 Alberta Ltd. in the form of the use of real property.
Section 41.3(1)(a) of the EFCDA: Candidate exceeding expense limit.
Section 46 of the EFCDA: Filed a false Candidate Campaign Financial Statement with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Section 40(1)(a) of the EFCDA: Registered Candidate borrowing money from party other than a Financial Institution.
Section 14(1) of the EFCDA: Fail to deposit contributions into the account on record with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Also listed as having received administrative penalties from Elections Alberta was Toor’s’ chief financial officer, Sahib Bhakri, who was issued an $8,000 fine for violations of the EFCDA during the UCP nomination contest and $6,000 for violations during the 2019 election.
Also listed as Toor’s chief financial officer during the 2018 nomination race, Daljit (Sunny) Toor was issued a Letter of Reprimand from Elections Alberta for violating Section 30(1)(c.1) of the EFCDA by failing to vouch for expenses over $25.
2082146 Alberta Ltd. and current and former Directors (Abhi Toor, Balmeet Toor, Devinder Toor) was issued $4,500 in fines for violating Section 16(2) of the EFCDA by making prohibited contributions to Toor’s nomination and election campaigns.
The first law introduced by the NDP after they formed government in 2015 was to ban political donations from corporations and unions.
Toor defeated realtor Pete de Jong and past Wildrose Party candidate Jesse Minhas to secure the United Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Falconridge in December 2018. Toor had previously ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2016 by-election and 2015 general election in Calgary-Greenway.
The UCP nomination campaign in Calgary-Falconridge was not without controversy. Another past Wildrose candidate, Happy Mann, had his candidacy rejected by the UCP after he was alleged to have been involved in an incident where a local reporter was assaulted.
Toor faced NDP candidate Parmeet Singh in what ended up being the closest race in the 2019 election.
After a recount, Toor defeated Singh by a narrow 96 votes.
In June 2020, CBC reported that the owners of two popular food trucks operating next to a northeast Calgary park claimed they were being bullied and harassed by residents who don’t want them there, including Toor.
The northeast Calgary district was represented by Liberal MP Darshan Kang from 2015 until he left the Liberal caucus in 2017 following allegations of sexual harassment. The former two-term Liberal MLA sat as an Independent until his term was complete and did not seek re-election in 2019.
Rick Peterson out of Conservative race in Edmonton-Strathcona
It appears as though former Conservative Party leadership candidate Rick Peterson is no longer seeking his party’s nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona. While neither Peterson nor the party have made any official public statement, Conservative Party sources say that he was disqualified from the race by the central party.
It now appears likely that his opponent, Tunde Obsan, the only other candidate in the race, will be acclaimed as the Conservative Party candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona. Obasan was the 2019 United Conservative Party candidate in Edmonton-South and is an audit manager with the provincial Department of Alberta Treasury Board and Finance.
Edmonton-Strathcona is currently represented by NDP MP Heather McPherson.
Don Iveson running in Edmonton-Centre?
Rumours continue to circulate that Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson could seek the federal Liberal nomination in Edmonton-Centre. Rumours about Iveson jumping into federal politics have been around for years, but his decision to not seek re-election as mayor and the proximity to an impending federal election has given new fuel to the speculation.
Iveson was first elected to City Council in 2007 and has served as Mayor since 2013. He is currently the chairperson of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus.
Former Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, who represented the district from 2015 to 2019, has already announced his intentions to seek his party’s nomination.
The NDP have nominated Shawn Gray in Edmonton Riverbend.
Austin Mullins is now running for the Green Party nomination in Calgary-Centre. Mills had previously announced his intentions to seek the party’s nomination in Banff-Airdire, where he ran in 2019.
The right-wing People’s Party have nominated Dennis Trepanier in Battle River-Crowfoot, Edward Gao in Calgary-Confederation, Jonathan Hagel in Calgary-Midnapore, Kyle Scott in Calgary-Nose Hill, Michael Knoll in Calgary-Shepard, Brent Kinzel in Edmonton-West, Brigitte Yolande Maria Cecelia in St. Albert-Edmonton, and Murray MacKinnon in Sturgeon River-Parkland.
The party has also nominated two time Wildrose Party candidate Darryl Boisson in Peace River-Westlock and is expected to nominate Ben Whyte in Calgary-Rocky Ridge at a meeting on July 29.
The separatist Maverick Party has nominated Orrin Bliss in Bow River, Annelise Freeman in Calgary-Heritage, Josh Wylie in Foothills, and Physical Education and Social Studies teacher Todd Muir in Yellowhead.
It isn’t really a saying in Alberta politics but maybe it should be: When a Premier is in trouble, the cabinet gets growing.
That’s what we saw today as embattled Premier Jason Kenney made a major expansion of the provincial cabinet.
It is being described as a post-pandemic reset but today’s cabinet shuffle and expansion probably has more to do with internal turmoil in the UCP Caucus than any actual reset in the government’s agenda. Problem-creating ministers like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon remain firmly in place.
Kenney, who eagerly declared the COVID-19 pandemic over in Alberta on July 1, has seen his approval ratings and his party’s popularity plummet as it mismanaged its response to the pandemic and pushed forward with an unpopular political agenda that included opening the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining, a backward draft curriculum for kids, and aggressive attacks against doctors and nurses.
Kenney’s unpopularity now appears to be spilling over into the federal scene and dragging down the federal Conservative Party’s support in Alberta, which a string of polls show at a historic low.
Kenney is so unpopular that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was able to openly mock him at a press conference in Calgary yesterday and there was no public backlash in defence of the provincial Conservative leader.
Facing dissent from inside and outside his caucus and party, Kenney has taken the predictable route of previous Alberta premiers who were in political trouble and expanded his cabinet. Appointments to cabinet posts come with the prestige of a ministerial title, office and staff, a hefty pay hike and are seen as a way to reward a premier’s supporters – and punish dissenters.
The past twenty years of turmoil in conservative politics in Alberta has given us a few clear examples of how cabinets grow when premier’s find themselves in political trouble.
Premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet grew from a slim 17 in 1992 to an expanded 24 by the time he resigned in 2006 after his party’s membership gave him a weak 55.4 per cent endorsement in a leadership review.
Klein’s successor, Premier Ed Stelmach, started with a cabinet of 19 ministers in 2006 only to expand it to 23 by the time he resigned in the face of a caucus revolt in 2011.
But perhaps most famously, Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet grew from 21 in 2011 to 29, including 10 associate ministers, in 2013, representing almost half of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. There was a running joke at the time that if a PC MLA wasn’t in cabinet they must have done something really wrong.
Yesterday Kenney’s cabinet had 22 cabinet ministers and associate ministers. Today, Kenney’s cabinet has 26.
I bet it grows again in a few months.
Shuffled around …
Jason Luan, MLA Calgary-Foothills, is moved from Associate Minister of Additions and Mental Health to become Minister of Community and Social Services. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 until his defeat in the 2015 election to NDP candidate Michael Connolly. Luan returned to the Legislature in 2019.
Ric McIver, MLA Calgary-Hays, keeps his role as Minister of Municipal Affairs but loses his dual role of Minister of Transportation. McIver took over Municipal Affairs when former minister Tracy Allard was removed from cabinet following her COVID rule breaking hot holiday to Hawaii in December 2020. McIver was first elected as a PC MLA in 2012 and previously served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 2001 to 2010.
Rajan Sawhney, MLA Calgary-North East, leaves her current role as Minister of Community and Social Services to become Minister of Transportation. Sawhney is seen by many political insiders as an up and comer in the UCP cabinet.
Muhammad Yaseen, MLA Calgary-North, leaves his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration to become the Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism reporting to Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping. Yasseen is a former president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Calgary and was first elected as an MLA in 2019.
New in cabinet…
Mike Ellis, MLA Calgary-West, leaves his role as UCP Caucus Whip to become Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Ellis was first elected in a 2014 by-election and was only one of a handful of PC MLAs re-elected in 2015.
Nate Horner, MLA Drumheller-Stettler, becomes Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development reporting to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer. Horner is the grandson of former Member of Parliament Jack Horner and the cousin of former deputy premier Doug Horner.
Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women reporting to newly appointed Minister of Culture and Status of Women Ron Orr. Issik will also serve as UCP Whip. She was first elected in 2019 and was a longtime PC Party volunteer, serving as campaign manager for Jim Prentice during his brief run for the federal PC Party nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady, and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election.
Ron Orr, MLA Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture. Orr once declared that legalizing cannabis would spark a communist revolution and he wrote on Facebook in May 2021 that Kenney was raised by God to be leader of Alberta and public health restrictions are just as bad as getting COVID. Before his election as a Wildrose MLA in 2015 he worked as a Baptist Minister in Alberta and British Columbia.
Back in cabinet is Tanya Fir, MLA Calgary-Peigan, as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Fir was surprisingly dropped from her role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism in August 2020. Fir was one of the UCP MLAs caught travelling on a hot holiday in December 2020, breaking the government’s public health restrictions.
Out of cabinet…
Leela Aheer, MLA Chestermere-Strathmore and UCP Deputy Leader, has lost her cabinet role as Minister of Culture and Status of Women. Her departure from cabinet is probably retribution for her publicly calling on Kenney to apologize after he and other senior cabinet ministers were caught breaking the government’s COVID-19 restrictions by holding a boozy dinner party on the balcony of the Sky Palace. Aheer also criticized Kenney for his tone-deaf defence of Sir John A Macdonald following the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former Indian Residential School sites.
Grant Hunter, MLA Taber-Warner, loses his position as Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction. Hunter is currently on a province-wide ministerial tour of northeast Alberta with Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. Hunter was the only cabinet minister from south of Calgary.
Other non-cabinet changes today included:
Joseph Schow, MLA Cardston-Siksika, the current the deputy government whip becomes deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.
After 6 months without a permanent Chief of Staff, Premier Kenney has named his Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston to the role. Livingston started working in the Premier’s Office in January 2021 after the resignation of Jamie Huckabay, who was caught in the international holiday scandal.
Interim Chief of Staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office.
“Opening for summer” was Premier Jason Kenney’s new tagline as he announced that by July the provincial government will mount a quick retreat from the public health restrictions implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19.
It is a bizarre whiplash from a week ago when Alberta was leading North America for active cases of COVID-19 and Intensive Care Units were starting to overflow (there are still 150 COVID patients in ICU beds in Alberta). But consistency has never been Kenney’s style during the pandemic and his decision to rush the removal of restrictions likely being driven by his need to score political points and save job as leader of the United Conservative Party.
The three stage plan appears to be planned around the start of the Ponoka Stampede and the Calgary Stampede, two of the largest public events in an Alberta summer.
It has been a long 15 months since the pandemic began, so it is hard not to be cautiously optimistic that the plan will work. But, like many of Kenney’s plans, it seems to be driven by political expediency rather than the vigilance our leaders probably should embrace to defeat this virus.
Alberta’s public health restrictions have been mild compared with most other provinces in Canada and jurisdictions abroad. Coffee shops and grocery stores have remained open, as have religious services (with lower attendance rates), and even the Legislative Assembly continued to meet in-person until last week. It even took a while for the government to be convinced that casinos should be closed.
Proactive measures have not been a distinguishing feature of Kenney’s response to COVID-19.
UCP staffers have been jubilantly tweeting that Albertans “crushed the spike,” referring to the third wave that peaked at more than 26,000 active cases, but it was only after weeks of delays and ignoring the pleas of medical professionals that the Kenney government implemented the measures that “crushed” the third wave of COVID-19 in Alberta.
Only a week before Kenney implemented the current public health measures, he was complaining to the media that restrictions don’t work because people don’t listen to them, despite the third wave that happened after the previous health measures were prematurely lifted in February 2021.
The decline in active cases since the new public health measures were put in place suggests the restrictions did work.
A growing number of Albertans are getting injected with their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines and there are still questions about how many Albertans will have received a second dose of the vaccine by the time Kenney rips the bandaid off in July.
Despite conservative partisans criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for using the term “one-dose summer,” it would appear that a one-dose is enough for the UCP government to remove all public health restrictions.
There is also growing concern about how effective one dose of vaccine is in protecting people from the B.1.617.2 variant (the “India variant”), which is the source of a third wave in the United Kingdom.
New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley is urging caution and raising questions about the speed the restrictions will be lifted, which is a fair criticism. In typical fashion, Kenney responded with a partisan barb, accusing the NDP of being anti-vaxxers. All NDP MLAs have confirmed they have received their first vaccination, something not all UCP MLAs have confirmed doing.
A lot of Albertans, myself included, are hoping that the removal of restrictions will work and we can put COVID-19 behind us. It would be nice to have a summer not constrained by even mild public health restrictions. It would be nice for the pandemic to be over. We will find out by the fall whether the Kenney government jumped the gun in removing restrictions too soon.
Hinman only candidate in Wildrose Independence Party leadership vote
Former Wildrose Party MLA Paul Hinman is the only candidate to enter the Wildrose Independence Party leadership race. A vote of the separatist party’s membership will be held on August 28, 2021 to confirm his leadership.
Hinman represented the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Alliance parties as the MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and the Wildrose Party as the MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012. He led the Wildrose Alliance in the 2008 election.
Hinman is the grandson of Social Credit MLA and cabinet minister Edgar Hinman.
NDP to hold nomination meeting in Calgary-Varsity on June 26
The Alberta NDP will hold the first nomination meeting of the 2023 election cycle on June 26, 2021 in Calgary-Varisty. Prominent physician Dr. Luanne Metz is expected to be acclaimed as candidate.
The northwest Calgary district is a key target riding for the NDP in the next election and was narrowly won by UCP MLA Jason Copping in 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Another MLA Recall bill has been introduced into the Alberta Legislative Assembly, and this one looks like it will actually pass and become law.
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.
1993: Calgary-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
2010: Calgary-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.
2015: Chestermere-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”