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Alberta Politics

Race to replace Jason Kenney takes shape – Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz join the fray. Will Michelle Rempel Garner and Raj Sherman be next?

Hey there politics fans!

The United Conservative Party released its leadership race rule book!

UCP members will choose a replacement for Premier Jason Kenney on October 6, 2022.

It will cost $150,000 to enter the race, plus an extra $25,000 good behaviour deposit.

Low rollers need not apply.

It’s not just a race to replace Kenney.

It’s a race to save the UCP from defeat against Rachel Notley‘s resurgent Alberta NDP.

And the race is starting to take shape.

The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.

Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.

Just ask Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.

It was a strong kick-off.

Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.

Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.

Angela Pitt MLA Airdrie-East UCP
Angela Pitt (source: Facebook)

Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.

It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).

Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.

This time she’s backing Sawhney.

Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow. 

Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.

The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.

He’s met half his goal so far.

Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.

For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.

The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt. 

She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.

Rebecca Schulz United Conservative Party leadership candidate
Rebecca Schulz (source: Facebook)

First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.

Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”

She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. 

The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.

The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).

UCP MLA Leela Aheer, who was ousted from cabinet for calling on Kenney to resign, is in and wants to “defeat the machines.”

“I think Albertans will defeat the machines. They understand what the machine is. They’re frustrated with the machine,” she told reporters.

She’s also facing a strong nomination challenge in her Chestermere-Strathmore riding.

Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.

But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy. 

Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.

Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”

Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray. 

Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor. 

He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.

So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

And there could be more.

We’ll know soon enough.

July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.

The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.

August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.

No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.

The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.

Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.

It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.


Liberal Party seeks new leader

The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.

Former party leader David Khan stepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.

Party stalwart John Roggeveen has filled the spot as interim leader since March 2021.

The race has no candidates as of yet. The second place finisher from the 2017 leadership race, Kerry Cundal, is running for the Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow.


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Categories
Alberta Politics

The First Four: Travis Toews, Brian Jean, Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen enter the United Conservative Party leadership race

The race has started.

Four candidates have filed their intent with Elections Alberta to join the race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party:

Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.

Brian Jean United Conservative Party Leadership Wildrose
Brian Jean during his 2017 bid for the United Conservative Party leadership.

Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen Free Alberta Strategy Separatist
Independent MLA Todd Loewen

Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.

These four have registered others are expected.

Rajan Sawhney

Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.

“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.

Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.

Government House leader and chief Kenney lieutenant Jason Nixon is rumoured to be thinking about running.

So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.

And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.

The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.

UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.

Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is a bad Premier.

There is no doubt that Jason Kenney changed the face of Alberta politics when he jumped into provincial politics in 2017.

He succeeded in leading the merger of the Wildrose opposition with the Progressive Conservatives remanent into the United Conservative Party.

And, for a period, he was able to convince the two warring factions to put aside their differences and focus on a higher goal: winning the 2019 election.

And it worked.

At least it did for a time.

The UCP won a big majority, but quickly discovered that all those things the PCs and Wildrosers didn’t like about each other still existed, but now they were in the same party.

Last night, Kenney announced his plans to step down as UCP leader after getting a weak 51.4 per cent endorsement an acrimonious, divisive and drawn-out leadership review.

How did we get here so fast?

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely derailed Kenney and his party, but that wasn’t his only mistake.

Let’s look back at the chaos of the past three years.

Kenney’s much promoted Open for Summer plan in 2021 alienated a large swath of Albertans who were uncomfortable with removing public health restrictions so quickly and haphazardly just for the Calgary Stampede.

Rachel Notley’s NDP were riding high in the polls and fundraising, and to a lot of Albertans it looked like Kenney was dropping the COVID-19 restrictions to fast to save his party’s fortunes and his own leadership.

But being forced to backtrack and reintroduce restrictions when COVID-19 cases and deaths predictably skyrocketed and hospitals and ICUs overflowed only served to alienate a growing group right-wing populists and Freedom Truckers who were then highly motivated to defeat Kenney in the leadership review.

Despite flirting with right-wing populism before the 2019 election and during his time as Premier, Kenney is not a populist.

Kenney is probably far more comfortable discussing the works of Ludwig von Mises in the salons of the Manhattan Institute than driving a big blue truck around rural Alberta.

He sold Albertans, and conservative activists, a bill of goods that he could not deliver on.

But again, it wasn’t just COVID-19 that sealed his fate in the leadership review

If Kenney had not been so deeply unpopular with Albertans and if the UCP hadn’t been trailing the NDP in almost every poll since late 2020, he would have had a stronger hand to play.

But he didn’t.

Let’s look at why.

Somewhere along the line Kenney and his ministers began to believe that the big electoral mandate they got in 2019 meant they could impose their platform with abandon and, perhaps fatally, not have to listen to Albertans who started pushing back.

While Kenney’s opponents were always going to oppose his plans to privatize health care and schools, it wasn’t just NDP partisans who pushed back.

It was normal Albertans.

And Kenney didn’t seem to realize this.

Kenney and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon’s plans to close and sell more than 140 provincial parks sparked a province-wide lawn sign campaign that crossed the partisan divide.

After months of actively dismissing and attacking opponents of these plans, the UCP government was forced to back down.

The UCP’s eagerness to open the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining produced a similar backlash.

Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage pushed forward, again dismissing the opposition, which included dozens of southern Alberta municipal councils and country music artists like Corb Lund, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark, until they were forced to back down.

Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro picked big fights with nurses and doctors during the pandemic, which almost certainly undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the pandemic.

Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange were almost engaged in daily fights with teachers, even when the safety of children during the pandemic was the biggest concern for almost every Alberta parent.

Alberta can already be a notoriously difficult place to govern, but at times it looked like the UCP was actively trying to make it more difficult.

And then there were the scandals.

The kamikaze campaign.

The RCMP investigation.

Shandro yelling at a doctor in his driveway.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu phoning the chief of police after getting a traffic ticket.

Lawsuits alleging of drinking and sexual harassment of political staff by cabinet ministers.

Alohagate.

The Sky Palace patio party.

Betting and losing $1.3 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

And the theatrics.

The Energy War Room staffed by UCP-insiders.

The late and over budget Allan Inquiry into nefarious foreign interference that found nothing illegal.

A referendum about equalization that was always going to be ignored by Ottawa, and ironically, was ignored by most Albertans.

The never ending legal challenges against the federal government.

And then there’s the curriculum.

Pledging during the 2019 campaign to take ideology and politics out of the draft K-12 curriculum, Kenney’s government injected new levels of weird and outdated ideology.

Panned by teachers, reviled by curriculum experts, and mocked internationally as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills, and rife with plagiarism, is how columnist David Climenhaga described it.

And then there’s that thing about Kenney’s grandfather, Mart Kenney, showing up in the curriculum, which felt like weird pandering by the programme’s authors.

We never got a glimpse into who Kenney really is or anything about his life outside of politics really.

Aside from politics, we don’t really know what makes him tick.

We know he rented a room in mother’s basement, enjoys listening to Gregorian chants and is a devout Roman Catholic, but that’s almost all we were allowed to see.

Not that we are owed any more.

Politicians deserve their privacy but Kenney’s weird blank slate outside of politics probably contributed to him being not very relatable to most Albertans.

So it becomes a trust thing.

Kenney is popular with many white collar conservatives and former staffers in Ottawa who have fond memories of his two decades as a determined opposition critic and hard-working cabinet minister.

Many of them see him a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian Conservatism.

But whatever charm worked inside the Queensway didn’t translate in the Premier’s Office.

Maybe being a trusted lieutenant to Prime Minster Stephen Harper was a quite different job than being Premier of Alberta?

Someone who has known Kenney for a long time once told me that they believed one of his biggest weaknesses is that he still saw Alberta politics through a 1990s lens.

I’m not sure I totally believe that but I think there’s a hint of truth to it.

And it might be why he has misread Albertans so badly over the past three years.

Kenney got his start in Alberta politics in the early 1990s as the founding spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It was a heady time for deficit hawks and social conservatives, and Kenney frequently engaged in very public quarrels with then-Premier Ralph Klein over government expenses.

The young conservative activist with a trademark Nixonian five-o’clock shadow pioneered the CTF soundbite machine with great success.

It’s where he cut his teeth in politics.

Thirty-years later, Kenney will soon be ending the latest phase of his political career in the same building where he started.

But this time he might not be coming back.


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Alberta Politics

51.4% isn’t enough. Jason Kenney stepping down as UCP leader.

Premier Jason Kenney is done.

Kenney stunned political watchers by announcing he is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after getting the support of only 51.4 per cent of members in the leadership review.

He had claimed last week that 50%+1 was enough for him to stay, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

It wouldn’t have worked.

It was the weakest of mandates.

UCP President Cynthia Moore speaking about the leadership review process.

Winning by such a narrow margin was probably the worst case scenario for Kenney.

With 51.4 per cent there is no way Kenney could have confidently walked into tomorrow morning’s UCP Caucus meeting and commanded the loyalty of the party’s MLAs.

There’s no way he could have demanded his opponents fall in line or leave the party. 

So, he’s resigning. 

The UCP is deeply divided and the leadership race was and acrimonious end to Kenney’s three years in the Premier’s Office.

But he might have been the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the party moving forward in any positive way with one year left before the provincial election.

The aggressive and in-your-face reactions from Kenney and his political staff to any criticism of his agenda has made him deeply unpopular with almost every single voting demographic in Alberta. 

And it dragged down his party.

UCP returning officer Rick Orman announcing the results of the leadership review.

Kenney leaving avoids the inevitably showdown between him and his opponents in caucus that would have likely divided the party even further.

He’ll leave that showdown to someone else.

Now the UCP will have to choose a new leader. 

It’s not clear whether Kenney will resign immediately and be replaced by an interim leader or whether he will stay on as Premier until a leadership race is held. 

We’ll find out soon. 

Names that immediately come to mind for potential interim leaders are Nate Horner, Sonya Savage, Nathan Neudorf, Ric McIver, Rajan Sawhney and Nate Glubish – all MLAs who probably won’t run for the permanent job.

And that’s where things get interesting, or troubling, depending on your point of view. 

While Kenney was unpopular across the board, his biggest critics inside his party come from the unruly political-right – and they are mostly unhappy with how he handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenney called them “lunatics.”

Former Wildrose leaders Brian Jean and Danielle Smith and exiled UCP MLA Drew Barnes probably fall pretty neatly into this column. 

They both want the job. 

Then there’s the Kenney loyalists.

Doug Schweitzer endorsed Kenney last week. He’s expected to run.

Jason Nixon is Kenney’s chief lieutenant. He’s said to be eying the job.

Travis Toews is also in Kenney’s inner circle. He’s said to have supporters who have been quietly preparing a run for months.

And then there’s Members of Parliament Shannon Stubbs and Michelle Rempel Garner. They haven’t said they’d run, but their names get mentioned when you talk to UCP supporters.

There will be others.

Kenney didn’t specifically say he wouldn’t try to reclaim his job in a leadership race. But even if his political career isn’t over, it seems unlikely right now that he’d try to reclaim the UCP leadership.

It’s an unceremonious result for the popular former federal cabinet minister and darling of movement conservatives who jumped into provincial politics six years ago to build a new conservative party.

It is a big change from three years ago, when Kenney led the newly minted UCP to defeat Rachel Notley’s NDP and win a big majority government.

On that election night he looked unstoppable.

Long gone are the days when anyone in Alberta politics is unstoppable.


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Categories
Alberta Politics

Richard Bruneau wins NDP contest in Camrose, Walker-McKitrick rematch being set up in Sherwood Park, NDP MLAs flock to Battleground Calgary

‘Three candidates are contesting the NDP nomination contest in Camrose’ are not a series of words I imagined writing even a year ago, yet here we are.

Business owner and former diplomat Richard Bruneau defeated Registered Psychiatric Nurse Tonya Ratushniak and educational assistant and recent city council candidate Wyatt Tanton to win the NDP nomination in Camrose. 

“When attending Augustana their motto was ‘to lead and to serve,’ and this is my vision of how I would like to lead and lift people up in the community. A vision I believe Alberta’s NDP embodies,” Bruneau said in a press release announcing his win. “The UCP has not been serving the people of Alberta, and the pandemic highlighted the short-signed failures of UCP policy. Camrose deserves better than the UCP.”

Jackie Lovely MLA Camrose UCP
Jackie Lovely

Bruneau is a bookstore owner, farmer, former lecturer at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus and a former Canadian diplomat who served in Afghanistan, Jordan and Palestine. He lives with his family on a cattle farm.

Bruneau was joined by Edmonton-North West MLA David Eggen at the nomination meeting and by Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin at a meet and greet in Camrose today.

The riding is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA Jackie Lovely, who was first elected in 2019 with 65.2 per cent of the vote. This was Lovely’s third attempt at winning a seat in the Legislature, the first two being as the Wildrose Party candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015. 

Lovely is being challenged for the UCP nomination by Beaver County Reeve Kevin Smook, who earned 12.8 per cent of the vote as the Alberta Party candidate in the riding in 2019.

The previous Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding was represented by NDP MLA Bruce Hinkley from 2015 to 2019 before it was redistributed into the current riding. Hinkley ran for re-election in the neighbouring Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin riding and was defeated by UCP candidate Rick Wilson.

Walker-McKitrick rematch being set up in Sherwood Park

Jordan Walker MLA Sherwood Park UCP
Jordan Walker

First-term UCP MLA Jordan Walker is seeking his party’s nomination for re-election in Sherwood Park.

The UCP backbencher was first elected in one of the closer races in Edmonton’s surrounding suburbs in 2019 by narrowly unseating NDP MLA Annie McKitrick. 

The stage is being set for a rematch in 2023, with McKitrick announcing last week that she plans to seek the NDP nomination to challenge Walker in the next election. This is a riding the NDP will need to win to form government. 

Gurinder Singh Gill running for NDP nomination in Calgary-Cross

Gurinder Singh Gill is seeking the NDP nomination in Calgary-Cross. Gill previously ran as the federal NDP candidate in Calgary-Skyview in the 2019 and 2021 elections. He placed third with 16.2 per cent of the vote behind victorious Liberal George Chahal and incumbent Conservative MP Jag Sahota in the last federal election.

The east Calgary riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Mickey Amery, who was elected in 2019 with 54.2 per cent by unseating NDP cabinet minister Ricardo Miranda, who finished second with 37.3 per cent.

Amery is the son of Moe Amery, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-East riding from 1993 until his defeat in the 2015 election.

MLA Guthrie endorses Danielle Smith’s challenging Roger Reid

Peter Guthrie MLA Airdrie-Cochrane UCP Communism
Peter Guthrie

Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie has endorsed former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith’s bid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Smith is challenging Guthrie’s caucus colleague Roger Reid for the nomination. 

Smith is wasting no time making her mark in UCP circles as she eyes the nomination and the party leadership.

Tonight she will join Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan, a vocal Kenney critic, and former Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson to discuss the “Free Alberta Strategy.” And on April 23 she is joining Independent MLA Todd Loewen for a “Politics Uncensored” event in Three Hills.

Loewen is a former UCP Caucus chair who booted from the UCP Caucus in May 2021 after he publicly called on Premier Jason Kenney to resign.

Meanwhile, demonstrating how much bad blood remains between Smith and many UCP activists as a result of the 2014 Wildrose floor crossings, a Twitter account run by staff in Kenney’s office attacked Smith (and Brian Jean) by proclaiming that “I’ve always found it surprising that two people whose only track record is losing general elections, somehow feel they have all the answers.”

The “@UniteAlberta” twitter account is run by Deputy Director of  Government Communications and Speechwriter Harrison Fleming, who is currently on leave to work on Kenney’s leadership campaign.

Other senior staff on leave to work on their boss’s leadership review campaign are Chief of Staff Pam Livingston, Executive Director of Communications and Planning Brock Harrison, and Issues Manager Chad Hallman. 

Meanwhile, the former Wildrose leader and Kenney-foe has been sworn-in as an MLA the Legislature. Newly elected Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean has rejoined UCP Caucus he left in 2018.

CBC reporter Michelle Bellefontaine tweeted today that Jean said Kenney has not spoken to him since he was elected as a UCP MLA in March.

NDP MLAs flock to Calgary

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi will be nominated as her party’s candidate for re-election tonight.

“This community has shared with me their wisdom, their experiences, their hopes, and have trusted me to be their voice in the legislature,” said Pancholi. “I want to continue to work hard to help the families of this community – and across Alberta – seize the opportunities available for us to have a strong economic recovery.”

And with the next provincial election just over a year away, she, like most NDP MLAs, are spending a lot of time in Calgary – the expected battleground of the next election.

Janet Eremenko, Rachel Notley, and Rakhi Pancholi.

Pancholi was spotted door knocking in Calgary-Acadia with nomination candidate and Registered Nurse Diana Batten, and with NDP leader Rachel Notley and local candidate Janet Eremenko in Calgary-Currie.

Notley has been spending a lot of time in Calgary, including on the doors this week with Calgary-Edgemont candidate Julia Hayter. Notley will be headlining an April 9 nomination rally in Calgary-East where teacher Rosman Valencia is expected to be acclaimed.

Eggen was spotted door-knocking with MLA Joe Ceci in Calgary-Buffalo and candidate Gurinder Brar in Calgary-North East

Irwin and Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman are planning to join NDP nomination candidate Marilyn North Peigan on the doors this weekend in the Tuxedo Park neighbourhood in Calgary-Klein. Irwin is also scheduled to spend time door-knocking with Eremenko in Calgary-Currie and Hayter in Calgary-Edgemont.


The following nomination meetings have been scheduled.

• Calgary-East NDP: April 9, 2022
• Edmonton-Mill Woods NDP: April 10, 2022
• Leduc-Beaumont NDP: April 13, 2022
• Morinville-St. Albert NDP: April 30, 2022
• Calgary-Glenmore: May 10, 2022

Categories
Alberta Politics

The Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election and the Alberta Politics Time Machine™

The calm before the storm. The deep breath before the plunge.

Tomorrow is the day.

Tomorrow is by-election day in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

They’ve been overshadowed by Jason Kenney’s leadership review, the occupation of Ottawa, a blockade at Coutts, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but tomorrow the people of northern Alberta’s famed boom town get their say.

They get to choose an MLA.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader
Brian Jean

Brian Jean is the favourite to win.

He’s the former MLA, former MP, and former leader of the Wildrose Party.

He’s Fort Mac’s golden boy.

Now he’s the United Conservative Party candidate.

He’s also Jason Kenney’s worst enemy and if he wins he’ll become an even bigger thorn in the Premier’s side ahead of the April 9 leadership review.

Kenney beat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and is now openly campaigning against him in the leadership review.

Jean isn’t the only anti-Kenney candidate in the race.

Alberta NDP candidate Ariana Mancini in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election
Ariana Mancini

NDP candidate Ariana Mancini is campaigning hard.

The NDP are cautiously optimistic about their chances but it’s a real long shot and know they are the underdog.

Even with the NDP leading the UCP by 15 points in province-wide polls and Kenney’s approval ratings in free fall, there is still a big gap to close in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

The UCP won the riding with 66 per cent of the vote in 2019.

Competing with Jean for disaffected conservative voters is another former Wildrose Party leader, Paul Hinman.

Hinman now leads the separatist Wildrose Independence Party.

He’s another long-shot candidate.

He’s also living proof that by-elections can produce weird and unpredictable results.

What do I mean?

Hop in and join me in the Alberta Politics Time Machine™.

Paul Hinman Wildrose Independence Party MLA
Paul Hinman

One year after Hinman was lost his Cardston-Taber-Warner seat in the 2008 general election he shocked political watchers by winning a by-election in posh Calgary-Glenmore in the city’s southwest.

It was a real country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse situation.

But Hinman isn’t the only example of how by-elections can be sometimes have shocking results.

The Liberals stunned political watchers when Craig Cheffins won in the Calgary-Elbow by-election to replace retired Premier Ralph Klein in 2007.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark very nearly repeated history in 2014 when he placed a painfully close second to PC cabinet minister Gord Dirks in another Calgary-Elbow by-election.

“But Dave,” you say, “aren’t those just fancy urban Calgary ridings?”

Hold on.

There’s more.

The Liberals won the 1992 by-election in Three Hills.

Yes. That’s right. Three. Hills.

Laurence Decore Alberta Liberal Leader
Laurence Decore

Deficit hawk Liberal leader Laurence Decore recruited farm realtor Don MacDonald in that by-election.

It was a sign of how well the Liberals were doing as much as how poorly the old Progressive Conservatives had tumbled under Don Getty’s beleaguered premiership.

“This is the heartland of Conservative Alberta,” Decore told a boisterous crowd of supporters in Three Hills on the night of MacDonald’s win.

He won with a stunning 2,476 lead over the second place Social Credit candidate.

The PC placed third.

“This is rural Alberta. This is where it’s not supposed to happen. This is where Liberals are supposed to be the anathema of everything that this area stands for,” Decore said. “Not only are we winning but we’re winning handsomely.”

The Liberals even came within a hair of winning a by-election in Little Bow a few months earlier.

Yes. Little. Bow.

That’s the deep south and it’s where conservatives usually win big.

The Reform Party of Canada was on the rise and, just like Three Hills a few months later, Reformers were split between the provincial Liberals and Tories in that by-election.

Reformer-turned-Liberal Donna Graham finished 262 votes behind Reformer-turned-Tory winner Barry MacFarland.

It was a close race.

Gordon Kesler
Gordon Kesler

And then there’s the big by-election win that people always talk about when Alberta separatism periodically peaks in the polls: Western Canada Concept’s Gordon Kesler winning the 1982 Olds-Didsbury by-election.

It was the only time a separatist party candidate has been elected to the Alberta Legislature.

People were mad.

Mad at Pierre Trudeau.

Mad at Peter Lougheed.

And boy did they show it.

But Kesler only had a few months as an MLA before Lougheed shifted gears and steamrolled the WCC into electoral oblivion in the November 1982 general election.

Ok. Buckle up.

Let’s take the time machine back even further.

Young PC candidate Bill Yurko stole the Strathcona East seat vacated by retired Premier Ernest Manning in 1969, foreshadowing the demise of Social Credit only a few years later.

Even the New Democrats have squeaked in a surprise by-election win, though you’ll have to go way back to find it.

Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. 1966.

Garth Turcott becomes the first Alberta NDP MLA in the province’s history.

It was a seat with a proud history of radical coal miner unionism, socialism and communism but like most of Alberta it had been held in the tight grip of the Socreds for over three decades.

Turcott’s team brought in a professional organizer and used new campaigning techniques like “doorknocking.”

Federal NDP leader Tommy Douglas even lent Turcott’s campaign a hand and drew hundreds of people to a by-election rally in the riding.

NDP leader Neil Reimer and first ever NDP MLA Garth Turcott shortly after his 1966 by-election win.

Douglas roasted Premier Ernest Manning for standing in the way of public health care.

“He has been the spearpoint of the attack on medicare,” Douglas said of the Alberta Premier.

It’s probably how Rachel Notley would describe Jason Kenney today. She’d be right.

But that’s for another column.

Slide back to the present. March 14, 2022.

What a wild ride.

I’d love to take the time machine to tomorrow night to see how the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election turns out but our tank is almost empty (and radioactive plutonium almost costs as much as a tank of gas these days!).

So we’ll have to take a big deep breath and wait to see if Brian Jean reclaims his old seat tomorrow night.

It might be a Jean slam dunk, but as we just saw on our little journey through Alberta history – sometimes by-elections can have unexpected results.

Voting stations are open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election takes a backseat to Red Deer UCP Leadership Review

The people of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche waited six whole months for Premier Jason Kenney to call a by-election to choose their next MLA.

That’s an eternity in politics.

But the by-election in the northern Alberta boom town isn’t really about the people who actually live there.

It’s about who leads the United Conservative Party.

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean is running as an anti-Kenney UCP candidate.

Jean beat Kenney’s favourite in a December nomination vote and has made no secret his desire to replace him as leader.

In fact, every candidate in this by-election is running against Kenney. It’s the reason why the Premier won’t be seen anywhere near Fort McMurray before the March 15 vote.

But Jean’s focus isn’t really on Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

It’s on Red Deer.

The by-election is a proxy war ahead of the UCP’s April 9 leadership review.

Jean loyalist Vitor Marciano was in Bonnyville last month with local MLA Dave Hanson talking about why UCP members should dump Kenney.

“On April 9, we’re voting out a tyrant,” former Kenney organizer David Parker said at the meeting.

You can listen to it here.

Parker was Kenney’s Central Alberta organizer in the 2017 leadership race. 

Now, Parker is the executive director of Take Back Alberta, a political action committee created to defeat Kenney in the leadership review.

Until recently, Parker was Vice President of Business Development for Higher Ground Medica.

The President and CEO of the Oyen-based Cannabis company is Jeff Callaway.

Yep. That Jeff Callaway.

Alberta politics is a very small world.

Another front in the challenge to Kenney’s leadership is raging on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains in the sprawling Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding. 

Jean joined exiled former UCP MLA Drew Barnes in backing former county councillor Tim Hoven against MLA Jason Nixon in the UCP nomination race.

“Tim Hoven has stepped up to do a brave thing,” Jean said in his Facebook video endorsement of Hoven.

Nixon is a heavy hitter in Kenney’s inner circle.

He’s the Government House Leader and Minister of Environment & Parks. 

The Giant from Sundre backed Kenney over Jean in the UCP’s 2017 leadership race – an endorsement that was a critical moment in that contest.

His absence in the Legislature last week was conspicuous.

Rumour is that Nixon was busy driving around his riding campaigning for the nomination.

In the deep south, Jean has endorsed Vulcan County councillor Jodie Gateman in the Cardston-Siksika UCP nomination race.

Gateman is the long-time conservative activist challenging UCP Deputy Government House Leader Joseph Schow, another well-known Kenney loyalist.

“She stepped up because she sees the need to change things in the UCP, the need to bring renewal and take the party back to its original sense of purpose,” Jean said in his endorsement of Gateman.

Back up in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, where the by-election is actually happening, NDP candidate Ariana Mancini is busy hitting the doors.

The local elementary school teacher has been joined on the campaign trail by Edmonton NDP MLAs Rakhi Pancholi, Richard Feehan and David Eggen.

“Folks in Fort McMurray have had enough of the drama and the infighting in the UCP,” Mancini said at her February 15 campaign launch.

“We need a government that is focused on families and businesses here in our community,” Mancini said.

Rachel Notley’s NDP are putting in an effort but it’s a long-shot for them. The last time voters in this part of Alberta elected a New Democrat was 1986.

Jean is the favourite to win but by-elections are a funny thing.

Enter Paul Hinman on stage right.

Another former Wildrose Party leader, Hinman is now leading the separatist Wildrose Independence Party.

He’s also running in the by-election.

Hinman and Jean are competing for the love of the Freedom Convoy supporters by promoting conspiracy theories about COVID-19, the World Economic Forum and the Emergency Measures Act.

Hinman has a history of winning by-elections (well ok, one).

After losing his seat in Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2008 he shocked political watchers by winning a by-election one year later in posh Calgary-Glenmore.

A political comeback for Hinman up north would be an earthquake for Alberta politics.

A split on the increasingly unhinged political right could give the increasingly moderate NDP a chance to run up the middle to a win.

When the history books are written, the Fort McMuray-Lac La Biche by-election might just be a footnote in the chapter about the April 9 leadership review.

Or maybe, just maybe, the results on March 15 will grab the attention of Albertans. 


Candidates in the March 15 Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.

  • Marilyn Burns, Alberta Advantage Party
  • Brian Deheer, Independent
  • Abdulhakim Hussein, Liberal Party
  • Michelle Landsiedel, Alberta Party
  • Ariana Mancini, Alberta NDP
  • Steven Mellott, Independence Party
  • Brian Jean, United Conservative Party
Categories
Alberta Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other parties have yet to name their candidates.

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

Categories
Alberta Politics

The Buffalo Party of Alberta becomes an official registered political party

The Buffalo Party of Alberta is officially registered with Elections Alberta.

The party leadership includes leader John Molberg (a past Wildrose Party donor), President Sharon Smith (who in Leduc-Beaumont as a Wildrose candidate in 2015 and a UCP nomination candidate in 2018), and Chief Financial Officer Jenny Walker (the former chairperson of the separatist Wexit Alberta group, which merged with the Freedom Conservative Party to become the Wildrose Independence Party in July 2020).

When reached for comment, the administrator of the Buffalo Party’s Facebook page responded that party organizers collected more than 13,000 signatures to achieve registered party status.

While bearing the same name as the openly separatist Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan (formerly known as Wexit Saskatchewan), the person said the party has “no legal connection with any other political organisation federal or in other provinces.”

The also denied being a separatist party:

“We are not a separatist party. For Albertans whose sole priority is separatism, there are several separatist options to choose from, however the Buffalo Party of Alberta is not it.”

“The Buffalo Party of Alberta, while sharing some similar principles such as increased Alberta autonomy and decentralised decision making, are distinctly Albertan, and will represent Albertan views. We have no legal connection with any other political organisation federal or in other provinces.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

MLA Thomas Dang leaves the NDP Caucus, Carol Vowk running for UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley announced today that Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang has temporarily left the NDP Official Opposition Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA after the RCMP executed a search warrant at his house this morning.

While none of the details are clear, Notley said she believed the search was related to a Department of Health data breach that Dang reported to the government in Sept. 2021.

MLA Thomas Dang’s statement on Dec. 21, 2021.
MLA Thomas Dang’s statement on Dec. 21, 2021.

Dang issued a statement in response in which he reiterated Notley’s comments, saying that he believed the warrant was executed in relation to vulnerabilities of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination records website.

“In September, a concern was raised to me as a Member of the Legislative Assembly about the security of the vaccination record system,” Dang wrote. “I tested these concerns and found a security flaw did exist.

“I immediately notified Alberta Health with the relevant information so that the vulnerability could be corrected. It was resolved shortly thereafter,” wrote Dang, who studied Computing Sciences at the University of Alberta before his election as MLA in 2015.

Notley said that Dang, who was in the mountains skiing, voluntarily left the NDP Caucus until the police investigation was complete. Dang is the Official Opposition critic for Democracy and Ethics.

Notley framed Dang’s departure from the caucus as a contrast from the United Conservative Party MLAs and cabinet ministers who remain in the government caucus after having been interviewed by the police, had search warrants executed at their businesses, or are connected to active police investigations.

First elected as the NDP MLA for Edmonton-South West in 2015 and ran for re-election in the redistributed Edmonton-South in 2019. 

Carol Vowk running for UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon

Carol Vowk

Carol Vowk has filed papers with Elections Alberta signalling her intention to run for the UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon. Vowk is Treasurer of the Drayton Valley Health Foundation and has volunteered with the Drayton Valley Air Cadets, Brazeau Snowmobile Club, and Drayton Valley Soccer.

But perhaps most notable under the current political circumstances, she is the President of the UCP Association in Drayton Valley-Devon and was a signatory of the letter from 22 UCP CA presidents requesting the party move Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership review before March 1, 2022. The party executive denied the request and will be holding the leadership review at a meeting in Red Deer on April 9, 2022 instead.

The central Alberta riding is currently represented by Mark Smith, who was first elected as a Wildrose MLA in 2015. Smith was the centre of controversy during the 2019 election with the release of an audio recording of a church sermon he delivered which included some gross comments about “homosexual love.”

Smith was re-elected in 2019 with 71.1 per cent of the vote. He has not publicly announced whether he plans to run for re-election in 2023.

Brian Jean *is* the UCP candidate in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche

Former Wildrose Party leader and Kenney-rival Brian Jean is officially the endorsed UCP candidate in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. Both Kenney and the UCP have been completely silent on the results of the nomination meeting, in which Jean defeated Kenney-backed candidate Joshua Gogo. A by-election must be called in the riding by February 15, 2022.


Voting in the Best of Alberta Politics 2021 Survey is open until 6:00 p.m. on Dec. 22, so vote now before it’s too late.

Categories
Alberta Politics

He’s back! Brian Jean wins UCP nomination in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean won the United Conservative Party nomination in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, defeating engineer and economist Joshua Gogo.

Jean’s candidacy was criticized by Premier Jason Kenney and Gogo had the support of Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, who was reported to have been campaigning with him in Lac La Biche last week.

Reports say that Jean won with 68 per cent of the vote. He represented the area as an MP from 2004 to 2014 and MLA from 2015 to 2018.

Jean left elected office shortly after losing the UCP leadership to Kenney in 2017 (it was later revealed that Kenney’s inner circle backed a kamikaze campaign against Jean), but he never quite left politics. Instead, he opined about provincial politics online and in the pages of Postmedia newspapers, becoming a harsh critic of Kenney’s leadership.

In the summer of 2021 he called on Kenney to step down and warned that the NDP would win the next election if he did not resign.

Jean clearly believes he’s the person who can lead the UCP to win re-election in 2023, and he may have a willing following among the small but vocal group of UCP MLAs who have criticized or called on Kenney to resign.

Kenney said he would respect the wishes of UCP voters in the nomination contest, but failing to defeat Jean is a big blow to a Premier who has been lauded for his skills as a political organizer, and is facing a leadership review in April 2022.

While party leaders typically trumpet the nomination of their party’s candidates, both Kenney’s and the UCP’s normally prolific social media feeds were silent last night.

After announcing his win on social media, Jean said he would soon travel the province, presumably to rally opposition to Kenney ahead of the leadership review.

If he’s allowed to run under the UCP banner, Jean’s convincing win means the UCP candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election will also be an openly anti-Kenney candidate.

Mancini congratulates Jean

Alberta NDP candidate Ariana Mancini in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election
Ariana Mancini

Alberta NDP candidate Ariana Mancini released a statement congratulating Jean on his nomination.

“I want to congratulate Brian Jean on being nominated as the United Conservative Party candidate in the coming Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.”

“Mr. Jean has made it clear, even this evening, that he is running because of his rivalry with Jason Kenney. I am running for the people of Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche. UCP MLAs haven’t delivered for our region. I am focused on job creation, improving public healthcare, protecting public education, protecting our community from flood and fire, and ensuring we have reliable EMS.”

Mancini was joined by NDP leader Rachel Notley at a nomination rally held last week in Fort McMurray.

Another former Wildrose Party leader, Paul Hinman, announced he is also running in the by-election, but this time as leader of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party.


I am building a list of candidates running for party nominations ahead of Alberta’s expected 2023 provincial election. If I have missed any candidates on my list, please post a comment below or send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

Categories
Alberta Politics

Teacher Ariana Mancini running for Alberta NDP nomination in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election

Fort McMurray teacher Ariana Mancini is running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche ahead of the upcoming by-election in the riding.

Mancini teaches Grade 4 at Ecole Dickinsfield School in Fort McMurray and is on the executive of Fort McMurray Local 48 of the Alberta Teachers Association.

“Conservatives have failed to deliver on the promises they made in the last election. Their corporate tax cuts haven’t created the jobs they promised,” Mancini said in a press release. “Under Jason Kenney, life is getting more expensive: income taxes are up, insurance rates are up, electricity rates are up, tuition is up.

“It’s time we had representation in our region that believed in making life more affordable for families,” Mancini said.

Don Scott MLA Fort McMurray Conklin
Don Scott

A nomination meeting is scheduled for Dec. 9 and Mancini is expected to be acclaimed. NDP leader Rachel Notley will be in Fort McMurray for what the party describes will be a nomination rally.

This will be Mancini’s second time running for the provincial NDP.

In 2015 she placed second behind Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean (who is also running for the United Conservative Party nomination to run this by-election) and ahead of incumbent Progressive Conservative MLA Don Scott (who would later serve as Mayor of Wood Buffalo from 2017 to 2021) in the former Fort McMurray-Conklin riding.

NDP are the underdog in this race

Despite Notley’s NDP leading in the province-wide polls since last November and Premier Jason Kenney reaching record low approval ratings, it will be an uphill battle for any party other than the UCP to win this by-election. Voters in this region of north east Alberta have reliably elected Conservative candidates for over three decades.

Leo Piquette NDP MLA Athabasca-Lac La Biche
Leo Piquette

Popular municipal councillor Jane Stroud was only able to earn 24 per cent as the NDP candidate in the 2019 election, and you have to look all the way back to 1986 to find the last time a New Democrat was elected in the area (NDP MLA Leo Piquette represented Athabasca-Lac La Biche from 1986 to 1989).

The last time a candidate from a non-Conservative party was elected in this area was in 1993, when Adam Germain was elected in Fort McMurray and Paul Langevin was elected in Lac La Biche-St. Paul under the Liberal Party banner (though, the Liberals in that election were arguably more conservative than they have ever been since).

All that said, by-elections can sometimes produce unexpected results.

The nasty feud between Jean and Kenney, unhappiness with the UCP’s response to COVID-19, persistent high unemployment, displeasure with the forced provincial centralization of ambulance dispatch, and skepticism about the UCP’s move to abandon the RCMP and form a provincial police force might just be a few of the issues that help voters decide who to cast their ballot.

The by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche must be called by Feb. 15, 2022.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Kenney walks away from UCP AGM largely unscathed. Next up: defeating Brian Jean.

Premier Jason Kenney appeared to walk away mostly unscathed from last weekend’s United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney United Conservative Party AGM
Jason Kenney

Kenney delivered a much-watched keynote speech to more than a thousand UCP delegates that appears to have been generally well-received, though sounded like it might have been more appropriately aimed at a Chamber of Commerce or business crowd luncheon than a room of partisans hungry for more partisanship.

Kenney’s speech and it’s focus on the economy, and not his government’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic and failed “Open for Summer” plan, gives an indication of the direction the Premier and his inner circle believe they need to shift their message in order to salvage his embattled leadership and the party’s chances of winning re-election in 2023.

Regardless, Kenney tried hard to present an upbeat appearance, but as anyone who follows politics will know – party conventions are all production and all a show.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Kenney commanded the support of the convention, though he lost a critical vote on a special resolution that would have increased the number of constituency associations able to trigger a leadership vote from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

The motion received support from 57 per cent of delegates but fell short of the 75 per cent required to make the constitutional change.

This small defeat came less than a week after 22 UCP constituency associations announced they had passed an identical motion calling for an already scheduled April review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved to before March 1, 2022.

Cynthia Moore United Conservative Party President
Cynthia Moore

The new UCP President, Cynthia Moore, has said the newly elected party board will review the motions, though conservatives I’ve spoken with suggest that Kenney’s supporters are energetically searching for a technicality to disqualify the motions for an earlier vote.

Recent public opinion polls have shown Kenney with a 22 per cent approval rating among Albertans and his party has trailed Rachel Notley‘s Alberta NDP in the polls since November 2020, which has led to a growing number of UCP MLAs, including former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer, willing to publicly criticize his leadership or call for his resignation.

Even MLAs who are reluctant to publicly criticize Kenney are reluctant to publicly defend him.

Maclean’s columnist Jason Markusoff tweeted from the convention that reporters “asked Fort McMurray MLA Tany Yao how many members here want Kenney as leader. Half, he said. Does he want Kenney as leader? Sighed, said “you’ve put me in a tough spot,” then a minister’s press secretary whisked him away.”

Daniel Williams UCP Peace River
Daniel Williams

But perhaps the most interesting part of the convention was the vote by UCP delegates to pass a motion in support of conscience rights for health care professionals, which critics say could lead to the denial of access to women’s health and abortion services. A private members bill supporting conscience rights introduced into the Legislature by Peace River MLA and Kenney acolyte Dan Williams (now a parliamentary secretary – see below) failed at committee last year.

The passage of the policy at the UCP convention might provide an idea of how strong the different parts of the conservative coalition dominate the UCP right now, in this case – social conservatives.

Support for conscience rights for health care professionals stirred up quite a bit of controversy and backlash against the Wildrose Party during the 2012 provincial election.

It is unclear in what ways health professionals are being denied freedom of conscience at the moment,” penned the Globe & Mail editorial board on April 9, 2012.

Are doctors being required to perform abortions against their will? If so, no public complaint has been made that we are aware of. Would doctors have the right to swear off treating patients of the opposite sex? Would family physicians be entitled to refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or could they insist, when faced with a teenage girl, on counselling abstinence only?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

And speaking of the Wildrose Party, former party leader Danielle Smith was at the AGM and publicly mused to a reporter from Derek Fildebrandt‘s Western Standard website that she would run for the leadership of the UCP if Kenney’s stepped down.

Smith was quick to clarify to subscribers to her weekly email newsletter that she was merely musing and that she is not planning to run because the job is already filled. But that Smith could so casually make a comment like that to a reporter while standing in the same convention ball room as the current leader is embarrassing for Kenney.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede Alberta
Brian Jean

After leading the party from obscurity to the brink of forming government, Smith famously crossed the floor along with a dozen other Wildrose MLAs to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party in 2014 – a move that ended up gutting both parties and helping pave the way for Notley’s NDP to win the 2015 election.

And, continuing the blast from the past theme is another former Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, who is weeks away from potentially being selected as the UCP candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election – that is, if he is not stopped by Joshua Gogo, a Fort McMurray economist.

Jean is probably Kenney’s main target now.

Trying to defeat him in the nomination vote, which is set for December 11 according to the Elections Alberta website, is likely one of the first steps the Premier will take in trying to reconsolidate his support in the UCP ahead of the next year’s leadership review – whether it be held in April or February.

Joshua Gogo
Joshua Gogo

Kenney has recently criticized Jean and questioned his political record after resigning before finishing his elected terms as a Member of Parliament and MLA for Fort McMurray, criticisms that were echoed by the Premier’s political staff on social media.

Also hanging out there is the Kamikaze campaign that Kenney’s closest advisors helped manufacture as part of the effort to defeat Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership race and the ongoing RCMP investigation into alleged voter fraud.

If he is not able to stop Jean from winning the nomination, Kenney will probably a harder time pretending he’s in an upbeat mood.


Kenney names five new parliamentary secretaries

Premier Kenney announced that five UCP MLAs have been appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries, roles that do not bring any additional salary but are a sign of which backbenchers could be on track for promotions to cabinet in the future – and which backbenchers a party leader in trouble is trying to solidify support from.

Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Parks for Water Stewardship. He also serves as UCP Caucus Chair.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Culture and for la Francophonie. Before returning to Alberta to seek the UCP nomination, Williams worked in Ottawa for Kenney while he served as a federal cabinet minister.

Both Neudorf and Williams also sit as the MLA representatives on the UCP Board of Directors.

Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely is Parliamentary Secretary to the Associate Minister of Status of Women. Lovely was first elected as MLA for Camrose in 2019 and previously ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015.

Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Services for Civil Society. Nixon was first elected as MLA in 2019 and previously ran as a Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Klein in 2012 and 2015. Nixon was removed from his previous role as parliamentary secretary for civil society after disregarding COVID-19 restrictions and traveling to Hawaii for a hot holiday in December 2020. He is the brother of Environment & Parks Minister and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy. A former Spruce Grove City Councillor, Turton was widely rumoured to have been a potential pick for Minister of Municipal Affairs following Tracy Allard’s demotion in Jan. 2021. Turton also serves as the private sector union liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration.

Categories
Alberta Politics

A look at this weekend’s UCP AGM as the formerly One-Big-Happy-Conservative-Family gathers for its first in-person convention since 2019

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s good news week ahead of this weekend’s United Conservative Party annual general meeting was largely overshadowed by a slow motion rebellion in his party.

While the Premier wanted to talk about childcare and the economy, a disgruntled group of UCP constituency presidents announced Monday morning that they had convinced 22 constituency associations to pass identical motions calling for a review of Kenney’s leadership to be moved before March 1, 2022.

The leadership review had been pushed to April 2022 from fall 2022 after Kenney averted a caucus revolt over the summer.

a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.
a map of the United Conservative Party constituency associations that have passed motions calling for a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership before March 1, 2022.

According to recent polling, Kenney is the least popular Premier in Canada, sitting at 22 per cent approval among Albertans, and his party has floundered in the polls and fundraising for the past year.

Rachel Notley would be Premier once again if an election were held today, which will surely be a future on the minds of many UCP activists this weekend.

Kenney’s fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the problem, but so to is his cabinet’s decision to wage a multi-front war against everyone from Alberta’s parks, nurses and teachers while trying to open the Rocky Mountains up to open-pit coal mining.

A party that famously promised “Jobs, Economy and Pipelines” in the 2019 election has delivered everything but.

When the business of the meeting begins, special resolutions will only be able to be brought to the floor of the AGM by Kenney and one resolution being introduced by the Kenney-friendly UCP association in Edmonton-North West would increase the number of constituency associations needed to trigger an early leadership review from 1/4 of 87 to 1/3 of 87.

A list of of the 22 constituency associations who passed the motion calling for an early review shows that this is largely a rural revolt against Kenney’s leadership, likely from the unruly rural Wildrose-side of the party, which has never been satisfied to subjugate itself to to the kind of centralized leadership that the Premier would have been comfortable with in Ottawa.

The first signatory of the letter from the 22 was a name that would be quite familiar to Kenney – Jack Redekop – the current president of the Calgary-Fish Creek UCP and former president of Kenney’s won former federal electoral district association in Calgary-Midnapore.

One of the common criticisms of Kenney is that he has become detached from the party’s organization and local leadership since his election as Premier in 2019. Wildrosers who don’t like a centralized party leadership are unhappy, as are former Progressive Conservatives, who might be accustomed to more attention and access to their leadership.

The two groups have also discovered that all the things they disliked about each others politics when they were two parties are still there, except now they are in the same party.

The revolt hasn’t been limited to the party membership.

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and former UCP deputy leader Leela Aheer in happier time (source: YouTube)

Four MLAs – Chestemere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried – have either publicly called for Kenney to resign or have openly criticized his leadership. And while most of their colleagues have avoided making public comments about Kenney’s leadership, the unhappiness among UCP MLAs and their staff is palpable.

There has been a steady stream of high-profile political staffers leaving their positions in the UCP government for jobs in the private sector. This past month saw the departure of press secretary Blaise Boehmer, who levelled some pretty heavy criticisms against Kenney, and UCP Caucus executive director Brittany Baltimore, who both recently took jobs with government relations companies.

Guthrie levelled allegations to the UCP Caucus this week that Political Action Committees supporting Kenney were paying the delegate fees of supporters in order to stack the votes in favour of the Premier during the AGM.

Peter Guthrie MLA Airdrie-Cochrane UCP Communism
Peter Guthrie

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in his most recent column that a private company was organizing to send delegates in order to curry favour with UCP cabinet ministers if Kenney survives his leadership challenges.

Independent MLA Todd Loewen , who was kicked out of the UCP Caucus earlier this year for calling on Kenney to resign, and Edmonton-South NDP MLA Thomas Dang wrote letters to the Chief Elections Officer asking his office to investigate the allegations.

Albertans, and UCP members, are angry at Kenney, but aside from former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean who is running for the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, there is no obvious heir apparent inside the UCP for his opponents to rally around.

Cynthia Moore has been acclaimed as President and Sonia Kont acclaimed as Vice President of Fundraising, but there are races for the Secretary and Vice President of Communications positions.

Central Peace-Notley UCP President Samantha Steinke, who has publicly called for an early leadership review, is challenging incumbent Ruven Rajoo for VP Communications. Red Deer-South constituency President Janis Nett and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo President Vicki Kozmak-LeFrense are running for the Secretary position, which was made vacant when former Secretary Cathy Smith resigned earlier this year.

A number of candidates are contesting regional director positions, including Sundre-resident Heidi Overguard, who was appointed by the UCP government to the Board of Directors of Alberta Health Services in Nov. 2019.

Meanwhile, UCP members will be lining up at the microphone to debate policies about cancel culture, private health care, private schools, and hydrogen, among other issues. The CBC reported that Kenney’s office instructed staffers to vote down policies “introducing a provincial sales tax, relocalizing 911 dispatch, a moratorium on new coal exploration and development on the eastern slopes of the Rockies and creating a revenue-neutral Alberta carbon tax to replace the federal backstop.”

This weekend’s convention will be a much different affair from the party’s last in-person annual general meeting after it’s big win in the 2019 election.

Kenney will surely be focused on rallying the party to give him one more chance ahead of next spring’s review, but don’t expect to hear many of the celebratory rallying cries we heard two years ago. The party no longer feels like it is united and it is certainly not the one big conservative happy family that Kenney helped establish in 2017.

The UCP AGM starts at the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary on Friday, Nov. 19 and will wrap up on Sunday, Nov. 21.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Here he goes, again. Brian Jean running for the UCP nomination in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election

Here he goes, again.

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean announced today that he plans to run for the job he quit three years ago.

Jean announced on Facebook that he plans to seek the United Conservative Party nomination in the upcoming Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election. The by-election to replace Laila Goodridge, who was recently elected as a Member of Parliament, needs to be called by Feb. 15, 2022. He is the second candidate to announce after Joshua Gogo entered the race last month.

Jean represented the predecessor riding, Fort McMurray-Conklin, from 2015 until 2018, when he quit after losing the UCP leadership to Jason Kenney.

This is Jean’s second political comeback. His first happened when he was a last minute candidate for the Wildrose Party leadership in 2015 after stepping down as a MP in 2014. He saved the party from the brink of oblivion in that election and became leader of the Official Opposition.

Since leaving the Legislature in 2018, he has become a vocal critic of the government, flirted with western separatism in online columns, and called for Kenney to resign as leader of the UCP.

“Something must be done or Rachel Notley will win the next election with an overwhelming majority,” Jean wrote on Facebook of the popular NDP leader who’s party has been leading in the polls since last November, once again publicly signalling his lack of confidence in Kenney.

Jean has every reason to dislike Kenney after an alleged Kamakaze campaign was organized against him during the UCP leadership race, and since quitting he has appeared to take pleasure in poking at his rival from the sidelines.

Jean was even spotted at a Calgary Stampede BBQ hosted by ousted UCP MLAs Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen over the summer.

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney
Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

There is little doubt that he could win the nomination and the by-election. He is a well-known and popular figure in Fort McMurray, and he comes across as affable and down to earth to anyone who meets him. His lack of stick-to-it-iveness should probably raise some concerns, but at this point local conservatives might just be hopeful to find a candidate who can reliably hold on to the seat.

The question is whether the increasingly unpopular Kenney will allow a rival who has openly called for his resignation to run under his party’s banner?

And if Jean isn’t allowed to run for Kenney’s party, will he run as an Independent or for another party, like the struggling Wildrose Independence Party.

Of course, Jean isn’t alone in calling for Kenney’s resignation.

Leela Aheer and Brian Jean
Leela Aheer and Brian Jean

His former colleague, UCP MLA Leela Aheer, stood at a podium in the Legislature Rotunda last week to call for the Premier to step down and she does not appear to have faced any consequences. Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried has been openly agitating for an leadership review to be held before March 1.

No emergency caucus meeting was held to kick them out, and perhaps more notably, no Kenney loyalists in the cabinet or caucus stepped up to rebuke them and defend their leader. The silence was deafening.

So, Jean now wants his seat back, and he probably wants his party back too.


It is not uncommon for party leaders and politicians to spend time in ridings where by-elections are expected,

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was in Fort McMurray in October meeting with community groups and highlighting the UCP government’s failure to stop the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which overwhelmed the staff at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous, who served as Economic Development Minister in the first Notley government, is in Fort McMurray this week and has posted a series of videos about his visit on Instagram.

The UCP Caucus was scheduled to hold its annual retreat in Fort McMurray on Sept. 15 and 16, but the event that would have brought most UCP MLAs to the northeast Alberta city ahead of the by-election was abruptly canceled on Sept. 10 after rumours that Kenney was facing a caucus revolt. Kenney also cancelled his scheduled Sept. 15 keynote speech to the annual Oil Sands Conference and Trade Show, which the UCP Caucus retreat was planned around.