Providing a distraction from the four provincial by-elections currently being held in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that federal by-elections will be held in Ontario’s Whitby-Oshawa riding and Alberta’s Yellowhead riding.
The Yellowhead by-election is triggered by the resignation of five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield, who was appointed by Premier Jim Prentice as Alberta’s envoy in Washington D.C.
The Hinton Voice reported on September 25 that two candidates were seeking the federal Conservative nomination in this riding. Former Yellowhead Conservatives President Jim Eglinski served as Mayor of Fort St. John from 2005 to 2008 and Gerald Soroka has has served as the Mayor of Yellowhead County since 2007.
According to the Voice, Hinton Town Councillor and local social studies teacher Ryan Maguhn filed his papers to become the Liberal Party candidate.
Yellowhead voted solidly Conservative riding in the 2011 election. Conservative candidate Mr. Merrifield earned 77% of the total vote in Yellowhead, with NDP candidate Mark Wells earning 13%. Green candidate Monika Shaeffer placed third with 5.1% and Liberal Zack Siezmagraff placed fourth with 2.8%.
The riding was represented by former Prime Minister Joe Clark from 1979 to 1993. In the 1988 election, Mr. Clark faced Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who he defeated 44% to 27%. Five years later, in the 1993 election, Reform Party candidate Cliff Breitkreuz was elected with 55% of the vote. He represented the riding in Ottawa until Mr. Merrifield was first elected in 2000.
I am confident that the LPC convention this past weekend, which I attended as a delegate and past candidate for AB-Yellowhead , is an event that I will look back at in 50 years and tell people, “I was there”.
For those of you who pithily pontificate that the Liberal Party does not fully comprehend the gravity and seriousness of its situation following the 2011 election – we know. Lord in heaven, do we know. As I chatted and dialogued with over 3,200 fellow Liberals in Ottawa, I found unimaginable optimism. With the Harper majority, we have several years to renew and reinvent ourselves – and enough time to get it right.
I believe we have passed the tipping point towards full renewal. We had several bold policy initiatives and constitutional changes on the docket, and with a 2/3 majority required to pass them, there was no certainty at all heading into the convention that the delegates would opt for change and bold ideas as opposed to maintaining the status quo (which won us a great majority in 1980 but hasn’t done much since).
Although we retained leader veto over specific policy and the ability of the leader to appoint candidates, we made several seismic structural changes that have set the stage for the Liberal Renaissance.
First – we are now the most open federal party in the history of the country with the adoption of the “supporter” system. Those delegates that spoke at the microphone for the “No” side of this resolution pleaded that this would open the party to be hijacked by special interests. I marched up to the yes microphone and I told 2,000 Liberals (and whoever was watching on CPAC) that in order for this party to truly become a party of the people, we cannot be afraid of Canadians, we must embrace them. The more voices we have, the better our platform will be. The more Canadians we engage, the more that will trust us with their vote in 2015. Against the odds most pundits and talking heads predicated – the party agreed.
Second – rejecting Sheila Copps for party President, we collectively rejected the leader-centric “Messiah” model in favour of pragmatism. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Ms. Copps, and as talented and dedicated as she would have been, electing her as party President would have sent the wrong message about renewal. Her presence is a reminder of the destructive leadership wars of the 1990s, and I am not convinced that she would not have implicitly gravitated toward the “winning formula” of the 1990s, a formula that only works with a shattered and splintered opposition. Furthermore, I doubt she would have remained in the background. She made more TV appearances in the weeks up to the convention than past President Alf Apps has made in his lifetime.
Third – the policy we passed is Liberal and is in concert with current Canadian sentiment. We rejected the option of severing ties with the monarchy. (For the undecided in the room, all it took was a delegate to march up to the microphone and thunder “Two words: PRESIDENT HARPER”.) We recognized the need for innovation in our infrastructure, and reaffirmed our commitment to development of the oilsands in an environmentally sustainable way.
But of course – the pot resolution. Like most, I was sceptical it would pass. But when I saw the results on the gigantic screen – well over the required 2/3 to pass – I had a profound realization. This convention, with all of the national media in the room – said loud and clear that we are no longer afraid to be Liberal.
As a Liberal, I believe in evidence based policy. I also believe in creative solutions to challenging problems. And I am not afraid to defend my position.
During the tumult of the minority parliaments, we were afraid. Time and again we capitulated to Harper in order to avoid bringing down the government. We did not have the balls to stand up to him – especially on crime. Terrified of the inevitable barrage of “soft on crime” ads, we lied about who we were.
No longer. Not a single person spoke against the pot resolution by arguing that we should be afraid of what Harper will do to us. No one trembled at the thought of an apoplectic Vic Towes predicting Armageddon should this policy come into effect. Why? Because we have evidence, science, and Canadian public opinion on our side. Imagine that. A policy based on evidence. (I’ll explain “evidence” to Gary Goodyear later.)
We opened the party. We took bold policy initiatives. We rejected the celebrity President in favour of a backroom business man with a brilliant vision. And we weren’t afraid to adopt a bold stance on a taboo subject and we will not be afraid to be Liberal.
And we also realize that our return to power will not be easy, and it may take more than one election. The arrogant Liberal Party that sent 3 “power brokers” to Harvard to pluck the next Prime Minister of Canada out of academic obscurity, complete with rigging the local riding nomination to shut out the two local candidates who signed up hundreds of new members, is no more. Casting our eyes south to the hysterical partisanship of a two-party state, we are secure in our belief that there must continue to be a Liberal Party of Canada.
So where does Alberta fit in? Well I learned something astounding. Albertan Liberals are held in tremendous regard by Eastern Liberals. Why? Because given the uphill battle we face in Alberta, our commitment to the Liberal Party is sincere. The supporter motion was born at the Alberta Liberal Party level, and part of the reason I helped convince the delegates to adopt that motion was the fact that the ALP database grew by over 1,000% during the course of last year’s leadership race.
The Liberal Party recognizes that the days of winning majorities with only a smattering of seats in the prairies (see Trudeau, Chretien) are over. There is a sincere and honest desire to build a grassroots, national party. As one delegate put it to me, “when we win a seat in Alberta, it will electrify the whole party.” And I know it can be done. Our new President made it clear that grassroots rebuilding in Alberta is a priority. The Liberal Party gets it. We cannot govern – in fact, I would argue we don’t deserve to govern – unless we can command support across this great nation.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Boy, did we ever (re)invent!
Zack Siezmagraff is a fixture in the Edmonton Liberal community. He ran for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2011 election in Yellowhead , and currently serves as the President of the Edmonton-Glenora Provincial Liberal Association. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackSiezmagraff.
As the contests to replace the leaders of the governing Progressive Conservative Party and the Opposition Liberal Party and new Alberta Party grab the media spotlight, political parties have been quietly nominating candidates for the next election. I have been keeping track of the nominated and declared candidates across the province and this post focuses on the candidates stepping up to stand for election in Edmonton.
There is little reason to believe that constituencies in Edmonton will be any less competitive than they have been over the past 25 years and the rise of the Wildrose Alliance in public opinion polls will certainly effect the electoral environment in ways that we have not seen in previous elections.
Former MLA David Eggen has secured the NDP nomination and will attempt to win back the constituency that he represented from 2004 to 2008. The boundary changes presented in the interim report of the Electoral Boundaries Committee convinced Mr. Eggen to initially seek his party’s nomination in neighboring Edmonton-Glenora, but the final report’s boundaries shifted key neighbourhoods back to his former constituency.
The incumbent MLA, PC backbencher Doug Elniski, defeated Mr. Eggen by 201 votes in 2008. An amiable guy, Mr. Elniski has suffered from a few unfortunate public mis-speaks in his first term. Calder may be the truest “swing-riding” in Alberta, as it has been represented by PCs, New Democrats, and Liberals since 1986 and in the same time only twice re-elected an incumbent to a second term.
Incumbent backbench PC MLA Tony Vandermeer was elected in 2008 by defeating NDP MLA Ray Martin by 337 votes (Mr. Martin is now the federal NDP candidate in Edmonton-East). Mr. Vandermeer also served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Manning between 2001 and 2004. The NDP have nominated teacher Deron Bilous, who was his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Centre in the 2008 election.
First-term PC backbencher Janice Sarich made the transition from Catholic School District Trustee to MLA in 2008, snatching this seat from Liberal MLA Bill Bonko by 682 votes. Mrs. Sarich’s victory marked the first time that the PCs elected an MLA in this area since 1982. The Liberals have yet to officially nominate their candidate, but Zack Siezmagraff has started his campaign to reclaim the constituency for his party. The NDP have nominated Sheriff Ali Haymour as their candidate. Mr. Haymour was his party’s 2008 candidate in the neighboring Edmonton-Castle Downs, where he earned 9.6% against incumbent MLA Thomas Lukaszuk.
Incumbent Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald is expected to seek re-election in the constituency he has represented since 1997. The only nominated challenger is New Democrat Marlin Schmidt, who is also President of his party’s electoral district association in the federal riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. Mr. MacDonald could face another dog-fight with his 2008 PC challenger David Dorward, who built a substantial amount of name recognition after his unsuccessful Mayoral bid in 2010.
Elected as a PC in 2008, Dr. Raj Sherman became an Independent MLA after being kicked out of the PC caucus in November 2010. Dr. Sherman has used his position as a vocal critic of the PC government’s record on health care to become a sort of political folk hero for Albertans, but recent comments have rubbed off some of his political shine. The constituency has been represented for most of the past 20 years by Liberal MLAs, most recently Maurice Tougas until 2008. Notwithstanding that party’s long history in the constituency, it has yet to nominate a candidate for the next election. Local Wildrose constituency President Rick Newcombe has expressed an interest in being his party’s candidate, but has yet to official declare his intentions.
Former Liberal MLA Weslyn Mather will attempt to reclaim the constituency she lost to PC Carl Benito in 2008. Since being elected, Mr. Benito has become the source of amusement/ridicule for his strident support of Alberta’s official mushroom, his broken promise to donate his entire MLA salary to a scholarship fund, and his publicly blaming his wife for not filing his property taxes for two years. The NDP have nominated AUPE Vice-President Sandra Azocar as their candidate and are hoping that former Liberal-represented middle-class constituencies like Mill Woods are places that they can grow.
The retirement of three-term Liberal MLA Kevin Taft will leave big shoes for candidates in this constituency to fill. I spoke with 2008 PC candidate Wendy Andrews at last week’s Speech from the Throne and she told me that she was still undecided about whether she wanted to run again. The Liberals have yet to hold a nomination meeting and the only candidate to publicly declare interest is consultant and Rotarian Arif Khan. I have heard rumors that former Public School Board Trustee Don Fleming may be interested in seeking the nomination. The NDP will nominate College of Social Workers coordinator Lori Sigurdson and are hoping that the votes MP Linda Duncan received in this area can be translated provincially. The Wildrose Alliance have nominated John Corie.
With three challengers already nominated, first-term PC backbencher Fred Horne has his work cut out for him. His main challenger at this point is former Liberal MLA Rick Miller, who represented the constituency from 2004 until 2008 when he was unexpectedly unseated by Mr. Horne. Mr. Miller has stayed involved in politics since 2008 as the Chief of Staff for the Liberal Official Opposition. The NDP have nominated Melanie Samaroden as their candidate and the Wildrose have re-nominated their 2008 candidate Kyle McLeod.
An overview of nominations in Calgary constituencies will be posted later this week.
The sudden Tuesday morning announcement by Premier Ed Stelmach that he will resign before the next election caught many people by surprise, but beyond the broad statement there was little detail about when he would actually resign and when he would be replaced. At a press conference in Calgary yesterday, Premier Stelmach gave a little more detail saying that he would continue in his role until at least the end of the Spring Session of the Legislature.
Morton’s savvy move
Yesterday’s departure of Finance Minister Ted Moron from the provincial cabinet is an unsurprising move by the conservative former University professor. Dr. Morton’s resignation as Finance Minister will allow him to concentrate on his leadership bid and more importantly distances himself from a 2011 budget which is expected to include a substantial deficit, which would hurt his credibility among his conservative supporters.
Not having to stand up on the Legislative Assembly floor and present a deficit budget in 2011 will not give the Wildrose Alliance the pleasure of attacking his credentials as a fiscal hawk (or fiscal mallard). The battle over whether to accept a deficit or balance the budget (resulting in serious budget cuts) was a fight that is suspected to have contributed heavily on Premier Stelmach’s resignation announcement earlier this week.
Lloyd from Lloydminster
Mr. Morton’s departure from cabinet made way for Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove‘s appointment as Minister of Finance. Minister Snelgrove was first elected as the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster in 2001, replacing former Finance Minister Steve West (who was known as Dr. Death for the part he played in the government cuts of the 1990). Minister Snelgrove was one of the nine MLAs who supported Premier Stelmach’s bid for the PC leadership in 2006 and has been a key member of the Premier’s inner circle since.
Video interviews with Danielle Smith and Jonathan Denis
The Economist published a review of Alberta’s current political situation titled “Prairie fire” that gives a good synopsis of the PC leadership strife, the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, and the growth of the new Alberta Party with its first MLA Dave Taylor.
Another Liberal departure
Media Coordinator Tanara McLean is leaving the Liberal Caucus to take a position with SunTV reporter starting next month. This will be the second departure from the Liberal Communications Office in 2011. Communications Director Neil Mackie left in early January.
Raj Sherman Media Conference
Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman held a media conference yesterday to announce that he will be entering the Spring Session of the Legislature as an Independent MLA. He also reminded the media of his upcoming townhall tour with the Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen.