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Saturday, January 30, 2010

dear ontario punditry; re: alberta.

This post is aimed at the largely Ontario-based media and their sudden interest in Alberta politics. Since the selection of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, political pundits from all the major Ontario-based television and print outlets appear to have jumped aboard the "pay attention to Alberta politics" train, which has led to a new round of half-informed commentary from the normally centre of the Universe-centric pundit gallery. For our friends in central Canada, who have taken a sudden interest in Alberta politics, and more specifically election results, please be aware that Albertans are not a colony of simpleton farmers and oil industry cowboys who all march in-step and mindlessly vote for the Government Party every four years.

Alberta is the most urbanized province in Canada (81% of the population living in urban areas) and the Edmonton-Calgary corridor is one of the most urbanized regions in Canada. We are the third most diverse province in terms of visible minorities. Calgary is the third most diverse Canadian city in terms of visible minorities (after Toronto and British Columbia's lower mainland) and Edmonton is more diverse than the small cities known as Montreal and Ottawa in the same category. We are people of many faiths and we are also the province with the second highest percentage of self-identified non-religious people. Calgary was the birthplace of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor of the NDP. Alberta is the first jurisdiction in the British Commonwealth to have elected a female legislator and a female Alderman. Alberta is the home of ColdFX and Bioware. We face some of the same challenges as other provinces and we face some unique of our own.

Our politicians may leave a lot to be desired, but so do yours. Alberta's political culture is a lot more diverse than the common mythology will tell you. So, before you join your fellow Upper Canada College alumni for high tea at the Canadian Club to tell stories of how the western simpletons have made the intellectual leap and discovered democratic choice, please take a glance at the charts below. The next time you hear someone pose the question "who do Albertans turn to when they are not happy with their government?," ask yourself if that that question would sound just as ridiculous if you were talking about Ontarians.

Total Vote: PC versus Combined Opposition (Alberta 1971-2008)

Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Total Elected MLAs: PC versus Combined Opposition (Alberta 1971-2008)

Total Elected MLAs: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

upside-down week.

Shuffling the deck.

Long-time Government spokesperson Jerry Bellikka replaces Tom Olsen as spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach (Olsen now becomes Alberta's Olympic Spokesperson in Vancouver). Former MLA Jim Gurnett replaces Jerry Toews as Chief of Staff at the NDP caucus. Instead of laughing at satire, PAB blogger David Sands leaves Twitter altogether. Taking a more open approach to the media than his predecessor, Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky's cell phone number is now showing up on Government media releases.

Not your father's NEP

With new Energy Minister Ron Liepert's mandate to reclaim PC dominance over energy sector support from Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals do not want to be left out. Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leading his party's 180-degree policy change from their previous position that resource royalties are too low. On the policy change, Mount Royal University Professor Bruce Foster told FFWD:

“It seems as if the Liberals didn’t take the lead on this or didn’t distinguish themselves and now they’re playing catch-up,” he says.
Calgary Grit has more.

Alberta Party of Alberta

Former deputy leader of the now-defunct Alberta Green Party Edwin Erickson is now leader of the Alberta Party. In the last election, Erickson placed second with 19% of the vote against Tory Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Erickson and Joe Anglin led the fight against Bill 50 and Erickson had publicly mused about creating the Progress Party of Alberta. The Alberta Party has existed in a number of forms since 1986, but has never been competitive (highest support: leader Mark Waters earned 1,200 votes in Calgary-Currie in 1993).

Ralph University

Olds College has re-named their Community Learning Centre after former Premier Ralph Klein and not everyone in Olds is enamoured with the decision.

Monday, January 25, 2010

does policy matter?

Last week's posts "Danielle Smith's Free-ride" and "PC Policy Veep defects to the Wildrose Alliance" generated a lot of heated discussion and responses from at least three other bloggers either supporting (Alberta Altruist and Brian Dell) or criticizing (David Climenhaga) the policy positions of the Wildrose Alliance. These posts and the debate that followed in the comment sections has led me to ask the question: how much does party policy really matter?

The defection of Progressive Conservative Party Vice-President Policy and Resolution Shayne Saskiw to the Wildrose Alliance has raised questions about how much influence do PC Party members have on the actual policy that a government implements? According to Saskiw, not much.

"I was able to give their opinions on policy to the government, but the government was not acting on their advice."
This is not a surprise, nor a new criticism of how responsive governments are to ordinary citizens - engaged or otherwise. Does anyone remember Premier Ed Stelmach campaigning on the PC Party platform of dissolving the regional health authorities and centralizing control into the largest employer in the province? It was not mentioned in the "Change that Works for Albertans" (PDF) document, nor do know of any PC candidates who campaigned on this policy position. Perhaps after nearly 40 years in government, the upper echelons of power at the Legislature feel that the election process is simply a formality. Perhaps the PC Party interpreted the 52% support they received in the election that recorded the lowest voter turnout in Alberta history equal a blank check mandate?

It would be wrong to suggest that policy does not matter, because it does. It is important to recognize that in many cases, the majority of challenges that a government will deal with during a term in office will be reactive. In these cases, it is important to recognize leadership and which elected official or officials will offer the kind of leadership that will be best suited to dealing with reactive situations. For example, mainstream business and economic forecasters were predicting smooth sailing ahead during the 2008 election when politicians were practically promising a jet-pack for every citizen. In 2010, the economic outlook is quite a bit more modest (though we are fairing better than our American neighbors).

During my time working with the Liberal Party until 2007, I remember it being normal for policies to be generated from the Official Opposition Caucus offices, rather than the party policy committees. Perhaps this is one of the problems with the traditional political parties in Alberta. They do consult with stakeholders and rely on well-educated researchers and analyst, but in the end, new policies became more about marketing and messaging instead of listening and generating a party membership driven policy apparatus.

This leads me back to Ms. Smith and a statement she made about Wildrose Alliance policy:
"Our party does not take a position on divisive social issues. We prefer to focus on those areas where we agree."
This statement reflects a smart (and so far successful) strategy of positioning the Wildrose Alliance as the moderate conservative/conservatively moderate anti-establishment party in Alberta politics. I have been told that many of Ms. Smith's financial backers in Calgary's oil and gas sector would like to turn the page on the more hard social conservative views that the party has advocated in the past. Refusing to talk about divisive social issues is a smart political tactic, given the positions that her party has taken in the past.

During the 2004 election, the Alliance led by Randy Thorsteinson called for province-wide votes on abortion and same-sex marriage. There have also been questions about the influence that conservative members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had on the development of Alliance policies.

This said, an elected official's personal or religious views on social issues do not necessarily result in major government policy changes. During the 2001 election, Vegreville-Viking MLA Ed Stelmach responded to a questionnaire from LifeSiteNews in which he declared his opposition to abortion under any circumstances (his response to the 2004 election questionnaire is not published online). This was his position nine years ago and may continue to be his position today, but since becoming Premier three years ago, Stelmach has hardly been a champion in the fight against allowing women the choice to access abortions. Like Premier Stelmach's, it would be extremely difficult for Ms. Smith's party to enter a divisive debate on social issues and continue to hold their current mainstream support in the polls.

Tempering the more extreme elements in her party is going to be one of Ms. Smith's largest challenges. In 2009, nearly 2,000 Wildrose Alliance members voted for social conservative candidate Mark Dyrholm. What happens if these "grassroots" dispute Ms. Smith's position? Is Ms. Smith willing to cut them loose in order to avoid the damage of being labeled as the "scary conservative party?" If it reaches the point where push comes to shove, maybe policy will matter.

proud to be an edmontonian: art gallery of alberta.

This afternoon I had the great privilege to join a group of bloggers in Edmonton for an advanced tour of the soon to be re-opened Art Gallery of Alberta. As a resident of downtown Edmonton, I am excited to have such an impressive facility within walking distance of where I both live and work. The grand opening of the gallery will take place on the weekend of January 31, 2010.

Many bloggers on the tour had cameras with them and will undoubtably posts photos and reviews on their blog. I will link to some of them here.

@alexabboud: Inside the Art Gallery of Alberta
@mastermaq: Sneak Peek at the new Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton Art Gallery of Alberta
@lealeaAGA Sneak Peek Art Gallery of Alberta – Sneak Peek
@livingsanctuaryBlogger’s Tour of the Alberta Gallery of Art
@sirthinksArt Gallery of Alberta The new Art Gallery of Alberta
@alainsaffelArt Gallery of Alberta – Q&A session
@zoomjerVideo tour of the AGA

Thursday, January 21, 2010

pc policy veep defects to the wildrose alliance.

This landed in my inbox this afternoon:

Subject: Executive Committee Resignation
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:56:49 -0700

Dear Members of the Executive Committee:

Mr. Shayne Saskiw, until today our VP of Policy and Resolutions, has left us to join the WAP. Although we only received his letter of resignation a few minutes ago, we have expected this move for some time and we also expect the WAP to issue a news release this afternoon. Please refer any media calls to me or to Jim Campbell.

Many of you will know that Mr. Saskiw is one of MLA Rob Anderson's best friends and we believed that Mr. Saskiw would follow Mr. Anderson. We feel it is appropriate that Mr. Saskiw go where he might be more comfortable and we wish him luck. We always hate to lose a volunteer, no matter whether he or she is a member of the Executive or a member of a constituency board. We value our volunteers and the incredible efforts they make on our behalf -therefore, I want to express my thanks and appreciation to you for your continued hard work.

As we had anticipated this move, I have already spoken to an individual who is willing to assume Mr. Saskiw's duties until the 2010 AGM and Convention, when the position is up for election. It is important that we put this person in place as soon as possible so that planning for the 2010 Policy Conference can continue without pause, and I hope for your approval of my proposal at our meeting on Saturday.

Again, thank you for all that you do. I am confident that 2010 is going to be a very good year for PC Alberta and I look forward greatly to seeing you all in two days.

Best regards,

Bill Smith
Mr. Saskiw's position on the PC website is already listed as vacant.

Monday, January 18, 2010

danielle smith's free-ride.

Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta's Official Opposition.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithLet's Make it Happen
Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party's policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith's only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.

Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party's upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.

Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as "draconian," but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier's reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith's party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).

An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as "a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP" and suggested that her "delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best." I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.

The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge's One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer's Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.

Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.

With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?

UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga's list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

tom olsen on ted morton in 2005: "smug. arrogant."

In the bizarre world of interrelationships in Alberta politics, former Calgary Herald columnist Tom Olsen, who is now Premier Ed Stelmach's spokesperson, had some severe words for now-Finance Minister Ted Morton when he chose not to invite the media to breakfast with his supporters. Mr. Olsen penned a vicious critique of Morton on his Herald blog on April 8, 2005:

You might start to believe the whispers that Ted Morton isn’t planning on running for Ralph Klein’s job if his treatment of the media is any indication.
Ted’s having a breakfast Saturday April 9, bright and early (so it doesn’t conflict with any Tory annual general meeting stuff) but he didn’t want to talk about.
“I have breakfast every morning,” he told reporters asking why the early morning event.
“I often meet with friends,” he said, when asked who’d be there.
Smug. Arrogant.
Those are just two of the applicable terms.
Maybe he’s intimidated by the cameras, so has to cover up his insecurity with what he perhaps believes is cleverness.
Bad strategy, though, to anger the media.
“Doesn’t make you want to write anything nice about him,” said one hack, after witnessing Morton’s brief performance.
You need us Ted. Alienation is not step a leadership hopeful should take.
Five years later, it now turns out that Mr. Olsen's boss needs Ted. I understand that people's opinions change from time to time, but this was some pretty irrationally harsh commentary and biased journalism on behalf of Mr. Olsen.

Read much more at Civitatensis.

Friday, January 15, 2010

alberta, this is your cabinet.

Finance Minister Ted Morton has compared Alberta to a buffet.

Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky wants a family unit (think: it's a family affair…)

Housing & Urban Affairs Minister Jonathan Denis wants to send a message to people who use social housing.

He remains Minister of Education, and Dave Hancock faced brutal criticism from +500 of his constituents this week.

Former Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld admits (tongue and cheek) that he was getting "a little long in the tooth."

Energy Minister Ron Liepert wants to limit growth in the oil sands.

Calls to Janis Tarchuk's office were not returned.

Premier Ed Stelmach is already eying the next cabinet shuffle and also talking about sending funds to Haiti… or not? Wait, yes, they are.

Opposition leaders thought the shuffle was akin to shuffle lounge chairs on the Hindenburg, re-shuffling of deck chairs, and re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Creativity points all around.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

alberta cabinet shuffle: a lot of hype.

I am not going to write a lot about today's cabinet shuffle, as there really is not much substance to write about. While three new MLAs have been appointed to the cabinet, the problems facing Premier Ed Stelmach are much larger than anything a minor cabinet shuffle can solve. Today's cabinet change was hardly the dramatic change that it was hyped to be.

Going political and trying to head off the insurgent Wildrose Alliance at the hard-conservative pass was one goal of today's shuffle. This explains the appointment of Ted Morton as Finance Minister. If he can survive in Finance, Premier Stelmach may have just anointed Morton as his unofficial successor. Minister Morton will have a high-profile new role, but much of the Government's financial levers will remain held by Stelmach-loyalist and Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove.

Newly appointed Housing and Urban Affairs & Housing Minister Jonathan Denis is known as nice guy, but also as a pretty comfortable hyper-partisan. Some people I have spoken with expect him to fulfil a political role similar to his former business partner, Pierre Poilievre.

Loyalty was big. Stelmach confidants Luke Ouellette, Ray Danyluk, Iris Evans, and Mel Knight all remain in cabinet. George Groeneveld, Janis Tarchuk, and Fred Lindsay were rightfully bumped out of the cabinet. Not surprisingly, Ron Liepert's departed Health & Wellness to Energy. Where, as Paula Simons suggested that "he'll use his unique brand of charm to win new friends and influence more people." His successor, Gene Zwozdesky will likely bring a more easy going face to one of the more heavy-lifting portfolios in government.

Look for more substantive content in the Ministerial Mandate Letters later this week and the February 9 Provincial Budget.

alberta cabinet shuffled.

I am not completely sure what a "concrete slate of names" means, but Don Braid has an early list of cabinet appointments.

I will provide more commentary once the list is actually released.

Update: Here is the list.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

not as rogue as you would believe.

Paula Simons makes some good points in her column "Alberta Health Services going rogue" but I have a difficult time believing that AHS CEO Stephen Duckett is as "rogue" as her article suggests. While a smart and well-educated man, Mr. Duckett is on the same page as Premier Ed Stelmach and Health Minister Ron Liepert in their haphazard reorganization of Alberta's public health care system. As a friend of mine described it earlier today, "this could be a problem with make-it-up-as-you-go planning, especially in the disorganized budget mess AHS seems to be in."

On May 29, 2008, the AHS Superboard and Minister Liepert signed a Memorandum of Understanding that explicitly gave control to the Health Minister to give any direction to the Board, including "priorities and guidelines", "clinical and operating standards", and "a provincial service delivery plan". Central to the memo is the phrase "The Board shall comply with all directions of the minister." This memo was leaked to Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald, who then released it to the public.

The appearance of the arms-length AHS Superboard is a convenient political arrangement that has served the current government well during the dissolution of the regional health authorities and centralization that followed. Simply put, Mr. Duckett gets to make the unpopular decisions and the politicians get to make the popular ones.

Convenience aside, when political realities begin to interfere with the internal agendas, action comes from the top - as was witnessed when PC MLA Fred Horne challenged changes that would have seen psychiatric patients be charged for toiletries and snacks at Alberta Hospital Edmonton.

There is little doubt that Mr. Duckett holds powerful executive control over Albertans public health care system, but when reality hits, it is the Premier and the Health Minister who are responsible for the decisions made by AHS. And who are they responsible to?

danielle smith gets kissed by a seal.

Photo Credit: Mastermaq

Monday, January 11, 2010

alberta cabinet shuffle.

With a cabinet shuffled expected in the near future (possibly as early as tomorrow), there is no shortage of speculation about who will be shuffled in, out, and around. A cabinet shuffle will put a new face on the tiring PC cabinet that has weathered a brutal public beating on issues ranging from unpopular health care restructuring, Bill 44, resource royalty tinkering, international attention on the oilsands, a by-election defeat, a seismic drop in the polls, and MLA defections.

As I wrote in December 2009, It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. One of Premier Ed Stelmach's greatest challenges is that his government doesn't have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

Iris EvansRon Liepert
Finance Minister Iris Evans may keep her job, but there are strong rumors about a comfy patronage appointment as Alberta's Representative in London, UK. With a strong political pedigree, Doug Horner is a key candidate for promotion - to Finance, or more likely, Health & Wellness. His father, Hugh Horner, served as an MP, MLA, and cabinet minister between 1958 and 1979, including as Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture of Alberta.

The rumor mill appears to have come to an unlikely consensus that Minister Ron Liepert will relieve Minister Mel Knight of his position in Energy. Delicate as a wrecking ball, Minister Liepert oversaw the haphazard dissolution of Alberta's regional health authorities and centralization under the Alberta Health Services 'Superboard.' I am sure that the energy sector will love him.
Iris EvansLindsay Blackett
As the Godfather of Edmonton PC MLAs, Dave Hancock is expected to remain Education Minister, not interrupting the ongoing School Act review. Also expected to remain in their job is Environment Minister Rob Renner, who has proved his ability to deliver a respectful media performance on dirty files like climate change and the oilsands. 

First-term MLA Diana McQueen wooed PC delegates in her introduction of Premier Stelmach at their 2009 leadership review convention. McQueen could be a strong addition to a weak cabinet. After playing interference for Premier Stelmach on the Alberta Hospital Edmonton bed closures, another rookie MLA, Fred Horne, has been rumored to be a candidate for Minister of Health, but more recently has been rumoured to replace Minister Horner in Advanced Education. Horne served as Executive Assistant to Minister Hancock, who also he served in the portfolio.

Long-time Stelmach confidants Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk, and Lloyd Snelgrove will likely stay rewarded for their loyalty, but may be shuffled. Ted Morton is clearly enjoying his current role as Sustainable Resource Development Minister, but columnist Don Braid has suggested that he may be moved to the Treasury Board position. Weak Ministerial performers Lindsay BlackettJanis Tarchuk, Heather Klimchuk, and George Groenveld are also prime targets for being shuffled.

After taking another look at the rumoured shuffle, it does not appear to be much of a change after all. We shall wait and see.

guest post: progressives vs conservatives.

I wish to sincerely thank Dave for giving me the chance to post on his blog. I normally write about boring stuff like Alberta's labour market over in my own blog. Dave is giving me a chance to write about politics, a topic I love but isn't appropriate in my blog.

Alberta has a reputation of being the most conservative province in the country. Indeed, provincially we have elected a conservative government since the 1930's and this province has sent many conservative politicians and parties to Ottawa. When it comes to the bluster and rhetoric of the campaign, Alberta's conservative base tends to dominate. Conservative values tend to appeal to Albertans after dominating the discourse of this province for so long.

But Alberta is also the birth place of the CCF - the forerunner of the NDP - Canada's left wing party. It was founded in Calgary in 1932. In the 1920's Alberta, through the United Farmers movement, was responsible for sending 'Progressives' to Ottawa and caused probably the biggest constitutional crisis (and huge parliamentry drama) in Canada's history.

This post is not a history lesson. But the truth is that Alberta does have a number of active 'progressive' movements to counterbalance the conservative movements that get elected. While the parties may campaign from the right, they most often govern from the centre.

Much is being made about the ascendency of the Wild Rose Alliance. Indeed, this party probably represents the biggest threat to the governing Conservatives since Laurence Decore and the Liberals forced the Tories to rebrand themselves in 1992. I believe Danielle Smith is doing everything right to unseat the Tories. One of her primary spokespeople is Ernie Isely and his message has recently been that the new party needs to 'moderate'. Indeed, the two defections this week were not from hard core raging social conservatives but from moderate tories who have problems with Ed Stelmach's leadership style and the apparent lack of democracy in their old party. 

The 'progressive' parties can't seem to get any traction on Ed or Danielle though. The Liberals can't seem to shake the ghost of the NEP from 30 years ago and nobody wants to listen to the NDP outside of a few ridings in Edmonton. In my opinion, the problem for the progressive side is leadership. They just cannot get a leader who is articulate in front of the camera and can play the political game. Instead, the Wild Rose elected that very leader and is able to capitlize on the province's disaffection of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

So while Danielle says all the right things, the progressives are trying to figure out what the right things are to say. While I agree with the spirit of such movements like Reboot or Renew Alberta, they will not be able to develop a coherant message and organization in time for the 2012 election.

For any Alberta party to be elected they need to build a 'big tent' to bring in a wide range of Albertans. If Danielle and the Wild Rose Alliance continue to do everything right, I see this tent collapsing around Ed Stelmach as hard core and moderate conservative alike move to the WIld Rose. I'm afraid that Ed does not have a lot of appeal to many of the progressives still in his party so I see a lot of the 'red tories' moving to other parties. Alberta history (and Alberta voters) is not kind to former ruling parties. 

It might be too late for the progressives to develop a counter offensive to the momentum already enjoyed by the Wild Rose for 2012. But they can't lie down and die. I believe that there is support for progressive values in Alberta, if we had the right people and the right organization promoting them. There is nothing in Alberta's law that says we need to keep electing the same government for 40 years. If Danielle and her party do get elected, they could be unseated. Realistically, I think Albertans give a particular political brand that they have bought into 12 to 15 years before they tire of it. But now is still the time to build up a movement to rival the conservatives in Alberta. But the message needs to be coherant and it needs to come from one organization, not 2 or 3 or 4. If this happens, then hopefully the Wild Rose Alliance isn't given a mandate to rule Alberta until my own children have children. 

Again, I sincerely thank Dave for giving me a chance to post my views here. And if you want to check out my opinions on Alberta's economy and labour market, check out my blog 'Gas, Cows and Oilsands - Alberta's Labour Market?'

Jason is a born and raised Albertan. He is currently raising a family in Edmonton. He normally writes on labour market issues at

Sunday, January 10, 2010

governing myself accordingly: 732 days later.

I almost missed it. It has now been over two years since January 8, 2008.

from one rentier state to another.

"Under the Patronage of H.H. H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forced," Premier Ed Stelmach will be attending the World Future Energy Summit, thus delaying an expected cabinet shuffle. What had previously been speculation has now been confirmed as delayed by two weeks according to the Premier's spokesperson Tom Olsen.

Premier Stelmach did not attend the recent COP15 conference in Copenhagen, but will be speaking, along with Carbon Capture Czar Jim Carter in Abu Dhabi. If he has the chance, the Premier should take a look at how Rentier States like the UAE (more specifically Dubai) have dealt with hyper-boom situations familiar to Albertans.

No more crossing: Following last week's floor-crossings, Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk has announced that while he may be hypocritical, he will introduce a private members' bill forbidding MLAs to cross the floor. I expect Independent MLA Guy Boutilier to ask if this Bill will also stop party leaders from kicking out MLAs from the party caucus they were elected into. Since 1993, five opposition MLAs have crossed the floor to join the governing PCs (New Democrat Stan Woloshyn, and Liberals Julius Yankowski, Paul Langevin, Andrew Beniuk, and Gene Zwozdesky). In 2008, MLA Dan Backs, who had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus, failed in his attempt to win the PC nomination in Edmonton-Manning.

Newly floor-crossed Wildrose Alliance MLA Rob Anderson received 62% of the vote as a PC candidate in 2008, but past elections show a more diverse electoral history in the region. In a 1992 by-election following the resignation of Airdrie-Three Hills PC MLA Connie Osterman, voters in that riding elected Liberal Don MacDonald by a 24% margin. MacDonald was defeated in the 1993 election by PC candidate Carol Haley. (and later ran as a Social Credit candidate in Old-Didsbury-Three Hills in the 1997 election). While now considered strong PC territory, the neighbouring riding of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hill did not begin electing PC MLAs until 1982. After the resignation of long-time Social Credit MLA Bob Clark, voters in the riding elected Gordon Kesler of the Western Canadian Concept. Kesler was defeated when he ran for re-election in the Highwood riding.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

photo post: wildrose alliance floor-crossers.

I attended the Wildrose Alliance media conference today at the Alberta Legislature. At the conference, leader Danielle Smith and MLAs Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson took some questions. Recall was their big issue. I am not the biggest fan of recall. While they could be more vigourous and competitive, I believe that this is the reason why we have elections every four to five years. Sometimes our elected officials are just plain bad at their jobs and sometimes they have to make really tough (and unpopular) decisions. It is easy to confuse the two. Recall focuses on the negative, rather than recognizing the positive role that our elected officials can play in our communities.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithWildrose Alliance MLAs
Wildrose Alliance MLAsWildrose Alliance MLAs
Wildrose Alliance MLAsWildrose Alliance MLAs
Also, If you are looking for a thoughtful read, Duncan Wojtaszek was written an excellent blog post on the topic of floor-crossing.

Monday, January 04, 2010

will the wildrose alliance now recieve official party status?

According to Alberta's Legislative Assembly Act:

Allowance to leader of recognized opposition party
42(1) In this section, “recognized opposition party” means a party that:
(a) is represented in the Assembly by at least 4 Members, and
(b) received at least 5% of the popular vote in the general election immediately preceding the year in which the allowance in subsection (2) is to be paid.
Will Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski allow an exception for the now three MLA Wildrose Alliance to be a recognized opposition party? While political rather than virtuous, from 1997 to 2004 and 2008 to the present, NDP leader Brian Mason has been recognized as an opposition party leader with a two MLA caucus. The Liberals currently form Official Opposition with nine MLAs and former PC MLA Guy Boutilier now sits as an Independent MLA.

On the March 3, 2008 election, the Wildrose Alliance received 6.77% of the popular vote, but did not elect any MLAs. Even though they now have more MLAs than the officially recognized NDP caucus, there is a possibility that they could be denied official party status because none of the current three MLAs were elected under their current party banner in the previous election.

A precedent for denying the Wildrose Alliance official party status may have been set in 1984, when former Social Credit MLAs Walt Buck and Raymond Speaker formed the Representative Party of Alberta. Both MLAs were elected as Independents in the 1982 election and they were denied official opposition status in the Assembly (their party also did not exist in the previous election). Denying the Wildrose Alliance the status would be a pure political attempt at squashing the insurgent party, but could backfire if it is seen as dirty politics on Premier Ed Stelmach's behalf.

If recognized as the Third Party in the Assembly, Wildrose Alliance MLAs will be afforded a daily spot in the Question Period lineup and will receive additional funding for caucus resources and support staff. Holding Third Party status since 1997, the NDP have be impressively effective at using their spot in the QP line-up to generate media coverage in the past.

(ht @shandro for the Act link)

pc mlas rob anderson and heather forsyth join the wildrose alliance.

As mentioned in an update to my previous post, a media release on Airdrie-Chestermere Progressive Conservative MLA Rob Anderson's website has announced that he and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth are crossing the floor to the Wildrose Alliance. Anderson was quoted in the release:

Over the past two years, I have committed myself to trying to make a positive impact within the government caucus by clearly advocating for the views and needs of my constituents. Unfortunately, the current PC Party Leadership has failed to address my constituent’s concerns and will not permit me to speak publicly about these issues. Instead of remaining silent I have decided to stand up with even greater force for the people who elected me,” stated Anderson. “This is what the citizens of Alberta pay me to do. This is what my constituents expect of me. I have no interest in investing any more of my life and taxpayers’ money defending poor public policy that has been developed by a small band of out-of-touch government appointees and insiders.”
Anderson was first elected in 2008 and Forsyth was first elected in 1993. After serving as Solicitor General and Minister of Children’s Services under Premier Ralph Klein, Forsyth was bumped from cabinet when Premier Ed Stelmach entered office. These defections will now make the Wildrose Alliance caucus the third largest caucus in the Alberta Legislature (with three MLAs), bumping the NDP to fourth.

wildrose code for floor-crossing?

The rumours have been circulating for some time now, and tomorrow Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith will be holding a media conference to announce "significant changes" to their provincial team.

Is this code for "floor crossing"?

Probably not, but there is significant potential that we could see certain Progressive Conservative MLAs cross the floor before the next election (especially if the Wildrose Alliance keeps their poll numbers up).

UPDATE: A media release on Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson's website has announced that he and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth are crossing the floor to the Wildrose Alliance. Anderson was first elected in 2008 and Forsyth was first elected in 1993 (and served in numerous cabinet positions under Premier Ralph Klein). The Wildrose Alliance caucus will now be the third largest caucus in the Alberta Legislature, bumping the NDP to fourth.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

save the date: alberta politics in 2010.

New LG?: On January 20, the traditional 5-year term of Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong will come to an end. With a lower profile than his predecessor, Lois Hole, Kwong brought a different personality to the office of Alberta's viceroy. All of Alberta's LGs appointed since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne have been former attempted or elected politicians (including Helen Huntley, Gordon Towers, and Bud Olsen). If Kwong does not continue in the office I am at a loss to name who the next LG might be, but I can think of someone who might be an interesting pick.

Cabinet shuffle: Premier
Ed Stelmach is expected to shuffle the provincial cabinet early in the new year. I have laid out my thoughts here

Manning Centre: The conservative politics institute formed by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has taken an interest in provincial politics and will be holding a 'Conference on Alberta's Future' on February 5 in Edmonton.

Speech from the Throne: This year's Sessional Calendar has
not yet been posted on the Legislative Assembly website, but all indications point to a Speech from the Throne on the week of February 8. If a new LG is appointed in January, this will be their first high profile event.

Provincial Budget: Another tough economic times budget is expected to be tabled during
the week of February 15. The Finance Minister at the time will wear this budget, whether it be Minister Iris Evans or a successor (odds are on Minister Doug Horner). Potential deep cuts to pubic health care have led some longtime PC supporters to question the longtime governing party.

Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission: The deadline for release of the interim report (including interim riding maps for the next election) is
February 26 and the second round of public hearings are set to begin in April 2010. A final report will be released by July 2010.

Reboot Alberta 2.0: Following a highly successful first meeting in Red Deer in November 2009, a larger gathering of progressive Albertans is being planned for
February 26 to 28 in Kananaskis. I reflected on the first Reboot Alberta meeting in early December 2009.

Alberta Liberal convention: Alberta's Official Opposition Party will be holding their annual policy convention in Edmonton. There is not any information on their website, but I believe that it will be held in March 2010. Expect to hear more from the Liberals in the new year following David Swann's recent State of the Party Address.

Alberta Progressive Conservative convention: On April 30 and June 1, members of Alberta's near 40-year governing party will gather in Edmonton. With low approval ratings and dropping party support in recent polls, expect Premier Stelmach to use the first four months of 2010 in an attempt to boost his political fortunes.

Wildrose Alliance convention: Since selecting
Danielle Smith as their leader, the Wildrose Alliance has conveniently been able to avoid answering questions about social issues under the guise of self-described libertarianism. One of Smith's largest challenges at their 2010 policy convention will be to moderate some of the more destructive social conservative elements within her party's membership.

Municipal Elections: Monday October 18. More to come...