All posts tagged Alison Redford

The Amazing Race, Alberta Political Edition: can the Tories find their missing mojo?

Opposition party members prepare to run against the Progressive Conservative candidates, uncertain why they are being made to race with sacks on their feet while the Tories aren’t. Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. New faces below: The NDP’s Jennifer Burgess; the Tories’ Mike Ellis.

Premier Jim Prentice called a news conference yesterday morning in Calgary and announced, as widely expected, that he and his two likewise-unelected cabinet ministers will run in by-elections to be held within the shortest time frame legally possible.

Unexpected was that Mr. Prentice himself would run for the Progressive Conservative Party in the Calgary-Foothills riding in Cowtown’s northwest, not Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill in the same general part of town, where most of the educated speculation had him running.

Also unexpected was the fact that four by-elections would be held. In addition to a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud (vacated by former premier pro tem Dave Hancock) for Health Minister Stephen Mandel, and in Calgary-Elbow (dramatically vacated in March by former premier Alison Redford) where Education Minister Gordon Dirks will run.

The fourth race will be in Calgary-West (just opened by the voluntary departure of former municipal affairs minister Ken Hughes). Calgary-West will be contested for the PCs by former police officer Mike Ellis, presumably no relation to the Arthur Ellis, notwithstanding the gravity of the Tories’ present troubles.

All four ridings have a history of being safe Tory seats – which means they are as safe as any Tory seat can be in Alberta nowadays.

Getting back to the race in Calgary-Foothills, MLA Len Webber made way for the premier. Mr. Webber had conveniently been nominated over the weekend to contest the federal Calgary-Confederation seat for the Conservative Party of Canada.

The goal of the tight campaign time window is obviously to help Mr. Prentice’s campaign in particular by keeping the opposition parties off balance as long as possible and giving them as little time to campaign as legally possible. The election will take place so quickly it will make our little heads spin – on Oct. 27.

The tight time frame also amplifies the advantages Mr. Prentice holds as head of the government, albeit as a leader who is still unelected.

Progressive Conservative strategists obviously hope ballots will have been counted long before anyone remembers that the premier was only chosen by 23,000 PC Party members and the honeymoon effect from his first few weeks in office lingers.

Notwithstanding public disillusionment with Ms. Redford’s catastrophic tenure, the Opposition parties will have to hustle to get credible candidates knocking on doors before Mr. Prentice’s campaign has all but wound up.

The Wildrose Opposition will name their antidote to Mr. Prentice this morning, and they need to have a high-profile challenger if their effort is to succeed. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was right to try to keep a lid on expectations Friday when she introduced the party’s candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud.

The New Democrats planned to run communications consultant Jennifer Burgess against Mr. Prentice in whichever riding he chose – but the Tories’ last-minute riding choice kept her from being able to get an early start on door knocking.

It goes without saying that if Mr. Prentice loses, it will be a disaster for the 43-year-old PC dynasty, so you can expect the party to throw everything it’s got in its commodious political tickle trunk at the campaign in Calgary-Foothills.

This will inevitably lead to some speculation this is a mini test election, a practice run for the big show whenever Mr. Prentice gets around to calling a general election – possibly even during the silly fixed-election-period in the spring of 2016 legislated by the Redford Government.

I see it more as an entertaining reality show for political nuts – the Amazing Race, Alberta Political Edition. Contestants from the government side will run all over Calgary and Edmonton, looking for what’s left of the PCs’ reputation as Alberta’s Natural Governing Party, which has been missing since the middle of 2012.

Perhaps it’ll turn up in an envelope near somewhere in the Hamptons!


Candidates List

Known candidates in the four by-elections announced by Premier Jim Prentice yesterday:


Progressive Conservatives: Jim Prentice, premier

Wildrose Party: TBA today

NDP: Jennifer Burgess, communications consultant

Alberta Liberals: TBA tomorrow

Alberta Party: Michelle Glavine, teacher

Greens: Polly Knowlton Cockett, environmental educator



Progressive Conservatives: Gordon Dirks, education minister

Wildrose Party: John Fletcher, armed forces officer

NDP: Stephanie McLean, lawyer

Alberta Liberals: Susan Wright, lawyer and blogger

Alberta Party: Greg Clark, party leader



Progressive Conservatives: Mike Ellis, former police officer

Wildrose Party: TBA

NDP: Brian Malkinson

Alberta Liberals: TBA

Alberta Party: Troy Millington, IT consultant



Progressive Conservatives: Stephen Mandel, health minister

Wildrose Party: Tim Grover, business owner

NDP: Bob Turner, cancer physician

Alberta Liberals: TBA

Alberta Party: William Munsey, berry farmer, blogger and party president

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Time for Tories to place a bet: Jim Prentice reaches a crucial moment in a high-stakes game

Prentice… James Prentice… Alberta’s premier eyes the opposition as the time grows near to decide whether to hold ’em, fold ’em, or just run. No way he can walk away now! Actual PC politicians dealt a lousy hand may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Prentice; Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay MLA Neil Brown

As Kenny Rogers famously sang, “You gotta to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run…”

Sometime today, we’ve been assured, we’ll be told where in Calgary Premier Jim Prentice will run for a seat in the Alberta Legislature. It’s not quite as clear we’ll be told when.

If no date is set, that’s a hold, and it’s a sign of a bad hand getting worse.

Back in August, before he won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, Mr. Prentice promised the Edmonton Journal editorial board that if he were chosen as leader he would call a by-election immediately. On Sept. 6, party members duly picked Mr. Prentice as the best man to put the bad memories of Alison Redford’s misrule as far behind them as possible.

Since being sworn in on Sept. 15, he’s spent two exciting weeks reversing many of Ms. Redford’s policies – leaving the province shaken, if not stirred.

He also appointed a couple of unelected cabinet ministers as a symbol of the claim – a bit of a reach, actually – that Alberta is “under new management.”

Certainly the PC caucus is under new management. No one can dispute that. But with the exceptions of Mr. Prentice himself, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks, the management of the province looks pretty much like the familiar old Tories Albertans have seemingly grown tired of having around.

Still, Mr. Prentice’s changes of the past couple of weeks have been pretty bold, so there may be enough good will resulting among Albertans for voters in whatever riding he picks to give him a chance.

Still, it’s a pretty high stakes game he’s playing – it would be a devastating blow both to the premier and his party if he failed to get a seat in the Legislature, and it would hardly be a good sign if Mr. Mandel or Mr. Dirks suffered the same fate.

From Mr. Prentice’s perspective, it might be even worse if he faltered while, say, Mr. Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton with a certain following in the Capital Region, managed to win.

The outcome of the three by-elections – Mr. Mandel’s in solidly Tory Edmonton-Whitemud, Mr. Dirks’ in Ms. Redford’s disillusioned Calgary-Elbow riding, and Mr. Prentice’s mysteriously still to be announced but likely in Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay where MLA Neil Brown has kindly offered to give up his seat, may well reveal the fate of the entire 43-year-old PC Dynasty.

So it’s possible that Tory insiders – poring over the auguries over the weekend – were getting cold feet about letting Mr. Prentice stick to his vow to run right away and damn the torpedoes.

That may explain why, just yesterday, Mr. Prentice’s hometown Herald began to cast some doubt on whether the premier would actually call a by-election right away or just indicate which riding he intends to run in one of these days.

If he fails to announce both a date and a riding, Mr. Prentice’s credibility will suffer mightily – but not as mightily as it would if he went on to lose a by-election.

The opposition parties, fearful Mr. Prentice may be about to snatch another PC victory from what days ago seemed to be certain defeat, are in no mood to give the new and unelected premier the traditional easy ride.

On the other hand, it’s not unheard of for a premier to lead from outside the Legislature for a spell.

Timing, as they say, is everything.

Whether Mr. Prentice opts to hold ’em or run today will tell us a lot about how confident the PC back room is that he can deliver what he promised during the leadership campaign.

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The best candidates aren’t necessarily the best candidates in important Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith introduces her party’s Edmonton-Whitemud candidate, Tim, Grover, at a news conference in the riding yesterday. Below: NDP Candidate Dr. Bob Turner, Mr. Grover again, and former Edmonton mayor, unelected health minister and PC candidate Stephen Mandel.

In the race to knock off an unelected health minister whose main qualification is that he’s a former elected mayor, it’s a commentary on the state of Alberta that a distinguished hematologist, oncologist and medical school teacher stands far less of a chance of pulling off an upset than a young entrepreneur whose businesses are not even named in his campaign materials.

Well, welcome to politics in suburban Alberta!

The Cross Cancer Institute doctor, you see, is Bob Turner, candidate for the centre-left New Democratic Party. The young businessman is Tim Grover, candidate for the right-wing Wildrose Party. Judging from the turnout of professional journalists at their announcement news conferences in the Edmonton-Whitemud riding at lunchtime yesterday, the mainstream media agrees with this assessment of the two candidates’ relative chances.

Whatever else this is, it’s reality, Alberta style.

The former Edmonton mayor who is now serving as unelected Premier Jim Prentice’s unelected health minister is Stephen Mandel. With his past and present high profile, he is the man to beat in in the by-election set for … well, soon. Mr. Prentice hasn’t actually trusted us with that information yet, nor which riding he intends to run in himself.

But we’re going to need to know it all by next Wednesday if the premier and his two unelected cabinet members are to be able to sit in the Legislature when the next session starts in mid-November. The other is former Evangelical pastor and Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, who will run in Calgary-Elbow, the riding once represented by disgraced premier Alison Redford.

Given the recent record of the Progressive Conservative Party – whether or not the elevation of Mr. Prentice to the premiership by a few thousand Progressive Conservative Party members amounts to putting Alberta under “new management,” as he claims – all three of them richly deserve to lose. But don’t hold your breath.

Given the record of the PC Party in Edmonton-Whitemud, Mr. Mandel’s chances of winning are excellent. Citizens there have reliably voted PC for most of the last 43 years and it has been represented by two Tory Premiers – Don Getty and, until just the other day, Dave Hancock.

But, as both New Democrats and Wildrosers were quick to point out yesterday, Mr. Getty lost the seat to Liberal Percy Wickman in 1989. The seat was held in 1993 by another Liberal, business professor Mike Percy, who is now Mr. Prentice’s chief of staff, a turn of events that proves … something.

As for Mr. Hancock, he may or may not have been unhappy when he retired from politics two weeks ago. Leastways, interestingly, Mr. Hancock’s former constituency office was closed right down and then snapped up by the Wildrose Party as its campaign office.

Whatever that may mean, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith took care at yesterday’s newser not to raise the party faithful’s hopes so much that a not-entirely unexpected loss in Whitemud would set them on their heels, admitting a victory there will be an uphill battle for her party even as she urged voters to “send the PCs a message.”

Indeed, Mr. Grover’s candidacy may reflect that reality – his is not exactly a household name in Alberta. He is a well-spoken and presentable young man, but he is best known as the Get Out the Vote chair of Edmonton mayoral candidate Karen Leibovici’s unsuccessful campaign last year. In fairness, that campaign’s failure to get out it’s vote should probably be laid at the feet of Ms. Leibovici, not Mr. Grover.

Nevertheless, it’s mildly surprising that the Wildrose Party – lacking a standard-bearer with “Percy” in his name – couldn’t find a higher-profile candidate for this important battle than Mr. Grover.

The party said in its official handouts only that Mr. Grover has opened and sold five small businesses over the past several years. According to his Linkedin account, these included an online grocery shopping service, a teashop and a business consultancy.

As for the NDP’s Dr. Turner, you certainly can’t say he’s not qualified to talk about Mr. Mandel’s portfolio. But if Mr. Grover faces an uphill fight, Dr. Turner’s struggle is probably more akin to climbing Mount Everest.

Still, he told the reporters who showed up at his news conference, sometimes people succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds in his work, which is fighting against cancer. “I see the political process in the same light. If you don’t try, you’re not going to beat ’em.”

William Munsey, a Saskatoon-berry farmer from the village of New Sarepta and president of the Alberta Party, announced last week he will contest the riding for his party, which has no seats in the Legislature. The Alberta Liberals have not yet named a candidate.

If Dr. Turner can get significantly more votes for the NDP than the Liberal and Alberta Party standard bearers, he will render an important service to the New Democrats even if he doesn’t come close to defeating Mr. Mandel.

Such an outcome would make a powerful point that, in the Edmonton area at least, where the NDP enjoys significant support in several ridings, progressive voters really only have one choice if they want representation in the Legislature.

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Apparently we’re not ‘building Alberta’ any more!

What driver in these parts hasn’t seen the road signs naming former premier Alison Redford and declaring that we’re “Building Alberta” hereabouts? What Twitter user can forget #BuildingAlberta, the annoying hashtag that used to be affixed to every Government of Alberta Tweet?

Well, we’re building Alberta no more. Premier Prentice has seen to that! Leastways, on Thursday, he mercifully pulled the plug on the irritating and silly campaign.

Alas, something new and equally brainless is almost certain to be along soon from the fertile imaginations of the social media boffins in the government’s Public Affairs Bureau. #NotBuildingAlbertaJustNow? #MakingAlbertaSafeForToriesAgain?

Readers are invited to submit new slogans for the Prentice Government’s Twitter hashtags and other essential public communications to Alberta Diary.

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Alberta Premier Jim Prentice repudiates controversial Redford Era triple-entry financial bookkeeping scheme

Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Premier Jim Prentice, neither elected just yet. Below: Former finance minister Doug Horner, current Education Minister Gordon Dirks, also unelected, and Emperor Augustus. Notice the similarity of the emperor to Mr. Mandel.

Well, nuts to you, Doug Horner!

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice continued his (almost) clean sweep of Redford Era Progressive Conservative Government policies yesterday, whisking away the former party leadership’s weird system of triple-entry bookkeeping that was introduced last year by Mr. Horner in his role as Alison Redford’s finance minister.

As of yesterday, it’s safe to say that the confusing financial reporting scheme touted so enthusiastically by Mr. Horner has become more roadkill of Alberta history, and Mr. Horner himself is clearly collateral damage, gravely politically wounded if not quite dead yet.

Mr. Prentice issued a news release late yesterday morning outlining an “Accountability Act” that will be introduced in the fall session of the Legislature as a key part of the premier’s new broom policy of total de-Refordization.

This followed announcements the day before declaring there would be a review of rural health care, which is in excellent condition compared to the health services situation in Alberta’s major cities, and a move away from the Family Care Clinics promised by Ms. Redford to Primary Care Networks, which are likely to be easier for physicians to control.

That announcement, with unintended symbolism, was made at the well-equipped modern rural hospital in Olds, located just 16 kilometres from another well-equipped modern rural hospital in Didsbury.

At Mr. Prentice’s side was still unelected Health Minister Stephen Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton, who blundered into a discussion of how extended Emergency Room waits are caused by elderly “bed blockers” – immediately prompting protests from health care workers who reminded him those bed blockers are human beings with little choice in the matter.

But if the health care announcement was an imperfect success, the return to consolidated budgeting yesterday is a powerful symbol. As the Opposition parties will have to sadly agree, it is also sound policy.

Since Mr. Horner’s innovation was universally loathed by left and right, ordinary citizens and high altitude politicos, not to mention the province’s auditor general, this change is likely to be quite popular as well.

As for the other five points in Mr. Prentice’s six-point accountability plan, voters will probably like them at first blush too, but I can’t help thinking they and like policies will eventually sting Mr. Prentice’s government.

Really, by implementing tougher conflict of interest and lobbying rules, making officials wait longer before they can take jobs elsewhere, eliminating “sweetheart severance packages” (the premier’s term, not mine) and eliminating all sole-source contracts, no matter how insignificant, isn’t Mr. Prentice admitting his entire elected caucus is a bunch of clowns who can’t be trusted to play unsupervised?

Really, if Alberta had a truth-in-legislation law, this bill would have to be called the “Ensuring Everything Is Locked Up Tight or Nailed Down so the PC Caucus Can’t Walk Off With the Family Silver Act, 2014.”

In many cases, these are the same people who will be running again for the new, completely different, vastly improved and totally reformed (supposedly) PC government of Mr. Prentice. Is it just me, or is this a potential problem?

Indeed, the sense that the premier thinks his own caucus is made up almost entirely of untrustworthy nincompoops is made more powerful by the government’s communications about its next moves.

Government press releases nowadays emanate solely from El Maximo Lider – Jim Prentice, himself. Typically they begin, “Premier Jim Prentice today announced…” Seemingly the only other trusted figures in his government are Mr. Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks, who also, lest anyone has already forgotten, has not yet been elected.

It’s mildly reassuring, I suppose, that we were informed yesterday afternoon that Messrs. Mandel and Dirks have been nominated to run in by-elections, the dates for which have not yet been set, the former in Edmonton-Whitemud and the latter in Calgary-Elbow, Ms. Redford’s old riding.

Still, they’re not elected yet. So what is this? Rome under the second triumvirate?

Extremely alert readers and those who are also extremely old may recall that the Second Triumvirate marked the end of the Roman Republic, which was not necessarily a good thing, depending on one’s view of the relative merits of republican and imperial government.

I guess the real question here – to stretch an obscure historical analogy like a rubber band – is who will play the role of Octavian (whom most readers will recall as Emperor Augustus) in the Alberta government, Mr. Prenticeor Mr. Mandel?

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Alberta Premier Jim Prentice plucks the low-hanging fruit – now for the hard stuff…

If getting rid of SAM wasn’t that easy, imagine what the green eggs and ham are going to be like! Above, Premier Jim Prentice with the licence plate Alberta won’t be dumping after all. (CBC photo) Below: The typical Progressive Conservative, not necessarily exactly as illustrated.

It’s one thing to let a couple of pieces of ill-considered and unpopular legislation die on the order paper.

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice did that yesterday with Bills 9 and 10, two bad ideas cooked up by the brainiacs in Alison Redford’s inner circle to make the anti-public-service and financial services lobbies happy by attacking the retirement security of modestly paid working people in the name of sustainability.

Likewise, it’s one thing to toss a bit of mindless but expensive symbolism over the side, which Mr. Prentice also did later yesterday when he mercifully pulled the plug on the Dave Hancock Government’s brain-dead $15-million-plus notion of eliminating the “Wild Rose Country” slogan on Alberta automotive licence plates because of, well … you know who.

Ditto replacing Old Tory hacks in comfortable trade-office sinecures at home and abroad with New Tory hacks in the same places, which Mr. Prentice announced the day before.

Mr. Prentice’s strategy for showing that there’s a real difference between his government and the two or three with the same name that went before it is not unexpected, and it is not inept.

It wouldn’t be surprising if he sent a bad idea from the Redford-Hancock era out with the trash every day until the new session of the Legislature starts on Nov. 17. God knows, there were enough of them!

As strategies go for political parties caught in a tight spot of their own making, this isn’t a bad one. Mr. Prentice seems to like American legislative symbolism, so maybe he’s got something like John F. Kennedy’s First One Hundred Days in office in mind. JFK hit the ground running, even if it was really FDR who coined the phrase.

But for this strategy to work, it’s said here, the premier is going to have to do more than pick off the low-hanging fruit. If he’s going to persuade Albertans he’s delivering meaningful change, he’s going to have to deliver meaningful change.

Here are a couple of ideas, one he can do now, one he can do when the Legislature resumes sitting:

First, call for an investigation into the voting irregularities in the PC leadership race that give him his job.

This is the kind of thing PC parties past just swept under the rug. Who can forget party president Bill Smith vowing to get to the bottom of who gave the party voters list to the Calgary Herald to pass on to a pollster? Once Ms. Redford was in power, commitment to that idea evaporated in seconds.

It’s what party officials did instinctively this time too.

But Mr. Prentice wants us to believe that was then and this is now. He could do so persuasively by taking the allegations of a party volunteer seriously that she was required to give multiple voter PINs to an Edmonton MLA instead of just blowing it off like Alberta Tories of yore.

Heaven knows, his victory was decisive enough it’s not as if he would be putting his job at risk. Au contraire!

Here, I’ll even write a line from his press release for him, free of charge: “‘The days when the end justifies the means in Alberta politics are over,’ Mr. Prentice said. ‘Anyone caught stuffing a ballot box in any circumstances will find themselves out of my caucus.’”

This would be a powerful warning to his caucus – and an equally powerful message to voters – that unethical behaviour will no longer be tolerated. For real.

Second, when the Legislature resumes sitting, it is time to repeal Bills 45 and 46, the blatantly unconstitutional legislation that was at the core of what passed for the Redford Government’s labour relations strategy.

Bill 45 is a disgrace and an insult to all Albertans, openly outlawing public speech by anyone in support of a strike by public employees. It is doomed in the courts, and any effort by the province to defend it will only throw good money after bad.

Bill 46, which was designed to allow the government to circumvent collective bargaining with its own civil servants, has already been excoriated by the courts.

In granting the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees an injunction against the bill, Mr. Justice Denny Thomas suggested the government had never bargained in good faith, as its own laws require, but had merely sat at the bargaining table as “camouflage for a different agenda.”

Bill 46 is now moot, because AUPE has signed an agreement with the government, but it is nevertheless a powerful symbol of Ms. Redford’s disdain for the rights of Albertans and the arrogance of her misrule. Bill 45 was given Royal Assent but never proclaimed, a dodge likely designed to make it a little harder to challenge in court.

Formally repealing these laws in the Legislature – an “act of contrition,” as a friend of mine puts it, that would require the Tory caucus to publicly change course on legislation they never should have supported – would help heal the profound distrust for the party in the public sector. This would not only make it easier for Mr. Prentice to implement his promises of fiscal restraint and structural change to health care and education, but is the only way to attract enough progressive voters back to his party to give it any chance at survival.

These things would be harder to do than just tossing out an ugly licence plate. For starters, they would prompt real resistance in Tory ranks.

But if Mr. Prentice wants to persuade Albertans he’s making real change, he’ll have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So far, he’s just talking.

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Ex-leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk vows to pen tell-all book on Alison Redford’s rule

Your blogger with budding author Thomas Lukaszuk, back during the former deputy premier’s campaign to lead the PC Party. Below: Former PC premier Alison Redford; current PC Premier Jim Prentice.

I’ve gotta say, I’m really looking forward to my free copy of Thomas Lukaszuk’s tell-all book about how he tried to save the Redford Government but the premier just wouldn’t let him. A great review is almost guaranteed!

Seriously, I’m assuming this literary endeavor means Mr. Lukaszuk has decided he doesn’t have much of a career in the government of Premier Jim Prentice. At any rate, it seems unlikely he will after the publication of A Burning Bridge Too Far, Mistakes Were Made, Hair Care Tips for Men, or whatever it is he decides to call his forthcoming volume.

As alert readers of this blog will recall, even those with very short memories, Mr. Lukaszuk was fired-premier Alison Redford’s deputy premier and confrontational point man on big fights with public service unions and bigger cuts to post-secondary education. He also served as MLA for the Edmonton-Castle Downs riding under premiers Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Dave Hancock.

Later, when he ran against Mr. Prentice for the leadership of what was left of the Progressive Conservative government after Ms. Redford got finished with it, he recast himself as a representative of the party’s progressive wing and suggested that the funding cuts, which hit Edmonton’s University of Alberta particularly hard, weren’t his idea.

When Mr. Prentice was sworn in as unelected premier earlier this week, he appointed challenger Ric McIver to cabinet, notwithstanding the attack ads the Calgary MLA ran in the last days of the leadership campaign, but he pointedly assigned Mr. Lukaszuk to the party’s distant back benches despite the fact he’d run a vigorous and entertaining campaign.

The Canadian Press reported this morning that Mr. Lukaszuk, who came to Canada from Poland as a child, is about to write a “behind the scenes” book on his years in the Tory Government, especially under the leadership of Ms. Redford. No publication date has been set.

“Lukaszuk says there is a lot to the Redford era people don’t know about, including the Tory politicians who tried to stand up and fight her spending scandals,” said the CP’s earnest reporter. Those people who tried to fight her scandalous behaviour, presumably, will include Mr. Lukaszuk.

The CP story also dropped hints we’ll learn more from Mr. Lukaszuk about how Ms. Redford “spent lavishly on herself, bullied subordinates and threw temper tantrums.” This is bound to be highly entertaining.

Presumably Mr. Lukaszuk will pass more lightly over the statements by civil servants’ union president Guy Smith that his confrontational approach resulted in “a huge amount of mistrust and lack of respect.” A ruling by a superior court early this year in the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ successful effort to get an injunction against Bill 46, which Mr. Lukaszuk had championed although it was technically introduced by then finance minister Doug Horner, tended to give credence to Mr. Smith’s interpretation of events.

With his political career now on the skids, Mr. Lukaszuk obviously decided a literary turn was just the thing to revive his fortunes. While he represents a northwest Edmonton riding in the Legislature, Mr. Lukaszuk resides in the bedroom suburb of St. Albert, which is represented by Independent former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber.

Mr. Rathgeber has recently written a book of his own – Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada – an effort that has received constant coverage in the local free weekly newspapers, notwithstanding a less-than-well-known publisher. So Mr. Lukaszuk would have had an example of the next step he could take showing up in his mailbox every couple of days.

To those who suggest that Mr. Lukaszuk’s writing style – which so far as we know up to now has been restricted to frequent and often cantankerous Tweets – may leave something to be desired, I say nonsense. At any rate, he has a trained journalist, likely a capable ghostwriter and editor, in his own household.

Readers are invited to submit suggested titles for Mr. Lukaszuk’s future doorstopper to Alberta Diary.

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Ordinary Albertans deserve the credit for killing Bills 9 and 10

The neoliberal attack on fair pensions is guaranteed to continue, but working people in Alberta can nevertheless celebrate a victory with the Prentice Government’s decision today to  climb down from the Redford Government’s unwarranted attack on both public and private sector pensions.

Have no doubt, this change happened because of determined political action by affected citizens – workers with modest pensions and their family members – who ensured their MLAs knew what they thought of the attack on their retirement savings and what the likely consequences would be in the next general election.

In normal times, this might not have had much impact in Alberta. But these are not normal times, and the consequences were potentially quite severe for MLAs in Premier Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative Party who won narrowly in 2012 in many ridings throughout the province.

The fact a steady stream of working people had been visiting their constituency offices to express their anger and dismay at Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, was a major contributing factor in the unprecedented decision of the PC caucus to fire premier Alison Redford in March.

There is no doubt as well that it played a big part in Mr. Prentice’s decision to cashier former finance minister Doug Horner from cabinet after the central role he played in the push to turn public sector pensions from defined benefit to “target benefit” plans, and allow private corporations to convert pension plans at will into “defined contribution” plans in which retired employees must bear all the risks.

A terse press release from the government yesterday morning noted that Bills 9 and 10 would die on the order paper when the current sitting of the Legislature was prorogued. The release noted that a new session will begin with a Throne Speech on Nov. 17.

Most observers were pretty certain that would happen anyway. What was really interesting was that the news release also promised “Bills 9 and 10 will not be introduced under the Prentice Government.”

Count on it that certain self-styled commentators on tax issues – some of whom may have an interest in running for other conservative political parties – to respond with a certain amount of anger, even hysteria, to this announcement.

Assume as well that the corporate-financed organized right will continue its campaign against secure retirements for all working people. I expect we can stand by for announcements and “studies” from the likes of the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation momentarily.

In the mean time, though, ordinary Albertans can congratulate themselves on a job well done. And small business people in the communities where they live – if they’re actually paying attention – should be grateful that the money will continue to be spent locally, instead of shipped offshore to corporate tax shelters.

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Unelected and unknown education minister looms as first major blunder of Jim Prentice’s New Tory Government

Still on track? Jim Prentice’s New Tory Government experiences its first full day of governing. Below: Unelected Education Minister Gordon Dirks; ill-defined intergovernmental advisor Doug Horner.

The appointment of Gordon Dirks as unelected minister of education by Premier Jim Prentice on his first day in office has the potential to become the first serious political blunder of Alberta’s New Tory Government.

Mr. Prentice obviously intended the appointment of Mr. Dirks, a former Saskatchewan cabinet minister and Calgary public school trustee, to be a powerful symbol of dramatic change in the troubled 43-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty he now leads.

If no one knew much about Mr. Dirks, aged 67, that was clearly intended to demonstrate Mr. Prentice’s government is really committed to a different course, and that traditional supporters of many stripes can feel comfortable returning to the once-big PC tent.

But Mr. Dirks’ association with an evangelical Christian denomination known for both political conservatism and deeply social conservative positions on homosexuality and women’s reproductive rights has aroused profound and legitimate concern among a broad range of Albertans.

Moreover, Mr. Dirks’ association with private Christian educational institutions creates similarly legitimate fears about what his views as education minister may be on public funds for private religious education, including money for groups that hold extremist religious and social views.

This is the point at which the fact he is almost a complete unknown to most Albertans becomes a serious problem for the Prentice Government.

Obviously, just having been associated with a religious educational institution is no guarantee of either conservative or liberal social and economic views. Full disclosure: I taught a course as a sessional for more than a decade in a private Christian university. My role there was entirely compatible with my own religious beliefs. Readers of this blog know that association hardly turned me into a raving market fundamentalist or arch social conservative.

The problem with Mr. Dirks for most of us is that we just don’t know enough about him to judge what his personal views and likely behaviour in the education portfolio might be. Which, of course, is where Mr. Prentice’s serious political blunder comes in.

As a result, many people assume the worst. Under the circumstances, this is an entirely reasonable thing to do until Mr. Dirks or the government that appointed him can show otherwise.

The limited and unverified information circulating on social media suggests that he does, in fact, hold social conservative views that are far outside the Alberta mainstream.

As a Calgary school trustee, Mr. Dirks appeared to observers to have had no problem with anti-choice groups like the Pregnancy Care Centre and Birth Right teaching Career and Life Management courses in public schools.

As a pastor at Calgary’s Centre Street Church he played a leadership role in an organization that took strong positions against women’s reproductive rights and equality for LGTBQ citizens.

Only Mr. Dirks and the government that appointed him can make his actual views on these important issues clear.

In fairness, Mr. Dirks met yesterday with representatives of the province’s LGBTQ community to try to ease representatives’ concerns. But this problem is bigger than one meeting can solve for the government now.

It doesn’t help – and, indeed, raises suspicions – that the Prentice government’s most avid political supporters have launched a hysterical counterattack on people who express such concerns.

In a particularly intemperate rant, Calgary Herald Editorial Page Editor Licia Corbella described Albertans who have indicated reservations about Mr. Dirks’ still largely undefined views as “anti-Christian bigots.”

Ms. Corbella’s preposterous screed suggests she may have missed it, but in fact there are deep doctrinal differences within Christianity – one or two of them serious enough for people to have fought wars over not so long ago. Many Christians are just as worried about Mr. Dirks’ views on reproductive choice, gay rights and education funding as the purported anti-Christian bigots targeted by Ms. Corbella’s fulminations.

Politically, this suits the Opposition parties well. The NDP has attacked, improving its street credibility with voters opposed to social conservative views. The market fundamentalist Wildrose Party can be expected to sit quietly by, letting the Tories destroy the chances fearful progressive voters can be persuaded one more time to return to the former Natural Governing Party out of fear of the Wildrose Party’s supposed social conservatism.

As someone who is now in public life, the only chance Mr. Dirks has is to be crystal clear on where he really stands on the right of women to reproductive choice, public funding for religious schools, participation in CALM instruction by anti-choice groups, and full lights for LGBTQ citizens.

Given the buzz in Alberta about his views, there is no way he can fly under the radar on this. When the by-election is scheduled, there is no way voters should let him.

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Doug Horner barely escapes political ‘capital punishment’

Former finance minister Doug Horner has had a brush with capital punishment, Alberta style.

One of Premier Prentice’s first acts was to tell the veteran PC minister there was no place for him in the New Tory cabinet. Alas, the long-time PC insider had become a reminder of the many disasters wrought by former premier Alison Redford, whom Mr. Horner served with such exemplary loyalty.

In response, Mr. Prentice instructed Mr. Horner that he must become an ill-defined senior advisor on intramural trade and intergovernmental relations, which is political-speak for “out of sight, out of mind.”

At least Mr. Horner was spared full-time banishment to the nation’s capital on the banks of the Rideau River, as former premier Alison Redford sent defeated front-runner Gary Mar into a comfortable exile in Hong Kong as Alberta’s plenipotentiary of petroleum.

It was the unhappy Montrealer Marc Lalonde, prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s principal secretary and utility cabinet minister, who first observed that Ottawa is proof Canada continues to have capital punishment.

It is not entirely clear how Mr. Horner will replace the current incumbent in the post, an Ottawa resident, from his redoubt in central Alberta’s Spruce-Grove-St. Albert riding. One presumes will have to spend plenty of time in the environs of the former Bytown and get there flying steerage in an Air Canada jet with the rest of us poor citizens.

Perhaps, in the absence of a comfortable government aircraft, he can telecommute. His former cabinet colleague Thomas Lukaszuk may be able to advise him on a good cellular data plan.

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Privatization of Alberta’s air fleet will cost citizens more money and change nothing

A typical government airplane explained. The politics and financing are more complicated. Below: Jim Prentice.

Privatization of the Alberta government’s four-plane air fleet, announced this morning by unelected Premier Jim Prentice at his first official news conference, makes plenty of political sense, but will end up costing citizens more and change nothing.

This is always the pattern with the privatization of public services. Now, in addition to having to pay for airplane services for the top dogs of the provincial government, we taxpayers will have to build in a margin to cover corporate profits, plus higher private-sector insurance and borrowing costs.

The people who run the company that gets the government’s business will make out like bandits. Employees – quite possibly including pilots – will see their compensation and benefits diminished. And the public will know nothing, because the details will all be hidden behind an anti-accountability cloaking device known as “corporate confidentiality.”

In fact, we only know what we know about the abuses of the Redford Government because it was a public service they were abusing.

Can anyone doubt for a moment that once the dust from Alison Redford’s catastrophic premiership has settled, the top level of Alberta’s political elite – whichever party happens to be in power – won’t go back to using the charter air fleet in exactly the same way as the Redford, Stelmach and Klein governments used the government’s own planes?

For a spell, ministers and other officials will symbolically fly commercial. Will that last? We’ll see about that. In the mean time, the use of charter flights will have to continue and grow, because Air Canada and Westjet are not about to add scheduled flights to places like Manyberries, Zama City and Spirit River. There are many such places in Alberta where our politicians have legitimate business.

Likewise, the need for private flights restricted to the premier and his or her staff will not go away, especially as elections approach.

That said, in Mr. Prentice’s defence, given the excesses of the Redford Government, the purely political need to sell off the planes must have been irresistible. This is why it was predicted in this space on July 31.

This is despite the fact the four small aircraft served a useful purpose for the citizens of Alberta.

For flights within Alberta, government aircraft save time for legitimate government work and allow for double tasking by the premier and his or her staff – exactly what Ms. Redford and her political advisors were apparently trying to do when some idiot cooked up their stupid Fakes on a Plane scheme in which made-up passengers were block booked and then cancelled at the last moment so the ex-premier and her aides could fly in privacy.

With government aircraft in a province the size of Alberta, officials can fly in and out of some of the smallest airports, work between meetings and avoid having to be paid while they line up for commercial flights.

Despite Ms. Redford’s unconscionable misuse of the planes, Albertans should ponder whether we will really be better off once the aircraft are sold and the work contracted out to the high-cost private sector.

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Strap on your seat belts? Jim Prentice’s cabinet is more like a drive down memory lane

Jim Prentice prepares to be sworn in yesterday. Below: Health Minister Stephen Mandel and social media gadfly Olav Rokne. 

Things were going to change in Alberta so much once his capable hands were on the steering wheel, Jim Prentice warned us, that we’d better make sure we’d strapped on our seatbelts!

Well, he might have given us a mild scare as he motored through the political equivalent of a yellow light yesterday afternoon by appointing a couple of unelected, well-off, older, gentlemen to his cabinet.

These two fellows may or may not turn out to be a matched set of wingnuts but, either way, they have no mandate to serve for long in important portfolios.

So when the dust had settled after Mr. Prentice’s and their swearings in yesterday, in many ways the cabinet looked pretty much as it did before the Big Buildup.

Yes, some big names have been dropped – indeed, the entire 4H Club of Dave Hancock, Fred Horne, Doug Horner and Ken Hughes, who in many ways epitomized the last generation of Alberta’s Tory elite, is now gone.

But lots of MLAs tainted with the ruined Redford brand were visible in the ranks of Mr. Prentice’s cabinet too – it’s just, as NDP leader Brian Mason pithily explained, instead of using experienced MLAs too closely associated in the public’s mind with Ms. Redford’s misrule, “Prentice has appointed inexperienced, weak ministers, who were just as closely tied to Redford, though not as publicly involved in PC scandals.”

“Diana McQueen, a rural MLA has been named as minister of Municipal Affairs?” Mr. Mason asked. “It’s hard to see how big city concerns will be addressed by her.”

It’s also a worry, he added, that Mr. Prentice would appoint former rival Ric McIver as labour minister, “a man whose history suggests he does not respect the public sector and hardworking Albertans.” Well, at least Mr. McIver promised during his campaign to keep the government’s paws off public service pensions.

From the premier’s perspective, notwithstanding the barbs they traded during the recent leadership campaign, he clearly hopes Mr. McIver will shore up the party’s ties to its social conservative base.

The appointment of lightweight Calgary MLA Kyle “Leaky” Fawcett, meanwhile, as environment minister hardly suggests that the environment is going to be a high priority for Mr. Prentice’s pipeline-obsessed government.

A couple of smiley new faces were also added to Mr. Prentice’s cabinet: Maureen Kubinec, from the rural area north of Edmonton, as minister of culture, and Edmonton MLA David Dorward, an Edmonton MLA, as junior minister of aboriginal relations.

But of the 20 members of the new premier’s new cabinet, 15 are veterans of the cabinets of premiers Alison Redford and Dave Hancock. Sixteen are male.

I don’t know about you, but 75 or 80 per cent of the same-old-same-old hardly sounds like epochal change to me. It’s hard to say what Martha and Henry, the late Ralph Klein’s prototypical Albertans, are going to make of this. Probably not much. Here’s a bet they won’t even notice, let alone be all shook up.

Under new management? Not so much, maybe.

That three members of the new cabinet if you count Mr. Prentice himself have not been elected, is highly unusual – and pretty much stretches as far as it will go the Parliamentary convention that a few such people may serve in cabinet for a brief spell, as long as they are elected to the Legislature within an undefined but reasonably short period.

All three will have to be elected soon to have any legitimacy – and that’s bound to be attempted in a by-election because the PC Party, with or without Mr. Prentice at the helm, could neither survive nor afford a general election just now. When the inevitable by-elections come, don’t expect Alberta’s Opposition parties to pay much attention to the quaint custom of giving a free ride to the leader of the government.

As for the unelected pair picked by the new premier, all I can say is I’m not sure I would have chosen the same two if it had been me wearing the premier’s handmade cordovan loafers.

Stephen Mandel – who served four terms on Edmonton City Council, including three as a popular mayor – certainly enjoys a high profile and a degree of support among voters in the Edmonton region. But he is no follower, probably is incapable of taking orders from anyone, including Mr. Prentice, and has burnt just about every Conservative bridge between the North Saskatchewan and the Ottawa River.

As for making Mr. Mandel minister of health, while this huge responsibility obviously reflects Mr. Prentice’s high confidence in the man, seemingly the entire health care community was shaking its head in bewilderment yesterday. Seriously, what does Mr. Mandel know about health care? You could argue, if you were so inclined, that his lack of a health care background a good thing. At the very least, hiring a guy who spent years trying to centralize Greater Edmonton to decentralize health care is an interesting strategy.

Mr. Mandel may look to some like an inspired choice today, but the danger is real he will turn into a loose cannon on deck when the guns start to fire at the privateers aboard the frigate Wildrose.

In the mean time, it is Gordon Edwin Dirks – former school principal, school trustee, Evangelical pastor, Bible college administrator and cabinet minister in the scandal-plagued Saskatchewan government of Conservative Grant Devine – whose appointment as education minister provided the biggest WTF moment in yesterday’s cabinet announcement.

Gordon Edwin Who? Gordon Edwin What?

Olav Rokne, a social media gadfly in Edmonton, pointed yesterday to the troubling views on homosexuality held by Mr. Dirks’ church: “He had more than three million unelected Albertans to choose from. Why did Jim Prentice pick Gordon Dirks? He couldn’t find someone as qualified who hasn’t espoused anti-gay views in the past?”

What can we conclude from all this?

Above all that if Premier Prentice wants to persuade Albertans that things have really changed, he will have to do more than shuffle the lounge chairs on cabinet deck of the Titanic. Policy changes will be required, and suggestions are bound to be forthcoming soon, in this space as well as elsewhere.

Sorry, though. If you want real change, you’re going to have to vote to change the government.


List of Prentice Cabinet Ministers 

Jim Prentice – Premier, Aboriginal Relations, Intergovernmental Affairs; No seat in Legislature

Robin Campbell – Finance; Yellowhead West

Frank Oberle – Energy; Peace River

Stephen Mandel – Health; No seat in Legislature

Gordon Dirks – Education, No Seat in Legislature

Diana McQueen – Municipal Affairs; Drayton Valley-Devon

Jonathan Denis – Justice; Calgary-Acadia

Heather Klimchuk – Human Services; Edmonton-Glenora

Verlyn Olson – Agriculture; Wetaskiwin-Camrose

Wayne Drysdale – Transport; Grande Prairie-Wapiti

Maureen Kubinec –Culture and Tourism; Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock

Stephen Khan – Service Alberta; St. Albert

Ric McIver – Jobs, Skills, Labour and Training; Calgary-Hays

Manmeet Bhullar – Infrastructure; Calgary-Greenway

Kyle Fawcett – Environment and Sustainable Resource Development; Calgary-Klein

Jeff Johnson – Seniors; Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater

Don Scott –Innovation and Advanced Education; Fort McMurray-Conklin

Teresa Woo-Paw – Asia-Pacific Relations (Associate); Calgary-Northern Hills

Naresh Bhardwaj – Persons with Developmental Disabilities (Associate); Edmonton-Ellerslie

David Dorward – Aboriginal Relations (Associate); Edmonton-Gold Bar

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Outgoing Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock: 17 years of going along to get along

Another fine mess? No, no, it was a Bitumen Bubble that caused it! Really! Dave Hancock, left, shown explaining cuts to post-secondary education, imposed by Alison Redford, right, back when the bitumen was bubbling. Actual Redford Government officials may not have appeared exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Hancock, who leaves Alberta politics after 17 years later today.

As I flew back into Alberta airspace the day before yesterday, it seemed as if tout le monde political Alberta was bidding the fondest of farewells to departing Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, who announced on Friday he would not only be quitting as first minister today, but stepping down as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud as well.

This clears the decks for Jim Prentice, who by the time many of you read this will have been sworn in as premier of Alberta, albeit one not yet a member of the Legislature.

It makes way for Mr. Prentice to step into the top job, of course, plus it opens up a riding in which one of the new premier’s promised star candidates can highlight the government’s potential for the real change as he tries to revivify the moribund Progressive Conservative dynasty.

After all, the unelected Mr. Prentice can only appoint unelected cabinet ministers for so long before Parliamentary pundits start to pontificate and the public grows restive and suspicious they’re being had.

Well, Mr. Hancock was always accommodating to a fault when it came to the wishes of his party’s leaders, although in this case it’s likely what he wanted too. Everyone expects a swift judicial appointment to reward the outgoing premier pro tem before any other government has the opportunity to meddle with it.

I actually used up my cell phone data allocation for the latest billing period sitting in Victoria airport reading the tsunami of anodyne platitudes about how much we’re going to miss Mr. Hancock from such unlikely sources as opposition politicians and union leaders, not to mention journalists who really ought to know better.

Indeed, the whole thing had the tone of a funeral oration – but it is not that, luckily for Mr. Hancock, and there’s no superstition or convention against speaking ill of the recently resigned. So forgive me, then, for stating what ought to be obvious:

Mr. Hancock – who really struck one as a person who understood what was the honourable, smart and decent thing to do in most circumstances – typically stood by uncritically while the PC government to which he was so loyal behaved unconscionably.

He handled every portfolio he was given competently enough, although it’s safe to say he’ll not be remembered for a single outstanding policy.

Here was a man who never stepped up and exercised his undoubted authority as the party’s respected elder statesman to urge either premier Ed Stelmach or premier Alison Redford to slow down when they were driving their governments, in their respective ways, into the proverbial guardrail.

He was one of the few people who could have said, “Enough is enough. This needs to stop now.” Instead, he fulfilled the role of enabler in chief, especially to Ms. Redford.

Here was was an Edmonton MLA the government could roll out to explain and defend any bill or policy that hurt Edmonton. An unconstitutional attack on the government’s own employees? There was nary a word of anything but justification from Mr. Hancock.

So while his job may have been to put out fires, and he was pretty good at it, we also need to remember – ungracious as it may seem to do so at the moment he steps off the stage – he was a key part of the team that lit them.

Tom Lukaszuk got to wear the Redford Government’s massive “Bitumen Bubble” cuts to post-secondary education, which hurt Edmonton’s University of Alberta more than any other institution. Mr. Hancock, who knew better, stood by and said nothing.

At the end of his political career, the whole thing looks like not much more than a long exercise in damage control, publicly justifying the worst excesses of his party’s leaders and cabinet. There was never a plan so bad, a policy so excessive, that Mr. Hancock wouldn’t stand up and defend it.

Well, there’s something to be said for being a good soldier, I guess, but when it comes to writing hagiographies, it doesn’t really provide very promising material.

It should be no surprise Mr. Hancock is on the way out. Regardless of his wishes or his judicial ambitions, if Mr. Prentice’s government really is going to offer a fresh start, a man like Mr. Hancock has no place in it.

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