Monday, March 31, 2008

Alberta Liberal Leadership Race set to heat up

It seems that the Liberal Party of Canada aren't the only ones who are facing internal leadership struggles these days.

Kevin Taft has indicated that he plans to lead his party into the upcoming sitting of the Legislature. Some senior provincial Liberals are pleased with the slow-and-steady approach to picking a replacement and are asking for a lot of lead time as they prepare for their next Leadership Convention. It seems, however, that there are those within the Liberal caucus who are a little more restless.

Rumours are flying that Edmonton Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald has already started laying the groundwork for a leadership bid and is antsy to get the race underway.

Hugh's problem isn't with Taft, though. Rather, he's wanting to cut off perceived front-runner and Calgary Currie MLA Dave Taylor. Dave's aggressive and abraisive style hasn't sat well with many in the Alberta Liberal Party, including the Member for Gold Bar.

MacDonald has apparently been arguing that Taylor's candidacy would be far too divisive amongst the already-decimated ranks of the Alberta Liberals, a message that is meeting with considerable agreement, and will be positioning himself as a unifying candidate.

There is also word that another previously rumoured candidate, Edmonton Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, will in fact be throwing her support behind Hugh MacDonald. Both elected in 1997, they are the most experienced members of the Alberta Liberal caucus. I'm told that Blakeman's rationale for supporting MacDonald is two-fold. First, she believes that his uncanny ability to uncover government slip-ups is something that the Official Opposition needs more of. Second, she contends that even though there are more Liberal MLAs from Calgary than Edmonton, the heart of liberalism in Alberta is still in Edmonton and an Edmonton voice must remain as Leader, lest they lose their remaining seats in the Capital.

A man with a blue collar background, MacDonald will likely be looking for support from the Alberta Liberal Party's new friends in Alberta's organized labour movements who should be far more effective at identifying and motivating supporters than Dave Taylor's scattered support base.

I know I've been less than kind to Hugh MacDonald in the past, but I will admit that I'm pleased to hear that he's going to try and give Dave Taylor a run for his money. If nothing else, MacDonald has certainly proven over 4 terms that he has staying power and a much more institutional connection to his party than his opponent and that could serve him well in a showdown with a relative newcomer.

I'm looking forward to watching this saga unfold and to getting answers to the many questions it raises. How much caucus/executive support will MacDonald receive? Will Dave Taylor respond by stepping up his own campaign? What becomes of Kevin Taft during all of this?

We'll all want to stay tuned!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Now that we have our mandate...

... its time for the mandate letters.

Before I get into some of the specific directions that the Premier has given his cabinet, I wanted to share a thought that came to me after having lunch with a good friend of mine yesterday.

This friend is certainly politically aware, not terribly partisan but certainly not a PC supporter.

I didn't ask her how she voted this last election and I still don't think it was for us, but she's symbolic of a number of Albertans whose hostility towards a PC government simply isn't there anymore. She's a teacher and was thoroughly impressed with how the issues surrounding the pension liability were handled. She and I both agreed that there is still much work to be done, but there have been very promising steps taken. As someone who would have gladly led a protest against anything Ralph Klein did, she generally notices a remarkably different tone from this government.

Things like the mandate letters are a prime example of this. They are also a pretty good indicator of some of the major initiatives coming down the pipe over the next year or two.

Some of the items that stood out in my mind them include:

from Advanced Education and Technology
-reduce the interest rate on student loans from prime plus 2.5 percentage points to prime.
-increase the number of physician graduates from 227 to 295 by 2012;
-increase the number of registered nurse graduates from 1,375 to 2,000 by 2012; and
-increase the number of licensed practical nurse graduates from 559 to 1000 by 2012.

I suspect that the most ardent of Student Unionists will claim that the reduction in the interest on student loans is insufficient. These are the same people who don't truly understand the cost of their education and won't be satisfied until our post-secondary education system is completely free. For many students, however, this reduction in the interest rate will come as welcome news.

The reduction in the goal for physician graduates is a pretty clear admission that our targets during the campaign aren't achieveable in the near-term. Still, a sizeable increase shows that we're willing to make a serious effort. The numbers for RNs and LPNs is very encouraging given the important work they do on the front lines of our health system.

from Children and Youth Services
-support the creation of 14,000 new child care spaces by 2011, including in-school and out-of-school care, family day homes and day cares; and
-provide low and middle income families with a subsidy to cover the costs for out-of-school child care.

This is a big commitment and will build on the work Janis Tarchuk had already started with the provincial boost in the wages of Alberta's child care workers. Given the wording of this action item, I suspect that the end result will be somewhere between the left wing's universal day care proposals and the federal government's choice in child care plan.

from Environment
-inform Albertans on our environmental stewardship to ensure a clear provincial, national and international understanding of Alberta’s leadership, commitment and action on the environment.

This is going to be a VERY important job. With the increasingly alarmist rhetoric coming from opponents of the oilsands and Alberta in general, it will be critical for us as a province to get out there and tell our story in as aggressive a manner as the anti-development filmmakers have been.

from Finance and Enterprise
-introduce a 10-per-cent tax credit to stimulate private sector scientific research and experimental development in Alberta.

This item really ties in with some of the initiatives that the Departments of Environment, Energy and Advanced Education and Technology will be pushing over the next number of years. Incentives are always more stimulative than penalties and this tax credit should move to encourage companies to increase their R&D budgets with the end goals of reducing environmental footprints and increasing productivity and profitability.

from Health and Wellness
-improve the health care delivery model to ensure the roles, responsibilities and structures in the system support the most efficient delivery of services.

There are already groups who are claiming that the verbage of "improving efficiency" is code word for privatization. This is typical and, frankly, contributes nothing to a productive debate on the future of healthcare.

I don't believe that the American system is the way to go. I'm fairly certain that no one in the government caucus, particularily Health Minister Ron Liepert, believes it either.

The driving belief behind this call to dramatically improve efficiency is that the health budget has become a black hole for taxpayer dollars. Budgets have doubled in the last 10 years and we have seen no improvements in the level of care.

Those who manage our respective health regions, particularily those who get paid excessively for doing it, are simply not delivering results. Their free ride should be coming to a swift end as we move to get real value for the dollars that go in to our healthcare system.

from Housing and Urban Affairs
-make additional public land available for affordable housing purposes.

This little item may not create many waves in most of Alberta, but I can tell you it is issue #1 when it comes to affordable housing in Fort McMurray and the Wood Buffalo region.

While the shortage of skilled tradespeople to build housing is certainly a critical issue, the root cause of the problem can be traced to a lack of land on which to build said housing. Even though Fort McMurray is surrounded by unused land, it is almost exclusively crown land controlled by the province.

An action item calling on the Minister to release more land for housing development is hugely important in the fight to bring housing costs under control in my hometown and, if acted upon swiftly and decisively, will be very well-received by the residents of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo.

from Transportation
-double the provincial investment in highway repaving and bridge repair over the next three years.

This is a big ticket item, and an important one to boot. While our highway system is certainly extensive, a number of routes need upgrading. I will in interested to see which specific highways are on the priority list for repaving.

I will admit I was surprised not to see any specific action items regarding the timetable for Highway 63 listed in the mandate letter. No doubt it is an area of this department that will be closely watched by many.

from Treasury Board
-implement the 20-year Capital Plan.
-create a strategic plan for developing the oil sands region.

These two simple sentences will pretty well ensure that Lloyd Snelgrove will be one of the busiest people in the Alberta Legislature.

The 20-year Capital Plan is already a public document that contains a number of visionary and long-term projects, but implementing it will be a huge undertaking that will require the involvement of every single department.

The idea of a strategic plan for developing the oil sands region is long overdue. Still, the Minister has a number of intelligent people he can lean on for direction as he moves forward on this item. What should be encouraging to all Albertans is that we are likely to see a much broader consultation than perhaps would have been undertaken by the previous regime. I look forward to hearing from those who will no doubt have the opportunity to provide much input on this action item, namely Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake and Heather Kennedy from the Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat.

Some of the mandate letters are shorter on details than others, but I don't think that means that there won't be anything for those Ministers to do. Heather Klimchuk and Lindsay Blackett, for example, won't have a shortage of action items over the next little while. For Minister Klimchuk, she'll need to see through the final stages and release of the license plate consultation (something near and dear to this plate geek's heart). Minister Blackett, meanwhile, has to essentially re-create a deparment that hasn't existed since the 1980s and bring it into 21st century Alberta.

I'm anxious to see what specific legislation the spring sitting of the Alberta Legislature will bring and what dynamic we'll see unfolding on both the government and opposition benches. Each group seems to have their own unique strengths as we head back into session. After today, though, we certainly seem to have a pretty clear direction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday Round-up

A number of things are on my mind these days...

Monday's byelections can hardly be considered a victory for the Liberals. By my admittedly simple math, turning 4 Liberal seats into 3 is not exactly a crushing show of momentum. The near loss of Vancouver Quadra should also be setting off some pretty serious alarm bells within the Liberal Party of Canada.

No matter how they spin it, Liberal popularity is going down and Conservative popularity is going up. Indeed, the only convincing Liberal victories were for two people who ran AGAINST Stephane Dion in the leadership race.

Martha Hall Findlay says that the Liberal Party is united. I suspect any semblance of unity in that party is coalescing around the notion that Dion is the weakest leader their party has ever seen.

Staying federal for a moment, I'm glad to see Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has been taking Dalton McGuinty to task for taking little action to help Ontario's flailing economy.

While the feds have offered broad-based tax relief, McGuinty seems content to offer platitudes and excuses as to why his government is unable to kick-start their economy before its too late.

This is something we here in Alberta should be watching very closely. Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans has already indicated that the potential for Ontario to become a have-not province is very much on her radar screen.

Some of the more forward-looking politicians in Ontario, including Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, have already started to openly muse about out-of-province employment alternatives for their constituents. Francis is floating the idea of making Windsor a hub for long-distance commuting to Alberta, something that already happens from a number of cities in Canada. While some may view this as a drastic suggestion, I think he sums it up best when he states "Is it difficult to work in another city, leaving your family during the week? It is. But it is equally difficult being out of work."

Dalton McGuinty has now coasted to victory TWICE thanks to a disorganized Ontario PC Party rather than his own luminary ideas.

As a Canadian whose taxes pay much more IN to equalization than he gets OUT of it, I sure hope someone in Ontario comes up with a way to revitalize their economy and soon. It may be heading down the drain, but some of us out west are getting awfully tired of being the plumbers of Confederation.

On the topic of people in the ivory towers on Front Street, I made the mistake of watching the CBC's latest "documentary" on Northern Alberta's oilsands entitled "Tar Sands: The Selling of Alberta".

I use the quotation marks because this piece of left-wing propaganda was about as lopsided as an elephant on a see-saw (a reference they actually use in reference to Alberta). Michael Moore might as well have put it together.

That they overtly use the term "Tar Sands" should have been my first clue.

Reportage about my hometown and the industry in which I grew up always interests me, even though it is usually heavily torqued and largely devoid of facts. This one, though, really took the cake.

While highlighting the biggest sticking points with the opponents of oilsands development, complete with omnious music and a graphic that looks almost identical to something I've seen in a Greenpeace propaganda campaign, this "documentary" does NOTHING to highlight the benefits of the Alberta oilsands.

They choose to speak of the difficulties of families who are separated when a spouse is working in the Wood Buffalo region during the week, yet ignore the fact that the generous income made allows them to afford the $60,000 vehicles and large home they enjoy.

They protray Fort McMurray as a bastion of filth, drugs, crime, and general unruliness. Nevermind that there are tens of thousands of people who are proud to call Fort McMurray their home and who aren't looking at leaving any time soon. No need to tell people about the vibrant community, home to some of Canada's most generous people when it comes to per-capita contributions to charity.

They look longingly at Norway's Statoil, a state-owned company in a heavily-taxed socialist nation that relies on income from offshore oil drilling. They speak glowingly about their small environmental footprint, forgetting entirely that offshore drilling and oilsands operations are two completely different industries.

They also note that Statoil is looking to invest in the oilsands without using an open pit mine, but conveniently omit the fact that this technology (SAGD) has been undergoing development IN ALBERTA for many years.

Their one-sided interviewees highlight that Alberta gets less in royalties than some other major oil producers. The host herself says that, rather than a drastic overhaul of royalties, the Alberta government has been content to simply "tweak" the royalty scheme. Given that Alberta's two major opposition parties (who were proponents of the aforementioned drastic overhaul) were obliterated in the provincial election, it would seem that Albertans do not share the views of the CBC or their "experts".

They claim that Alberta's oil goes exclusively to the United States, leaving Eastern Canadians to clamour for unstable middle eastern oil. This is an outright falsehood. A 5th grader doing research into oil pipelines from Alberta would quite readily discover that one of the major southern terminals for Alberta crude oil is in SARNIA, ONTARIO.

This entire "documentary" serves as an excellent example of why everyone should take anything aired on our national broadcaster with a heavy grain of salt. The fact that the CBC deliberately commissioned this feature is also a pretty good indicator that the Liberal elite in Central Canada have an agenda to shutdown the oilsands through a campaign of fear and misinformation about its effects, both environmental and economic.

The people I feel sorry for are those who watch these seriously torqued "documentaries" and make no effort to fact check or get the other side of the story. That, in my opinion, is the greatest danger here.

Finally, Graham Thomson had another piece in the Edmonton Journal a few days ago about the abysmal turnout in the provincial election earlier this month.

He kicks around the usual ideas of electoral reform that are being bandied about, namely a Citizens Assembly like the one that recommended STV in British Columbia. This and similar ideas seem to be pretty standard post-election reactions in Alberta these days.

I think, though, that the poor participation in the last election can't really be attributed to people's dislike of our current electoral system. A very small minority of vocal citizens may feel this way, but they can hardly account for the 41% (or less) turnout.

The main reason that people chose not to participate, in my opinion, was the inability of ANY of the political parties to engage Albertans with ideas. Finding a remedy for this doesn't fall to any assembly on electoral reform, but rather to politicians and those of us who are active in Alberta's political parties.

For those in the Liberals, the NDP, and the Wildrose Alliance, that process has been kickstarted as they examine their dismal results in this last election.

For those of us in the PC Party, however, it may prove to be more difficult. The fact that we won such a huge number of seats risks overshadowing the fact that we have much work to do if we want to be the party that re-captures the attention of Albertans, lest another party gets there first. I look forward to highlighting some ideas being thrown out there between now and the next PC AGM this fall... an AGM at which PC members should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

For my own part, I think our party needs to adopt a policy in favour of fixed election dates. They're already in place in BC, Ontario, and at the Federal level and make good common sense. In Alberta, we've usually got a pretty good idea when elections are coming anyway so its not like the idea of a fixed election date gives away much of an advantage. What it does do, though, is allow for Elections Alberta to be better prepared.

This brings me to what I think is the second biggest reason that so many Albertans didn't participate.

From the standpoint of Elections Alberta, this election was a complete disaster.

The lists of electors was so out of date that a campaign would almost have better luck identifying voters through the phone book.

Polling locations were so badly organized that some people had to drive half way across their urban riding rather than vote at a school across the street.

The website tool that allowed you to search for your polling location was so unprepared for the number of hits it received that it crashed several times on Election Day.

The list just goes on and on. Now, to be fair, a fixed election date won't solve all these problems, but they will at least allow a proper organization enough lead time to get things in place.

I say a proper organization because, after March 3rd, I'm not sure the crew at Elections Alberta can be called such.

Graham Thomson interviewed Lorne Gibson, Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer, for the aforementioned column. In it he harps on about his desire to have the Chief Electoral Officer directly recruit and appoint the Returning Officers for each constituency.

Now I defended those with PC affiliations who filled the positions as has been the standard, particularily those who took on these vital posts at the last-minute only to have their characters dragged through the mud. That being said, I think that we should adopt a policy that the Chief Electoral Officer recruit and appoint the Returning Officers. After all, we've got time.

But I don't think that Chief Electoral Officer should be Lorne Gibson.

The issues surrounding Returning Officers notwithstanding, Mr. Gibson must have had a pretty good idea that this election was coming down the pipe. Its not like it was the best kept secret in Alberta.

And yet when it came to ensuring the most basic functions of the electoral process were in place... lists of electors, sensible polling locations, access to voting information on Election Day... Elections Alberta failed miserably and the responsibility for that has to rest upon the shoulders of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Moving forward, I think that the Goverment should adopt a policy of fixed election dates. I also think that they should accept the recommendation that gives the Chief Electoral Officer the exclusive role of recruiting and appointing Returning Officers.

Then they should fire Lorne Gibson.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Meeting the new Ministers: Mary Anne Jablonski

As you may have noticed, some of my fellow bloggers and I have taken it upon ourselves to provide some background on the 5 new members of Executive Council sworn in yesterday. We got together to decide who would profile whom and the results are starting to roll out.

Phendrana Drifts has done a masterful job profiling Justice Minister and Attorney General Alison Redford and Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden. Ken Chapman will soon be telling us about Service Alberta Minister Heather Klimchuk, and look to the Enlightened Savage for a profile of Lindsay Blackett, Alberta's new boss of Culture and Community Spirit.
For my part, I get to tell you a bit about someone I greatly admire, Mary Anne Jablonski.

Minister of Seniors and Community Supports

Mary Anne Jablonski can be described as a pretty typical Albertan. Originally from St. Catharines, Ontario, Mary Anne moved west with her husband Bob and their family in 1980. Bob was with the Canadian Armed Forces and was transferred to the base at Penhold, just outside of Red Deer.

Her work as an advocate began long before she was ever elected to office. Her most notable foray into advocacy in earlier days was her work to lobby the Federal Government for a dental plan for the families of Military and RCMP personnel. It was, not surprisingly, successful.

After their time with the military, the Jablonskis settled in Red Deer and began a fiberglass manufacturing company. As in life, Bob and Mary Anne were also very successful partners in their business. Between the business, their three children, and various other projects with Girl Guides, the Catholic Womens League, and the Chamber of Commerce, Mary Anne kept herself pretty busy... good preparations for an aspiring MLA.

I first met Mary Anne during her first run for office in September of 2000. Stockwell Day had just resigned his seat in the Legislature to take over the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. Mary Anne was the nominated PC candidate in Red Deer North and boy did she have her work cut out for her. Stock hadn't exactly left the legislature on the greatest of terms (think $800,000 lawsuit) and the residents of Red Deer North were certainly well aware of it.

Still, she kept her head up and focused on her positive vision of being a hard-working MLA for her constituents. The work paid off and she won a very close by-election by just under 400 votes. This was to be good training grounds because, less than 6 months later, Mary Anne was thrust back into the electoral fray in the 2001 General Election.

Since the by-election, Mary Anne's constituents have sent her back to the legislature with solid majorities. In 2001, she carried the day with over 5000 votes to her nearest opponent's 3100. During the Kleinfeld campaign of 2004, her lead shrunk but still delivered a comfortable 1100 vote margin against the same Liberal she fought in 2000 and 2001. Last week, Mary Anne was again sent to Edmonton on behalf of the people of Red Deer North with a margin of victory approaching 3000 votes. Clearly, her constituents like her.

And they like her with good reason.

Mary Anne has a number of accomplishments to her credit. She is one of the very few MLAs to ever have a Private Member's Bill passed unanimously, the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act. This act allows parents to go before a judge to ask for an order to place their child in a safe house or detoxification facility. It also allows the possibility of an aprehension order to remove the child from a drug house or other unstable environment.

She has also been a solid advocate for issues closer to home in Red Deer. Mary Anne has successfully lobbied for over 400 affordable housing spaces in Red Deer, was an early proponent of regional water and waste water systems, and has been a staunch defender of full consultation before major decisions regarding the Red Deer River have been made.

Over the past 7 years, Mary Anne has been entrusted with a number of leadership positions in the House. These include Chairing or Co-Chairing the Cabinet Committee on Community Services, the Alberta Mental Health Board Liason and Advisory Committee, the Corrections Review Committee, the Youth Secretariat, and the Committee on Strengthening Alberta's Role in Confederation.

Her background as a legislator was clearly a driving factor when Premier Stelmach decided to ask her to serve as Alberta's new Minister of Seniors and Community Supports.
As Minister, Mary Anne will be responsible for a Department that needs proactive thinking. With Alberta's seniors population expected to double in just 12 short years, getting the right programs in place will be key in meeting this crunch head-on.
In an interview with the Red Deer Advocate shortly after her promotion to Cabinet, Mary Anne outlined a number of issues that she wants to address early in her tenure as Minister. Of note, she commits to helping seniors stay in their own homes as long as possible through a number of potential initiatives, including increased support for home care, meals on wheels, and seniors-helping-seniors. Recruitment and retention of front-line workers for those who are institutionalized is also high on the agenda.
Seniors and Community Supports is a department that hasn't had much in the way of profile, but is very important as Alberta moves into its second century. I suspect that those who work in the Department are pleased to see someone who, by all accounts, will take her role very seriously and will be a very active Minister.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cabinet Reaction

Today's announcement by Premier Stelmach was impressive... impressive in the sense that only one Minister doesn't return to Cabinet (more on that below), yet the overall impression is that this is a very new and dynamic team. Some of that can be credited to the re-assignment of current Ministers, some can be credited to the rookies he chose to promote.

Without further delay, my reactions:


Hon. Ron Stevens (Calgary Glenmore)
Deputy Premier
Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations

I don't think anyone expected Ron to lose his title as Deputy Premier. In the shuffle he holds it and takes on the Department of International and Intergovernmental Relations. Some might think this is a demotion but, as Ken Chapman pointed out, this Ministry is going to have a very high profile in the next few years. It has also been rumoured that Stevens specifically requested this Ministry. I think it'll be a good fit... Ron has the diplomatic skills required to do this job effectively and, as Deputy Premier, can speak with authority when dealing with other governments.

Hon. Lloyd Snelgrove (Vermilion-Lloydminster)
President of the Treasury Board

I think a lot of people, yours truly included, are happy that Lloyd stays where he is. Treasury Board is a very important portfolio and Lloyd's business background is a huge asset when considering how our tax dollars are spent. Now that Service Alberta has been carved off into its own Ministry, Lloyd will really have the freedom to be creative with how the Treasury is managed.

Hon. Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert)
Minister of Advanced Education and Technology

Another solid Minister who deserved to stay put. Doug Horner is one of the brightest minds in caucus and has won a lot of fans as Advanced Education Minister. There was no reason to move him, and the Premier apparently agrees.

Hon. Dave Hancock (Edmonton Whitemud)
Minister of Education

I thought Dave would be staying in Health. He was doing a good job and is an excellent spokesperson for high profile Ministries. Those who have sour grapes over his move, though, shouldn't. The Health Department will be presenting its own challenges that i'll describe in my reaction to its new Minister. Hancock's move over to Education is NOT A DEMOTION, though. Education is an important and high profile Ministry along the lines of Health, Advanced Ed, Finance, and the like. Dave's talents will be well used as Education Minister and, moreover, I'm willing to bet there are some pretty happy bureaucrats in Education today.

Hon. Mel Knight (Grande Prairie-Smoky)
Minister of Energy

The touted splitting of the Energy Department didn't happen and Mel remains in charge. Contrary to opposition rantings (we all know how much stock Albertans put in those), Mel has been a competant Minister who understands the portfolio. Stability as the Royalty Review process comes to an end is also important, which I think was a big factor in keeping Mel in this portfolio.

Hon. Iris Evans (Sherwood Park)
Minister of Finance and Enterprise

There were some who thought we'd see the end of Iris. They, clearly, were crazy. She has great loyalty to the Premier as one of his original backers and, as a strong voice in the Capital Region, was sure to remain. It will be interesting to see what specific responsibilities she will hold as Finance Minister, particularily now that Lloyd Snelgrove is free to focus solely on Treasury Board issues.

Hon. Ron Liepert (Calgary West)
Minister of Health and Wellness

People who thought Liepert was simply brought in to pacify Dinning supporters can think again. Ron has clearly earned the Premier's trust. His move to Health should be seen as a big, bold neon sign pointed directly at Jack Davis and David Tuer that reads "UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT". The Calgary Health Region clearly needs to step up its budgeting and long-term planning methods, and having a Minister from Calgary is a clear sign that the province is willing to listen to concerns... but not to put up with any more sensationalism. That message will be quite clearly delivered, methinks, by Minister Liepert.

Hon. Rob Renner (Medicine Hat)
Minister of Environment

As the senior voice for Southeastern Alberta, I was pretty sure that Rob wasn't leaving Cabinet. I did, however, think he might have been shuffled out of Environment in favour of someone from one of the big cities. Upon reflection, though, the Green Party did best in two RURAL ridings so perhaps a Minister from an urban centre surrounded by prairie makes sense after. Clearly the Premier thinks so and chose to leave him where he is.

Hon. Luke Ouellette (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake)
Minister of Transportation

No question here. Luke is a solid guy who's whole personality screams "I'm gonna build you some roads." The fact that his old Ministry has again been split into separate Ministries of Transportation and Infrastructure respectively gives him the ability to focus solely on upgrading and improving the provincial transportation network. Given some of the goodies in the 20 year Capital Plan, I expect Luke will be a busy man.

Hon. Gene Zwozdesky (Edmonton Mill Creek)
Minister of Aboriginal Relations

Gene Zwozdesky is a very unique individual. For a white male, I am always amazed at his ability to draw such admiration from so many unique cultural groups. I suspect the secret to his success is that he always treats everyone with the same respect and takes genuine interest in their cultural background. These traits will make him an excellent Minister of Aboriginal Relations. The other advantage to Gene's appointment is that he's an urban MLA. We have seen some of the difficulties facing large urban aboriginal populations in cities like Regina and Winnipeg... hopefully Gene will be able to use his talents as an urban MLA and as Minister of Aboriginal Relations to identify root causes of their struggles in order to avoid the experience in other western cities.

Hon. Alison Redford (Calgary Elbow)
Minister of Justice and Attorney General

Good call. Alison has proven herself to be a worthy addition to the team. She's smart, eloquent, and VERY well liked by the powers that be in corporate Calgary (guess who we'll be sending for fundraising calls ;) Alison's team is very proud of her today and with good reason. I suspect the more that Albertans get to know their new Justice Minister, the more they'll like her.

Hon. George Groeneveld (Highwood)
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

I had initially thought that Minister Groeneveld may have been one of the incumbent Ministers to be demoted to make room for someone from the cities, but then realized that Southern Alberta wouldn't take very kindly to losing one of their voices. Add to that the fact that he's actually done a good job in his portfolio and it makes sense that he remains. The Premier himself is a farmer, so you've got to think he's got a pretty good pulse on who will fill the Ag position well.

Hon. Janis Tarchuk (Banff-Cochrane)
Minister of Children and Youth Services

For as much as some of her constituents may have claimed she was invisible, Janis actually accomplished some good things as Children's Services Minister... namely the provincial boost for child care workers' wages. Presumably she's got more up her sleeve and the Premier is ready to let her keep at it.

Hon. Mary Anne Jablonski (Red Deer North)
Minister of Seniors and Community Supports

YES! This was my number 1 must-have in the new Cabinet and i'm pleased she was included. Mary Anne will be an important voice for Red Deer at the Cabinet table as well as an EXCELLENT advocate for those who worked so hard to build this province. I've already gushed about this woman's talents on the blog so I won't rehash it. I will, however, tell you how much I look forward to congratulating MINISTER Jablonski in person.

Hon. Hector Goudreau (Dunvegan-Central Peace)
Minister of Employment and Immigration

Hector Goudreau is a quiet-but-competent member of the team. I say this because, during pre-announcement speculation, Hector admitted publically that he would be disapointed if he was not returned to Cabinet, but understood that the Premier had a lot of talented people to choose from. This is clearly someone who puts the greater good before his own ambitions. He is a very able Minister who was perhaps a bit mismatched with his former portfolio of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture. I think the big-picture issues he'll get to deal with as Employment and Immigration Minister will be much better suited for him, and Albertans will likely be impressed with the results.

Hon. Ted Morton (Foothills-Rocky View)
Minister of Sustainable Resource Development

I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of Morton supporters out there who are mighty ticked that their boy isn't top of the precedence list and Minister in charge of a whole lotta stuff. On the flip side, there are those who think that Ted should have been bounced completely. In between that... well, we've got the status quo. To his credit, I think Minister Morton has done an excellent job of managing his portfolio and has surprised some by being quite the team player. I suspect he was kept in place (but moved up the order of precedece) to finish his work with the Land Use Framework. Rumours are that there'll be a shuffle in about 18 months... if Morton keeps up his good work, I suspect he'll get his promotion then.

Hon. Fred Lindsay (Stony Plain)
Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security

I honestly don't know much about Fred Lindsay other than the fact that he's very popular with his constituents and obviously has the Premier's trust. Solicitor General is a pretty straightforward Ministry and he has obviously performed his duties to the satisfaction of the Premier and his Department. Kudos are clearly deserved on a job well done.

Hon. Ray Danyluk (Lac La Biche-St. Paul)
Minister of Municipal Affairs

Ray finally gets to concentrate on what the Municipal Affairs Minister is actually supposed to work on, municipal governance issues. The urban and housing add-ons were clearly a poor match for someone from Elk Point, although he coped with them as best he could until the Premier brought in the help. Ray's a good, colourful person who really does have people's best interests at heart. I think he'll enjoy his job much more now that his Ministry has been streamlined.

Hon. Jack Hayden (Drumheller-Stettler)
Minister of Infrastructure

A lot of people said Jack Hayden was going into Cabinet. It wasn't that I didn't believe them, its just that I wasn't sure that there would be room for another rural Minister. The Premier managed to make it work, and work well. Mr. Hayden is rumoured to be one of the Premier's closest advisors in caucus... with someone going as far as to say that he should have been the Chief of Staff. As a stand-alone from Transportation, Infrastructure will get to deal with a whole lot of capital planning issues... issues that the Premier loves to sink his teeth into. Expect the boss and his new Infrastructure Minister to be working together very closely.

Hon. Yvonne Fritz (Calgary Cross)
Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs

Former Alderman: Check. Registered Nurse: Check. To me, Yvonne is well-qualified to be Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. She brings the experience of a municipal politician together with the background of an urban MLA and the compassion of an R.N., all huge assets when dealing with these issues. This was a very easy call to make on the Premier's part.

Hon. Lindsay Blackett (Calgary North West)
Minister of Culture and Community Spirit

Welcome to the biggest surprise of the day! I can totally understand the rationale of establishing this Ministry as a shoot off from the former Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture. I must admit that I thought there would be other MLAs from Calgary that would go to Cabinet over a rookie other than Alison Redford. I also would have lost a lot of money betting on someone other than George Rogers becoming Alberta's first black Cabinet Minister. Still, the Premier obviously sees great potential in Lindsay Blackett. I've never met him, but thought frequently during the election that he seemed to be a very impressive fellow. This, obviously, is an impression that is shared in Edmonton.

Hon. Cindy Ady (Calgary Shaw)
Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation

This was another no-brainer. Cindy was doing very well as the Associate Minister responsible for this portfolio and as the Olympics approach, the importance of her work will grow. She's also a strong voice for Calgary and will be an excellent booster of Alberta across the country and around the world.

Hon. Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton Glenora)
Minister responsible for Service Alberta

When I was pondering whether or not the Premier would add one of the two new women from the Capital Region to Cabinet, I had a hard time deciding which he might choose. On one hand, he had Janice Sarich from Edmonton Decore, a former School Board trustee. On the other, he had Heather Klimchuk, a community activist and PC Party executive member. Both of these women bring unique talents to the table, but in the end it looks like the Premier chose the one with a history of activity in our party and I must say I'm thrilled for Heather. Her bright personality and friendly demeanour will be a great asset to her in livening up what can otherwise be a bit of a boring department. And in case you're reading this, Heather, you can expect a call from me about how to proceed with the license plate review ;)


Art Johnston (Calgary Hays)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Community Services

I'll admit surprise on this one. I would have figured that a position like this would have gone to an MLA like Dave Rodney, especially after being kept out of Cabinet.

Greg Weadick (Lethbridge West)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on the Economy

Lethbridge is an important city, but with a rookie PC MLA it may have been a bit of a stretch to expect a jump straight into Cabinet. This role will be good training for Mr. Weadick, the people of Lethbridge should be pleased with this appointment.

Tony Vandermeer (Edmonton Beverly-Clareview)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Health

This is a big committee that needs someone with experience as a legislator. As a former (now returning) MLA and NDP giant-killer (adios Ray Martin), Tony Vandermeer is a solid choice for this role.

Neil Brown (Calgary Nose Hill)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Public Safety and Services

Until Ken Kowalski retires, the Speaker's Chair is pretty solidly his. I picture Neil filling that role quite nicely, but he deserves something to put his talents towards until such an opening comes up. As a former lawyer, I think Neil will be an excellent chair of this committee.

Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Resources and the Environment

This is a clear show of confidence in this rookie MLA from the Premier. Grande Prairie and NW Alberta already have two very strong Ministers, yet the boss saw fit to give Mr. Drysdale the chairmanship of what will prove to be a very important committee. He, along with Mel Knight, should probably make a point of regular visits to Fort McMurray in light of today's developments.


Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary Montrose)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology

Excellent! I have known Manmeet for a long time and think he will do a supurb job working with Minister Horner. He has been given an opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business and I know he'll take it to heart. It is also nice to see Calgary Montrose will again have some added clout in caucus after almost 15 years in proverbial darkness.

Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

I made no secret that I was hoping Doug would get a promotion to Cabinet. While i'm disapointed that this wasn't the case, I think there is very much a silver lining in his new role. Although his Minister is very experienced in Agriculture, I think the Rural Development piece is far better suited to someone younger with a more progressive vision for rural Alberta... someone like Doug. He's one of the smartest guys in the house and has been given an opportunity to really spread his wings on this file... I know he won't disappoint.

Janice Sarich (Edmonton Decore)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education

As I mentioned earlier, I figured the Cabinet post for an Edmonton woman was an even toss-up between Heather Klimchuk and Janice Sarich. This, for a former school board trustee, is a pretty good consolation prize. Mrs. Sarich will likely be an asset to Minister Hancock as they move forward in the Department of Education. She would also be hard pressed to ask for a better mentor than Dave.

David Xiao (Edmonton McClung)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Employment and Immigration

This one, I admit, is a surprise. I didn't really think David Xiao was going to be included on any lists released today. It makes sense upon reflection, though. As an immigrant from mainland China, Mr. Xiao has a unique perspective on the challenges facing immigrants during the entire immigration process. His experiences will be very valuable for his Minister and he too has a high quality man to learn the ropes from.

Len Webber (Calgary Foothills)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Energy

I figured Len would be going to Cabinet and, like I was with Griffiths, am a bit disappointed. Still, this is by no means a slap in the face. As a Calgary MLA and Mel Knight's right-hand man, Len will be the go-to guy for the energy bosses in downtown Calgary. He will be kept very busy and will likely be one of the first Parliamentary Assistants promoted to full Cabinet when the time comes.

Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Calmar)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Environment

Outside of Lacombe-Ponoka, no Green candidate in Alberta got a higher vote total than Diana McQueen's opponent in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Environmental issues are obviously of concern to her constituents and this appointment allows her to put her talents to work addressing the issue head-on. I'm told that she is very well-liked in her constituency and is expected to impress a lot of people when she arrives on scene in Edmonton. I'm looking forward to it.

Raj Sherman (Edmonton Meadowlark)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health and Wellness

I figured Raj might be going into Cabinet but, as happens from time to time, I figured wrong. Still, Dr. Sherman will provide an important perspective into the health system as the new Parliamentary Assistant to Minister Ron Liepert. This also allows for a good Calgary/Edmonton balance in dealing with what Albertans consistently rate as their number 1 concern.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton Castle Downs)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs

A lot of people (perhaps Thomas included) thought this was going to be his big break into Cabinet. He has certainly grown from the brash individual who was elected in 2001 into a solid MLA. His youth, my guess, remains an issue. Even though he's now in his 3rd term, Thomas is still a young guy with lots of potential left. He'll be the urban counterpart to a rural Minister in a department that touches all Albertans, a pretty good gig as he's climbing the ladder, i'd say.

Rob Anderson (Airdrie-Chestermere)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security

This is going to be one busy man. He's a new MLA, represents a sprawling constituency, has 3 children under the age of 3 at home, and NOW is a Parliamentary Assistant. From what i've heard, Rob Anderson has the energy and the discipline to handle all of this and more. He's another one that I have yet to meet, but am told will turn a lot of heads in Edmonton.

Evan Berger (Livingstone-Macleod)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development

Evan Berger's predecessor, David Coutts, leaves some big shoes to fill. It seems that Mr. Berger will get the chance to prove he's up to the task early on with his new role as Ted Morton's Parliamentary Assistant. He's got experience in dealing with the kinds of issues that will keep him and his Minister busy and both men seem to be cut from the same cloth. I suspect they'll very much enjoy working with each other, particularily as they roll out the new Land Use Framework.


I'm sure more than one of you are wondering about my thoughts on the complete demotion of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier.

Quite simply, I was stunned.

I have known Guy for longer than I can remember. He was the one who brought me into PC Alberta in the first place some 10 years ago. I clearly remember the day he was first elevated to Cabinet in 2001 as Minister of Municipal Affairs... I helped him clean out his office in the Legislature Annex.

There are some who say this was coming. I can understand that... you'll recall that I speculated that Guy was going to be left out of Ed Stelmach's first Cabinet 14 months ago.

I made that call based on all of the speculation I was hearing from others. I didn't believe it, but it was too widely shared for me not to give it creedence. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Fast forward to today. I was hearing almost NOTHING about the prospect of Guy being left out. Some thought he should be replaced, but simply could not rationalize the most economically important region of the country being left out.

And yet, they were.

The rationale for the Premier's decision is something that only he can provide. His reasoning may have been sound, particularily given the otherwise outstanding job he did putting this Cabinet together.

I worry, though, about the consequences for our party in Fort McMurray. Everyone i've spoken to back home today shares the same statement of disbelief.

A lot of questions remain... will Guy be re-promoted to Cabinet in the next shuffle?... will he stay on as MLA for a full term from the backbench?... if there's a by-election, who will run?... who will win?

In the meantime, I will be watching the reaction and potential for backlash in the Oilsands City VERY closely.


With a few exceptions, I think the Premier did a masterful job in crafting this Cabinet. There are more women, better representation for our big cities, and a more genuinely diverse team. I think the Premier should be very happy with his new team. I look forward to seeing them in action.

Getting stories straight

As speculation mounts over today's expected cabinet announcement, it seems that Alberta's major news outlets are talking to a bunch of different people.

The Calgary Herald has talk of 6 Ministers for Calgary (very good if true), the highlight being Ron Liepert's expected move over to the Department of Health. The Herald plays up Liepert's accomplishments in his first term as an MLA and Minister.

The Edmonton Journal, meanwhile, speaks of doom and gloom surrounding the prospect of Edmonton proper getting only 2 Ministers. I expect that, as usual, the Journal gets it very very wrong. They too muse about a switch between Dave Hancock and Ron Liepert, but play down Liepert's record and view Hancock's move as a demotion.

Over at the Calgary Sun, Rick Bell is mighty complimentary at the thought of better Calgary and urban representation at the table. He too is hearing the number 6 for Calgary.

The Edmonton Sun's Neil Waugh is the only media source to throw out a firm number of Ministers in Cabinet... 23. He also talks about the 8 "Ministers in training", which I assume will be the Parliamentary Secretaries that have been mused about earlier in the speculation game.

Edmonton's 630 CHED talks about Iris Evans getting Finance and new Edmonton Glenora MLA Heather Klimchuk taking over at Service Alberta. They too speak of 8 Parliamentary Assistants to assist the Ministers in key portfolios. CHED also speculates that 7 of the 14 women in the Tory caucus will be elevated to Cabinet, the highest number ever in Alberta.

QR77 in Calgary, strangely, has no Cabinet speculation posted on their website.

Word is that we'll be hearing pretty soon what the final makeup will be. Once that's out and i've had time to chew it over, i'll be back with reaction.

I should also let you know that a few of us bloggers will be colluding to bring you bios and some inside information on the new faces that will be appointed to Cabinet. We don't yet know who will be profiling whom, but we will be linking to each other's work so stay tuned to the Albertatory, Ken Chapman, the Enlightened Savage, and Phendrana Drifts for the inside scoop on Alberta's newest Ministers.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Who's got the Energy?

Neil Waugh has a very interesting column in today's Edmonton Sun. It all starts with a phone call that Premier Stelmach received from Prime Minister Harper after the election victory on Monday.

The basic gist is the raising of mutual alarm bells about some of the protectionist talk going on down in the United States... particularily alarming if the Democrats take the White House as expected in November.

For as much as the Americans talk about reducing their dependence on foreign oil, what they really mean is that they want to reduce their dependence on Middle Eastern oil. That's where we come in.

We are North America's largest and most stable source of energy for the foreseeable future. The American rhetoric surrounding environmental regulations and NAFTA should have us all concerned and I, for one, am pleased to see that both the Prime Minister and the Premier recognize the dangers of some of the talk going on south of the border.

This talk, however, puts an extraordinary burden on Premier Stelmach's shoulders as he puts together his cabinet.

When it comes to the Industry, Foreign Affairs, and International Trade files, the Federal Government has top-notch Ministers in charge who understand the complexity of their portfolios and how important it is to keep things going with our U.S. trading partners.

On the Energy file, though, Ottawa falls a bit short (seriously, no pun intended). That's just as well anyway, if you ask me, since I think that Alberta should be the Leaders when it comes to dealing with the Americans on Oil and Gas.

Because of this, Premier Stelmach needs to be exceptionally diligent when he chooses which MLAs will become the Ministers in charge of Energy and International Relations respectively. These individuals will need to be ready to jump in with both feet to deal with our southern neighbours to explain to them some of the ramifications on both sides of the border should their rhetoric turn into hard legislation.

A number of portfolios in Cabinet will have room for Ministers who may a few months on the proverbial training wheels.

Energy and International Relations, however, will not.

The Premier simply has to get these two right.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cabinet Making

With the dust settled, those of us who pay attention to politics in this province will be turning our attention towards the announcement of a new Cabinet that's expected next week. I suspect that the Premier will have a number of questions to answer during his deliberations... I certainly don't envy him.

The size of cabinet is going to be an issue. I'm under no illusions that we'll see only 18 Ministers (plus the 3 Associate Ministers), but I also don't think we're going to see a Klein-esque ballooning to 24 or 25 Ministers either. I think that you can eliminate the Associate Ministries but turn those seats (not necessarily portfolios) into full Cabinet spots and consider it a good compromise. That makes 21 Ministers, plus the Premier. Reasonable given the size of caucus, I think.

I also suspect that there will be some re-jigging of the Ministries themselves. The biggest rumour i've heard to that effect is the idea of splitting the Energy Ministry into two parts, one that deals strictly with oil and gas and the other that would deal with Utilities, Power Generation, the Nuclear question, etc. I think that's a good move that would potentially allow Mel Knight to stick with the latter and let the Premier put someone from Calgary into the Oil and Gas portion to "calm" the mucky-mucks here in downtown Calgary.

I mentioned yesterday that I think the Premier needs to shake up his current cabinet and inject new blood. I won't get into who I think should be dumped because, frankly, I trust that the Premier will be able to make that decision for himself.

I will, however, offer my thoughts on some folks I think could make a real contribution to our next Executive Council. In addition to elevating current Associate Ministers Cindy Ady (Calgary Shaw), Yvonne Fritz (Calgary Cross), and Gene Zwozdesky (Edmonton Mill Creek) to full Cabinet positions, I think the Premier should take a good look at the following MLAs:

Mary Anne has been in caucus since she won Red Deer North in the post-Stockwell by-election back in 2000. Since then, she has earned her reputation as a hard-working and dedicated representative for her constituents and Albertans in general.

When Mary Anne Jablonski has a task assigned to her, she gets it done and gets it done well... these are the qualities you look for in a prospective Minister. Her geography also helps. Even though Luke Ouellette from surrounding Innisfail-Sylvan Lake will most certainly be returning, its important for Red Deer proper to have a voice at the table.

She's experienced, she gets results, and she's extraordinarily well-liked. To me, this is a no-brainer.

LEN WEBBER (Calgary Foothills)
A lot of people (yours truly NOT included) thought Len was in serious trouble in his suburban North Calgary constituency. To be fair, his challenger was certainly of a higher calibre than most Liberal candidates.

Len, it seems, took absolutely nothing for granted. I drove through Foothills on Saturday as I was house hunting and was floored at the number of lawn signs Len had out on private property. I know the results were certainly much closer than the lawn sign war was, but I think that shows that people who support Len are VERY proud to do so... and with good reason.

Len Webber has politics in his blood, his father being former MLA and Cabinet Miniser Dr. Neil Webber. He also has an impressive background in both the blue-collar (Journeyman Electrician) and white-collar (B. Comm from U of C) sectors.

From businessmen to athletes to former Premiers (all of whom endorsed him in an impressive video on his website), those who know Len Webber know him as someone who can put his shoulder to the wheel and get things done.

DOUG GRIFFITHS (Battle River-Wainwright)
Doug Griffiths has one of the sharpest public policy minds of anyone i've ever met, period.

Some may say that the two things working against Doug when it comes to being included in Cabinet are his age and the fact that he's a rural MLA. At first glance they may be right, but I think digging a bit deeper proves quite the opposite.

The age issue, to me, really isn't one. If the Premier is truly going to try and strike a demographic balance with his new cabinet, I think that having a Minister under the age of 40 is an easy call to make.

The worries of a rural overload are a bit more of an issue, but I think they can easily be addressed. Frankly, some of our rural Ministers could use a return to the backbench and I think that replacing one of them with Doug would be a supurb decision. Best of all, Doug is one of the few people who so thoroughly understands how rural and urban Alberta can work with and even feed off of each other when it comes to issues of economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.

Doug would be a rural Minister who really understands the big picture... I can't think of anyone better to put the latte-sippers at the Journal in their place ;)

GEORGE ROGERS (Leduc-Beaumont-Devon)
Here's a guy who doesn't let many things get in his way.

People didn't think a black man could get elected in a town like Leduc. People just wouldn't be ready for that, they thought. No problem, just run and prove them wrong. He did.

He wanted to make the jump to provincial politics in 2004, but there was already an incumbent in his riding. No problem, just challenge him for the nomination and win. He did.

George Rogers has had an exceptional career thus far. He's been a very popular councillor and Mayor of Leduc, even serving for two years as the President of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. He's also a well-liked member of caucus.

The secret to George's success is his overwhelmingly positive attitude. I have never seen George Rogers at an event where he isn't in the best of spirits. Sure he understands that there are big issues that need addressing, but he does so cheerfully and with the best of intentions.

If a Capital Region shake up is coming down the pipe when the Premier announces the new Cabinet, there's definetly a chance we'll see George Rogers on the list.

ALISON REDFORD (Calgary Elbow)
Alison was probably our biggest giant-killer on Monday night. Not that Craig Cheffins is much of a giant, but the stigma of the Liberals holding Calgary Elbow was simply too much for the Calgary Elbow PC crew to stomach and they set about making it right. And boy did they ever pick the right candidate.

Alison Redford is everything you want in a Cabinet Minister. She's exceptionally intelligent, very well spoken, personable, and has a broad range of experience.

Her resume speaks for itself. If there's a spot for a rookie around the Cabinet Table, you can bet it'll likely be Alison.

DR. RAJ SHERMAN (Edmonton Meadowlark)
If Alison has the #1 spot for a potential rookie in Cabinet, Dr. Sherman is following closely behind her.

With the plethora of new Edmonton MLAs, we're bound to see increased representation from Edmonton proper around the Cabinet table. Dr. Sherman is one of the best-qualified to take one of these seats.

His experience as an Emergency Room Physician would be invaluable given that Albertans continually rate Health Care as their number one issue. I'm not suggesting he'll be thrown into the Health portfolio, that would be cruel punishment for a brand-new Minister... but I do think that his voice would still be a useful one when the discussions come up in Cabinet.

Add to this the fact that he's young, very well-spoken and presentable, and he thoroughly trounced his opponent in what was supposed to be a close race.

Of the new Edmonton MLAs, there is no one with a better shot at Cabinet than Raj Sherman.

Now what happens next week is anyone's guess. Although I did pretty well in guessing the seat count (I had 68), I have a much worse track record when it comes to guessing Cabinet picks.

I do hope, though, that the Premier recognizes the talents of the people listed above. Even if he doesn't make them Ministers, they should be assigned to important and challenging files... they won't dissapoint.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Caught in a landslide

Your patience, faithful readers, is appreciated. I know I should have posted sooner than this morning, but real life had to resume on Tuesday and getting settled is no easy task. I'm back, though, and will have much to share in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

So, about that election...

... WOW.

I chose not to share my seat projections on the blog, instead keeping it between a few close friends who were also intimately involved with the campaign.

I had 68 seats. People said I was crazy. Apparently, I was ;)

Congratulations are first in order for Premier Stelmach and the entire PC team. This campaign marked a radical departure for our party and certainly found a number of critics. But in the end, Albertans found that our message best represented the Alberta THEY want to live in.

I want to take the opportunity to congratulate ALL of the new members of the PC caucus:
  • Ken Allred (St. Albert)
  • Rob Anderson (Airdrie-Chestermere)
  • Carl Benito (Edmonton Mill Woods)
  • Evan Berger (Livingstone-Macleod)
  • Naresh Bhardwaj (Edmonton Ellerslie)
  • Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary Montrose)
  • Lindsay Blackett (Calgary North West)
  • Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead)
  • Cal Dallas (Red Deer South)
  • Jonathan Denis (Calgary Egmont)
  • Arno Doerksen (Strathmore-Brooks)
  • Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)
  • Doug Elniski (Edmonton Calder)
  • Kyle Fawcett (Calgary North Hill)
  • Fred Horne (Edmonton Rutherford)
  • Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Redwater)
  • Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton Glenora)
  • Genia Leskiw (Bonnyville-Cold Lake)
  • Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Calmar)
  • Verlyn Olson (Wetaskiwin-Camrose)
  • Dave Quest (Strathcona)
  • Alison Redford (Calgary Elbow)
  • Peter Sandhu (Edmonton Manning)
  • Janice Sarich (Edmonton Decore)
  • Raj Sherman (Edmonton Meadowlark)
  • Greg Weadick (Lethbridge West)
  • Teresa Woo-Paw (Calgary Mackay... my new MLA)
  • David Xiao (Edmonton McClung)

For a party that our opponents called old and tired, I'd say we've got a great group of new and energized MLAs on the team!

I want, in particular, to say how pleased I am to see Jonathan Denis, Manmeet Bhullar, Kyle Fawcett, Dave Quest, Heather Klimchuk, and Naresh Bhardwaj as new MLAs.

I have known Jonathan, Manmeet, and Kyle for many years. They are all exceptional young conservatives who will do a supurb job for their constituents and add a very important dynamic around the caucus table.

Dave, Heather, and Naresh are all former colleagues of mine on the PC Alberta Executive Committee. It is great to see such top-notch people who have been so involved with the party internally moving over to represent us in the Legislature.

For my part, I was asked last weekend to come to Edmonton to run GOTV efforts in Edmonton Manning for Peter Sandhu.

Peter had a great team who managed to identify a LOT of supporters, we just needed the right strategy to make sure our machine got those supporters out. I was pleased to work with Peter's team, was exceptionally pleased with how well everybody came together to get the job done on E-Day, and was thrilled that we were able to deliver Edmonton Manning for PC Alberta.


So what of it all, then?

I think the two most embarassed groups after Monday should be the Alberta media and the Alberta Liberal Party, in that order.

For their part, the Liberals were saying what they had to say. No Official Opposition party runs on the messaging that the government is going to win anyway, but send more opposition MLAs to the Capital (that's reserved for the NDP). The Liberals, of course, ran on the public idea of forming government.

What is embarassing, though, is that it seems so many of them believed it privately.

I've worked on enough campaigns to have a pretty good idea of when we're going to win, and when we're going to lose. The ability to have even the most basic idea of how well or badly things will go is pretty important for political operatives. Its a skill that seems to have totally blown past the Liberal braintrust.

One theory I got from a Liberal friend of mine is that the Alberta Liberals spend too much time talking to their own supporters. Getting encouragement from people is great, but its not much of a litmus test if you're always talking to or going after the same people. Incidentally, this friend of mine is one of the few people who was NOT impressed with the Alberta Liberal campaign. Seems his radar is a little more in-tune, perhaps they should be paying more attention to members like him.

The big dunce cap, though, is reserved for members of Alberta's media. Sure, there were some that seemed to have their finger on the pulse of what turned out to be what Albertans were really thinking, namely the Edmonton Sun's Graham Hicks.

But it is absolutely stunning that so many people in the media, people who are trained and paid to research and accurately report current affairs, managed to let their own personal biases interfere with their work SO much that they blew this call in such a spectacular manner... I'm talking to you Graham Thomson, Kim Trynacity, and Don Braid.

If ever there was a lesson to take anything you read or hear from the media with a grain of salt, I'd say its the coverage of this election.


Post-election, people are wondering what the future holds. I still think there are a lot more questions than answers yet, but i've got a few theories:

-For Ed Stelmach and the PC caucus, some Chamber of Commerce folks had it right. The mandate given to the Premier and his team is one that will allow them to be bold and innovative when addressing the problems facing our province. I think it would be a shame if we squandered that opportunity. Are you listening PC Alberta members??? We've got a convention coming up, time to sharpen those policy pencils and get to work.

-When it comes to making a cabinet, the Premier has a big pool of talent to work with. His first cabinet, although it raised a lot of eyebrows, did the right thing by rewarding those who were closest to him. He had just taken over a caucus that overwhelmingly voted for the other guy. If you're going to try and take control of the ship, you need to make sure the crew is unwaveringly loyal. By and large, that was the case.

Post-election, however, the situation is different. Everyone who was running chose to run under his leadership and, given the mandate Albertans awarded him, they have absolutely no reason to call said leadership into question. Because of this, the Premier will need to move away from rewarding only the most loyal of foot soldiers and instead focus on picking the best and brightest for the tasks at hand. Geographic and demographic balance will also be important, but will be relatively easy to fulfill given the plethora of MLAs to choose from.

-For Kevin Taft, its game over. To raise such hopes of either forming government or come within striking distance and to then fail so completely is simply unacceptable. If Laurence Decore couldn't keep his job after the 1993 Liberal surge, there is absolutely no way that Kevin Taft has any legitimacy to keep his after this.

-For the Alberta Liberal Party, the situation is also pretty bleak. One way or another, Kevin Taft will be shown the door as Leader. The only person even remotely able to do this job is Calgary Currie MLA and Deputy Leader Dave Taylor. Given his standoffish and divisive personality, though, I don't suspect he would fare any better than Taft would in a general election.

Drafting somebody from outside of caucus, too, will prove almost impossible. With Monday's stunning defeat, I think we can expect the Liberal's dire financial straits to worsen. What little fundraising they receive is quite likely to dry up, and they'll have a large stack of bills to pay after this election. Very few people would be willing to step in and try and salvage this disaster, particularily since the party brand has proven toxic to most Alberta voters time and time again.

And the dream of getting Dave Bronconnier to take over the job? I think you can pretty well consider that one over. Bronco's no fool. To take over a party that only has a small rump of volunteers, is deep in the hole, and that has been rejected by Albertans everywhere (including most of Calgary) would be political suicide. Bronconnier is young and has a good thing going at City Hall. He may still decide to make the jump to provincial office one day, but it won't be under the Alberta Liberal banner.

-For the NDP, their boom-bust cycle begins anew. Losing two seats isn't great news, but at least they held on to their bedrock areas of support... the same can't be said for the Liberals. Brian Mason will likely step down as Leader, making way for Rachel Notley to take on the role her father so nobly filled before his untimely death. They may be a small caucus, but Pam Barrett sure did a damn fine job with only two MLAs in her day. They may not be Official Opposition, or even an official party in the Legislature, but I suspect they'll be the two most effective voices of opposition.

-For the Wildrose Alliance, thanks for playing. Until the very right-wing gets beyond petty internal squabbles, they will never be a remotely credible political force. I suspect there will be a lot of finger pointing at the next WRA AGM and wouldn't be at all surprised if this shotgun marriage ended in divorce.

-For the Greens, well done. They didn't elect an MLA, but they increased their support against a tide of Tory blue that swept away a lot of voters who chose other parties. They'll likely continue to be talked about only at election time, but have an opportunity to raise issues that are important to them if they work with their new supporters to keep their public profile up.


For as happy as I am about the election results, there were two things that disapointed me:

The apparent loss of Shiraz Shariff in Calgary McCall is a loss indeed (I say apparent because it may go to recount).

Shiraz is one of the first MLAs I met when I got involved with PC Alberta. He is cut very much from the same cloth as Premier Stelmach, one of the kindest, honest, and most hard-working people in public life anywhere in Alberta. The team of both family and friends that surround him share that same work ethic and are some of the most determined people I have ever worked with.

If the result stands, I know I will dearly miss having Shiraz Shariff as the voice of Calgary McCall in Edmonton.

The other disapointment is one that I think is shared across the political spectrum: voter turnout.

I disagree with the notion that the low turnout clouds the election results. People stay home for a variety of reasons. Some certainly were not enamoured or inspired by the platforms of any one party, but others may have simply believed that the PCs were going to be re-elected and didn't have any reason to vote to stop it. Decisions ARE made by those who show up, and those who did decided overwhelmingly to allow us to continue governing this province.

I agree, though, with the chorus of Leaders and pundits who believe that we must do more to engage Albertans in the democratic process. I'm against the idea of a move to proportional representation given the exceptional disadvantages it creates for rural MLAs trying to represent a huge geographic region. I do think, though, that the next Electoral Boundaries Commission has some serious work to do in addressing the exploding populations of Alberta's urban centers.

For my part as a Tory, I firmly believe that we cannot rest on our laurels. Our party needs to find new ways to engage Albertans, primarily through the bold and innovative ideas that we now have the opportunity to develop and implement as I mentioned earlier.


Before I get back to unpacking, I want to go over the 10 predictions I made on Sunday night:

1. The Liberals will win at least one seat that they don't currently hold in Calgary, but they will lose at least one of the four they currently do hold.

RESULT: CORRECT. The Liberals pick up two seats they didn't hold (Buffalo and McCall), but lose one they did hold (Elbow).

2. Craig Chandler will go down in a magnificent blaze in Calgary Egmont at the hands of my buddy Jonathan Denis.

RESULT: CORRECT. Third place. Hehehehehehehe.

3. There will be a grand total of ZERO Wildrose Alliance MLAs in the next Alberta Legislature.

RESULT: CORRECT (pending recount). Hinman loses in Cardston, no one else even comes close.

4. The Greens will have their best showing ever in the history of the province, courtesy of the voters of Lacombe-Ponoka.

RESULT: CORRECT. Joe Anglin walks away with over 3200 votes in Lacombe-Ponoka.

5. The Liberals and the NDP will both lose seats in Edmonton as the PCs win more than double the number of seats we currently hold in the Capital.

RESULT: CORRECT. Oh. Hell. Yeah.

6. Ed Stelmach will win upwards of 80% of the popular vote in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.

RESULT: WRONG. I was close, but Ed's 11162 votes were only good enough for 78.1%. Close, but no cigar.

7. Kevin Taft will win considerably less than the 60%+ of the popular vote he enjoyed last time in Edmonton-Riverview.

RESULT: CORRECT. I suppose "considerably less" is arbitrary, but i'd say that 51.8% is a lot worse than the 66% or so he got in 2004.

8. Brian Mason's situation in Edmonton Highlands-Norwood will remain pretty much the same.

RESULT: WRONG. Mason wins handily, but drops from 62% to 52% of the popular vote in Highlands-Norwood. I'm not going to try to spin a 10% drop but winning nonetheless as me being right.

9. George Read will come in 2nd in Calgary North West.

RESULT: WRONG. I thought that the undecideds in Calgary North West might park their vote with the Green since he's the leader. He came in a distant third... I blew this call completely.

10. Paul Hinman will be out of a job.

RESULT: PENDING. Pending the recount, Hinman may no longer be the MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner. Whether he keeps his job as Wildrose Alliance Leader is also pending, but I wouldn't bet on it.


Finally, thanks to each and every one of you for reading. Keeping this blog running is very enjoyable and, while I was in BC, kept me connected to what was going on back home.

To those of you who are PCs, I hope I was able to keep you all motivated with a departure from the plethora of Liberal and left-wing propaganda coming out in both the mainstream media and here in the blogosphere.

To those of you who are either supporters or producers of said Liberal and left-wing propaganda, thanks for coming to see what some of us on the other side were thinking. I was doing the same thing when reading your stuff ;)

To those of you who were genuinely undecided, i'm glad you chose to include the blogosphere as an information source. I don't believe there is any news source that is truly unbiased anymore, so its encouraging to see people weighing all of the biases out there.

To my fellow bloggers, its been fun. I have enjoyed the banter back and forth over the past month. In particular, I must salute Daveberta, the CalgaryGrit, Ken Chapman and the Enlightened Savage. You are all a credit to our hobby of citizen journalism and were part of my sometimes-hourly blog consumption. I hope, post election, we'll all be able to keep this discussion going. Just because the election is over doesn't mean we're done dealing with the issues... if anything, our work is just beginning.

We now return you to your regularily scheduled lives.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Boo hoo

I'm fairly preoccupied running E-Day operations in a very close Edmonton riding, but I couldn't resist taking 5 minutes to post something.

I'd say its a pretty good sign that your opponent knows they're going to lose when they start complaining about the electoral process ON Election Day.

I can't wait to put these whiny, latte-sipping sore losers in their place tonight.

Happy Election Day!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Final Countdown

I'm home.

After a great drive across the rockies on Friday, I find myself back in this great, wonderful place.

As you can imagine, it didn't take me long to get thrown into the final push for votes in this campaign.

I find myself exceedingly busy heading into the home stretch, so this will be the last blog post until after the election results are in (at which point i'm sure i'll have a lot to say).

Here, then, is a bit of rapid fire for you:

- I had promised to do a full profile on my home riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. That won't happen now, mea culpa. Here's the Cole's Notes version: I'm happy to call both the PC and Liberal candidates friends. There's certainly some volatility in the air up north, but the prospect of habitually low voter turnout may suppress that. For a last minute addition to the Liberal ticket, Ross Jacobs is to be credited for running a good campaign on a shoestring budget. He's sought out disenchanted groups and tried to bring them onside. Ross' biggest challenge will be the manpower required to do a proper get out the vote effort. Manpower is not a problem for Guy Boutilier, who seems to have an even bigger force on the hustings for him this time around. In talking to some of the PC braintrust back home, it sounds as though nothing is being taken for granted this time and a broad swath of new supporters have been identified. All things being equal from here on in, my money is still on a Boutilier victory. It may be a lot closer than in the past, but Guy's team has the necessary resources (if deployed properly) to keep the Oilsands City in Tory Blue.

-Colby Cosh has a great item in the National Post (a paper I don't read that often anymore) that sums up what is wrong with Kevin Taft and the Alberta Liberal Party. I obviously don't share his reluctance in voting for Ed Stelmach, but he's absolutely correct about the attitude that Liberals seem to have towards Alberta.

-On the flip side of the coin, Kim Trynacity does a pretty good job of showing just how out of touch the CBC is with average Albertans.

-Whoever thought that this rally was a good idea needs to have their head examined. Traffic on Whyte Avenue on a sunny Saturday afternoon was seriously backed up. Whether the rally had anything to do with causing the backup or not, frustrated motorists looking for someone to blame for their traffic woes would pass this rally and see a wall full of Liberal signs. Who do you think they're going to blame?

-I'm not going to do a seat-by-seat projection for you, but I will offer a few snippets of what I think we'll see tomorrow night:
  • The Liberals will win at least one seat that they don't currently hold in Calgary, but they will lose at least one of the four they currently do hold.
  • Craig Chandler will go down in a magnificent blaze in Calgary Egmont at the hands of my buddy Jonathan Denis.
  • There will be a grand total of ZERO Wildrose Alliance MLAs in the next Alberta Legislature.
  • The Greens will have their best showing ever in the history of the province, courtesy of the voters of Lacombe-Ponoka.
  • The Liberals and the NDP will both lose seats in Edmonton as the PCs win more than double the number of seats we currently hold in the Capital.
  • Ed Stelmach will win upwards of 80% of the popular vote in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.
  • Kevin Taft will win considerably less than the 60%+ of the popular vote he enjoyed last time in Edmonton-Riverview.
  • Brian Mason's situation in Edmonton Highlands-Norwood will remain pretty much the same.
  • George Read will come in 2nd in Calgary North West
  • Paul Hinman will be out of a job.
The most important thing for everyone out there is to vote. If your ballot isn't already in the box, make sure you get it done tomorrow. Call friends and family and remind them to do the same. Our democracy ISN'T broken as some parties would have you believe, but it is best-served when everybody participates.

See you all after E-Day!