Jim Prentice

Alberta didn’t change – but its image will

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics | 8 Comments

alberta plate

The defeat of the PCs seemed unthinkable a few months ago. The notion they could lose to the NDP would have been laughable. But this is how politics in Alberta works. Every 30 or 40 years, a Chinook blows over the mountain and sweeps in a new government who has never before held power. So after a wild couple of years, we can probably all ignore Alberta politics until the middle of the Century (when Stephen Harper’s granddaughter runs for Premier).

Even though the polls foretold an NDP win, Albertans have rightly grown cynical of the polls, so there were still plenty of surprised faces on all sides of the spectrum tonight. Outside Alberta, it won’t just be surprise tomorrow, but consternation over how Alberta could turn orange. With the NDP floundering in Manitoba, it seems likely Alberta will be Canada’s lone socialist province this time next year. The province will stand out like an old man in an orange speedo at a formal ball.

Alberta is used to standing out, but for different reasons. For years, the province cultivated and cherished its reputation as the bad boy of confederation. There were the “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark!” bumper stickers. Ann Coulter called the province “the good Canadians”. It likely didn’t help that Ralph Klein was the face of Alberta for a decade.

The thing is, that bad boy reputation was always more bluster than reality. Everyone noticed when Calgarians elected a Harvard-educated Muslim as Mayor in 2010 – all the more, because those latte sipping pinkos in Toronto elected Rob Ford a week earlier. Three years later, Edmontonians elected 34-year Don Iveson – Canada’s first openly nerd mayor.

But Edmonton has always been dubbed “Redmonton” for its political leanings, and Nenshi is only the latest in a string of Liberal mayors from Calgary. If you look at the results from the last few provincial elections, you’ll quickly realize Alberta hasn’t been a Conservative monolith since before Calgary hosted the Olympics.

alberta vote

Yes, progressives flocked to the PCs last election, but only because Alison Redford looked and sounded like a progressive. In every other election from the past 30 years, over a third of Albertans have voted for parties on the left.

But that’s always been a more complicated story to tell than the caricature of crazy conservative Alberta which, admittedly, some of our politicians (*cough*Rob Anders*cough*) did not help to dispel.

Similarly, many will simplify the story of tonight to Albertans swinging wildly to the left. While it’s true the province has changed, those changes have been gradual. What really happened in 2015 was Rachel Notley looking like a safe option for change, at a time when voters wanted change. The fact that Notley made Thomas Mulcair feel as welcome in Alberta as a rat (or worse, a Canucks fan) in the dying days of this campaign tells you all you need to know about the strength of the NDP brand. So don’t expect “howdy” to be replaced with “welcome comrade” the next time you land in Calgary.

No, Alberta hasn’t changed. But the perception of Alberta will. Rachel Notley, Naheed Nenshi, and Don Iveson are now the face of the province. The myth of Alberta as a conservative wasteland is dead.

Alberta’s Gilligan’s Island Election

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics | 1 Comment
Math is difficult. The most difficult math at the moment is figuring out where Prentice finds the 40 seats he needs for a majority.

Math is difficult. The most difficult math at the moment is figuring out where Prentice finds the 40 seats he needs for a majority.

My latest for the Post:

The 2012 clash between Danielle Smith and Alison Redford was an epic battle between two gifted politicians. It was must-see-TV for political junkies. The 2015 campaign? It reads like a script of Gilligan’s Island with bumbling gaffes and nonsensical plot lines. I mean, honestly, the prospect of an NDP government in Alberta seems about as plausible as a coconut phone.

Alberta Politics Explodes

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2015 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics | 10 Comments
Welcome to Wildrose country

Welcome to Wildrose country

A month ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek Alberta political primer about Jim Prentice’s inevitable march to a landslide election victory.

So how’s that working out for him?

The Mainstreet Technologies automated phone survey of 3,121 Alberta voters conducted on April 13 shows the Wildrose and NDP in a statistical tie for first place at 31 per cent and 30 per cent support among decided voters, respectively.

The Tories are in third place with 24 per cent, while the Liberals come in at 10 per cent, and the Alberta Party at five per cent in the survey.

I guess that shows why you should never listen to the musings of someone living in Ontario about Alberta politics.

In my defense, when Brian Jean launched his Wildrose leadership bid on February 25th, he didn’t even pretend he had a chance:

“Bluntly, I don’t think it’s one we can win at this stage. It is a rebuilding one but we need in Alberta a strong, solid opposition that can keep the government to account,” Jean, a 52-year-old lawyer and businessman, said with a number of Wildrose candidates standing behind him.

One assumes Jim Prentice felt the same way, or he wouldn’t have broken Alberta’s fixed election date law in his eagerness to go to the polls.

So what on earth happened? How is it that the PCs are now bleeding on both sides?

The orange wave is easier to explain. Here’s the combined Liberal/NDP vote share for the last 6 elections:

2012: 20%
2008: 35%
2004: 40%
2001: 35%
1997: 42%
1993: 51%

Despite the caricature of Alberta as a conservative hegemony, the left regularly collects over a third of the vote. Liberal and NDP voters rallied to Alison Redford to stop the Wildrose last election, but there’s likely a lot of buyers remorse on that front. Prentice has done little for progressive Albertans since taking power, and by showing a deaf ear on the issue of Gay-Straight alliances, he essentially ripped up the “Wildrose are scary bigots” card that Redford played to perfection three years ago. With progressives abandoning the PCs, it’s understandable they would gravitate to the NDP – they have a strong leader in Rachel Notley, while the provincial Liberals are in complete disarray.

The dynamics on the right are more difficult to understand.

The Wildrose looked like a smoldering ruin after Danielle Smith’s defection this fall. They’ve still got money in the bank, and a new leader – but Brian Jean was an unimpressive backbencher, and he’s had little time to introduce himself to voters. With all due respect to Jean, it’s safe to say he’s not responsible for the Wildrose resurgence. Rather, this appears to be driven by anger over a bad news budget that pleased no one.

Given many pollsters wrote PC obituaries three years ago, I haven’t talked to a single person who believes Prentice will lose. The common wisdom is that once Albertans blow off steam over the budget, they’re going to realize they’re electing a government, and neither the Wildrose nor the NDP were even pretending to be ready for government a few weeks ago.

Danielle Smith was someone who sounded like she could run the province. Brian Jean? Not so much. Smith must sob every time a new poll comes out.

But Prentice is now fighting a war on two fronts, with 44 years of baggage on his shoulders and the low price of oil pulling him down. If the last month has taught us anything, it’s that we’d be foolish to make any predictions about how this one will turn out.

A Beginner’s Guide to Alberta Politics II

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics | 7 Comments

nixonprentice
Blogging has been sporadic of late, but with Alberta barrelling towards an election, now is likely a good time for another Alberta Politics FAQ.


When will the next Alberta election be?

Alberta’s fixed-ish election date legislation calls for a vote between March 1st and May 31st, 2016. Prentice, being a true reformer at heart, has said he will respect this.


Really?

Ha ha. No, of course not. Most expect an election call to immediately follow the March 26th budget.

Alberta’s fixed election date law has proven to be about as binding as Alberta’s balanced budget law.


So who’s going to win the election?

The PCs.


Well, yeah, that seems likely, but isn’t there a chance…

No.


But surely if there are a few more “blame Alberta” moments, and…

No. Not one of the opposition parties is even pretending they’re fighting for anything but second place.

This election was over the moment Danielle Smith decided the election wasn’t worth fighting.


So why did Danielle Smith cross the floor?

A year ago, Alison Redford was under fire for spending $45,000 of taxpayer funds for a charter flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones). And because she spent thousands to fly her daughter and friend on government planes. And because she wanted to spend government funds on a private penthouse suite for herself in Edmonton. And because she had her staff create “ghost flyers” so that she wouldn’t have to sit next to the proles on her flights.

It just proves the old saying that governments tend to grow out of touch during their 13th consecutive term in power.

Exit Redford. Enter Prentice.

Prentice quickly announced two popular policies:

1. Scrapping an unpopular plan to redesign Alberta license plates.

2. Not being Alison Redford.

While this gave the PCs a jolt of life, there were still storm clouds on the horizon:

1. Prentice was leading a 43-year old government which had barely escaped defeat two years earlier.

2. With oil prices tanking, he would need to raise taxes or cut services in his first budget.

3. In one of his first leadership tests, he completely bungled the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools. His compromise would have forced teenagers to go to court if a school board said no. His cold “rights are never absolute” response left many irate. “Maybe that should be on the license plate” tweeted Rick Mercer.

By showing a deft ear, Prentice had effectively torn up the “Wildrose are bigots” card he no doubt intended to play during the next election.

But hey, Prentice had an insurmountable 6-point lead in the polls. And he managed to hold 4 PC seats in by-elections. I mean, really, what chance did Danielle Smith have?

So, down by 1 goal in the second period, Danielle Smith concluded the situation was hopeless, and she gave up.


What now for the Wildrose Party?

The Wildrosers will select a new leader on March 28th, at which point they’ll have a day or two to print the signs, draft a platform, record commercials, round out their candidate slate, and find a bus that doesn’t cause us all to giggle.

Three candidates are contesting the leadership:

You may know Drew Barnes as one of the “Wildrose 5″ who did not defect.

You may know Brian Jean as the former backbench CPC MP who sent crossword puzzles about himself to his constituents (what’s a 9-letter word for excessive preoccupation with ones self?).

You may know Linda Osinchuk if you are related to Linda Osinchuk.

Still, even though they are now little more than a fringe group of angry right wingers, the Wildrose Party still said “we’re too good for you, Rob Anders“. Which shows they have higher standards than the federal Conservatives, if nothing else.


And the Liberals?

They’re also leaderless, after Raj Sherman abruptly resigned last month. They won’t be selecting a permanent leader until after the election, but it’s not like they’ve had much success with leaders lately, so why not?


So the opposition parties are all leaderless heading into the election?

You’re forgetting about the NDP, which is understandable. But Rachel Notley is an impressive politician.

Still, the NDP are non-factors outside Edmonton – they failed to crack 4% of the vote in any of the three Calgary by-elections last fall. Those were the same by-elections that caused Danielle Smith to thrown in the towel, and she got 9 times as many votes as the NDP.

And with the divided vote on the left, it’s hard to imagine the NDP taking more than 6 or 7 seats in Edmonton.

Still, that will likely be enough to make Notley leader of the opposition.


Yeah, vote splitting…it doesn’t really make sense for Alberta to have 2 parties to the left of the PCs does it?

Oh, you are not going to like what I have to tell you next.

The divided left has been a problem in Alberta for years. So progressives looked at the situation and reached the only logical conclusion as to what was needed: A third progressive party.

Enter the Alberta Party. After a lot of listening and a lot of tweeting, the Alberta Party earned just 17,172 votes province-wide last election.

So, at least those vote splitting concerns proved unfounded.


Well then, what’s this about Laurie Blakeman working to unite the left?

Last week, Blakeman announced she had been nominated by the Liberals, Alberta Party, and Alberta Greens (yeah, there’s a fourth party on the left) as their candidate in Edmonton Centre.

While I applaud Ms. Blakeman for this step towards uniting the left, this is about as small a step as one could possibly take. Step is likely too strong a word. Maybe inching? It’s barely a new development, as neither the Alberta Party nor the Greens ran against Blakeman last election. In 2008, the two parties earned a combined 514 votes in Edmonton Centre. I guess having their logos on her lit makes for nice symbolism, but this isn’t exactly the Wayne Gretzky endorsement.


So basically you’re saying that with a long time, scandal-plagued government battling an economic collapse, the opposition is leaderless, infective, and divided.

Is Jim Prentice the luckiest guy in the world?

Yes. Yes, he is.


The Wildrose Shrivels

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics | 3 Comments
Prepare to be assimilated - resistance is futile. Danielle Smith joins the Borg.

Prepare to be assimilated – resistance is futile. Danielle Smith joins the Borg.

It’s being spun as a “reconciliation”, but if reports are to be believed, it’s very much the Wildrose rebels crawling back to their former comrades and begging for their political lives. In exchange for blowing up their party, Danielle Smith and a half dozen MLAs will be given seats on the government benches and a Jim Prentice endorsement for their local PC nomination. Added to this are a few token “concessions” to provide cover: No sales tax; A list of infrastructure priorities; A commitment to teaching the “3 Rs” in school. Bold stuff.

I guess once the PCs agreed to keep “Wildrose Country” on the license plate, there really weren’t any big battles left worth fighting.

The great irony is that a party created to give the grassroots a voice is trying to self-immolate in the least grassroots way possible. The McKay-Harper merger may have been negotiated in the backrooms, but it was approved by over 90% of both party memberships. In this instance, Smith and her MLAs have set the house ablaze and run out the back door. Sure, members are welcome to try and rebuild, but the reality is the Wildrose is unlikely to become much more than it was before Smith brought the party to relevance – a few angry men screaming on the fringes.

As the federal unite the right movement showed, there are times when principles must be compromised for the sake of pragmatism. There may have been fundamental differences between the Alliance and PCs, but they recognized the alternative to merger was another decade of Liberal rule. You could accuse them of being in it for power, but it was still power driven by purpose.

Here? Suffice to say, Danielle Smith did not do this to derail the Raj Sherman juggernaut. After all, progressives may be the only group in Alberta more dysfunctional than the Edmonton Oilers. Their solution to the vote split on the left has been to create more parties on the left.

Indeed, while the left had zero chance of winning the next election, the Wildrose were still very much in the game. Polling this fall showed the Wildrose and PCs within a few points of each other, a far cry from the 10-30 point leads Alison Redford enjoyed after taking the leadership. The Wildrose admittedly under-performed in fall by-elections, but the Jim Prentice honeymoon is not going to last forever. There’s an old saying in politics that “time for a change” sentiment really peaks towards the end of a party’s 12th term, and Prentice’s handling of the gay rights debate last week showed he is just as adept at creating problems for himself as his predecessor. With oil prices cratering, the PCs will soon find themselves facing difficult fiscal decisions.

This wasn’t a case of “if you can’t beat them, join ’em”. True, the Alberta PCs are the longest serving government in Canadian history for a reason, but Smith could have won, had she chosen to stay and fight.

She chose not to. Maybe she was tired. Maybe the perks of an eventual Cabinet position were too much to pass up. Regardless of the reason, there’s one inescapable conclusion. When you make as much noise as Smith did about a government being tired and corrupt – and then join them – it’s clear you never really believed in your convictions as much as you claimed to.

In that respect, she’ll be right at home in her new party.

43 year old government proposes term limits

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics | 1 Comment
A future Jim Prentice caucus?

A future Jim Prentice caucus?

An Alberta PC leadership race devoid of ideas has its first eye-catching policy.

Presumptive front-runner Jim Prentice has pledged limits of 2 terms on the Premier and 3 terms on MLAs. This no doubt comes in response to accusations the PC government has grown stale over time, though I would point out that many of their problems stem from the actions of a politician who became Premier after just three years as an MLA, before exiting in disgrace after winning a single election as Premier.

Meanwhile, I’d be very curious if Prentice feels his old boss, gunning for a fourth term as PM next year, is past his “best before” date. I’d also be curious if Prentice feels this is true of the following 13 MLAs who have endorsed him:

Moe Amery
Neil Brown
Pearl Calahasan
Wayne Cao
Alana DeLong
Yvonne Fritz
Hector Goudreau
Doug Griffiths
Doug Horner
Mary Anne Jablonski
Frank Oberle
Dave Rodney
George Rogers

Yes, they would all be grandfathered in under Prentice’s proposal, but this still comes across as a bit of a slap to their faces.

Truth be told, many of the names on that list likely have passed their best before date, but isn’t that up to voters to decide? Admittedly there are safe ridings, but as Rob Anders learned this spring, open nominations are a method of removing some rot, without forcing out good politicians.

This is nothing more than a gimmicky proposal that would merely drive experienced politicians out of office. The PCs need to change now, and by exempting current MLAs, this would not lead to any changes until long after Prentice leaves office.

In the Record Books

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics | 2 Comments

fathers PCThese are not happy days for the party which has ruled Alberta since before Happy Days ever aired, but the PCs had something to celebrate this weekend as they passed Ontario’s Big Blue Machine Nova Scotia’s Big Red Machine to become the longest serving government in Canadian history.

There are many reasons for their longevity. An ability to portray themselves as the true defenders of Alberta against the federal government. Leveraging the resources that come with power to their maximum advantage. Inept opposition parties, who were not helped by the actions of their federal counterparts.

But above all else, the Alberta PCs are still ticking because they have shown an uncanny ability to adapt and evolve. The party would have ended in 1993 if Ralph Klein hadn’t completely shaken up the establishment and their approach to government. It would have ended in 2012 if Alison Redford hadn’t flown in to rebrand, sucking up votes on the left of the political spectrum.

And it will end in a year or two if Jim Prentice isn’t able to adapt again.

Politicians in Cowboy Hats

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats | 2 Comments

For a brief history of Stampede fashion, you can read the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013 round-ups – or “100 Years of Bad Photo-Ops

This week’s pilgrimage of politicians to the Stampede was met with less fanfare than some years gone by. This wasn’t the first rodeo for any of the party leaders, and ever since the leather vest incident, wardrobes are vetted by dozens of staffers and stylists. So there were few surprises and few opportunities to ridicule.

And, let’s be honest, everyone was there for the Shat.

Shatner montage

Which kind of makes me sad Jack Layton isn’t around anymore. Mulcair? He’s supposed to be in town this weekend (if Harper lets him), but I see him as more of a Picard than a Kirk fan. Or maybe Riker – post beard.

Layton trekkie

That left the spotlight squarely on Justin Trudeau, flanked by local Liberal candidates who are trying to go where no Calgary Liberals have gone before (at least in the last 40 years) – to Ottawa.

Trudeau with Calgary Skyview candidate Darshan Kang and Calgary Confederation candidate Matt Grant

Trudeau with Calgary Skyview candidate Darshan Kang and Calgary Confederation candidate Matt Grant

Fresh off a victory of sorts in Fort McMurray – the heart of the oilsands – there are high hopes for a Calgary breakthrough. Ironically, it may be a Trudeau who finally puts the ghost of the NEP to bed in Alberta.

In the gold old days, Calgary children were raised that a Trudeau was to be kicked in the shins, not high fived. Times have changed.

In the good old days, Calgary children were raised that a Trudeau was to be kicked in the shins, not high fived. Times have changed.

In a rare show of civility, Harper shakes Xavier Trudeau's hand, before turning to crowd and reminding them Trudeau is trying to push pot on their children.

In a rare show of civility, Harper shakes Xavier Trudeau’s hand, before turning to the crowd and reminding them Xavier’s dad is trying to push pot on their children.

Harper interviews candidates to fill the senate vacancies.

Harper interviews candidates to fill senate vacancies.

With what now seems like a yearly tradition – an Alberta PC leadership race – in full swing, I’ve taken the opportunity to rank the would-be-Premiers by their Stampede wardrobes. After all, the PC constitution forbids them from talking about policy, so what else are Albertans going to base their decision on?

Finishing third, and the winner of “worst dressed” this year, is Tom Lukaszuk. I recognize he spends 30 minutes on his hair every morning, but surely he could have donned a cowboy hat just this once? All I’m asking for is the bare minimum effort.

luzakuk

In second, Ric McIver gives it the bare minimum effort, wearing jeans and at least carrying a hat around.

mciver

Like the leadership race itself, there was never any doubt about who would win this fashion round-up. Jim Prentice has been a Stampede All-Star over the years – he rides a horse, throws a breakfast, and makes a wide range of outfits work.

Prentice

And, finally, there is Naheed Nenshi, who this week passed the Calgary Tower as the city’s most photographed landmark.

nenshi

Sing a Song for Jim

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics | 6 Comments

The Alberta PCs may very well be beyond saving, but if anyone can give new life to the 43-year old dynasty, it’s Jim Prentice.

100 Years of Bad Photo Ops

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics, Featured Posts, Federal Politics, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats | 7 Comments

As you have probably heard a hundred times over the past month, the Calgary Stampede turns 100 this year.

Calgary has changed a lot over this time. A seat at the 1912 rodeo cost 50 cents. Calgary’s population was 70,000. And, oh yeah, back then Alberta was a Liberal bastion, with the Grits holding 6 of 7 federal Alberta ridings and 36 of 41 provincial seats. Times have changed.

So maybe then-Prime Minister Robert Borden can be forgiven for not braving the hostile frontier known as Liberal Calgary to visit the first ever Stampede.

The first notable political Stampede photo-opp I could track down came from 1928, featuring soon-to-be-Prime Minister RB Bennett. Bennett, after all, was from Calgary and actually once owned what would become the Stampede land.

RB Bennett left his Bennett buggy at home to walk the grounds

It’s not clear when it became expected for Prime Ministers to “go cowboy”, but I suspect the sight of Lester B Pearson in a three-piece suit and bow-tie may have been the tipping point that made politicians realize they needed to at least try and fit in. It’s hard to look more out of place than Pearson, so this photo may well have been his “leather vest” moment.

Mike Pearson lets loose at a 1960s Hays Breakfast

Next up is one of the most bizarre sights ever witnessed in Calgary’s history: The great satan himself, Pierre Trudeau, riding a horse down 6th avenue, in suit (with his trademark lapel rose) and cowboy hat, waving to the crowd. It’s a look any other politician would have been ridiculed about for weeks, but if there’s one thing even Albertans could agree Trudeau had, it was style.

And any time you can ride a horse with confidence, you usually get passing grades on the Stampede Fashion Report.

No, that’s not an effigy. That’s Trudeau himself. (1978)

Liberal Prime Ministers since Trudeau have not fared as well. While Jean Chretien delighted in telling the same story about his great uncle visiting Alberta in 1900 on each and every trip to Calgary, he always looked out of place at Stampede.

Paul Martin meanwhile, was always Paul Martin – trying too hard to make everyone love him. Photo ops galore with the Calgary Flames is one thing – the “I love Alberta Beef” sticker and full jean outfit was likely overkill.

Not only did he enjoy stealing Alberta’s money…the grinch himself stole their donuts (1995)

Paul Martin at the most important Stampede ever, in 2004

Which finally brings us to the most infamous Stampede picture of them all.

The year was 2005, long before then-leader of the opposition Stephen Harper hired a psychic/stylist. It’s too bad, because she could have cautioned him against the tight leather vest and backwards cowboy hat that made him look like one of the Village People. At the very least, she would have been able to predict the coast-to-coast ridicule his outfit prompted.

Mind you, 7 months later Harper was Prime Minister, so he got the final laugh.

Luckily, this picture doesn’t show the ass-less chaps.

Harper’s an Alberta boy, so he should have known better. But, for some reason, Albertans sometimes have great difficulty looking like Albertans.

Take Ed Stelmach who, in 2007, had one of the worst Stampedes ever. Stelmach kicked off his first Premier’s breakfast by welcoming everyone to the “Alberta Stampede“. Minutes later, he was nearly pied. To top it off, the man looked horribly out-of-place the entire time in a dark blue suit jacket and a “get me out of here” smile.

Miraculously, this picture was never used in a “flip flop” campaign commercial.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are others who had varying degrees of success in pulling off the “cowboy look” over the years.

Mackenzie King can be forgiven for leaving his cowboy hat at home in 1939, when the King and Queen came visiting.

Carolyn Bennett finds herself at the Hays Breakfast, after getting lost en route to an “ugly Christmas sweater” party

PC leadership candidate Gary Mar poses with the winner of the Gary Mar look-alike contest, in 2011

Harry Chase always shows up to Stampede breakfasts looking like he’s ready for a gun fight at the O-K Corral.

Jim Prentice poses with the Tory caucus, in 2009

Gilles Duceppe, during a rare visit to the Stampede grounds, in 1997

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