As the year runs out, here are AlbertaPolitics.ca’s Top Ten developing Alberta political news stories of 2017

Posted on December 29, 2017, 3:01 am
13 mins

PHOTOS: As time runs out on 2017, here are AlbertaPolitics.ca’s Top Ten developing new stories for the year. Below: Opposition UCP Leader Jason Kenney, NDP Premier Rachel Notley, serial conservative screw-up Derek Fildebrandt and Labour Minister Christina Gray.

It’s easy to pick list of news stories that caused a big splash the day they appeared.

Not so easy to choose stories of significance that unfold over weeks and months. Still, the latter sort may be a better guide to what’s happened in the year just ending, and what’s likely to happen in the one ahead. Picking a limited number of stories concentrates the mind helpfully, too.

So, without further ado, here’s AlbertaPolitics.ca’s list of the 10 most significant developing political stories in Alberta in 2017:

  1. Jason Kenney unites the right. It overstates things to say that the former Calgary MP and Harper Government cabinet heavy united Alberta’s entire ever fractious right, but not by much. He did succeed beyond many observers’ expectations in uniting its two biggest components, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives, into the awkwardly named but politically potent United Conservative Party. In doing so, Mr. Kenney achieved what other clever political operators could not. In the estimation of your blogger, this is the most significant Alberta political story of 2017. It proves Mr. Kenney is a shrewd politician (with friends in low places) who is not to be trifled with. His success is not a guarantee the right will win the next Alberta general election, as the prevailing media narrative would have you believe, but it is fair to predict Mr. Kenney and his UCP will enter the 2019 campaign as frontrunners.
  2. Levelling the election finance playing field. While the effort by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP majority that started in 2015 and continued through to 2017 to bring some order to Alberta’s historical Wild West election financing rules didn’t generate the biggest headlines on any given day, by levelling the political playing field even a little it has the potential for an unexpectedly significant outcome. No legislation will ever succeed completely in getting the big money out of politics, but the NDP has made progress, and that progress will have a measurable impact on making Alberta more democratic. Right wingers, who demonstrated their contempt for the idea of getting big money out of politics by immediately setting up U.S.-style PAC slush funds, will grind their teeth privately about this because the optics of opposing it aggressively are risky. The latest NDP election financing legislation places some controls on PACs.
  3. Lake of Fire 2.0. The Lake of Fire is a reference to the famous bozo eruption of the 2012 Alberta election in which a loose-lipped Wildrose candidate who thought all LGBTQ folks were bound for Hell torpedoed the up-to-then buoyant Wildrose Party’s ship with one ill-considered blog post. Here we are more than five years later, and several members of the UCP’s Legislative caucus still can’t keep their lips zipped about this politically explosive topic. Nor could the UCP’s new leader, for a spell – although he changed his tune a smidgen once he’d won a seat in the Legislature in the Dec. 15 Calgary-Lougheed by-election. Pro-UCP pundits – which is all of them but for a couple of bloggers – took this to mean Albertans don’t really care about this issue any more. Don’t be too sure. The Good Book may yet prove to be right: Pride goeth before destruction.
  4. Improving life for working people. The NDP’s first major fumble in 2015 was its mishandling of farm safety legislation. Bill 6 aroused a huge brouhaha among many farmers and set the government on its back foot. Since then, they’ve handled this file much more deftly, thanks in large part to the appointment of the capable Christina Gray as Labour Minister. They’ve moved needed and promised increases in the minimum wage ahead despite apocalyptic screeching by business special interest groups and right-wing Astro-Turfers. They’ve introduced important reforms to the Workers Compensation Board, workplace safety rules, labour legislation, and protections for women in the workplace. Nothing revolutionary here, mostly just stuff that’s worked well in other provinces for decades. The Opposition has played to its special interests, but these laws may be more popular than they first thought, and they attack them too fiercely at their peril.
  5. The Trump Effect. Or Jason Kenney’s War on Facts. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Opposition leader has a fairly casual relationship with the truth, not unlike that of the famous orange-haired politician south of the Medicine Line. A day rarely passes without Mr. Kenney being credibly attacked for stretching facts beyond recognition – although the usual suspects in mainstream media can be counted on to jump to his defence. Whether he’s talking about the proximity of Russian fighters to Canadian ships, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean’s love life, or the ability of non-Albertans to vote here under NDP election laws, pretty well anything he says needs to be run past a fact checker. Possibly encouraged by Donald Trump’s example, Mr. Kenney seems to be getting worse. This has no impact on his most enthusiastic supporters and the jury’s out on the rest of us. It’s certainly lowered the tone of political discourse in Alberta.
  6. The NDP swerve toward austerity. Premier Notley’s political advisors have obviously concluded they have no chance of reelection if they don’t address Albertans’ not-entirely-rational fear of deficits, carefully nurtured by generations of conservative politicians. Accordingly they have swerved back toward austerity before their economic stimulus has had a chance to do its job properly. They may be right that this simply reflects deeply entrenched public attitudes in Alberta. Or they may just be alienating their own supporters. I’m on the fence about the effectiveness about this one for a progressive political party that was able to take advantage of profound changes in the Alberta electorate that had been taking place for a long time but which no one much had noticed until Ms. Notley came along as leader.
  7. Alberta enviro-skepticism and the pipeline pas de deux. If there is a signal policy failure by the NDP, it is the apparent inability of its environmental policies, in particular its carbon levy, to make much headway against both the entrenched climate-charge denialism of the political right and the die-hard environmentalism of many of Alberta’s neighbours, particularly the ones next door to the west. That could all change if visible construction actually starts on a pipeline through B.C., even a mere pipeline expansion. But the fact that the NDP has gotten further than any conservative party on this file counts for nothing as long as little progress can be shown on the ground.
  8. The PC Alberta Party takeover. In the great scheme of things, the apparent takeover of the only marginally successful Alberta Party by a group of disgruntled Progressive Conservatives is not that big a story. Despite its great name, the party has never really captured the imagination of Albertans. Plus, there’s no consensus that a PC takeover is what actually happened – although that’s the clear inference from the rather murky facts. This may turn out to be the death of the Alberta Party, or it may turn out to be the rise of a new moderate progressive conservative party to challenge Mr. Kenney’s social-conservative tinged, highly ideological UCP. But can that happen fast enough to impact the 2019 election? Unlikely.
  9. #Fildef**kups. From the perspective of pure entertainment, there has been no better political story this year than former Wildrose Party, former UCP, now Independent Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt’s serial screw-ups. There was the Airbnb brouhaha, which is so well known it doesn’t even require an explanation; the guilty conviction for crashing his huge manly red pickup truck into a neighbour’s car and bugging off without so much as a by your leave; then the charges for illegally hunting on private land. What more could happen in the next 48 hours? For sheer hilarity, the self-righteous Mr. Fildebrandt’s spectacularly bad year couldn’t even match UCP House Leader Jason Nixon’s pious condemnation of NDP legal protections against sexual harassment … moments before it was revealed he’d once fired a single mom hours before Christmas for complaining about being sexually harassed by a contractor. Oh my!
  10. The Saskatchewan bombshell. No, I’m not talking about Premier Brad Wall quitting next month, and I’m not talking about his farcical licence plate war, which is bound to be quietly settled as soon as he shuffles unpleasantly from the scene. I am talking about the ruling of a Saskatchewan superior court last April that as of next June 30, non-Catholic students may no longer be funded if they attend Roman Catholic schools in the province. Because of the constitutionally entrenched federal legislation that required the provincial governments of the former North West Territories to finance Catholic education, this is potentially as much of a problem for Alberta as Saskatchewan. And it’s sitting like an unexploded bomb from a forgotten war beneath a peaceful downtown parking lot. Just because nobody wants to deal with this doesn’t mean they won’t have to.

Testing last year’s New Year predictions for accuracy

Now is the time to confess that my 10 political predictions for 2017 from last December do not have a completely unblemished record for accuracy.

Of 10 predictions, four are certainly right, two are right with qualifications, one was right but is still unproved, and one was right until it wasn’t. Two were flat-out wrong.

Readers, of course, may give these points a less charitable rating for accuracy. Click here to decide for yourself.

13 Comments to: As the year runs out, here are AlbertaPolitics.ca’s Top Ten developing Alberta political news stories of 2017

  1. December 29th, 2017

    Hi David, Excellent roundup of Alberta political stories for 2017, it’s going to be an interesting couple of years coming up. Rhetorical question: Will UCP’s Jason Kenney actually completely disavow and not dogwhisttle and rely on Ezra Levant (Kenney’s Pal from way back in Reform Party days). And will Andrew Sheer for that matter. They seem loathe to really let go of their channel to rabid base.

    Reply
  2. Jerrymacgp

    December 29th, 2017

    A few notes about predictions 1 & 10 … firstly, you could not have predicted that some Ontario-based provincial politician from the GTA would not only enter the race, but win on the first ballot count. Mr Singh seems like a nice enough fellow, and of course it is noteworthy that he is the first “person of colour” and baptized Sikh to lead a major Canadian political party. But I fear he is nothing more than another pretty face and an empty suit, who has gained no traction at all from Canadians. New Democrats have fallen for the newness instead of the substance, and the federal NDP will once again fade into the political wilderness from which the late Jack Layton had briefly rescued it.

    As for the Cons, at the time you wrote those predictions, IIRC, the even nuttier Kevin O’Leary had not yet entered that race, even though he would later drop out. However, Mr Bernier did have one thing going for him: intellectual consistency. His free-market fundamentalism, which included ending supply management in certain agricultural sectors, had at least the saving grace of being logically consistent with his party’s ideological positioning, even though it is still wrong. He was the only Conservative leadership candidate with the courage to put forward an honest platform that laid bare the heartlessness of Conservatism.

    Reply
  3. Ryan H

    December 29th, 2017

    I’ve been trying to keeping up to date on any developments on #10, the Saskatchewan Catholic school ruling. But finding any ongoing coverage or analysis is really hard.

    Anyone here know a good place to keep track of ongoing developments? A blog or news source that will post anything if and when it happens? Even a twitter hashtag that is specific to the issue rather than all education posts?

    On a related note I haven’t seen much, if any, third party analysis of the ruling. There’s enough Canadian law blogs around that I would have figured there’d be at least some meaty discussion about the legal interpretation or at least thoughts of if it had a chance of appeal from people without an obvious horse in the race. Maybe it’s a big enough case that anyone with the background to analyze it is keeping their mouth shut on the assumption that they may get involved professionally sooner or later.

    Reply
  4. Farmer Brian

    December 29th, 2017

    Interesting choices, well done.

    1. I certainly agree. For Jason to have accomplished what most thought impossible in indeed an achievement. I do not support all of his policies but from my perspective of the choices that exist today he is would certainly get my vote(Does that make me one of his friends in low places?).

    4. I have 2 thoughts on this. First bill 6. Your quite right the NDP pissed off a lot of farmers and contrary to what you believe that opinion has not changed. As for the minimum wage increase, to high to fast in my opinion. Combined with all the other increases implemented by the NDP running a business costs more each day. You can only increase cost so much before they begin to fail. The minimum wage didn’t affect my business as I always payed higher wages but the cost of eating out has risen substantially in the last 2 years and I do it less.

    6. The NDP swerve to austerity. It is one thing to say you will do something, another to accomplish it. It is a no win for her. She will never lower government spending enough to satisfy those who care about deficits and for those on the left any move to responsible monetary policy in government is a non starter.

    7. As for environmental policy, I do not support the carbon tax as introduced by the NDP. The only way a carbon tax makes any sense at all is if it is revenue neutral. Tax the carbon and at the same time lower personal and corporate tax by an equal amount of revenue. Raise taxes on something you don’t want, C02, lower it on something you do want and need, income. The NDP didn’t do this because they wanted the money to spend, they always want more government. As for buying social licence, the only person the carbon tax brought on side was Justin Trudeau, even Jagmeet Singh and John Horgan are both still against pipelines. The majority of Albertan’s including myself are still against the tax.

    Enjoy your day and try to stay warm

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      December 30th, 2017

      Just to clarify, Farmer, I don’t think the NDP as been forgiven for Bill 6 in rural areas; I do think there is more support for the government’s labour law reform in urban areas, including Calgary, that the UCP seems to be anticipating. No doubt all parties will refine their positions on this issue over time, as they study their private polls. As for friends in low places, I had the likes of Stephen Harper and Preston Manning in mind. So, not you. DJC

      Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      December 30th, 2017

      Framer Brian on your first point: First bill 6. Your quite right the NDP pissed off a lot of farmers and contrary to what you believe that opinion has not changed.

      Who do those pissed off farmers expect to pay for their injured farm workers? Without Bill 6 the taxpayers end up paying for many of those injured workers by AISH and adding to the Alberta deficit. I owned a small business and still own a farm and I always had WCB for workers. It was a disgrace when those so called cowboys on their horses tried to challenge Notley on Bill 6. Ralph backed down on Bill 6 and shelved it. Good on Notley for not backing down on those thugs.

      Reply
      • Farmer Brian

        December 31st, 2017

        Farmer Dave, one must remember that farmers always had the option of WCB for their workers, the difference the NDP made was to make it mandatory. Realistically what the roll out of Bill 6 showed was a fundamental misunderstanding of farm life. As an example, the right to refuse dangerous work, cerainly makes sense. As a cattle farmer to a great extent my ability to make a living is related to how many live calves I have to sell in the fall. As an example, if I am out on my routine midnight check during calving season, a cow has just calved and the amniotic sac is over the calf’s face, I have no time to debate I have to run in and pull it off. Now in the world of unions there are 2 problems with this scenario. First I check my cows at 6 in the morning and last check at midnight, in a union shop this would require 3 shifts or 3 employees. Second the employee would certainly have the right to refuse to run in the pen until someone else could come help him to increase the level of safety but by then the calf is dead. This is a theoretical example except that it usually happens 2 or 3 times a season.

        When it come right down to it, I think farmers were just not happy that a group of urban politicians with no practical knowledge of life on the farm were enacting legislation that would dictate how the farm was run. To the NDP’s credit they did make some changes to the initial bill but by then the damage was done.

        Reply
        • Farmer Dave

          December 31st, 2017

          Farmer Brian, the point I was making is I know some people who worked for farmers who didn’t have any coverage were injured and now cannot work. Two of them are on AISH probably for the rest of their lives. Those farmers they worked for didn’t care and were not helpful to those two who were injured.

          And the problem you are pointing out about calving is one that I understand very well although I have not done any of that for over 20 years. Today farmers need to ensure they are competitive or they will get eaten up by the largest corporate farms who have no problem working with unions and follow all safety codes including employee insurance.

          And the politician Notley I think understands farmers very well as she grew up in Fairview area, a large farming community.

          Reply
  5. Scotty on Denman

    December 29th, 2017

    Thnx much for the cogent review of Alberta politics; even touched on Ottawa (whence spewed Kenney), BC (fellow traveller but pipeline opponent), Saskatchewan (“Brad that Wall! Brad that Wall!…”), The North West[ern] Territories (…is the Vatican controlling our Constitution?), and even the fakery of The Fake Orange One (Kenney). Bravo!

    I love it when history can’t be made to go away but at the same time can’t be forced to repeat itself. So much of the condescension Alberta perceives coming from BC is rooted in the strategic transcontinental race between the Greater Anglo-Saxony siblings that rode roughshod over the High Prairies of both nations in order to woo their respective La-La Lands, over 150 years ago. Yet the social conservativism Jason Kenney tries to inflict on the growing-up-fast province is probably as anachronistic as the attriting audience he appears to be preaching to. Of course the Holy school Ghost only haunts today because of the Constitution’s intentional anachronism, and the Wild-West political financing rules only hang on, as anachronistic beneficiaries think it should, out of habit, one we hope won’t relapse.

    From my point-of-view (and with the perspective of having lived and worked in both the great Alberta and the Greater Vancouver area — the TMX pipeline terminus), the BC Interior wildfires of 2017 that filled my yard with acrid smoke way out here on the Coast reminded me of Fort Mac, yet we’ve heard little of how much of it has recovered in light of low oil prices. Since Westjet’s regular flights to Comox began some years ago, we’ve grown accustom to Albertans vacationing or retiring in our Valley — and the enclave of conservative politics in an otherwise socialist region they brought with them. Not that the retirement phenomenon has slackened any, but the Prairie dosage has been diluted by a more recent wave of Vancouverites and Victorians cashing in their now-outlandishly expensive properties and relocating, with tidy profits, to the pleasant Comox Valley where the weather is warmer, less windy than Vic, and less rainy than Van, putting upward pressure on housing affordability in our rain-shadow paradise, something the “cowboys” wave never did.

    The biggest news of 2017 for BC was the defeat of the 16-year BC Liberal regime, interesting not least because of curious parallels with Alberta: both provinces have now switched from longtime right-wing governments: both are now governed by the NDP. Alberta’s first NDP government seemed to come out of nowhere. The defeated, four decade-old PC government eventually collapsed. The BC NDP, in contrast, had ruled a number of terms before and has otherwise always been the government-in-waiting. This it time relegated a right-wing party that had governed for a comparatively shorter time; it remains the Official Opposition against the Dippers’ Green-backed minority. During the last quarter century, BC’s regional politics and ethnic make-up has remained about the same as the province has grown, but Alberta has substantially changed socio-ethnically and, now, politically. BC has always attracted cosmopolitan diversity, whether for business, immigration or retirement; Alberta attracts people for fewer reasons, almost entirely for business and jobs, and when working years are over, retirement in BC, if in Canada at all, is common.

    2018 will be interesting because of BC and Alberta’s NDP governments. Premiers Horgan and Notley have worked as staff for the BC NDP and know each other fairly well. The bitumen bugbear will continue to make the two co-partisan premiers butt heads: the TMX pipeline expansion project which aims to ship dilbit from the GVRD is a potent political factor for Horgan since almost nobody on the Coast — where most British Columbians live — wants the risks posed by a seven-fold increase of tanker traffic. Notley naturally must be a strong advocate for TMX. Both their political fortunes are bound to this issue.

    Notley doesn’t have to go to the polls in 2018, but Horgan leads a minority supported, with three seats, by the Greens who are so anxious to get to the electoral reform referendum, scheduled for Fall 2018, they broke their most important campaign promise to shut down the Site-C dam which the NDP recently decided to complete. But Horgan’s pathway remains fraught with danger: if proportional representation prevails in the Referendum, the Greens will certainly be emboldened to topple the minority and precipitate an election in which they’re sure to win more seats. There is currently no accurate estimate of which way BC voters will go, but since politicians have so far not recused their respective partisanship’s from the debate, there are certainly many turns and twists to come which might make Horgan’s path much more difficult. But, assuming he can govern most of the upcoming year when the TMX pipeline issue will come to a head, his pathway is as clear as Notley’s: unwavering loyalty to their respective positions is essential to both their governments’ fortunes.

    The red hot Site-C issue has likely lost the BC NDP thousands of supporters (making me wonder if the BC Dippers themselves are also hoping pro-rep will prevail since that system would somewhat compensate for the loss of Site-C-disgruntled supporters). Former premier Christy Clark’s government rushed to get dam construction to the point of no return before the election, which seems to have succeeded in forcing her successor to complete it. Yet the absurd rationale to supply a non-existent LNG industry with Site-C power could only be made sensible by finding another buyer. After having slagged Notley’s election bid, Christy had the nerve to propose a deal to sell orphan-born Site-C power to Alberta while churlishly criticizing its use of coal-fired electrical generation. Notley naturally told the petulant, prancing majorette that as long as BC blocks TMX, Alberta would certainly not be buying any Site-C power — especially not, I would imagine, to save Christy’s political backside. But note how Christy, too, appreciated the opposition to TMX in vote-rich Lower Mainland BC: not usually reticent to spew bombast and whoppers along the campaign trail, she was conspicuously reserved and cautious about her support of TMX — which didn’t look like much support at all to Premier Notley.

    One more thing about Site-C: its on the Great Plains, on the Alberta Plateau; BC citizens there set their clocks to Alberta time, read Alberta papers and watch Alberta TV. It is the natural gas producing region of the province, adjacent to the fossil fuel province of the country. Its understandable sentiment that northeastern BC should properly be part of Alberta has been availed by the BC Liberal leadership candidates who continue to add fuel to perennial election campaign rhetoric of that region and party, that the interests of the Lower Mainland and northeastern BC are incompatible; now the NDP has made conspicuous election sweeps of once-BC Liberal strongholds in the urban GVRD and Victoria’s Capital Regional District — another measure of TMX’s unpopularity on the Coast — the BC Liberals have invented a rural-resource-regional faction they hope to champion, in an alleged battle for “justice.” But pitting one region against another probably smacks of political desperation. Who can blame them, though, after having watched in horror the fate of the venerable Alberta right? In the craziness of BC politics, there might yet be a Site-C in Alberta’s future.

    May you have a happy and prosperous 2018. We look forward to your sterling political analysis from the great province of Alberta. It can’t help but be interesting.

    Reply
  6. David

    December 30th, 2017

    I think your list is a quite good summary of where Alberta is at now. Of course, in politics always expect some of the unexpected, so #3, #5 and #9 might have some unexpected importance in 2018. I think Kenney is quite calculated and careful in his words and will try to impose the same discipline on his caucus, but the Wildrose side in particular has been prone to bozo eruptions in the past and I can see some of them veering off message in the future.

    As entertaining as Trump is, he is also draining and tiresome and I have a feeling his best days are over. In the past, Canadian Conservatives tended to admire US Republican Presidents such as Bush, even when they were widely disliked in Canada. However even Conservative US Republicans are often reluctant to embrace Trump, so I think Canadian Conservatives will even be less eager to embrace him. I think Canadian Conservatives will advocate for tax cuts in Canada based on Trump’s recent US plan, but if the Trump agenda starts to unravel, they may become very, very quiet about Trump and the US.

    The biggest wildcards in 2018 – pipelines and the Alberta economy. I think the later will be better than expected and if the former is also, that will be good news for the Alberta NDP. If the economy starts to improve noticeably that will really start to take away from the Kenney message about the NDP being the cause of Alberta’s economic woes. It is hard to run around and keep saying the sky is falling, if it starts to become apparent it is not. The NDP has done a lot to change the nature of Alberta, such as #2 and #4. It will not be easy for Kenney to unravel all of this and he is already being fuzzier on his messaging, as he knows a number of people benefit from the minimum wage and changes in the labour laws.

    Reply
  7. Brett

    December 31st, 2017

    I suspect that Kenney will follow Harper’s example.

    Place copious amounts of duct tape on each members mouth.

    Forbid any member from speaking unless the speech is pre-approved by Kenney’s staff.

    Reward those who obey, harsh punishment for those who disobey.

    If Fildebtradt gets back into caucus it will provide us with lots of entertainment value.

    Reply

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