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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- #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!
- 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.