Departing Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So long, Stephen Mandel, at least we can’t say we hardly knew ye!

Mr. Mandel announced in a news release yesterday he would step down on June 30 as leader of the Alberta Party – which he took over after an internal coup last year and turned from a vehicle for disaffected Alberta Liberals into a vehicle for disaffected Progressive Conservatives.

Former Alberta Party leader Greg Clark (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As it turned out, the timing was all wrong: a polarized electorate, a province-wide majority of Conservatives determined not to endure another four years of NDP rule, and a left-leaning Capital Region just as determined not to split the progressive vote to the United Conservative Party’s further advantage would probably have doomed the Alberta Party no matter who its leader was.

With slightly different circumstances, though, things could have turned out very differently for the former Edmonton city councillor, three-term mayor, PC health minister, and MLA. Love it or hate it, Edmonton’s lavish $600-million-plus downtown hockey arena project – owned by billionaire Daryl Katz and substantially paid for by Edmonton taxpayers – will now be Mr. Mandel’s best-known political legacy.

The Alberta Party gambit was Mr. Mandel’s second comeback bid after he retired from Edmonton civic politics in October 2013. It was marginally less successful than the first, in 2014, when PC premier Jim Prentice appointed him unelected to the health portfolio and he subsequently won a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud that fall, serving as MLA for five and a half months until the PCs were swept away by the NDP in May 2015.

The late Jim Prentice with Mr. Mandel soon after the PC premier put him unelected into his cabinet (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Nevertheless, in the end, Mr. Mandel’s undeniable talents as a political pro and fund-raiser didn’t amount to the proverbial hill o’ beans for the Alberta Party. It had three MLAs going into the April 16 election, albeit two of them floor crossers, and zero after the polls closed on election night.

This prompted some sniping on social media yesterday, but in fairness, Mr. Mandel did something no one else could, briefly getting the Alberta Party onto the radar with the province’s voters, raising the party’s provincial share of the vote from 2.2 per cent in 2015 to 9.1 per cent. Despite his fund-raising talents, though, the party is in financial disarray.

From the perspective of the present, blessed as we are with 20/20 hindsight, it looks very much as if the Alberta Party would have been better off if it had stuck with its previous leader, capable former Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark, who was pushed aside by Mr. Mandel’s backers despite having a credible chance of re-election if he’d remained leader. Leastways, no one can claim the party would have done even worse with Mr. Clark at the helm.

So yesterday’s development sees Mr. Mandel return to a fretful retirement and the Alberta Party facing a bleak future with its supporters unsure if they’re supposed to be Red Tories or fiscally conservative Liberals, or if they have enough money to serve either constituency.

Former NDP Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, an alumna of Concordia University of Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

You could argue the Red Tory-Blue Grit thing is a recipe for a big-tent small-c conservative party like the now-defunct PCs, but recent developments suggest that in a fiscally, socially, and even regionally polarized province, it’s actually more like a formula for permanent failure.

The search is now on for an interim Alberta Party leader. There will be a proper leadership race eventually, which will generate a few headlines, so the ennui will continue a little longer. After that, I predict, pfffft.

As for Mr. Mandel, if his wife can’t stand having him around the house, there’s always the municipal election in October 2021. The Senate “election” on the same date is out, unfortunately, since Mr. Mandel will be 76 by then and Senators must retire at 75.

In the mean time, the Windsor, Ont., native who received much of his university education in the United States will have to satisfy himself in the ceremonial role of chancellor of Edmonton’s tiny Concordia University, a former Lutheran college founded in 1921 that today has fewer than 2,000 students.

It’s hard to believe he will find that very engaging or will be able to resist the temptation to make a nuisance of himself.

Edmonton-Glenora NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman, another former health minister, is an alumna of that institution.

Ontario Court of Appeal upholds federal carbon tax; Alberta proclaims law breaking public sector contracts

Also yesterday in Alberta politics…

  • The Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld the federal Government’s right to impose a carbon tax, rejecting arguments made by the government of Conservative Premier Doug Ford. In a similar case last month, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal made a similar decision. This preponderance of legal opinion, however, is unlikely to stop Alberta from pursuing a similarly doomed challenge because the coordinated effort by Conservative provincial governments is a way to use provincial tax dollars to campaign politically against the Liberal federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The legal effectiveness of such arguments is increasingly obvious, as is the unethical nature of using of tax funds this way. The jury remains out on its political effectiveness.
  • Bill 9, the unconstitutional legislation by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government delaying collective bargaining and arbitration for tens of thousands of public employees until the end of October, received Royal Assent and was proclaimed into law. The delay specifically breaks provisions in several public sector unions’ current collective agreements. Background on the motivation and strategy behind the Public Sector Arbitration Deferral Act is found here.
  • Remember when Mr. Kenney accused the NDP of lying about the state of the province’s books, claiming the province’s finances were a worse mess than the former government had said? Turns out that what the NDP significantly underestimated was the amount of progress they’d made reducing the deficit. The latest government statistics show the deficit was more than $2 billion smaller than last year’s forecast by the NDP. Not a lie; just caution. The UCP has no shame, though, so they continued to complain about NDP overspending and offered no apologies or acknowledgements for Mr. Kenney’s disingenuous rhetoric.

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  1. Good riddance.

    Oh, and thank you for stealing votes that would otherwise have gone to the NDP. If we have a Kenney party in AB, you can thank all the fringe parties that helped split the vote thereby helping the pee pee party.

  2. I liked Mandel, but from day 1 I thought he was not the right leader for the Alberta Party. If they stuck with Clark, they might have at least held on to the one seat they had, or maybe not. They actually did fairly well in the last election, doubling their vote percentage to around 10%, which has in some recent provincial elections resulted in parties getting 4 or 5 MLA’s, but unfortunately for Mandel and his party not this time. This last election, most Albertans decided to go left or right, leaving very little room for a party in the middle.

    I have to wonder what the future holds for the Alberta Party. The respectable vote percentage they got indicates their might be some hope, particularly if some UCP supporters become disenchanted with Kenney if he does not live up to his promises or hype. However, being shut out of the legislature is a difficult hurdle to overcome and I think the Alberta Party might struggle to attract someone of a high caliber to take over now that Mr. Mandel is going. It might be that 10% was a high water mark for a party that has such a great name, but has struggled to get support and be taken seriously.

    It might have been better if Mr. Mandel stayed on a bit longer to help build or rebuild the party. There is sure no rush to choose a new leader as the next election will not be for several years. However, I suspect Mr. Mandel’s interest and enthusiasm has waned considerably since the election result and retirement probably looks much better to him than hard political slogging, which he would not get the benefit from or much credit for anyways.

    1. @Dave: They didn’t double their vote percentage … they more than quadrupled it—from 2.2% in 2015, to 9.1% in May 2019 (source: Elections Alberta Official Results page). But their vote was highly inefficient, and they failed to elect a single MLA. In hindsight, they would probably have done better had they adopted the federal Green Party’s tactic of focusing all of their efforts on a few key ridings where they had a decent chance of winning, instead of the implausible charade that they were gunning for government.

      But they still did far better than the moribund Alberta Liberals …

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