AFL urges Premier to remain steadfast on commitment to protect farm workers
Status quo with respect to farm safety is simply not good enough, writes McGowan
EDMONTON – Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, today urged Premier Redford to remain steadfast in her commitment to protect farm workers under provincial health and safety legislation.
"I commend you for declaring your intention during your campaign for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party that, as Premier, you would protect farm workers by including them in our province's health and safety legislation," writes McGowan. "I hope, as I know the families of farm workers killed on the job hope, that you remain dedicated to this objective."
McGowan's letter (view here) was prompted by a leaked draft report from the Farm Safety Advisory Council which recommended that farm workers remain excluded from the provinces health and safety legislation.
McGowan points out that unlike other Alberta workers, farm workers are completely exempt from the Labour Relations Code, mandatory Workers Compensation Board coverage, most provisions in the Employment Standards Code, and are only covered by Occupational Health and Safety Act in mushroom factories, greenhouses, nurseries and sod farms - all other farm workers are excluded, including those working in hog barns, feed lots, and other large operations.
"Maintaining the status quo with respect to farm safety is simply not good enough," writes McGowan. "As the number of farms in Alberta declines – both family farms and corporate farms – farm fatalities remain stubbornly high, meaning farming is more dangerous now than it has been in recent memory. I fear that the continued exclusion of farm workers from Alberta's health and safety laws will allow this woeful and tragic trend to continue."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL President, 780-218-9888
Merit Contractors Association, which represents more than 1,300 "open shop" or non-unionized construction industry employers prov-incewide, wants the Redford government to make good on one of the promises it made during the election campaign. As part of their 2012 election platform, the PCs proposed introducing legislation making it mandatory for trade unions to disclose their annual financial statements to their members. They also proposed to give union members the right to opt out of any portion of union dues that fund activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
Peter Pilarski, Merit Con-tractors Association's vice-president for southern Alberta, said he believes changes to legislation are important because employees are fed up with having their union dues used to make political contributions or support certain social causes. During the 2008 provincial election campaign, for example, a series of anti-Conservative attack ads were paid for by "Albertans for Change," a coalition of the Alberta Building and Trades Council of Unions, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. In Ontario's 2011 election campaign, a coalition of unions dubbed "Working Families" spent $2.1 million on ads attacking PC leader Tim Hudak.
"If belonging to a union and paying union dues are a condition of employment for me, I should have some rights as to where that money's going. The feeling I think Canadians have is they don't have those rights right now," Pilarski said.
A survey commissioned by Merit Contractors and released by the organization today seems to indicate support for Pilarski's premise. According to the survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, only 35 per cent of the 501 employed Albertans interviewed believe union dues are well-spent, while 41 per cent do not. Seventy-two per cent of respondents believe union members should have the right to opt out of certain union activities, while 63 per cent think unionization itself shouldn't be mandatory in any workplace and employees should have the option of opting out entirely.
The survey results are based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans.
Martyn Piper, executive secretary treasurer of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers, said his union already makes its financial information fully available to its members and he has no problem with the idea of a provincial law requiring that type of disclosure from all unions.
What he is opposed to, however, is the premise of Bill C-377, a private member's bill currently before the federal House of Commons which would require unions to make all of their financial information publicly available online. He said that level of disclosure would jeopardize the privacy of everyone from pension fund recipients to vendors and contractors.
"It's our members who should know how the finances are spent," Piper said. "Do we want the rest of the world to know what we do with our finances? I don't think any organization wants that, either personally or professionally."
Piper disagreed with the idea that people should be able to opt out of certain portions of their union dues, arguing unions make their decisions democratically and members - just like in any other organization - must abide by the will of the majority. He said those who don't want to be unionized at all are free to choose an alternative workplace.
Piper added he believes advocates of such legislation are unfairly putting unions in a bad light.
"The problem is people don't understand us and they don't make any attempt to understand us," he said. "There are always people who want to attack unions, but at the end of the day, to what end?"
In spite of what was proposed in his party's campaign platform, deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to amend Alberta's labour laws. He said he will soon be inviting both sides - employers' groups and union officials - to sit down and discuss how to keep Alberta competitive while growing the labour force at the same time.
'Both sides have ideas on how to accomplish that, but those ideas are not always parallel," Lukaszuk said. "There is a balance there, and that means that either one of those two visions cannot be adopted holus-bolus."
Conducted by Leger Marketing, based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans
- (results weighted by age and gender to ensure demographic representation)
- Percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements:
- Union dues are well-spent - 35%
- Union dues are not well-spent - 41%
- Employees should have the ability to opt out of non-core union activities - 72%
- Unionization should not be a mandatory condition for employment and that employees should be able to opt out of all union dues - 63%
- Workers should be able to obtain financial information about their union - 94%
- It should be mandatory for all unions to publicly disclose their finances - 86%
- Unions have a positive role in ensuring job security - 81%
- Unions are relevant today - 40%
- Unions were once relevant, but aren't anymore - 45%
The Calgary Herald, August 31, 2012
Byline: Amanda Stephenson
Liberal MLA David Swann has called on one snack food company to stop using Alberta-produced potatoes, as child labour in the province's industry remains unregulated.
In Alberta, one member of the legislative assembly is calling for a boycott of potato farms in the Canadian province, stating that child labour continues to be employed on the farms. The company he targeted in particular was snack foods manufacturer and potato-chip giant, Frito Lay.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock defended the family farm in the Edmonton Journal. "I think it's unfair to Alberta producers, and Albertans, to write a letter to one of the chief buyers saying, 'Don't buy anything from Alberta in this area because someone might be using child labour,'" he said.
Some companies attempt to refrain from using child or forced labour as part of their ethical sourcing requirements or corporate social responsibility endeavours. David Swann would like to see the company refrain from buying Alberta potatoes under similar provisions.
On the other hand, Rob Van Roessel of the Potato Growers of Alberta is proud of the safety protocols it has pioneered in the industry. Work for children is safe so long as supervision and training is adequate he is reported saying in the Edmonton Journal.
Citing the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Edmonton Journal reports that agriculture-related fatalities are no longer government-reported. Mr. Swann, however, estimated the number to be 30 over the span of two decades. Eric Muse amp, president of the Farm Workers Union of Alberta, says that a third of agriculture fatalities are among children.
In 2008 alone, reports the Calgary Herald, six of the 23 agriculture-related deaths were among children. Many of the fatalities among children in recent years involved machinery and infrastructure—a 12-year-old pinned under a shop door; a five-year old falling off a wagon in tow of a tractor; a seven-year-old crushed at an industrial feedlot; two young children buried in grain off-loaded by a truck; a four-year-old run over; a nine-year old killed by a rolling tractor while another was asphyxiated after falling into a grain hopper; and two other youth under twelve were thrown from a truck to their deaths.
Divisions between child labour a child work can be a contentious issue. Countries around the world have different minimum ages of employment. Different rules may apply to children working on farms as compared to other industries.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "Alberta Employment Standards Code permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds with the written consent of one parent or guardian. The employment of children under 12 is prohibited."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a state party, aims to protect children from child labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour also outlaws hazardous work for children. Hazardous work is labour dangerous to the health, safety and morals of a child.
SOSChilldren's Villages, Tuesday August 28 2012
As is well known, the "Ethical Oil Institute," the Edmonton-based organization founded by Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant to support petroleum extraction companies in Alberta, has complained to the Canada Revenue Agency demanding the charitable status of Tides Canada "be reviewed for violating Canada's charities law."
Last week, Ethical Oil accused the Vancouver-based environmental and social issues charity of "'laundering' money from contributors to groups engaged in 'non-charitable' political activities," as the complaint was summarized by the Edmonton Journal.
Ethical Oil also set up an automated online form to enable those who share Levant's and his organization's views to send emails to National Revenue Minister Gail Shea "to report any radical or environmental lobby group you've seen masquerading as a charity so that their taxpayers (sic) subsidy comes to an end!"
Now an Edmonton researcher has filed a complaint with Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar arguing that by taking this action Ethical Oil is violating its Memorandum of Association with the with the Alberta government.
"Corporate entities such as Ethical Oil are bound by the Companies Act to follow the objects set in their Memorandum of Association," researcher Tony Clark wrote Bhullar last week. "Ethical Oil has mounted a protracted campaign against what it views as violations of the Canada Revenue Agency's rules by certain environmentally oriented charities. I believe this campaign is against the letter, if not the spirit, of the corporation's Memorandum of Association which regulates its external activities."
Citing statements made by Ethical Oil on its website, before a House of Commons committee, in the mainstream media, in a 143-page letter of complaint to the CRA and on a Sun News Network television program hosted by Levant, Clark argues there is nothing in Ethical Oil's Memorandum of Association "that allows this corporation to be a referee on charities' activities."
On his Sun News Network program, Levant -- who is president, treasurer and a director of Ethical Oil and holds 50 per cent of the corporate entity's shares -- interviewed Ethical Oil Executive Director Jamie Ellerton about the campaign against Tides Canada's charitable status. On this episode of The Source with Ezra Levant, Levant set aside his trademark aggressive interview style and was positively warm.
Regardless, Clark's complaint goes on, "The objects of the corporation include, among other things, 'issues and considerations of environmental responsibility, peace, treatment of workers, democratic rights, and human rights.' There is no mention whatsoever in Ethical Oil's foundational documents of this corporation being used as an overseer of the Canada Revenue Agency's rules on charities.
"I do note, however, that Ethic Oil's Memorandum of Association, article 5, specifically states (emphasis added), '[t]he income and property of the Company, however derived and received, shall be applied solely towards the promotion of the objects of the Company...'," Clark writes.
"The key word in the sentence above, Hon. Minister, is 'solely.' Given the scale and scope of Ethical Oil's campaign against a few environmentalist charities, I think it is undeniable that Ethical Oil is using its resources in contravention of its objects as set out in its Memorandum of Association," he argues.
"I urge you to use your powers as the minister responsible for the Companies Act to investigate Ethical Oil's activities and penalize the corporation to the fullest extent of the law if you find it has violated the Act," Clark concludes.
Meanwhile, it is hard to predict the outcome of Ethical Oil's complaints against Tides Canada and other environmental charities.
On one hand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper would clearly like to suppress the activities of charitable organizations that do not march in lockstep with his Conservative Party's environmental policies. On the other, many other charitable organizations with which Harper is both broadly in agreement and whose work he values are clearly in violation of the CRA's regulations about political activities.
So on the theory the rule of law still prevails in Canada, it is hard to see how what is good for the charitable goose mustn't also be good for the charitable gander, an outcome with which the prime minister may be uncomfortable.
One of the most glaring examples, as is well known, is the Vancouver-based market-fundamentalist propaganda organization known as the Fraser Institute, which continues to be permitted to operate as a charity despite blatantly and consistently ignoring the CRA's limits on political activities.
In January 2012, Clark wrote Shea arguing that the Fraser Institute engages in excessive political activities and requesting that the CRA investigate its activities and revoke its charitable status.
Shea responded with a letter that ran to two pages, but contained remarkably little information. She did note that "the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act prevent me from discussing the tax affairs of any particular organization without written consent from an authorized representative of that organization."
Shea did observe in her letter to Clark that "a charity's political activities must be reported on its annual form T3010-1, Registered Charity Information Return."
As Clark noted in an Alberta Federation of Labour submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and Tax Incentives for Charitable Organizations on Jan. 17, 2012, each year between 2000 and 2010 the Fraser Institute responded "no" to the CRA's question "Did the charity carry on any political activities during the fiscal period?"
As the AFL submission observed: "Any rookie observer of Canadian politics knows this is nonsense: the Fraser Institute is actively involved in the Canadian political landscape. Any reporting or suggestion otherwise is a sham."
Shea also told Clark that "a charity whose object includes the advancement of education must take care not to disregard the boundary between education and propaganda. To be considered charitable, an educational activity must be reasonably objective and based on a well-reasoned position, that is, a position based on factual information analyzed methodically, objectively, fully, and fairly. In addition, a well-reasoned position should present serious arguments and relevant facts to the contrary."
The flawed approach to "research" taken by the Fraser Institute is well known and aptly deconstructed by Saskatoon health policy consultant Stephen Lewis, who wrote in 2011 that the organization's research in his field was "fatally flawed," based on a methodology that is "essentially absurd," uses respondents' hunches and opinions rather than real data, relies on unrepresentative samples of self-interested respondents and produces only "sortafacts" that support its market-fundamentalist ideological position.
Or, as Nova Scotia Finance Minister Graham Steele put it more bluntly: "The Fraser Institute produces junk. It is not a serious institution. It is a political organization."
Since Canada remains a country of laws, surely we can assume that Levant's Ethical Oil Institute will receive a similar response from Shea.
Rabble.ca, Tues Aug 14 2012
Byline: David Climenhaga
Other than Canadian political parties themselves, the Fraser Institute must be Canada's most intensely political organization.
Notwithstanding its pious mission statement -- "to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals" -- essentially 100 per cent of the Fraser Institute's activities are 100-per-cent political.
As such, the far-right, market fundamentalist "think tank" plays a key role in what author Donald Gutstein terms the "corporate propaganda system" that purports to churn out unbiased research but in fact works tirelessly to hijack our democracy for the benefit of Big Business and the ultra-wealthy families that control it.
The Fraser Institute strives to change Canadians' political attitudes so they will place far-right political parties like Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives in power, and keep them there. It works relentlessly to restructure our political architecture in ways that will make it difficult for citizens to seize back their own country. And it fields an army of "former researchers" -- Danielle Smith, leader of the far-right Wildrose Party here in Alberta is a prominent example -- who play an overtly political role.
Nor is there much that is fair or scientific about the Fraser Institute's research, despite the claim it is subject to "a rigorous peer review process." Saskatoon health policy consultant Stephen Lewis brilliantly deconstructs the Grade 9 methodology behind the "institute's" annual report on hospital wait times and exposes it as "skewed estimates on a hot-button issue," retailed as hard data, and intended "to lure Canadians to the promised land of private medicine."
"Never mind the 16-per-cent response rate in 2011, which alone cashiers validity," Lewis writes of the Fraser Institute's effort. "Even more fundamentally, the questionnaire asks respondents for neither the sources of their estimates, nor whether they consult any real data to support their responses."
So, as Nova Scotia Finance Minister Graham Steele put it: "The Fraser Institute produces junk. It is not a serious institution. It is a political organization."
Steele was two-thirds right. The Fraser Institute is serious all right, although its research is not serious in the normal sense of transparency and lack of bias, no matter what it claims. But it surely is political. Indeed, the Fraser Institute is all politics, all the time.
As it turns out, this is important, because the Fraser Institute is also a registered charity, meaning that those Canadians who do pay taxes are in effect subsidizing its purely political operations. Indeed, to go a step further, we are also subsidizing those wealthy individuals, organizations and corporations that bankroll the Fraser Institute's propaganda efforts to work directly against the interests of ordinary Canadians.
Alert readers will be aware that charitable status for organizations that take controversial positions on the issues of that day is currently a highly contentious issue -- at least when the registered charities in question do not support the Harper government on such issues as bitumen pipelines to the West Coast, climate science and uncontrolled oilsands development.
So, for example, Charles Adler, Canada's self-styled "everyman" and a bloviator for Canada's real state broadcaster, the Sun (Non)News Network, columnized last month about how "there's no shortage of radical greens getting generous tax breaks from the federal government."
"Under the law," Adler opined, "these supposed charities can only spend 10 per cent of their budget on advocacy activities. I'll leave it to you to judge whether these radicals are obeying this law."
Others on the government side of this debate take a more extreme view. An email now in circulation originating somewhere within the Online Tory Rage Machine accuses an Alberta-based environmental group of being part of a "treasonous and underhanded" conspiracy "to destroy our Alberta oil industry."
And last month, the Globe and Mail reported that the Commons Finance Committee's review of the charitable sector is expected to attack the charitable status of Canadian environmental organizations.
So it is interesting that when it comes to one of Canada's most intensely political organizations, which boasts on its website about the controversial nature of the positions it takes, its charitable status passes uncontested among these same far-right actors, including the ones in government.
Now, the Canada Revenue Agency's rules governing political activities by charitable organizations are not quite as clear-cut as Adler makes them sound, but he has the gist of it right. Depending on their annual income in the previous year, registered charities may contribute between 12 and 20 per cent of their resources to political activities in the current year.
However, "a registered charity cannot be created for a political purpose and cannot be involved in partisan political activities," the CRA states. "A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for office."
Elsewhere, the CRA goes on to define political activities quite broadly, including the following: "explicitly communicates to the public that the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country should be retained (if the retention of the law, policy or decision is being reconsidered by a government), opposed, or changed..." The CRA even defines as political activities as "attempts to sway public opinion on social issues."
So, obviously, from any common sense position, the Fraser Institute fails to meet this broad test and clearly should lose its charitable status.
When a charity files its annual income statement with the Canada Revenue Agency, it is always asked: "Did the charity carry on any political activities during the fiscal period." Yet in each year between 2000 and 2010, according to a recent Access to Information request by the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Fraser Institute answered "No."
"Any rookie observer of Canadian politics knows this is nonsense," the AFL wrote in its Jan. 17 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance on Tax Incentives for Charitable Donations. "The Fraser Institute is actively involved in the Canadian political landscape. Any reporting or suggestion otherwise is a sham."
In 2010, for example, the Fraser Institute explicitly communicated to the public calls for laws to be changed, thereby engaging in politics as defined by the CRA. So the Fraser Institute column, "Reject Unions and Prosper," which was published on Sept. 10, 2010, urged Canadian provinces to adopt "right-to-work" laws typical of those U.S. states south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
"Provinces would do well to adopt worker-choice laws (called right-to-work laws in the United States), which would allow workers to choose whether they want to join and financially support a union," the article, which is found on the Fraser Institute's website, states.
Clearly this article meets the standard for political activity set by the CRA. There is no shortage of similar examples.
Indeed, one day after last year's federal election, in which the political party clearly backed by the Fraser Institute won a majority, they were at it again, pushing Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party to change Canada's election spending laws to eliminate all per-vote subsidies for political parties.
So, never mind why the media treats the Fraser Institute's dubious findings with such respect, the question most often asked about this organization. That seems obvious enough considering who owns the media.
A better question is: Given its responses to the CRA, can Canadians have any confidence that the Fraser Institute is staying within the 12 per cent of its allowed limit for political activities?
Moreover, it is fair to wonder: Is anyone at the Canada Revenue Agency paying attention or even raising concerns about the Fraser Institute's constant political activities, let alone questioning its charitable status?
As Adler said, "I'll leave it to you to judge whether these radicals are obeying this law."
rabble.ca, Tues Feb 7 2012
OTTAWA - The second half of the NDP leadership race is starting much like the first, with candidates striving to demonstrate momentum through a raft of endorsements from New Democrat and labour heavyweights.
Brian Topp snagged arguably the most influential name Friday: former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert.
As one of the few New Democrats to actually run a government, Calvert's endorsement was coveted. Indeed, one of Topp's chief rivals, Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, has repeatedly cited Calvert and former Manitoba premier Gary Doer as role models who've proved NDP governments can balance the books without compromising their social democratic values.
But Mulcair unveiled an endorsement of his own Friday: Reg Basken, former president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Not to be outdone in the quest for the influential labour vote, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar announced an endorsement from James Clancy, national president of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees, one of Canada's largest unions.
Earlier in the week, Toronto MP Peggy Nash touted the backing of award-winning actress Sarah Polley and Quebec MP Dany Morin.
With no other way to tell how each of the eight candidates is faring in the seven-month race, endorsements are the only tangible — although not necessarily reliable — measure of momentum.
Anyone signed up as an NDP member Feb. 18 will be eligible to participate in the March 24 vote to choose a successor to Jack Layton, who died in August just months after leading the NDP to a historic finish in the May 2 election. At last count, the party boasted some 95,000 members but there's no accurate way to gauge which of the eight leadership candidates those members are supporting.
The ability to raise money is often another gauge of a campaign's health. But the party does not plan to publicly release interim financial statements that are to be filed with its chief financial officer next week.
In the absence of ways to measure real progress, Topp was accorded the title of presumptive front runner last fall, after amassing the most impressive roster of endorsements from party luminaries. His backers include Calvert's predecessor in Saskatchewan, Roy Romanow, and former national leader Ed Broadbent.
However, his campaign was perceived to have faltered last month, after he turned in a mediocre debate performance in Vancouver. By contrast, Mulcair seemed to be the one with momentum, performing well in debates and benefiting from polls suggesting the NDP's support in Quebec has begun to slip away.
The Montreal MP has positioned himself as the contender best able to hold onto the New Democrats' newfound Quebec base. The party won a record 103 seats in May, vaulting it into official Opposition status thanks primarily to a surge of support in Quebec.
As a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, Mulcair is well known in the province and is the only candidate who currently represents a Quebec riding. He's captured the support of just over half the NDP's 59 Quebec MPs.
Topp used Calvert's endorsement Friday to try to regain the momentum and present himself as a more well-rounded contender, who can win in both Quebec and the rest of the country.
Calvert noted that the fluently bilingual Topp was born, raised and cut his political teeth in Quebec. Although he currently resides in Toronto, Topp has said he intends to run for a seat in Quebec.
But Calvert stressed that Topp also has deep roots in the West, particularly in Saskatchewan where he served as deputy chief of staff to Romanow. And he said it is Topp's pan-Canadian appeal that will take the party from opposition to government in the next election.
"Brian has the national experience necessary to lead our party and form a national government," Calvert said in the text of remarks made in Saskatoon.
"Brian knows how to win in Quebec and that is an asset absolutely necessary in our next leader. But winning in Quebec is not enough to get the job done. We must also win here in Saskatchewan and across the country.
"Brian can do that too."
A longtime senior backroom strategist, Topp has been criticized in some quarters for never having sought elected office. But Calvert argued that the best politicians are also good strategists.
"We need a good strategist to lead our party. Brian's ability for strategic thinking is a huge asset, particularly in taking on the current prime minister (Stephen Harper), who is not a bad strategic thinker himself."
He also touted Topp as a "man of integrity" and praised his "courage" in advocating tax increases for the wealthy in order to pay for programs to boost the economy and opportunities for low and middle-income Canadians.
"While most leaders will shy away from the discussion about the need to rebalance our tax system, Brian has tackled it head on because Brian understands that if we are going to govern well we have to be honest about how we are going to pay for our priorities," Calvert said.
The other candidates in the race are B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh.
They'll face-off in five all-candidates debates sponsored by the party over the next three months, as well as a number of unofficial debates, such as one planned for Toronto on Jan. 18.
Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press, Fri Jan 6 2012
Byline: Joan Bryden
If you want a useful yardstick of the relative health of Alberta's opposition parties, you need look no further than the number of candidates they have nominated for the next provincial election.
Using this measure, it is very unlikely the increasingly marginalized Alberta Liberal Party under Leader Raj Sherman will be capable of fielding a full slate of candidates on election day.
There will be 87 seats in the provincial Legislature after the next election. Here is a prediction: The Liberals will be unable to field a slate of even two-thirds that number, and may only be able to find candidates for about half the seats in the Legislature.
This is not idle mean-spiritedness. It is a forecast based on the difficulty all Alberta opposition parties have finding and fielding candidates, and the number of candidates the parties have nominated to date -- with a general election possibly as close as three months away and certainly coming no later than six months from now.
Here are the nomination numbers for the three major opposition parties, which any sensible Alberta Liberal supporter must find deeply troubling:
New Democratic Party: 60
Wildrose Alliance: 58
Alberta Liberals: 19
Anyone who knows politics knows that while it may be possible to find warm bodies to fill out a slate of candidates, even for governing parties it is difficult to find good candidates with whom electors will be really thrilled. One needs only consider some of the lags in Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative caucus to know the truth of this!
Nevertheless, obviously both the NDP and the Wildrose Party have been doing their work with commitment and seriousness and will have full slates ready to go whenever the writ is dropped. Only the Conservatives will know when that is, of course, because Premier Redford's "fixed election dates" law doesn't fix an election date. It does, however, set the three-month period in which the vote will fall, which is why we can be confident the Liberal nomination numbers are going to be a big problem for the party.
Lacking key political staff and watching their support sag, the Liberals would be in a more difficult position anyway than the NDP or the Wildrose Party, even if they had more candidates.
Nomination numbers are moving targets, naturally. Last night, New Democrats in Edmonton-Centre nominated Candidate No. 60, Nadine Bailey, a veteran campaigner who ran federally for the party in May in the nearby Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont riding. (She was also, I kid you not, nominated in the Canada's Sexiest Candidate contest started by a Toronto blogger who obviously had too much time on his hands.)
The NDP and Wildrose numbers tend to go back and forth as both parties proceed competently toward nomination of full slates. In fact, both will likely have 70 or more nominated within the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the governing Conservatives, at 51 nominations, are a little behind, but given their position as Alberta's Natural Governing Party with a large elected caucus, they will have less trouble finding qualified candidates for the few ridings in which they don't already hold seats. The Alberta Party, which has never made it onto the province's political radar screen and is unlikely to do so now, has nominated only eight.
But while everyone else's numbers are building, the Liberals' tally stumbled backward Monday with the defection of Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor to Premier Redford's Tories. This brought nominated Alberta Liberal candidates down from the 20 noted in Dave Cournoyer's useful Daveberta blog, consistently the best source on Alberta nomination tallies and names.
The loss of Pastoor comes on top of announcements by the backbone of the Liberal caucus -- experienced MLAs like former leadership candidate Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald, former leader and Edmonton-Riverside MLA Kevin Taft and Calgary-Varsity's Harry Chase -- that they won't be seeking re-election. Another former potential Liberal leader, Dave Taylor, quit the caucus months ago and now sits as the Alberta Party's sole MLA. He too won't be running again in Calgary-Currie.
This collapse in MLA support is arguably even more serious to the Alberta Liberal Party's prospects than its decline in popular support as recorded by public opinion polls from better than a quarter of the Alberta electorate in the 2008 general election to somewhere between 11 and 15 per cent today.
As for the NDP and Wildrose Party, while they have similar numbers of candidates nominated and arguably possess similar levels of political skill, they cannot simply be considered interchangeable destinations for protest votes.
You can judge a party by its platform statements or by the people who support it. By either measure, the well-funded Wildrose Party is far to the right of the governing Conservatives. And never forget that despite Wildrose rhetoric to the contrary, Premier Redford and her Conservatives are pretty far to the right.
The Wildrose Party, led by former Fraser Institute functionary Danielle Smith, is dedicated to the proposition all government services ought to be privatized -- and that goes for particularly for the work done by the "publicly funded" public health system they promise to maintain with nuanced precision.
By contrast, the NDP led by Brian Mason is unabashedly a party of the progressive centre-left, committed to maintaining and improving publicly financed, publicly operated health care. (This is not something the Liberal leader, not so long ago the Conservative junior minister for health, can say!)
Mason earned his living doing a real job, driving a bus, before remaking himself as an effective Parliamentarian and legislative leader. With Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the small NDP caucus has consistently punched above their weight in Question Period.
With neither the Liberals nor the Alberta Party likely capable of nominating full slates of candidates, obviously the NDP is the only progressive opposition party where progressive voters can hope to get any impact with their votes.
Moreover, unlike some elections in the past, the NDP this time has been able to attract remarkably good candidates in all parts of the province. In addition to Ms. Bailey in Edmonton-Centre, there is five-term city councillor Lorna Watkins-Zimmer in Red Deer, Alberta Federation of Labour researcher Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West, and former councillor Wanda Laurin in Peace River.
In Edmonton, where the NDP enjoys a significant regional advantage, running ahead of all other opposition parties according to a recent Environics poll, there are candidates like Friends of Medicare Executive Director David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder, a former MLA, and teacher Deron Bilous in Edmonton-Beverly.
So, sorry, but by every measure, the future looks very bleak for the Alberta Liberals.
The Wildrose Alliance is a radical right-wing party that would lead Albertans down a dangerous path to wholesale privatization of public services.
In this election cycle in Alberta, the New Democrats are the only progressive party with enough momentum to have a meaningful impact in the next election.
rabble.ca, Fri Nov 25 2011
Alberta Federation of Labour applauds Keystone XL delay: It’s a chance to consider value-added opportunities in Alberta, says McGowan
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour applauds the Obama administration’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it will give the Redford government an opportunity to pursue value-added opportunities here at home, rather than shipping unprocessed bitumen south for upgrading.
“There’s been a parade of Alberta government ministers travelling to the States to sell unprocessed bitumen. Now perhaps those same ministers can stay in Alberta and consider our needs and our future ahead of those of our neighbours south of the border,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
“Upgrading more bitumen in Alberta will help our province in many ways. Increasing value-added industries will provide quality, long-term jobs for Albertans and Canadians. While good relationships with our neighbours are important, the government of Alberta must promote the long-term health of our province first. Increasing value-added energy industries in Alberta will increase revenues from royalties and taxes,” he says.
“As bitumen is upgraded and moved up the value chain, more funds will flow into the Treasury through higher royalties on finished products. This is money that can be used to pay for important public services like health care and education,” says McGowan.
McGowan took particular exception to the Wildrose Party’s reaction to the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The Wildrose Party was playing fast and loose with the facts in their media release today. They should avoid fear mongering. The truth is that this pipeline is bad news for quality jobs and bad news for royalties,” says McGowan.
“Danielle Smith is trying to convince us that we’ll lose billions in royalties if the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t approved, but the opposite is true. If we export unprocessed bitumen, we ruin a great competitive advantage,” says McGowan
“The National Energy Board notes that, ‘wide differentials provide refiners with an economic incentive to build heavy oil conversion capacity.’ If we get rid of the prices differential between our bitumen and global crude, we destroy future opportunities to boost our value-added industries,” he says.
“In this context, Albertans should see the Obama administration’s decision as an opportunity, not a disappointment. It is an opportunity for us to move up the value chain and create a more prosperous and stable economic future for Albertans.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Alberta leaders put away partisan politics to honour Layton: Tributes pour in from across the province
EDMONTON — Alberta politicians celebrated Jack Layton's legacy Monday, saluting his lifelong commitment to public service and his passionate defence of immigrant, vulnerable and working Canadians.
The 61-year-old leader of the federal opposition party succumbed to an aggressive, unnamed cancer early Monday morning, three months after New Democratic Party achieved unprecedented electoral success under his leadership.
"Jack's dream for Alberta was the same as his dream for Canadians right across the country — he wanted those who didn't have a voice to be represented," Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan said.
"They are seniors who are struggling to get by. They are immigrants who are trying to become Canadians and contribute to society. They are young Canadians who want affordable education, and young families who ... can't afford child care."
Duncan said Layton was a great leader who built a strong party across Canada and in Alberta, where support for the party is growing.
"We have high hopes for the next election," Duncan said. "Jack was the eternal optimist. He was undaunted. He was a remarkable human being."
She said she has confidence the party will stay strong, but added: "there will never be another Jack Layton."
Duncan said one of her fondest memories is of Layton singing Hit the Road Jack any time he got near a piano. Three years ago, she took Layton to the Fringe and Edmontonians who met him were "completely taken, because he was the genuine thing. I tried walking around with him, but we just gave up, people kept wanting to buy him a beer."
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said Layton's legacy will be "the triumph of hope over pessimism" and a credible alternative to the conservative vision for Canada
"The tragedy is that this man could have, and very likely would have, become the prime minister if this illness had not taken him away from us," Mason said. Layton's message to Canadians was simple, he said: "There is a real, clear alternative to the Conservative vision for Canada, and here it is. I think Canadians embraced that," he said.
Mason and Layton became friends 15 years ago when Mason was on Edmonton city council and Layton on Toronto's city council. Both were pressing for progressive reforms. Mason later served as Alberta chairman for Layton's leadership run. The two stayed in touch, even after Layton's announcement July 25 that he was temporarily stepping down to receive treatment for a newly diagnosed cancer.
"He has always been there for me," Mason said. "To the extent that I've improved as a leader of a party is because of his inspiration. That's his legacy for me, personally."
Asked about his fondest memories of Layton, Mason recalled three-day board meetings when Layton was running for the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
"He would gather people together in his hotel room and play the guitar and get everybody singing old folk songs from the '60s," Mason said. "He just got people involved, just with his personality, not politics."
Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley said Layton's leadership helped the party grow up and execute the "first-class campaign" that got MP Linda Duncan elected federally in Edmonton-Strathcona — the only Alberta NDP Member of Parliament.
Notley's father, Grant, was leader of Alberta's Official Opposition when he was killed in a plane crash in 1984. In the election that followed his party had a remarkable breakthrough, winning 16 seats with 29 per cent of the vote.
The same could happen after Layton's passing, Notley said.
"With my dad's death, there was a lot more commentary about the value and the merit of the work he did, and it was much more publicly discussed on a provincial level, so I think it raised the credibility of the party in the eyes of the public," Notley said.
"As well, I think his death inspired activists within the party to really focus on trying to make sure that the '86 election was a success."
Asked if something similar might happen as a result of Layton's passing, she said: "We're already seeing it. The way people talk about Jack has evolved over the last several months, but I think it's going to continue in a way that's very positive," she said.
"I don't think that can do anything but raise the credibility of the party federally and, by (extension), provincially."
Alberta Federation of Labour secretary Nancy Furlong said Layton's death is a tragic loss, but that his accomplishments in the last federal election earned new legitimacy for the New Democrats, which will improve the party's prospects in Alberta and across the country.
"The New Democrats are poised to actually influence the course of Canadian politics in a way that would be good for the average person," she said.
"That (voice) hasn't been heard in politics for a very long time: an honest representation of working people, the basic belief that society is there for the working person."
Premier Ed Stelmach said in a statement that "Jack was an enthusiastic and passionate politician who held strongly to his convictions during his long career in public life."
Alberta Liberal Opposition leader David Swann said Layton's death just months after becoming leader of the Official Opposition "seems unbearably cruel.
"Whatever his or her political affiliation, no Canadian can deny that Jack Layton lived to serve his country and his fellow citizens.".
Mayor Stephen Mandel called Layton's passing "a great loss," and noted Layton visited Edmonton many times and launched his 2011 federal election campaign here in March.
"Jack spoke for the common man so much," Mandel said. "He had such passion for their plight, and he also was a great character and a great supporter of cities as well."
Alberta Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith called Layton a principled leader and a great Canadian. "Canadians from coast to coast, myself included, were inspired by the courageous and energetic campaign he wagered last May," she said in a statement.
Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor also called Layton a "personal inspiration," partly because of "his unswerving commitment to the politics of hope and optimism rather than that of fear and anger.
"He showed us that optimism, creativity and imagination can and should exist in politics," Taylor said in a statement. "Thank you, sir."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Aug 23 2011
Byline: Karen Kleiss
Like the little critters in the Stampede midway's Whack a Mole, signs of a fall election are suddenly popping up all over Alberta's political landscape.
First came the announcement by Elections Alberta of a voter enumeration to be held in August and September.
The arm's-length election body is already training enumerators and will be ready for a vote by Nov. 1.
The second sign is the government's sudden proclamation of amendments to control third-party advertising during election campaigns.
With these rules, the government effectively kills any repetition of the anti-government ads that stunned the Tories during the 2008 election campaign.
A group of unions, calling themselves Albertans for Change, spent about $2 million on ads that attacked Premier Ed Stelmach as a man without a plan.
Stelmach was furious.
The PCs responded with their own "Prosperity" ads (so inept, by the way, that even some Tories called them "self-attack" ads).
"We're not going to sit and take it," Stelmach's chief of staff, Ron Glen, said of the union offensive.
"We feel negative attack ads are detrimental to the democratic process."
In the end, the union ads didn't hurt the Tories, and might even have helped them. The government won 72 of 83 seats.
But the victory inspired no generosity whatever.
for ads The PCs raised their legislative hammer with a new bill, and now bring it into effect just in time to prevent such ads on any similar scale for the coming election.
The complex new rules do not exactly set limits on spending by "third parties" such as unions or corporations.
But they limit donors -whether individuals or organizations -to contributing $15,000 per year, or $30,000 in an election year, while circling every donation and third-party group with a maze of conditions.
Some regulation is probably vital to immunize us from a slide into the ugly spectacle of U.S.-style attack ads by interest groups.
But this is over-regulation so confining that it's hard to imagine any group ever again raising significant money for ads.
"It's clearly meant to tie us in knots so we can't do this again," says Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, a prime mover behind the 2008 TV campaign.
"I have absolutely no problem with the section of the bill that requires reporting and transparency from third-party advertising campaigns.
"But these rules are clearly designed to stifle criticism of the government."
One criticism in 2008 was that the unions were spending money the opposition parties, especially the New Democrats, were unable to raise.
McGowan acknowledges this without apology.
"Opposition parties in Alberta have never been able to raise anything close to what the Tories can raise.
". . . The real reason we ran the ads is that the Tories for years have had the capacity to simply swamp the airwaves. We didn't think that was either healthy or fair. You can debate the merits of our ads, but one thing was clear -it was the first time the Tories have ever faced an advertising campaign that came anywhere close to their own."
It was indeed the first time. Also the last.
Calgary Herald, Fri Jul 15 2011
Byline: Don Braid