Controversies before election put Notley, Kenney on defensive
For those Albertans who are eagerly awaiting — or perhaps dreading — the upcoming provincial election campaign, Rachel Notley’s NDP government finally came forward this week with a date.March 18.Mark it in red on your calendars. Or in green.After all, it’s the day after St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s possible Notley plans to be feeling lucky.Except March 18 isn’t the date for the election.Instead, it’s the day the NDP has set aside for a throne speech in which the government will lay out its agenda for the spring session — if there is a spring session.We still don’t know the government’s plans for after March 18. Some observers believe Notley will drop the writ immediately, putting the province on course for an April 16 election.Others suggest the NDP will go to the trouble of releasing a budget and holding a brief session. In that case, the election would be sometime in May.Regardless, while we all wait for the starter’s pistol, there is still plenty of excitement playing out in the pre-campaign period.Much of the commotion has come from the United Conservative Party which, unlike the other parties, has been holding open nomination contests.More competition seems to equal more drama.The latest UCPer to cause a stir was Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman, who announced this week he is leaving caucus.While Strankman was critical of the nomination contest in his riding, which he lost, his bigger complaint was about “self-centered politics” that has subverted the party’s promise of grassroots input.Similar gripes have been starting to pile up on Jason Kenney’s crew in recent weeks.Others making accusations of heavy-handed leadership or nomination controversies include: Former caucus member Derek Fildebrandt, former caucus member Prab Gill, current caucus member Wayne Anderson, 17 members of the Calgary-Falconridge constituency board who reportedly supported a losing candidate, and four unsuccessful candidates in Calgary-East.You’ll notice a common thread among these folks, aside from their concerns, is that they have all been defeated or ousted from the party in some way.Still, that doesn’t by itself invalidate their complaints, the sheer volume of which is becoming hard to ignore. (The party said Friday it found no misconduct in the Calgary-East case.)But enough about the UCP, because the NDP also had a fire or two to contain this week.Among them was a controversy around a nomination vote in Calgary-North East, one of the few places where the NDP has had a contested race.But the bigger headache for Notley involved allegations made against West Yellowhead MLA Eric Rosendahl by a former constituency worker.Kathleen Westergaard said Rosendahl pressured her to use taxpayer-funded work time to sell NDP memberships and assist his re-election efforts.Such workers are permitted to volunteer for political parties on their own time, but are prohibited from partisan activities while on the government clock.Westergaard said she made this clear to Rosendahl, but that he eventually fired her last summer for her refusal to accede to his demands.While difficult to know all that went on between the two, a text message chain from 2016 provided by Westergaard seems to show an MLA aggravated by his staffer’s reluctance and struggling to understand her rightful objections.“I get frustrated with this stuff !” he texted at one point. “If I am not there in the future you won’t be either!”Rosendahl has declined to speak about the allegations, which left Notley to face the media on Thursday.When the subject came up, the premier was not at her best.Her response was a strange combination of defensiveness and nonchalance, in which she shrugged off the allegations and showed minimal interest in even finding out what happened.Notley said she hasn’t approached Rosendahl directly but knows he has been in touch with caucus officials and denied the allegation.The staffer in question had her employment end two years after the text chain with the MLA, for reasons unrelated to the allegation, the premier added.No internal investigation is planned unless an official complaint comes forward.“Suffice to say, I don’t believe it’s happening. If it is happening, of course we would respond. I haven’t seen evidence yet to suggest it is.”As such, Notley said she saw no reason at this point to avoid signing Rosendahl’s nomination papers.It was not exactly the full level of concern or inquisitiveness you might expect to see from a leader who has otherwise championed social justice and women’s rights.The reaction called to mind the less-than-fulsome response provided by the NDP last fall toward revelations that two of its MLAs had been accused of sexual misconduct.For both Notley and Kenney, they can only hope these internal party controversies fade from public consciousness by March 18.In the meantime, strap in, because this pre-election period is offering plenty of drama and intrigue.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley says she saw no reason to avoid signing the nomination papers of West Yellowhead MLA Eric Rosendahl, who is facing allegations he pressured a constituency worker to use taxpayer-funded time to assist his re-election efforts.
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