Hi everybody, welcome to Swinging Left. Should be a juicy session.
From the right, it's Graham Thompson from the Edmonton Journal, Kim Trynacity from CBC, and Jason Markusoff from the Calgary Herald.
Kim: As a reporter not a columnist, you're not supposed to have opinions, but after a while the lines start to blur.
Kim: First of all, biggest change is there are way more women in the government. Things have cropped up in the Leg now, like there are lineups for the bathrooms, way more bicycles (with baskets!). There are still smokers around.
Way more attention to Indigenous issues. Someone from govt always acknowledges we are on Treaty Six land. Woefully underdone before. -Kim
We hear a lot more personal stories. Comes from having MLAs who are social workers, people from social sciences. People who have tragic stories talking about what brought them into politics. -Kim
In terms of policies themselves, they always seem to have a left focus now. The payday loan bill for example, has a component that addresses the social need for short-term loans. -Kim
Appointments were something we always reported a lot with the PCs, that they appointed their friends, and the NDP decried that but they're starting to do it themselves now. An example is Chair of Board of Governors at U of A. They replaced someone who warned days before the election that the sky would collapse if the NDP were elected. You get a lot more union appointees now, who have a lot of organizational experience but it's different. - Kim
Jason: I used to cover Leg for Edmonton Journal, and I covered Calgary politics when Nenshi took over and totally changed Calgary City Council dynamic. And at that time, he changed the discourse, people had been setting their expectations of what a mayor does to Bronconnier time.
Same adjustment with NDP in Leg now. The word justice means something different from an NDP mindset than a PC mindset. This is the first time most of us have dealt with changes like this. -Jason
Graham: I've been covering AB politics for 30 years, and you really can't overestimate the shock it was to have the NDP take over. It permeated everything to have PCs in power for 44 years, even journalism.
Having the NDP win was a shock to the system, but they're governing with no apologies. I still get emails saying last year's election was illegitimate because they didn't have a majority of the votes, even though Harper won without a majority. It's been driving the right batty. - Graham
NDP have been on a tear driven by their ideology. And the very first thing they did was kill political donations from corporations and unions, undermining PCs from first day. Raising minimum wage and taxes. - Graham
Civil service has actually been quite good to them though. - Graham
We were hoping this would be a lot more open govt, but it hasn't been. I think it's a case where they're still learning the ropes and they're afraid. And sometimes they tell us "that's the way the PCs did it." -Graham
Kim: I think you nailed it when you said justice means something different, and there's a definite feminist tilt. It's a dramatic change. Used to be a dirty word in the Leg. But they are very proudly feminist in everything they do. Attention paid to families, women, domestic issues. The narrative has changed quite dramatically.
What remains the same though? Jason says every new leader promises to be more transparent. Klein brought in Freedom of Information legislation.
The NDP has been looking for levers to use for their advantage. They are making some concessions - giving Brian Jean full access to Fort McMurray. But they want to preserve power. Maybe it's our fault that we're any bit surprised. -Jason
Shortly after the election, they were scrambling to find press secretaries. Now they have a lot of former journalists working for them. One day I wanted to see if Envt Minister was around, so I walked around to have a look, which is something I always did under previous govt. I walked around, saw her, didn't say anything, and then a comms person scrambled out, ushered me away, and I later got reamed out over the phone. She later apologised. But that's an example of a former journalist who never covered the Leg being a press secretary now. - Kim
These press secretaries are kind of like flies at a picnic, and I'm constantly swatting them away. This govt is very paranoid about stories being sprung on them and not knowing how to respond. Wanting to manipulate message and know everything we do. -Kim
They're amazingly thin-skinned, and that's because they're brand new and not used to being attacked. The conservatives had the hide of an elephant. They knew they would win the next election. - Graham
44 years of PC rule meant there was no real depth for NDP to plumb when they hired comms people. So that's how they ended up hiring all these journalists being laid off. But it's a different skill set. -Graham
Even at the small level, you get former journalists afraid of making mistakes. It's sometimes taken me 2 days to get a quote from a minister. -Graham
Also a problem at higher levels with bureaucrats. They're hiring from other provinces that had NDP govts. But AB is unique. You think you know how to run things and you don't. That was a problem for Redford too with staff from Toronto. -Graham
One saving grace for NDP is that Wildrose is still learning how to be opposition under Brian Jean, and PCs are still rebuilding. - Graham
Jason asks Kim and Graham if the issue of access has something to do with centralization in Premier's office. Everybody else is so new that Notley and her staff feel like there needs to be a high degree of adult supervision.
Kim: Here's an example - I sent an email about a minor issue to a small ministry and I got a reply from the Premier's office.
This week during QP, Hoffman acknowledged they've structured comms around Harper model. That was quite telling. - Kim
I'd agree. The gatekeeper is Brian Topp, chief of staff to Premier. Because the NDP didn't realize they were going to win the election til the week before. Most parties will bring in a transition team weeks or months before an election. The NDP has 7-8 days. So Topp became really important. - Graham
You saw that at the beginning. When chiefs of staff got appointed, many ministers had never met them, because Brian Topp appointed them. Envt Minister did a very poor job accounting for her chief of staff for that reason. - Graham
Audience member interjects: how are they doing with competence, outside of ideology?
Many of them really didn't expect to win. Hoffman has done really well. Phillips is very agressive. Day to day some of them are really shining. A lot are still learning the ropes. An example is Bill 6. Premier was a labour lawyer, so they pushed ahead with this, and got themselves in a huge mess by not talking to farmers, and they started blaming civil servants. That to me spoke to an issue where they were so new and incompetent that it's been months and they're still trying to get that on track. -Graham
They lack experience, but here's something they have that prev govts didn't have: education. Almost all have undergrad degrees. Many are multilingual. But other side is some are hardcore Dippers. That's where Bill 6 came from: let's do the right thing, but let's do it at all costs. - Kim
Muni Affairs Minister, I've heard people saying she's doing a solid job with Fort Mac. She's a nurse but she's a quick study. What could be their downfall is ideological commitment. -Kim
Moderator asks what changes they've seen in Notley herself. Kim says when Notley was an MLA, Kim asked her about father's legacy. She doesn't allow herself to be very emotional. She's got an armour around her that still hasn't changed. Still the brightest light in govt. High profile across the country.
Just like when Klein was leader, everything would go back to him. Notley is similarly NDP's best communicator. - Kim
Another thing that has not changed: she wears very neat shoes. Fluevogs. -Kim
She still acts sometimes like she's surprised we're treating her like a Premier. She still says some things that are very flippant. Like touring Fort Mac, she said it looked like something from the Walking Dead, Trudea didn't say anything, and she caught herself. - Graham
She still thinks really fast on her feet. Still learning to be guarded. If they could clone her, they'd definitely win next election. -Graham
Question before was about competence. Well she's very confident. I'll never forget the debate where she was up with three men in dark suits, and she was in cream blazer. I've never seen her buckle under pressure. She always presents confidence. Some of them don't, like Ceci presently info about credit ratings. - Jason
Moderator: Jason what do you think about her image nationally?
I think she's been having more success changing discourse in province than nationally. People are now comfortable AB is talking about climate change. I'm sure oil patch is happy she's still waving pipeline flag. But she's taken off the table the idea that AB is climate change laggard. - Jason
The country likes the idea of AB having different, more modern face. - Jason