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Alberta

Brian Jean returns to Alberta legislature as UCP member with anti-Kenney intentions

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Alberta’s newest United Conservative Party member of the legislature returned to the house Thursday to applause but also to an accusation that he is colluding with the Opposition NDP.

Brian Jean, co-founder of the UCP, won a byelection Tuesday in northern Alberta on a campaign platform urging the party to renew itself by sacking leader and Premier Jason Kenney.

Jean is not to be sworn in until April 5, so he sat in the Speaker’s gallery as a guest of the legislature.

Kenney and government house leader Jason Nixon were not present when Speaker Nathan Cooper introduced Jean, who stood as he acknowledged applause from all sides of the house.

Kenney did not appear at all during question period. Jean said he has not heard from him since Jean’s win except for a congratulatory tweet.

Nixon did arrive for question period and responded when NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused the government of shifting focus on the province’s business to secure a majority for Kenney in a leadership review next month.

Notley pointed out that Kenney gave his chief of staff unpaid leave to round up votes ahead of the April 9 vote and that UCP staff are being urged to sign up for phone duty on their off time to elicit support.

“We actually do have big issues to manage in Alberta, but this premier’s No. 1 priority is saving his own job, saving himself from his party, from his MLAs, (and) from the guy up there,” said Notley gesturing to Jean.

“Why doesn’t the premier realize even though it’s called the premier’s office, it’s actually there to serve Albertans?”

Nixon noted that Jean recently said that if he were premier, he would have brought Notley into cabinet on a short-term basis to remove partisan bickering and improve response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“(Notley’s) close personal alliance with Mr. Jean seems to be quite obvious,” said Nixon as both sides shouted insults at each other until the Speaker called for order.

Outside the house, Jean said his focus in the next few days is on getting more party members signed up to vote against Kenney. The cutoff for new memberships is Saturday at midnight.

“I’m encouraging all Albertans to come out … to say what they want to say about the leadership of the UCP,” said Jean.

The vote is expected to be hotly contested. Party rules state a leadership race must be called if Kenney gets less than majority support. He has said 50 per cent, plus one, will be enough for him to continue.

Kenney has characterized the vote as a potential takeover of his mainstream big-tent conservative party by extremists, including those angry over health restrictions his government brought in during the pandemic.

Former UCP member Todd Loewen criticized Kenney for labelling opponents as extremists. Loewen urged party members to sign up and vote Kenney out to prevent an NDP election win in 2023.

“(This) out-of-touch premier, in a bid to cling to power, continues to fatally divide Albertans and his own party,” Loewen, who sits as an Independent, told the house in a member’s statement.

Loewen and Drew Barnes were voted out of the UCP caucus last year for criticizing Kenney and his policies. Fellow caucus member Leela Aheer was dropped from cabinet following her criticism of Kenney for appearing to flout COVID-19 restrictions.

Kenney and Jean were fellow federal Conservative MPs under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Both eventually entered Alberta politics. Jean took over as head of the Wildrose Party and Kenney won the Progressive Conservative leadership.

Together, they founded the UCP in 2017, but Jean lost to Kenney to head the new party in a contest stained by accusations of secret deals, colluding candidates and fraud.

When asked if he is worried about voting irregularities on April 9, Jean responded “No comment.”

Jean retired in March 2018 but announced last fall that he was planning to run in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche byelection with the intention of getting Kenney ousted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2022.

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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