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Two by-elections, three probes, and plenty more: All the Alberta political news that's fit to print

Alison Redford (David Climenhaga photo)

Conservatives motor to easy by-election wins in Calgary

Federal by-elections in suburban Calgary are usually a disappointment but rarely a surprise -- so no one should be shocked that two Conservative Party of Canada candidates won big majorities in former prime minister Stephen Harper's and ex cabinet minister Jason Kenney's old ridings yesterday.

Without final numbers to properly crunch, it’s still mildly interesting Tories Bob Benzen in Calgary-Heritage and Stephanie Kusie in Calgary Midnapore seemed late last night to be doing better than their predecessors in the last general election in October 2015. The turnout is likely to have been quite low in both ridings.

Benzen runs a company that operates data storage and information management services for energy corporations, but he's best known for running the "decade of excellence" campaign lauding Harper's years in Ottawa, which most Canadians don't remember quite that way.

Kusie is a former member of the Canadian diplomatic service with strong ties to the Manning Centre, Preston Manning's eponymous grow-op for conservative political careers. She was once chargé d'affaires in El Salvador.

Um, that's it for tonight!

Third inquiry clears Alison Redford of 'Tobaccogate' conflict

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford has been cleared of wrongdoing in the "Tobaccogate" affair by the third inquiry into the matter. Enough, already!

This time it was British Columbia Ethics Commissioner Paul Fraser who ruled Redford was not in a conflict of interest when she chose a legal consortium that included her ex-husband's law firm to handle the province’s $10-billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco in 2012.

Suspicions were raised by a news report that year indicating the consortium Redford chose, International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers, had been eliminated from the list of candidates by a review panel before being mysteriously put back on the list, whence it was selected by Redford.

The first probe, conducted by former Alberta ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson in 2013, cleared her. Then a document surfaced that hadn't been looked at in the first inquiry. A second inquiry, this time by Marguerite Trussler, who remains the province's ethics commissioner, followed. It concluded only there was the potential for conflict, and asked Fraser to look into it one more time.

He now has, issuing a 53-page report yesterday that said: "I have found on the balance of probabilities that Ms. Redford did not improperly further another person's private interest in making her decision and, therefore, did not breach the Conflicts of Interest Act."

If that language sounds a bit squishy to you, it does to me too. But there's nothing to be gained for Alberta taxpayers by continuing this. Expect the NDP Government, sensibly, to close this file.

Saskatchewan premier’s popularity hits the budget Wall

Who knew? Turns out running a resource-based provincial economy when resource prices are low is a tough job whether you're a New Democrat or a conservative!

In the wake of an unpopular and mean-spirited austerity budget, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, the supposed Mr. Congeniality of Confederation, has seen his approval level among Saskatchewan voters slip a significant seven percentage points from last fall to 46 per cent last week, pollster Mainstreet Research reports.

About the same number of respondents, 45 per cent, disapproved of the Saskatchewan Party premier’s efforts in the robo-call poll conducted March 30 and 31.

"We're seeing very different results for the Saskatchewan NDP than we saw in the last election," said Mainstreet Executive Vice-President David Valentin in the commentary that accompanied the poll. "The NDP now leads in both Regina and Saskatoon where the Saskatchewan Party is running second. But outside those two urban centres the Saskatchewan Party holds a dominant lead."

I only mention that because it didn’t seem to make it into the mainstream media reports for some reason.

Conservative politicians here in Alberta have frequently pointed to Wall's much touted popularity as proof he was the "real leader" of Western Canada when he scoffed at Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s social-licence building approach to energy development policies.

Wall, clearly, preferred the shove-it-up-their-noses approach favoured by former prime minister Harper and his henchmen — among them Jason Kenney, who now leads the Alberta Conservatives and promises to undo every single thing Notley has accomplished if he eventually gets elected.

Turns out that Wall talked tough, but his popularity depended heavily on paying for his low-tax polices with oil revenues that have stopped flowing into Saskatchewan, just like they did in Alberta.

In other words, support for Wall's neoliberal austerity was a mile wide and an inch deep.

Just leave the kids alone, Wildrose leader says of Kenney scheme

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean has come out in opposition to the scheme advocated by newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney last week to require teachers to out kids who join gay-straight alliances at school.

This suggests just how badly the former social conservative PC leader’s wild-eyed suggestion that schools must phone parents and tell them if their kid has joined a GSA is going over with severely normal Albertans.

It's unlikely Jean would have ever advocated such a policy, but it's possible fear of his own party's extremists might have kept his lips zipped if Kenney had been gaining any traction with his Big Idea.

After all, the two are likely to be fighting it out soon for the united right-wing party Kenney proposes to create by rolling the PCs into the Wildrose Party -- I'm calling this as yet unformed political entity Rose Again, which seems to hit all the appropriate notes, celestial and horticultural.

Jean's position indicates at least some former federal Conservative MPs may have noticed Alberta was a-changin' while Kenney was enjoying life in Ottawa.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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