Edmonton·Point of View

Postcard to politics: Legislature reporter Kim Trynacity looks back on 2 decades of memories

Health-care costs, labour unrest, education funding and the struggle to exert influence in Ottawa — I reported on these stories extensively as I began to cover the Alberta legislature for CBC Edmonton in 2000, and they remain top of the public agenda some 20 years later.

20 years later, many of the same themes remain in Alberta politics

The story of these two political leaders, Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley, was a highlight and continuing story for a veteran political reporter leaving her job after two decades at the legislature. (Kim Trynacity/CBC)

Health-care costs, labour unrest, education funding and the struggle to exert influence in Ottawa — I reported on these stories extensively as I began to cover the Alberta legislature for CBC Edmonton in 2000, and they remain top of the public agenda some 20 years later.

The differences are the faces of influential politicians and the means used to shape their messages.

As of Jan.1, I take on a new challenge as the CBC/Radio-Canada branch president of the Canadian Media Guild. It's a full-time job representing CBC/Radio-Canada unionized employees across Canada.

I leave behind a big stack of reporter notebooks at the Alberta legislature press gallery office, and drawers full of memories and anecdotes. With that in mind, here's a snapshot of a few of the events and people I remember most. 

Memorable people

There were many memories made over the last two decades, but there are some people whose actions or presence I'll remember most vividly (in no particular order).

Members of the Alberta legislature press gallery photographed with Ralph Klein during his last days in office. (Government of Alberta)

Ralph Klein:  A former Progressive Conservative premier and political leader who was pushed out by his own party, Klein retired the debt in 2004 but failed to deliver an encore.

In 2006, PC party members came to Calgary in huge numbers to vote on Klein's leadership. With blue inflatable clackers in hand, the party gave Klein a standing ovation as he entered the hall to give his address. But the crowd voted against their man and sent him packing.

Klein's departure caused the PCs to flounder for the next 12 years as the party looked for a solid replacement and agenda. He died in 2013 at the age of 70.

Pam Barrett: Feisty and memorable, Barrett led the two-seat NDP from 1997 until 2000, forging a close relationship with Klein while holding him to account. It was Barrett who walked Klein into the legislative chamber for his final question period in 2006. Memorable too, was the way Barrett departed public life: she announced her resignation as party leader at a hastily called news conference Feb 3, 2000. Barrett declared her decision was prompted by a near-death experience while in a dentist's chair. Her dentist was also at the news conference. Barrett was 54 when she died of cancer in 2008.

As Alberta's first female premier, Alison Redford made headlines when she resigned from her post after months of controversy. (CBC)

Alison Redford: Considered a red Tory, Redford was remarkable for being the unlikely winner of the PC leadership race in 2011 only to fail to win support from her caucus and the public. She was dogged by controversial policy decisions and spending scandals. 

As remarkable and memorable as her swearing-in in the rotunda of the legislature was in October 2011, so too was the day she resigned in March 2014 — in the very same spot she made history as Alberta's first female premier. 

Brian Mason: A jolly politician with a folksy style, Mason ascended from Edmonton city council to provincial NDP leader and later a cabinet minister in Rachel Notley's government. He bridged the divide between the NDP government and testy rural politicians. It was under Mason's leadership in opposition, however, that the scrappy NDP consistently punched above its weight and attracted media attention for almost everything it did. Mason also produced the best spoof videos the NDP ever made.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: The stories of these two politicians are still unfolding. Notley achieved the unbelievable feat of annihilating the once-mighty PC dynasty in 2015, only to lose power four years later.

She now leads the Official Opposition and appears poised to take another run at Kenney in the next provincial election.

A former federal cabinet minister under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, Kenney shocked the Alberta political establishment in 2016 by steamrolling into the PC leadership race. In 2017, he united the PCs and Wildrose under a new banner, the United Conservative Party.

I remember thinking at the time that rank-and-file PCs didn't really see him coming.

Kenney outplayed them all in a political game they should have been prepared for. At the PC convention in Red Deer, he bused in youth supporters and stacked influential committees with his own people while Harper held court in a side room, edging votes Kenney's way.

Elected premier in April 2019, Kenney is sticking to the economic plan he was elected on, even though polls suggest many Albertans aren't happy with the path he's taking.

Remarkable turns

Social media wasn't even a thing in 2000, but in politics now, it's everything.

In the early days, TV reporters were assigned one story and had to meet a 6 p.m. deadline. The entire day was spent setting up interviews, being in neighbourhoods, or on a stakeout with a camera operator. 

Today, reporters juggle numerous assignments, filing for web, radio and TV, taking photos, shooting video and yes — appearing on TV and on radio. Interspersed with all of that is a prerequisite that one eye always be kept on social media.

Social media is a political specialty that has evolved from a casual amusement to an integral part of politics and political coverage. Just consider the impact of a single tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump.

When your time is done, it's done

Very few political leaders have clawed their way back once the party decides it's time for a change.

Although he served as premier from 2006 until 2011, it appeared Ed Stelmach, the affable farmer from Andrew, Alta., didn't sit well with his party establishment in Calgary. Alberta's first premier of Ukrainian descent, Stelmach brought in a lobbyist registry and conducted a royalty review — considered almost blasphemous in some conservative circles.

He won another majority government for the reigning PC party — but the rumbling continued. After the Christmas break in 2010, Stelmach suddenly announced his intention to resign. 

Getting pushed out also happened to Ralph Klein and Alison Redford, and most recently to federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. It doesn't seem to really matter which party is doing the knifing, though I haven't seen it play out in Alberta to anyone other than to those in the premier's chair at the time. 

Different governments, same challenges for reporters

There's always a battle for public transparency and accountability, regardless of which party forms government.

It was no easier to file a freedom of information request under the NDP government  than under the PCs or the UCP.

I secretly hoped the floodgates of information would open wide after the fall of the PC government, but that certainly wasn't the case.

The NDP government had its own way of not telling reporters what was going on, and stuck to it. They were new at the job in 2015, but quickly figured out that consolidating their messaging and keeping reporters at bay were integral to running government.

It's a trend that continues to tighten under the Kenney government, making it increasingly difficult for reporters to cut through the political spin.

As I prepare to start my new job, I remember fondly the many people I've met at the legislature, from the cleaners and cafeteria staff to maintenance workers, security personnel, office workers, journalists and legislators. Here's hoping the next decade brings resolution to some of the stories I've covered over the past 20 years. 

About the Author

Kim Trynacity is an award-winning journalist and CBC Alberta's provincial affairs reporter. You can reach Kim by email at kim.trynacity@cbc.ca or on Twitter @ledgewatcher

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