What’s at stake in the four Oct. 27 by-elections?

With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?

Progressive Conservatives

In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.

My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.

Wildrose Party

From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.

The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.

The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.

As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.

The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.

Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.

Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.

New Democratic Party

Alberta NDP Ad Edmonton-Whitemud Dr. Bob Turner by-election
An NDP pamphlet used in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.

While the NDP have risen in the polls in Edmonton, Whitemud is not a traditional NDP voting area. The NDP earned 9% in Whitemud in the last election and last placed second in the riding in the 1986 election.

A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.

Also running for the NDP are Stephanie McLean in Calgary-Elbow, Jennifer Burgess in Calgary-Foothills, and Brian Malkinson in Calgary-West.

Alberta Party

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow
A Greg Clark self with his supporters on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow.

With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.

Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.

Mr. Clark has earned the endorsements of popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, former Green Party candidate Chris Turner, former city councillor Gael Macleod and former mayoral candidate Wayne Stewart.

A win for Mr. Clark would be a huge victory for the Alberta Party and add a twist to the dominant PC-Wildrose narratives that has dominated Alberta politics since before the last election.

Mr. Clark is the son of Gilbert Clark, a Liberal candidate who came within 900 votes of defeating rookie PC candidate Ralph Klein in 1989.

Also running for the Alberta Party are William Munsey in Edmonton-Whitemud, Michelle Glavine in Calgary-Foothills, Troy Millington in Calgary-West.

Liberal Party

Susan Wright Calgary Elbow by-election
Liberal Susan Wright and her campaign supporters.

Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.

The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.

Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.

These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.

Also running for he Liberals are David Khan in Calgary-West and Robert Prcic in Calgary-Foothills.

Green Party

The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and  Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.

Where to vote?

Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.

Politics gets NIMBY in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 3
Edmonton-Whitemud Wildrose candidate Tim Grover, with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, MLAs Kerry Towle, Jeff Wilson, Bruce Rowe and other nominated Wildrose candidates.

The phrase “all politics is local” has been used many times to describe voters who might shy away from trying to restructure health care or environmental policy but are passionate about potholes or saving the park down their street.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

This phrase appears to be particularily reflective of the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, where former Edmonton mayor and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is campaigning for election to the Legislative Assembly as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

While his opponents from the New Democrat and Liberal parties – Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson – have made health care issues the focus of their campaigns – including the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital –  Mr. Mandel’s Wildrose opponent is looking to other local wedge issues to attack the former mayor.

As volunteers canvass door-to-door in the constituency, the campaign of Wildrose candidate Tim Grover is circulating a letter from a local resident who opposed a controversial Terwilligar Housing First development.

[Read the letter here]

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

The letter alleges that at an August 2013 town-hall meeting about the proposed housing development, then-mayor Mr. Mandel loudly shouted at a group of residents about the project. While the tensions were high at the meeting, community members I have spoken with who attended the town hall meeting dispute the allegation that Mr. Mandel actually shouted at anyone at the meeting.

As part of the City of Edmonton’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the development would have provided permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless Edmontonians. And because of the outcry of a small and vocal group of community members, the development was cancelled.

While the proposal was not perfect, the debate around the Terwilligar Housing First development had all the hallmark characteristics of NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”).

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

When he launched his campaign, Mr. Mandel said that he would run on his nine-year record as Mayor of Edmonton. And while he has a lot to be proud of, after three terms in office Mr. Mandel did collect a certain amount of political baggage. Because of this, it is not surprising that his political opponents would try to exploit these wedge issues during an election campaign.

Last week, two articulate members from the Haddow neighbourhood spoke to the CBC about their opposition to the development of a surplus school site that Mr. Mandel supported. I am told that “Save Haddow Park” signs have now been spotted in Mr. Grover’s campaign office.

NDP army campaigns for Dr. Bob

Fresh from her victory in the NDP leadership contest, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley led an army of volunteers on to the streets of Edmonton-Whitemud. The NDP took a break from their weekend leadership convention to bus as many volunteers as possible from downtown’s Sutton Place Hotel to the southwest to help candidate Dr. Bob Turner.

Voters in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-West will vote on October 27, 2014. Advance Polls are: being held on October 22, 23, 24 and, 25, 2014.

The NDP are Ready for Rachel… are Albertans?

Rachel Notley NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta
Rachel Notley

With 70% of the 3,589 votes cast, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley was selected as the next leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party. Ms. Notley defeated Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen, who earned 28% of the vote, and union activist Rod Loyola, with 2%.

David Eggen
David Eggen

Ms. Notley is an articulate and passionate advocate for social issues in Alberta and I have little doubt that the NDP will continue punching above their weight as an opposition party with her at the helm.

There are no shortage of challenges facing Ms. Notley’s NDP, and perhaps the largest is the task of convincing Albertans that the NDP is a viable alternative to the two dominant conservative parties.

The NDP needs to build the case that they are the more viable progressive alternative to not only the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose, but also the Liberal Party. The NDP has already surpassed the Liberals in total votes and seats in Edmonton. And with two Calgary Liberal MLAs running in the next federal election, the NDP will soon become the third largest party in the Assembly.

But can the NDP translate their latest bump in the polls in Edmonton into actual elected candidates in the next election? The NDP currently have four MLAs in the Assembly and a handful of candidates performed well in the last election in constituencies such as Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Riveriew, and Edmonton-Glenora.

A photo of Shannon Phillips Alberta NDP Candidate in Lethbridge-East.
Shannon Phillips

Moribund in Calgary, the NDP has not elected a candidate in Alberta’s largest city since the 1989 election, which is the equivalent of eons in politics. The party has tried hard to shed any “anti-oilsands” baggage, calling for in-province refining and distancing itself from some positions taken by the Ottawa NDP.

To become a convincing province-wide political force, the NDP needs to break its reputation as an Edmonton-only focused party and recruit candidates who can win in Calgary and Alberta’s medium-sized cities. With the vast majority of rural Alberta a write-off for the tiny social democratic party, I have argued they should focus on an urban agenda.

The NDP has a star candidate in Shannon Phillips, who is campaigning for a second time in Lethbridge-West. Ms. Phillips came very close to winning in the last election, placing only 1,115 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick. A win in Lethbridge in the next election would be a significant beachhead for the NDP outside of Edmonton.

With the conservative PCs and Wildrose dominating the political narrative heading into the next election, Ms. Notley’s NDP could play kingmaker and spoiler in close races in cities like Edmonton and Lethbridge.

Even though it is almost impossible to imagine the NDP forming government in Alberta, there could be a real chance they could hold the balance of power in a minority government scenario after the next election. And if that did happen, Albertans would be lucky to have an intelligent and thoughtful leader like Rachel Notley holding the balance of power.

Alberta NDP use strange voting system to select new leader

Rachel Notley David Eggen Alberta NDP Leadership Race 2014
NDP MLAs David Eggen and Rachel Notley at a recent rally calling for the construction of a new Misericordia Hospital in south west Edmonton. Both MLAs are running for the leadership of the Alberta NDP.

On October 18, 2014 Alberta’s New Democratic Party will choose a replacement for retiring leader Brian Mason, who has held the position since 2004. The three candidates seeking the leadership are Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and Edmonton-Ellerslie candidate Rod Loyola.

Brian Mason
Brian Mason

This is the Alberta NDP’s first foray into a one-member, one-vote system preferential ballot system of selecting their leader, at least partially. While 75% of the total votes cast to choose the next leader are allocated to individual members, 25% of the total votes are allocated to organizations affiliated with the NDP.

This hybrid system was adopted after a vote by NDP members at a recent policy convention. The 25% affiliate organization vote is a recognition of the party’s historical ties to labour unions, who are suspected to make up most of the affiliates.

How the votes will actually be counted is also a source of confusion among NDP members I have spoken with. The Edmonton Journal’s Karen Kleiss did an admirable job trying to explain the system, but even after an explanation it remains needlessly complicated:

The affiliate status gives the eight unions a 25 per cent weighted vote in the leadership election.

This means that if each of the eight unions cast one ballot, each of those ballots would count for 3.12 per cent of the total votes. In a hypothetical race with 10,000 ballots cast, each union ballot would count for 312 votes.

Rod Loyola Edmonton Ellerslie NDP
Rod Loyola

Simply put, the votes of indivdiual organizations will be weighed heavier than votes of individual NDP members in this leadership vote. But even though NDP members may be told how those votes are weighed within the 25%, there is still no public listing of the affiliated organizations.

I am told there are at most ten organizations eligible to cast votes in the leadership contest, but privacy rules restrict the NDP from releasing the names of the organizations without their approval.

Not shy about their affiliation with the NDP, one of the affiliates is certainly the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401. UFCW 401 President Doug O’Halloran announced earlier this month that his union has endorsed Ms. Notley’s candidacy.

There are limited rules around how provincial political parties conduct leadership contests. Unlike the United States, where open primary votes feel like general elections and are highly structured, leadership votes in Alberta feel like the Wild West.

Raj Sherman MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark
Raj Sherman

Leadership candidates and their Chief Financial Officers must register with Elections Alberta, but aside from that, party’s set their own rules around entry fees, spending limits, debates, and how the leader is selected. This has led to some odd voting schemes and irregularities during recent leadership contests.

The Progressive Conservatives used a simple one-member, one-vote system and still faced numerous allegations of irregularities and online voting systems glitches in the leadership contest that selected Jim Prentice. One PC volunteer accused MLA Sohail Quadri of improperly accessing PIN numbers of PC members and Mr. Prentice’s campaign was caught handing out free memberships at public events.

In their 2011 leadership contest, the Liberal Party introduced a “supporter” category of voter, who could vote in their leadership contest by signing up for free. The “supporters” did little to boost the active membership of the party and the category was dissolved shortly after Raj Sherman was selected as leader.

Our political leaders should be encouraged to develop new and innovative ways of engaging voters in leadership races, but Albertans need to know the processes being used are fair and transparent.

By-Election Round-up: 11 days until the mini-election

There are now eleven days left until voters cast their ballots in four provincial by-elections on October 27.

Prentice a no-show in Calgary-Foothills

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta Calgary Foothills by-election pumpkin
Jim Prentice (photo from @wmcbeath on Twitter)

He is the Premier of Alberta and he does not have a seat in the Legislature, but Jim Prentice skipped last night’s all-candidates forum in the Calgary-Foothills by-election. The event was organized by the Edgemont Community Association.

Noting the high-profile candidate’s absence, forum organizers placed a halloween pumpkin at Mr. Prentice’ empty spot at the table.

He has held almost daily media events since becoming Premier, but they have all taken place at planned and highly-controlled events. An all-candidates forum is an uncontrolled environment where Mr. Prentice would be forced to engage with his opponents, which could cause potential embarrassment to the new Premier.

The other candidates running in Calgary-Foothills are Jennifer Burgess (NDP), Polly Knowlton Cockett (Green Party),  Michelle Glavine (Alberta Party), Kathy Macdonald (Wildrose),  Robert Prcic (Liberal) and Dave Woody Phillips (Independent). Mr. Phillips was also absent from the forum.

Health care big issue in Edmonton-Whitemud

Donna Wilson Liberal Edmonton Whitemud By-Election
Donna Wilson

In an press conference designed to keep Health Minister Stephen Mandel in the news, Mr. Prentice joined his party’s Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate to make a vague announcement about the opening of more “continuing care” spaces.

The announcement provided no detail about how the province plans to address the shortage of long-term care beds, which provide a higher level of care to Albertans in need of longer-term medical assistance.

Despite a growing population, the number of long-term care beds across the province has actually decreased over the past decade.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA
Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice used the press conference as an opportunity to repeatedly explain to reporters that Mr. Mandel is a “hands-on minister” (a description he used at least three times during the press conference).

Although the former mayor is widely expected to win the Whitemud by-election, Mr. Mandel has faced pressure from Liberal Dr. Donna Wilson and New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner to address the province’s lack of long-term care beds and to replace the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital.

The other candidates running the Edmonton-Whitemud are Tim Grover (Wildrose), Rene Malenfant (Green Party), William Munsey (Alberta Party),

Moving targets in Calgary-Elbow

It’s not just about electing Dirks, it’s about beating Carter too,” a PC Party insider told me this week. Fighting to elect appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, the PCs are also gunning to defeat Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, whose campaign is being run by former Tory strategist Stephen Carter.

A sort of political mercenary, Mr. Carter was a key strategist in Alison Redford‘s 2011 leadership campaign and Naheed Nenshi‘s 2010 mayoral election.

While the Wildrose Party poses a threat to the Tories province-wide, recent moves suggest they recognize Mr. Clark as a threat in this by-election. For example, Mr. Dirks’ campaign trotted out an endorsement last week from former Alberta Party leadership candidate Randy Royer.

Drawing on the experience of Mr. Carter and a band of local political organizers, Mr. Clark’s supporters say his campaign is showing signs of momentum on the ground. Whether they can translate any momentum, real or perceived, into votes is an unanswered question.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dirks’ campaign manager Alan Hallman, apologized for referring to Wildrose Party candidate John Fletcher as the fictional TV Nazi “Colonel Klink” on Twitter. Mr. Fletcher is a retired Colonel of the Canadian Forces Reserves.

The other candidates in the Calgary-Elbow by-election are  Stephanie McLean (NDP) and Susan Wright (Liberal).

Sources: MLA David Xiao disqualified from federal Conservative nomination

David Xiao MLA Edmonton West
David Xiao

A Progressive Conservative MLA is appealing a decision by a Conservative Party of Canada committee to disqualify him as a nomination candidate in the newly created Edmonton-West federal riding, according to reliable sources.

(see updates below)

It remains unclear why the committee chose to disqualify Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao, who announced his entry into the contest in March 2014.

If Mr. Xiao’s disqualification is upheld by the Conservative Party National Council, it is expected that Edmonton hotel manager Kelly McCauley will be acclaimed as the party’s candidate for the next federal election.

Kelly McCauley Edmonton-West Conservative
Kelly McCauley

Mr. Xiao’s candidacy has been endorsed by provincial Health Minister and Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate Stephen Mandel, former premier Ed Stelmach and provincial cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.

Since his election in 2008, Mr. Xiao has served as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Energy, Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Employment and Immigration. He faced public criticism after claiming travel expenses of nearly $35,000 in 2012, even though his constituency is located in Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.

The Conservative Party is expected to respond to Mr. Xiao’s appeal this week.


Contributing to more potential controversy, a lawyer representing Mr. Xiao recently informed Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle that he planned to issue notices under Alberta’s Defamation Act.

Potentially connected to the legal threats, Mr. Xiao publicly denied statements made by the Wildrose opposition about his relationship with the McClung Family Association.

UPDATE (October 15, 2014): Mr. Xiao has released a statement confirming he is appealing his disqualification as a nomination candidate by the Conservative Party in Edmonton-West.

UPDATE (October 16, 2014): According to reliable sources, Mr. Xiao’s appeal has been rejected by the Conservative Party of Canada National Council. Mr. McCauley is expected to be acclaimed as the candidate in Edmonton-West.

Yellowhead federal by-election called for November 17

Alberta_Yellowhead_Highway
The Yellowhead Highway is a major east-west highway connecting the four western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Providing a distraction from the four provincial by-elections currently being held in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that federal by-elections will be held in Ontario’s Whitby-Oshawa riding and Alberta’s Yellowhead riding.

The Yellowhead by-election is triggered by the resignation of five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield, who was appointed by Premier Jim Prentice as Alberta’s envoy in Washington D.C.

Covering a huge swath of west central Alberta, the Yellowhead riding sprawls from Jasper National Park in the west to Drayton Valley, Onoway and Barrhead in the east.

The Hinton Voice reported on September 25 that two candidates were seeking the federal Conservative nomination in this riding. Former Yellowhead Conservatives President Jim Eglinski served as Mayor of Fort St. John from 2005 to 2008 and Gerald Soroka has has served as the Mayor of Yellowhead County since 2007.

According to the Voice, Hinton Town Councillor and local social studies teacher Ryan Maguhn filed his papers to become the Liberal Party candidate.

Yellowhead voted solidly Conservative riding in the 2011 election. Conservative candidate Mr. Merrifield earned 77% of the total vote in Yellowhead, with NDP candidate Mark Wells earning 13%. Green candidate Monika Shaeffer placed third with 5.1% and Liberal Zack Siezmagraff placed fourth with 2.8%.

The riding was represented by former Prime Minister Joe Clark from 1979 to 1993. In the 1988 election, Mr. Clark faced Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who he defeated 44% to 27%. Five years later, in the 1993 election, Reform Party candidate Cliff Breitkreuz was elected with 55% of the vote. He represented the riding in Ottawa until Mr. Merrifield was first elected in 2000.

Can the opposition win any of the 4 by-elections?

Cheffins_Campaign_067
The Liberals celebrate a victory in the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election. Left to Right: MLA David Swann, victorious candidate Craig Cheffins, Liberal leader Kevin Taft, MLA Dave Taylor and MLA Harry Chase.

Can the opposition parties win any of the four provincial by-elections being held on October 27, 2014?

The by-election votes will take place in four urban constituencies that were considered safe for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 election. With a change in provincial leadership and a volatile political environment, these by-elections do provide opportunities for the opposition parties to make gains.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary ElbowGreg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary Elbow
Greg Clark

In Calgary-Elbow, Wildrose candidate John Fletcher appears to be PC candidate and appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks‘ main conservative challenger and challenges from two other liberal-leaning candidates could create an interesting result in Calgary-Elbow.

Liberal Susan Wright and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark are running strong campaigns competing for the same liberal and moderate voters that Mr. Dirks will need to win against his more conservative opponent. Mr. Clark has gained the support of 2012 PC Party campaign strategist Stephen Carter and 2012 Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan, who are both heavily involved in his campaign.

Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins was able to win this constituency in a 2007 by-election at a time when the Liberals were Official Opposition and the Tories were led by new PC leader Ed Stelmach, who was unfamiliar to most Calgary voters at the time. In 2014, the field of candidates and parties is much more crowded and unpredictable.

Retired popular Edmonton Mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is widely expected to glide to victory in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election (his predecessor, Dave Hancock was re-elected with 60% of the vote in 2012).

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

Mr. Mandel’s vocal opponents are trying to make health care and the provincial government’s lack of long-term infrastructure planning the big issues of the by-election campaign.

New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner has come out swinging with an aggressive campaign against the new Health Minister and his comments about “bed blockers” in the health care system.

Both Dr. Turner and Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson have made south west Edmonton’s aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital a focus of their campaigns. Dr. Wilson held a press conference outside the Misericordia Hospital yesterday and today the NDP will hold a lunch-hour rally outside the facility.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith chose the campaign office of Whitemud candidate Tim Grover to announce her party’s health care funding plan, including promises of $100 million to front-line care, $50 million to home care and $50 million to reopen long-term care beds. The Wildrose Party also released a series of election campaign-style online videos attacking the PCs.

Tim Grover Wildrose Edmonton Whitemud By-election
Tim Grover

Statistician Eric Grenier predicts Wildrose candidate Sheila Taylor could win the Calgary-West by-election. Ms. Taylor, a now former trustee on the Calgary Board of Education, is a star candidate for the Wildrose in Calgary. She is facing Calgary police officer Mike Ellis, who unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination before the 2012 election.

Premier Jim Prentice‘s recent announcement to build an additional 55 new schools and renovate another 20 is certainly meant to boost Mr. Dirks’ and weaken Ms. Taylor’s candidacy. Quick to respond, Mr. Clark’s campaign set up a website detailing the schools Mr. Dirks voted to close during his time on the Calgary Board of Education.

Running as a candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election, Mr. Prentice faces his main challenge from Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald, a 20-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service. Foothills has voted solidly PC since 1967 and while it is easy to assume that Mr. Prentice’s job as Premier makes him a shoe-in, he should not take voters for granted. Mr. Grenier has classified Foothills are a “tossup” between the PCs and Wildrose.

There is nothing more the opposition parties would love than to see a sitting Premier defeated in his own constituency. A loss in Foothills might be unlikely, but a loss of even one of the four by-elections would be a sign that the PCs, even under “new management,” remain politically vulnerable. By-elections can be risky for incumbent governments, especially when voters are eager to use their votes to send a message.


Upcoming all-candidates forums

Calgary-Foothills all-candidates forum: October 15, 8:30pm at the Edgemont Community Association (33 Edgevalley Circle NW).

Edmonton-Whitemud all-candidates forum: October 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Snow Valley Chalet. Hosted by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta and the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta.

Edmonton-Whitemud all-candidates forum: October 22 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Riverbend United Church (14907 – 45 Avenue NW). This forum is hosted by Whitemud Citizens for Public Health.

Today in History: Alison Redford sworn-in as Premier of Alberta

Alison Redford Premier Alberta
Alison Redford is sworn-in as Premier of Alberta on October 7, 2011. Lt. Governor Donald Ethell stands to the right.

On October 7, 2011, Alison Merrilla Redford stood in front of a large crowd of her peers and power-brokers in the Legislature Rotunda as she was sworn-in as Alberta’s 14th Premier.

Having won the October 1, 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest with 37,101 votes to 35,491 for second-place Gary Mar, Ms. Redford became Alberta’s first woman Premier and fifth consecutive PC Party Premier. Leadership candidate Doug Horner, who would serve as her Finance Minister, played a large role in directing his supporters to vote for Ms. Redford on the final ballot vote.

There is little doubt that October 7, 2011 was a proud day for Alberta and one that, for many Albertans, represented hope for positive change in our province’s politics. We were told to expect immediate action on critical and a new style of government from the long-governing PC Party.

Alison Redford Premier of Alberta resigns 1
Alison Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta on March 23, 2014.

What a difference 2 years and 167 days can make.

Amid scandal, broken promises and a caucus revolt, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014 and as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow on August 6, 2014. She was replaced by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, who served until Jim Prentice was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014.


Liberals announce by-election candidates

In more recent news, the Liberal Party announced its candidates in two Alberta by-elections. Robert Prcic will be that party’s candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election and David Khan in the Calgary-West by-election. Mr. Prcic was his party’s 2012 election candidate in Calgary-North West, where he earned 6% of the total vote.

A recent email from the Liberal Party revealed the party was prioritizing their resources behind candidates in two other by-elections – Susan Wright in Calgary-Elbow and Donna Wilson in Edmonton-Whitemud.

For more, see the full list of candidates in the by-elections and nominated to run in the next Alberta General Election.

The magic of Tory reinvention. A new era for Alberta.

Social-Credit-A-new-Kind-of-leader-1971-1
“A new kind of leader,” an advertisement from the Social Credit Party published in the Calgary Herald in 1971.

As the Progressive Conservatives brandish their new slogan, “A new era for Alberta,” many Albertans might be confused about which political party has been in power for the past 43 years.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an era as “a long and distinct period of history.”

If we were to apply the geological time scale of the Earth to Alberta politics, we would now find ourselves in the Honeymoon Period of the Prentice Era of the Progressive Conservative Eon (I will resist the temptation to name any political dinosaurs).

Alison Redford Not Your Father's PC Party
A PC Party election ad used during the 2012 election.

And despite the PC Party Eon having stretched more than four decades, PC Party candidates in four Alberta by-elections being held on October 27 are not running on their party’s record as the government since 1971. They are running on their party’s record since Jim Prentice became leader of the PC Party on September 6, 2014.

And it is too early to tell whether Mr. Prentice will oversee “a long and distinct period.” His two most recent predecessors each lasted less than five years in office.

The PC Party’s “new era” slogan is somewhat reminiscent of another slogan used by Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party as the 36 year old governing party tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to win re-election in 1971. But, unlike the Socreds in the 1970s, the PC Party has become masterful at reinvention, consistently rebranding their party since Peter Lougheed retired in 1984.

Unlike Mr. Strom, who was overshadowed by his popular and larger than life predecessor, Ernest Manning, Mr. Prentice would never be caught in public uttering the words “Alison” or “Redford.” But while the PC Party tries to put their recently departed leader’s legacy behind them, the opposition parties and candidates will eagerly remind voters about the past two years of PC government.

Just two years ago, the PC Party led by Alison Redford were re-elected in a hotly contested campaign under the slogan “Real life leadership” (see the campaign advertisement above). This slogan was a reference to both Ms. Redford’s time spent overseas as a United Nations lawyer and provided contrast with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, and the perceived inexperience of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

During the 2012 election campaign, a controversial advertisement published in some urban newspapers featured the slogan “Not your father’s PC Party,” which suggested to younger and more liberal-minded Albertans that the PC Party had entered a new era (and again provided a contrast to the perceived social conservative values of the Wildrose Party).

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

Six years ago, borrowing from the success of Barack Obama‘s “Change we can believe in” slogan, the PC Party led by Mr. Stelmach chose “Change that works for Albertans” as their slogan in the 2008 election. The slogan suggested that Mr. Stelmach’s main opposition, the Liberals, would provide change that would not work for Albertans.

Like his successors, the PC Party under Mr. Stelmach worked hard to distance itself from the legacy of his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

In the four by-elections being held at the end of October 2014, the opposition parties are also using new slogans to help brand their campaigns. “Send the PCs a message” is a slogan being used by the Wildrose Party, and it is meant to remind Albertans that by-elections are an opportunity to show dissatisfaction with the PC Party’s past two years of scandal and misdeeds.

The NDP are using the slogan “Albertans deserve better,” which is a true statement, but it seems unlikely that most Albertans outside Edmonton city limits are about to look to the NDP as a better choice.

While slogans alone will not win or lose an election campaign, they can cleverly help define the narrative each party or candidate is advancing and can serve as a rallying cry for or against voters choosing change at the ballot box.

If you have a few moments after reading this post, I encourage you to take a glance at the extensive ‘List of Political Slogans‘ page on Wikipedia.