I was not surprised to hear rumours that Edmonton-Riverview might be on the chopping block when the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is released in July (the interim report had kept Riverview largely intact). The Tories have been trying and have been incredibly unsuccessful in capturing enough support to elect an MLA in Riverview since it was created in 1997. With decisive margins, Liberal MLAs Linda Sloan and Kevin Taft have been successful in holding off Tory challengers including Gwen Harris, City Councillor Wendy Kinsella, Fred Horne, and local president Wendy Andrews. I have read and heard many arguments in favour of disassembling Riverview, the largest being that it does not make sense for a riding to span across the North Saskatchewan River, which should act as a natural boundary (under the current boundaries, three Edmonton ridings cross the River). It is silly to argue that an urban MLA cannot represent a riding divided by a river when many rural MLAs represent ridings that span across the province.
With three appointees on the five-member Electoral Boundaries Commission, the PCs may finally get their chance to put Riverview on the chopping block.
Large-scale changes to Riverview were not included in the Commission’s interim report, but there were large changes to other opposition held ridings. Much of Edmonton-Cadler may merge with Edmonton-Glenora, a change that could pit former Calder NDP MLA David Eggen against Glenora PC MLA Heather Klimchuk in a riding that also has a tradition of electing Liberal MLAs.
In Edmonton-Gold Bar, proposed changes in the interim report would give four-term Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald an 8-vote margin, compared to a 1,018 margin of victory under the current boundaries in 2008. While sometimes overly-eccentric, Mr. MacDonald is one of the hardest working Opposition MLAs in the Assembly. It should not be surprising that the PCs have their eyes on Gold Bar, a riding that has elected Liberal MLAs since 1986.
The changes proposed in the interim report are not entirely unkind to the opposition when looking at the 2008 election results. The interim boundaries reduce PC MLA Tony Vandermeer‘s margin of victory in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 337 votes to 101 votes. Nominated New Democrat Deron Bilous is already gunning for Mr. Vandermeer’s job. The interim boundaries would have also helped Calgary-Elbow Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins defeat now-Justice Minister Alison Redford by 272 votes (instead, Mr. Cheffins was unseated by 419 votes in the current boundaries).
They are the most politically organized force province-wide, but it is understated how much of an advantage their 2006 leadership selection gave the PCs in 2008. Just over a year after their intensely competitive leadership race, large and fresh membership lists have the PCs a large advantage over their opponents, who had not developed these kind of large-scale lists.
The next election will present Albertans with new electoral boundaries and also a new political environment. The PC Party’s popularity has significantly dropped in the polls since the last election and its caucus has shrunk by a by-election defeat and MLA floor-crossings. David Swann is the first Liberal leader from Calgary since the 1970s and his party is nearly debt-free. The Wildrose Alliance is on its way to becoming well-organized and well-funded under the leadership of the politically-savvy Danielle Smith. The existence of the new Alberta Party is drawing support from many centrist and progressive political organizers. There is a general unhappiness and unease among Albertans with how the politics of governance is being operated in Alberta.
Even if some opposition-held ridings do get chopped and diced, the shifts in the political environment since the last election could make the could make any gerrymandering near irrelevant.