A Liberal win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca would send shockwaves to Ottawa

Kyle Harrietha Justin Trudeau Fort McMurray Athabasca Liberal

Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha with Justin Trudeau.

On Monday, June 30, voters in four federal ridings across Canada, including Alberta’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod, have an opportunity to choose their next Member of Parliament. Paying close attention to a by-election campaign may not be the most thrilling activity to occupy your time during the summer months, but it is an important one.

Voters in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding are expected to march into the ballot box and elect Conservative John Barlow as their next MP, but the race in the vast northern riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca could produce much more interesting results after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

While the opposition parties have written off the area in the past, it is hard to make that argument in 2014. Kyle Harrietha has run the strongest Liberal campaign the riding has seen in a generation, and has been boosted by leader Justin Trudeau, who has visited the riding three times since Conservative MP Brian Jean resigned in January 2014.

Lori McDaniel Linda Duncan NDP Fort McMurray Athabasca

NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair had been scheduled to visit the riding and campaign alongside Lori McDaniel during the by-election but cancelled his planned trip to attend the funeral of the three murdered R.C.M.P. officers in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was nowhere to be seen during this by-election.

While national issues like the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the ongoing environmental debates about climate change and the impact of Oil Sands development, are sure the play a role in how voters decide to cast their ballots, Tip O’Neill‘s well-known saying “all politics is local” will certainly be a factor in this by-election.

Fort McMurray is a booming community where there are serious concerns about the lagging pace of infrastructure investment from the provincial and federal governments. The pace of economic growth sparked a huge influx of diverse migrants from across Canada and the globe.

While the region is an economic engine for the country, residents I have spoken with feel their community has been forgotten, or just plain ignored, by the higher levels of government.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray in May 2014.

Conservative candidate David Yurdiga has played a peekaboo campaign, skipping all-candidates debates and not engaging with voters on social media (he has been accused of “blocking” local voters who have criticized him on Twitter). He hails from the voter-rich southern reaches of the riding in Athabasca County, which faces some similar and many different issues than the industrial oil capital to the north.

In the south, Mr. Yurdiga has received the endorsements of Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw and embattled provincial Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

As Canadians have witnessed many times in the past, by-elections pose a risk to incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a strong message of approval or disapproval to Ottawa without changing who is in power.

Former Conservative MP Mr. Jean was re-elected in 2011 with a 17,935 vote margin of victory over his closest challenger. If Mr. Yurdiga is elected with even a significantly smaller margin, voters will send a message that will quickly be forgotten in Ottawa. If voters in this riding elect Mr. Harrietha tomorrow, they will send shockwaves through the comfortable Conservative establishment in the nation’s capital.

15 thoughts on “A Liberal win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca would send shockwaves to Ottawa

  1. annie

    I am hoping for shock waves. Ottawa is far too comfy and smug where Alberta is concerned and it’s to our detriment that we would continue to let this be the case.

    Reply
  2. William

    The only shockwaves will be after 2015 when Trudeau again is leader of the 3rd party… and in 2016 when Danielle Smith is dumped as leader of the Wildrose for yet another poor showing.

    Reply
  3. Joanna

    No matter the result, no one can argue that Mr Harrietha has worked unbelievably hard to earn the votes of those is his riding.

    Reply
  4. The future awaits

    Dave…forget the shockwaves…Alberta is due for a massive tectonic political earthquake, levelling the prov and fed cons. They are both out of step with the future. The single biggest threat now to Alberta is how we manage the right policy balance between resource exploration and global warming. Even ex U.S.treasury secretaries have come out asking corporations to realize this and take leadership on global warming. The world is on board, there is much talk about green energy and better efficiencies. In Alberta we will in the near future be the butt of jokes around the world as we remain static on climate change. The optics of our stand on global warming are going to hurt our economy. We must get more thoughtful ballanced policies on climate change, green economy and efficiency. To do so is actually to act in the best future self interest of all businesses and people in AB. Both provincially and federally, the Liberals are the best stewards for balanced moderate policy on climate change. The prov and fed Tories have already consumed tomorrow and next years food to satisfy their bellies today. The current world trends will force political change in AB and Canada. It is inevitable.

    Reply
  5. Connor

    I’m hoping for a change here.
    At least when asked if they had time to answer questions, the candidates (except Yurdiga, clearly) all gave a clear “This is how you can get ahold of me.”
    Tim Moen was on the ball – responding & answering within two hours.
    If the representative, let alone the party has no time to hear questions, how do they really intend to represent the riding?

    Reply
  6. Blaine Badiuk

    You know what would really send shockwaves to Ottawa?
    Having an NDP win and Lori McDaniel as the next MP.
    I know it is a long shot, but if we truly want change we can not elect the same old story. It is time for real change, at the federal level that is the NDP.
    Remember in Alberta only New Democrats defeat Conservatives.

    Reply
  7. daveberta Post author

    “Remember in Alberta only New Democrats defeat Conservatives.”

    That’s just not true. The Liberals elected four MPs in Alberta between 1993 and 2006. The NDP had only ever elected one MP in Alberta until Linda Duncan became the second in 2008.

    Reply
  8. James

    “Remember in Alberta only New Democrats defeat Conservatives.”

    Sounds suspiciously like a plea for strategic voting, which, of course, the NDP purports to hate only when it works to their disadvantage.

    Reply
  9. Connor

    So let’s seeee…
    Conservatives have roughly 50% if the votes – lowest since 2004 (60.3% ) this was roughly around the time they formed, right?

    Voter turnout, despicably, sits around 15%.
    Lowest in elections 1997-present, by HALF.

    Reply
  10. William

    Election results tonight prove again there’s no place for a Trudeau Liberal in Alberta. Maybe he should try supporting pipelines if he wants votes here…

    Reply
  11. debbie haugen

    I feel we need a big change in fort mcmurray we need ndp to make our change I feel lori McDaniel will take all of the needed steps in fort mcmurray to bring the change we need if we don’t stand up we will never get what we really need here she will make the change for us and keep all of us in mind and I feel no one will be left out I hope we stand up for lori and we can see the truth and let her work for all of us in fort mcmurray lori is what fort mac needs

    Reply
  12. jerrymacgp

    Let us not read too much into these by-election results. The Harper Government’s cynical decision to hold them on June 30th, between the last weekend in June and Canada Day Tuesday, led to particularly low voter turnouts:
    – 31.6% in Trinity-Spadina
    – 29.4% in Scarborough-Agincourt
    – 19.6% in Macleod
    – 15.2% in Fort McMurray-Athabasca
    (source: Elections Canada website; turnout numbers do not include voters who registered on Election Day)

    One ought not to infer too much from these low numbers (all of them less than one in three eligible voters) about how the three major parties might do in the next general election.

    Reply
  13. Blaine Badiuk

    ~daveberta
    Thank you for replying to my comment. That line that was mentioned is one used by many new democrats within Alberta. Yes, Liberals have won previously, and that can not be underestimated. But Liberals have not won a federal seat in Alberta since 2006. By the time of the next federal election that will be 9 years and 9 (almost 10) months without a Liberal win. Linda Duncan will be the only opposition MP in Alberta for 7 years by the next election. So while the statement may not be fully accurate, it does represent the recent history of federal Alberta politics. Once again, thank you for responding to my comment, I love your blog and your great analysis.

    ~James
    It could be strategic voting, but it could also be a plea for non-voters. Many people do not vote because they feel their vote is wasted. Because the NDP is probably the only one to be able to defeat the conservatives, these people might go and vote. If more people voted then we could give the conservatives the boot. Its time for a new government. Thank you for responding to my comment.

    Reply

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