Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede is a must-stop destination for political leaders of all stripes and all levels of government. The event also provides a good historical marker of how quickly the political winds of change can sweep through Alberta.
One year ago at last year’s Stampede, Dave Hancock was Premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice was an unstoppable candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race, the memory of Alison Redford was fresh in the minds of Albertans, Danielle Smith led the Wildrose Official Opposition, the Alberta Party was still on the fringe, and the NDP were in the midst of a leadership race many political watchers saw as a sideshow.
Now to this year’s Stampede, Rachel Notley is Premier of Alberta and there are 53 NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislative Assembly (including 15 from the Calgary area), a former Member of Parliament named Brian Jean leads the Wildrose Official Opposition, former Calgary alderman Ric McIver leads a 9-MLA PC Caucus, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark is an MLA, and Mr. Prentice has disappeared from the political landscape.
The changes that took place between the two Stampedes are an important reminder about how quickly political change can happen, even in a province that is known for turning political parties into governing dynasties.
With the October 19 federal election less than four months away, it is also an important reminder to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper that even voters in the Canadian conservative movement’s spiritual homeland cannot be taken for granted. That thought must have crossed Mr. Harper’s mind as he met with Ms. Notley for the first time this week in Calgary.
The provincial election win has boosted the NDP’s credibility and organizational strength, especially in Edmonton, but it is not clear how this will translate in the federal election. Ms. Notley’s win has created opportunity for the federal NDP in Alberta, especially for candidates like Janis Irwin in Edmonton-Griesbach and Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona. As Tom Mulcair‘s federal NDP focus their resources in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, it is to their advantage to put the Conservatives on the defensive in Alberta, a situation that has not happened very often.
Meanwhile, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has reason to be optimistic after his party’s candidate’s came close to winning by-elections in Calgary-Centre in 2012 and Fort McMurray-Athabasca in 2014. The Liberals have also nominated a slate of high profile candidates that includes Kent Hehr in Calgary-Centre, Darshan Kang in Calgary-Skyview and Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton-Mill Woods.
The Conservatives are still expected to hold most of Alberta’s ridings in the upcoming federal election but the NDP and Liberals could make gains in the major urban centres.
The truth is that federal Conservatives have always taken Alberta voters for granted, and they have had reason to. Albertans have not elected more than 2 non-conservative MPs in any federal election since 1993. The Conservatives even held all 28 of the province’s federal ridings between 2006 and 2008.
With a federal election fast approaching and and increasingly stale government approaching ten years in Ottawa, the Conservatives may need to spend more time campaigning in Alberta in the next few months, or else there could be a whole new cast of federal politicians wearing plaid shirts and cowboy boots at next year’s Calgary Stampede.