Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda became his party’s only MLA from Calgary with a fairly decisive win in yesterday’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills, stealing the constituency away from the Progressive Conservatives. PC candidate Blair Houston finished third in the constituency that elected former Premier Jim Prentice in another by-election ten months ago and in a general election only four months ago.
The New Democrats mounted what appeared to be a strong campaign with candidate Bob Hawkesworth, but the governing party was only able to finish with second place in the by-election.
The NDP lost some ground in this by-election, holding 25.7 percent of the vote compared to the 32.3 percent earned by candidate Anne Wilson in the May 5, 2015 general election but still significantly more than the 3.7 percent earned by the NDP candidate in the October 2014 by-election. The results suggest that the NDP “orange chinook” from May 2015 has not completely dissipated as some would have argued and that NDP have developed a base of support in the city that was non-existent only a few months ago.
An NDP loss in this by-election would not have been a notable outcome had that party not intentionally raised the stakes of the results by pouring significant resources into the campaign, including high-profile endorsements of Mr. Hawkesworth and at least three campaign visits by Premier Rachel Notley. The loss does not spell the end of the NDP in Calgary but it does demonstrate that the party faces strong conservative opposition in the city, which should come as a surprise to no one.
Media commentaries will likely frame the Wildrose win as a rebuke of NDP policies in Calgary-Foothills, which it was, but at a more interesting level the results of this by-election are reflective of the divide between the Wildrose and the PC Party.
While the electoral outcomes were different from the last election, the percentages of the combined PC and Wildrose votes were 59.8 percent, up slightly from their combined vote of 58 percent in May 2015. This is a major decline from the October 2014 by-election, when the two conservative parties dominated with a combined 88 percent of the vote.
Conservative voters were split in this by-election, but Mr. Panda’s win will give the Wildrose Party potent ammunition to argue that the old PC Party is not a viable conservative alternative to the NDP in the three and a half years leading up to the next general election. The by-election results do suggest that in Calgary, the mostly rural based Wildrosers could still have some hard work ahead of them, as the PC Party is at the very least “still standing.”
The Wildrose caucus will now grow from 21 to 22 MLAs, making it the largest official opposition since the Liberals had 31 MLAs in the early-1990s. The PCs have 9 MLAs in the Legislature.
Here are the unofficial results from the September 3, 2015 by-election (66/66 polls reporting):
Prasad Panda, Wildrose: 4,877 (38.3%)
Bob Hawkesworth, NDP: 3,270 (25.7%)
Blair Houston, PC: 2,7,46 (21.5%)
Ali Bin Zahid, Liberal: 791 (6.2%)
Mark Taylor, Alberta Party: 610 (4.8%)
Janet Keeping, Green: 377 (2.9%)
Antoni Grochowski, Independent: 46 (0.36%)