To describe it as a long-shot is polite, but two Edmonton MLAs running for the leadership of Alberta’s New Democratic Party say that growing support in Calgary is critical. Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley launched her campaign for her party’s leadership at Niko’s Bistro in Kensington this week. And Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen described Alberta’s largest city as ‘unploughed ground’ for the NDP.
At her Calgary launch, Ms. Notley was introduced by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth, one of the last New Democrats to be elected under that party’s banner in Calgary. Mr. Hawkesworth was elected along with fellow New Democrat Barry Pashak in the 1986 and 1989 elections. Both men were defeated in the 1993 election, along with every other NDP candidate in the province.
The NDP has regained support in Edmonton, earning 21% in the last provincial election, but it has never recovered in Calgary. In the past two provincial elections the NDP earned less than 5% of the total vote in Calgary.
Although the provincial NDP earned 19,942 votes (4%) in Calgary in the 2012 provincial election, the Orange Wave in the 2011 federal election helped that party collect an impressive 51,652 votes in cowtown.
A handful of popular Liberal MLAs - like David Swann, Kent Hehr, and formerly Harry Chase - have successfully held the progressive (non-PC Party) banner in that city for the past three elections. But a decline in Liberal Party support may open an opportunity for a resurgent NDP looking for gains in Calgary, if the NDP actually work for it.
Back in 2009, I was a freelance writer covering the annual NDP convention. While most delegates were caught up debating constitutional resolutions in a dingy and windowless conference room in downtown Edmonton, the Calgary-Glenmore by-election was heating up.
When I asked an NDP organizer why they hadn’t hired a bus to shuttle the 150 delegates down south for a day to help their candidate (a move that would have been a strong show of support), the individual replied that they were sure the party had it under control. Come election day, Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman narrowly defeated Liberal Avalon Roberts, with Tory Diane Colley-Urquhart placing third and the NDP candidate placed a distant fourth with an insignificant 1.3% of the vote.
Any viable opposition party in Alberta needs to be competitive in the province’s largest city. Even if they are only competitive in a few constituencies, the NDP need to have a presence in Calgary before they can claim to be a true provincial opposition.
NDP could make gains in Lethbridge
This week the NDP nominated researcher Shannon Phillips as their candidate in Lethbridge-West. The NDP hope that with some hard work Ms. Phillips can build on her 2012 results, when she boosted her party’s support to 29%, up from 10% in the 2008 election. Those 2012 results placed Ms. Phillips ahead of the Wildrose candidate and just over 1,000 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick.