Conservative candidates were elected in two federal by-elections yesterday in Alberta. This is an event which would normally not be a source for much commentary, but there are some interesting points to be made from the outcome of these two by-elections.
Conservatives hold, but support shrinks In Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Conservative David Yurdiga was elected with 5,945 votes (47% of the vote), significantly lower than the landslide 21,988 votes (71.8% of the vote) earned by former MP Brian Jean in the 2011 general election. The regional breakdown of the votes could provide some interesting insight into this by-election, as Mr. Yurdiga hails from the voter-rich southern limits of this large rural riding.
In Macleod, John Barlow was elected with 12,394 votes (68%), only slightly lower than the 77% earned by MP Ted Menzies in 2011.
Liberals back in second place
The Liberals dislodged the official opposition New Democratic Party as the main challenger to the Conservatives in both ridings. Strong local campaigns as well as a boost from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who visited the ridings numerous times during the by-elections, likely contributed to these results.
Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal Kyle Harrietha placed a strong second with 35.3% of the vote (4,491 votes), up from his party’s 10% in the 2011 general election. While the Liberals were not able to pull off a win, they should not be disappointed with their level of support. Percentage wise, this is the strongest a non-conservative candidate has placed in this riding since 1980.
In Macleod, Liberal Dustin Fuller earned 17% of the vote (3,062 votes), up from his party’s distant 3.6% fourth place finish in the 2011 general election.
Low voter turnout
Voter turnout was abysmally low. Only 15.19% of registered voters cast a ballot in Fort McMurray-Athabasca and 19.59% voted in Macleod. Although by-elections traditionally attract low voter turnout, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice to schedule the voting day between a weekend and Canada Day likely contributed to the low participation.
On Canada Day, we should reflect on how voter participation strengthens our democracy and the consequences of ignoring our country’s political and electoral process.
Situated on the eastern slopes of of the Rocky Mountains, the Conservative machine appears strong in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding. Although growth in the communities of Okotoks and High River, which was devastated by flooding in the summer of 2013, have brought many new voters in the riding, Macleod is a much more traditionally Conservative riding than its northern by-election counter-part.
This is Mr. Barlow’s second attempt at political office, having recently run as the Highwood Progressive Conservative candidate against Wildrose leader Danielle Smith in the 2012 provincial election. Unlike the Calgary-Centre by-election of 2012, which saw a federal split among PC and Wildrose supporters, it appears that most Wildrosers are lining up behind Mr. Barlow’s campaign (or, at least, are not publicly opposing him).
Aileen Burke is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate. Mr. Burke is listed as the treasurer of the Lethbridge-East provincial NDP constituency association and was a trustee candidate for the Lethbridge School District No. 51 in the October 2013 municipal elections.
While the epic battle between Rob Anders and Ron Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill was entertaining to watch, preparation for the next federal election has sparked nomination contests in ridings across the province. And with two by-elections expected to be called within weeks, federal political parties are lining up their candidates for the vote.
On March 30, Liberal Party members chose Kyle Harrietha as their candidate. Mr. Harrietha faced Chris Flett in the nomination contest.
The Liberals are expected to run a strong campaign in the sprawling northeast Alberta riding. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau recently visited the riding, drawing a crowd of hundreds to a meet-and-greet event in Fort McMurray.
The Conservative Party will hold its nomination votes on April 24 in High Prairie and Slave Lake, April 25 in Athabasca and Lac La Biche, and April 26 in Fort McMurray. The results will be announced following the Fort McMurray vote. Fort McMurray lawyer Arlan Delisle and Athabasca County councillor David Yurdiga are the only two candidates seeking the nomination.
Oilsands worker Lori McDaniel will run for the New Democrats and firefighter Tim Moen is the Libertarian Party candidate.
On April 6, Dustin Fullerwas nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in the upcoming by-election. Mr. Fuller will face Conservative John Barlow when the by-election is called. There has so far been no sign of any NDP or Green Party candidates.
General Election nominations
Meanwhile, nominations for the general election are also underway. As most of Alberta are largely considered safe territory for the Conservatives, competitive races have emerged in newly redrawn ridings across Alberta. Here are some ridings with recent updates:
Calgary-Nose Hill Michelle Rempel was acclaimed as the Conservative candidate in this newly redrawn north Calgary riding. Ms. Rempel has represented the Calgary-Centre North riding since 2011.
Recent defeated in the Calgary-Signal Hill nomination contest, Mr. Anders may seek the Conservative nomination in this neighbouring riding. The Conservative nomination is already being sought by former MP Eric Lowther and party organizer Gord Elliott.
Mr. Lowther represented Calgary-Centre as the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance MP from 1997 until 2000, when he was defeated by former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who had returned to politics to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
Edmonton-Mill Woods Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal has decided to jump across the city to seek the Conservative nomination in the new Edmonton-Mill Woods riding. Mr. Uppal was the Canadian Alliance/Conservative candidate in that area in 2000 and 2004 but was defeated by Mike Lake for the Conservative nomination in 2006.
This is not Mr. Chowdhury’s first attempt at a party nomination. In 2011, he challenged Matt Jeneroux for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the provincial riding of Edmonton-South West and in 2008 he unsuccessfully sought the federal Liberal Party nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona.
Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Recent municipal election candidate Nicole van Kuppeveld has announced she will seek the Conservative nomination in this new riding east of Edmonton. Ms. van Kuppeveld, the former president of the Sherwood Park provincial PC Party, will face off against Garnett Genuis, the 2012 Wildrose candidate in Sherwood Park.
During the campaign, Mr. Barlow faced severe opposition from Canada’s gun lobby for his defence of RCMP actions during last year’s flood in High River. The National Firearms Association waded into the debate and urged Conservatives to support Ms. Mathieson and Mr. Rowland.
Mr. Barlow was the Progressive Conservative candidate in Highwood in the 2012 election, where he faced off against Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. In that race, he earned 8,159 votes to Ms. Smith’s 10,094 votes.
Dustin Fuller is the first person to declare a candidacy for the Liberal nomination in Macleod. Wascana Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is expected to visit the Macleod next week for a meet and greet in Okotoks. Mr. Goodale will also attend an event in Calgary-Centre.
A nomination date has not yet been announced, but the cutoff to purchase a Liberal membership to vote in the contest is March 13, 2014.
Hoping to gain support in the by-election, the Liberals have focused resources on the diverse and energy rich northern Alberta riding. Liberal MPs Rodger Cuzner and Marc Garneauwill headline a $250 a plate fundraising dinner in Fort McMurray on March 18. Last month, Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones visited Fort McMurray to meet with local members.
Meanwhile, rumours continue to circulate about whether former PC turned Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier will jump into federal politics as the Conservative candidate. Tim Moenannounced last week that he plans to run for the Libertarian Party nomination.
Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Conservative activist Garnett Genuis is the first candidate to enter the Conservative nomination in the new Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan riding.
Mr. Genuis was the 2012 Wildrose Party candidate in Sherwood Park, and is a vice-president of a polling company and the executive director for Parents for Choice in Education, a pro-Charter school lobby group whose board of directors includes former Wildrose candidates John Carpay and Andrew Constantinidis. Mr. Genuis has been endorsed by former MPs Ken Epp and Stockwell Day.
Canada’s next federal election is scheduled to be held on October 19, 2015. I have been maintaining a list of candidates who have announced their intentions to seek nominations and run in the next federal election in Alberta ridings. Please contact me at david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta.