Photo: Premier Rachel Notley and Calgary-Lougheed NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe. (Photo from Facebook)
I had a chance to chat with New Democratic Party candidate Phillip van der Merwe on the phone this week about the December 14, 2017 by-election in Calgary-Lougheed. The first-time political candidate practices family medicine in Calgary and was the co-chair of the PCN Physician Leads Executive during their recent negotiations with the Alberta government.
The construction of a new cancer centre in Calgary was a big issue in the last election, so a recent comment by a United Conservative Party MLA Glenn van Dijken about the new Calgary Cancer Centre being a “fancy box” certainly gave van der Merwe some extra material to use while campaigning at the doors. But while health care is one of the issues he spoke most passionately about during our chat, jobs and the economy remain a top issue for many Calgary voters.
While the economy has stabilized since 2014 and is showing signs of growth, van der Merwe was honest about the slow recovery in Calgary.
“Officially, if you look at all the indicators the recession is over, but we are certainly empathetic to the fact that this has maybe not translated to families yet,” said van der Merwe. “People are hurting and we know there is still more work to do and that’s exactly why we have to continue.”
“I can tell you that families are very concerned about Mr. [Jason] Kenney’s 20 percent budget cuts and what that will mean in the economy alone – just ripping the bottom from under it,” said van der Merwe, echoing statements made by Premier Rachel Notley about the dangers of UCP budget cuts.
And on the NDP’s chances in a future election, van der Merwe believes that 2015 election was more than the “accident” that the NDP’s opponents tend to frame it as.
“I think people are underestimating what happened in 2015, thinking that it was purely a protest vote. And while there obviously was elements of that, I think it was a sign that Alberta has changed,” said van der Merwe. “And that is what we are finding in this race.”
“Mr. Kenney is out of touch with what Calgary wants. Not only is his social stance out of touch with the 21st century, period, but it’s out of touch with what Albertans and Calgarians want,” said van der Merwe.
Kenney and the UCP tied themselves in knots last month over the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools, an issue the NDP were eager to let their opposition stumble over.
“Alberta is not the Alberta it was 20 years ago, and that’s a good thing.”
Dr. van der Merwe has had help on the campaign trail over the past few weeks from Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Education Minister David Eggen, Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda, Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.
Here is a quick look at what the other by-election candidates have been up to:
- UCP leader Jason Kenney hosted a well-attended town hall meeting in Calgary-Lougheed on December 5, 2017. He was also spotted campaigning alongside Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda and Fort McMurry-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao.
- Green Party leader Romy Tittel released her party’s manifesto for democracy, which calls for the adoption of a Proportional Representation electoral system, the banning of all election donations and use of mass media for campaign communications, and the creation of citizen initiated legislation through online petitions.
- Liberal Party leader David Khan was endorsed by 8-time Juno Award-winning artist Jann Arden. Arden tweeted her support for the Liberal leader on December 6, 2017. “We have to move intelligently forward. Not backward,” Arden wrote in her endorsement of Khan.
— jann arden (@jannarden) December 7, 2017
All-Candidates Debate: The Calgary Leadership Forum is hosting an all-candidates debate for Calgary-Lougheed on December 10, 2017 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Braeside Community Hall (11024 Braeside Drive SW, Calgary).