By Jeremy Barretto
Like anyone who arrived in Calgary Centre after 1968, I’ve never witnessed a Liberal, NDP or Green candidate win an election. It’s understandable that some progressives feel that their vote does not count.
Over the past four decades, progressive and conservative parties have each earned significant support in Calgary Centre (with usually around a 45% to 55% split respectively). The multiplicity of progressive parties has ensured a Conservative Party of Canada victory in recent elections.
Some progressives were happy with our former MP, Lee Richardson, who was generally regarded as a moderate voice in Government. Then along came Joan Crockatt. She is the Conservative candidate in the Calgary Centre who is reportedly “an avid cheerleader for the Wildrose Party” and who has said the role of a backbench MP is to “support the Prime Minister in whatever way that he thinks”.
In spite of the history, the communities that make up Calgary Centre have proven the ability to defy expectations and elect progressive candidates. In 2000, progressives united behind the Right Honourable Joe Clark, a former Prime Minister and who was generally regarded as the consensus progressive candidate, to oust the incumbent Reform MP Eric Lowther. Liberal Kent Hehr was recently re-elected as MLA by many Calgary Centre residents. In 2010, a majority of Calgary Centre residents voted for Naheed Nenshi for Mayor—and there were 15 candidates on the ballot!
Can progressives do it again in Calgary Centre?
1CalgaryCentre is an independent progressive campaign that was launched this summer by a group of volunteers. Our idea is pretty simple: engage progressives in a dialogue in the months before the by-election and then hold a vote to select a consensus progressive candidate. We use the term progressive broadly, including the centre-left parties, progressive conservatives, independents and post-partisans.
The parties (and voters) would in no way be bound by the 1CalgaryCentre vote. Rather, our goal is to send a clear signal to progressive voters about the relative strength of the progressive candidates. In other words, if you believe you’re the strongest progressive candidate, prove it with 1CalgaryCentre.
This summer we approached the national leadership of each of the progressive political parties. We invited them to participate in a process to select a consensus progressive candidate in Calgary Centre. For the most part, the parties were not interested in engaging with us. They went forward and nominated candidates.
We then turned our attention to working with the local campaigns. The progressive parties have nominated three impressive candidates: conservationist Harvey Locke for the Liberals; sustainability author Chris Turner for the Greens; and poverty reduction advocate Dan Meades for the NDP. Any of these candidates would work hard to promote progressive policies if elected as MP for Calgary Centre.
Since August 2012, 1CalgaryCentre has engaged progressives through social media, online forums and an “unconference”. We are reaching over 37,000 people through our social media channels. Stories about 1Calgary centre have appeared in the Globe and Mail, FFWD, Huffington Post and most other media covering the by-election. Our video got the internet excited about the CBC.
1CalgaryCentre has proposed a progressive primary—an online vote to be held on November 22nd. Why hold a vote? To give progressives a clear signal of who has the best chance of winning the by-election on November 26th.
I’ve had the pleasure of personally engaging with people from all of the progressive parties about 1CalgaryCentre. There is some interest and some apprehension about our process. Here are the most common questions that I’ve heard:
What if my candidate doesn’t win the 1CalgaryCentre vote?
The candidates and voters are free to decide what their next steps after the 1CalgaryCentre process.
Why don’t progressives just get behind my candidate, as they have the best chance of winning?
I’ve heard this message from all of the progressive parties. My response: prove it. If your candidate is able to take on a 40-year conservative dynasty in Calgary Centre, they should be able to establish that they have more support than the other progressive candidates in an online vote.
Isn’t an online vote susceptible to tampering?
Political parties regularly use online voting for their leadership elections. 1CalgaryCentre is using a combination of high-tech and hands-on tools to ensure the integrity of our process. Every registration is reviewed by at least two people.
I heard that 1CalgaryCentre is really a front for party X?
1CalgaryCentre is a registered third party with Elections Canada. Pursuant to the Canada Elections Act political parties cannot register as third parties. Our volunteers have been completely transparent about their diverse interests and backgrounds—one even revealed that he once cooked dinner for Jack Layton and Olivia Chow. Disclosure!
1CalgaryCentre may or may not achieve its goal of electing a progressive MP on November 26th. However, we have helped people believe that electing a progressive MP in Calgary Centre is possible. The polls show this. Social media shows this. Mainstream media admits that the Conservatives could lose in a historic upset.
We don’t believe that doing the same thing over and over again in Calgary Centre elections and expecting different results makes sense.
We won’t subscribe to the narcissism of small differences between the progressive parties.
Instead, register with 1CalgaryCentre to try something new on November 22. We just might make history in Calgary Centre. Again.
Jeremy Barretto is an environmental lawyer and long time Calgary Centre resident. He is a member of the 1CalgaryCentre team.