Tag Archives: Justin Trudeau

Alberta Politics Roundup – Eve of Fall Sitting

Alberta Legislative Assembly
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will begin the fall session on Monday, November 17, 2014.

Fall Legislative Session
November 17, 2014 will mark the start of the first legislative session for new Premier Jim Prentice, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks. The 43-year old governing Progressive Conservatives have promised to introduce new laws focusing on property rights and ‘ending entitlements’ for their MLAs.

This will be Rachel Notley’s first session as leader of the NDP Caucus. And Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman will introduce a private members’ bill supporting students who want to create Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools. Newly Independent MLA Joe Anglin is also expected to introduce a private members’ bill.

With the price of oil declining to the mid-$70 range and next year’s budget being prepared, Jonathan Teghtmeyer has shared 9 ways that Alberta could better manage our resources.

Constitutional Property Rights
Flanked by Lethbridge Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hillyer and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced her plans to introduce a motion calling on property rights to be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Wildrose motion will likely call for stronger action than will be included in Mr. Prentice’s flagship property rights bill. Also, it is almost politically impossible to amend the Canadian Constitution.

Wildrose in Red Deer
The Wildrose Party is holding its annual convention in Red Deer on November 14 and 15 (the PCs will meet in Banff). Sparks are expected to fly as activists vent their frustration about the party’s poor showing in four recent by-elections.

The departure of Mr. Anglin, a cancelled leadership review and a controversial motion to take away the ability of MLAs to remove their leader and the leader’s staff are also expected to fuel intense debate.

Government House leader
CBC reporter John Archer tweeted news that Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has replaced Municipal Affairs Minister Diana McQueen as Government House leader. Ms. McQueen was appointed to the position two months ago.

Tobacco
Mr. Mandel has announced plans to make it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children and ban flavoured tobacco, but not menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are said to be favoured by seniors, who also tend to vote in larger numbers.

In 2012, Liberal leader Raj Sherman introduced the Tobacco Reduction (Protection of Children in Vehicles) Amendment Act, which would have made it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children. Dr. Sherman’s bill was passed but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

Tailing Ponds
It has been one year since a breach of a containment pond at the Obed Mine spilled 670 million litres of toxic tailings into the Athabasca River and its tributaries.

The Alberta Wilderness AssociationMikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations  and other groups are criticizing the federal and provincial governments for laying charges against the mine’s former owners, Sherritt International, or new owners, Westmoreland Coal Company.

Pro-pipeline Democrats force Keystone XL Vote
Hoping to stave off defeat in a December 6, 2014 runoff vote, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is trying to force the United States Senate to vote on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline before the end of 2014. Approval of the pipeline’s crossing the US-Canada border ultimately rests in the hands of President Barack Obama.

Yellowhead by-election
Voters in the Yellowhead federal riding will cast ballots in a by-election on Monday, November 17, 2014. Although Conservative candidate Jim Eglinski is expecting an easy victory, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited the constituency to campaign with candidate Ryan Mahugn last week.

Calgary Liberals
November 28. Kent Hehr expected to be acclaimed as federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre. The popular MLA was first elected in Calgary-Buffalo in 2008. It is unclear if Mr. Hehr and fellow Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Skyview will resign their provincial positions before the next federal election.

Borderlands By-election
Voters on the Saskatchewan side of the divided city of Lloydminster elected a new MLA in a by-election held yesterday. Saskatchewan Party candidate Colleen Young was elected with 64% of the vote, defeating second place New Democrat Wayne Byers, who earned 29%. It is almost impossible to image an NDP candidate receiving that much support on the Alberta side of Lloydminster.  

Ms. Young replaces former Rural and Remote Health Minister Tim McMillan, who resigned in September to become the President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

A plug…
I had the pleasure of joining the good folks at The Unknown Studio podcast to chat about Alberta politics this week. I also appeared on this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel with Edmonton lawyer Roberto Noce and Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams.

Sleepy Yellowhead by-election set for November 17

A big Conservative win is inevitable in this rural Alberta riding
Yellowhead by-election Alberta Canada
A map of the sprawling Yellowhead riding. Voters will cast their ballots in the federal by-election on November 17, 2014.

When recently resigned Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield was appointed by Premier Jim Prentice as Alberta’s Representative in Washington D.C., many political watchers in Alberta were caught by surprise.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC
Rob Merrifield

It was known that the MP was spending an increasing amount of time lobbying American politicians in the Capitol and I am told that his absence in his own riding was starting to become noticeable. And despite Mr. Merrifield’s focus south of the border, none of the federal political parties were seriously anticipating a by-election in Yellowhead.

And now, with a by-election set to be held on November 17, 2014, it is difficult to gauge how many voters in this sprawling rural Alberta riding will take interest in the campaign.

Demand for natural resources – oil, gas, mining and forestry – has resulted in a booming economy in most of the riding. Take a quick drive down any major street in Whitecourt, Drayton Valley, Hinton or Edson and it will be difficult to miss the convoys of large and brand new 4×4 trucks.

Jim Eglinski Yellowhead by-election Conservative MP
Jim Eglinski

But the booming economy does not mean locals do not have issues with the federal government. The ongoing debate surrounding the fate of the Temporary Foreign Workers program has left many local business owners displeased with Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives. And cuts to Parks Canada funding and creeping privatization in the parks has left many residents of Jasper National Park feeling uncomfortable.

Barring a political earthquake, Conservative candidate Jim Eglinski will be elected the next Member of Parliament for Yellowhead.

A former mayor of Fort St. John, British Columbia and retired RCMP officer, Mr. Eglinski defeated Yellowhead County Mayor Gerald Soroka for the Conservative Party nomination last month.

Ryan Maguhn Liberal Yellowhead by-election 2014
Ryan Maguhn

It is not a stretch to suggest that winning the Conservative Party nomination in this riding would have been more of a challenge than winning the actual by-election. In the 2011 general election, Mr. Merrifield earned a landslide 77% of the votes cast. Both the NDP and Liberals scrambled to find parachute candidates from Edmonton to run in that election.

One of the opposition parties is slightly more organized this time.

The Liberals have nominated Ryan Maguhn, a town councillor and social studies teacher from Hinton. Mr. Maguhn received a boost from leader Justin Trudeau, who made campaign stops in Edson and Hinton on November 6. Although convincing voters in this region of Alberta to vote Liberal is no easy sell, Mr. Trudeau’s visits did attract more than a few locals. Many whom are curious about the dynamic young leader.

Dean Williams Yellowhead By-Election Independent 2014
Dean Williams

While winning the by-election is a lofty and unrealistic goal, the Liberals expect to place better than they did in 2011 (when the party finished in fourth place with 2.87% of the vote).

The Liberals have performed well in three recent Alberta by-elections, coming close to winning in Calgary-Centre in 2012 and solidifying their second place positions in Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod earlier this year.

Independent candidate and documentary filmmaker Dean Williams is running under a “Yellow for Yellowhead” slogan (his campaign colours are yellow).  On his website, he criticizes Mr. Harper’s conservatives and pledges not to “waste words or play un-honest or un-disclosed politics.” Mr. Williams initially planned to run for the NDP nomination but decided to run as an Independent instead.

The NDP have chosen local labour activist and NDP riding association president Eric Rosendahl as their candidate (he has no website as of the time this post was published) and the Libertarian Party is running Cory Lystang. The Green Party did not nominate a candidate.

Voters can cast their ballots on the November 17, 2014 by-election day between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Advanced polls are open from noon to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, November 7; Saturday, November 8; or Monday, November 10, 2014. Voters can locate their voting station by searching the Elections Canada website.

Photos: Justin Trudeau rally in Edmonton

Justin Trudeau Liberal Edmonton
Justin Trudeau speaks to the crowd at his party’s “Team Trudeau” rally at Louise McKinney Park in Edmonton.
Edmonton Liberal candidates Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton-Centre), Daniol Coles (Edmonton-Griesbach), Sukhdev Aujla (Edmonton-Manning) and Eleanor Olszewski (Edmonton-Strathcona).
Edmonton Liberal candidates Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton-Centre), Daniol Coles (Edmonton-Griesbach), Sukhdev Aujla (Edmonton-Manning) and Eleanor Olszewski (Edmonton-Strathcona).
Justin Trudeau Edmonton Liberal
Justin Trudeau with Liberal candidates and MPs on stage at the “Team Trudeau” rally at Louise McKinney Park in Edmonton.
Justin Trudeau Edmonton Liberal
Justin Trudeau in the crowd of supporters at his “Team Trudeau” rally in Edmonton’s Louise McKinney Park.

See more photos of the “Team Trudeau” rally on Flickr.

Federal Liberal Summer Caucus in Edmonton

Justin Trudeau Edmoton Alberta
Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau surrounded by supporters at an Edmonton rally on January 23, 2014.

Twenty-one years ago, in a federal election that reshaped the Canadian political landscape, the Liberals swept Edmonton, electing Members of Parliament in four of the city’s six federal ridings. That year was a high-water mark for the federal party, which last elected an MP in Edmonton in 2004 and has not come close to electing a candidate since.

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals
Randy Boissonnault

For the next week, the federal Liberals will be holding their annual “Summer Caucus” in Edmonton and the party’s 37 Members of Parliament be criss-crossing the Canadian West, hosting events, promoting local candidates and knocking on doors.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the federal Liberals nominated a handful of candidates in Edmonton ridings over the past week who will be on the receiving end of this help – Daniol Coles in Edmonton-GriesbachEleanor Olszewski in Edmonton-Strathcona, Sukhdev Aujla in Edmonton-Manning and Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre.

In case you want to catch up with any Liberal MPs while they are in our province, here are a listing of public events that some of them will be attending with candidates in Edmonton and Calgary:

Monday, August 18
Westmount-Ville Marie MP Marc Garneau will host a Pints & Politics event at Chop Steakhouse & Bar (17635 Stony Plain Rd NW) in west Edmonton at 8:00 p.m. 

Tuesday, August 19
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will speak to a rally of supporters in Louise McKinney Riverfront Park overlooking the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. The rally begins at 6:00 p.m.

Wednesday, August 20
Halifax-West MP Geoff Regan will be canvassing the Highlands neighbourhood with candidate Daniol Coles in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding. Afterward, at 8:00 p.m., the Liberals will host a Pints & Politics night at Creole Envie (6509-112 Avenue).

The Edmonton-Strathcona Liberals will host Toronto-Centre Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, who will speak at an event at University of Alberta Faculty Club starting at 7:30 p.m.

In Calgary, Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison will spend an evening door knocking with Calgary-Confederation candidate Matt Grant. Mr. Garneau and Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu will host a free evening event at the Falconridge/Castleridge Community Association (95 Falshire Drive NE) in northeast Calgary starting at 6:00 p.m.

Later that evening in Calgary, Mr. Grant, Mr. Brison and St. Leonard – St. Michel MP Massimo Pacetti will host a pub night at Sam’s Bar & Grill (1167 Kensington Road NW) starting at 8:00 p.m.

Bourassa MP Emmanuel Dubourg and Edmonton-Centre candidate Randy Boissonnault will co-host a roundtable discussion with Edmonton’s Francophone community. Mr. Dubourg will speak at a fundraiser for the Edmonton-Centre Liberals at Normand’s Bistro (10177-99 Street) starting at 7:00 p.m.

August 21, 2014
Ms. Freeland, Mr. Dubourg, Mr. Regan will join Mr. Boissonnault and his campaign volunteers for an evening of door-to-door canvassing in Edmonton-Centre’s Queen Mary Park.

The federal New Democratic Party caucus will also be holding their Summer Caucus in Edmonton in September 2014.

Goodbye? The future looks bleak for the Alberta Liberals

Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership chairperson Josipa Petrunic, MLA Laurie Blakeman, MLA Hugh MacDonald and candidate Bruce Payne.
Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership race chairperson Josipa Petrunic, and leadership candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald and Bruce Payne.

It has been a long time since things have looked good for the Alberta Liberals. The provincial party has been teetering on the verge of the political abyss for years but lately the future looks especially bleak.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Recent announcements that popular Calgary Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang are moving to greener pastures in federal politics with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will shrink the provincial Liberal caucus to just three MLAs, leaving the party with its smallest caucus in nearly thirty years. The two departures also mean the party may be forced to play defence in two by-elections before the next general election, a feat not aided by continuously low fundraising returns.

In the 2012 provincial election, Liberal support dropped to its lowest level since the 1980s, with only five candidates incumbent MLAs re-elected and the party losing its hold on formerly reliably Liberal-voting ridings like Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Riverview, Calgary-Currie and Calgary-Varsity.

But the biggest blow to the Liberals in that year’s election was losing Official Opposition status to the Wildrose Party, a title the Liberals had held in Alberta since 1993. Since losing its place as the default opposition to the Tories, the party has struggled to define its identity in a new political environment dominated by two conservative parties.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

With the departure of Mr. Hehr and Mr. Kang, the party will soon have less MLAs than the New Democratic Party, which, in the midst of its own leadership race, is showing signs of positive growth in Edmonton. The NDP, the Liberal Party’s long-time rivals, seem to be paying less attention to that party, focusing instead on the new Progressive Conservative-Wildrose dominance of Alberta’s political environment. And the recent defection of a senior Liberal Party official to the tiny Alberta Party also raised eyebrows.

It would be unfair to assign the blame on one person, especially considering the Liberal Party has been a slow state of decline since 1993 (with the exception of the 2004 election, where the party, led by Kevin Taft, increased its MLAs).

The party’s current leader, Raj Sherman, is the definition of a wildcard. The former PC MLA and junior cabinet minister has been an odd fit in the Liberal benches. Those who work close to him describe him as kind and well-meaning, but his scattered and erratic behaviour make him difficult to anticipate. The Liberals took a risk in choosing an outsider as their leader and, at least today, there does not appear to be a reward in sight.

MLAs like Edmonton-Centre‘s Laurie Blakeman and Calgary-Mountain View‘s David Swann are hard-working representatives, but as a caucus, the Liberals tend to act more like Independent MLAs who share office space.

Despite the bleak view on the horizon, I would never count the Liberals out. They have been constant underdogs and they have a highly committed base of activists who are extremely loyal to their party’s traditional brand.

It is too soon to tell whether the provincial Liberals will benefit from a new wave of Trudeaumania in federal politics. A big question is whether the Liberals will follow the trend of their provincial prairie cousins in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who have become become non-existent or irrelevant in recent decades.

NEP what? Trudeau Liberals dominate Oil Capital Fort McMurray

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was once despised in Alberta. This doesn't appear to be the case for this son, Justin.
Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was once despised in Alberta. This doesn’t appear to be the case for this son, Justin.

Preliminary results from last week’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election show that federal Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha dominated in the industrial capital of Canada’s oil economy.

According to an initial breakdown of the results by polling station, Mr. Harrietha earned 46% of the votes cast (2,560 votes) in the northern region the riding on June 30, 2014, which includes the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan and Wabasca.

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta
Kyle Harrietha

The winner of the by-election, Conservative David Yurdiga, earned 36% (2,012 votes) in the same area and NDP candidate Lori McDaniel garnered 11% (660 votes). Mr. Yurdiga solidified his win across the riding in the southern reaches, where he won 57% of the vote in the more traditionally Conservative voting Athabasca, Slave Lake, High Prairie and Lac La Biche. In the south, Mr. Harrietha trailed with 23% of the votes cast on election day and Ms. McDaniel earned 12%.

It should be earth-shattering that a Liberal candidate could win more votes in Fort McMurray than the Conservatives, especially considering Mr. Harrietha’s campaign was bolstered by multiple visits from Justin TRUDEAU.

Justin Trudeau Alberta
Justin Trudeau

A diverse population, a strong Liberal candidate, grievances with the federal government’s lack of investment in public infrastructure and an unknown Conservative candidate certainly contributed to the results. But perhaps we have finally reached a point in our history when the long-cancelled National Energy Program and deceased boogyman Pierre Trudeau, vilified by Conservatives for decades, are now part of an antiquated national mythology, like the log driver or the Social Credit Party.

Regardless of the low voter turnout, which is a concern for anyone interested in a healthy democracy, it cannot be ignored that droves of Conservative voters chose to stay home rather than vote for their party’s candidate.

Perhaps realizing that the Conservative’s tiresome fear ads targeting the likeable younger Mr. Trudeau have not had their desired effect, the Ottawa Tories are now claiming Canada is “Better with Harper” as Prime Minister. After eight years in government, the Tories have become arrogant and too comfortable in Ottawa.

Mr. Harper likes to brag about his party’s support of the oil sands and the energy industry, but perhaps that Fort McMurrayites turned to a Trudeau in this by-election will also convince him to also support the community of people who call the region home.

Johnson, Anglin, Nenshi and Butler. Who said Alberta politics is dull in the summer?

Justin Trudeau Naheed Nenshi Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede begins this week, drawing politicians from across the land and from all stripes. In this photo, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi poses with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his children (photo from @JustinTrudeau).

Premier Dave Hancock is standing behind Jeff Johnson, even after the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled that the embattled education minister broke Alberta’s privacy laws by sending a direct message to the personal email addresses of thousands of teachers during their contract negotiations.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA
Jeff Johnson

In any other job, breaking the law would likely be cause for dismissal, but this does not appear to be the case if you are a cabinet minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government.

NDP leadership candidate MLA David Eggen, himself a teacher, chimed in on Mr. Johnson’s actions, saying “(It) shows a lack of respect for the teachers and a lack of respect for the law.”

Mr. Johnson, who appears to be intent on dragging the professional credibility of Alberta educators through the mud, also turned his attention to school board administrators this week by demanding they hand over all complaints against teachers from the past ten years. Tory MLAs are expected to discuss Mr. Johnson’s reign of terror at this week’s annual “Stampede Caucus Meeting” in Calgary.

Joe Anglin unleashed
Rabble-rouser MLA Joe Anglin was defeated in his bid to be a Wildrose candidate in the next election. The first-term MLA was defeated by local constituency president Jason Nixon in a controversy-ridden party nomination contest in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. Mr. Nixon’s brother, Jeremy Nixon, is the nominated Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Klein.

Mr. Anglin now has some decisions to make before the next election. He could quietly complete his term as a Wildrose MLA and retire at the next election, or he could run for another party or as an Independent candidate (given his style, this may be the likely option). A property rights activist and former leader of the Alberta Greens, Mr. Anglin sparked a political wildfire in central Alberta before the 2012 election over widespread opposition to electrical transmission line construction.

Mike Butler Alberta LIberal Party
Mike Butler

Nenshi calls out paid political agitator
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called out the untransparent Canadian Taxpayers Federation after its spokesperson was invited to speak at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference. Mr. Nenshi has been in a prolonged public feud with the special interest group’s paid political agitator, Derek Fildebrandt. While the Taxpayers Federation preaches transparency for government, it refuses to make public a list of its own financial backers.

Liberal VP jumps to the Alberta Party
Mike Butler
, the vice-president communications of the Alberta Liberal Party, announced on his Facebook page this week that he has quit Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals and joined the Alberta Party. In his open-letter, Mr. Butler said that “…I am no longer surrounded by those who stand for democracy and fair debate.

This is at least the second time Mr. Butler has switched parties in recent years. Before joining the Liberals, he ran as an NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford in the 2008 provincial election and in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2008 federal election. He was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2011 federal election and in Edmonton-Mill Creek in the 2012 provincial election.

A closer look at the Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod by-elections

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.

Fort McMurray Athabasca Federal By-Election Results 2014
Unofficial results of the 2014 federal by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca.

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.

Macleod federal by-election results 2014
Unofficial results from the 2014 federal by-election in Macleod.

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.

A Liberal win in Fort McMurray-Athabasca would send shockwaves to Ottawa

Kyle Harrietha Justin Trudeau Fort McMurray Athabasca Liberal
Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha with Justin Trudeau.

On Monday, June 30, voters in four federal ridings across Canada, including Alberta’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod, have an opportunity to choose their next Member of Parliament. Paying close attention to a by-election campaign may not be the most thrilling activity to occupy your time during the summer months, but it is an important one.

Voters in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding are expected to march into the ballot box and elect Conservative John Barlow as their next MP, but the race in the vast northern riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca could produce much more interesting results after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

While the opposition parties have written off the area in the past, it is hard to make that argument in 2014. Kyle Harrietha has run the strongest Liberal campaign the riding has seen in a generation, and has been boosted by leader Justin Trudeau, who has visited the riding three times since Conservative MP Brian Jean resigned in January 2014.

Lori McDaniel Linda Duncan NDP Fort McMurray Athabasca
NDP candidate Lori McDaniel with Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair had been scheduled to visit the riding and campaign alongside Lori McDaniel during the by-election but cancelled his planned trip to attend the funeral of the three murdered R.C.M.P. officers in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was nowhere to be seen during this by-election.

While national issues like the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the ongoing environmental debates about climate change and the impact of Oil Sands development, are sure the play a role in how voters decide to cast their ballots, Tip O’Neill‘s well-known saying “all politics is local” will certainly be a factor in this by-election.

Fort McMurray is a booming community where there are serious concerns about the lagging pace of infrastructure investment from the provincial and federal governments. The pace of economic growth sparked a huge influx of diverse migrants from across Canada and the globe.

While the region is an economic engine for the country, residents I have spoken with feel their community has been forgotten, or just plain ignored, by the higher levels of government.

Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray this week.
Federal cabinet minister Kellie Leitch campaigned with Conservative candidate David Yurdiga in Fort McMurray in May 2014.

Conservative candidate David Yurdiga has played a peekaboo campaign, skipping all-candidates debates and not engaging with voters on social media (he has been accused of “blocking” local voters who have criticized him on Twitter). He hails from the voter-rich southern reaches of the riding in Athabasca County, which faces some similar and many different issues than the industrial oil capital to the north.

In the south, Mr. Yurdiga has received the endorsements of Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw and embattled provincial Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

As Canadians have witnessed many times in the past, by-elections pose a risk to incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a strong message of approval or disapproval to Ottawa without changing who is in power.

Former Conservative MP Mr. Jean was re-elected in 2011 with a 17,935 vote margin of victory over his closest challenger. If Mr. Yurdiga is elected with even a significantly smaller margin, voters will send a message that will quickly be forgotten in Ottawa. If voters in this riding elect Mr. Harrietha tomorrow, they will send shockwaves through the comfortable Conservative establishment in the nation’s capital.

A federal by-election in Cowboy Country

Earlier this week, I wrote about the interesting by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, today I look at the other federal by-election in Alberta that will take place on June 30, 2014.

Macleod Federal Election Results 2006 2008 2011 by-election 2014

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.

John Barlow Macleod Conservative
John Barlow

Respected local newspaper editor John Barlow won a hotly contested nomination race in which he faced loud criticism from the National Firearms Association for his support of RCMP gun-seizures during the High River floods. The gun lobby endorsed his nomination opponents but have remained silent since the nomination vote was held.

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).

One media report from the riding suggest that Prime Minister Stephen Harper may become a defining issue of this by-election campaign. Mr. Harper and his family are said to have recently purchased property near Bragg Creek in the northern portion of Macleod. The prime minister’s wife, Laureen Harper, was seen voting at the Conservative nomination meeting on March 8, 2014.

Dustin Fuller Liberal by-election macleod Justin Trudeau 2014
Liberal candidate Dustin Fuller and Justin Trudeau (from the Dustin Fuller for Macleod Facebook page).

Mr. Barlow so far faces only two challengers. Liberal Dustin Fuller, an oil and gas worker has been campaigning for months. Mr. Fuller works in the energy sector and is a former president of the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has visited the riding numerous times, drawing curious crowds in Okotoks and High River. The last time a federal Liberal was elected in this region, was when his father, Pierre Trudeau, led his party to a majority victory in the 1968 election.

Larry Ashmore Green Party Macleod By-election Alberta
Larry Ashmore

The Green Party has chosen Larry Ashmore to carry their banner in the by-election. Mr. Ashmore is the former leader of the Evergreen Party (now renamed the Green Party of Alberta) and was a  candidate in the 2008 and 2012 provincial elections in Foothills-Rockyview and Livingstone-Macleod . In the 2006 federal election, he placed fourth with 3,075 votes (6.18% of the vote) as the Green candidate in Macleod.

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.