See more photos of the “Team Trudeau” rally on Flickr.
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.
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-Griesbach, Eleanor 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Four federal by-elections will be held across Canada on June 30, 2014, including in Alberta’s Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca ridings made vacant by the retirements of Conservative Members of Parliament Ted Menzies and Brian Jean months ago.
While most general elections in Alberta can be counted on to result in broad Conservative sweeps, Albertans have shown themselves to be a more unpredictable when an uncommon by-election is held.
Last year’s by-election in Calgary-Centre, a riding represented by Conservatives for nearly fifty years came within a sliver of being won by Liberal Harvey Locke. And in 1989, the spark that led to a Reform Party sweep of the West four years later was lit when Deborah Grey won a by-election in Beaver River.
This year’s by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca is expected to be particularly interesting. Home of Canada’s Oil Sands, this riding is Ground Zero for the international debate about climate change, pipelines and the future of the energy industry. This riding is also demographically different than southern Alberta’s Macleod or most other rural Alberta ridings.
Home to a young and transient population that includes Aboriginals, New Canadians and Canadians from across the country (and many temporary foreign workers), the industrial nature of employment in the riding means it also has a higher percentage of labour union membership than most rural Alberta ridings. Low levels of voter turnout in recent general elections (40% turnout in 2011) could contribute to an unpredictable by-election result.
While much of the northern half of the riding benefits from an industrial boom, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo faces the incredible challenge of keeping up with the pressures that accompany this type of fast growth – transportation infrastructure (and Highway 63), housing, public services, etc.
Some local Fort McMurray-ites I have spoken with feel that federal government has not contributed its fair share in helping their community deal with these pressures – something that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga is likely to hear about at the doorsteps.
Mr. Yurdiga hails from the vote-rich southern portion of the riding, where he is a councillor in the County of Athabasca (the area he represents on County Council will not be part of the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding, which will be created at the next federal election).
The regional divide between the northern and southern parts of this riding are relevant and the large geographic distances can present a significant challenge in organizing an effective campaign.
Mr. Yurdiga will face a strong challenge from well-organized Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha, who has been bolstered by Justin Trudeau, who has become a frequent visitor to the community over the past year.
Mr. Harrietha also draws on the support of an extensive network that includes provincial Progressive Conservatives, community organizers (he was a campaign manager for Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake) and the Metis community, who he works for as executive director of General Manager of Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935.
While Mr. Harrietha is certainly the underdog in this race, resentment toward the former MP and a lacklustre Conservative nomination race could help him make gains in this by-election (and now would be a good time for Mr. Trudeau to make sure Ottawa-South MP David McGuinty does not stray off message).
The New Democrats have nominated Suncor employee and Unifor Local 707A health and safety representative Lori McDaniel as their candidate. This by-election will be an important test for the official opposition NDP, who have been criticized by Conservatives for leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments last year.
In a gesture of pan-Canadianism, it perhaps would not be a bad idea for Mr. Mulcair to fly his party’s large contingent of first-term MPs from Quebec to campaign alongside Ms. McDaniel in the by-election in our nation’s new industrial capital. It would probably help her campaign and expand the horizons of opposition MPs who are sometimes too eager to criticize those who work in Canada’s energy industry.
Federal by-elections in Alberta have proven to be unpredictable events and if the trend continues, as I sense it might, the results of the Fort McMurray-Athabasca vote could be very interesting on June 30.
Next post… a by-election in Cowboy Country (aka Macleod)… yah hoo.
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.
On April 6, Dustin Fuller was 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:
Country music crooner George Canyon has withdrawn his name from the Conservative nomination contest in southern Alberta’s Bow River. Christian television talk show host Paul Arthur has since announced he will seek the nomination.
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-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.
Will James Rajotte run for the Alberta PC Party leadership? It seems unlikely, but rumours persist. Tofael Chowdhury is challenging Mr. Rajotte for the Conservative nomination in this new south Edmonton riding.
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.
Edmonton Police Constable Brad Rutherford has entered the Conservative nomination race in this new riding. He will face Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao, who announced his candidacy in March.
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.
If there are any additions to the list of nomination candidates for the 2015 federal election, please contact me through the comment section below or by email at david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com.