Attempts by Jason Kenney’s opponents to paint him as an extremist social conservative failed to stop the United Conservative Party leader from winning a crushing landslide victory today in Calgary-Lougheed.
Phillip van der Merwe
With 22 of 22 polls reporting, Kenney had earned 7,760 votes, 71.51 percent of the total votes cast in the by-election. The UCP had a strong candidate, a strong organization and solid base of voter support in the district. And like the previous two by-elections held since the last election, this district avoided the New Democratic Party’s Orange Wave when voters re-elected Progressive Conservative Dave Rodney in 2015.
NDP candidate Phillip van der Merwe placed second with 1,822 votes, 16.79 percent of the votes cast. van der Merwe was a high quality candidate for the party in Calgary, but his chances of upsetting Kenney were always slim to none.
The NDP were spared the embarrassment of placing third, a spot that fell to newly elected Liberal Party leader David Khan, who earned 1,009 votes, 9.3 percent of the total vote. Khan’s showing was only a small improvement on the party’s showing in 2015, but it should be enough to concern the NDP that even a Liberal Party on life-support can eat into their vote share.
Despite support on the campaign trail from Premier Rachel Notley and a handful of high-profile cabinet ministers, NDP support was cut in half from the 2015 election, which is not a good sign for the governing party.
The NDP should use the Calgary-Lougheed by-election as an opportunity to recalibrate their line of attack against the UCP leader. Kenney is a professional political networker unlike we have ever seen in Alberta politics, and he should not be underestimated.
While the NDP have been racking up easy wins against fumbling and confused UCP MLAs on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, Kenney has been activating a network of conservative political activists and supporters he has built over the past twenty-five years.
Two months ago, I wrote that the NDP were betting Albertans would forgive their more unpopular policies when reminded of the Kenney’s more bizarre social conservative views. On the flip-side, Kenney was betting Albertans would forgive his social conservative views when reminded of the NDP’s more unpopular policies.
The NDP painted Kenney as an extremist during the recent debate over Gay-Straight Alliances, and while his social views are probably out of step with most Albertans in 2017, that does not appear to have had an impact on him or the UCP in this by-election. Kenney’s relentless attacks on the NDP’s fiscal and economic agenda appear to be resonating in Calgary, where NDP MLAs are expected to face a very steep uphill battle in their bids for re-election.
While I am sure the NDP’s strategists in Edmonton are hard at work preparing for the next election, it may be time to rethink how they approach the UCP leader as he enters the Assembly.
This may have only been one by-election in a district already held by the UCP, but it should be a wake-up call for the NDP. The next general election is only a short 14 months away.
Results of the Calgary-Lougheed by-election (December 14, 2017)
Jason Kenney, UCP – 7,760 (71.51%)
Phillip van der Merwe, NDP – 1,822 (16.79%)
David Khan, Liberal – 1,009 (9.3%)
Lauren Thorsteinson, Reform – 137 (1.26%)
Romy Tittel, Green – 60 (0.55%)
Wayne Leslie, Independent – 42 (0.39%)
Larry Heather, Independent 22 (0.22%)
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