Campaigning in the same constituency yesterday, it is interesting to wonder what Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith would have said to each other if their paths had intersected. Close polls, push polls, and sharp criticisms have defined the first two days of Alberta’s 2012 election campaign.
Premier Redford was in Highwood campaigning with Progressive Conservative candidate John Barlow, who faces the daunting task of keeping the high-profile Ms. Smith out of the Assembly.
Campaigning in southern Alberta yesterday, Ms. Smith released her party’s pledge to table balance budgets. Under the Wildrose platform, future government spending would be limited to population growth plus inflation. Despite Wildrose Party assurances that they would not launch into a round of drastic service cuts if they are elected, I cannot help believe that a government led by Ms. Smtih would do anything but.
Health care was the focus of the second day of the election campaign for the NDP and Liberals, as both parties leaders unveiled parts of their platforms.
In the north end constituency of Edmonton-Calder, NDP leader Brian Mason joined candidate and former MLA David Eggen to announce that his party would create 1,500 long-term care beds, cover dental costs for Albertans under the age of 18, and bring down the cost of prescription drugs through a new provincial pharmaceutical plan. Mr. Eggen was the MLA for this constituency from 2004 until 2008, and since then has served as the executive director of the Friends of Medicare.
On the day the election was called, Mr. Eggen’s campaign team flexed their organization muscle by placing more than 1,100 lawn signs on private property across the constituency, painting Edmonton-Calder orange.
In Calgary yesterday, Liberal Party leader Raj Shermanreaffirmed his party’s commitment to increase funding to build and operate more long-term care beds and facilities. Joined by a medical doctor and a retired health care worker, Dr. Sherman continued to call on Premier Redford to fulfil her promise to hold a judicial inquiry into doctor intimidation.
Today, the Dr. Sherman will travel to Red Deer to make another health care related announcement at the campaign office of Red Deer-North candidate Michael Dawe and Red Deer-South candidate Jeff Chilibeck.
Focusing on health care is a smart strategy for the Liberals, who are seen as strong on this issue, yet have slipped in the polls over the past four years. It gives the party an opportunity to contrast itself with the PC’s, whose poor management has created many of the staffing problems faced in the health care system, and the Wildrose Party, which would introduce a “hybrid” or “European” model of health care. It is suspected that the Wildrose model would include the introduction of private medical insurance.
Meanwhile, in Lethbridge, interesting contests are shaping up in both of that city’s constituencies.
A reader of this blog spotted these two signs yesterday morning on the corner of 34th Avenue and Mill Woods Road in the constituency of Edmonton-Mill Woods.
Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Benito, who spent much of his first-term in office defendingself-inflictedcontroversy, was defeated by Sohail Qadri in a tense battle for his party’s nomination. While most politicians in his position would quietly move out of the spotlight, are the sudden presence of these signs a signal that Mr. Benito’s name could show up on the ballot as an Independent candidate in the upcoming election?
The signs note that they are donated by “High Speed Printing,” which means that they were likely not paid for through constituency office funds.
While the opposition parties were hoping that Mr. Benito’s name would on the ballot as the PC candidate, a run as an Independent candidate could lead to interesting results. In 2008, Mr. Benito became the first PC MLA to be elected in this constituency since 1982. Voters in this constituency elected Liberal MLAs to represent them in the Assembly from 1993 until 2008.
As the right-wingers continue to argue about the methodological strengths and weaknesses of online polls versus phone polls, the untold story appears to be the rise in support of Alberta’s NDP. The provincial NDP, which have been stuck in the 10% range since it lost Official Opposition status in 1993, appears to be benefiting from the Alberta ripple of the Orange Wave that hit Quebec in May 2011.
The NDP have attracted a surprising group of seaworthy candidates including former MLA David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder, Catholic School Trustee Cindy Olsen in Edmonton-Manning, AUPE Vice-President Sandra Azocar in Edmonton-Mill Woods, former five-term City Councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer in Red Deer-South, and Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West. The NDP have a crew of 30 nominated candidates in 87 constituencies across the province, and will have over 40 nominated by the end of next week. On the surface, the NDP looks ready to tap into the 17% of Albertans who supported their party in the last federal election.
As a centre-left leaning urban progressive-type that has voted NDP as many times as I have voted Liberal, I have a hard time getting excited about the provincial NDP and an even harder time imagining that some New Democrats are not thinking that it may be past time for their provincial-wing to get a fresh face sitting in the admiral’s chair.
Current leader Brian Mason has served his party faithfully through two stormy elections and holds the second most thankless job in the province (the first currently being held by Liberal leader Raj Sherman). Mr. Mason has years of experience in the Assembly, but after more than two decades as a municipal and provincial politician he is hardly the fresh face that NDP may need to make an Orange splash in the next provincial election.
As the contests to replace the leaders of the governing Progressive Conservative Party and the Opposition Liberal Party and new Alberta Party grab the media spotlight, political parties have been quietly nominating candidates for the next election. I have been keeping track of the nominated and declared candidates across the province and this post focuses on the candidates stepping up to stand for election in Edmonton.
There is little reason to believe that constituencies in Edmonton will be any less competitive than they have been over the past 25 years and the rise of the Wildrose Alliance in public opinion polls will certainly effect the electoral environment in ways that we have not seen in previous elections.
Former MLA David Eggen has secured the NDP nomination and will attempt to win back the constituency that he represented from 2004 to 2008. The boundary changes presented in the interim report of the Electoral Boundaries Committee convinced Mr. Eggen to initially seek his party’s nomination in neighboring Edmonton-Glenora, but the final report’s boundaries shifted key neighbourhoods back to his former constituency.
The incumbent MLA, PC backbencher Doug Elniski, defeated Mr. Eggen by 201 votes in 2008. An amiable guy, Mr. Elniski has suffered from a few unfortunate public mis-speaks in his first term. Calder may be the truest “swing-riding” in Alberta, as it has been represented by PCs, New Democrats, and Liberals since 1986 and in the same time only twice re-elected an incumbent to a second term.
Incumbent backbench PC MLA Tony Vandermeer was elected in 2008 by defeating NDP MLA Ray Martin by 337 votes (Mr. Martin is now the federal NDP candidate in Edmonton-East). Mr. Vandermeer also served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Manning between 2001 and 2004. The NDP have nominated teacher Deron Bilous, who was his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Centre in the 2008 election.
First-term PC backbencher Janice Sarich made the transition from Catholic School District Trustee to MLA in 2008, snatching this seat from Liberal MLA Bill Bonko by 682 votes. Mrs. Sarich’s victory marked the first time that the PCs elected an MLA in this area since 1982. The Liberals have yet to officially nominate their candidate, but Zack Siezmagraff has started his campaign to reclaim the constituency for his party. The NDP have nominated Sheriff Ali Haymour as their candidate. Mr. Haymour was his party’s 2008 candidate in the neighboring Edmonton-Castle Downs, where he earned 9.6% against incumbent MLA Thomas Lukaszuk.
Incumbent Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald is expected to seek re-election in the constituency he has represented since 1997. The only nominated challenger is New Democrat Marlin Schmidt, who is also President of his party’s electoral district association in the federal riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. Mr. MacDonald could face another dog-fight with his 2008 PC challenger David Dorward, who built a substantial amount of name recognition after his unsuccessful Mayoral bid in 2010.
Elected as a PC in 2008, Dr. Raj Sherman became an Independent MLA after being kicked out of the PC caucus in November 2010. Dr. Sherman has used his position as a vocal critic of the PC government’s record on health care to become a sort of political folk hero for Albertans, but recent comments have rubbed off some of his political shine. The constituency has been represented for most of the past 20 years by Liberal MLAs, most recently Maurice Tougas until 2008. Notwithstanding that party’s long history in the constituency, it has yet to nominate a candidate for the next election. Local Wildrose constituency President Rick Newcombe has expressed an interest in being his party’s candidate, but has yet to official declare his intentions.
Former Liberal MLA Weslyn Mather will attempt to reclaim the constituency she lost to PC Carl Benito in 2008. Since being elected, Mr. Benito has become the source of amusement/ridicule for his strident support of Alberta’s official mushroom, his broken promise to donate his entire MLA salary to a scholarship fund, and his publicly blaming his wife for not filing his property taxes for two years. The NDP have nominated AUPE Vice-President Sandra Azocar as their candidate and are hoping that former Liberal-represented middle-class constituencies like Mill Woods are places that they can grow.
The retirement of three-term Liberal MLA Kevin Taft will leave big shoes for candidates in this constituency to fill. I spoke with 2008 PC candidate Wendy Andrews at last week’s Speech from the Throne and she told me that she was still undecided about whether she wanted to run again. The Liberals have yet to hold a nomination meeting and the only candidate to publicly declare interest is consultant and Rotarian Arif Khan. I have heard rumors that former Public School Board Trustee Don Fleming may be interested in seeking the nomination. The NDP will nominate College of Social Workers coordinator Lori Sigurdson and are hoping that the votes MP Linda Duncan received in this area can be translated provincially. The Wildrose Alliance have nominated John Corie.
With three challengers already nominated, first-term PC backbencher Fred Horne has his work cut out for him. His main challenger at this point is former Liberal MLA Rick Miller, who represented the constituency from 2004 until 2008 when he was unexpectedly unseated by Mr. Horne. Mr. Miller has stayed involved in politics since 2008 as the Chief of Staff for the Liberal Official Opposition. The NDP have nominated Melanie Samaroden as their candidate and the Wildrose have re-nominated their 2008 candidate Kyle McLeod.
An overview of nominations in Calgary constituencies will be posted later this week.