If there was a Liberal Party heartland in Alberta, it would be located in the boundaries of Edmonton-Gold Bar. The east central Edmonton constituency is the longest Liberal held constituency in the province, having elected Liberal MLAs since the 1986 election.
Represented by popular Alderman Bettie Hewes from 1986 until 1997, Gold Bar’s current MLA Hugh MacDonald was first elected in 1997. Some call him salt of the earth, others may call him obsessed, but over his 14 years in office Mr. MacDonald has undoubtably been one of the hardest working MLAs in the opposition benches. Last month, Mr. MacDonald announced that he would be retiring from politics when the next election is called.
The big question is who will succeed Mr. MacDonald. While the chatting class has quietly chitted and chatted about big name long-shot candidates like Councillor Ben Henderson or former AUPE President Dan MacLennan, the chatterers had kept their voices low until an odd choice and potential star candidate recently declared her intentions to join the contest.
Currently residing in Cambridge, UK to complete a research fellowship, Josipa Petrunic is planning to seek the Liberal Party nomination in Gold Bar.
Incredibly articulate and well-spoken, Ms. Petrunic chaired the recent Liberal Party leadership contest that saw former PC MLA Raj Sherman defeat Mr. MacDonald. As moderator at the leadership candidate forums Ms. Petrunic was many times the most impressive person on the stage.
She may be new to electoral politics in Edmonton, but Ms. Petrunic is no pushover. A Liberal candidate in Calgary-East in last May’s federal election, Ms. Petrunic’s candidacy grabbed headlines after incumbent Member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai accused her of being “a visitor from Toronto.”
This rallying cry may become familiar to voters in Gold Bar if Ms. Petrunic wins her party’s nomination. The truth is that while she lived abroad, Calgary was her family’s home.
When contacted by email, Ms. Petrunic was quick to certify her connection to Edmonton, calling Gold Bar a community that she considers a home and an area that she will be moving to in December 2011.
She is planning to move to Edmonton to take up a fellowship at the University of Alberta that is in the process of being approved. At the University, she would conduct research that focuses on a comparative history of engineering techniques in bitumen extraction.
“Moving back to Edmonton is a homecoming for me,” Ms. Petrunic wrote. ”In 2000, I moved to Gold Bar specifically, as I was a university student in the French immersion program at the Faculté Saint-Jean.”
“I then moved to the north side of the riding a year later, when I got a job as a journalist at the Edmonton Journal. That journalism job was crucial to my career because the Journal gave me the by-lines I needed to move on to the Globe and Mail a year later, where I won a national journalism award,” wrote Ms. Petrunic.
Reflecting on the upcoming contest in Gold Bar, NDP organizer Lou Arab said ”MacDonald’s departure, along with the low poll numbers the Alberta Liberals are experiencing at the moment, creates a great opportunity for the NDP to take this seat. But it won’t be easy.”
Mr. Arab managed the campaign of the area’s Public School Trustee Sarah Hoffman in October 2010.
In the recent federal election, NDP MP Linda Duncan received 45% of the votes in the area compared to 50% for Conservative candidate Ryan Hastman. The fresh contacts, new donors, and sign locations gathered during the federal vote could help boost the campaign of already nominated NDP candidate Marlin Schmidt.
“The combination of Linda’s decisive win in the federal election, the Liberals’ flagging fortunes, and Hugh MacDonald stepping down have created an excellent opportunity for the NDP in this riding,” said Mr. Schmidt.
Other parties are also keeping their eye on Gold Bar.
“Judging by history I feel that Gold Bar voters, some of the most active in the province, will choose their next MLA based more on personal qualities than party affiliation,” said Leslie Bush, a member of the local Alberta Party constituency association.
The Progressive Conservatives have scheduled their local nomination meeting for Wednesday, January 25, 2012. Past candidate David Dorward has said he will take the next two weeks to decide whether he will seek the nomination. Mr. Dorward placed second to Mayor Stephen Mandel in the 2010 municipal election.
When asked about her chances in the campaign, Ms. Petrunic wrote “if the nomination goes my way, there’s a campaign storm on the horizon. And I plan to be at its epi-centre.”
Past Election Results in Edmonton-Gold Bar
Hugh MacDonald, L – 6,279
David Dorward, PC – 5,261
Sherry McKibben, NDP – 1,923
David Zylstra, Grn – 525
Hugh MacDonald, L – 8,798
Manjit Dhaliwal, PC – 2,572
Keith Turnbull, NDP – 1,967
Delmar Hunt, AA – 538
Dave Dowling, Ind – 167