Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

Is the Wildrose Caucus about to merge with the PC Caucus?

Wildrose MLA Caucus Alberta Danielle Smith

Are more Wildrose MLAs preparing to cross the floor to the Progressives Conservatives? Independent MLA Joe Anglin has told reporters that Danielle Smith‘s 14 MLA Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus will vote on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 on whether to join the governing PC Caucus.

Rob Anderson Wildrose MLA
Rob Anderson

Mr. Anglin’s comments, claims published on an anonymously blog and tweets from conservative activists fuelled the rumours of the Wildrose Party’s demise on social media last night.

The sources of the rumours are questionable, but the curious silence of official Wildrose Party social media accounts suggests that the merger of the two caucuses could indeed be on the table when Wildrose MLAs meet on Dec. 16.

The loudest rumours point to Wildrose MLAs Rob Anderson and Shayne Saskiw crossing the floor, a claim Mr. Saskiw quickly denied on Twitter.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose
Shayne Saskiw

More reliable sources say that Mr. Anderson and Mr. Saskiw will make a presentation to their fellow MLAs on Dec. 16 detailing an offer extended by Mr. Prentice to Wildrose MLAs to join the PC Caucus. [Update: The Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell has obtained a copy of the “Reunification Agreement.”]

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes also tweeted his commitment to the Wildrose Party in response to the rumours.

This is not the first time we have heard rumours of a merger. In May 2014, Ms. Smith told reporters that then-PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice had proposed a merger of the two conservative parties. At the time, Premier Dave Hancock denied the claims, but it was clear that Mr. Prentice was reaching out to Wildrose MLAs.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Since becoming Premier, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of its most effective talking points by committing to focus on property rights and reversing many of former premier Alison Redford‘s most unpopular decisions. In some ways, it is now difficult to tell what differentiates the Wildrose Party from Mr. Prentice’s PCs.

Last month, Wildrose MLAs Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle, crossed the floor to the PC Caucus. And only weeks before that, Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus, claiming that a ‘civil war‘ was being waged within the party.

After losing four by-elections in October 2014 and losing three MLAs since then, the normally loud Wildrosers have toned down, and in some cases struck a more conciliatory tone with the governing PCs.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Even normally hyper-partisan Justice Minister Jonathan Denis tweeted about working with Mr. Anderson on a Wildrose Caucus amendment to Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act. If that does not signal a warming of relations between the two caucuses, I’m not sure what else would.

But despite the party’s recent poor showing, a Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith could still remain competitive going into the next election.

The party has collected an impressive war chest and has nominated candidates in more than a quarter of Alberta’s constituencies. Recent polls show the party sitting at 29% support, only five points behind Mr. Prentice’s PCs.

The question is whether the change in tone signals a new strategy or preparation for a merger with the 43-year governing PC Party? If there is truth to the merger rumours, the departure of more Wildrose MLAs (including Ms. Smith) would be a death blow to that party.

What would a Wildrose-PC Caucus merger mean?
Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

MLAs crossing the floor is a fairly common occurrence in Alberta and Canadian politics, but I cannot think of any time when an Official Opposition Caucus has voted to merger with a governing caucus.

Unlike the merger of the federal Canadian Alliance and PC Party that created the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, there is little to no chance another party will form government in the next election (in the context of 2003, a PC-Wildrose merger would be more like Stephen Harper‘s Canadian Alliance joining Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party).

In a scenario where nearly all the Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party, Raj Sherman‘s five MLA Liberal Caucus could regain its role as the Official Opposition. But the Liberals would only hold that title until MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang resigned to run in the October 2015 federal election. Upon their resignations, Rachel Notley‘s four MLA NDP Caucus could become the Official Opposition.

Conservatives approach a full-slate of nominated candidates in Alberta

With the next federal election less than one year away, the Conservative Party of Canada is close to nominating a full slate of candidates in Alberta’s 34 newly redrawn ridings. By my count, Calgary Rocky Ridge, Edmonton-Griesbach, Edmonton-RiverbendLakeland and Peace River-Westlock are the only ridings without nominated Conservative candidates in this province.  The other parties lag behind, with the Liberals only having nominated eleven candidates, the NDP four and the Green Party only two.

Nirmala Naidoo Liberal Calgary Rocky Ridge
Nirmala Naidoo

Calgary-Rocky Ridge
The Liberals rolled out a high-profile nominee in this northwest Calgary constituency. Former CBC News anchor Nirmala Naidoo has announced her plans to seek the Liberal nomination, scheduled for December 16, 2014.

Five candidates are contesting the Conservative nomination in this constituency. Party activist Gord Elliott has collected endorsements from Nova Scotia MP Scott Armstrong and Manitoba Senator Donald Plett. City of Calgary lawyer Paul Frank also ran in Alberta’s 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election. Patrick Kelly is a Conservative Party volunteer and former Real Estate Board member. Teacher and homebuilder Dan Morrison was a third candidate in his party’s painful Calgary-Signal Hill nomination. And Arnie Stephens is a retired oil and gas business executive with the endorsement of former MP Eric Lowther, who had initially announced plans to run in this nomination contest.

Michael Cooper Conservative Edmonton St Albert
Michael Cooper

St. Albert-Edmonton
Long-time partisan activist and lawyer Michael Cooper defeated past Edmonton-Strathcona candidate Ryan Hastman to become the next Conservative candidate in this suburban riding.

Mr. Cooper is known in political circles for his hard-line conservative positions and has been involved in politics since he was a teenaged national director of the Canadian Alliance Party. His previously electoral experience includes running a generously self-financed campaign for St. Albert City Council at the age of 19 (he was unsuccessful in that bid).

Mr. Cooper will face incumbent Independent Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber. Mr. Rathgeber has been harshly critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper since he resigned from the Conservative caucus in 2013.

Terry Hogan Conservative Peace River Westlock
Terry Hogan

Peace River – Westlock
Former Member of Parliament Albert Cooper is looking to make a political comeback. The Progressive Conservative MP for the former Peace River riding from 1980 to 1993 faces school principal Terry Hogan for the Conservative nomination.

Calgary-Centre
Popular Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr was nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in this hotly contested riding on Nov. 28. First elected to the provincial assembly in 2008, Mr. Hehr will face off against Conservative incumbent Joan Crockatt. Ms. Crockatt was narrowly elected in a 2012 by-election that saw her party’s share of the vote drop by 18,210 votes. Only a sharp vote split between Liberal Harvey Locke and Green Chris Turner ensured a Conservative win.

Kerry Diotte Edmonton Mayor Election
Kerry Diotte

Edmonton-Griesbach
On Dec. 6, former city councillor Kerry Diotte and party organizer Omar Tarchichi will face off for the Conservative nomination in this redrawn east Edmonton riding.

The current Edmonton-East riding is represented by MP body-cam advocate Peter Goldring, who plans to retire after 18 years in Ottawa. Mr. Tarchichi has received Mr. Goldring’s endorsement and both candidates have been endorsed by former premier Ed Stelmach. Mr. Diotte’s former council colleague Tony Caterina has endorsed Mr. Tarchichi.

Sherwood Park – Fort Saskatchewan
Past Wildrose candidate Garnett Genuis defeated three competitors one competitor to win the Conservative nomination in this new riding east of Edmonton. In the 2012 provincial election, Mr. Genuis ran as the Wildrose candidate in the Sherwood Park constituency, placing second behind PC candidate Cathy Olesen.

The Liberals nominated lawyer Rodney Frank on Nov. 25. A Liberal press release describes Mr. Frank has working in the “telecommunications industry” and specializing “in competition and antitrust law.”


I am maintaining a list of candidates who have announced their intentions to seek nominations and run in the next federal election in Alberta ridings. Please contact me at david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta.

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.

Dear Rob Anders, Take a Hint and Take a Hike.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP Rob Anders.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP Rob Anders.

Many Canadians hoped to have bade a final farewell to offensive conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders when he lost the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill to Ron Liepert earlier this year. But perhaps it was wishful thinking to believe a stunning rebuke in the area of the city he represented for 17 years was enough to end his political career.

Hoping for a second chance, Mr. Anders attempted to win his party’s nomination in the rural Bow River riding, an area in which he does not live nor have any personal connection to. He told the media that Bow River was, unlike the suburbs of west Calgary, a place with “more trucks” and closer to the Alberta he “moved to in the 1980s.” [note: Mr. Anders was born in 1972].

But as all Albertans know, owning a pickup truck and holding offensive social conservative views are not mutually inclusive. So we all breathed a sign of relief when Mr. Anders was defeated in the Conservative’s Bow River nomination contest this weekend by Martin Shields, mayor of the City of Brooks.

It is hard to imagine Bow River Conservative members appreciating an outsider like Mr. Anders wading into their local nomination, and his track record in Ottawa probably did little to enamour them. Mr. Anders is well-known for having called Nelson Mandela a terroristinsulting Canadian veteranscalling for war against Russia, and blaming Thomas Mulcair for hastening the death of former NDP leader Jack Layton.

Licking his wounds after a second defeat, what can we expect Mr. Anders do next? Without a political party to support him in the next election, what is Mr. Anders next move?

Here are a few of the options available to him:

1) Take a hint and take a hike: Mr. Anders should probably take a break from politics, but he probably will not. He might end up working as a commenter with Sun News talk show host Ezra Levant, as a political advisor for some right-wing lobby group, or as an advisor to another socially conservative MP in Ottawa.

By the time the next federal election is called in October 2015, Mr. Anders will have spent 18 of his 42 years on Earth as a Member of Parliament (he was first elected when he was 24 years old). He knows nothing but life in politics.

2) Run for another Conservative Party nomination. By my count, there are at least a dozen Conservative Party nomination contests still open in Alberta (and an imminent by-election in Yellowhead). Looking abroad, he could also decide to run for a nomination in another province, like British Columbia or Saskatchewan.

If I were the Conservative Party, I would sternly warn him that he would be severely unwelcome to run in another riding. If I were the opposition New Democrats or Liberals, I would encourage him to keep on running.

3) Run as an Independent or for another party. His own party has rejected him twice, so he could decide to mobilize his social conservative followers to inflict revenge and damage on a party that no longer wants him in Ottawa.

Mr. Anders would not likely win if he ran as an Independent, or even as another party’s candidate (perhaps, the Christian Heritage Party),  but he could exert revenge by becoming a major nuisance for Mr. Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill.

4) Go back to the USA. With the 2016 presidential elections around the corner, maybe Mr. Anders could pull out his old Pinocchio nose and start applying for jobs south of the border.

Three years before Mr. Anders was elected as the MP for Calgary-West, he worked as a political agitator for the Republican Party in the United States. In the video below, he demonstrates his political talents while trying to embarrass Oklahoma Democratic Party Senate candidate Dave McCurdy.

Parties gear up for federal election 2015 – Alberta nominations update

Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses with some of the Conservative Party's newly acclaimed Alberta candidates (disclaimer: Candidates might actually be humans dressed in horse costumes).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses with recently acclaimed Conservative Party candidates (disclaimer: Candidates may actually be humans dressed in horse costumes).

Aside from recent updates about Kent Hehr running in Calgary-Centre and Darshan Kang running in Calgary-Skyview, it has been a while since I have published an update to accompany the list of candidate nominations for the next federal election, expected to be held in 2015. So, without further ado, let me present you the latest update:

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge Medicine Hat
Jim Hillyer

The Lethbridge -> Medicine Hat Shuffle
Almost as soon as Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne announced that he will retire at the next election, neighbouring MP Jim Hillyer jumped into the nomination race to replace him. The controversial Mr. Hillyer, who has represented the Lethbridge riding since 2011, had initially announced he would run against Mr. Payne for the Conservative nomination in the redrawn Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, but  was then sternly directed by his Ottawa bosses not to challenge a fellow MP. But once Mr. Payne announced his retirement, Mr. Hillyer jumped back into the Medicine Hat race.

As a nomination challenger, he faces Dan Hein, the former president of the local Conservative association and former the campaign manager for Mr. Payne in 2011.

Meanwhile, the NDP have nominated Cheryl Meheden in Lethbridge. That party did particularly well in the last election as the NDP candidate in 2011 earned 13,097 votes (27% of the total votes cast). Ms. Meheden is a former University of Lethbridge management instructor and former board chair for Economic Development Lethbridge. 

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta
Kyle Harrietha

Fort McMurray-Cold Lake
Fresh off the by-election campaign trail in Fort McMurray-Athabasca, the Liberals are expected to nominate Kyle Harrietha as their candidate in their candidate in Fort McMurray-Cold Lake on July 26 (the current riding boundaries will change when the next federal election is called). Conservative Member of Parliament David Yurdiga is expected to be automatically acclaimed as his party’s candidate because of the recent by-election.

Bow River
City of Brooks mayor Martin Shields is seeking the Conservative nomination in this new southern Alberta riding. Evangelical talk-radio host Paul Arthur is also running for the nomination.

Edmonton-Centre
The Liberals will hold a nomination meeting on August 7, 2014 where party members will have their choice of three candidates – entrepreneur Randy Boissonnault and lawyers Don Padget and Harold Robinson.

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals
Randy Boissonnault

On July 15, Conservatives gathered for what was described as a “soft launch” event for James Cumming, President and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, in support of his potential campaign for the Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Centre. Current MP Laurie Hawn has announced his plans to retire at the next election.

Edmonton-Strathcona
 Liberal activist Wendy Butler, artist Heather Workman (aka Lady Dolphin), and lawyer Eleanor Olszewski are running for the Liberal nomination in this south central Edmonton riding. Lawyer and Edmonton-Gold Bar Progressive Conservative association president Len Thom is seeking the Conservative nomination. The riding has been represented by NDP MP Linda Duncan since 2008.

Edmonton-Riverbend
On May 5, Valerie Kennedy was acclaimed as the Green Party candidate in Edmonton-Riverbend. Ms. Kennedy was the Green Party candidate in Edmonton-Leduc in 2011. where she earned 2,896 votes (4.87% of the votes cast).

Nicole Van Kuppenveld Conservative Fort Saskatchewan Sherwood Park Election
Nicole van Kuppenveld

Edmonton-West
Local hotel manager Kelly McCauley has jumped into the Conservative contest in this new west Edmonton riding. Before moving to Edmonton, Mr. McCauley was the president of the Victoria Conservative association. He now faces Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao and Edmonton Police Constable Brad Rutherford for the nomination.

Edmonton-Wetaskiwin
MP Mike Lake defeated Leduc County mayor John Whaley for the Conservative nomination in this new mostly-south of Edmonton riding. A third candidate, Mohinder Banga was disqualified shortly before the nomination vote was held.

Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan
Four candidates are contesting the Conservative nomination in this new east-of-Edmonton riding. Past Wildrose candidate Garnett Genuis Bee Clean Building Maintenance vice president Randy Moore, Telus employee and retired Canadian Forces Major Joe Theberge, and 2013 Strathcona County municipal candidate Nicole van Kuppeveld.

And a whole swath of Alberta Conservative MPs have been acclaimed as candidates in the next election: Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary-Heritage, Devinder Shory in Calgary-Skyview, Chris Warkentin in Grande Prairie,  Kevin Sorenson in Battle River-Crowfoot, Earl Dreeshen in Red Deer-Mountain View, Blaine Calkins in Red Deer-Wolf Creek, Rona Ambrose in Sturgeon River, and Jason Kenney in Calgary-Midnapore.

Tories invite Mike Allen back in, Wildrose show Joe Anglin the door

Mike Allen Jim Prentice Fort McMurray MLA
Alberta PC MLAs voted to invite Independent MLA Mike Allen back into the government caucus after a year in the opposition benches.

Progressive Conservative MLAs have voted to extend an invitation to Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen to rejoin their caucus. A relatively popular first-term politician in his constituency who many watchers believe will still do well in the next election (as an PC or an Independent), Mr. Allen left the PC caucus after he was arrested while trying to hire two prostitutes in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unfortunately for the Mr. Allen, the prostitutes happened to be police officers.

Police said he answered an online ad placed by undercover police, agreeing to pay two women $200 for sex. He was arrested and charged with a gross misdemeanour but pleaded guilty in December to a lesser misdemeanour of trying to hire prostitutes. He was fined $500, ordered to pay another $500 in court fees and sentenced to one-year of probation. His probation expires Dec. 18. (Edmonton Journal)

From a jail cell in Minnesota in July 2013 Mr. Allen did not deny the allegations, he admitted to his mistakes and voluntarily resigned from the PC caucus. As for his readmission into government, perhaps the MLAs in the PC caucus believe that one-year banishment into the opposition benches was punishment enough for Mr. Allen’s indiscretions.

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

Joe Anglin Out
What is Joe Anglin to do? After losing the Wildrose Party nomination in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre last weekend, some political watchers have speculated that he might join the Alberta Party, others believe he could run as an Independent candidate in the next election. He has yet to let his intentions known.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith cheekily suggested he should run in Edmonton, which would be akin to Stephen Harper saying Rob Anders should run for re-election in Toronto. A one man wolf pack, Mr. Anglin is a liability for any party in the rigid system of party discipline that exists in our political system. And the closer a party gets to power, like the Wildrose is, the more rigid they become with their MLAs and candidates.

Is it uncommon for incumbent politicians to lose party nomination races? In Alberta, yes. In fact, there are only a handful of examples I can remember from recent history in Alberta politics:

Carl Benito MLA Edmonton Mill Woods
Carl Benito

– First-term MLA Carl Benito was defeated by Sohail Quadri in the Progressive Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods in 2012, Mr. Benito ran as an Independent in that year’s election. He placed fifth of six candidates with 480 votes (3.9%).

– PC MLA Art Johnston lost two nominations in advance of the 2012 election – to Rick Fraser in Calgary-South East and Ric McIver in Calgary-Hays. Mr. Johnston retired from politics after the election was held.

– Then-Leduc mayor George Rogers upset two-term MLA Albert Klapstein in the PC nomination in Leduc before the 2004 election. Mr. Klapstein retired from politics after the election was held.

– Two-term MLA Tony Abbott was defeated for the PC nomination in Drayton Valley-Calmar by then-Drayton Valley mayor Diana McQueen before the 2008 election. Mr. Abbott retired rather than run for another party or as an Independent.

New Licence Plates
Albertans are living with flooding hospitals, overcrowded schools and a cash-strapped legal aid system, but a new licence plate design is a government priority? Premier Dave Hancock announced changes to Alberta’s licence plates at a press conference today, including the removal of the long-time slogan ‘Wild Rose Country‘ from the plates. Recent polls suggest that the current slogan is accurate.

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.

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.