Tag Archives: Stephen Mandel

Wildrose needs to be more than the Anti-Redford Party

PCs sweep four by-elections, NDP and Alberta Party make gains
Jim Prentice Gordon Dirks Calgary Elbow By-Election Alberta
Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Premier Jim Prentice during the by-election campaign.

Disgraced former premier Alison Redford gave Albertans a convincing reason to vote Wildrose, but Danielle Smith‘s official opposition needs to find a new strategy to defeat Premier Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservative.

This appears to be the case as Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives celebrate their candidates victories in four Alberta by-elections held yesterday.

Kathy Macdonald Wildrose Calgary-Foothills by-election
Kathy Macdonald

The wins in the four strong-PC voting constituencies are a signal that the long-governing party should not be underestimated. And despite two years of spending scandals, embarrassment and misdeeds, the PC Party remains a competitive political force in this province.

It appears that despite the scandals, many Albertans wan to give Mr. Prentice a chance. And the PC’s smooth ‘be boring‘ and ‘de-Redfordization‘ strategy appears to have paid off with voters, at least in the short-term, and helped the party hold onto Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. Chosen as PC Party leader in September 2014, Mr. Prentice was personally elected last night in Calgary-Foothills, with a commanding lead ahead of Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald.

Mike Ellis PC Alberta calgary-west MLA
Mike Ellis

In Calgary-West, a constituency the Wildrose had targeted to win, candidate Sheila Taylor was narrowly defeated by Tory Mike Ellis. The Wildrose hoped that Ms. Taylor’s high-profile role as a public school board trustee would take her to victory, but the PCs Mr. Ellis narrowly held on to the constituency first won by former premier Peter Lougheed in 1967.

The by-elections gave Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party an opportunity to test campaign tactics, strategies and messages in preparation for the next election, and it is obvious they fell flat.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA
Stephen Mandel

While PC Party supporters on social media have vocally called on their opponent to step down, the Wildrose would be foolish to part with the leader, who is one of their greatest assets. Ms. Smith is media savvy and has grown into her role as Premier-in-Waiting. Despite missing an opportunity to steal a by-election away from the PCs, the Wildrose is still strong in other areas of Alberta (and in other constituencies in Calgary and Edmonton).

One recent poll  shared with this blogger showed the Wildrose with 51% support in rural Alberta and 47% in the province’s small cities, which represent a significant number of constituencies in Alberta. Despite tonight’s losses, the 2016 election could still be hotly contested between the two conservative parties.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

But worrying to both the Wildrose and the PCs should be the other opposition parties that made significant electoral gains in these by-elections. In Edmonton-Whitemud, PC Health Minister Stephen Mandel saw his party’s vote drop by nearly 20% from the 2012 election, but still collected enough votes to defeat New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner. Wildrose candidate Tim Grover was relegated to third place.

Dr. Turner’s 21% finish marks the first time the NDP has placed second in this constituency since the 1986 election, an impressive feat for the tiny Edmonton-based party.

Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party
Greg Clark

And in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark exceeded expectations, placing a close second behind PC Education Minister Gordon Dirks. Mr. Dirks’ was elected with the help of a convenient opposition vote-split between Mr. Clark and talented Liberal Susan Wright. But despite the narrow defeat, this second place finish gives Mr. Clark a solid foundation to run as a candidate in the next election.

Before the next election, can any of those tiny opposition parties garner enough strength on their own to take advantage of a split within Alberta’s conservative movement? And as Wildrose strategists analyze the results of yesterdays vote, can they come up with a plan to defeat the Tories? In spite of yesterday’s wins by the 43-year governing PC Party, will Albertans still be willing to give Mr. Prentice a chance in 2016?

One this is for sure, the political landscape in Alberta looks more interesting than ever.

 October 27, 2014 By-election Results

Calgary-Elbow
Gordon Dirks, PC: 4,207 (33.2%)
Greg Clark, AP: 3,412 (26.9%)
John Fletcher, WR: 3,056 (24.1%)
Susan Wright, LIB: 1,519 (11.9%)
Stephanie Mclean, NDP: 472 (3.7%)

Calgary-Foothills
Jim Prentice, PC: 6,898 (58.2%)
Kathy Macdonald, WR: 3,545 (29.9%)
Robert Prcic, LIB: 458 (3.8%)
Jennifer Burgess, NDP: 444 (3.7%)
Polly Knowlton Cockett, GRN: 261 (2.2%)
Michelle Glavine, AP: 212 (1.7%)
Dave Woody Phillips, IND: 23 (0.1%)

Calgary-West
Mike Ellis, PC: 4,843 (44.4%)
Sheila Taylor, WR: 4,528 (41.5%)
David Khan, LIB: 926 (8.5%)
Brian Malkinson, NDP: 336 (3.0%)
Troy Millington, AP: 265 (2.4%)

Edmonton-Whitemud
Stephen Mandel, PC: 6,003 (42.3%)
Bob Turner, NDP: 3,150 (22.2%)
Tim Grover, WR: 2,679 (18.9%)
Donna Wilson, LIB: 2,043 (14.4%)
William Munsey, AP: 202 (1.4%)
Rene Malenfant, GRN: 95 (0.6%)

Will by-election losses teach Alberta’s progressive parties basic math?

Alberta Progressive Party
Alberta’s non-conservative opposition is represented by the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Alberta Party.

Fast forward to 10:00 p.m. on  October 27, 2014. The ballots have been counted in Alberta’s four provincial by-elections and the two main conservative parties – the governing Progressive Conservatives and official opposition Wildrose Party – have taken the largest share of the votes.

Once again the handful of “progressive” opposition political parties were  left sitting on the sidelines when the ballots were counted.

It is an easy scenario to imagine. As voters head to the polls in the Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections today, it appears that the Alberta Party, New Democratic Party and Liberal Party will largely be relegated to third, fourth or fifth place in most races.

Susan Wright LIberal Calgary-Elbow
Susan Wright

While I recognize the argument against vote splitting is not perfect, it has created a convenient “divide and conquer” situation for the PC Party for decades. But with the conservative vote is now split between the PCs and Wildrose, none of the progressive parties on their own appear strong enough to take advantage of this division.

In Calgary-Elbow, the constituency formerly represented by Alison Redford, a progressive candidate should have a shot of winning. The Liberals won Elbow in a 2007 by-election when they were the main opposition to the PCs and held onto it until 2008.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary ElbowGreg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary Elbow
Greg Clark

But seven years later, the progressive opposition is represented by two excellent candidates in Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal Susan Wright. Both who are likely to draw votes away from each other, allowing Education Minister Gordon Dirks to win.

In Edmonton-Whitemud, a traditionally strong PC voting constituency, the NDP and Liberals have both put forward strong candidates in Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson. While it is unlikely that either candidate would defeat PC candidate and former mayor Stephen Mandel on their own, the presence of the two progressive candidates on the ballot further divides the opposition.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

On Saturday evening, the Liberal Party published a press release claiming an Alberta Party supporter tried to broker some sort of deal with the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberal claims are flimsy and it is unclear what sort of electoral deal could be arranged in the few days before an election (it would be too late to remove a candidate’s name from a paper ballot).

The four by-elections are being held in urban constituencies where the PC Party has enjoyed strong support for decades. And the argument could be made that there are a handful of constituencies in Alberta where the non-conservative opposition parties would be more competitive in a by-election.

But in the end, it comes down to basic math.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr penned a thoughtful guest post for this blog in December 2012, in which he expressed his concerns about vote-splitting:

As a provincial politician committed to many of the same progressive principles as the three above-noted candidates, what did I learn from this? Well, I think I’ve learned basic math. The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party. At this moment in time, and objectively looking at the provincial platforms of the progressive parties, we are for all intents and purposes also a distinction without a difference.

In the last election the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party agreed on policy 95% of the time. We should all be together in one big tent; there is less difference between all of our political parties than there is between the different wings of the PC government.

What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province. We tend to identify with our brands and not necessarily the values that we share. Let me be the first to say, I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions. We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.

What’s at stake in the four Oct. 27 by-elections?

With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?

Progressive Conservatives

In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.

My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.

Wildrose Party

From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.

The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.

The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.

As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.

The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.

Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.

Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.

New Democratic Party

Alberta NDP Ad Edmonton-Whitemud Dr. Bob Turner by-election
An NDP pamphlet used in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.

While the NDP have risen in the polls in Edmonton, Whitemud is not a traditional NDP voting area. The NDP earned 9% in Whitemud in the last election and last placed second in the riding in the 1986 election.

A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.

Also running for the NDP are Stephanie McLean in Calgary-Elbow, Jennifer Burgess in Calgary-Foothills, and Brian Malkinson in Calgary-West.

Alberta Party

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow
A Greg Clark self with his supporters on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow.

With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.

Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.

Mr. Clark has earned the endorsements of popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, former Green Party candidate Chris Turner, former city councillor Gael Macleod and former mayoral candidate Wayne Stewart.

A win for Mr. Clark would be a huge victory for the Alberta Party and add a twist to the dominant PC-Wildrose narratives that has dominated Alberta politics since before the last election.

Mr. Clark is the son of Gilbert Clark, a Liberal candidate who came within 900 votes of defeating rookie PC candidate Ralph Klein in 1989.

Also running for the Alberta Party are William Munsey in Edmonton-Whitemud, Michelle Glavine in Calgary-Foothills, Troy Millington in Calgary-West.

Liberal Party

Susan Wright Calgary Elbow by-election
Liberal Susan Wright and her campaign supporters.

Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.

The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.

Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.

These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.

Also running for he Liberals are David Khan in Calgary-West and Robert Prcic in Calgary-Foothills.

Green Party

The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and  Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.

Where to vote?

Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.

Politics gets NIMBY in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 3
Edmonton-Whitemud Wildrose candidate Tim Grover, with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, MLAs Kerry Towle, Jeff Wilson, Bruce Rowe and other nominated Wildrose candidates.

The phrase “all politics is local” has been used many times to describe voters who might shy away from trying to restructure health care or environmental policy but are passionate about potholes or saving the park down their street.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

This phrase appears to be particularily reflective of the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, where former Edmonton mayor and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is campaigning for election to the Legislative Assembly as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

While his opponents from the New Democrat and Liberal parties – Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson – have made health care issues the focus of their campaigns – including the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital –  Mr. Mandel’s Wildrose opponent is looking to other local wedge issues to attack the former mayor.

As volunteers canvass door-to-door in the constituency, the campaign of Wildrose candidate Tim Grover is circulating a letter from a local resident who opposed a controversial Terwilligar Housing First development.

[Read the letter here]

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

The letter alleges that at an August 2013 town-hall meeting about the proposed housing development, then-mayor Mr. Mandel loudly shouted at a group of residents about the project. While the tensions were high at the meeting, community members I have spoken with who attended the town hall meeting dispute the allegation that Mr. Mandel actually shouted at anyone at the meeting.

As part of the City of Edmonton’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the development would have provided permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless Edmontonians. And because of the outcry of a small and vocal group of community members, the development was cancelled.

While the proposal was not perfect, the debate around the Terwilligar Housing First development had all the hallmark characteristics of NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”).

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

When he launched his campaign, Mr. Mandel said that he would run on his nine-year record as Mayor of Edmonton. And while he has a lot to be proud of, after three terms in office Mr. Mandel did collect a certain amount of political baggage. Because of this, it is not surprising that his political opponents would try to exploit these wedge issues during an election campaign.

Last week, two articulate members from the Haddow neighbourhood spoke to the CBC about their opposition to the development of a surplus school site that Mr. Mandel supported. I am told that “Save Haddow Park” signs have now been spotted in Mr. Grover’s campaign office.

NDP army campaigns for Dr. Bob

Fresh from her victory in the NDP leadership contest, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley led an army of volunteers on to the streets of Edmonton-Whitemud. The NDP took a break from their weekend leadership convention to bus as many volunteers as possible from downtown’s Sutton Place Hotel to the southwest to help candidate Dr. Bob Turner.

Voters in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-West will vote on October 27, 2014. Advance Polls are: being held on October 22, 23, 24 and, 25, 2014.

By-Election Round-up: 11 days until the mini-election

There are now eleven days left until voters cast their ballots in four provincial by-elections on October 27.

Prentice a no-show in Calgary-Foothills

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta Calgary Foothills by-election pumpkin
Jim Prentice (photo from @wmcbeath on Twitter)

He is the Premier of Alberta and he does not have a seat in the Legislature, but Jim Prentice skipped last night’s all-candidates forum in the Calgary-Foothills by-election. The event was organized by the Edgemont Community Association.

Noting the high-profile candidate’s absence, forum organizers placed a halloween pumpkin at Mr. Prentice’ empty spot at the table.

He has held almost daily media events since becoming Premier, but they have all taken place at planned and highly-controlled events. An all-candidates forum is an uncontrolled environment where Mr. Prentice would be forced to engage with his opponents, which could cause potential embarrassment to the new Premier.

The other candidates running in Calgary-Foothills are Jennifer Burgess (NDP), Polly Knowlton Cockett (Green Party),  Michelle Glavine (Alberta Party), Kathy Macdonald (Wildrose),  Robert Prcic (Liberal) and Dave Woody Phillips (Independent). Mr. Phillips was also absent from the forum.

Health care big issue in Edmonton-Whitemud

Donna Wilson Liberal Edmonton Whitemud By-Election
Donna Wilson

In an press conference designed to keep Health Minister Stephen Mandel in the news, Mr. Prentice joined his party’s Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate to make a vague announcement about the opening of more “continuing care” spaces.

The announcement provided no detail about how the province plans to address the shortage of long-term care beds, which provide a higher level of care to Albertans in need of longer-term medical assistance.

Despite a growing population, the number of long-term care beds across the province has actually decreased over the past decade.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA
Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice used the press conference as an opportunity to repeatedly explain to reporters that Mr. Mandel is a “hands-on minister” (a description he used at least three times during the press conference).

Although the former mayor is widely expected to win the Whitemud by-election, Mr. Mandel has faced pressure from Liberal Dr. Donna Wilson and New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner to address the province’s lack of long-term care beds and to replace the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital.

The other candidates running the Edmonton-Whitemud are Tim Grover (Wildrose), Rene Malenfant (Green Party), William Munsey (Alberta Party),

Moving targets in Calgary-Elbow

It’s not just about electing Dirks, it’s about beating Carter too,” a PC Party insider told me this week. Fighting to elect appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, the PCs are also gunning to defeat Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, whose campaign is being run by former Tory strategist Stephen Carter.

A sort of political mercenary, Mr. Carter was a key strategist in Alison Redford‘s 2011 leadership campaign and Naheed Nenshi‘s 2010 mayoral election.

While the Wildrose Party poses a threat to the Tories province-wide, recent moves suggest they recognize Mr. Clark as a threat in this by-election. For example, Mr. Dirks’ campaign trotted out an endorsement last week from former Alberta Party leadership candidate Randy Royer.

Drawing on the experience of Mr. Carter and a band of local political organizers, Mr. Clark’s supporters say his campaign is showing signs of momentum on the ground. Whether they can translate any momentum, real or perceived, into votes is an unanswered question.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dirks’ campaign manager Alan Hallman, apologized for referring to Wildrose Party candidate John Fletcher as the fictional TV Nazi “Colonel Klink” on Twitter. Mr. Fletcher is a retired Colonel of the Canadian Forces Reserves.

The other candidates in the Calgary-Elbow by-election are  Stephanie McLean (NDP) and Susan Wright (Liberal).

Sources: MLA David Xiao disqualified from federal Conservative nomination

David Xiao MLA Edmonton West
David Xiao

A Progressive Conservative MLA is appealing a decision by a Conservative Party of Canada committee to disqualify him as a nomination candidate in the newly created Edmonton-West federal riding, according to reliable sources.

(see updates below)

It remains unclear why the committee chose to disqualify Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao, who announced his entry into the contest in March 2014.

If Mr. Xiao’s disqualification is upheld by the Conservative Party National Council, it is expected that Edmonton hotel manager Kelly McCauley will be acclaimed as the party’s candidate for the next federal election.

Kelly McCauley Edmonton-West Conservative
Kelly McCauley

Mr. Xiao’s candidacy has been endorsed by provincial Health Minister and Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate Stephen Mandel, former premier Ed Stelmach and provincial cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.

Since his election in 2008, Mr. Xiao has served as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Energy, Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Employment and Immigration. He faced public criticism after claiming travel expenses of nearly $35,000 in 2012, even though his constituency is located in Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.

The Conservative Party is expected to respond to Mr. Xiao’s appeal this week.


Contributing to more potential controversy, a lawyer representing Mr. Xiao recently informed Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle that he planned to issue notices under Alberta’s Defamation Act.

Potentially connected to the legal threats, Mr. Xiao publicly denied statements made by the Wildrose opposition about his relationship with the McClung Family Association.

UPDATE (October 15, 2014): Mr. Xiao has released a statement confirming he is appealing his disqualification as a nomination candidate by the Conservative Party in Edmonton-West.

UPDATE (October 16, 2014): According to reliable sources, Mr. Xiao’s appeal has been rejected by the Conservative Party of Canada National Council. Mr. McCauley is expected to be acclaimed as the candidate in Edmonton-West.

Can the opposition win any of the 4 by-elections?

Cheffins_Campaign_067
The Liberals celebrate a victory in the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election. Left to Right: MLA David Swann, victorious candidate Craig Cheffins, Liberal leader Kevin Taft, MLA Dave Taylor and MLA Harry Chase.

Can the opposition parties win any of the four provincial by-elections being held on October 27, 2014?

The by-election votes will take place in four urban constituencies that were considered safe for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 election. With a change in provincial leadership and a volatile political environment, these by-elections do provide opportunities for the opposition parties to make gains.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary ElbowGreg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary Elbow
Greg Clark

In Calgary-Elbow, Wildrose candidate John Fletcher appears to be PC candidate and appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks‘ main conservative challenger and challenges from two other liberal-leaning candidates could create an interesting result in Calgary-Elbow.

Liberal Susan Wright and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark are running strong campaigns competing for the same liberal and moderate voters that Mr. Dirks will need to win against his more conservative opponent. Mr. Clark has gained the support of 2012 PC Party campaign strategist Stephen Carter and 2012 Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan, who are both heavily involved in his campaign.

Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins was able to win this constituency in a 2007 by-election at a time when the Liberals were Official Opposition and the Tories were led by new PC leader Ed Stelmach, who was unfamiliar to most Calgary voters at the time. In 2014, the field of candidates and parties is much more crowded and unpredictable.

Retired popular Edmonton Mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is widely expected to glide to victory in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election (his predecessor, Dave Hancock was re-elected with 60% of the vote in 2012).

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

Mr. Mandel’s vocal opponents are trying to make health care and the provincial government’s lack of long-term infrastructure planning the big issues of the by-election campaign.

New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner has come out swinging with an aggressive campaign against the new Health Minister and his comments about “bed blockers” in the health care system.

Both Dr. Turner and Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson have made south west Edmonton’s aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital a focus of their campaigns. Dr. Wilson held a press conference outside the Misericordia Hospital yesterday and today the NDP will hold a lunch-hour rally outside the facility.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith chose the campaign office of Whitemud candidate Tim Grover to announce her party’s health care funding plan, including promises of $100 million to front-line care, $50 million to home care and $50 million to reopen long-term care beds. The Wildrose Party also released a series of election campaign-style online videos attacking the PCs.

Tim Grover Wildrose Edmonton Whitemud By-election
Tim Grover

Statistician Eric Grenier predicts Wildrose candidate Sheila Taylor could win the Calgary-West by-election. Ms. Taylor, a now former trustee on the Calgary Board of Education, is a star candidate for the Wildrose in Calgary. She is facing Calgary police officer Mike Ellis, who unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination before the 2012 election.

Premier Jim Prentice‘s recent announcement to build an additional 55 new schools and renovate another 20 is certainly meant to boost Mr. Dirks’ and weaken Ms. Taylor’s candidacy. Quick to respond, Mr. Clark’s campaign set up a website detailing the schools Mr. Dirks voted to close during his time on the Calgary Board of Education.

Running as a candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election, Mr. Prentice faces his main challenge from Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald, a 20-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service. Foothills has voted solidly PC since 1967 and while it is easy to assume that Mr. Prentice’s job as Premier makes him a shoe-in, he should not take voters for granted. Mr. Grenier has classified Foothills are a “tossup” between the PCs and Wildrose.

There is nothing more the opposition parties would love than to see a sitting Premier defeated in his own constituency. A loss in Foothills might be unlikely, but a loss of even one of the four by-elections would be a sign that the PCs, even under “new management,” remain politically vulnerable. By-elections can be risky for incumbent governments, especially when voters are eager to use their votes to send a message.


Upcoming all-candidates forums

Calgary-Foothills all-candidates forum: October 15, 8:30pm at the Edgemont Community Association (33 Edgevalley Circle NW).

Edmonton-Whitemud all-candidates forum: October 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Snow Valley Chalet. Hosted by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta and the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta.

Edmonton-Whitemud all-candidates forum: October 22 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Riverbend United Church (14907 – 45 Avenue NW). This forum is hosted by Whitemud Citizens for Public Health.

Alberta politics round up: Health Ministers, By-Elections and Troubled Waters Ahead

Health Ministers
Provincial Health Ministers met at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel this week.

BANFF – Stepping onto the national stage for the first time since he was appointed as Alberta’s Minister of Health, Stephen Mandel met with his provincial and federal counterparts this week in Banff for the annual Health Ministers meeting. Mr. Mandel co-chaired the meeting, a role his predecessor, Fred Horne, had planned to fill.

The ministers are said to have discussed a wide-range of topics, perhaps most dramatically, a strategy for pharmacare, a plan that could decrease the cost of prescription drugs by billions of dollars each year. This sort of national plan would require the involvement of a federal Conservative Government that has, unfortunately for Canadians, taken a hands-off approach to health care.

Mr. Mandel began on the long road of rebuilding relationships with federal government by meeting with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose. Despite being represented by federal Conservative MPs in Ottawa, relations between the City and federal government soured in recent years.  In November 2010, an angry Mr. Mandel publicly blamed Ms. Ambrose for the failure of the City’s unarticulated plans to host Expo 2017.

CALGARY – The Wildrose Party announced two of its by-election candidates this week. Former Calgary police officer Kathy Macdonald is running against Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and Calgary public school board trustee Sheila Taylor will run in Calgary-West.

A savvy move, Mr. Prentice announced the appointment of Emma May as the executive director of the Premier’s Southern Alberta Office at the McDougall Centre. A well-respected community advocate, Ms. May leads the Calgary River Communities Action Group, which represents residents whose homes were damaged by the 2013 floods.

Ms. May’s appointment may also have an impact on the by-election in Calgary-Elbow, a constituency which includes many flood impacted neighbourhoods. Running as the PC candidate, appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks is facing strong challengers in Wildrose candidates John Fletcher, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal Susan Wright.

EDMONTONDonna Wilson will run as the Liberal Party candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. Dr. Wilson is a well-respected Professor of Nursing at the University of Alberta and the former President of the U of A Academic Staff Association.

The Green Party is expected to announce its candidate in Edmonton-Whitemud shortly. The Social Credit Party will not run candidates in any of the by-elections.

TROUBLED WATERSCBC reports that the Auditor General Merwan Saher found that sole-source contracts of up to $274,000 were awarded to Navigtor Ltd. during the 2013 southern Alberta floods. The firm has close connections to Mr. Prentice and former Premier Alison Redford.

FLOOR CROSSING? – Rumours are stirring in political circles this week that Mr. Prentice and PC Caucus Whip George VanderBurg have reached out to a handful of Wildrose MLAs in an attempt to convince them to cross the floor. Any opposition floor crossings could be seen as a significant political win for the long-governing PC Party.

Four by-elections are a risky mid-term test for Alberta Tories

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and Jim Prentice on June 10, 2014.

Albertans in four provincial constituencies will go to the polls on October 27, 2014. Half-way through the  PC Government’s current four year term in office, the by-elections will be our own version of the mid-term elections.

Ken Hughes
Ken Hughes

Yesterday morning three anticipated provincial by-elections turned into four when first-term Ken Hughes announced his resignation as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-West. Earlier in the morning, Independent MLA Len Webber, fresh from securing the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation, declared that he would vacate his Calgary-Foothills seat.

Combined with vacancies in Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud, Alberta’s political parties will face off in four constituencies in 28 days.

Premier Jim Prentice wants these by-elections to be a referendum on the past two weeks, during which time he has made daily announcements trying to undo unpopular decisions made by the Alison Redford-led PC Government. The opposition wants to make sure these by-elections are a referendum on the past two years of broken promises and misdeeds by the PC Government.

Alison Redford
Alison Redford

Despite the unpopularity of the PC Party in recent polls, the four by-elections are not taking place in constituencies that were decided by small margins of victory in the last election. These four are some of the stronger PC-voting constituencies in Alberta. In the 2012 election, the PCs earned 60.4% in Edmonton-Whitemud, 58% in Calgary-Elbow, 53.5% in Calgary-Foothills and 49.9% in Calgary-West.

After 43-years in power, will Albertans buy Mr. Prentice’s argument that the PC Party is “under new management” and has entered “a new era?” The PC Party prides itself with the ability to rebrand itself under pressure. Long-time Tories boast of the “Miracle on the Prairies,” the tale of Ralph Klein’s reinvention of the PC Party before its expected defeat in the 1993 election.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

But fresh in the minds of many Albertans is the hope and opportunity that seemed real when Ms. Redford became Premier in 2011. We were promised a new era reminiscent of the days when Peter Lougheed led our province. Instead, we received two years of arrogance, broken promises, budget cuts and endless political spending scandals. And despite attempts to blame it all on Ms. Redford, it is hard to forget the 60 PC MLAs who stood behind her during those two years.

The appointment of two cabinet ministers from outside of the Legislature certainly helps the argument that the PC Government is “under new management.” But however credible the two men are, and despite their records as successful politicians, their age and notable careers in politics certainly undermines the argument that we have entered “a new era” in Alberta politics (Gordon Dirks is 67-years old and Stephen Mandel is 69-years old).

Danielle Smith Highwood
Danielle Smith

The four PC candidates in these by-elections could easily all be elected, but some of them could just as easily be defeated. By-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.

Running in Calgary-Foothills, Mr. Prentice will soon face voters for the first time since he was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is expected to announce her party’s challenger in Foothills today.

The lack of interest in the recent PC Party leadership race suggests that many Albertans have put our Natural Governing Party on probation. It will be a test of Mr. Prentice, Mr. Dirks, Mr. Mandel and Calgary-West candidate Mike Ellis, to prove themselves worthy. And it will be a test of the opposition parties to remind Albertans why the PCs do not deserve another chance.

By-Election candidates (as of September 29, 2014)

Calgary-Elbow
AP Greg Clark [FacebookTwitter]
LIB Susan Wright [FacebookTwitter]
NDP Stephanie McLean [Twitter]
PC Gordon Dirks [Twitter]
WR John Fletcher [Twitter]

Calgary-Foothills
AP Michelle Glavine [FacebookTwitter]
GRN Polly Knowlton Cockett
NDP Jennifer Burgess [Facebook, Twitter]
PC Jim Prentice [Facebook, Twitter]

Calgary-West
AP Troy Millington [Twitter]
NDP Brian Malkinson
PC Mike Ellis

Edmonton-Whitemud
AP William Munsey [Twitter]
NDP Bob Turner [Twitter]
PC Stephen Mandel [Twitter]
WR Tim Grover [Twitter]

For an updated list of by-election candidates, visit the Alberta Election 2016 page.

Where will Jim Prentice run in a by-election?

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race
Alberta’s new Premier Jim Prentice, does not have a seat in the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Three weeks after being selected as leader of the governing Progressive Conservative Party, Premier Jim Prentice still does not have a seat in the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

Although his party has already nominated candidates to run in the impending Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections, Mr. Prentice remains coy about where, and when, a third by-election will be held.

On August 26, Mr. Prentice told the Edmonton Journal he would call a by-election immediately after he became PC Party leader. He was elected PC Party leader on September 6 and sworn-in as premier on September 15.

It appears likely that Mr. Prentice might announce which constituency he will run in on the day the writ of by-election is signed by Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Using all the advantages of an incumbent government, it appears he is trying to give the opposition parties the least time possible to prepare candidates to run against him.

Neil Brown
Neil Brown

The “announcement-a-day keeps the memory of Alison Redford away” strategy has kept Mr. Prentice’s name in the news headlines, and has allowed him to create a two-week long list of talking points with which to campaign.

It is widely believed that Mr. Prentice will run in Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay, where current PC MLA Neil Brown has publicly offered to resign.

There is also speculation that he could also choose to run in another north Calgary constituency – like Calgary-Foothills – currently represented by Independent MLA Len Webber. Mr. Webber is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation (he left the PC caucus in May 2014, after describing Ms. Redford as a “bully”).

Update: Len Webber has won the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confedertation. 

The tight-lipped preparations have led many political watchers to believe that the Tories remain worried that Albertans may choose to punish the new Premier for the misdeeds and broken promises of Ms. Redford and the PC caucus over the past two years.

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Prentice would easily be elected, but by-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.

Jennifer Burgess Calgary-Prentice NDP by-election
Jennifer Burgess, the NDP candidate in the “Calgary-Prentice” by-election.

But whichever constituency he decides to run in, one party is ready  with a candidate in the wings. Calgary writer Jennifer Burgess has said she will run for the New Democratic Party in any by-election Mr. Prentice chooses to run in. Her website cleverly describes herself as the NDP candidate in the Calgary-Prentice constituency.

Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

The NDP and Wildrose Party announced their candidates in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. Dr. Bob Turner, a well-spoken doctor from Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute, has decided to run against former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel.

Flanked by Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and a handful of supporters and Wildrose MLAs, Tim Grover announced his plans to challenge Mr. Mandel. Mr. Grover was already nominated to run for the Wildrose Party in the Edmonton-South West constituency. He was also the ‘Get Out the Vote’ chairman for Karen Leibovici‘s 2013 mayoral campaign.

Alberta Party President William Munsey is running under his party’s banner.