Alberta Politics

Guest Post: Yes, Calgary-Centre Can Elect a Progressive MP.

1 Calgary Centre

By Jeremy Barretto

Like anyone who arrived in Calgary Centre after 1968, I’ve never witnessed a Liberal, NDP or Green candidate win an election. It’s understandable that some progressives feel that their vote does not count.

Over the past four decades, progressive and conservative parties have each earned significant support in Calgary Centre (with usually around a 45% to 55% split respectively).  The multiplicity of progressive parties has ensured a Conservative Party of Canada victory in recent elections.

Some progressives were happy with our former MP, Lee Richardson, who was generally regarded as a moderate voice in Government. Then along came Joan Crockatt. She is the Conservative candidate in the Calgary Centre who is reportedly “an avid cheerleader for the Wildrose Party” and who has said the role of a backbench MP is to “support the Prime Minister in whatever way that he thinks”.

In spite of the history, the communities that make up Calgary Centre have proven the ability to defy expectations and elect progressive candidates. In 2000, progressives united behind the Right Honourable Joe Clark, a former Prime Minister and who was generally regarded as the consensus progressive candidate, to oust the incumbent Reform MP Eric Lowther. Liberal Kent Hehr was recently re-elected as MLA by many Calgary Centre residents. In 2010, a majority of Calgary Centre residents voted for Naheed Nenshi for Mayor—and there were 15 candidates on the ballot!

Can progressives do it again in Calgary Centre?


1CalgaryCentre is an independent progressive campaign that was launched this summer by a group of volunteers. Our idea is pretty simple: engage progressives in a dialogue in the months before the by-election and then hold a vote to select a consensus progressive candidate. We use the term progressive broadly, including the centre-left parties, progressive conservatives, independents and post-partisans.

The parties (and voters) would in no way be bound by the 1CalgaryCentre vote. Rather, our goal is to send a clear signal to progressive voters about the relative strength of the progressive candidates. In other words, if you believe you’re the strongest progressive candidate, prove it with 1CalgaryCentre.

This summer we approached the national leadership of each of the progressive political parties. We invited them to participate in a process to select a consensus progressive candidate in Calgary Centre. For the most part, the parties were not interested in engaging with us. They went forward and nominated candidates.

We then turned our attention to working with the local campaigns. The progressive parties have nominated three impressive candidates: conservationist Harvey Locke for the Liberals; sustainability author Chris Turner for the Greens; and poverty reduction advocate Dan Meades for the NDP. Any of these candidates would work hard to promote progressive policies if elected as MP for Calgary Centre.

The Process

Since August 2012, 1CalgaryCentre has engaged progressives through social media, online forums and an “unconference”. We are reaching over 37,000 people through our social media channels. Stories about 1Calgary centre have appeared in the Globe and Mail, FFWD, Huffington Post and most other media covering the by-election. Our video got the internet excited about the CBC.

1CalgaryCentre has proposed a progressive primary—an online vote to be held on November 22nd. Why hold a vote? To give progressives a clear signal of who has the best chance of winning the by-election on November 26th.

I’ve had the pleasure of personally engaging with people from all of the progressive parties about 1CalgaryCentre. There is some interest and some apprehension about our process. Here are the most common questions that I’ve heard:

What if my candidate doesn’t win the 1CalgaryCentre vote?
The candidates and voters are free to decide what their next steps after the 1CalgaryCentre process.

Why don’t progressives just get behind my candidate, as they have the best chance of winning?
I’ve heard this message from all of the progressive parties. My response: prove it. If your candidate is able to take on a 40-year conservative dynasty in Calgary Centre, they should be able to establish that they have more support than the other progressive candidates in an online vote.

Isn’t an online vote susceptible to tampering?
Political parties regularly use online voting for their leadership elections. 1CalgaryCentre is using a combination of high-tech and hands-on tools to ensure the integrity of our process. Every registration is reviewed by at least two people.

I heard that 1CalgaryCentre is really a front for party X?
1CalgaryCentre is a registered third party with Elections Canada. Pursuant to the Canada Elections Act political parties cannot register as third parties. Our volunteers have been completely transparent about their diverse interests and backgrounds—one even revealed that he once cooked dinner for Jack Layton and Olivia Chow. Disclosure!

1CalgaryCentre may or may not achieve its goal of electing a progressive MP on November 26th. However, we have helped people believe that electing a progressive MP in Calgary Centre is possible. The polls show this. Social media shows this. Mainstream media admits that the Conservatives could lose in a historic upset.

We don’t believe that doing the same thing over and over again in Calgary Centre elections and expecting different results makes sense.

We won’t subscribe to the narcissism of small differences between the progressive parties.

Instead, register with 1CalgaryCentre to try something new on November 22. We just might make history in Calgary Centre. Again.

 Jeremy Barretto is an environmental lawyer and long time Calgary Centre resident. He is a member of the 1CalgaryCentre team. 


8 replies on “Guest Post: Yes, Calgary-Centre Can Elect a Progressive MP.”

It’s too bad that the parties did not respond to the initial request to nominate a single runner. But the alternative created as a response to that silence is a better system because the nomination process is reflective of a wider context. Nomination processes can be narrow and not include outsider influence. The method being instituted now is much better and the choice made on Nov. 25th will be a more accurate reflection of the qualities of the candidate. So it’s actually to the progressive voter’s advantage that the parties did not respond to the initial request to use a single candidate. That being said, resources are now dispersed – but that may not matter as long as Calgary Centre voters pull off a historic message for the rest of the country to hear.

“We use the term progressive broadly, including the centre-left parties, progressive conservatives, independents and post-partisans.”

Liberals tend to self-identify as in the centre, do they not?

There are still far more non-voters, especially in by elections, that could swing an election in any direction than seems worth trying to poach voters from other parties that one thinks should be voting for your guy (and they’re all guys in this case, ironically versus a right wing woman). Go out, win those votes.

The best solution to this would be a preferential ballot.

The second best solution likely would have been a primary to select one candidate before the election, though I can see why that didn’t happen.

What we’re left with is a bit of a mess. As much as I applaud this initiative, it’s effectively draining campaign resources from the “progressive” parties as they try to stack the online vote during the final week of the campaign. More importantly, there’s the obvious problem that a self-selecting online vote isn’t neccesarily going to give you an indication of who the most electable candidate is. I mean, what if the NDP candidate wins the vote?

I’d rather see a few more polls – that will likely give us a better idea of which candidate is best positioned to defeat Crockatt.

The 1CalgaryCentre process is absurd. They are not recommending actual strategic voting–going with the progressive whom polls of all voters suggest has the best chance of defeating the Tory. Instead they are suggesting that progressives band behind whomever the majority of self-selected members of their tiny group decide is the “best” candidate. But most people who join such a group are partisans who had their minds made up from day one.

Thanks for your work on this Jeremy.

One criticism I have is that Nov. 22 is too late to announce your results. If you had made your call even two weeks ago the bad words exchanged between two of the progress camps wouldn’t have happened. With only three days left in the campaign most activists have invested their time, resources and emotions in a particular progressive candidate. I was pretty much married to my choice weeks ago. What I’ve got to give to this race is on the table and cannot be taken back now.

On the 22 do you expect all the signs of one color are going to magically morph into another color because of your endorsement? (Note to self, secure patent for electronic lawn sign with internet connection that allows instant affiliation change.)

In the lead up to the 2010 mayor race, the biggest event was Kent Hehr not filing in late August. I was cheering for him, and I suspect that with many other people, I mourned for a week and then moved to Nenshi. If Hehr stuck around for as long as Hawksworth we would have had a different outcome.

My prediction for this election is that the Greens will win your poll and your endorsement because e-voting favours under 40 year olds. But the Liberals will beat the Greens in the popular vote on the 26th. And sadly, Crockatt will get in with 41% of the vote.

Go Harvey!

Sadly CrescentHeightsGuy is correct. 1CalgaryCentre seems to have been “going green” since the beginning. While Chris is a good non-CPC candidate, he is not the best non-CPC candidate, but those who have put so much into promoting the combined 1YYC and Chris will likely note vote Liberal despite the better opportunity of defeating CPC in voting for Mr. Locke.

As for showing the “social media” graph, it is interesting but only demonstrates the style of one campaign and how it has budgeted its resources.

Were I a Harper supporter, 1YYC would have been my first target for pretend support to assist with dividing the non-CPC vote. And it probably was.

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