Like most constituencies in Calgary before this year’s election, Foothills has been a traditionally conservative voting area that elected PC MLAs since the party began its 44-year run as government in 1971. But unlike most constituencies in Calgary in the recent election, enough voters in Calgary-Foothills supported Mr. Prentice to avoid Rachel Notley‘s orange wave.
This by-election is the first electoral test for Ms. Notley’s new government since it was voted into office on May 5.
The NDP have nominated former alderman Bob Hawkesworth, who also served as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.
With a comfortable majority of 53 MLAs in the Legislature, the NDP do not need to win this by-election, but a win would demonstrate that the NDP sweep in May can be expanded into new areas of the province. A very poor showing would be seen as a rebuke of Ms. Notley’s policies.
Showing how serious the party is taking the by-election opportunity, one of the Premier’s top communications staffers, former CBC reporter John Archer, tweeted last week that he would be taking a leave of absence from his job at the Legislature to work on Mr. Hawkesworth’s campaign.
Expect Calgary NDP MLAs and cabinet ministers Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir to be flooding through this constituency many times over the next month.
Although the by-election will take place in the depths of summer, it also falls in the midst of a federal election campaign, which could create some fascinating political scenarios.
Federal Conservatives united behind Stephen Harper‘s federal party may be forced to choose sides between the old Progressive Conservatives now led by former Calgary alderman Ric McIver and the opposition Wildrose Party led by former Fort McMurray Conservative MP Brian Jean.
It is well known that many federal Conservative MPs, including Rob Anders and Jason Kenney, support the Wildrose but recent polls show the PCs remain popular in Calgary while the Wildrose opposition caucus is almost entirely based in rural Alberta. But in 2015, three former PC MLAs are running as federal Conservative candidates – Ron Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill, Matt Jeneroux in Edmonton-Riverbend and former Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber in Calgary-Confederation.
The by-election will be an important indicator showing if the PC still have a political pulse.The party remains in shock after their stunning electoral defeat and has yet to nominate a candidate to run in the by-election.
Update: AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga reports that past city council candidate Blair Houston is expected to be nominated as the PC candidate.
Stakes are also high for the Wildrose Party and Mr. Jean. The Wildrose was unable to elect any candidates in Alberta’s two largest urban centres in the recent election, despite having elected two MLAs in Calgary in 2012. A Wildrose win in Foothills could torpedo activities by conservative operatives to merge the two conservative parties.
The by-election could also be an important test for the Alberta Party, whose leader Greg Clark was elected in Calgary-Elbow and has earned a reputation as a vocal critic of the NDP over the past three months. While still new to the Legislature, Mr. Clark has an opportunity to turn his party into the moderate conservative alternative to the PC Party and Liberal Party. The Alberta Party has yet to nominate a candidate.