Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda became his party’s only MLA from Calgary with a fairly decisive win in yesterday’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills, stealing the constituency away from the Progressive Conservatives. PC candidate Blair Houston finished third in the constituency that elected former Premier Jim Prentice in another by-election ten months ago and in a general election only four months ago.
The New Democrats mounted what appeared to be a strong campaign with candidate Bob Hawkesworth, but the governing party was only able to finish with second place in the by-election.
The NDP lost some ground in this by-election, holding 25.7 percent of the vote compared to the 32.3 percent earned by candidate Anne Wilson in the May 5, 2015 general election but still significantly more than the 3.7 percent earned by the NDP candidate in the October 2014 by-election. The results suggest that the NDP “orange chinook” from May 2015 has not completely dissipated as some would have argued and that NDP have developed a base of support in the city that was non-existent only a few months ago.
An NDP loss in this by-election would not have been a notable outcome had that party not intentionally raised the stakes of the results by pouring significant resources into the campaign, including high-profile endorsements of Mr. Hawkesworth and at least three campaign visits by Premier Rachel Notley. The loss does not spell the end of the NDP in Calgary but it does demonstrate that the party faces strong conservative opposition in the city, which should come as a surprise to no one.
Media commentaries will likely frame the Wildrose win as a rebuke of NDP policies in Calgary-Foothills, which it was, but at a more interesting level the results of this by-election are reflective of the divide between the Wildrose and the PC Party.
While the electoral outcomes were different from the last election, the percentages of the combined PC and Wildrose votes were 59.8 percent, up slightly from their combined vote of 58 percent in May 2015. This is a major decline from the October 2014 by-election, when the two conservative parties dominated with a combined 88 percent of the vote.
Conservative voters were split in this by-election, but Mr. Panda’s win will give the Wildrose Party potent ammunition to argue that the old PC Party is not a viable conservative alternative to the NDP in the three and a half years leading up to the next general election. The by-election results do suggest that in Calgary, the mostly rural based Wildrosers could still have some hard work ahead of them, as the PC Party is at the very least “still standing.”
The Wildrose caucus will now grow from 21 to 22 MLAs, making it the largest official opposition since the Liberals had 31 MLAs in the early-1990s. The PCs have 9 MLAs in the Legislature.
Here are the unofficial results from the September 3, 2015 by-election (66/66 polls reporting):
Prasad Panda, Wildrose: 4,877 (38.3%) Bob Hawkesworth, NDP: 3,270 (25.7%) Blair Houston, PC: 2,7,46 (21.5%) Ali Bin Zahid, Liberal: 791 (6.2%) Mark Taylor, Alberta Party: 610 (4.8%) Janet Keeping, Green: 377 (2.9%) Antoni Grochowski, Independent: 46 (0.36%)
Today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills is the first major litmus test for Alberta’s political parties in the post-Progressive Conservative political world. After forty-four years of PC Party-government in Alberta end earlier this year, politics in this province could still be in flux.
Despite considerable conservative strength in Calgary-Foothills, the NDP have willingly turned low expectations into high stakes by pouring significant resources into this by-election. Ms. Notley has personally visited the constituency at least three times to campaign alongside Bob Hawkesworth, a well-known candidate with thirty-years of experience in municipal and provincial office in Calgary.
Talk in political circles is that he would be a shoe-in for a cabinet spot if elected, maybe as Minister of Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour or Minister of Infrastructure.
But the decline of the international price of oil and recent energy-sector layoffs may have voters in this constituency sticking with their conservative options. The opposition parties have been quick to blame NDP plans to review resource royalties for making the economic situation worse.
The war of words in the by-election got nasty after it was discovered that a Chinese-language pamphlet circulated by Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda’s campaign accused the NDP of being communists. The Wildrose campaign claimed the translation was unintentional but it is difficult to believe this would be a mistake.
There is a reason why the communist message was only included in the Chinese-language material. According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, 12.4% of homes in Calgary-Foothills identify Chinese as their household language and 24.1% of the population in the constituency is of Chinese ethnic origin.
The presence of an increasingly depressing PC Party, represented by candidate Blair Houston could spoil an easy Wildrose victory. Mr. Houston’s campaign material claims that “only the moderate can defeat the extremes,” sending a strong message that there is still significant distrust between the two conservative parties.
The split between Wildrose and PC conservatives is evident among conservative activists on the internet.
An army of Wildrose twitterati launched online attacks yesterday against Calgary-North West PC MLA Sandra Jansen for her support of former television news anchor Nirmala Naidoo, who is running as the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Rocky Ridge, which overlaps with the Calgary-Foothills constituency.
Ms. Jansen responded that she is not a member of the federal Conservative Party and is under no obligation to support their candidates (her pragmatic reply is unlikely to appease her Wildrose critics).
As litmus tests, by-elections can be indicators of citizens approval or disapproval of a governing party at a given time, but by-election results are not necessarily indicators of how voters will cast their ballots in the future.
The Progressive Conservatives swept four by-elections in October 2014, including one in Calgary-Foothills, leading many political observers to believe that Mr. Prentice was an unstoppable political juggernaut. Only ten months later, Mr. Prentice is gone, the NDP have a majority government, the Wildrose rebounded into official opposition and Alberta has been thrown into a new political reality.
It is anyone’s guess what comes next after today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills.
Unofficial results from today’s by-election will appear on the Elections Alberta website after 8:00 p.m.
Taking place in the backdrop of a federal election, the September 3 provincial by-election in the Calgary-Foothills constituency could have a profound impact on the federal election in Alberta.
A win by the NDP would almost certainly boost momentum for the federal NDP in Alberta, a win by the Wildrose would solidify that party’s dominance over the third-place Progressive Conservatives, and a win by the PCs would be that party’s first sign of a pulse since its defeat in the May 2015 election.
This is the third time voters in this constituency have gone to the polls to select a new MLA since October 2014, when PC leader Jim Prentice entered the Legislature. When it became clear the PC Party has lost the election on May 5, Mr. Prentice resigned as MLA before the votes were even finished being counted.
New Democratic Party: Premier Rachel Notley was the guest of honour at NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth campaign launch this weekend. Mr. Hawkesworth is a well-known figure in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010 and as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993. He received a surprise endorsement last week from Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart, who is a former PC Party candidate.
Agreeing with calls from opposition parties, the NDP government committed to not making any government announcements in Calgary until after the by-election. This follows criticism levelled at the former PC government, which used its office for political gain to boost support for candidates in four 2014 by-elections.
Progressive Conservative: The PCs have chosen past city council candidate and bar owner Blair Houston as their candidate. Before the 2015 provincial election, Mr. Houston ran for the PC nomination in Calgary-North West against incumbent MLA Sandra Jansen.
Wildrose: The Wildrose Party nominated Prasad Panda as their candidate in a three-way contest with more than 700 Wildrose members voting in the nomination selection. Mr. Panda was the 2012 and 2015 Wildrose candidate in the neighbouring Calgary-Northern Hills constituency.
Alberta Party: Mark Taylor has been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate. Mr. Taylor was President of the Wildrose Party’s Highwood association from 2012 until 2013 (at the time, the constituency was represented by Wildrose leader Danielle Smith). His campaign released an interview with a local business owner criticizing the NDP government’s 3-year phased increases of the minimum wage.
Liberal: Candidate Ali Bin Zahid issued a press release urging the NDP government to delay their promised royalty review, which is being chaired by Alberta Treasury Branches CEO and President Dave Mowatt. “The last thing the people of Foothills want at this moment is another career politician who will contribute to the NDP’s stubborn determination to do this review now,” said Mr. Zahid.
Green: Green Party leader Janet Keeping criticized the NDP for a lack of basic amenities in the Calgary-Foothills constituency and for an end to the political polarization in the debate about oilsands development. “Sustainability is about more than the physical environment. It is also about maintaining a healthy employment climate. The rate of oilsands development should be reduced decisively but gradually,” said Ms. Keeping.
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.
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.
Originally scheduled for August 15, the Wildrose has moved up their nomination vote to August 11, 2015 (John Huang,Kathy Macdonald, and Prasad Panda are contesting the nomination).
The by-election could also be an important test for the Alberta Party, whose leaderGreg Clarkwas 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.
The Progressive Conservatives held their first “Super Saturday” on Feb. 21, 2015, during which contested nominations were held in seven constituencies. The handful of contested PC nominations have been overshadowed by the nearly forty acclamations by incumbent PC MLAs across the province.
The Liberal Party, still without a permanent leader after Raj Sherman‘s abrupt resignation in Jan. 2015, has opened candidate nominations in all 87 constituencies and have made notice on their website that all Liberal nominations must be complete by March 1, 2015. If the Liberals are actually able to nominate candidates in all 87 constituencies in the next seven days, it will be a busy week on this blog.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake: Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland defeated former Wildrose nomination candidate Dixie Dahlstedt in the PC nomination. Some local party members complained about the lack of multiple voting locations in the rural constituency and the police were called to the voting station after an allegedly intoxicated man caused a disturbance. A Municipal District of Bonnyville councillor told the Cold Lake Sun that alleged he was the man removed by the RCMP and he was not intoxicated. Current PC MLA Genia Leskiw is not seeking re-election.
Calgary-Buffalo: Lawyer David Khan will seek the Liberal nomination in this downtown Calgary constituency. Buffalo is currently represented by Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Centre, and has elected Liberals in six of the eight elections held since 1986. Mr. Khan was his party’s candidate in the 2014 Calgary-West by-election where he earned 8.5% of the vote.
Calgary-Bow: David Gamble is seeking the Liberal nomination. According to his Facebook Page, Mr. Gamble is the President and CEO of Dandly Writing and Communications.
Calgary-Cross: Seven candidates are seeking the PC nomination in this northeast Calgary constituency – Dan Singh Sidhu, Mohamed El-Rafih, Jesse Minhas, Manjit Jaswal, Hardeep Rai, Hirde Paul, and Bill Kahlon. The constituency has been represented by PC MLA Yvonne Fritz since 1993. She is not seeking re-election.
Calgary-Currie: Pat Murray is seeking the Liberal nomination. Mr. Murray was the Liberal Party candidate in Calary-Currie in the 2001 election and Calgary-North Hill in 2004 and 2008 elections. He also ran as a federal PC candidate in Calgary-Nose Hill in the 1997 federal election.
Calgary-Foothills: Electrical engineer Ali Bin Zahid is seeking the Liberal nomination to run against Premier Jim Prentice in the next election.
Calgary-Glenmore: David Waddington is the nominated Liberal Party candidate.
Calgary-Hawkwood: Beth Barberee has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Calgary-McCall: Realtor Avinash Khangura is seeking the Liberal nomination. The constituency is currently represented by Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is now the federal Liberal candidate in the Calgary-Skyview constituency.
Calgary-Mountain View: Former MLA Mark Hlady defeated Mr. Prentice’s former Chief of Staff Jean-Sebastien Rioux and Lynn Moen in the PC nomination. Mr. Hlady was the MLA from 1993 until 2004, when he was unseated by the current Liberal MLA, David Swann.
Calgary-North West: First-term PC MLA and former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen defeated past city council candidate Blair Houston in the PC nomination.
Calgary-Varsity: Stephanie McLean was nominated as the NDP candidate in this northwest Calgary constituency. Ms. McLean was the NDP candidate in the recent Calgary-Elbow by-election and is also her party’s federally nominated candidate in Calgary-Confederation. Paramedic Pete Helfrich is the nominated Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Helfrich ran for the Liberals in Banff-Cochrane in the 2012 election.
Chestermere-Rockyview: Jamie Lall is challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Bruce McAllister for the PC nomination. Mr. Lall was his party’s 2012 candidate in the Calgary-Buffalo constituency.
Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview: First-term NDP MLA Deron Bilous has been acclaimed as his party’s candidate in the next election.
Edmonton-Calder: Ministerial Chief of Staff Tom Bradley has been acclaimed as the PC candidate in this northeast Edmonton constituency current represented by NDP MLA David Eggen. Mr. Bradley is currently the Chief of Staff to Infrastructure Minister Manmeet Bhullar and also served as Base Commander for CFB Edmonton from 2009 to 2011 and Chief of Operations for Task Force Kandahar in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008.
Edmonton-Meadowlark: Steve Benson is challenging former Globe & Mail reporter Katherine O’Neill for the PC nomination. Former Catholic School District Trustee Debbie Cavaliere is said to been collecting signatures to contest the Liberal nomination. In 2008, Ms. Cavaliere challenged Raj Sherman in the Meadowlark PC nomination contest before withdrawing, switching parties and unsuccessfully running against him in that year’s election as the Liberal candidate. Dr. Sherman, who joined the Liberals in 2011 after becoming leader, is not seeking re-election.
Edmonton-Strathcona: NDP leader Rachel Notley has been acclaimed as her party’s candidate in the next election. Former NDP MP Olivia Chow is scheduled to speak at Ms. Notley’s nomination meeting on March 1, 2015.
Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo: Tracy McKinnon, chairperson of the Fort McMurray Catholic School District, is challenging first-term PC MLA Mike Allen for that party’s nomination. Mr. Allen achieved national notoriety in 2013 when he was charged in a prostitution sting while on government-funded trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He pleaded guilty to the charge in December 2013 and paid a $500 fine and court costs. Following the incident, he sat as an Independent MLA until July 2014, when PC MLAs voted to allow him to rejoin the Government Caucus.
Medicine Hat: Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Blake Pedersen defeated former city councillor John Hamill and realtor Jeff Lanigan. Mr. Pedersen faced harsh criticism form his opponents in a recent nomination debate. “I will die on my sword before I cross the floor… people who cross the floor have no honour,” Mr. Hamill said of Mr. Pedersen.
Peace River: Debbie Jabbour is seeking the NDP nomination.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Tammy Cote defeated former Lacombe County Reeve Terry Engan in the PC nomination contest. Ms. Cote is the grand-niece of former PC MLA and lieutenant-governor Helen Hunley.
Spruce Grove-St. Albert: Rus Matichuk defeated former St. Albert city councillor Neil Kortash and government spokesperson Kathleen Range to become the PC candidate. The constituency was formerly represented by former Finance Minister Doug Horner, who resigned as MLA on Jan. 31, 2015.
Seven more PC MLAs have been acclaimed, bringing the total number of acclaimed PC candidates to 39: Moe Amery in Calgary-East, Dave Rodney in Calgary-Lougheed, David Dorward in Edmonton-Gold Bar, Steve Young in Edmonton-Riverview, Jacquie Fenske in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Greg Weadick in Lethbridge-West and Richard Starke in Vermilion-Lloydminster.
I have added these updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next general election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list. Thank you.