Photo: Liberal candidate Brian Gold and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a campaign event in Spruce Grove on October 20, 2017. (Source: Twitter)
Overshadowed by this past Monday’s municipal elections, the federal by-election in Sturgeon River-Parkland scheduled for October 23, 2017 could be described as the forgotten by-election. I drove through Sturgeon County and the town of Morinville this week and spotted only a few Conservative, Liberal and Christian Heritage party signs scattered on the sides of the highways alongside the soon-to-be collected municipal election signs.
It was easy to forget that the by-election was evening happening.
Along with the municipal election, the lack of general interest in the by-election could also be a result of its widely predicted outcome – a landslide victory by Conservative Dane Lloyd.
The district re-elected Conservative MP Rona Ambrose with 70 percent of the vote in 2015. And even though Ambrose’s handpicked successor, Jamie Mozeson, was surprisingly defeated in the party’s nomination race, the outcome will likely be similar, albeit with a much lower voter turnout. This is a reliably Conservative voting area of Alberta and any candidate running under that party’s banner can expect to be easily elected.
His party’s prospects aside, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to the district on October 20, 2017 to campaign alongside Liberal Party candidate Brian Gold.
At a campaign event in a pizza parlour in Spruce Grove, the district’s largest community, Trudeau told supporters: “I know you’re going to be talking to families and you can talk to them about the fact that the first thing we did was lower taxes for the middle class and raise them for the wealthiest one per cent. You can talk about the fact, as (Gold) said, we approved pipelines that the previous government couldn’t get done.”
Trudeau deserves credit for the visit. The Liberal leader appears to have personally campaigned alongside his party’s candidates in every by-election since becoming leader, including in past by-elections in Calgary, Foothills, Fort McMurray, and Yellowhead.
It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.
Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.
Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”
A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!” Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.
Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.
Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.
CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.
As of this afternoon, the Speaker's office in the #ableg had not received notice that @Dfildebrandt was suspended from the #WRP .
Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.
The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.
Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley said “with respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”
A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.
With the race for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill in less than 10 days, the Rob Anders campaign has broadcast a new robocall praising the incumbent MP for decreasing the federal Goods and Services Tax.
The message also includes an attack on his opponent Ron Liepert for musing about introducing a Provincial Sales Tax while he was Alberta’s Finance minister.
The robocall coincides with the launch of a new attack website – ronlieperttruth.com – which accuses Mr. Liepert of being “a tax-and-spend liberal.”
Personal attacks and threats of lawsuits have turned the race to become the Conservative candidate in the next election into a race into a race to the bottom. It appears that no matter who wins the nomination on April 12, the voters of Calgary-Signal Hill will still lose.
The National Rifle Association‘s Canadian cousins hope to drag down John Barlow, a candidate for the Macleod Conservative Party of Canada by-election nomination who they claim supports the RCMP seizure of firearms from abandoned houses during last year’s High River flood. The organization calls the gun seizure the “largest breech (sic) of Canadian civil rights in Canadian history.”
A reasonable person might believe that collecting abandoned weapons in an disaster zone is a sensible idea for any police force wanting to avoid potentially dangerous confrontation with emotionally distressed citizens. But the gun lobby is not convinced and has encouraged its supporters to vote for other candidates in the Conservative nomination race. “We need concerned citizens in the Macleod riding to support either Philip Rowland or Melissa Mathieson,” the NFA said in another message posted on its Facebook page.
It may not be a mere coincidence that these attacks have occurred just as Mr. Barlow’s opponent, Ms. Mathieson, received the endorsement of Shawn Bevins, the Vice President of the National Firearms Association and Todd Brown, the co-founder of the Concerned Gun Owners of Alberta group.
The other candidates for the Conservative nomination in Macleod have released mixed reactions to the attacks. Scott Wagner issued a statement criticizing Mr. Barlow and calling for a judicial inquiry into the RCMP actions and Rick Wiljamma appears to have not responded to the attacks on his opponent through social media.
This is not the first time this issue has been raised by politcians. Wildrose Party leader and local Highwood MLA Danielle Smith was raked over the coals last year for criticizing the RCMP in a fundraising letter to supporters.
February 10 is the deadline for Macleod residents to purchase Conservative Party memberships in order to vote in the nomination contest. The date of the by-election has not been set.
Fort McMurray-Athabasca By-Election update
Fort McMurray Today published a list of potential candidates who could run in the imminent by-election in the northern Alberta riding. Potentially seeking the Conservative nomination are former Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier, political staffer Laila Goodridge, and municipal councillor Phil Meagher. The Liberals have attracted a surprisingly large crowd of potential nominees, including Chris Flett, Kyle Harrietha,Joanne Roberts, Colleen Tatum, andRon Quintal
Before today’s announcement, the provincial New Democrats, Wildrose and Liberals had been itching for an opportunity challenge the Redford Tories in a by-election in the working-class north Edmonton constituency. While Ms. Sarich was elected with healthy margins in the past two election, Edmonton-Decore had previously been represented by Liberal and NDP MLAs since the mid-1980s.
Two other PC MLAs could also make the jump into federal politics in the next election. Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber is seeking the Conservative nomination in Calgary Confederation, and Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao is expected to announce his intentions in Edmonton-West in the coming weeks.
Here is Ms. Sarich’s statement:
After a thorough exploration I have decided not to pursue a nomination for the federal Conservative Party of Canada.
I have been asked about the possibility on many occasions lately, and I want to try to address the questions by giving a sense of why I came to this conclusion.
I had been encouraged by many people to contest the nomination for Edmonton Griesbach riding, and in many ways it would have been a logical move and an interesting new challenge, given my work as an elected representative at the local and provincial levels since 2001.
I took the possibility seriously, and explored it very carefully. In the end, the constituent’s of Edmonton-Decore have been very good to me, and we have built a strong connection over the years.
The factor that made the biggest difference was that the issues and concerns that mean the most to me are at the provincial level. It is not that federal issues are not important – foreign policy, defence, and international trade are of course very important. But to me, issues related to education, health care and human services are simply much closer to my heart, and I think they are more crucial to the people I represent as well.
I have consistently focused on trying to support the development of healthy and well-educated families in strong and safe communities.
After much thought, it is quite clear to me that I have far more opportunity to do so at the provincial level.
I have genuinely appreciated all of the offers of support to pursue the federal nomination, and I want to thank all of those who offered encouragement and assistance. I hope this explanation will clarify my decision, and I want to encourage others to pursue the federal nomination in order to address the important issues at the national level.
Pundits from across the country are waxing and waning over comments made by rock n’ roll icon Neil Young about Canada’s oil sands. Mr. Young’s inarticulate criticisms of the oil sands (and comparing Fort McMurray to Hiroshima) have not helped the discussion around the impact of natural resource development in Canada, but he does deserve some credit for raising awareness about high cancer rates in the northern community of Fort Chipewyan.
Oil is a dirty business. And when it spills it can make a big mess. But natural resources drive our economy and the jobs of most people living in Alberta depend on the natural resource sector, either directly or indirectly. How do we reconcile this?
With plans for increased oil sands development and federal and provincial governments focused on promoting pipeline export, a federal by-election to be called within the next six months could increase national attention on the region.
By-election within six months
Fort McMurray-Athabasca Member of Parliament Brian Jeanannounced last week that he will resign from parliament on January 17. After ten years as MP for the region and as a quiet government backbencher in Ottawa, it is easy to understand why Mr. Jean decided it was time to move on.
The departure is expected to draw a crowd for the Conservative Party candidate nomination. While the Tories have dominated in previous elections – winning 73% of the vote in the 2011 federal election – some local political watchers are expecting a strong fight from the Liberals.
Could Justin Trudeau-mania put the Liberals in a position to make gains in northern Alberta’s energy capital?
Top Fort Mac Tory has “crossed the floor” to the Liberals
A prominent Fort McMurray Conservative announced last week that he was switching allegiances to the federal Liberal Party.
In a note on his Facebook page, Jeffery Cromwell, president of the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Progressive Conservatives announced that he has left the Conservative Party of Canada and joined the Liberals. Until recently, Mr. Cromwell was a board member of the local federal Conservative electoral district association.
Four candidates have stepped forward to duel for the yet to be scheduled Conservative Party nomination in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding following the resignation of Member of Parliament Ted Menzies. A by-election is expected to be held in the eastern slopes of Alberta’s cowboy country the next six months.
Fourth generation rancher and farmer Phil Rowland is also contesting the nomination. Mr. Rowland is the past president of the Western Stock Growers Association and serves on numerous provincial and agriculture boards. He also served as a board member for the Highwood PC Association during George Groeneveld‘s time as MLA.
Former Parliament Hill staffer Melissa Mathieson has also entered the race. She currently works as a research associate for the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and, according to her LinkedIn profile, she graduated from the U of C in 2011 with a bachelor of political science and has since worked as an intern and staffer for Mr. Menzies and in the Office of the Prime Minister in Ottawa.
Businessman Scott Wagner has been campaigning door-to-door since Mr. Menzies announced months ago that he would not seek re-election.
Update: Rick Wiljamma is also seeking the Conservative nomination in Macleod.
No candidates have stepped forward to become candidates for other political parties.
Last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election exposed significant splits in the conservative movement in Alberta. With some moderate conservatives believing Conservative nominee Joan Crockatt was too closely associated with the Wildrose Party, many formerly reliable Conservative voters choose to park their votes with Liberal Party candidate Harvey Locke.
A similar split is difficult to imagine in Macleod, but not impossible.
Voters in this region of Alberta last elected a non-conservative Member of Parliament in 1968, when Trudeaumania swept Liberal Allen Sulatycky into office as the MP for sprawling Rocky Mountain riding (the election was contested by two PC candidates, who, not unexpectedly, split the vote). Mr. Sulatycky served as a parliamentary assistant for four years until he was defeated in the 1972 election by future Prime Minister Joe Clark.
Voters in this riding have since reliably elected PC, Reform, Canadian Alliance, and Conservative MPs. Mr. Menzies earned 40,007 votes in the 2011 federal election, eclipsing his second-place New Democrat opponent, who earned 5,335 votes, and third place Green Party candidate, who earned 2,389 votes. The Liberal candidate placed a distant fourth with 1,898 votes.
But the riding’s history as a Conservative strong-hold over the past four decades does not mean Macleod voters do hold not grievances or should be taken for granted.
Some areas of the riding, especially High River, suffered significant damage caused by this year’s floods and some residents have accused the RCMP of overstepping their bounds by removing privately-owned firearms from residences that had been evacuated during the flood.
The federal riding also overlaps provincial constituencies represented by Wildrose MLAs Ms. Smith, Pat Stier, Ian Donovan, Jason Hale, Gary Bikman and PC MLA Ron Casey. All of these constituencies were hotly contested battle grounds in the 2012 provincial election when significant numbers of long-time PC voters shifted their support to the Wildrose Party.
Under almost every normal circumstance this by-election should be an easy win for the nominated Conservative candidate. But as previous by-elections have demonstrated, the hyper-local focus on issues in an isolated by-election can sometimes produce unexpected results.