There are four days left until Election Day in Alberta.
Readers of the Daveberta will know I’ve been watching this Alberta election pretty closely and, while I’ve actually been watching all 87 ridings throughout the campaign, there are a few handfuls I’ve been keeping a close eye on.
Some of them will be close races and some will be won with landslides.
Here’s my list of 19 ridings I’ll be watching closely on Election Day.
There’s not much of anything that is constant in Alberta politics these days, maybe except for the Calgary Stampede.
At least in some non-pandemic years, it’s the Northern Star of Alberta politics. It’s the must attend event for political aspirants of all stripes, from Prime Ministers to aspiring future Premiers.
The Stampede is back in full force this year, with last year’s disastrous “Best Summer Ever” disaster unfortunately an almost distant memory, even though its a big reason why we are where we are today in Alberta politics.
And for anyone watching the Stampede, even this writer from his perch in Edmonton, the race to replace Jason Kenney as Premier and leader of the United Conservative Party was on display as urbanites of all stripes dusted off their cowboys hats and plaid shirts for the week of pancake breakfasts and beer tents.
The big talk of the town this week is Danielle Smith’s unexpectedly strong comeback in the UCP leadership race.
Most political watchers will remember her downfall after a treacherous floor-crossing nearly destroyed the Wildrose Party and helped created the conditions for Rachel Notley to lead her NDP to sweep the province in 2015. (Real political nerds will remember her time on the disastrous Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999, but that’s for another column).
But what we politicos may have missed is that a lot of Albertans, including the thousands who have signed up to support her and are showing up to her campaign events in droves, remember her from her more recent role as the host of a popular talk radio show.
Smith has always been a talented political communicator, despite some high-profile flameouts.
She knows how to talk to conservatives, and it just happens there are a lot of those in Alberta.
It’s not clear how many UCP MLAs support her separatist-leaning “Alberta First” campaign or her dipping into COVID conspiracy theories, but she has nabbed at least one endorsement from the governing caucus – Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.
Smith hasn’t held a seat in the Legislature sine 2015 but she’s challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. And recently she said she would reopen nomination contests some party activists believe were unfairly stacked in favour of Kenney loyalists, a move that is unlikely to endear her to most current UCP MLAs.
Her comeback would be the political story of the year, and while Premier Danielle Smith is far from a sure thing, she is certainly driving the narrative of the UCP leadership campaign. She’s tapped into a motivated group of Alberta conservatives unhappy with the status-quo.
Those are probably the people Kenney referred to as “lunatics.”
And they might just be the mainstream of the UCP right now.
Even the perceived frontrunner is responding to Smith.
Establishment favourite Travis Toews followed Smith’s lead with a milquetoast “Enough is Enough” social media meme opposing COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s not clear what message he was trying to telegraph.
It was the kind of vague response you would expect from a frontrunner campaign, wanting to respond and not offend but failing at both.
Toews also released a list of autonomist policies that read like they were copied and pasted from 2020’s Fair Deal Panel report.
Smith and Toews aren’t alone.
Brian Jean is hitting the same notes, though he’s running a sleepier than expected campaign. Still, Fort McMurray’s Golden Boy shouldn’t be underestimated.
Independent MLA Todd Loewenis also hitting the same notes on separatist and anti-COVID health measures but his chances of winning appear much less likely than the others in this pack.
Smith’s extreme positions are probably leaving Rachel Notley’s NDP salivating at the opportunity to run against an extremist right-wing UCP that would leave a lot of Albertans alienated.
Two months ago, Notley’s victory in Alberta’s next election looked like a sure bet, but Kenney’s resignation announcement gave his party a bump in the polls and now it’s a race.
Notley and her MLAs have basically decamped to Calgary for the summer, showing up at every event and taking every chance to door knock with their growing slate of local candidates that includes former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow, energy analyst Samir Kayande in Calgary-Elbow, sustainable energy expert Nagwan Al-Guneid in Calgary-Glenmore. Canadian Forces veteran Marilyn North Peigan in Calgary-Klein, and physician Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity.
It’s probably the closest thing Calgary has seen to a Progressive Conservative slate since 2015 but the NDP still have a lot of hard work ahead of them to convince Calgarians to vote for them en masse in 2023.
But the UCP leadership candidate the NDP might fear the most so far hasn’t been playing the same cards as Smith, Toews, Jean and Loewen.
The first-term MLA from Calgary-Shaw and former children’s service minister had already nabbed an endorsement from Rona Ambrose but the former interim Conservative Party leader is now chairing her campaign.
Schulz and her husband were political staffers in Wall’s government before moving to Calgary seven years ago and her husband worked for McMillan as VP Communications of CAPP.
It’s hard to tell where her politics are. Schulz seems more moderate than the rest of the pack, which isn’t saying much, but how much more moderate is not clear.
Along with her political establishment connections, Schulz might become a pretty appealing candidate if there are enough UCP members left who don’t want to fight the next election on COVID conspiracy theories and Alberta separatism.
At the very least, there might actually be enough Saskatchewan expats alone living in Alberta to win a leadership race.
And I would be remise if I failed to mention the other candidates who are also busy yahooing their way through the Stampede.
Rajan Sawhney is running an outsiders campaign, leaning on her years of business experience. She is also a candidate to watch.
Edmonton public school board trustee Nathan Ip defeated business instructor Ben Acquaye, behavioral specialist Chand Gul, andmedical clinic executive director Ali Kamal to win the NDP nomination in Edmonton-South West.
“We are in dire need for new schools in the growing areas of Edmonton-South West,” said Ip. “Edmonton-South West is one of the fastest growing communities in Alberta with one of the youngest populations and they deserve a representative that will stand up for them.”
Ip was first elected to the school board in 2013 and currently serves as its vice-chair.
His candidacy was endorsed by former city councillor Michael Phair, former MLAs Bob Turner and Jim Gurnett, and former Alberta Party president Rhiannon Hoyle.
Edmonton-South West is the only riding in Edmonton city limits represented by a UCP MLA, current Labour Minister Kaycee Madu, who was removed from his position as Justice Minister after it became public that he personally phoned Edmonton’s police chief after getting a distracted driving ticket.
Madu faces a nomination challenge from Slava Cravcenco at a June 29 candidate selection meeting.
Sylvan Lake town councillor challenges Dreeshen for UCP nomination
Sylvan Lake town councillor Kjeryn Dakin is challenging MLA Devin Dreeshen for the UCP nomination in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.
Dakin is owner of the Bukwildz restaurant in Sylvan Lake and was first elected to town council in 2021.
Dreeshen was first elected in a 2018 by-election and served as Minister of Agriculture & Forestry from 2019 until 2021 when he resigned after a lawsuit by a former political staffer alleged a culture of sexual harassment, defamation, and drinking at the Legislature.
He is son of Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen, who has represented the Red Deer-Mountain View riding since 2008.
The younger Dreeshan was re-elected in 2019 with 74.5 per cent of the vote.
City lawyer wins NDP nomination in Red Deer-South
City solicitor Michelle Baer defeated former MLA Barb Miller and labour council president Kyle Johnston to win the NDP nomination in Red Deer-South.
“Red Deer is the third largest city in the province, yet is often stuck between being considered a ‘big city’ or a rural area,” Baer said. “Red Deer deserves a strong voice in government to represent the distinctive issues this area faces. I’m excited for the chance to do the hard work Red Deer needs and deserves.”
Red Deer-South is currently represented by UCP MLA Jason Stephan, a vocal critic of outgoing Premier Jason Kenney, who was first elected in 2019 with 60.3 per cent of the vote.
Dang was first elected in 2015 in Edmonton-South West and ran for re-election when the electoral boundaries changed as Edmonton-South was created.
On the doors
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, NDP leader Rachel Notley was spotted at events with Calgary-Bow candidate Druh Farrell, Calgary-Glenmore candidate Nagwan Al-Guneid, and Calgary-North East candidate Gurinder Brar this past weekend. Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan was also spotted on the doors with Al-Guneid.
Sherwood Park UCP MLA Jordan Walker was on the doors with UCP nomination candidate Sayid Ahmed in Edmonton-Decore last weekend. The UCP have opened nominations in the north Edmonton riding.
There is no excuse for staff treating volunteers poorly, but in every party there is almost always some level of tension between the central party and local constituency associations when it comes to candidate recruitment and nominations.
Constituency associations will have their local favorites, including long-time volunteers, while the central party will be trying to build a province-wide slate of candidates who could potentially become cabinet ministers and ridings in which to place those high-profile candidates.
When there is a lot of interest in nominations, like there is now with the NDP, tension and conflicting plans of the local and provincial efforts can sometimes flare.
The NDP need to deal with this issue quickly and decisively or risk it dogging them into the upcoming election.
The other parties
Wildrose Independence Party leader Paul Hinman has been touring the province, recently making stops at party events in Drumheller, Morningside, Drayton Valley, Leduc, Springbrook, Red Deer and Calgary.
The Green Party has formally opened applications for candidates for the next election. Green Party leader Jordan Wilkie has already announced his plans to run as a candidate in Banff-Kananaskis . Party holding an election readiness town hall on July 17 in Edmonton.
Lawyer Katherine Kowalchuk is running for the leadership of the separatist Independence Party of Alberta. Kowalchuk was briefly nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Signal Hill ahead of the 2015 federal election.
NDP MLA Jon Carson announced today that he will not be seeking re-election in Edmonton-West Henday in the next election.
“Serving the people of Edmonton-West Henday has no doubt been the privilege of a lifetime,” Carson said in a statement posted on social media. “From our small campaign team huddled around the kitchen table in 2015 to the 2019 that was too close to call on election night… I know that our success was never my own, but always because of our strong team dedicated to creating a better future for Alberta families.”
Carson has represented west Edmonton since 2015 when he was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.
An Electrician by trade, he was one of 9 NDP MLAs under 30 years old elected in Notley Wave of 2015.
Carson was re-elected in 2019 in the newly redrawn Edmonton-West Henday riding in what was the closest race in Edmonton of that election. He finished 518 votes ahead of United Conservative Party candidate Nicole Williams, a former lobbyist who has spent the past 3 years as Chief of Staff to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
Carson is the second NDP MLA to announce they are not running for re-election. Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehanannounced last month that he would not seek re-election.
The area, which includes parts of the former Edmonton-Calder and Edmonton-Meadowlark ridings, has swung between the NDP, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives over the past 40 years. Notable former MLAs include Liberals Grant Mitchell, Karen Leibovici, Progressive Conservative turned Liberal Raj Sherman, and NDP MLA David Eggen (who now represents Edmonton-North West).
Druh Farrell nominated in Calgary-Bow
Druh Farrell has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Bow. Farrell served on city council for 20 years before retiring from municipal politics last October.
She was a leading progressive voice in Calgary’s municipal debates during her time as Councillor, making her a frequent target of right-wing commentators and political action committees.
Farrell’s nomination has caused some tension with some local NDP organizers, including former president Krista Li, who have complained the party was too heavy handed in allowing the former city councilor to run.
The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA and Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, who was elected in 2019 with 55 per cent of the vote, unseating NDP MLA Deborah Drever, who placed second with 34 per cent.
There’s an NDP race in Central Peace-Notley
There appears to be a contested NDP nomination in the northern rural Central Peace-Notley riding. Megan Ciurysek, a Research Officer at Northern Alberta Development Council, is challenging Fairview resident and Enviro Projects owner Lynn Lekisch.
The riding is currently represented by Independent MLA Todd Loewen, who was kicked out of the UCP Caucus for calling on Premier Jason Kenney to resign. He was elected in 2019 with 75 per cent of the vote.
The riding is not named after Rachel Notley, but after her father. Grant Notley represented Spirit River-Fairview, covering much of the region, in the Alberta Legislature from 1971 to 1984.
It is fairly quiet on the UCP nomination front, with the party largely focused on Kenney’s leadership review. There are a few updates though:
Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith is busy campaigning for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, including a recent meeting with the Citizens Supportive of Crowsnest Coal group. Smith is challenging first-term UCP MLA Roger Reid.
In his first piece for CBC, Jason Markusoff breakdowns which ridings current UCP members live in. Unsurprisingly, the three ridings with the most members eligible to vote in the leadership review are Cardston-Siksika and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, where nomination challengers Jodie Gateman and Tim Hoven were disqualified, and Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, where former Wildrose leader Brian Jean just won a by-election. All three are actively campaigning against Kenney in the review.
But while the next election is scheduled to take place in May 2023, there is increasing speculation that Kenney could call an early summer or fall 2022 election if he wins the leadership review in order to clear out his growing chorus of opponents in the UCP Caucus.
The second-term MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford was first elected in 2015 and served as the NDP’s Minister of Indigenous Relations from 2016 to 2019.
Before his election, Feehan worked as a social worker, social work instructor at the University of Calgary, Vice President of Catholic Social Services, and Program Director of the Edmonton Social Planning Council.
Feehan was re-elected in 2019 with 54.8 per cent of the vote, ahead of UCP candidate Hannah Presakarchuk, who finished second with 34.7
Calgary-Glenmore: Sustainable energy development expert Nagwan Al-Guneid and communications professional Jennifer Burgess are seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for May 10, 2022.
Calgary-North: Moses Mariam is seeking the NDP nomination. Mariam is a Member Administrator at Calgary’s CommunityWise Resource Centre.
Central Peace-Notley: Fairview resident Lynn Lekisch is seeking the NDP nomination in Central Peace-Notley. She is the owner of Enviro Projects and has previously worked as an environmental project manager for various energy companies.
Part of the riding was represented by NDP MLA Marg McCuaig-Boyd from 2015 until she was defeated by UCP MLA Todd Loewen after the riding was redistributed in the 2019 election. Loewen was ejected from the UCP Caucus in May 2021 after calling for Premier Jason Kenney to resign.
Leduc-Beaumont: Paramedic Cam Heenan was nominated as the NDP candidate in Leduc-Beaumont. Heenan defeated Registered Nurse Chantelle Hosseiny to win the nomination.
“I became a paramedic because I wanted to help people. I want to see a better future for our province, and that’s what led me to wanting to join Rachel Notley’s team,” Hennan said. “I know that with her leadership, Alberta’s NDP can expand our public healthcare, invest in education, and ensure all Alberta families can afford their bills at the end of the month.”
The riding has been represented by UCP MLA Brad Rutherford since 2019 and was held by NDP MLA Shaye Anderson from 2015 to 2019.
Morinville-St. Albert: Former Sturgeon County Councillor Karen Shaw and teacher James Grondin will face off for the NDP nomination at a meeting scheduled on April 30.The riding is currently represented by UCP MLA Dale Nally, who serves as Associate Minister of Natural Gas.
Sherwood Park:Kyle Kasawski is the second candidate to enter the NDP nomination in Sherwood Park, a suburban hamlet of 71,000 people located directly east of Edmonton.
Kasawski is President of Solar People, a solar energy company, and previously worked as a Client Development Director with Alberta Municipalities and as an Instructor in the NAIT Alternative Energy Technology Program where he taught Advanced Energy System Design and Energy Economics.
“I want to help create an Alberta with an amazing, affordable, high quality of life – where our kids go to excellent public schools, access to healthcare is dependable, and we have a few bucks left over at the end of each month after paying all of the bills,” Kasawski said when reached for comment. “I want this to be a place for people to live and thrive.”
Edmonton-Mill Woods: Christina Gray was nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods. Gray has represented the riding since 2015 and served as Minister of Labour from 2016 to 2019.
Edmonton-North West: MLA David Eggen has announced his plans to run for re-election. Eggen was first elected in 2004 and served as MLA for Edmonton-Calder from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2019 before being re-elected in the redrawn Edmonton-North West riding in 2019. He served as Minister of Education from 2015 to 2019. A nomination meeting is scheduled for May 18, 2022.
The UCP has opened up nominations in a handful of ridings. Nominations are now open in Calgary-Cross, Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-Peigan, Sherwood Park and Spruce Grove-Stony Plain. Unsurprisingly, these ridings are all represented by MLAs who would be described as Kenney-loyalists.
While most of the UCP MLAs representing these ridings are expected to seek re-election, only Calgary-Cross’ Mickey Amery, Sherwood Park’s Walker and Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton have confirmed their intentions.
Turton was first elected to the Legislature in 2019 after serving three-terms on Spruce Grove City Council. He currently serves as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Labour and Immigration’s liaison to private sector unions, and he is the chairperson of the UCP’s Capital Region Caucus.
Meanwhile, newly elected UCP MLA, Kenney critic and leadership aspirant Brian Jean says he would reopen the UCP nomination in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre to allow disqualified candidate Tim Hoven to challenge cabinet minister Jason Nixon.
Nixon, Kenney’s chief lieutenant, was acclaimed for the UCP nomination after Hoven was disqualified by the party. Many political observers believe that Hoven was mounting a very strong challenge to Nixon in the nomination.
NDP fixated on Calgary
The NDP have been spending a lot of time in Calgary.
Rachel Notley and a group of MLAs and candidates were on hand for a nomination rally for Rosman Valencia in Calgary-East. The NDP believe significant gains in east and northeast Calgary are critical to their path to winning the next election.
NDP MLAs were also spotted door knocking in Canmore and Banff with Banff-Kananaskis candidate Sarah Elmeligi. I’m told Elmeligi was joined on the doors by Notley and MLAs Joe Ceci, Sarah Hoffman, Janis Irwin, Marlin Schmidt, Irfan Sabir and Shannon Phillips. Notley and Irwin also posted a photo on social media with Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno.
The NDP have attracted a big name to run against United Conservative Party Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides. Former City Councillor Druh Farrell announced on social media today that she plans to seek the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Bow.
“As a born and raised Albertan I can no longer stand by as the government attacks our education and healthcare systems, makes everyday life more expensive, and proposes devastating changes to our wild places,” Farrell said in her online announcement.
Farrell served on city council for 20 years before retiring from municipal politics last October. She was a leading progressive voice in Calgary’s municipal debates during her time as Councillor, making her a frequent target of right-wing commentators and political action committees.
Nicolaides was elected in 2019 with 55 per cent of the vote, unseating NDP MLA Deborah Drever, who placed second with 34 per cent.
Other nomination updates:
Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz is running for re-election in Calgary-Shaw. The UCP nomination meeting is scheduled for March 21. Shultz was first elected in 2019 with 65 per cent of the vote.
Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda running for re-election in Calgary-Edgemont. The UCP nomination meeting is scheduled for March 24. He was first elected in a 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills to replace former Premier Jim Prentice, and was re-elected in the new riding in 2019 with 52 per cent. If nominated he will face a re-match with NDP candidate Julia Hayter.
Gurinder Brar has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-North East.
Richard Bruneau third candidate to enter NDP nomination contest in Camrose. Bruneau is a bookstore owner, farmer and former Canadian diplomat who served in Afghanistan, Jordan and Palestine.
The Green Party will not be running a candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election. Party leader Jordan Wilkie told the Cross Border Interveiws Podcast that the Greens will be sitting this one out.
It certainly feels like Alberta’s political parties have shifted into campaign mode, despite the next election expected to be a year away.
NDP leader Rachel Notley was joined by an army of MLAs and volunteers for a day-long canvass in the Strathcona-Sherwood Park riding east of Edmonton. MLAs David Eggen and Lorne Dach were spotted with volunteers canvassing door to door in Edmonton-South West, and MLA Richard Feehan was door-knocking with volunteers in Calgary-Foothills and with candidate Janet Eremenko in Calgary-Currie this week. Up north, MLA Rakhi Pancholi spent most of the week campaigning alongside NDP candidate Ariana Mancini in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.
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.
A video leaked to Global Calgary showing a large group of prominent wealthy developers plotting to stack Calgary City Council with sympathetic candidates is making waves in Alberta’s largest city. The video shows developer Cal Wenzel presenting a plan to defeat certain members of City Council who he perceives to be anti-urban sprawl – including Aldermen Druh Farrell and Richard Pootmans.
Unable to defeat popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi, this ‘Sprawl Cabal’ of wealthy developers are aiming to win over a majority of seats on City Council, which could give them the power to block any moves by Mayor Nenshi that they perceive to be against urban sprawl.
Because of municipal campaign finance laws limiting individual and corporate donations to a maximum $5,000, the presence of a special interest group like the Manning Centre in Calgary’s election appears to have given these wealthy developers a place to pour their money.
That this type of conversation happened is not a surprise. That is was recorded and leaked to the media is very surprising. The Sprawl Cabal was caught red-handed.
As former U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney learned last year when a leaked video showed him dismissing 47% of American voters, this group of developers have learned that even in the most secure locations, Little Brother is watching (I bet you never noticed that iPhone in his pocket).