After spending some much needed time relaxing in beautiful British Columbia, I returned to Alberta this week and noticed some of the political stories that occurred during my absence. Here are some of the top political stories from last week that caught my attention:
Political games in High River
Buckling under the pressure of constant opposition criticism, rookie Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffithslost his cool this week when responding to Wildrose leader Danielle Smith‘s latest salvo. Ms. Smith, the MLA for the High River area, has taken advantage of allegations that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police overstepped their authority by removing privately-owned firearms from private residences during the High River flood evacuation earlier this year. As masters of wedge-issue politics in Alberta, the Wildrose Party appears to be using every political tool they can to solidify Ms. Smith’s base in that area by wedging voters away from the Tories.
Alberta Party leadership race
Two candidates – Greg Clark and Troy Millington – have stepped forward to contest the Alberta Party leadership selection being held on September 21, 2013 in Red Deer. Although the party experienced a significant amount of growth before the 2012 provincial election, including gaining an MLA in former Calgary-Currie Liberal Dave Taylor, the party was unable to elect any candidates to the Assembly on Election Day. The contest is being held to replace former party leader Glenn Taylor, who stepped down shortly after last year’s election.
Sex and the suburbs…
Two-term Strathcona County Councillor Jason Gariepy made national headlines this week when he publicly announced that someone was trying to blackmail him with explicit photos and emails collected during an illicit online relationship. No stranger to controversy, Councillor Gariepy was the centre of attention in the 2010 election when he claimed an email critical of the provincial government was the reason county administrators removed his Blackberry and computer privileges. In 2011, Councillor Gariepy made an unsuccessful bid for the Wildrose Party nomination in Strathcona-Sherwood Park.
Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jon Lordannounced his plans to challenge mayor Naheed Nenshi in Calgary’s upcoming municipal elections. Mr. Lord, also a former Alderman, most recently challenged Joan Crockatt for the federal Conservative nomination in last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election. Unscientific polls show Mayor Nenshi holds 99.6% support among Calgarians.
Conventional wisdom would inform us that the Alberta Liberals should always do everything in their power to distance themselves from their federal cousins, who remain tainted in the province after a long-string of historical grievances and well-curated myths.
But has distancing the two parties helped either party?
Since the 1970s, the two parties have been officially independent with varying degrees of unofficial cooperation and confrontation. Both parties have achieved limited success in pockets of the province at certain points over past twenty years, but support for both parties has dwindled over the past decade. The Liberal presence shrunk to five MLAs in last year’s provincial election and the federal Liberals last successfully elected a candidate to Parliament from Alberta in the 2004 election .
Provincial Liberal support in Alberta: 2001 election: 276,854 votes, 2012 election: 127,645 votes.
Federal Liberal support in Alberta: 2000 election: 263,008 votes, 2011 election: 129,310 votes.
Sharing their limited resources, as the provincial and federal New Democratic Party do officially and the Wildrose Party and Conservative Party have done unofficially, could provide stability in membership, fundraising, and organization for the two Liberal Parties in Alberta. A merger could also cut costs on duplication of resources (the two parties currently operate separate offices located opposite each other on Edmonton’s 124th Street).
The two parties already share many members and candidates are frequently seen listed on the ballot under both party banners.
There are also no shortage of former Liberal MLAs who have tried to kickstart a career in Ottawa, though all of them unsuccessful. Liberal MLAs Ken Nicol and Debby Carlson ran as federal Liberals in the 2004 election and Sue Olsen and Frank Bruseker stood in the 2000 federal election. Former party leaders Grant Mitchell and Nick Taylorwere appointed to the Senate on the advice of federal Liberal Prime Ministers.
Perhaps the results were a fluke, but they give the federal Liberals a sign that many voters in Alberta’s urban centres are becoming more receptive to a moderate non-Conservative alternative in Ottawa.
While the Conservatives were able to win in this long-held riding, this was the first time in recent memory that candidates from non-conservative federal parties came even close to winning an election in Calgary.
Here are the official results as released by Elections Canada:
Joan Crockatt, CON – 10,191 (36.9%)
Harvey Locke, LIB – 9,033 (32.7%)
Chris Turner, GRN – 7,090 (25.7%)
Dan Meades, NDP – 1,064 (3.8%)
Antoni Grochowski, IND – 141 (0.5%)
Tony Prashad, LBTRN – 92 (0.4%)
Like many progressives, I watched the Calgary Centre by-election with great interest. Although I was hopeful that one of three outstanding candidates who represented the center/center-left side of the spectrum would win, Joan Crockett’s victory for the federal Conservatives was not surprising. Like Bill Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention describing how to balance budgets, “it’s math”.
Progressive candidates representing the Liberals, NDP, and Greens garnered 60% of the total cast vote. As a result of that 60% being split among three parties in our first past the post system, the provincial Wildrose supporter (Ms. Crockett) carried the day. The result was predictable in that vote splitting amongst the progressives ensured a conservative victory. It’s math!
While this result was predictable, was it necessary? I’m not too sure. Having followed the race and personally knowing and holding a great deal of respect for the three progressive candidates, it is my view that other than the political banner they ran under, there was little to no difference in their core beliefs. Put Harvey Locke, Chris Turner and Dan Meades in a room together and you’d see the value system that compelled them to run in this by-election is the same: they are fiscally responsible, socially progressive individuals with a deep concern for environmental sustainability. Having attended one of the debates, it appeared to me they were all singing from the same song sheet. Although they represented different political brands, it was a distinction without a difference.
As a provincial politician committed to many of the same progressive principles as the three above-noted candidates, what did I learn from this? Well, I think I’ve learned basic math. The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party. At this moment in time, and objectively looking at the provincial platforms of the progressive parties, we are for all intents and purposes also a distinction without a difference.
In the last election the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party agreed on policy 95% of the time. We should all be together in one big tent; there is less difference between all of our political parties than there is between the different wings of the PC government.
What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province. We tend to identify with our brands and not necessarily the values that we share. Let me be the first to say, I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions. We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.
Kent Hehr is the MLA for Calgary-Buffalo, Deputy Leader of Alberta Liberal Caucus and critic for Education and Energy. He was elected to the Legislature in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. Before entering politics, he practiced law with Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP in Calgary. You can follow him on Twitter at @kenthehr.
Conservative Joan Crockatt has narrowly defeated her opponents to win the federal by-election in Calgary-Centre. At 10:30pm with 241 of 263 polls reporting, Ms. Crockatt’s 9,479 (37%) votes placed her comfortably ahead of Liberal Harvey Locke‘s 8,181 (32%) and Green Chris Turner‘s 6,455 (25%).
Mr. Crockatt’s less than inspirational campaign and internal division within conservative ranks gave both the Greens and Liberals the belief that they might have a once in a generation opportunity to break the Tory Party’s forty-year hold on the city. A number of polls showing a close race, which turned out to be fairly accurate, also boosted the spirits of the two opposition parties.
The Conservatives did win this by-election, but Ms. Crockatt’s narrow margin of victory is noteworthy. In the 2011 election, former Conservative MP Lee Richardson was re-elected with more than 20,000 votes ahead of the second place Liberal challenger.
Both the Liberals and the Greens should be proud of their results tonight.
The Liberals mounted a strong traditional campaign and focused their national spotlight on the riding, including visits from a dozen Liberal MPs. Some Liberal Party supporters will blame vote-splitting for their defeat in the by-election, but comments from Ottawa MP David McGuinty and leadership candidate Justin Trudeau derailed their message during the final week of the campaign.
Mr. Turner’s campaign mounted the strongest challenge that the Green Party ever has in Alberta. The urban sustainability advocate’s unconventionally and energetic campaign attracted legions of supporters and volunteers, many whom had never been involved in federal politics before.
This by-election provides some interesting lessons for the moderate and progressive opposition parties looking to defeat the Tories in the next general election. First, not all parties opposed to the Conservatives stand for identical ideas or policies. Second, no opposition party is entitled to opposition votes. Votes must be earned. And third, not all opposition parties are equally appealing to Conservative voters looking for an alternative. As has been pointed out by some political pundits, the Green Party attracted large swaths of disenchanted Conservative voters in Calgary-Centre.
The Conservatives are still the dominant political force in Calgary, but this by-election sends a message that they can no longer take the entire city for granted. Signalled by the election of Naheed Nenshi as Mayor in 2010, a new base of moderate and progressive voters in the city’s urban core are not afraid of flexing their electoral muscle and are not reluctant to look at other options on the federal level.
Voters in Calgary-Centre will mark their ballots tomorrow in what has become a unexpected hotly contested by-election in the centre of Alberta’s largest city.
The race should have been a cake-walk for the Conservatives, who have held the riding in its many forms for more than forty-years, but it was not to be. Soon after the by-election was called four weeks ago, polls found that the Conservative Party’s 40% margin of victory from the 2011 election was quickly evaporating.
Of the three polls released over the course of the campaign, twofound a three-way race with Conservative Joan Crockatt only slightly ahead of the Liberal Party’s Harvey Locke and fast-paced Green Party candidate Chris Turner, who had moved from a distant third over the summer to a contender in November.
All polls have shown Ms. Crockatt in the lead, so it is difficult to say whether any opposition candidate really has a opportunity to defeat her.
Ms. Crockatt’s campaign has proven to be less than spectacular. Despite missing numerous public forums and arousing the ire of popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the Conservatives will hope that the power of incumbency, government, and a strategy focused on door-knocking will pay off.
If she is elected tomorrow, I would not be surprised to see Ms. Crockatt quickly elevated to the front and centre of the Conservative caucus in Ottawa. It will not be long before she becomes one of the more prominent combative and partisan voices in the House of Commons.
A seasoned environmental lobbyist and lawyer, I have little doubt that Mr. Locke would be a strong voice on behalf of Calgary-Centre the House of Commons. Sensing an opportunity in this by-election, legions of federal Liberals have dropped into the riding. Since the by-election was called, I suspect more federal Liberal MPs have visited the riding since the party held their leadership convention at the Saddledome in 1990. The election of Mr. Locke would give the federal Liberals a toe-hold in Calgary, a city where they have not elected an MP since 1968.
If elected, Mr. Locke could add a level of pan-Canadian maturity to the Liberal opposition in Ottawa, an attribute which, as evidenced by comments from David McGuinty and Justin Trudeau, is lacking.
Urban sustainability advocate Mr. Turner represents a generational change in federal politics. He is an ideas-guy whose political past and future is not tied to traditional partisan politics. Mr. Turner talks less about traditional politics and more about sustainability of communities, cities, and about what creates quality of life on the street-level. These are all critical issues that should be discussed in our national capital, but rarely are.
Despite a brief foray into the world of negative advertising, Mr. Turner’s campaign has arguably been the most exciting and unconventional of the by-election.
Dan Meades, the little-talked-about NDP candidate, has done incredible work in Calgary-Centre through his work as director of Vibrant Communities Calgary. While initially coming out strong over the summer, the NDP hampered their chances by not choosing a candidate until days after the by-election had been called. Mr. Meades should have been a contender.
As was the case in the 2010 mayoral election and the 2012 provincial election, voters in Calgary have becoming increasingly unpredictable. As with most by-elections, voters have an opportunity to both focus on the individual candidates and send the governing party a message without changing which party holds power in Ottawa. This race is about Calgary-Centre, and tomorrow we will discover whether Calgary voters will continue their streak of unpredictability.
With the vote happening tomorrow, this should be one of my final posts focusing on the Calgary-Centre by-election. While it has been incredibly refreshing to take a break from writing about the theatrics of Question Period or the scandal-du-jour in the provincial capital, I look forward to returning my focus to the more substantial issues dominating Alberta’s political scene.
Just when it seems like Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt was losing ground and a tight three-way contest in the Calgary-Centre by-election, right-wing cable channel Sun News swooped in with news that will stir up the anti-Liberal sentiments among Conservative voters in the riding. Boasting that it has discovered a “breaking exclusive,” the channel roasted Mr. Trudeau for comments made during an interview in late 2010:
“Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”
There is no one who can get angry conservatives worked up in this province like a Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau is on a leadership tour through British Columbia and Alberta this week, having campaigned with Liberal by-election candidate Harvey Locke in Calgary-Centre and rallying a crowd of more than 400 party faithful in downtown Edmonton.
Following Liberal MP David McGuinty‘s comments earlier this week, the release of Sun News’ “breaking exclusive” of Mr. Trudeau’s two year-old anti-Alberta comments is miraculously well-timed for the Conservatives. It feels as if the Conservative campaign in Calgary-Centre got exactly what it was asking for.
Polling since August has shown Mr. Locke in second place and Green Chris Turner gaining momentum in Calgary-Centre.
Over the course of the campaign, Ms. Crockatt’s has opted to avoid numerous public all-candidate forums in favour of canvassing doors. Interestingly, the campaign found time in its busy schedule yesterday to stop by Sun News studios in Calgary to denounce Mr. Guinty’s comments on a talk show hosted by vicious right-winger Ezra Levant.
Ms. Crockatt’s sudden appearance on the right-wing talk show has everything to do with her campaign’s slip in the polls, which is seen by many to be a result of her campaign’s connections to the right-wing Wildrose Party.
It should be noted that the connections between Sun News, the federal Conservative Party, and the Wildrose Party are deep.
Sun News has been nothing short of a cheerleader for both the opposition Wildrose Party in Alberta and Conservatives in Ottawa. Even staff appear to be interchangeable. Candice Malcolm, the current Director of Research for Sun News is the former executive assistant to Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and spokesperson for Conservative politician Jason Kenney.
The strong connections between the federal Conservatives and the Wildrose Party is suspected to have driven away many moderate conservatives, who support Alison Redford‘s governing Progressive Conservatives and see the by-election campaign as too closely associated with the hard right-wing provincial party (including campaign manager, William McBeath, is also on staff with the Wildrose Party). These connections are believe to have contributed to near evaporation of the 40% margin of victory that former MP Lee Richardson earned in the 2011 election.
This movement of Tories to the Greens in Calgary-Centre seems to be supported by Donal O’Beirne, the former president of the Conservative association in Calgary-North East, who has endorsed Mr. Turner, and the launch of a new Facebook Group, “Progressive Conservatives 4 Turner“, which sprung up this week.
One senior provincial Tory suggested to me this week that the Wildrose Party now “controls almost the entire federal Conservative Party in Alberta,” suggesting that the split between the provincial and federal Tory parties will be very difficult to mend.
If the Conservatives are not able to win the riding on the November 26 vote, or even if the results are close, the by-election should be a warning to the Ottawa Tories that their support of the Wildrose Party could cause moderate Albertans to park their votes elsewhere.
A new poll was released by Return on Insight today. The poll shows Mr. Crockatt with 37% to 32% for Mr. Locke and 17% for Mr. Turner.
While I am naturally skeptical of all polls, I am immediately skeptical of this poll due to ROI owner Bruce Cameron‘s close connections to the Liberal campaign in Calgary-Centre (watch this video from October 21, 2012, where Mr. Locke talks about the work Mr. Cameron is doing for his campaign).
In a heated debate on the floor of the House of Commons, Mr. McGuinty, who announced yesterday that he would not run for the Liberal Party leadership, ranted against Conservative MPs, who he described as “very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil fuel business and the oilsands business specifically, as one that they’re going to fight to the death for.”
Mr. McGuity followed up by telling the Conservatives to “go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’s deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature.”
Almost immediately after the comments were made, right-wing SunTV jumped into attack mode, giving Conservative MPs an instant soapbox to stand on and denounce the Liberal politician.
Ms. Crockatt, who has done her best to avoid engaging with the media since the by-election campaign began, wasted no time issuing a statement on her Facebook Page denouncing the Ontario politician. With one week before the by-election ends, Conservatives in Calgary-Centre are hoping to use Mr. McGuinty’s rant to divert attention away from criticism and internal dissent caused by its poorly orchestrated local campaign.
There is no doubt the comments made by Mr. McGuinty’s comments were politically ill-informed and just plain “dumb”, but they seem to be par for the course what in what has become a disgustingly hyper-partisan political Ottawa dominated by a Prime Minister Stephen Harper,‘s Conservative majority in both houses of parliament.
It is important to remember that controversial comments are not limited to the benches of the third-place Liberal Party. Let us not forget Conservative Science Minister Gary Goodyear, who told reporters that he did not believe in evolution, or Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who once said that anyone who opposed the Conservative government’s invasive internet privacy legislation was siding with pedophiles.
Mr. McGuinty’s heated comments against Alberta’s federal representatives (excluding Edmonton-Strathcona New Democrat MP Linda Duncan, I assume) remind me of the anti-Quebec rhetoric espoused by the western-based Reform Party from the late 1980s and 1990s, which has continues to dog the Conservative Party in Quebec.
In terms of simple electoral math, Mr. McGuinty’s gaffe has done his party no favours, especially with the opportunity presented to them in the Calgary-Centre by-election.
By my count, since the by-election was called, at least nine of the thirty-five Liberal MPs in Ottawa have visited the riding, including Mr. Trudeau and interim leader Bob Rae. The Liberal Party sees an opportunity in Calgary-Centre, but they should stop themselves from turning their attention away from Alberta if the votes are not in their favour on November 26.
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.
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!
With one week left until voting day, a new survey released by Forum Research continues to show a three-way race in the Calgary-Centre by-election between Conservative Joan Crockatt, Liberal Harvey Locke, and Green Chris Turner.
As reported by the Globe & Mail, the survey of randomly selected Calgary-Centre voters released on November 17 showed Ms. Crockatt with 35% to 30% for Mr. Locke and 25% for Mr. Turner. New Democrat Dan Meades was in fourth place with 8%.
Another survey from Forum Research released last weekshowed Ms. Crockatt with 32% to 30% for Mr. Locke and 23% for Mr. Turner. New Democrat Dan Meades was in fourth place with 12%. Margins of error for these types of surveys typically range around five percentage points.
As I wrote last week, it appears that within a matter of months, the 40% margin of victory earned by former Conservative MP Lee Richardson in the 2011 federal election and 23% margin for the Conservatives found in a September survey of Calgary-Centre voters may have completely evaporated.
It is always important to approach surveys, like this interactive voice response (IVR) survey, with a healthy dose of skepticism. Survey results are a snapshot of the opinions of a surveyed group of individuals at a given moment in time. This said, surveys like this one can be an important indicator of trends.
The drop in Conservative Party support has led political watchers to wonder if this by-election could result in the election of the first non-Conservative Member of Parliament in Calgary since 1968. The potential for an upset has certainly bolstered the resolve of Ms. Crockatt’s two main opponents, Mr. Locke and Mr. Turner.
Ms. Crockatt earnedmixedreviews after participating in her first all-candidates forum at the East Village Neighbourhood Association on Saturday afternoon. This was expected to be the only time the Conservative candidate will publicly engage with her opponents at an organized forum.
On Saturday night, Mr. Turner’s campaign hosted what might have been the biggest actual political party of this by-election. More than 500 tickets were sold to the “Turning Point” event at Scarboro United Church. The event included a performance from Jay Ingram and the Scrutineers and speeches from Green Party leader Elizabeth May and environmentalist David Suzuki. Mr. Turner also received the endorsement of local author Fred Stenson, who ran as a Liberal candidate in the recent provincial election.
Steady in second place according to two recent polls, Mr. Locke is getting some pan-Canadian support from Liberal politicians. By my count, nine of the thirty-five Liberal Members of Parliament have visited the riding, including Bob Rae, Justin Trudeau, Ralph Goodale and Senators Terry Mercer and Grant Mitchell, and leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay. Vancouver-Quadra MP Joyce Murray made her second visit to Calgary-Centre this weekend and Mr. Trudeau is expected to return to the riding this week before attending a rally in Edmonton. Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr, Darshan Kang, and Raj Sherman have also campaigned with Mr. Locke.
A fun fact and perhaps the closest comparison we have to this federal by-election in Calgary-Centre are by-elections that have taken place on the provincial level. In the four provincial by-elections held since 1992, opposition candidates were elected in three. In 1992, Calgary-Buffalo was held by Liberal Gary Dickson after the death of two-term Liberal MLA Sheldon Chumir. In 1995, the Progressive Conservative Shiraz Shariff narrowly held on to the Calgary-McCall constituency following the death of the former PC MLA.
The two most recent provincial by-elections saw opposition candidates elected in constituencies formerly held by the governing PCs. Liberal Craig Cheffins narrowly defeated the PC candidate to win a 2007 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, the constituency formerly represented by Premier Ralph Klein (Alison Redford would narrowly defeat Mr. Cheffins in the 2008 general election). In 2009, former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman won a hotly contested three-way race in Calgary-Glenmore, defeating high-profile Tory Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart and Liberal Avalon Roberts.
What does this mean for Calgary-Centre? At least when it comes to provincial by-elections, Calgarians have a track-record of sending the government a message.
1) Conservative Party candidate Joan Crockatt has been criticized for missing at least three public all-candidates debates since the by-election was called. In an appeal for the Conservative candidate’s attendance, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi sent out the following tweet to his 75,790 followers on Twitter:
Ms. Crockatt’s lack of participation at these public events appears to be a deliberate strategy by the Conservative campaign to avoid any public situation that would put their candidate in a weak position.
Update: The Conservative campaign has announced that Ms. Crockatt’s will attend a public forum at East Village Neighbourhood Association at the Golden Age Club (610 – 8 Avenue SE) on Saturday, November 17 at 1:00 p.m.
2) By refusing to participate in these events, Ms. Crockatt managed to spend most of the campaign avoiding any sort of public interaction with her competitors. Her absence from the public events has contributed to the feeling that the Conservative campaign in Calgary-Centre has yet to give voters a compelling reason to support Ms. Crockatt on November 26.
The result of this by-election will not change who forms government in Ottawa. Unlike a general election where party leaders are typically at the centre of attention, a by-election inherently focuses more on individual candidates. The lack of narrative from the Conservative campaign and a recent poll showing an emerging three-way race has helped bolster the hopes of Ms. Crockatt’s two main competitors, Green Chris Turner and Liberal Harvey Locke.
Surprising many political watchers, Mr. Turner’s campaign has rocketed from distant competitor to a competitive third place. His energetic team, which includes veterans of Mayor Nenshi’s campaign, have created an online and real buzz using social media and unconventional campaign tactics. Mr. Locke’s campaign has kept a steady pace in second place, drawing on traditional Liberal support and the newly acquired support of disenchanted Red Tories.
The lack of narrative from the Conservative campaign is surprising, especially when considering that campaign manager William McBeath was involved in shaping the Wildrose Party surge before the last provincial election campaign. Perhaps the Conservatives believe that their “fly-under-the-radar” strategy will still work. Maybe it will?
3) A prolific Tweeter and outspoken political pundit before the by-election was called, Ms. Crockatt’s normally very active Twitter feed has transformed into an unengaging photo reel for the Conseravtive campaign. From almost the moment the Writ was dropped, the Conservatives appear to have abandoned any opportunities to leverage their candidate’s already established online presence, essentially ceding the social media campaign to her competitors.
4) Despite talking about taking the highroad on the campaign trail, the recent Forum Research survey has turned Mr. Locke on the offensive against Mr. Turner. Speaking to the Calgary Herald, Mr. Locke called Mr. Turner a “twerp“ in response to a Green Party mailer that questioned the Liberal candidate’s connections to Calgary-Centre. Mr. Locke moved back to Calgary in August after he was nominated as the Liberal candidate (he previously lived in Banff).
Both environmentalists, the two men appear to represent a generational shift in that movement. Mr. Locke, a lawyer and conservationist, is the former president of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. An award-winning author, Mr. Turner’s brand of environmentalism focuses on urban sustainability.
The “Nenshi factor” is undeniable in this area of Calgary, which voted overwhelmingly for the Mayor in the 2010 municipal election. While history would suggest the election of a federal Conservative should be a forgone conclusion, as it could well end up being, there seems to be little doubt that central Calgary has become a more diverse and unpredictable political environment.
As reported by the Globe & Mail, the November survey of 376 randomly selected residents in Calgary-Centre showed Ms. Crockatt with 32% to 30% for Mr. Locke and 23% for Mr. Turner. New Democrat Dan Meades was in fourth place with 12%.
The survey is considered to be accurate by plus or minus five percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
If this new survey is to be believed, then the November 26 vote could be much more exciting than most political watchers, including myself, had previously predicted.
A similar survey conducted by Forum Research in October found Ms. Crockatt with 48% to 28% for Mr. Locke, 11% for Mr. Turner, and 8% for Mr. Meades. Another survey from Forum Research conducted in August found the Conservatives with 44% to 21% for the Liberals, 14% for the NDP, and 12% for the Greens.
It appears that within a matter of months, the 40% margin of victory earned by former Conservative MP Lee Richardson in the 2011 federal election and 23% margin for the Conservatives found in the September survey may have completely evaporated.
It is always important to approach surveys, like this interactive voice response (IVR) survey, with a healthy dose of skepticism. Survey results are a snapshot of the opinions of a surveyed group of individuals at a given moment in time. This said, surveys like this one can be an important indicator of trends.
A close race could increase the importance of the 1CalgaryCentre campaign if progressive voters see an opportunity to coalesce behind one of the main opposition candidates. Although 1CalgaryCentre was initially ignored and ridiculed by the campaigns, it has played a central role in the debate around vote-splitting in the riding. On November 22, the group will hold its “selection vote” which allows voters in Calgary-Centre to register and select their choice from the progressive candidates running in the by-election.
As this contest enters its final two weeks, Ms. Crockatt’s two main opponents have taken aim at their mutual opponent and each other.
Ms. Crockatt’s tacit support of the Wildrose Party in the spring provincial election appears to have driven a number of moderate Tories away from her campaign in the downtown Calgary riding. Her campaign manager, William McBeath, is the Wildrose Party’s Political Operations and Communications Director.
Mr. Turner’s campaign has criticized Mr. Locke for not living in the riding (he lives in Banff) and Mr. Locke’s campaign has accused Mr. Turner of splitting the anti-conservative vote in the riding. All campaigns have made use of social media, Mr. Locke’s campaign recently launched a Tumblr for Calgarians to show their support for his campaign.
While Ms. Crockatt’s and Mr. Locke’s campaigns have mainly focused on the tried and true strategy of doorknocking, Mr. Turner has incorporated some tactical and guerrilla style techniques into his campaign, which has helped create an air of excitement around the Green Party candidate (Mr. Turner has been seen delivering flash speeches on Calgary transit buses and holding numerous intimate coffee and wine and cheese parties).
Meanwhile, all parties have benefited from high-profile visits. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney met with groups of seniors in the riding with Ms Crockatt today. Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel and Blake Richards joined Mr. Crockatt on the campaign trail last week
Outgoing Liberal leader Bob Rae campaigned with Mr. Locke today and leadership candidate Justin Trudeau is making a second appearance in Calgary-Centre on November 19. Former Ontario MP Martha Hall Findlay is expected to used Calgary as her launch pad into the Liberal leadership campaign.
Mr. Turner has benefited from the support of key organizers from Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s 2010 election campaign. On November 17, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and famous environmentalist David Suzuki will be attending a “Turning Point” rally at Scarboro United Church in support of Mr. Turner’s candidacy. Mr. Turner was event pictured in a photo online with Calgary-Glenmore PC MLA Linda Johnson, whose daughter is volunteering with the Green Party campaign.
Meanwhile, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair made an appearance at a packed rally tonight to support Mr. Meades campaign in Calgary-Centre. Mr. Meades, the director of Vibrant Communities Calgary, was also joined on the campaign trail by Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggenlast week.
There has been a lot of mediaattention over the past week focused on the split between federal and provincial Conservatives in the Calgary-Centre by-election. While most Tories appear to be supporting Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt, many Progressive Conservatives remain unhappy with Ms. Crockatt’s tacit support of the Wildrose Party in the recent provincial election.
PC Premier Alison Redford has tried to downplay the rift between the two parties in the by-election, even admiting that she has a giant Conservative sign on her lawn.
Whatever campaign sign occupies her front lawn, a photo of the Premier posing with federal Liberal candidate Harvey Locke at this weekend’s Progressive Conservative convention will surely fuel more speculation about a split between federal and provincial Conservative parties.
The attendance of Mr. Locke at the convention also raises questions about whether the federal Liberals are trying to forge new political ties with the provincial Tories in Alberta.
The by-election in Calgary-Centre is in full-swing with accusations and high-profile visits becoming a distinguishing characteristic of the campaign in advance of the November 26 vote.
1CalgaryCentre, the group bidding to unite progressive voters behind a single candidate, is becoming the source of much online frustration by both conservative and non-conservatives involved in this by-election.
Mr. Carter is best known for the roles he played in Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Premier Alison Redford‘s successful election campaigns. Mr. Hawkes is a prominent Calgary lawyer, son of former Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hawkes, and ex-husband of Premier Redford. According to 1CalgaryCentre, the two men have not been involved with the group.
A partisan rift between many provincial and federal Conservatives was perpetuated when many federal Tory supporters, including Ms. Crockatt, were seen by provincial Tories as tacitly supporting the right-wing Wildrose Party in their bid to unseat the long-governing PC Party. A prolific tweeter and political commentator until her recent candidacy, Ms. Crockatt has avoided the online fray created by her supporters.
Meanwhile, supporters of Liberal Party candidate Harvey Locke are claiming that the 1CalgaryCentre group will inevitably endorse author and urban sustainability advocate Chris Turner, the Green Party candidate. While a recent poll suggests Mr. Locke is the leading opposition candidate, Mr. Turner’s campaign is generating more online buzz and excitement than any of the the candidates.
Results of the Forum Research poll are based on the total sample of 343 voters had a margin of error of +/- 5% 19 times our of 10. As we all know, polls are a snapshot of voters opinion at a certain moment in time. There is still twenty days left until the by-election day.
Mr. Locke was joined on the campaign trail by Calgary-McCall Liberal MLA Darshan Kang last week and has been campaigning on the slogan “entrepreneurial progressive voice for Calgary-Centre.” Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau brought some star power to Mr. Locke’s campaign when he visited the riding last month and sources suggest that he may stop by again when he is in Alberta later this month (he will be holding a rally in Edmonton on November 20).
Green Party leader and British Columbia MP Elizabeth May paid her second visit to support Mr. Turner’s campaign and attended a “soapbox” event in Central Memorial Park. On November 17, Ms, May and famous environmentalist David Suzuki will be attending a “Turning Point” rally supporting Mr. Turner’s candidacy at Scarboro United Church.
Calgary Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy and provincial Justice Minister Jonathan Denis hit the campaign trail with Ms. Crockatt last week. While a few Conservative politicians have stopped by the campaign in Calgary-Centre, political watchers are beginning to quietly speculate about Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s absence from the campaign in the downtown Calgary riding.
Davenport NDP MP Andrew Cash was in Calgary last weekend to help out Mr. Meades’ campaign. The official opposition Heritage critic, Mr. Cash attended a town hall forum on internet privacy and pub night jam session at the Marda Loop Community Association Hall.