Alberta Politics

Five thoughts about the Calgary-Centre by-election.

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:

Mayor Naheed Nenshi's tweet Joan Crockatt
Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s tweet.

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.

5) Despite the  results of this week’s Forum Research survey, the Calgarians have a deep-rooted tradition of electing Conservative Members of Parliament. Could this by-election signal a political shift in the Conservative Party’s fortress?

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.