Photo: Sid Fayad, Laila Goodridge, Jane Stroud, Nicole Mooney, Abigail Douglass, Devin Dreeshen.
Voters will head to the polls tomorrow to elect new MLAs in two relatively sleepy by-elections. The two districts, Fort McMurray-Conklin and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, were both held by United Conservative Party MLAs before they became vacant and voters are expected to have re-elected two UCP candidates after the polls close at 8:00 p.m. on July 12, 2018.
In the final day before voting day, an investigation by Vice.com revealed that Innisfail-Sylvan Lake UCP candidate Devin Dreeshen, son of local Conservative Member of Parliament Earl Dreeshen, was a campaign volunteer for Donald Trump during the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections.
As part of the investigation, Vice discovered a November 2016 photo of Dreeshen at an invite-only election night event in New York City sporting a red ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball cap and raising a drink to Trump’s victory.
According to Vice, “On and off between February and November of 2016, Dreeshen and his colleague Matthew McBain followed Trump around the United States training volunteers, knocking on doors and even shadowing Ivanka Trump for some reason.” The ‘my experience‘ section of Dreeshen’s website makes no mention of his time as a Trump volunteer south of the border.
When Vice writer Hadeel Abdel-Nabi questioned Dreeshen about his activities with the Trump campaign at a by-election event in Sylvan Lake, the UCP candidate is reported to have fled to the bathroom and was not seen again.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake New Democratic Party candidate Nicole Mooney faced criticism for pro-life views she held in in 2014 but says she no longer holds. Mooney, a Sylvan Lake-resident who teaches at a Catholic high school in Red Deer, was reported to have led a field trip with dozens of her students to the March for Life event in Edmonton.
While anti-abortion views on women’s reproductive rights are certainly a minority opinion in the NDP caucus these days, these views are likely fairly mainstream in this rural central Alberta district.
Postmedia columnist Rick Bell pounced on Mooney’s pro-life leanings as a sign of NDP hypocrisy. But Bell neglected to mention that while Mooney has not made her views part of her campaign, a pro-life activist group has launched an effort to nominate “52 pro-life candidates” to stand in the next election, presumably for the UCP. According to Press Progress, the RightNow initiative is led by Catherine Gallagher, who previously work for Jason Kenney as a staffer in Ottawa.
The NDP scored a solid candidate when they recruited three-term Wood Buffalo municipal councillor Jane Stroud to carry their banner in Fort McMurray-Conklin. Stroud is well-respected and has good name recognition in the district. She has also earned the endorsement of three of her Wood Buffalo council colleagues and First Nations leaders in the sprawling northeast Alberta district.
UCP candidate Laila Goodridge was the target of criticism at the beginning of the campaign when Stroud accused her of being a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ candidate. A Fort McMurray native, Goodridge spent much of her adult life working as a political staffer outside of region, including as the Wildrose Party candidate in Grande Prairie-Wapiti in the 2015 provincial election. Her ties to the community and her connection to former MLA Brian Jean, who she worked for as an organizer of his 2017 UCP leadership campaign, were obviously enough of an advantage to help her win a crowded contest for the UCP nomination.
While she is the favourite to win, Goodridge appeared to be managing expectations last week, warning UCP voters that a low-voter turnout and ‘special interest groups’ tied to the NDP could hurt the UCP on July 12. Goodridge’s ‘special interest group’ comment offended some voters who believed she may have been referring to First Nations leaders supporting Stroud.
But the incident that appeared to get the most attention during these by-elections was when CBC reported about a racial slur made by Alberta Party candidate Sid Fayad five years ago on Facebook. Fayad apologized for the comment.
Meanwhile, the decision by Greyhound to end passenger and freight transportation operations in Alberta, an issue that will actually have a big impact on a lot of rural communities in these two districts, emerged late in the campaign. Stroud issued a statement in response to Greyhound’s withdrawal, but it was likely too late to become a decisive issue in these by-elections.
Voting stations are open on Thursday, July 12, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Here are a list of the by-election candidates and their social media links:
Alberta Party – Sid Fayad [Twitter]
Green Party – Brian Deheer
Liberal – Robin Le Fevre [Twitter]
New Democratic Party – Jane Stroud [Facebook, Twitter]
United Conservative Party – Laila Goodridge [Facebook, Twitter]