Some of the latest from the federal election campaign trail in Alberta:
NDP leader Tom Mulcair will visit the Lethbridge riding this week to campaign alongside candidate Cheryl Meheden during his visit to Alberta. He will also speak at a rally in Calgary tonight. Mr. Mulcair is back in Alberta this week to participate in a Globe and Mail debate on Sept. 17.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made a campaign stop in Edmonton on Sept. 9 to rally a crowd of 1,500 supporters. During his visit, Mr. Trudeau promised additional funding for the southeast LRT to Mill Woods if the Liberals form government on Oct. 19.
Both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau met briefly with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson during their visits.
The federal Liberals have chosen their final candidate in Alberta by nominating businessman Robert Prcic in Calgary-Nose Hill. Mr. Prcic earned 3.8 percent of the vote as the provincial Liberal candidate in the October 2014 Calgary-Foothills by-election.
ThreeHundredandEight.com is maintaining riding levels projections that show a handful of Alberta ridings in play during this federal election. As of Sept. 13, 2015, the projections show potential NDP wins in Edmonton-Griesbach, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Strathcona and Lethbridge. The Liberals are projected to do well in Calgary-Centre, Calgary-Confederation, Calgary-Skyview and Edmonton-Centre.
A poll conducted by Mainstreet Technologies suggests the election in the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake could be closer than last year’s by-election results in the old riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca. The poll showed Conservative David Yurdiga with the support of 35 percent and Liberal Kyle Harrietha with 27 percent support. In the June 2014 by-election, Mr. Yurdiga only finished 11 points ahead of Mr. Harreitha in what was considered a very close race for this riding (in the 2011 election, former Conservative MP Brian Jean was re-elected with a margin of 58.6 percent).
With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?
In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.
My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.
From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.
The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.
The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.
As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.
The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.
Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.
Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.
New Democratic Party
Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.
A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.
With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.
Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.
Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.
The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.
Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.
These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.
The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.
Where to vote?
Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.
He is the Premier of Alberta and he does not have a seat in the Legislature, but Jim Prentice skipped last night’s all-candidates forum in the Calgary-Foothills by-election. The event was organized by the Edgemont Community Association.
Noting the high-profile candidate’s absence, forum organizers placed a halloween pumpkin at Mr. Prentice’ empty spot at the table.
He has held almost daily media events since becoming Premier, but they have all taken place at planned and highly-controlled events. An all-candidates forum is an uncontrolled environment where Mr. Prentice would be forced to engage with his opponents, which could cause potential embarrassment to the new Premier.
In an press conference designed to keep Health Minister Stephen Mandel in the news, Mr. Prentice joined his party’s Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate to make a vague announcement about the opening of more “continuing care” spaces.
The announcement provided no detail about how the province plans to address the shortage of long-term care beds, which provide a higher level of care to Albertans in need of longer-term medical assistance.
Despite a growing population, the number of long-term care beds across the province has actually decreased over the past decade.
Mr. Prentice used the press conference as an opportunity to repeatedly explain to reporters that Mr. Mandel is a “hands-on minister” (a description he used at least three times during the press conference).
Although the former mayor is widely expected to win the Whitemud by-election, Mr. Mandel has faced pressure from Liberal Dr. Donna Wilson and New Democrat Dr.Bob Turner to address the province’s lack of long-term care beds and to replace the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital.
“It’s not just about electing Dirks, it’s about beating Carter too,” a PC Party insider told me this week. Fighting to elect appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, the PCs are also gunning to defeat Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, whose campaign is being run by former Tory strategist Stephen Carter.
A sort of political mercenary, Mr. Carter was a key strategist in Alison Redford‘s 2011 leadership campaign and Naheed Nenshi‘s 2010 mayoral election.
While the Wildrose Party poses a threat to the Tories province-wide, recent moves suggest they recognize Mr. Clark as a threat in this by-election. For example, Mr. Dirks’ campaign trotted out an endorsement last week from former Alberta Party leadership candidate Randy Royer.
Drawing on the experience of Mr. Carter and a band of local political organizers, Mr. Clark’s supporters say his campaign is showing signs of momentum on the ground. Whether they can translate any momentum, real or perceived, into votes is an unanswered question.
On October 7, 2011, Alison Merrilla Redford stood in front of a large crowd of her peers and power-brokers in the Legislature Rotunda as she was sworn-in as Alberta’s 14th Premier.
Having won the October 1, 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest with 37,101 votes to 35,491 for second-place Gary Mar, Ms. Redford became Alberta’s first woman Premier and fifth consecutive PC Party Premier. Leadership candidate Doug Horner, who would serve as her Finance Minister, played a large role in directing his supporters to vote for Ms. Redford on the final ballot vote.
There is little doubt that October 7, 2011 was a proud day for Alberta and one that, for many Albertans, represented hope for positive change in our province’s politics. We were told to expect immediate action on critical and a new style of government from the long-governing PC Party.
What a difference 2 years and 167 days can make.
Amid scandal, broken promises and a caucus revolt, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014 and as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow on August 6, 2014. She was replaced by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, who served until Jim Prentice was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014.
Liberals announce by-election candidates
In more recent news, the Liberal Party announced its candidates in two Alberta by-elections. Robert Prcic will be that party’s candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election and David Khan in the Calgary-West by-election. Mr. Prcic was his party’s 2012 election candidate in Calgary-North West, where he earned 6% of the total vote.
A recent email from the Liberal Party revealed the party was prioritizing their resources behind candidates in two other by-elections – Susan Wright in Calgary-Elbow and Donna Wilson in Edmonton-Whitemud.