Conservative candidates were elected in two federal by-elections yesterday in Alberta. This is an event which would normally not be a source for much commentary, but there are some interesting points to be made from the outcome of these two by-elections.
Conservatives hold, but support shrinks In Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Conservative David Yurdiga was elected with 5,945 votes (47% of the vote), significantly lower than the landslide 21,988 votes (71.8% of the vote) earned by former MP Brian Jean in the 2011 general election. The regional breakdown of the votes could provide some interesting insight into this by-election, as Mr. Yurdiga hails from the voter-rich southern limits of this large rural riding.
In Macleod, John Barlow was elected with 12,394 votes (68%), only slightly lower than the 77% earned by MP Ted Menzies in 2011.
Liberals back in second place
The Liberals dislodged the official opposition New Democratic Party as the main challenger to the Conservatives in both ridings. Strong local campaigns as well as a boost from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who visited the ridings numerous times during the by-elections, likely contributed to these results.
Fort McMurray-Athabasca Liberal Kyle Harrietha placed a strong second with 35.3% of the vote (4,491 votes), up from his party’s 10% in the 2011 general election. While the Liberals were not able to pull off a win, they should not be disappointed with their level of support. Percentage wise, this is the strongest a non-conservative candidate has placed in this riding since 1980.
In Macleod, Liberal Dustin Fuller earned 17% of the vote (3,062 votes), up from his party’s distant 3.6% fourth place finish in the 2011 general election.
Low voter turnout
Voter turnout was abysmally low. Only 15.19% of registered voters cast a ballot in Fort McMurray-Athabasca and 19.59% voted in Macleod. Although by-elections traditionally attract low voter turnout, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice to schedule the voting day between a weekend and Canada Day likely contributed to the low participation.
On Canada Day, we should reflect on how voter participation strengthens our democracy and the consequences of ignoring our country’s political and electoral process.
Situated on the eastern slopes of of the Rocky Mountains, the Conservative machine appears strong in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding. Although growth in the communities of Okotoks and High River, which was devastated by flooding in the summer of 2013, have brought many new voters in the riding, Macleod is a much more traditionally Conservative riding than its northern by-election counter-part.
This is Mr. Barlow’s second attempt at political office, having recently run as the Highwood Progressive Conservative candidate against Wildrose leader Danielle Smith in the 2012 provincial election. Unlike the Calgary-Centre by-election of 2012, which saw a federal split among PC and Wildrose supporters, it appears that most Wildrosers are lining up behind Mr. Barlow’s campaign (or, at least, are not publicly opposing him).
Aileen Burke is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate. Mr. Burke is listed as the treasurer of the Lethbridge-East provincial NDP constituency association and was a trustee candidate for the Lethbridge School District No. 51 in the October 2013 municipal elections.
Four federal by-elections will be held across Canada on June 30, 2014, including in Alberta’s Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca ridings made vacant by the retirements of Conservative Members of Parliament Ted Menzies and Brian Jean months ago.
While most general elections in Alberta can be counted on to result in broad Conservative sweeps, Albertans have shown themselves to be a more unpredictable when an uncommon by-election is held.
Last year’s by-election in Calgary-Centre, a riding represented by Conservatives for nearly fifty years came within a sliver of being won by Liberal Harvey Locke. And in 1989, the spark that led to a Reform Party sweep of the West four years later was lit when Deborah Grey won a by-election in Beaver River.
This year’s by-election in Fort McMurray-Athabasca is expected to be particularly interesting. Home of Canada’s Oil Sands, this riding is Ground Zero for the international debate about climate change, pipelines and the future of the energy industry. This riding is also demographically different than southern Alberta’s Macleod or most other rural Alberta ridings.
Home to a young and transient population that includes Aboriginals, New Canadians and Canadians from across the country (and many temporary foreign workers), the industrial nature of employment in the riding means it also has a higher percentage of labour union membership than most rural Alberta ridings. Low levels of voter turnout in recent general elections (40% turnout in 2011) could contribute to an unpredictable by-election result.
While much of the northern half of the riding benefits from an industrial boom, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo faces the incredible challenge of keeping up with the pressures that accompany this type of fast growth – transportation infrastructure (and Highway 63), housing, public services, etc.
Some local Fort McMurray-ites I have spoken with feel that federal government has not contributed its fair share in helping their community deal with these pressures – something that Conservative candidate David Yurdiga is likely to hear about at the doorsteps.
Mr. Yurdiga hails from the vote-rich southern portion of the riding, where he is a councillor in the County of Athabasca (the area he represents on County Council will not be part of the new Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding, which will be created at the next federal election).
The regional divide between the northern and southern parts of this riding are relevant and the large geographic distances can present a significant challenge in organizing an effective campaign.
Mr. Yurdiga will face a strong challenge from well-organized Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha, who has been bolstered by Justin Trudeau, who has become a frequent visitor to the community over the past year.
Mr. Harrietha also draws on the support of an extensive network that includes provincial Progressive Conservatives, community organizers (he was a campaign manager for Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake) and the Metis community, who he works for as executive director of General Manager of Fort McMurray Métis Local 1935.
While Mr. Harrietha is certainly the underdog in this race, resentment toward the former MP and a lacklustre Conservative nomination race could help him make gains in this by-election (and now would be a good time for Mr. Trudeau to make sure Ottawa-South MP David McGuintydoes not stray off message).
The New Democrats have nominated Suncor employee and Unifor Local 707A health and safety representative Lori McDaniel as their candidate. This by-election will be an important test for the official opposition NDP, who have been criticized by Conservatives for leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments last year.
In a gesture of pan-Canadianism, it perhaps would not be a bad idea for Mr. Mulcair to fly his party’s large contingent of first-term MPs from Quebec to campaign alongside Ms. McDaniel in the by-election in our nation’s new industrial capital. It would probably help her campaign and expand the horizons of opposition MPs who are sometimes too eager to criticize those who work in Canada’s energy industry.
Federal by-elections in Alberta have proven to be unpredictable events and if the trend continues, as I sense it might, the results of the Fort McMurray-Athabasca vote could be very interesting on June 30.
Next post… a by-election in Cowboy Country (aka Macleod)… yah hoo.
Fort McMurray-Athabasca Conservative Member of Parliament Brian Jean announced his resignation today in a written statement to the media. Mr. Jean was first elected in 2004. He was re-elected in 2011 with 71.8% of the vote.
His departure will trigger a second federal by-election in Alberta in 2014. In late 2013, Macleod MP Ted Menzies resigned.
“In every job, there is a right time to move on. For me, that time has come. I’ve spent the past ten years fighting for the priorities of Northern Albertans in Ottawa and now I feel I’m needed more right here at home in Fort McMurray,” says MP Jean. “This decision has not been an easy one and I am extremely grateful to my family, my outstanding staff, and my constituents for their constant support. I would also like to thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his leadership and for allowing me the opportunity to publically serve the greatest people and place in Canada.”
“When I was first elected, I made a commitment to my constituents that I would serve seven to ten years and work towards a number of goals including: a strong Canadian economy, the protection of individual rights, the elimination of the long barrel firearms registry, fiscal responsibility of government, and responding to all constituents’ concerns. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve done for my constituents and for Northern Alberta,” says Jean. “I’m also proud of the accomplishments achieved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and our Conservative Government, with our success being evident in the strong performance of Canada’s economy over our time in Government. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it but look forward to contributing in other ways to making Northern Alberta the best place in which to work, live and raise a family.”
Four candidates have stepped forward to duel for the yet to be scheduled Conservative Party nomination in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding following the resignation of Member of Parliament Ted Menzies. A by-election is expected to be held in the eastern slopes of Alberta’s cowboy country the next six months.
Fourth generation rancher and farmer Phil Rowland is also contesting the nomination. Mr. Rowland is the past president of the Western Stock Growers Association and serves on numerous provincial and agriculture boards. He also served as a board member for the Highwood PC Association during George Groeneveld‘s time as MLA.
Former Parliament Hill staffer Melissa Mathieson has also entered the race. She currently works as a research associate for the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and, according to her LinkedIn profile, she graduated from the U of C in 2011 with a bachelor of political science and has since worked as an intern and staffer for Mr. Menzies and in the Office of the Prime Minister in Ottawa.
Businessman Scott Wagner has been campaigning door-to-door since Mr. Menzies announced months ago that he would not seek re-election.
Update: Rick Wiljamma is also seeking the Conservative nomination in Macleod.
No candidates have stepped forward to become candidates for other political parties.
Last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election exposed significant splits in the conservative movement in Alberta. With some moderate conservatives believing Conservative nominee Joan Crockatt was too closely associated with the Wildrose Party, many formerly reliable Conservative voters choose to park their votes with Liberal Party candidate Harvey Locke.
A similar split is difficult to imagine in Macleod, but not impossible.
Voters in this region of Alberta last elected a non-conservative Member of Parliament in 1968, when Trudeaumania swept Liberal Allen Sulatycky into office as the MP for sprawling Rocky Mountain riding (the election was contested by two PC candidates, who, not unexpectedly, split the vote). Mr. Sulatycky served as a parliamentary assistant for four years until he was defeated in the 1972 election by future Prime Minister Joe Clark.
Voters in this riding have since reliably elected PC, Reform, Canadian Alliance, and Conservative MPs. Mr. Menzies earned 40,007 votes in the 2011 federal election, eclipsing his second-place New Democrat opponent, who earned 5,335 votes, and third place Green Party candidate, who earned 2,389 votes. The Liberal candidate placed a distant fourth with 1,898 votes.
But the riding’s history as a Conservative strong-hold over the past four decades does not mean Macleod voters do hold not grievances or should be taken for granted.
Some areas of the riding, especially High River, suffered significant damage caused by this year’s floods and some residents have accused the RCMP of overstepping their bounds by removing privately-owned firearms from residences that had been evacuated during the flood.
The federal riding also overlaps provincial constituencies represented by Wildrose MLAs Ms. Smith, Pat Stier, Ian Donovan, Jason Hale, Gary Bikman and PC MLA Ron Casey. All of these constituencies were hotly contested battle grounds in the 2012 provincial election when significant numbers of long-time PC voters shifted their support to the Wildrose Party.
Under almost every normal circumstance this by-election should be an easy win for the nominated Conservative candidate. But as previous by-elections have demonstrated, the hyper-local focus on issues in an isolated by-election can sometimes produce unexpected results.
There are 705 days until Monday, October 19, 2015, when the next Canadian federal election is scheduled to be held. With less than two years until Canadians choose who will serve as Members of Parliament and with new electoral boundaries coming into effect at the next election, candidates across Alberta are preparing to seek party nominations, a first step to becoming a candidate.
Last week’s resignation announcement by Conservative MP Ted Menzies opens the door for a by-election to be held in southwest Alberta’s Macleod riding. When the next election is called, Macleod will be dissolved and the new Foothills riding will be created. Rumours circulated soon after Mr. Menzies announcement that Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith could seek the Conservative nomination were quickly quashed when he announced she would remain as MLA for Highwood. According to the Okotoks Western Wheel, three local residents, businessman Scott Wagner, rancher Phil Rowland and former Parliament Hill staffer Melissa Mathieson, have expressed interest in seeking the Conservative nomination.
Lawyer and conservative activist Michael Cooper has already announced his candidacy in the St. Albert-Edmonton Conservative nomination and has the support of the provincial Progressive Conservative establishment, including endorsements from Finance Minister Doug Horner, Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, and St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan. Also in the race is Kevin Tam, a Conservative Party activist who is currently employed as a researcher with the provincial Liberal Opposition.
Changing boundaries in southern Alberta mean that Lethbridge Conservative MP Jim Hillyer will soon find himself living inside the redrawn Medicine Hat riding, currently represented by Conservative MP LeVar Payne. While a nomination race between the two incumbents could easily be averted if Mr. Hillyer runs in the newly redrawn Lethbridge, he may still face a tough nomination contest now that his large base of support in the southern half of the old riding will now living in a new riding.
Conservatives have still yet to resolve who will run in the handful of new ridings created in south Edmonton. Similar to the situation in southern Alberta, Conservatives are hopeful that nomination battles between MPs Mike Lake, James Rajotte, and Blaine Calkins can be averted. This may be even further complicated if current Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal decides to seek a nomination in the newly redrawn Edmonton-Mill Woods riding. Mr. Uppal was the Canadian Alliance and Conservative candidate in south east Edmonton in the 2000 and 2004 federal elections and lost his party nomination to Mr. Lake before the 2006 election.
Rod Loyola announced his intentions to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods last year. Mr. Loyola was the 2012 provincial NDP candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie and is currently the president of the Non-Academic Staff Association at the University of Alberta.
With the retirement of Calgary-Nose Hill MP Diane Ablonczy, who was first elected under the Reform Party banner in 1993, Calgarians can expect a hotly contested nomination race in this riding that is considered a Conservative stronghold. One candidate rumoured to be considering a run for a nomination is Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber, who served as a cabinet minister in Premier Ed Stelmach‘s government but was shuffled to the backbenches after Alison Redford became Premier in 2011.
In the always contested Edmonton-Centre, aboriginal activist and educator Lewis Cardinal, announced earlier this year that he would once again seek the NDP nomination. In 2011, Mr. Cardinal increased his party’s support in that riding by 11%, placing second to Conservative incumbent Laurie Hawn. The central Edmonton riding was represented by Liberal MP Anne McLellan from 1993 until 2006. Hoping for a revival of Liberal support in the next election, a number of candidates are said to be preparing to contest the Liberal nomination, including entrepreneur and Rhodes Scholar Randy Boissonnault,and 2011 candidate and lawyer Mary MacDonald.
Two-term Edmonton-Decore PC MLA Janice Sarich is rumoured to be mounting a challenge against current Edmonton-East Conservative MP Peter Goldring in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding. With Mr. Goldring back in the Conservative fold after sitting as an independent, he is expected to seek his party’s nomination in the new riding. The NDP are searching for a star candidate in this riding, after seeing their support steadily increase since the past four federal elections. The new riding also significantly overlaps the areas represented by NDP MLA Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Deron Bilous in the provincial Legislature. The NDP’s 2008 and 2012 candidate, former MLA Ray Martin, was elected to serve on Edmonton’s Public School Board on October 21, 2013.
This week, Members of Parliament in Ottawa voted on Motion 312, which if passed could have re-opened a divisive debate about a woman’s right to make decisions concerning her own body. Thankfully, Motion 312 was defeated 203-91 votes, but it remains disappointing that in this modern age one-third of federal MPs stood in favour of this Motion.
Eight of Alberta’s twenty-seven MPs voted against and nineteen voted in favour of the Motion (the riding of Calgary-Centre is not currently represented in the House of Commons following the resignation of MP Lee Richardson).
Albertans appointed to the Federal Cabinet Two Alberta Conservative MPs were included in a recent cabinet shuffle in Ottawa. Macleod MP Ted Menzies was appointed as the Minister of State (Finance) and Calgary-Nose Hill MP Diane Ablonczy was appointed as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas). These two minor appointments were meant to offset the loss of Environment Minister Jim Prentice from the federal cabinet in Ottawa.
Raj Against the Machine Tour
Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman is hitting the road this spring on a province-wide town hall tour to hear Albertans’ views on health care. Dr. Sherman was kicked out of the PC caucus in November 2010 when he publicly criticized the PC government’s record on health care and singled out former Health Minister Ron Liepert as a problem. The good Doctor Sherman is also the newest MLA to join Twitter, where he can be found at @RajShermanMLA
NDP tackle the Tories on Long-term Care NDP MLA Brian Mason raised some fair criticisms of the PC Government’s handling of Long-term Care as the new Villa Caritas facility opened near the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton. Many of the beds in the Covenant Health-operated Villa Caritas were originally slated as Long-term Care spaces, but were later changed to include geriatric mental health patients transferred from Alberta Hospital Edmonton. According to the NDP, there are more than 600 people on the waiting list for long-term care beds in Edmonton.
Also expected to join the contest is three-term Town of Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, who is expected to launch his campaign for the new Alberta Party leadership in the next few weeks. Mayor Taylor was first elected to his current job in 2004. This would not be his first foray into provincial politics as he was the NDP candidate in West Yellowhead in the 1997 General Election when he placed a strong third with 20% of the vote.
Around the world in 21 days
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Iris Evans is gearing up for a trip around the globe that will land her in Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom from January 10 to 31, 2011. Cypress-Medicine Hat PC MLA Len Mitzel recently travelled to Texas for a three day trip to a meeting of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance meeting. I generally support sending representatives to promote Alberta internationally, but with the total amount of travel time being logged by cabinet ministers and PC MLAs, now might be the time to have a serious discussion about the value of these trips.
The Alberta-China Connection
The Calgary Herald has published the first of a four part series of articles written by Jason Fekete investigating the Province of Alberta’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China.