On Monday, June 30, voters in four federal ridings across Canada, including Alberta’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod, have an opportunity to choose their next Member of Parliament. Paying close attention to a by-election campaign may not be the most thrilling activity to occupy your time during the summer months, but it is an important one.
Voters in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding are expected to march into the ballot box and elect Conservative John Barlow as their next MP, but the race in the vast northern riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca could produce much more interesting results after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.
While the opposition parties have written off the area in the past, it is hard to make that argument in 2014. Kyle Harrietha has run the strongest Liberal campaign the riding has seen in a generation, and has been boosted by leader Justin Trudeau, who has visited the riding three times since Conservative MP Brian Jean resigned in January 2014.
New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair had been scheduled to visit the riding and campaign alongside Lori McDaniel during the by-election but cancelled his planned trip to attend the funeral of the three murdered R.C.M.P. officers in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was nowhere to be seen during this by-election.
While national issues like the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the ongoing environmental debates about climate change and the impact of Oil Sands development, are sure the play a role in how voters decide to cast their ballots, Tip O’Neill‘s well-known saying “all politics is local” will certainly be a factor in this by-election.
Fort McMurray is a booming community where there are serious concerns about the lagging pace of infrastructure investment from the provincial and federal governments. The pace of economic growth sparked a huge influx of diverse migrants from across Canada and the globe.
While the region is an economic engine for the country, residents I have spoken with feel their community has been forgotten, or just plain ignored, by the higher levels of government.
Conservative candidate David Yurdiga has played a peekaboo campaign, skipping all-candidates debates and not engaging with voters on social media (he has been accused of “blocking” local voters who have criticized him on Twitter). He hails from the voter-rich southern reaches of the riding in Athabasca County, which faces some similar and many different issues than the industrial oil capital to the north.
In the south, Mr. Yurdiga has received the endorsements of Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw and embattled provincial Education Minister Jeff Johnson.
As Canadians have witnessed many times in the past, by-elections pose a risk to incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a strong message of approval or disapproval to Ottawa without changing who is in power.
Former Conservative MP Mr. Jean was re-elected in 2011 with a 17,935 vote margin of victory over his closest challenger. If Mr. Yurdiga is elected with even a significantly smaller margin, voters will send a message that will quickly be forgotten in Ottawa. If voters in this riding elect Mr. Harrietha tomorrow, they will send shockwaves through the comfortable Conservative establishment in the nation’s capital.