Can the opposition parties win any of the four provincial by-elections being held on October 27, 2014?
The by-election votes will take place in four urban constituencies that were considered safe for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 election. With a change in provincial leadership and a volatile political environment, these by-elections do provide opportunities for the opposition parties to make gains.
In Calgary-Elbow, Wildrose candidate John Fletcher appears to be PC candidate and appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks‘ main conservative challenger and challenges from two other liberal-leaning candidates could create an interesting result in Calgary-Elbow.
Liberal Susan Wright and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark are running strong campaigns competing for the same liberal and moderate voters that Mr. Dirks will need to win against his more conservative opponent. Mr. Clark has gained the support of 2012 PC Party campaign strategist Stephen Carter and 2012 Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan, who are both heavily involved in his campaign.
Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins was able to win this constituency in a 2007 by-election at a time when the Liberals were Official Opposition and the Tories were led by new PC leader Ed Stelmach, who was unfamiliar to most Calgary voters at the time. In 2014, the field of candidates and parties is much more crowded and unpredictable.
Retired popular Edmonton Mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is widely expected to glide to victory in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election (his predecessor, Dave Hancock was re-elected with 60% of the vote in 2012).
Mr. Mandel’s vocal opponents are trying to make health care and the provincial government’s lack of long-term infrastructure planning the big issues of the by-election campaign.
New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner has come out swinging with an aggressive campaign against the new Health Minister and his comments about “bed blockers” in the health care system.
Both Dr. Turner and Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson have made south west Edmonton’s aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital a focus of their campaigns. Dr. Wilson held a press conference outside the Misericordia Hospital yesterday and today the NDP will hold a lunch-hour rally outside the facility.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith chose the campaign office of Whitemud candidate Tim Grover to announce her party’s health care funding plan, including promises of $100 million to front-line care, $50 million to home care and $50 million to reopen long-term care beds. The Wildrose Party also released a series of election campaign-style online videos attacking the PCs.
Statistician Eric Grenier predicts Wildrose candidate Sheila Taylor could win the Calgary-West by-election. Ms. Taylor, a now former trustee on the Calgary Board of Education, is a star candidate for the Wildrose in Calgary. She is facing Calgary police officer Mike Ellis, who unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination before the 2012 election.
Premier Jim Prentice‘s recent announcement to build an additional 55 new schools and renovate another 20 is certainly meant to boost Mr. Dirks’ and weaken Ms. Taylor’s candidacy. Quick to respond, Mr. Clark’s campaign set up a website detailing the schools Mr. Dirks voted to close during his time on the Calgary Board of Education.
Running as a candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election, Mr. Prentice faces his main challenge from Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald, a 20-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service. Foothills has voted solidly PC since 1967 and while it is easy to assume that Mr. Prentice’s job as Premier makes him a shoe-in, he should not take voters for granted. Mr. Grenier has classified Foothills are a “tossup” between the PCs and Wildrose.
There is nothing more the opposition parties would love than to see a sitting Premier defeated in his own constituency. A loss in Foothills might be unlikely, but a loss of even one of the four by-elections would be a sign that the PCs, even under “new management,” remain politically vulnerable. By-elections can be risky for incumbent governments, especially when voters are eager to use their votes to send a message.
Upcoming all-candidates forums
Calgary-Foothills all-candidates forum: October 15, 8:30pm at the Edgemont Community Association (33 Edgevalley Circle NW).
Edmonton-Whitemud all-candidates forum: October 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Snow Valley Chalet. Hosted by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta and the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta.
Edmonton-Whitemud all-candidates forum: October 22 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Riverbend United Church (14907 – 45 Avenue NW). This forum is hosted by Whitemud Citizens for Public Health.