Highwood is one of the safest conservative seats in all of Alberta. The constituency resides just South of Calgary. It was formed in 1971 and the combined Social Credit/ Progressive Conservative vote was 93% in its first election.
Conservative support has softened in Highwood over the decades to the point where the combined Progressive Conservative/Wildrose Party vote in the 2015 election was a mere 74% (it was over 95% in 2012).
The real democratic race in Highwood will be for the UCP nomination rather than in the general election and this coming nomination race is ramping up to be a hot one.
Most parties will snap the nominations open and shut quickly in constituencies where they already have strong incumbent MLAs. The UCP is no exception.
Prasad Panda, Ric McIver and of course Jason Kenney have already had their nominations opened and closed.
Highwood is a different story. Not one but three strong candidates are contesting the UCP nomination right now.
Wayne Anderson is the incumbent MLA in Highwood. He was in the right place at the right time and was acclaimed for his initial nomination. The 2015 election was hard fought but the Wildrose still won Highwood constituency with narrow 8% margin. It should be noted that the combined conservative vote dropped in Highwood by 20% in that campaign. The winner got a grudging endorsement from the voters.
The relatively narrow win coupled with a drop in general conservative vote would have served as a warning to a canny incumbent. It is clear that the electorate in Highwood want to see an active MLA and want to feel that they are strongly represented. Alas, Mr. Anderson instead chose to mail it in with a lackluster backbench presence which is now catching up to him as electors organize to have him replaced. There will be no comfortable acclamation here.
One of the most pressing issues for residents of Highwood has been the ongoing and growing epidemic of rural crime. The issue came to a head when Highwood resident Eddie Maurice was charged and faces jail time for wounding a criminal as he defended his home and baby.
Highwood citizens along with Albertans in general were outraged at the charges being laid against Mr. Maurice. Hundreds rallied in support of Eddie Maurice at his first court appearance in Okotoks on a cold Friday morning.
Notably absent from the rally was the local MLA Wayne Anderson. The legislature was not sitting and while Wayne never misses a mid-week fundraiser he somehow couldn’t find time to join hundreds of his constituents to express concern on an issue that impacts us all. Perhaps it was a little too chilly outside for him. That can have an effect on urban types such as Mr. Anderson.
On the following Monday Wayne Anderson had a chance to speak to this issue at the legislature.
As reported by Rick Bell: “Then, lo and behold, Wayne Anderson, who represents Eddie Maurice in the legislature, stands up. This should be good, I’m thinking. Sadly, nothing on the criminals creating havoc in the countryside.”
Apparently Wayne didn’t think the issue was important enough to use his question on. Perhaps Wayne just didn’t want to wade into an issue as complex and potentially sticky as rural crime. Backbench warmers do have a tendency to vanish from any possibility of a controversial issue.
Eddie Maurice made five more court appearances since that first one. His issue is still ongoing. Sadly, his provincial representative has hidden from each and every one of those hearings.
While Wayne Anderson may be oblivious to the issues that are most important to his constituents, it is clear that residents of Highwood aren’t.
Daniel Smith learned the hard way what happens when you incur the wrath of the membership in Highwood. As an incumbent she lost her nomination to Carrie Fisher. That same Carrie Fisher is now running against Wayne Anderson for the nomination.
Along with Fisher, R.J. Sigurdson is running for the nod in Highwood. Sigurdson is a former constituency president of Highwood and is familiar with the members out there.
Local businessman Dean Leask was the first out of the gate in challenging Anderson for the nomination. Dean has some very strong credibility with his past involvement in both the PC party and the Wildrose Party at the provincial executive level. He knows how grassroots organizing works and isn’t hiding from the issues.
Rather than perhaps looking inward to understand why he is being so strongly challenged for his nomination, Wayne Anderson has come out indignant and spitting. His first response was to attack Fisher and Sigurdson in an interview with the High River times.
Wayne would be better served to consult with his constituents rather than attack the people who have put their names forward to better serve them.
Its in Anderson’s reaction to the challenge where we see the entrenchment of entitlement. One of the worst possible ailments of elected officials.
Will Anderson learn how to hit the ground to meet with constituents and sell memberships fast enough to head off these challengers in the coming weeks? Time will tell. He really should have started on this years ago.
Nominations are often overlooked by the public but they are a critical aspect of our system. When run properly, they keep our elected officials on our toes and they teach up and coming candidates how to consult and connect with their constituents.
The nomination process appears to be doing its job in Highwood.