Jason Kenney’s win in the Calgary Lougheed by-election hardly came as a shock to anybody. The seat was a safe conservative one and Kenney’s campaign abilities are renowned.
Still, some were hoping to see some cracks and weaknesses in the Kenney steamroller which has powered through four of the five steps Jason listed in his plan to take back Alberta. Those with such hopes were bitterly disappointed last night as the results flew in (credit to Elections Alberta by the way for the speedy results with the new system).
Some of what gave the anti-Kenney folks in Alberta some hope was based on the disastrous fall legislative session. While traditionally in Alberta it is the government that is eager to end a session and go into the holidays in order to lick their wounds, this time it was the UCP scrambling for the exit. The UCP lurched from one legislative trap to another during the session and the official opposition seemed to spend more time on the defensive in question period than the government did. Icing on the cake was a pair of issues that emerged just last week with Jason Nixon and Derek Fildebrandt getting into the soup. Despite all that, hopes of cracks emerging in the Kenney armor were dashed last night as he posted a near record victory in Lougheed with 71.5% support.
With the next general election scheduled for the spring of 2019 (I think Notley will push it to 2020), any number of political happenings and changes could happen between now and then. It would be dangerous to assume that the mood among the electorate will remain as it was last night when they resoundingly rejected Phillip van der Merwe of the NDP. That said, we can still read a lot into the snapshot that the election last night provided.
United Conservative Party
The only party that can declare last night as a win is the United Conservative Party.
This was the first electoral test for the newly merged UCP. Some had speculated (hoped) that the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party would not translate into an automatic combined vote. Not only did the new UCP retain the combined vote from the two parties, they increased it by nearly 9%! This is huge in what it signifies and anybody trying to dismiss this is either delusional or simply spreading BS. Kenney not only kept the traditional conservative support, he increased it.
This was a hard fought campaign and nearly 72% of the constituency voted for the UCP. The campaign of fear and smear led by the Notley NDP not only failed dismally but has been defused. The NDP are many things but stupid is typically not one of them. If they continue to try to label all supporters of the UCP as being extreme and bigoted as they have been, they will be gravely insulting upwards of 3/4 of voters in suburban Calgary constituencies and likely even a higher number of people in rural constituencies.
The NDP will have to try and up their fiscal management record rather than throwing shit like aggrieved monkeys if they are to have any hope of staying in government in the next election. That means they have to play on Kenney’s turf and it is doubtful that they are capable of it.
Governing parties traditionally have a tough time in by-elections. That said, despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Jason Kenney in the by-election the NDP support utterly collapsed.
The Notley NDP chose to run a strong candidate with Phillip van der Merwe who is a respected local doctor. This was a strategic choice as well since van der Merwe is openly gay. The NDP hoped to keep the campaign focused on social issues and perhaps draw out some extreme reactions against their candidate in hopes of playing victims.
It simply didn’t work.
Despite weeks of hard campaigning and constant hyperbole about Kenney and his supporters, the NDP support dropped by nearly half to finish with a sad 16.79%.
While nobody rational expected the NDP to win this race, this was still a huge blow to the party.
While this doesn’t guarantee a loss for the NDP in the next general election, when combined with two other by-election losses it makes it pretty clear that Albertans do indeed see the NDP as an accidental government in need of replacement.
The Green Party
The Greens are considered something of a moderate middle or acceptable left of center alternative in BC and many other jurisdictions. In Alberta, they don’t even register on the political radar.
Green Party leader Romy Tittel gathered a scant 60 votes in total for 0.55% support. This is nothing less than crushing for anybody who had any hope that the Greens were going to fill any kind of electoral void.
The Alberta Liberal Party
David Khan worked hard to gather what he could from the soft left. He was hoping that disenfranchised red tories from the PC party and perhaps some less than hard left supporters from the NDP would come his way. With the increase to the UCP vote, it looks unlikely that he pulled any traditional PC supporters. Khan may have drawn some from the NDP though and he did increase the Liberal vote share by 4.5% from the last election. Momentum is important and he gained some ground in trying to position his party as an alternative.
All the same, I suspect that the Liberals hoped to at least beat the NDP and score higher than 9.3%
The Alberta Party
The Alberta Party had a chance to represent themselves in the by-election but instead sat it out as they remained embroiled with internal turmoil. A loss with a good effort would still have looked better than their complete absence. The party’s lame excuse for not entering was that they needed to focus on the leadership race that they triggered when they pressured Greg Clark from the role. When it is considered that they haven’t drawn any contenders for that race to date, their excuse looks a tad hollow.
The Redford era Progressive Conservative strategists who flooded into the Alberta Party after the creation of the UCP have proven themselves to be the unprincipled, party destroyers that we all thought they were.
It will be at least another election cycle or two before the Alberta Party registers on the electoral horizon if ever.
Randy Thorsteinson’s Reform Party
Randy Thorsteinson was the leader of the Social Credit Party in Alberta in the 1990s. Randy later founded the Alberta Alliance Party which changed to the Wildrose Alliance and has evolved/merged into the UCP of today.
Thorsteinson is smart, works hard and is a very successful businessman. He puts his money where his mouth is as he backstops these political ventures with his own cash. This led to some very big problems with the Wildrose Party in the past that I will have to write about one of these days
The problem with Thorsteinson is that he is incapable of acting as a team player. He has to run the show and will invariably take his ball (money) and go home if he has anything less than total control of a party.
Randy’s latest creation is the Alberta Reform Party through which he ran his daughter Lauren Thorsteinson in the Calgary Lougheed by-election. Despite a well funded campaign with plenty of expensive signs and literature, Lauren finished with a lackluster 137 votes for a 1.26% showing.
The run did bring back memories of the 2007 Calgary by-election where Jane Greydanus (now Jane Morgan & yes she is my wife), ran under the Alberta Alliance banner. Randy Thorsteinson was the party president at that time and he pumped a lot of resources into the campaign. Jane finished with 456 votes for 4% which hardly threatened the powers that be but it was an important step (among so many) in our building of that movement that led to the UCP of today.
Randy has his personal, unabashedly social conservative party to play with and it will never become anything more than that.
Marilyn Burns has always specialized in representing the sour grapes in the conservative movement. She has jumped in and out of multiple provincial political parties only to organize bitter campaigns against them from the outside looking in. A common syndrome in alternative parties.
Since the UCP merger, Burns and a few other chronic malcontents have been trying to form the “Alberta Advantage Party”. By most accounts they won’t manage to get registered as a party and will likely fade away soon.
The “Alberta Advantage” bunch did combine their brainpower and resources to field a candidate as an independent. His name was Wayne Leslie and he gathered a whopping 42 votes for .39% of the vote. Truly insignificant.
Last and definitely least was Crazy Larry Heather who has run in countless elections on his platform of intolerant religious fervor and general insanity.
While clearly being touched by the gods, Larry doesn’t appear to have their support. Heather garnered a whopping 22 votes for 0.2% of the vote. That number was likely people who made errors with the voting machine.
This by-election was an excellent way to cap off a year for the UCP. After a chain of victories followed by a weak legislative session, the party is off to a bright and strong start for 2018.
Jason Kenney has been in campaign mode for over 18 months with one race after another. Kenney can now finally focus on leading and managing the UCP so that it truly can be turned into the government in waiting that Albertans want. With Kenney’s formidable work ethic and organizational skills focused on the party rather than outside campaigns, I expect that we will see a much stronger and better prepared UCP going into the next legislative session.
Another factor that made things difficult for the UCP in the fall session was a lack of legislative budget due to the last leader of the opposition having pissed it away in hopes of retaining his position. The clock is reset and this fiscal handicap will not be in play for the unified UCP in 2018. With a full research and support team in the legislature I expect we will see a stronger presence as bills are properly vetted and amendments created. Committee work should improve too.
2018 is looking like a good year for the UCP and Alberta.