Monday, October 21, 2013

Alberta municipal elections today

Voters in Alberta will be heading to the polls today to elect the municipal councils in 292 of Alberta's 298 municipalities. Only Lloydminster- which is partly in Saskatchewan (and hold elections on Saskatchewan's municipal election day) and 5 of the 8 improvement districts (which are governed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs) will not be holding elections. Alberta holds municipal elections every three years; The last election was in 2010. However, following these 2013 elections, Alberta municipalities will begin a four year cycle, with the next set of municipal elections scheduled to occur in 2017.

Out of Alberta's 16 cities holding elections, only two- Alberta's largest cities of Calgary and Edmonton- elect their councils using a ward structure. The remaining 14 cities elect their councils on an at large basis. However, in most of Alberta's 69 mainly rural municipal districts and specialized municipalities, councils are elected from wards or “divisions”. In most of the municipal districts, mayors and reeves (equivalent of mayor) are not directly elected by voters, but elected from within the municipal council, much like how Premiers are chosen in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.


Out of Alberta's two largest cities, the most interesting mayoral race (according to not only polls, but conventional wisdom) will be in the provincial capital of Edmonton. The race lacks an incumbent, with Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel retiring. Throughout the campaign the pundits have been labeling the election as a three-horse race between three city councillors, Kerry Diotte, Don Iveson and Karen Leibovici.

Recent polls suggest Iveson is the clear frontrunner. A Leger poll conducted last week showed him winning 54% of the vote. Iveson has been a city councillor since 2007, when he was just 28 years old (making him 34 now). Iveson is the most left leaning of the three main candidates, and represents Edmonton's Ward 10 in the south end of the city. His ward contains left leaning areas to the north of Whitemud Dr (located in the federal riding of Edmonton-Strathcona) plus more right wing areas south of Whitemud Dr, corresponding to the provincial riding of Edmonton-Rutherford. Iveson is clearly a popular councillor, as he won his ward with 76% of the vote in the 2010 election.

Edmonton Ward map

Polls (Leger pegs him at 23%) suggest that Iveson's main opponent is Kerry Diotte, a former journalist who represents Ward 11 on Edmonton City Council. First elected in 2010, Diotte is seen as the most right wing of the three main candidates. His ward is located right next door to Iveson's, and contains the western half of Edmonton's sprawling Mill Woods suburb in the city's southeast as well as more conservative leaning areas in the southeast corner of the federal riding of Edmonton-Strathcona. Diotte won his ward in 2010 with 44% of the vote. The race was an open seat, but he polled well ahead of the second place candidate, who won 29% of the vote.

The third main candidate in the race for mayor of Edmonton is Liberal Karen Leibovici. Leger suggests she is polling in third at 19%. Leibovici is a former Liberal MLA, representing the West Edmonton riding of Edmonton-Meadowlark from 1993 to 2001. After losing her seat in the provincial assembly, Leibovici entered Edmonton City Council, being first elected in 2001. She currently represents Ward 5, in the southwest corner of the city. The ward, which contains much of West Edmonton is right leaning in its voting patterns. Despite this, Leibovici is a popular councillor. She won 72% of the vote in the ward in 2010.

In addition to Diotte, Iveson and Liebovici, there are three minor candidates running for mayor: Kristine Acielo, Joshua Semotiuk and Gordon Ward. On city council, there are a number of open seats with no incumbents, including wards 1, 2, and 6 as well as wards 5, 10 and 11 which are being vacated by the three main mayoral candidates. In total, there are 12 wards in the city that elect one councillor each.

The 2010 election in Edmonton was not as exciting, as it pitted Stephen Mandel, who had been mayor since 2004 against only minor opposition. Mandel won re-election with 55% of the vote, down 11% from his re-election victory in 2007. His main opponent was David Dorward, who won 30% of the vote. Dorward, who ran a populist campaign was little known at the time, but his mayoral bid boosted his portfolio enough to be elected as a Tory MLA in the 2012 provincial election. Mandel, who was easily the establishment candidate won every ward in the city, doing particularly well in the more wealthy southern end of the city. Dorward's strength was in the northeast of the city. While he didn't win any wards, he did almost win Ward 7, in the east end of the city. Despite being a conservative, Dorward's campaign was populist enough to attract many supporters of this ward, which covers two NDP ridings provincially. However, he did not do well in Edmonton's traditionally most left wing ward, Ward 8 which includes a large part of Edmonton-Strathcona. Mandel won this ward 60%-29% for Dorward.


Travel south down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway to get to Alberta's largest city, Calgary. If you want an exciting mayoral race in the city though, you will have to travel back in time to 2010 when the city surprised pundits everywhere by electing a progressive Muslim mayor (first in a major North American city) by the name of Naheed Nenshi. Nenshi has been a tremendously effective and popular mayor, despite ruling over perhaps Canada's most conservative city. His handling of the Calgary floods in particular has made him extremely popular in the city. Leger shows Nenshi polling at 81%- 66 points ahead of his main rival, former Tory MLA Jon Lord who is at 15%. Nenshi's popularity is not without controversy however. One recent controversy erupted about a month ago in the form a feud between Nenshi and right wing commentator Ezra Levant. Levant criticized Nenshi for “pandering” to an environmental think tank, the Pembina Institue by awarding them a city contract. This spat led to a sparring match over Twitter, between the two former debate partners.

The purple revolution
Nenshi's star status began with his 2010 mayoral campaign. Nenshi had never been elected to a political office before, having lost an attempt to enter city council in 2004. However, his campaign harnessed the power of social media to engage voters with his platform, which pushed him into a three-way tie in the polls just before the election. On election day, Nenshi won 40% of the vote, enough to claim a victory, ahead of city councillor (and current Tory cabinet minister) Ric McIver (32%) and journalist Barb Higgins (26%). Nenshi's campaign was dubbed the “purple revolution”, for his main campaign colour of purple. Despite only winning 40% of the vote, his purple revolution coloured 11 of Calgary's 14 wards purple. That is, he won 11 wards in the race. McIver won two, and Higgins just one. Nenshi's support was strongest in the central part of the city, which is more urban and progressive, and in the north which is less affluent, and is home to a large percentage of visible minorities. McIver's two wards were won in the affluent and very suburban south end of the city. Higgins won ward 10, in the east end of the city, which was also Nenshi's worst ward. McIver's best ward was Ward 12- in the southeast corner of the city- where he won 52% of the vote. His riding in the Alberta Legislative Assembly is also located in this ward. While Ward 12 was McIver's best ward, it also happened to be Higgins' worst ward. Nenshi's best ward was Ward 8 where he won 57% of the vote. Ward 8 covers much of Calgary's more urban and progressive neighbourhoods.

Calgary 2011 Ward map (note small changes from 2007)
While Nenshi will likely win a landslide victory, he does have a main opponent that is attracting the bulk of anti-Nenshi voters. This is Jon Lord, who as I mentioned is polling at 15%. Lord is also the most high profile candidate opposing Nenshi, as he is a former city councillor, MLA and also was a minor candidate for mayor in the 2010 election. He served as an alderman on Calgary City Council from 1995 to 2001 and as an MLA representing Calgary-Currie in the west end of the city from 2001 until his defeat in 2004. He came out of the political wilderness to contest in the 2010 mayoral campaign, but won just 0.4% of the vote, in 6th place. Since then, he attempted to seek the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary Centre for the by-election held last year. While Lord is an outspoken politician, he is not an extremist, but considering how popular Nenshi is, one can imagine much of Lord's support will come from partisan conservatives, and those on the extreme right. Before I put my foot in my mouth too much, one can assume many far right wing voters will vote for Larry Heather, a Christian radio talk show host and perennial Christian Heritage Party candidate. He is running a far-right campaign highlighting Nenshi's Islamic faith. However, Heather did not register in the Leger poll, which did register minor candidates Sandra Hunter, Bruce Jackman and Carter Thomson who combined are polling at 3%. Also running are Milan Papez, Norm Perrault and Jonathan Joseph Sunstrum.

While Nenshi is not facing any serious opposition for his job as mayor, his allies are facing serious opposition in a number of council races. There has been a lot of talk about six candidates in particular being endorsed by the right wing think-tank, the Manning Institute. Of these six candidates, one is running in an open seat, and the other five are running against left leaning councillors. These six candidates are particularly pro-development and feel that Nenshi and his allies are not. The candidates are Joe Magliocca (Ward 2, open), Sean Chu (Ward 4, running against Gael MacLeod), Kevin Taylor (Ward 7, running against Druh Farrell), Ian Newman (Ward 8, running against John Mar), Richard Wilkie (Ward 9, running against Gian-Carlo Carra) and James Maxim (Ward 11, running against Brian Pincott). Outside of Ward 2, Ward 1 is the only other open seat in the city. There are 14 wards in total, and each one elects a councillor (formerly aldermen) each.

Strathcona County

The third largest municipality in Alberta is actually Strathcona County, a “specialized municipality” mainly consisting of the Hamlet of Sherwood Park, a large suburb on Edmonton's eastern fringe. 70% of the county's residents live in Sherwood Park, which is otherwise unincorporated. From Edmonton, the county runs north to Fort Saskatchewan and the North Saskatchewan River, east to Elk Island National Park, and south past Cooking Lake. The county elects a mayor, and eight councillors, one from each of the county's eight wards. Five of the wards are located in Sherwood Park, and the remaining three represent the more rural parts of the municipality.

Ward map
There are two candidates for mayor of Strathcona County, the incumbent mayor, Linda Osinchuk, and councillor Roxanne Carr. Osinchuk served as a Catholic School Board Trustee from 2001 to 2004, then was elected to County Council in 2004 and served as a councillor until defeating two-term Mayor Cathy Olesen in the 2010 mayoral race. Osinchuk had represented Ward 3, which covers the Sherwood Heights, Brentwood, Nottingham, Maplegrove and Maplewood neighbourhoods in south Sherwood Park. Roxanne Carr was first elected to council in 2007, and was re-elected by acclamation in 2010. Her ward is Ward 2, which covers Glen Allan, Chelsea Heights, Charlton Heights and Clover Bar Ranch in the north-central part of Sherwood Park.

2010 Strathcona County mayoral results by ward

The 2010 race was fought over the issue of constructing a full-fledged hospital for Sherwood Park. Osinchuk felt that mayor Olsen had not advocated strongly enough for the building of one. The facility would be built under Osinchuk as mayor, however it has been downgraded for emergency care only. This issue is the main one for the Osinchuk-Carr race, as Carr has been critical of Osinchuk's handling of the issue. Residents didn't think too badly of Oleson after her 2010 defeat, as Sherwood Park voters would elect her to the Alberta Legislature as a Tory in the 2012 provincial election. But, voters were upset enough to send Olesen packing in the 2010 mayoral race, as she lost to Osinchuk 57%-43%, and lost every ward in the County. Osinchuk's best ward was Ward 6, where she won 63% of the vote. Ward 6 is a mostly rural ward, which takes in the southern and eastern fringes of Sherwood Park, but also includes the rural communities of Wyecliff, Bretona and Forest Hills Country Estates. Olesen's top ward was Ward 2, where she won 49% of the vote, losing out to Osinchuk by just 49 votes. One would expect a rural-urban split in a county like Stathcona, but there was non in the Osinchuk-Olesen race. The map shows more of a north-south split, with Olesen stronger in the north part of the county, and Osinchuk in the south.

Red Deer

With 91,000 people, Red Deer is the third largest city in the province. It is also the largest municipality in the province without a municipal ward structure. All eight city councillors are elected on an at-large basis; Each voter in the city votes for eight councillors, and the eight candidates with the most votes are elected. However, voters can change that, as there is a plebiscite which asks voters whether or not they would like to have a ward system in place. As an electoral geographer, I would love for the voters to approve such a measure, but we have seen in the past in places like Vancouver, that voters often oppose this forward step in democracy.

The mayoral race in Red Deer will be hotly contested, as three-term incumbent mayor Morris Flewwelling is retiring. There are five candidates in the running to replace him, two of whom are serious candidates: councillors Cindy Jefferies and Tara Veer. Also running in the race are taxi driver William Horn, accountant Chad Mason and Dennis Trepanier. Councillor Jefferies was a public school trustee from 1995 to 2004, when she was elected to city council. Councillor Veer has also been on city council since 2004. Because of Red Deer's at large system of voting, it is easy to compare the popularity of the two candidates based on their past results. By looking at the 2010 result, it is clear that Tara Veer is the most popular councillor in the city, as she won more votes than any other council candidate, with 10,311. Not far behind her in second however was Jefferies with 9,278 votes. For the record, it appears Veer is the more conservative candidate, and has worked for an MP in the area.


Alberta's fourth largest city is Lethbridge, and it too will have an open race. Lethbridge's single term mayor Rajko Dodic has decided against renewing his term as the city's mayor, leaving the race to replace him wide open. There are four candidates running, Councillors Bridget Mearns and Faron Ellis, businessman Chris Spearman and Curtis Simpson.

Mearns was first elected to council in the 2010 election. Prior to that, she worked for a number of politicians, including Tory MLA Dick Johnston, Tory MP Blaine Thacker and Liberal-turned Tory MLA Bridget Pastoor. Ellis was also first elected to council in 2010, having been a political science professor prior to that. In the 2010 Lethbridge at-large council elections, Mearns won 8740 votes (third place) and Ellis won 7,891 votes (6th place)- giving Mearns the edge by that measure. However, not to be undone is 2010 mayoral race runner up Chris Spearman, who won 5,962 votes in 2010, losing the mayoral race to Dodic by 108 votes. Spearman has an impressive resume, including 18 years on the Holy Spirit School Board, serving on the Industrial Association of Southern Alberta and on the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce. The fourth candidate, Curtis Simpson appears to be a fringe candidate with little chance. On council, voters elect eight at-large councillors.

Wood Buffalo

Up in the northeast corner of the province is the sprawling Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, home to Fort McMurray and a whole lot of nothing else. Wood Buffalo happens to be the third largest municipality in the country in terms of geographic area. Its 66000 people are “spread” over an area of 64000 sq. km. In reality however, 61000 of those 66000 live in Fort McMurray. Wood Buffalo does have a ward system, with Fort McMurray corresponding to Ward 1 (which elects six councillors at large), and three rural wards with two councillors from Ward 2 and one each from Wards 3 and 4. Despite over 90% of the municipality's population living in Fort McMurray, its weight on council is only 60%.

Wood Buffalo Ward map
There are three candidates for mayor of Wood Buffalo, incumbent mayor Melissa Blake, Gene Ouellette and Jim Rogers. Melissa Blake is the incumbent mayor, having first been elected to the office in 2004 after two terms as councillor. She is a popular mayor, having been elected in 2010 with 73% of the vote. Her main opponent could be Metis businessman Gene Ouellette. Also running is former environmental representitive Jim Rogers.

St. Albert

In St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton, the race for mayor is a re-match of the 2010 race between mayor Nolan Crouse and Shelley Biermanski. Crouse won the election with 68.5% of the vote to Biermanski's 31.5%. Mayor Crouse was first elected to city council in 2004, and was first elected as mayor in 2007. Outside of her 2010 election bid, Biermanski's biography is less political. She is currently in sales for a car dealership. On council, voters in St. Albert will elect six at large councillors.

Medicine Hat

In Medicine Hat, Albert's sixth largest city, a four-way race for mayor has emerged. The incumbent mayor is former police chief Normand Boucher, who has served as mayor of the city since 2007. However, his campaign appears to be rather non existent- at least in terms of an online presence. Boucher is a Liberal in a very right wing city. He ran for the federal Liberals in the Medicine Hat riding in the 2011 election, and was one of only a few Liberal candidates in the country to increase the party's percentage of the vote (he still only won 10%). In his 2010 bid for re-election, Boucher was only narrowly re-elected, winning 45% of the vote, just 443 votes ahead of the second place candidate. Boucher is facing competition from three strong candidates, businesswoman Milvia Bauman and councillors Ted Clugston and Phil Turnbull.

Ted Clugston is a two term city alderman and financial planner. Turnbull is a former general manager at Canadian Tire, and was first elected to council in 2010. In the 2010 municipal election, Ted Clugston was elected in 2nd place in the at large council race with 10,161 votes, while Turnbull was elected with just 7,393 votes in 7th place. Milvia Bauman is also running a strong campaign. She works in her family business, a local sporting store, and has an impressive community resume.

Medicine Hat elects eight at large councillors.

Grande Prairie

In the largest city in western Alberta, there is a two-horse race for mayor. The city's incumbent mayor is Bill Given, who was first elected to city council in 2001, who, at 24, was the youngest councillor the city has ever had. He was first elected to mayor in 2010, making city history again by becoming its youngest mayor. In the race, Given defeated the incumbent mayor, Dwight Logan, winning 38% to Logan's 36%. Finishing third in the race was Gladys Blackmore, who is Given's only opponent in this year's mayoral race. She won 23% of the vote in 2010. Blackmore is a former city councillor, having served in that capacity from 2001 until her defeat in 2010. On council, voters will elect eight at large councillors.


The last municipality I will cover is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, Airdrie- a northern exurb of Calgary. Between 2006 and 2011 Airdrie grew from 29000 people to 43000 people- nearly a 50% increase. There will be no mayoral race in the city, as the incumbent mayor Peter Brown has been acclaimed. He was first elected as mayor in 2010 when he defeated the previous mayor, Linda Bruce with 48% of the vote. What was particularly amusing about the 2010 race in Airdrie is how the turnout was a “high” 33% which left city staff scrambling. The 2007 election in Airdrie (then a much smaller city) had mayor Linda Bruce acclaimed, and attracted only 12% of voters. For some reason city staff are expecting a 45% turnout, which is ridiculous considering there will be no race for mayor. While the city won't have a mayoral race, it will be electing six at large councillors.

There are of course many other races across the province, but those are the ones in the 10 largest municipalities. Polls will be closing at 8pm Mountain Time, which is 10pm Eastern.

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