Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alberta provincial by-elections Monday

There will be four provincial by-elections in Alberta on Monday to replace outgoing members of the Legislative Assembly. Three of the by-elections will be in the Calgary ridings of Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-West, while the fourth by-election will be in the riding of Edmonton-Whitemud. All four ridings elected Progressive Conservative MLAs in the 2012 provincial election, and with generally safe margins at that. These by-elections were called by Alberta's new Premier Jim Prentice, who won the Tory leadership race in early September. Prentice won despite not holding a seat in the legislature, but is running in one of the by-elections, in Calgary-Foothills. Additionally, when Prentice named his cabinet, he chose two people who were also not members of the Legislative Assembly who will also be running in Monday's by-elections.  Prentice became Premier following the resignation of the scandal-ridden Alison Redford in March.  Dave Hancock, the now former MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud served as Premier until Prentice was overwhelmingly elected as leader six months later. Since there have been no by-elections since the provincial election in 2012, these four will be the first test for the governing Progressive Conservative Party—almost a midterm, of sorts.


This riding, located southwest of Calgary's downtown, was represented by Premier Redford from the 2008 election until resigning the seat in August. She served as Premier of the province from 2011 until March of 2014. Redford is not the only Premier to represent the riding, as Ralph Klein held the seat from 1989 to 2007. The riding has voted in the Progressive Conservatives in every election since its creation in 1971, except for the by-election to replace Klein in 2007. In that race, the waning popularity  of the Tories was enough to give Liberal candidate Craig Cheffins a surprise 800-vote victory over his PC challenger, Brian Heninger. However, just 9 months later, Cheffins lost to Redford in the 2008 general election, by an even smaller margin of 400 votes.  Redford easily cruised to victory in the 2012 election, thanks in part to a collapsed Liberal vote, as Liberal voters went to the Red Tory to stop the threat of the more right wing Wildrose Party. In the end, the Wildrose Party candidate James Cole finished in a distant second to Redford, losing by nearly 6000 votes.

MLAs (since 1959)

Calgary Glenmore
* E.S. Watkins, Prog. Cons. (1959-1963)
* W.D. Dickie, Liberal (1963-1969); Prog. Cons. (1969-1971)

* D.J. Russell, Prog. Cons. (1971-1989)
* R.P. Klein, Prog. Cons. (1989-2007)

* Craig Cheffins, Liberal (2007-2008)
* Ms. A.M. Redford, Prog. Cons. (2008-2014)

Calgary-Elbow contains a number of wealthy neighbourhoods located adjacent to downtown, including Altadore, Mount Royal and Lincoln Park. The Mount Royal area is particularly wealthy, with a median household income of $250,000. The riding is named for the Elbow River, which flows through the riding from the Glenmore Reservoir to just before it crosses under 4 St.

Calgary-Elbow 2012 election results by polling division
Calgary-Elbow 2012 election results by neighbourhood
Wealth is the biggest determiner in voting habits in this riding. Historically in Liberal vs. PC races, the Liberals have won in the poorer parts of the riding, such as South Calgary, while the Tories have dominated the wealthier neighbourhoods.  In 2012, both poor and rich alike united behind Redford, who won all but two polls in the riding. In fact, she won a majority of the vote in every neighbourhood. Overall, the 58% she won in the seat was the best mark for her party in the entire city. Her best neighbourhoods were still the wealthier parts of the riding, Elbow Park being her best, which gave her 65% of the vote. Her worst neighbourhood was Glamorgan, in the far western tip of the riding, where she still managed to get 51%. The Wildrose Party managed to win one poll in Glamorgan, but their best neighbourhood was the Bel-Aire/Mayfair/Meadowlark Park area in the southeast corner of the riding. There, they won 35% of the vote, but no polls. For all of the more left leaning parties (Liberals, NDP, Alberta Party and the Evergreen Party), Calgary South was their strongest neighbourhood; their combined vote, however, still would not have been good enough for even second place.

With a surprise by-election victory for the Liberals in 2007, it is entirely possible that Calgary-Elbow could come up with another electoral surprise on Monday. Recent province-wide polls show the Progressive Conservatives at least 12 points down from the 44% they won in the 2012 election, though polls during that campaign proved to be hugely inaccurate.  A 12 point drop in support in Calgary-Elbow would not be enough for the Tories to lose the seat. With the Liberals stagnating in the polls, it seems unlikely for the Grits to pick this one up. The only other party with a chance of winning would be Wildrose, but they may be too socially conservative for this wealthy district.

The Tories are running Gordon Dirks, a former cabinet minister in his native Saskatchewan, who Prentice appointed as Minister of Education, despite Dirks not yet having a seat in the assembly. Dirks is a former teacher, school board trustee and pastor, who has faced some criticism from the gay community because of the theological principles of Dirks' former church. Wildrose is running military commander and lawyer John Fletcher, the Liberals are running lawyer Susan Wright, the NDP is running Stephanie McLean (another lawyer), and the fledgling Alberta Party is running their new leader, Greg Clark.


In the northwest corner of the city lies the riding of Calgary-Foothills, a suburban riding containing the neighbourhoods of Edgemont, Hamptons, Hidden Valley and the brand new neighbourhood of Symonds Valley on the fringes of the city. The riding was represented by Progressive Conservative-turned-Independent Len Webber from 2004 until he resigned last month after winning the federal Conservative nomination in the new riding of Calgary Confederation. Webber left the Progressive Conservatives in March to protest the scandal ridden government of Alison Redford.

The riding is generally upper middle class, and has been a Tory stronghold for most of its existence. Since the riding was created in 1971, it has seen only one close election when, in the 1989 election, Tory candidate Pat Nelson beat Liberal Harvey Locke by 500 votes in a three way race. In every other election in the riding's history, the Tories have won handily. In 2012, Webber beat Wildrose Party challenger Dustin Nau by over 2,000 votes.

MLAs (since 1959)

Calgary Bowness
* C.E. Johnston, Social Credit (1959-1967)
* L.F. Werry, Prog. Cons. (1967-1971)

* L.F. Werry, Prog. Cons. (1971-1973) continued
* S.A. McCrae, Prog. Cons. (1973-1982)
* Ms. J.S. Koper, Prog. Cons. (1982-1988)
* Mrs. P. Nelson, Prog. Cons. (1989-2004)
* L.W. Webber, Prog. Cons. (2004-2014)

In 2012, all but one poll in Calgary-Foothills went to Webber. Just one poll, in Symons Valley, went to the Wildrose. When the Liberals were somewhat competitive in 2008, the Grits did quite well in the Edgemont neighbourhood, which has a large Chinese population. In 2012, this was the Liberals' best neighbourhood, although they only won 11% of the vote there. Hamptons has been the most conservative neighbourhood in the riding in recent elections, including in 2012 when the Tories won 56% of the neighbourhood's vote. Their worst neighbourhood in 2012 was Hidden Valley, where they still won 51% of the vote. Hidden Valley was the best neighbourhood for Wildrose, but they still only managed 35%; on a side-note, Hidden Valley also has a large immigrant population.

Calgary-Foothills 2012 election results by polling division
Calgary-Foothills 2012 election results by neighbourhood

Calgary-Foothills is the riding in which Jim Prentice has decided to run. Running for the Wildrose Party is Kathy Macdonald, a retired police officer. The Liberals are running Robert Prcic, a businessman who was the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Northwest in 2012 (by the way, that was not a spelling mistake, his name is actually spelled Prcic). The NDP is running consulting firm manager Jennifer Burgess.

It is unlikely in my opinion that the Tories will lose this seat. The PC Party will be putting a lot of effort into ensuring their leader is able to win the riding so he can take his seat in the Alberta Legislature. The Tories won the seat by 20 points in 2012 and are unlikely to loose that much support in the by-election.


Located in Calgary's affluent and suburban west end is the aptly named riding of Calgary-West. It is rectangular in shape and contains the neighbourhoods of Signal Hill, Strathcona Park, Christie Park, Aspen Woods, Springbank Hill and Discovery Ridge. The latter three neighbourhoods are especially wealthy, as all have median household incomes in the $150,000 range. The riding has been vacant since the end of September when its MLA, Conservative Ken Hughes, resigned to take a job in the private sector. Hughes, a former Tory MP for the southwestern Alberta riding of MacLeod, had only been an MLA since 2012.

The riding has gone Tory for much of its history, though it did go Liberal in 1993 with the election of Danny Dalla-Longa. From 1967 to 1986, the riding was represented by former Premier Peter Lougheed, who often won the seat with massive margins. The riding has been consistently conservative since the Tories won the seat back in 1997. In 2012, Hughes easily defeated the Wildrose Party candidate, Andrew Constantinidis, by over 2000 votes.

MLAs (since 1959)

*D.S. Fleming, Social Credit (1959-1967)
*E.P. Lougheed, Prog. Cons. (1967-1986)
*Ms. Elaine McCoy, Prog. Cons. (1986-1993)

*D. Dalla-Longa, Liberal (1993-1997)
*Ms. Karen Kryczka, Prog. Cons. (1997-2004)
*R. Liepert, Prog. Cons. (2004-2012)
*K.G. Hughes, Prog. Cons. (2012-2014)

Out of all four by-elections being held on Monday, it is this riding that saw the closest result in 2012. Hughes still won almost every poll in the riding, but the Wildrose Party still managed to win six polls, and tied in another. Half of the polls that they won were in the neighbourhood of Signal Hill, which was the best part of the riding for the WRP (winning 37%). For the Tories, their vote was fairly evenly distributed across the riding. There wasn't too much of a difference between their best area, Aspen Woods (where they won 54%), and their worst neighbourhood, Christie Park0( where they won 48%). Strathcona Park, in the riding's northeast corner, was the Liberals' most successful neighbourhood, as well as for the NDP and the Evergreen Party.  The combined support for all three parties, however, was far below the mark set by the Wildrose Party, even though it was the neighbourhood with the Wildrose Party's worst showing.

Calgary-West 2012 election results by polling division
Calgary-West 2012 election results by neighbourhood

If there is any riding that the Wildrose Party is able to win on Monday, it will be Calgary-West; this end of the city is very conservative. After all, the area has backed ultra conservative MP Rob Anders consistently over the years. If the Tories do drop 12 points in this riding, and only one of those points goes to the Wildrose Party, then Wildrose will win this seat. In other words, only a 7% two-party swing is needed for the Tories to lose this seat.

For the Tories, this is the only one of the four by-elections where they are not running a cabinet minister (or the Premier himself), and are in fact running hereto unknown police officer Mike Ellis. The Wildrose Party challenger is Sheila Taylor, who already holds office as a public school trustee. The Liberals are running lawyer David Khan while the NDP is running Brian Malkinson, a diesel heavy equipment supplier technician; Malkinson was the NDP's candidate in Calgary-Northwest in 2012.

My prediction is that Wildrose picks up this seat in a close race.


The lone by-election outside of Calgary will be in the riding of Edmonton-Whitemud, located in southwest Edmonton. Edmonton-Whitemud is the wealthiest riding in the city, and saw the largest Progressive Conservative percentage n the entire province in 2012 when Dave Hancock won the seat with 61% of the vote. As mentioned, Hancock served as Premier of Alberta between March and September, when he resigned his seat. The riding is roughly triangular in shape, being bordered by the North Saskatchewan River on the west, Whitemud Creek on the east and Anthony Henday Drive on the south. The riding is home to many different neighbourhoods, the largest being the new Terwillegar subdivision. The riding also includes the Riverbend area (Henderson Estates, Rhatigan Ridge), which is the wealthiest neighbourhood in the city.

While the 2012 result in the riding may give the riding the illusion of being a safe Tory seat, it has seen many close races over the years. The Tories have held it for most of the riding's existence, but the Liberals did hold it from 1989 to 1997. When the Liberals won the riding with candidate Percy Wickman in 1989, it was at the expense of the province's Premier, Don Getty. Getty, whose party still won a majority government, had to ask a member of his caucus to step aside so that he could run in a by-election to enter the Assembly. The Liberals won the seat again in 1993 with a different candidate, Mike Percy, who defeated Hancock in his first attempt to win the seat. In 1997, the Liberals weren't so lucky, with yet another candidate running, Corky Meyer, who lost to Hancock by 2000 votes. Hancock has easily won in every election since, except in 2004 when he defeated Liberal Donna Smith by just 900 votes.

MLAs (since 1959)

Strathcona West
*R.H. McKinnon, Social Credit (1959-1967)
*D.R. Getty, Prog. Cons. (1967-1971)

*D.R. Getty, Prog. Cons. (1971-1979) continued
*P. Knaak, Prog. Cons. (1979-1982)
*R.K. Alexander, Prog. Cons. (1982-1985)
*D.R. Getty, Prog. Cons. (1985-1989) 2nd time

*P.D. Wickman, Liberal (1989-1993)
*M.B. Percy, Liberal (1993-1997)

*D.G. Hancock, Prog. Cons. (1997-2014)

Hancock's 60% victory in 2012 is fairly low for “the strongest riding for a winning party in an election”, especially in Alberta. Much of the province's “strongest Tory” seats went for the populist Wildrose Party in 2012, leaving wealthier urban ridings like Edmonton-Whitemund to become the safest Tory seats in the province. Wildrose did finish 2nd in 2012, but their candidate, Ian Crawford, finished over 7000 votes behind Hancock with 16% of the vote. With a margin like that, it would come as no surprise that Hancock won every single polling division in 2012. In past elections, the poorer neighbourhoods of the riding (Terwillegar Town and Ramsay Heights in particular) have gone Liberal, while the wealthier parts of the riding have been more conservative.

Edmonton-Whitemud 2012 election results by polling division
Edmonton-Whitemud 2012 election results by neighbourhood

In 2012, Hancock won a majority of votes in every neighbourhood of the riding. His strongest neighbourhood was the wealthy Bulyea Heights / Ogilvie Ridge area in the east central part of the riding, where he won 65% of the vote. His worst neighbourhood was the Bradner Gardens / Ramsay Heights area in the north end of the riding, which is also the riding's poorest neighbourhood. There, Hancock won 54% of the vote. For Wildrose, their strongest area was the Carter Crest / Leger area in the central part of the riding, where they won 19%. For both the Liberals and NDP, their best neighbourhood was Bradner Gardens / Ramsay Heights, where they together won 23% of the vote, more than the Wildrose candidate.

Running for the Tories in Edmonton-Whitemud is former mayor Stephen Mandel, who Prentice appointed as Minister of Health last month. Mandel served as mayor of Edmonton from 2004 to 2013.  It is a fairly safe assumption in my opinion that Mandel will easily win. The question is, who will finish second? If one extrapolates current poll numbers, then the Wildrose Party, the Liberals, and the currently surging NDP all have a chance to finish 2nd in the high teens. Wildrose is running Tim Grover, a business owner, the Liberals are running registered nurse Donna Wilson, while the NDP is running Bob Turner, a doctor at the Cross Cancer Institute.


For the Tories, a victory on Monday night would require maintaining all four ridings; losing any one of them would be a blow to the Premiership of Jim Prentice. For the Wildrose Party, a victory would be winning just one of the four ridings. It is unlikely that either the Liberals or the NDP will win any of the four seats, but a “victory” on election night for either party might just be a second place finish in any seat, but most likely in Edmonton-Whitemud.  We will find out what will happen after the polls close at 8pm (10 Eastern).

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