Alberta: Liberals have opportunities in Calgary, NDP in Edmonton

For many years, deep-blue Alberta wasn’t really on the radar during federal elections. The Conservatives (and before them, the federal PCs) didn’t have to work all that hard to lock down nearly every seat in the province, and the other parties took resources elsewhere.

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But times have changed, as a startling NDP majority victory earlier this year indicates. In the aftermath, Conservatives have found themselves playing defence in parts of Calgary, once a stronghold, the NDP’s thin organization has been stretched to its limits, and the Liberals are smelling opportunity.

“The NDP is going to make gains in Edmonton, and the Liberals are going to make gains in Calgary,” predicts Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.

“I think the rest of Alberta will go blue.”

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Calgary

While the NDP did well in Calgary provincially, Bratt says, they will find it hard to match that in a federal election:

“One of the reasons the Liberals did so poorly in the provincial election is that some of its MLAs dropped out to run federally, and they’re taking that base of support with them – think Darshan Kang in Calgary Skyview and Kent Hehr in Calgary Centre. The absence of those guys running provincially – they probably would have won their seats provincially for the Liberals. The fact that they didn’t (run) swung it to the NDP.”

Use the dropdown menu to switch between the 2011 federal election, the 2015 provincial election, and an alternate-reality map of the 2015 provincial election that combines Wildrose and the PCs. Click on a riding to see its name.

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Calgary Confederation is also competitive for the Liberals, Bratt says.

Edmonton

Edmonton, where the federal NDP already has a foothold in Edmonton-Strathcona, is much more fertile ground for the party. Even in a simulation of Alberta’s provincial election in which Wildrose and PC votes are combined, all nine Edmonton ridings light up bright orange.

WATCH: Provincial Affairs reporter Tom Vernon takes a look at the six new ridings in Alberta for the federal election and what shifting boundaries could mean for voters and candidates.

“The NDP has always had its roots in the city of Edmonton. It’s been tied into the labour movement, both trade unions and public sector unions. Edmonton is much more of a union town.

“We joke in Calgary that it’s made up out of public sector workers and refinery workers. Whereas the white-collar jobs, the engineers, the businessmen, the head offices, are all in Calgary. The people that built the rigs, that commute to the oil patch, and the people that work for the Alberta government tend to be in Edmonton. So Edmonton’s been a much more progressive, Liberal/NDP city for decades.”

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“The other to watch is Edmonton Centre. (Chrétien-era Liberal cabinet minister) Anne McLellan won it very narrowly – she was in a dogfight every time. That Liberal support is gone – it’s all NDP. They’ve recruited a star candidate named Gil McGowan, who’s a former president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.”

A riding prediction map produced by Wilfrid Laurier University political scientist Barry Kay shows Edmonton Strathcona, Edmonton Centre and Edmonton Griesbach as solidly NDP, and Edmonton Mill Woods, Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton Manning as too-close-to-call blue/orange races.

St. Albert-Edmonton, where ex-Tory independent MP Brent Rathgeber will run against Conservative Michael Cooper, creates an unusual opening for the NDP.

In a one-off way, St. Albert-Edmonton may have a version of the divided-right dynamic that marked the provincial election. (In a united-right simulation of the provincial election, nearly all polls in St. Albert-Edmonton stay orange.)

“Can an independent win? Usually they don’t, but the situation in which they do, it’s when you have an independent who’s already an MP, and an independent who left on a point of principle, as opposed to being thrown out of his party or losing a nomination battle,” Bratt reflects.

“Rathgeber walked away because he felt that the Conservative party wasn’t conservative, and that it was anti-democratic. We’ll see how that plays out.”

Kay’s map shows Lethbridge as leaning NDP. Bratt predicts it will stay Conservative, despite a strong NDP performance there provincially.

“In Lethbridge, they had a local candidate who had been campaigning for multiple years, who was well tied into the community. There are some vulnerabilities in Lethbridge (for the Conservatives), but in the end I think they will go through.”

Conservative Jim Hillyer won in 2011 despite a reclusive campaign in which he avoided all-candidate forums and refused to speak to the media.

“A potted plant won for the Conservatives,” Bratt says.

Lethbridge

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Despite (and in some ways because of) the NDP’s sweeping provincial win, the party’s resources remain very thin in Alberta, Bratt says.

“The NDP does not have a strong organization here.”

“Even the people who won provincially – they were winning nomination battles with under two dozen people. They had paper candidates who didn’t have signs out, who didn’t campaign, who got elected.”

“The situation may be different in Edmonton, because they have more resources. But the reason they had to bring in so much of the Premier’s staff, and communications people, and chiefs of staff for ministers, was because they didn’t have the people in the province.”

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