Calgary Foothills voters move on from Prentice as NDP tested in byelection

The Jim Prentice era officially ends in Alberta on Sept. 3, but one of the candidates seeking to replace him in Calgary Foothills says voters the former premier abandoned on election night have already moved on.

EDMONTON — The Jim Prentice era officially ends in Alberta on Sept. 3, but one of the candidates seeking to replace him in Calgary Foothills says voters the former premier abandoned on election night have already moved on.

“I haven’t really picked up a lot of animosity over the fact they have to go back to vote,” said NDP byekection candidate Bob Hawkesworth in an interview.

“It’s not voter fatigue as much as disappointment in the decision of the former premier to resign on election night.

“It was perceived by them as a petulant act.”

NDP Premier Rachel Notley called the byelection this week, setting the stage for the first binding referendum on her new government, albeit with a very small sample size.

Prentice won the riding on May 5, six months after winning it in a byelection. But as his Progressive Conservative party went down to an historic defeat, Prentice quit, even before all the votes were counted.

Political analyst Bob Murray said Calgary Foothills will be a barometer for Notley’s recent initiatives.

In the three months since winning power, Notley has fulfilled campaign promises by hiking taxes on corporations and on individuals making more than $125,000 a year.

She has reversed cuts to education and health care and launched a review to see if Albertans are getting a fair share of oil royalties.

But Murray noted that Calgary Foothills is a traditionally conservative riding that has voted PC since the party began its 44-year run as government in 1971.

“It’s a real test to see just how that (NDP) momentum has continued and whether the Orange Crush will move forward,” said Murray, the vice-president for research at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Murray said a win for the Opposition Wildrose could be a launching pad for its leader Brian Jean in his party’s bid to eradicate the PCs as the party of choice for the centre-right.

The NDP and the Liberals have candidates selected for the byelection. The Wildrose is to nominate a candidate next week, while the Tories and the Alberta Party have yet to name a contestant. Janet Keeping will run again for the Green Party.

Hawkesworth is a former city councillor and was an NDP member of the legislature back in the late 1980s, when the party was the Official Opposition.

He said he is encountering both resistance and support at the doors.

“Generally when I ask people about their impressions of the Notley government, it’s either, ’We’re still waiting to make up our minds’ or generally very positive,” he said.

The Liberals are running engineer and software developer Ali Bin Zahid.

Bin Zahid, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, ran in the riding in the election and finished a distant fourth with seven per cent of the vote.

The Wildrose, despite being decimated by floor-crossings to the PCs prior to the election, rebounded in the campaign to capture 21 seats and Official Opposition status. But the party did not win a seat in Calgary or Edmonton.

Jean says Wildrose will fight for Foothills, but is playing the long game.

“We will be competitive, but one byelection and the results of it will not make or break us,” said Jean. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

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