OTTAWA — The Conservative caucus room was described as a morgue Wednesday as federal MPs grappled with political mortality after the New Democrats effectively killed the conservative movement’s four-decade grip on Alberta politics.
While they sought to downplay the notion that the NDP’s upset in Alberta is an omen for this fall’s federal election, many also acknowledged the playing field for that campaign has changed.
So-called safe seats just can’t be considered safe anymore, said Deepak Obhrai, who has sat in the House of Commons as a Calgary Conservative since 1997 and was re-elected in 2011 with 67 per cent of the vote.
In the last six elections, he didn’t face a serious challenge from the NDP, but with all four provincial seats within his riding now held by that party, he expects the federal campaign will be different.
“More, stronger candidates will look at the results, so we expect stronger (NDP) candidates with stronger credentials coming after us,” he said.
“The NDP have become a player, indeed.”
The Tories hold 26 of the 28 federal seats in Alberta, though redistribution means there will be 34 up for grabs this fall.
The Conservative Party says it has candidates nominated in all but one riding.
Polling has suggested the New Democrats and Liberals are nearly tied for second place in the province, with support for the federal Conservatives at 41 per cent.
Many MPs pointed out that the provincial election results indicate the conservative base is secure — taken together, the Progressive Conservatives and Wild Rose Alliance secured 52 per cent of the popular vote.
“We’ve always worked hard with constituents and what we’re hearing with constituents is that the federal party still has a lot of support in Alberta,” said Edmonton MP Tim Uppal.
It wasn’t just Alberta conservatives pondering their political future and the shifting landscape in Alberta.
Ontario’s David Tilson compared it to the 1990 provincial election in his province in which David Peterson and the Liberals were ousted by the NDP under Bob Rae.
Tilson attributed that result to anger against then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.
“I don’t think that the same feeling against the Conservatives in Ottawa is the same as the feeling against Mr Mulroney in 1990,” he said. “It is not even close.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent his “sincerest congratulations” to premier-designate Rachel Notley, saying he looks forward to working with “future premier Notley on issues of importance for Albertans and all Canadians” such as jobs and economic growth.