Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

HACKETT: The case of never-ending elections

It seems near impossible to escape the never ending doldrum of politics these days.

Ontario just had an election, with its lowest voter turnout in provincial history at 43 per cent, while electing a conservative premier to a majority, despite a number of failings during the COVID-19 pandemic on long-term care and other projects. If you are the NDP or Liberals in Ontario, losing to a premier with a track record like that should be embarrassing. And, both the NDP’s Andrea Horwath and the Liberal’s Steven Del Duca resigned.

The federal conservative leadership race is hot off of a number of debates, where it looks like Pierre Poilievre is still the front runner in that band of misfits.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of course, as we have our own mess to sort out here in Alberta. There are now five candidates in the United Conservative Party leadership race, with rumours swirling that Progressive Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner will throw her hat into the ring and MLA Leela Aheer is also considering her options. Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney is also pondering a run.

Danielle Smith and Brian Jean have already locked into the race and they appear to be not well-liked. In a recent informal poll run by the Advocate, 60 per cent of respondents preferred somebody other than Jean or Smith. According to a Leger poll published on Wednesday, 19 per cent of people polled wanted Jean, 14 per cent wanted Smith and 43 per cent said they don’t yet know who they will support.

Former UCP MLA Todd Loewen, an independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley, is officially running, as well as former Finance Minister Travis Toews (he has to resign his cabinet post while he runs for leadership). Loewen was, of course, kicked out of the party in May of 2021 and has been an outspoken critic of Premier Jason Kenney and his government since then.

There’s also my personal favourite, in name only, Bill Rock, the mayor of the Village of Amisk. Amisk, in case you’re wondering, is in East Central Alberta, with a population of just over 200 people, according to the 2016 census. Rock wants to fight for rural Alberta.

“I will still have to be granted the right by the party to run so a lot of work yet this is only the first step. I am advocating for rural Alberta to be heard and at the very least will get the conversation going,” he said in a Facebook post.

Talk about being a rock in a hard place. He’s got to raise a significant amount of money before the party allows him into the race.

Don’t forget that Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen might also still be considering a run at the top job. Dreeshen resigned from his post as minister of agriculture and forestry in November of last year, citing the need to focus on his personal health and wellness.

We don’t yet have rules for this race, or a timeline as to when it needs to be completed. The party has selected a committee to do that work and they expect to have rules by the summer.

The UCP has eight months to find somebody suitable to run in the May 2023 election, which realistically isn’t a lot of time.

It may be a hastily put-together campaign, but I think the message will be pretty clear, once the dust settles on the leadership situation.

Of all those folks, Toews probably has the most experience, but do people really want Jason Kenney 2.0? He’s done good things as the finance minister and is a through and through Albertan, one who owns a ranch but also spent decades as a Chartered Professional Accountant.

“I’m running to lead our party back to the foundations that united us. It’s time to lay aside our differences to focus on our shared vision – a hopeful future for our children and grandchildren, on the foundation of a free and prosperous Alberta,” he said.

There’s that unity piece again, that the UCP has been so strongly committed to talking about, but not necessarily exemplifying over the past few years.

In that same Leger poll earlier this week, 42 per cent of Albertans said they still prefer the UCP, with 40 per cent leaning NDP. Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, that support for the UCP is a bit stronger at 48 per cent.

If Jean was elected leader of the UCP, 26 per cent of Albertans will vote for him, while 36 per cent would prefer Rachel Notley’s NDP.

This leads to another fun election situation here in Red Deer, with the NDP trying to decide between three candidates to try and unseat UCP MLA Jason Stephan, who also still might run for the party leadership. Former NDP MLA Barb Miller is up against newcomer Michelle Baer and Red Deer and District Labour Council president Kyle Johnston.

Is anybody else tired yet?

This all feels like a never-ending election season, much like how things play out in the United States. It is tiring and there aren’t even a lot of answers yet – in fact, there are about a million more questions in terms of what elections might look like in this country and this province over the next few years than there are answers.

If Ontario’s recent election turnout is any indication, it seems like that exhaustion of dealing with COVID-19 has seeped into a disdain for getting out and actually casting a ballot in an election.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.