We may be seeing something entirely refreshing in Alberta politics — volatility.
It seems in the ever-sedated, humdrum, narrow Alberta political spectrum, something’s happening — at least if you look at last week’s municipal election results.
Could there be spillage into provincial politics?
Volatility, the likes of which we haven’t seen for about 40 years in Alberta provincial politics, would be a good thing if it gets more Albertans to the polls, or at least thinking about how Alberta could be better run.
Change, or the threat of it, helps politicians to realize who is really supposed to be in charge here. Politicians start to listen to public wants and needs, rather than dictate them.
Provincial-level politicians would be savvy to tear a page from the municipal election results.
Those results saw a remarkable vote against the status quo or, from a different, more positive view, a vote for change.
Municipal voters decided to toss out Central Alberta mayors in Penhold, Rimbey, Rocky, Bowden and Delburne.
Rimbey, where council expenses spending was a hot item, is explainable.
But what about a place like Penhold where a new regional multiplex and splash park have been built, a new park is underway, and the community is the chosen site for a new school? All positive developments yet the incumbent mayor was tossed.
As well, in numerous communities, councillor incumbents lost to new challengers, in places such as Sylvan Lake, Big Valley, Clive and even in Red Deer (Gail Parks, who lost for no discernible reason).
The mainstay of municipal elections has been that once they get in, incumbents are usually re-elected and re-elected until they leave on their own accord.
Perhaps the most surprising Central Alberta election result of all was that while Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling didn’t lose, an unheard-of, quiet-on-the-campaign trail opponent had a very remarkable showing.
For every four votes Flewwelling got, Hilary Penko got three. She managed to draw 6,219 votes to Flewwelling’s 8,100.
No one had even heard of Penko before the election. She ran on the appealing premise that no one should get to be mayor of Red Deer simply by acclamation. The neophyte gave Flewwelling the scare of his mayoral life, almost becoming Red Deer’s accidental mayor. Perhaps all she needed was to have worn purple, like Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s new mayor who pushed aside the establishment vote.
While the exact message voters were trying to send is debatable — dissatisfaction with council spending or with the mayor himself, post-recession crankiness, or just that it was time for a change — it’s clear there is unrest amongst voters.
Will this translate into change at the provincial level?
A lot of the same people who vote in municipal elections also vote in provincial elections.
Now that Central Alberta voters are realizing they really can create major change at the municipal level, they may feel comfortable enough to cast an informed vote that denies the status quo in the next provincial election.
At this point, it’s impossible to say who would benefit — the new Wildrose Alliance party, which is right of the Stelmach Conservatives — or the much more established Liberals and New Democrats. But quite likely the Conservatives would not.
Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 403-314-4332.