CALGARY — The big blue juggernaut of the Alberta Conservative Party was breached in unexpected fashion Monday night when the ruling party lost a Calgary seat it had held since the 1960s.
Paul Hinman, outgoing leader of the upstart Wildrose Alliance, took Calgary-Glenmore in a narrow victory over Liberal contender Avalon Roberts, a psychiatrist.
While being cautious about declaring victory while the last few polls were being counted, Hinman couldn’t contain his excitement at the prospect of beating what he calls “the PCs — the phoney conservatives.”
“Their (health) superboard isn’t accepted in Calgary; their $8 billion deficit isn’t accepted,” Hinman rattled off, referring in the first instance to the consolidation of the province’s regional health boards.
He also said voters told him they didn’t like how Premier Ed Stelmach was “muzzling his MLAs,” such as Guy Boutilier, the northern Alberta member who was expelled from caucus for criticizing government policy on seniors.
“That’s the message that I heard day after day at the door.”
The Tories’ candidate, city alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart, came in third behind the Liberals.
“I reconciled this win-loss thing when I began,” she said after entering the room to thunderous applause. “We were convinced we were going to take the high road and have a real classy campaign.”
She joked that she was glad her old job was still available.
“Guess what, Bronco? I’m back,” she said, referring to Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier.
The riding had been held by the Progressive Conservatives for decades, most recently by former deputy premier Ron Stevens.
A byelection was called when Stevens resigned prior to his appointment as an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justice.
Most political observers had largely expected the riding to stay Tory blue. However, some had suggested that discontent over the Alberta government’s handling of the economic crisis could sway voters away.
On Monday, Mount Royal College political scientist Keith Brownsey said the Tory defeat was the result of a “protest vote” against Stelmach.
“It tells me there was a great deal of discontent with the Conservative government in Edmonton, that the premier lacks popularity at least in this one riding in Calgary and we can probably project that onto the rest of the city as well,” he said.
Stelmach had clearly not expected the contest to be a cakewalk, since he tried to bolster his candidate’s chances by visiting Calgary several times to attend rallies.
“If she loses, we’ll look at the results of the election and see what the message is,” he said prior to the vote.
Afterward, he issued a news release that simply congratulated his candidate on a well-fought campaign.
“I regret we won’t be welcoming Diane at the government caucus table,” said Stelmach. “However, I want to assure all residents of Calgary-Glenmore that their issues will continue to be heard, and ably represented by the city’s strong contingent of government MLAs.”
Hinman, who represented the riding of Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 until his defeat in the 2008 election, has been a formidable presence during the campaign.
He had gotten into his fair share of dustups with other candidates and with elections officials He was chastised on Monday for standing outside a polling booth and thanking voters as they exited.
Hinman had announced that he would not seek the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance — a position he reiterated on Monday. A leadership vote has been scheduled for mid-October.
The final results, with all of the 66 polls reporting, had Hinman with 37 per cent of the vote compared to Roberts’ 34 per cent. Colley-Urquhart finished with 26 per cent while the remaining candidates — independent Tony Grochowski, Len Skowronski of the Social Credit and Eric Carpendale of the NDP, had one per cent each.