Wildrose Alliance’s byelection knockout in Calgary is a strong indicator that voters are upset with the Progressive Conservatives on several key issues, at least temporarily, says one political watcher.
Dave Baugh, a political science instructor at Red Deer College, wasn’t surprised that Calgary voters used Monday’s byelection as a protest vote against some of the recent decisions made by Premier Ed Stelmach’s government.
“A byelection is a safe way to send the government a strong message without changing the government,” Baugh said on Tuesday.
Paul Hinman, interim leader of the upstart right-wing party, received 4,052 votes in the 40-year Tory stronghold of Calgary-Glenmore. He narrowly beat Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts, who finished with 3,776 votes. Progressive Conservative candidate Diane Colley-Urquhart trailed in third place with 2,863 votes.
Baugh said the Conservatives still have a “very comfortable” majority with more than 80 per cent of the seats in the legislature.
Even so, Monday’s byelection is a little more noteworthy than others, he added.
“People were wondering if the Wildrose Alliance was going to a fringe party — the fact they broke in Calgary is significant,” Baugh said. “And it’s interesting how far behind the Conservatives finished, with a pretty strong candidate.” Colley-Urquhart had prominent standing as a city alderman.
Mary Anne Jablonski, Red Deer North MLA and minister for seniors and community supports, said she was looking forward to having another woman in caucus if Colley-Urquhart had won.
“But we’ll just continue to carry on with business in government and keep making decisions based on the realities of the day,” Jablonski said.
Jablonski said it appears Calgary voters were unhappy with changes in the energy and health-care sectors.
The government hiked oil and gas royalties and hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care cuts have been announced.
Jablonski said she still believes in Stelmach, who will face a leadership review in November. When asked if she feared for her job when a general election is held, Jablonski said she never takes it for granted.
Speaking from the legislature on Tuesday, Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said no formal discussions were held in the party regarding Monday’s defeat. He said a number of Albertans are anxious about the province’s finances and the economy in general. In Calgary, oil and gas royalties were a concern.
“I am disappointed we did not win that byelection, but the flip side is our system provides for the delivery of a message that is crystal clear,” Dallas said. “Clearly, I need to work harder and continue to make sure I reflect the opinions provided to me by my constituents.”
Richard Farrand, president of the Liberals constituency association in Red Deer North, said he was pleased to see Roberts outpacing a high-profile candidate.
“I would have expected (Colley-Urquhart) to do much better,” Farrand said. “Obviously, Hinman has a following . . . but good on him. It clearly shows dissatisfaction of the Conservatives.”
But Farrand said he’s not sure whether such a result could happen in Central Alberta where the Liberals have long been shut out.
“When you are in opposition, you don’t know when an election is going to be,” he said. “There’s a lot of disadvantages for the opposition in trying to position people.”
Leadership candidates for the Wildrose Alliance will hold a forum at the Capri Centre on Sept. 23 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. People who join the party before Oct. 2 can vote. The candidates are Mark Dyrholm, Danielle Smith and Jeff Willerton.