Wildrose-style insurgency smacked down in St. Albert as progressive Cathy Heron elected as mayor

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PHOTOS: St. Albert Mayor-elect Cathy Heron with the author of this blog post last night at her victory celebration. Below: Newly elected councillors Natalie Joly, Ken MacKay, Ray Watkins, Jacqui Hansen, and re-elected incumbent Wes Brodhead.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Let’s start with the basic score: Cathy Heron, widely perceived as the most progressive candidate for mayor of the suburban Edmonton-area city of St. Albert, was comfortably elected last night after a gruelling campaign marked by relentless and harshly negative attacks by her principal opponent.

That challenger, Cam MacKay, an oppositional city councillor with a Wildrose hue to his campaign rhetoric whose core strategy seemed to be founded on the idea of fiercely criticizing departing mayor Nolan Crouse, then his council colleague Ms. Heron when Mr. Crouse made it clear he would not seek reelection, was handed a convincing defeat. Indeed, in addition to being trounced by Ms. Heron, he received fewer votes than five of the six successful city council candidates.

You can count on it, though, that thanks to the presence of a third mayoral candidate, former city councillor Malcolm Parker, Mr. MacKay’s core of angry supporters will be drawing the wrong conclusions and blaming the wrong people for their defeat.

The vote numbers last night shook out like this:

Cathy Heron10,714

Cam MacKay6,840

Malcolm Parker3,905

So, by a process of simple arithmetic, Mr. MacKay’s supporters are bound to reach the conclusion that if Mr. Parker had not been in the race, they would have won by 31 votes. Without checking, I am reasonably confident they are saying that right now in the corners of the Internet where they hang out.

This, of course, is not the way electoral politics usually work, since Mr. Parker’s Malcolm-in-the-middle pitch certainly robbed votes from both of his competitors, and because none of the three mayoral candidates can be fairly described as tax-and-spend liberals, let alone left-wing radicals!

Mr. MacKay’s supporters are also sure to blame local media, supporters of their opponents, and “elitists” in the city’s most prosperous suburbs – in other words, anyone but the nattering nabobs of negativity, to borrow a phrase, who cooked up Mr. MacKay’s failed campaign strategy.

There were enough people in this bedroom suburb of 70,000 people disgusted with Mr. MacKay’s tactics that in the absence of Mr. Parker, it’s said here, Ms. Heron would have won anyway.

There’s more evidence in the makeup of St. Albert’s new six-member city council, which is elected at large by all the city’s voters. Mr. MacKay ran with a virtual slate of six like-minded candidates, who chose as their principal issue defeating a plan to build a new public library branch in the city – a wedge issue glommed onto by Mr. MacKay’s campaign when Mr. Crouse announced he would not run again.

Yet only one member of that group, incumbent Councillor Sheena Hughes, Mr. MacKay’s oppositional sidekick on the pervious council, was elected. The rest went down to defeat, as did Bob Russell, the third-member of the cranky unofficial opposition on the pervious council who appears to have parted ways with Mr. MacKay and Ms. Hughes during the campaign.

Instead, St. Albert’s new city council will have a clearly progressive tone, in an old-style Alberta conservative kind of way: Incumbent councillor Wes Brodhead, former school trustee Jacquie Hansen, and newcomers Natalie Joly, Ray Watkins and Ken MacKay, who couldn’t say “no relation” too many times during the campaign. Click here to see their vote tallies.

If Cam MacKay could claim a victory, of sorts, it was that he and Ms. Hughes managed to get the library branch project that council had already approved onto a plebiscite, and the resulting misleading scare campaign about the tax impact of the project obviously worked.

So it can be argued Mr. MacKay, who will presumably now return to the consulting job with a fast-food company he held throughout his previous two terms on council, has proudly struck a blow against literacy. For their part, supporters of the library, whose numbers include the author of this blog, are going to have to look at alternative ways to fund and build the facility, and to be more forceful about countering the claims inevitably made against it.

Voters did support building another aquatic facility, also needed in this city, so that will have to be factored into how the city’s recreational and cultural needs are prioritized.

Taken together, these outcomes suggest that voters in suburban Edmonton remain progressively inclined, don’t want to see party politics seep into municipal government, and reject politicians who push harshly negative campaigns – even if negative campaigning can sometimes impact voter perceptions.

Other conclusions more directly related to the situation in St. Albert include:

  • That the conclusions of the municipal inspection report by consultant George Cuff, which had been sought by Mr. MacKay’s supporters as a way to undermine Mr. Crouse, obviously reflected badly on their own campaign and had a real impact on voter behaviour.
  • That Mr. MacKay’s poorly explained loitering outside the courtroom during the unsuccessful legal effort by council candidate Steve Stone to have Mr. Crouse removed from office also alienated voters.
  • That signatures on a petition – in this case, the petition opposed to the new branch library organized by Mr. MacKay’s supporters – cannot be counted in advance as votes. This is especially true when several hundred signatures are known to have been added by people who were not eligible to vote in St. Albert.
  • That there is strong evidence in Ms. Heron’s victory the old progressive conservative coalition continues to exist in St. Albert, with plenty of bench strength and deep roots in the community.

As with Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s success winning a third term in Calgary last night in the face of an expensive and negative campaign orchestrated by the Manning Centre and funded by the so-called Sprawl Cabal, this suggests there is hope for a provincial party that can build a moderate progressive coalition in Alberta.

Y’all know whom I have in mind.

NOTE: This story has been updated with a few facts and observations that occurred to me after I filed it in the wee hours of this morning. I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks writing about municipal politics in St. Albert. As a resident of this town, I viewed this as my civic duty. The emphasis of AlbertaPolitics.ca will now naturally shift back to … Alberta politics, of course. DJC

Categories Alberta Politics St. Albert