As soon as the NDP picks a new leader today, the party’s focus should turn to Edmonton-Whitemud – here’s why

Posted on October 18, 2014, 1:13 am
8 mins

Your blogger with Edmonton-Whitemud NDP candidate Dr. Bob Turner. Yeah, I support the NDP. Live with it! Below: Retiring NDP Leader Brian Mason, Health Minister Stephen Mandel, Alberta Liberal candidate Donna Wilson and NDP leadership frontrunner Rachel Notley.

After today, when the Alberta New Democratic Party has at long last chosen a leader to replace the retiring Brian Mason, she (or he) needs immediately to turn her (or his) attention to the Oct. 27 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

That’s because, if the buzz from some conservative-leaning campaigners is to be believed, there’s a sense on the doorsteps of the suburban Edmonton riding that if the opposition to unelected Health Minister Stephen Mandel is coalescing around anyone, it’s coalescing around the NDP’s candidate, Dr. Bob Turner.

Indeed, it’s even possible some Wildrose supporters could cast a strategic by-election ballot for Dr. Turner, an Edmonton oncologist and medical school professor who has exhibited unexpected passion about health care issues on the campaign trail. If they do, their theory would have to be it’s more important to see the Jim Prentice Tories beaten than to gather a few more votes for one of their party’s weaker candidates in this go-round, businessman Tim Grover.

I utter this hopeful thought aloud with a certain trepidation because I still think Mr. Mandel has the edge in that particular constituency, and because I know I will be roundly assailed by the Alberta Liberal Party’s increasingly cranky supporters, who are bound to point out, quite rightly, that I am known to be a card-carrying New Democrat.

Well, so be it, I talk to everyone, usually in a pretty friendly fashion, and I hear what I hear. I recognize it could be wrong.

Still, this is not a completely implausible scenario. First, Dr. Turner, as noted, has turned out to be a surprisingly effective campaigner – ready to loose newsworthily fiery darts at both the pre-Prentice Progressive Conservatives’ horrible health care record and the Mr. Mandel’s already apparent deficiencies as unelected health minister.

Mr. Mandel was also Edmonton mayor recently enough to have some constituents remember his role in civic decisions they didn’t like.

Second, at least one poll – the ThinkHQ survey last cited here on Thursday – shows the NDP, PCs and Wildrose all within 1 per cent of one another in the Edmonton region (at 25, 26 and 27 per cent respectively) with the Liberals trailing distantly at 16 per cent.

Well, Edmonton-Whitemud is certainly in Edmonton although not a part that has normally been friendly to anyone but Tories – but these are not normal times.

The other opinion poll cited by celebrity poll analyst Eric Grenier was done by Lethbridge College and shows the PCs with a more comfortable lead – 32.7 per cent to the NDP’s 23.5 and 22.4 for the Wildrose, with the Liberals again trailing far behind at 10.2.

Under such circumstances, it is not completely improbable to imagine the progressive vote at least gathering around a credible NDP candidate.

Perhaps as a sign of their desperation, the Alberta Liberals have published a preposterous press release claiming to show evidence candidate Donna Wilson, an RN and PhD nursing professor, is running ahead of all the other parties’ candidates in the riding.

Alas, for Dr. Wilson, who is a fine person and like Dr. Turner would make a terrific MLA, not only was this statistic the result of a push poll, but we can prove it because the Liberals published the wording of their doorstep question: “Will you vote for Liberal Candidate Dr. Donna Wilson, another candidate, or are you unsure or undecided?”

Faced with no named alternatives and a pleasant Liberal campaigner at their front door, most Canadians – who are unfailingly polite if they’re anything – will take the hint and provide the answer that’s desired. Doesn’t mean they’ll vote that way, though.

This silly poll identified about a third of decided voters in the riding as Liberal supporters, fewer than 20 per cent backing all other candidates, and close to fifty per cent undecided. Taken together, this is merely fantasy. The predictive value of this naïve enterprise is essentially zero.

As an aside, if you’re going to have fun with polls, you need to imitate those successful political campaigns that come out with a plausible sounding opinion survey not long before election day that puts your candidate unexpectedly within striking distance of victory – like Naheed Nenshi in the Calgary mayoral race in 2010, Alison Redford in the PC leadership race in 2011 and now Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, in Ms. Redford’s old riding.

What did all three candidates have in common? The assistance, as author Dave Cournoyer pointed out, of strategist Stephen Carter.

Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud are only two of the by-elections taking place during the Oct. 27 mini-election, as the four races are inevitably being seen. The other two are in Calgary Foothills, where Premier Prentice himself is seeking a seat, and Calgary-West. All four seats are traditionally safe for the Conservatives.

Getting back to the Capital Region where we started and the NDP is showing some strength, tomorrow isn’t too soon for the new NDP leader to rally the party’s troops around Dr. Turner and send them out to the doorsteps of Edmonton-Whitemud.

That said, it’s not much of a feat of prognostication to predict that’s exactly what the Knee-Dippers will do – it’s on the leadership convention’s schedule for tomorrow, no matter who wins the race.

In this, as in all other matters where democracy is involved, there’s no absolute certainty about who will win – but it’s predicted here the winner will be Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, who has been the front-runner from the get-go. The other candidates are Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and union leader Rod Loyola.

As for Mr. Mason, whatever he was, the first sentence of this post notwithstanding, it was never retiring! Least of all now that he’s giving up the leadership and feels free to say exactly what he thinks.

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6 Comments to: As soon as the NDP picks a new leader today, the party’s focus should turn to Edmonton-Whitemud – here’s why

  1. Harry E. Stuart

    October 18th, 2014

    Although I support the Wildrose; I believe that the Honorable Brian Mason is the hardest working, most honest, credible Leader of any of the political parties in Alberta, maybe even Canada…It is sad to see him step down…and yes, the NDP are a much needed voice in Alberta…I do believe as well that the word “Honorable” has been misused by everyone when it comes to politicians.

  2. Joe

    October 18th, 2014

    That the NDP and Liberals allow non-members to vote for their leader shows how tough it is for them to get members in Alberta…

  3. jerrymacgp

    October 19th, 2014

    I would take the ThinkHQ poll with not just a grain, but a big clump of salt. Its methodology is an online panel, which is well known to be subject to selection bias, since participants tend to be more engaged that the average random voter. The Lethbridge College poll, which was a traditional phone poll using genuinely random sampling, has much more methodological validity, although it, like all random phone polls, may under-represent persons without landline telephone numbers, depending on the technical details of its random dialing process.

    As for “Joe”, who claimed the NDP allowed non-members to vote in the leadership, that is simply not true. Every vote cast was by a party member, or labour affiliate (as aggregate weighted votes, not individual votes). Labour affiliates pay membership fees, just as do individual members.

  4. Shannon Phillips

    October 19th, 2014

    Well first of all Joe you had to be an NDP member to vote yesterday.
    But to the point of the polls referenced, Dave. Two things.
    ThinkHQ is an online panel and I am of the half-informed opinion that those panels tend to overestimate opposition support and/or crankiness with the govt. We saw this in BC and in AB 2012.
    The LC sample is too small to infer anything at all, anywhere. It was 564N for all Alberta.
    Faron publishes a Lethbridge survey and a southern Alberta issues survey annually that I like a little better in terms of its representativeness, but I don’t put much stock in the Alberta-wide numbers and especially the regional breakdowns.
    At least Ellis doesn’t try to do seat projections off his numbers, a troubling new trend that I think is wildly irresponsible of pollsters, usually wrong, and basically designed to get customers via media exposure rather than tell the public something evidence-based about the research.

  5. Mary DeWolfe

    October 19th, 2014

    The NDP certianly does NOT permit non-members to vote in a leadership contest. Nor did they yesterday. Get your ‘facts’ straight.

  6. October 19th, 2014

    A note on polls: I share the concerns about both the Lethridge College poll and the ThinkHQ surveys raised by some commenters here. These points have been mentioned in many past Alberta Diary posts, particularly with reference to ThinkHQ. But I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to write them off in their entirety. Polls like this need to be viewed in the context of a significant number of other polls, and at this moment we don’t have that to work with. All polls, regardless of methodology, are a snapshot of public attitudes at a particular moment, and so they change over time.

    Pollsters, like almost everyone else and most certainly journalists, have been impacted by digital technology in several ways. One impact has been the rise of online panels, which as Ms. Phillips accurately point out, tend to underestimate satisfaction with the government among “silent majority” voters. The answer here for opposition parties is not to get complacent because of a couple of good polls, or even a lot of them. Helloooo, Adrian Dix! But what are polsters to do when fewer and fewer voters have land-line telephones and rely on unlisted and frequently changed cellular numbers instead?

    Digitization has also caused pollsters to rethink their business models and one aspect of this is the rise of seat projections. Some pollsters have a record of being quite accurate over the long term projecting seat counts, others less so. I tend to give pollsters more credit for trying to come up with legitimate projections, and I can hardly fault them for trying to find new ways to publicize their work. Regardless, bad or benign, this trend is not going to go away, so get used to it.


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