The NDP and Alberta Liberals fight it out in Edmonton-Whitemud. I’ll leave it to readers to determine who’s just been demasted. Below: Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson (CBC photo) and NDP candidate Dr. Bob Turner.

The reasons are perfectly clear and quite understandable, but it’s depressing nonetheless to see Alberta’s provincial Liberals and New Democrats fighting so bitterly for a few scraps from the table at which the Tories and the Wildrosers get to dine.

But how else can we explain the spectacle of our province’s two progressive parties with only nine Legislative seats between them battling it out in the Edmonton area’s only Oct. 27 by-election for, in the final analysis, nothing much at all?

Oh well, at least the presence of the Alberta Party, which advocates pretty much identical policies to the other two, means neither the Liberals nor the NDP is likely to come in last. Now isn’t that a comfort?

The selection of the thoughtful and knowledgeable Dr. Donna Wilson, the Liberals’ candidate named yesterday in the effort theoretically to upset Premier Jim Prentice’s applecart by knocking off his unelected health minister, former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, seems specifically designed to undermine the NDP’s thoughtful and knowledgeable candidate, Dr. Bob Turner.

But then, around here it’s ever thus between the Libs and the Dippers. Probably in other parts of Canada too – where the fight grows fiercer as the two parties’ platforms converge.

Dr. Wilson is a Registered Nurse and a PhD nursing professor at the University of Alberta. Dr. Turner is a cancer doctor and a medical school professor at the University of Alberta. Either one of them knows far more about health care than Mr. Mandel, the grumpy former municipal politician and the obvious frontrunner in the normally safe Tory seat, will learn if he serves a decade as health minister.

Both are articulate. Both were picked, clearly, to appeal to exactly the same subset of voters – progressives who are both committed to public health care and sick to death of the Progressive Conservative government now headed by Jim Prentice – and just before that by Dave Hancock whose resignation made the by-election possible, and just before that by the notorious Alison Redford, whose record Mr. Prentice is striving to live down.

But, it’s said here, the Liberal strategy has less to do with defeating the Tories (their stated aim, as with all the other Opposition parties) so much as defeating the New Democrats, who have been on a small roll lately in the Edmonton area, at least according to several pollsters.

If the Liberals under former Conservative Raj Sherman stumble here, they could reasonably expect to falter more seriously in the next general election, likely to take place in 2016 and for which the four by-elections to be fought on Oct. 27 are seen as a test.

So to stay in the game, despite the expected loss before the next general election of three of their caucus’s five MLAs – Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang to federal Liberal election races in Calgary, David Swann to retirement – the party must show in can cut into the NDP vote. Dr. Wilson probably offers as good a chance as any candidate could for them to do that.

The NDP will not be helped by the distraction of a leadership race that won’t be over until only 11 days before the vote in Edmonton-Whitemud, although it may be helped by the emerging sense, at least in this part of Alberta, it is the progressive party more likely to thrive when the dust has settled.

At least the new NDP leader – whether it’s Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley or Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen – will have the opportunity to campaign in the crucial hours before the by-election. (Sorry, but the winner of the leadership race is not going to be union leader Rod Loyola.)

Of the NDP’s other two Edmonton area MLAs, Deron Bilous is also planning to stick around, and it’s not yet completely clear if retiring party Leader Brian Mason will run again. I’m betting he won’t.

Getting back to the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, this sideshow between the Liberal and the NDP candidates will make it more likely for voters who are simply sick of the Tories to spend their vote on the Wildrose candidate, small-businessperson Tim Grover. Mr. Grover seems like a nice enough fellow, but he clearly lacks the health care horsepower of either Dr. Turner or Dr. Wilson.

But with the opposition vote likely to split three ways, by far the most probably outcome is for Mr. Mandel – who despite his famed crankiness enjoys significant popularity in Edmonton from his two terms as mayor, which ended only last October when he chose not to run again – to win easily.

So once again, it could be argued, the inability of Liberals and New Democrats to agree on anything except 90 per cent of their platforms will help keep a Conservative into power.

+ + +

Updated Candidate List

The race in Edmonton-Whitemud, of course, is only one of four on Oct. 27. The other three are all in Calgary, including Premier Prentice’s effort to get a Legislative seat of his own representing Calgary-Foothills.

Since my last commentary on the by-elections, the Opposition Wildrose Party has introduced its candidates to face off against Mr. Prentice and Calgary Police Sergeant Mike Ellis in Calgary-West.

They are Kathy Macdonald, an articulate 25-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service with the rank of constable, who will challenge Mr. Prentice, and Calgary public school trustee Sheila Taylor, who will face Mr. Ellis.

With the Wildrose Party by far the party most likely to challenge the government in Calgary, the selection of two strong female candidates makes a striking comparison to the four male PC candidates – two of whom, Mr. Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks (running in Calgary-Elbow), are nearing 70.

The revised candidates list with these Wildrose additions appears as follows:


Progressive Conservatives: Jim Prentice, premier
Wildrose Party: Kathy Macdonald, Calgary police constable
NDP: Jennifer Burgess, communications consultant
Alberta Liberals: TBA
Alberta Party: Michelle Glavine, teacher
Greens: Polly Knowlton Cockett, environmental educator


Progressive Conservatives: Gordon Dirks, education minister
Wildrose Party: John Fletcher, armed forces officer
NDP: Stephanie McLean, lawyer
Alberta Liberals: Susan Wright, lawyer and blogger
Alberta Party: Greg Clark, party leader


Progressive Conservatives: Mike Ellis, former police sergeant
Wildrose Party: Sheila Taylor, public school trustee
NDP: Brian Malkinson
Alberta Liberals: TBA
Alberta Party: Troy Millington, IT consultant


Progressive Conservatives: Stephen Mandel, health minister
Wildrose Party: Tim Grover, business owner
NDP: Bob Turner, cancer physician, university teacher
Alberta Liberals: Donna Wilson, RN, university teacher
Alberta Party: William Munsey, berry farmer, blogger and party president

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  1. No matter how you slice it, the Liberals are not progressive. They accept corporate donations and if they ever become a political force will be bought off by the same people who presently own the PC’s.

  2. Don’t the Alberta Liberals have a lot of right wing baggage? I seem to recall leader in 1993 (Decore), the one that almost knocked off Klein super right wing? Sure they talk a good progressive game now, but don’t Liberals always do that during an election? Given they know they have no chance of forming a government anytime soon, I’d imagine their “progressive” credentials might not be so legitimate.

    1. Wahsedout and Barry Madsen accurately raise the fact that, historically, Liberals in Alberta and nationally have frequently campaigned to the left and governed to the right. (In that regard, Laurence Decore was an exception, campaigning as he did to the right of the Tories. Whether or not he intended to govern a little to the left of that can only be speculated upon, although perhaps Mike Percy of Premier Prentice’s staff could help enlighten us.) The fact is, however, although many New Democrats do not like to acknowledge this, the NDP has done exactly the same thing. This is so in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and, for a short spell people on both the left and right are still mad about, in Ontario. The Ontario NDP premier who caused that controversy had no problem becoming the federal Liberal leader, with good reason, and he was not the only NDP premier to make a transition to the Liberal Party. So while I recognize that taking the line I took in this post both annoys New Democrats and infuriates Alberta Liberals (who will accept nothing less that the humble acknowledgement they are about to form a majority government) I stand by my assessment of both parties’ platforms, and their likely policies in the event they ever form a government. DJC

      1. Fair enough point on the NDP provincial governments. But if I may point out, that’s a more recent phenomenon and the Bob Rae government at the time was more of an exception (remember he lost a lot of support from the rank and file and many NDP MPPs). But I guess the question has to be asked, if the NDP are going to act like the Liberals, and the Liberals are just Conservative Lite, what’s the point?

    2. Plus, if memory serves right, Bob Rae lost after one term, as did Dexter in Nova Scotia. And the only reason the whole Liberals in orange ties works in Manitoba is because their local liberal party is practically non existent. And in BC, the Liberals are marketed as the local right wing party, which helps pull the NDP to the right as well. So unless they’re the main “centrist” party, it’s a pretty losing strategy I must say for the NDP, and I think you’ve even pointed this out before.

      But of course, it won’t stop them.

  3. Dippers are still in diapers. Most Albertans are socially progressive, but economically right wing, therefore most progressive votes have historically gone to the liberals and PC’s. Its really funny how some of you call Liberals right wing but the ordinary average Albertans who vote PC call Alberta Liberals too left wing. So 99% of the voters are they wrong, and you dippers are right?…forgettaboutit! Dippers are out of touch with the sentiments of ordinary busy tax paying Albertans. While there are noble social causes that dippers persue, you guys are in a fools paradise, being in a petro state province during a hot economy with a deeply entrenched voting history, yap many as you will, ordinary Albertans are not interested in Dipper ideology. Liberals had a history of getting Whitemud, as it is socially progressive, but economically conservative and that really truly limits any potentialities for the dippers in Whitemud. Sorry dipps you really need to look at the socio economic demographic of your riding and allocate resources accordingly on an “is it realistic?” basis. Confusing as it might be for you to understand, while dippers are noble.. whitemud voters are not going dipper and they know it……brand perception matters…ask at least100 of them.

  4. Barry r u sniffing paint? Just how much corporate donations do Libs really have? Are they awash in hundreds of thousands or millions of dolllars like the PC’s?. The fact is that Dippers are heavily financed by collective bargainers and unions, each with their unique set of internal right wing politics. Dont kid your self, labour groups dont really care much about rebalancing democracy or advocating, every 4 years, they whine and get a new contract locked up and their silence is essentially paid off. They are also willing or non willing enablers of Tory largesse, yes they are……Unions put Redfraud over the top in the last PC leadership election as well as the gen election. It just shows you labour groups while they still serve a good protection for their members, outside of that……their interest really ends and these are the guys that support Dippers, so you know there are two opposing forces within the dipper pool one donating to the dips, the other making trying to leverage the best contract in return for doing eff-all and staying silent before general elections. Trust me, this turns ordinary folks off.

  5. Even if the three “progressive” parties united behind one candidate, I am not sure they would be in a position to win in Edmonton-Whitemud. I’m sure the Wildrose candidate will place second, but Mr. Mandel will win Whitemud in a landslide.

  6. Off-topic, but it sort of came up here… just how socially progressive can you be if you’re economically conservative? What does being economically conservative say about what you are socially conservative about? Not trying to bait anyone here, but would appreciate comments, if David doesn’t mind.

  7. Lars, that is a common saying as you point out. My guess would be it describes a person who believes in the safety net we have built up over the decades (and spent the last couple chipping away at) but at the same time is a person who wants sound judgement and transparent accountability in how public monies are spent. Why anyone would assess the right wing political spectrum in Alberta as being the best at that based on their performance suggests to me a person who does’t pay attention very well. That quite possibly does describe a portion of people who spout that bromide. Another portion would be the people who just don’t think critically when it comes to governance and have swallowed the other old chestnut, “Conservatives manage money the best” and so vote Conservative regardless of observed performance. Those two chunks of the voting public are probably what keeps the Tories in power. The remaining ideologues are the ones who spew the fairy tale in the first place.

    1. Thanks, Theo, good answer, especially (as I have just noticed) I screwed up my original posting – the second sentence was supposed to read “What does being economically conservative say about what you are socially progressive about?”. But you got what I meant. As you point out, it’s an antinomy. “Socially progressive” seems to cover two distinct sets of priorities, those who promote a greater social libertarianism, and those who promote a stronger (or at least no weaker) social safety net. I’m not sure how much the two groups overlap (assuming I’m correct about there being two groups).

  8. The reason Lars is perplexed about the notion that someone could be socially progressive yet claim to be economically conservative is because there is no such thing.

    You are either progressive or your not. A progressive mindset extends to economics. I would suggest that anyone who claims to be progressive and conservative is confused. Progressives don’t want money misspent either, and they want openness and accountability.when money is spent. This is not a way to distinguish between the two.

    The real difference between being economically conservative or progressive is rooted in ideology. If you want to find out the difference between the two ask what and who they would spend public money on, and what they would spend their money on first.

    That’s the test. You can’t have it both ways.

    1. Thanks, Athabaskan. Logically that’s what you would expect.
      I suppose that might be why you never hear of anyone saying that they’re economically progressive but socially conservative. Nobody has to run under that particular bit of persiflage.

  9. I completely agree with David’s analysis. Both of these parties are lead by liars who pretend that their parties have a real shot on their own of forming the next government in Alberta. Indeed, because they both know that many voters cannot distinguish between them–mostly because there is no longer much to distinguish them–, each insists in every seat that THEY are the strategic choice. I was tossed out of the NDP for being the public face of Change Alberta which correctly indicated in most ridings whether the Liberals, NDP, or Alberta Party were the real challengers to the right wing parties. At my inquisition–I had to speak first and then the charges were read without my having a chance to respond–Rachel Notley asked me whether I could guarantee that in 2016 Change Alberta would only “endorse” NDP candidates (we didn’t endorse anyone; we simply did the research to make predictions as to which centre-left party was in the lead so that strategic voters could take note). In other words, you are not allowed to be in the NDP if you can admit publicly that in many, many seats its candidates are cardboard candidates without a penny of spending or support from central office.

    It is, frankly, unfortunate that the NDP has moved so far to the right that on many issues the Liberals are more progressive than they are (or at least were during the 2012 election). As a socialist, I would like to see one of our major parties offering Albertans and Canadians a way out of market-based economics and social policy which lead to periodic high unemployment and permanent inequalities and horrible lives for those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Indeed, if the NDP could regain some of its one-time socialist convictions, then the idea of an NDP-Liberal electoral coalition (at least while we have first-past-the-post) would not seem scary. For now, it is scary to most New Democrats because when they say that it could mean that their party loses its corporate identity, they are right. But if either of these 2 parties wants to do something for Albertans and for the environment in the short term, then they have to stop being a couple of jokers with no chances of forming a government. Together, in terms of current polls, they have a third of Alberta voters on their side, as much as either the Tories or Wildrose. But if they aren’t working together, they will find, as they did in 2012, that their support crumbles by election day as their softer supporters decide to vote for the corrupt, mean-spirited devil they know (the Tories) rather than risk jackboots by voting Wildrose.

  10. I think the NDP’s failings have been from a lack of courage to take on the right-wing commentariat in the MSM and the blogosphere. The NDP needs to more clearly distinguish itself from self-proclaimed “progressive” parties like the Liberals, the Alberta Party and the federal Greens, and incrementalism just won’t cut it. How about a bold policy statement like, “elect an NDP government, and put food banks out of business in our first mandate”? Then put forward a platform based on moving the levers of the economy in such a way as to first reduce, then essentially eliminate the demand for food banks, to the point where they start shutting there doors due to lack of need.

    Food banks have popped up in the last couple of decades in response to the growing spread between the rich and the poor and the lack of a “living wage” policy in this country. We need to turn around the neo-liberal free-market ideology at the root of this development, and work towards a more equitable and more just society. We need to make the economy work for Canadians, not put Canadians to work for the economy.

    Consider the gauntlet thrown down.

  11. Some of the highlights I saw in the Leg. over the past few years occurred when Rachel Notley and Laurie Blakeman worked together. I’m so tired of the PCs winning my riding because the progressive parties can’t cooperate. Proportional voting clearly shows that Albertans don’t want the PCs – but until the NDs and Liberals get over their stupid competition (not pointing fingers because I don’t know who is the instigator), our government will continue to consist of old white guys who are entitled to their entitlements.

  12. Two things that have not been mentioned about why the Alberta NDP have not been able to capture more support: The leadership voting, weighted 80% to members and 20% to unions is such a throw back to the 50s and 60s. It reveals a very strong union ideology that many Albertans feel uncomfortable with. Even people like me who support unions can’t support unions and political parties being that tied together. Also, I find it very unappealing that the national NDs and the provincial NDs are so closely attached that if I were to buy a membership in the provincial party I would also be a member of the federal party. Both represent an overly ideological point of view I’m not comfortable with. Too many decisions being made by a party for a member.

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