PHOTOS: The apparently seldom photographed Shelley Biermanski, at left, with some of the usual suspects at a past St. Albert election forum (St. Albert Gazette photo). Below: Ms. Biermanski in her campaign photo, NDP candidate Marie Renaud and Progressive Conservative MLA Stephen Khan during a rare bearded moment.
ST. ALBERT, Alberta
If the Prentice Government calls an election on Tuesday, as many Albertans expect, the addition of a strong Wildrose Party candidate in the St. Albert riding would make for a much more interesting race in this often somnolent suburban corner of the Edmonton region.
So a persistent and well-sourced buzz that two-time mayoral candidate Shelley Biermanski is considering that role, is, shall we say, intriguing.
A determined fiscal hard-liner in civic politics with extensive support from anti-tax groups in the community and a resident of the riding for more than 25 years, Ms. Biermanski ran against Mayor Nolan Crouse twice, garnering 32 per cent of the vote in the 2010 municipal election and significantly raising that to 45 per cent in 2013.
I’m not going to keep St. Albert readers in suspense: I asked Ms. Biermanski the question directly and her answer was only that “I don’t have any information to relay about that.” After that, she made it politely clear, she was getting back to cooking her dinner.
I guess readers can read into that what they will. Regardless, I hope Ms. Biermanski runs, because her entry would make what could otherwise be a predictable race into a considerably more interesting one.
There’s already a terrific NDP candidate nominated, Lo-Se-Ca Foundation Executive Director Marie Renaud, about whom many positive things have already been said in this space.
But in the normal course of events, even a qualified and articulate New Democrat like Ms. Renaud is unlikely to prevent the Progressive Conservative candidate in the St. Albert riding from rolling over all opposition – and that can even be true in a bad year for the Tories.
In 2012, with a bright young star named Alison Redford at the helm of the province’s perennial natural governing party, first-term MLA Stephen Khan won a 54-per-cent majority – which in the first-past-the-post electoral system is convincing to say the least.
But with it looking very much as if Redford-replacement Premier Jim Prentice’s coup last December against the Wildrose Party’s Legislative caucus was not quite the success with voters the PC Party’s strategic brain trust had imagined it would be, the entry of an experienced campaigner like Ms. Biermanski to boost the spirits of Wildrose supporters in the riding would make it much more likely we’ll see a real race here.
In this regard, St. Albert is a microcosm of the entire Capital Region and some other parts of the province as well, where the future lies in the vote splits.
According to recent polling, support for the NDP led by Rachel Notley appears to be at record highs throughout the region and on an upward trend to boot. But for that to translate into significant numbers of seats for the NDP, there had to be a strong vote on the right for the Wildrose Party.
The bounce the Opposition party has received from the election of a new leader, former Fort McMurray-Athabasca MP Brian Jean, and the defeat in a Tory nomination vote of the old one, Danielle Smith, both on March 28, may have changed that.
There seems also to be residual support among supporters of the federal Conservatives for the Wildrose Party – leastways, yesterday Mr. Jean himself got the endorsement of David Yurdiga, the Conservative MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca who replaced the Wildrose leader when he left federal politics last year.
In a suburban constituency like St. Albert, the arrival of Ms. Biermanski won’t necessarily hand the riding to the NDP.
For one thing, despite the recent history of his party, Mr. Khan remains very popular here. Under Mr. Prentice, he is once again a cabinet minister. So even with bad memories from the Redford years and a three-way split in the riding, he’ll be a strong contender and natural front-runner.
Moreover, Ms. Biermanski could well prove strong enough to win it herself.
But she could also, if progressive voters make the effort to turn out, create enough of a split to contribute to an upset New Democrat victory.
Whatever happens, with her in the race – which I sincerely hope she will decide to be – things will be a heck of a lot more interesting than is usual at election time out here in sleepy old St. Albert!