NDP strength in Calgary-Foothills riding suggests May 5 election was no fluke – and could rattle federal Tory narrative

Posted on August 26, 2015, 2:11 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: A Chinook arch moves across the sky of Calgary in 2007, bringing warmer temperatures and, for some people, headaches. The same kind of thing happens in politics. Below: NDP Calgary-Foothills candidate Bob Hawkesworth, Conservative Blair Houston and Wildroser Prasad Panda.

So, what happens if the Alberta NDP wins the Calgary-Foothills by-election on Sept. 3, or for that matter, if they even come a respectable second?

Wouldn’t that, at the very least, damage the oft-repeated conservative claim here in Alberta that the election of the Notley Government was a fluke, a mistake, the product of a perfect storm, and something about which Albertans are already suffering serious buyers’ remorse?

Hawkesworth-LThat narrative is not only a key plank in the Opposition Wildrose Party’s long-term strategy for the provincial election that will roll around circa 2019, but is essential to the federal Conservative Party’s effort to hang onto power right now notwithstanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s widespread unpopularity among voters, including plenty of soft small-c conservatives.

Don’t take a chance on Thomas Mulcair and the NDP, the prime minister tells us, pointing to supposed dangers and disasters perpetrated by Alberta New Democrats – who will have been in power for all of four months when the by-election to replace the petulant Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice, who quit on election night as soon as he realized which way the wind was blowing, rolls around next week.

We all know that Mr. Harper’s friends in the oilpatch would very much like it if Alberta’s record-low energy royalties were never reviewed, at least until all the oil and gas were gone along with the corporations that made a mess extracting it. But it’s a bit of a stretch trying to blame the world’s low oil prices on NDP plans for a mere review, instead of, say, the likes of the PM’s pals in the Saudi royal family.

Well, any old port in a storm of your own creation, I guess. It was Mr. Harper and his supporters who wanted us to be an energy superpower and to heck with Ontario’s manufacturing sector, and now we’re all getting a stern lesson in the dangers of putting all of one’s economic eggs in a single proverbial basket.

It should surprise no one that Mr. Harper would like us all to imagine the Alberta NDP government is a disaster.

But it’s sure not going to do Mr. Harper’s efforts to persuade voters in other parts of Canada who would very much like to see the door slam behind the PM that they’d be taking a big chance voting for the NDP if supposedly still-conservative Albertans do it again on Sept. 3 and elect Bob Hawkesworth.

Houston-RAnd while that’s far from a certainty, it’s certainly a possibility, as several factors suggest.

First of all, there was the poll by ThinkHQ at the start of July that suggested, despite the political right’s best efforts to describe the May 5 election as a fluke, that in fact Ms. Notley’s policy course remains pretty popular and, as the reliably conservative Calgary Sun’s political columnist put it, the honeymoon isn’t over yet.

“For a honeymoon to end, you have to really mess things up, and a recent taking of the political temperature finds Premier Notley’s numbers are not going cold after all the early moves made by her government,” summarized columnist Rick Bell at the time.

Then there was the demon-dialler poll of voters in the riding by Mainstreet Technologies, released last Friday by the Calgary Herald, that showed Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda, an engineer and poll company executive, leading Mr. Hawkesworth, but only barely, and by less than the survey’s margin of error.

With Mr. Panda polling at 29 per cent on Aug. 18, when Mainstreet’s machines were dialling demonically, compared with Mr. Hawkesworth’s 26 per cent, chances are potentially quite good supporters of other centrist parties will move to the NDP to block the Wildrose Party, which still suffers from the image of being a radical rural rump. What’s more, PC candidate Blair Houston was polling strongly at 20 per cent in the riding, which traditionally has elected PCs with ease.

Panda-LLiberal Ali Bin Zahid, Green Party leader Janet Keeping and Alberta Party candidate Mark Taylor will also be on the ballot on Sept. 3.

So notwithstanding all the usual caveats about demon-dialler technology, the Mainstreet poll at least suggests Mr. Hawkesworth has the potential to slip into the lead. It indicates he has the highest percentage of voters who are sure to make the effort to vote. And it’s no certainty that some moderate PCs who still want to slap their former party’s wrist won’t vote NDP to accomplish that goal, rather than the still-unpalatable Wildrose. In addition, if elected, a former MLA and experienced city councillor like Mr. Hawkesworth will likely find his way into Ms. Notley’s cabinet, which is seldom a bad thing from a local voter’s perspective.

So I’d say the outcome of the Sept. 3 vote is far from a sure thing.

This may explain why Ms. Notley is campaigning hard for Mr. Hawkesworth, who represented several nearby neighbourhoods in Calgary’s northwest on city council for 24 years, instead of benignly neglecting the by-election as premiers are wont to do when their party’s candidates appear doomed.

An NDP victory in Calgary-Foothills may still seem like a long shot. But if Mr. Hawkesworth and the NDP do come from slightly behind to pull off a victory on Thursday, the idea winds of change really are blowing in Canada, and blowing from the west as the prevailing winds in this country tend to do, will be increasingly hard for federal Conservatives to just blow off!

Indeed, those winds may soon be blowing like a virtual Chinook!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

5 Comments to: NDP strength in Calgary-Foothills riding suggests May 5 election was no fluke – and could rattle federal Tory narrative

  1. Alvin Finkel

    August 26th, 2015

    It would help if the 10 percent of Foothills voters in the poll who claim they plan to vote Liberal, plus the 7 percent who plan to vote Green, and the 7 percent who plan to vote for the Alberta Party think about the impact of wasting their votes that way in a FPTP system which can only allow one winner. Bob Hawkesworth does not just add one more member to the NDP caucus. He would be the most experienced politician in the entire legislature, with 7 years of legislature experience and 24 of city council experience. He’s a shoo-in for a senior Cabinet post. The Liberal candidate seems a particularly unsuitable candidate. He is as opposed to a royalty review as the Tory and WR candidates, focusing on the short-term ability of the oil companies to pay more and oblivious to the province’s need to have a sliding scale in effect so that once the price of oil rebounds, that the province gets its fair share of the new revenues.

    • Athabascan

      August 26th, 2015


      You can vote for your most beloved candidate and risk throwing your vote away, or you can vote strategically to keep out the one you most despise. It really comes down to voting with your heart or your mind. One is logical while the other is not.

      Quebecers have always known the difference, and that is why they are the most sophisticated voters in Canada. However, I still have hope for Albertans given the last election, and the previous one. There is only one reason the Redford regime got at many votes as they did – to keep the Wildrosers (aka tea party) out of power.

    • Mike

      August 27th, 2015

      Wow. Or you could say that the 20% of Foothills voters who currently support the PC think about the impact of wasting their vote for a candidate who has no chance of winning given how Prentice left the people of Calgary Foothills before all the votes were even counted, and supported the only true conservative party, which is the Wildrose Party, Prasad Panda would have 50% of the votes in the riding by himself.

      You’re right about one thing though. Bob Hawkesworth isn’t just one more member of the NDP caucus, he’s a professional politician who is already collecting two pensions – one from the city and one from the province and he has parachuted into a riding that he doesn’t even live in to attempt to gain a high profile seat with government after decades of being in opposition. He was terrible on city council and continually sided with the high spenders like Druh. Calgarians he knew how bad he would be as mayor when only 1% of all votes went to him when he ran five years ago. He would be absolutely useless attempting to represent a riding that is so heavily represented by oil and gas workers who realize he hasn’t actually worked for real in the private sector a day in his life and is still collecting two pay cheques each month.

      And I won’t even start with how you magically say that AP and Liberal supporters should suddenly support the NDP candidate considering idealogically the parties are so different. The left wing economics of the NDP are not supported by most AP and Liberal voters.

      And you can trash the FPTP system all you want, but at least it equates to fair and honest representation. With proportional representation, the party decides who gets a seat, rather than the people. Rather than representing the people, MLAs would consist of long time party loyalists without any connection to those they represent. You would never meet your MLA, because as a voter, you wouldn’t actually have one.

      And to Athabascan, Quebecors are certainly not the most sophisticated voters out there.

      • Athabascan

        August 27th, 2015

        Yep, they are. They are masters at it.

        • Chris

          September 1st, 2015

          Quebec voters are masters of masochism. They have sidelined themselves for decades with the Bloc and then the NDP. Their provincial governments have systematically destroyed their finances all in the vain pursuit nationhood.


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