PHOTOS: Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda celebrates his victory last night in the Calgary-Foothills by-election with Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. (Photo from Mr. Panda’s Twitter account.) Below: NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth and PC candidate Blair Houston.

Within moments of Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda emerging as the winner in the Calgary-Foothills by-election yesterday evening, the Calgary Herald was spinning the story as “a major breakthrough for the Wildrose Party and a blow to the NDP government.”

This interpretation is not unexpected, even if it overreaches a trifle.

Still, Mr. Panda deserves to savour his victory, which when all the poll results were in was pretty convincing.

However, the numbers are interesting and worthy of some crunching, quickly now and in detail later. They contain good news and bad news for each of the parties involved and, arguably, a couple that technically were not.

Wildrose good news: Well, they won, didn’t they? And not just a seat, but a seat in a city. It’s an opportunity for the Wildrose to expand their appeal to urban voters in Calgary, which they must do if they are eventually to form a government, and perhaps even to city voters in Edmonton, which is still solidly NDP and quite pleased about it. The victory significantly helps their narrative that they are the only conservative party that can win in the next general election.

Wildrose bad news: They hardly walked away with it, according to Elections Alberta’s unofficial numbers, in one of the more conservative ridings in the more conservative of Alberta’s two big cities. The NDP, which only got 444 votes in the 2014 by-election and fielded an uninspiring if experienced candidate in Bob Hawkesworth, nevertheless gave them a run for their money. The PCs, who were supposed to be finished, polled very strongly too, suggesting there’s life in the idea of a centrist conservative party. So this is not necessarily a signal Albertans are about to embrace the Wildrose.

NDP good news: With more than 3,000 votes, the governing party came a respectable second in what had to be considered an unpromising riding for them. Remember, this is a district where the Conservatives won the previous 15 consecutive elections. This is evidence that their victory in May was not a fluke, and only hints that “the honeymoon is over.” Premier Rachel Notley has also seen that the Wildrose plays hardball, and one hopes she will reach the obvious conclusion that if New Democrats hope to succeed in the long run, they must play hardball too.

NDP bad news: Well, close usually only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say, and, anyway, when the dust settled this wasn’t all that close. They lost. This will be used by their opponents in the Legislature and the media to establish the narrative that Albertans are suffering buyers’ remorse after electing them, and, of course, that the honeymoon is over. That story may well stick.

Progressive Conservative good news: Actually, you can make a case that the Tories enjoyed the best news of the night. They were supposed to be deader than the proverbial mackerel and yet candidate Blair Houston polled almost as strongly as the governing NDP. Certainly voters in this riding had every reason to disdain them, thanks to former premier Jim Prentice’s petulant performance as soon as his party lost the May 5 general election. And yet, here they are, obviously still a major player in Alberta politics – in need of a high-profile leader, sure, but clearly still in the game. This will be a powerful disincentive to those Tories who think they have to join the Wildrose to succeed.

Progressive Conservative bad news: Their caucus is still stuck in single digits in the Legislature.

Alberta Liberal Party good news: With almost 800 votes, there’s still a little life in their damaged brand.

Alberta Liberal Party bad news: With fewer than 800 votes even with their leader right in the neighbourhood, there’s not much life in their brand.

Alberta Party good news: Well, it’s a wealthy neighbourhood, so maybe some of those 610 supporters can make a generous donation. They certainly have enough enthusiasts for a Big Coffee Party!

Alberta Party bad news: Even in a town with a popular mayor associated with their brand, they can barely get on the radar. Their few supporters may now see the wisdom of strategic voting for someone else.

Green Party good news: 377 votes.

Green Party bad news: 377 votes.

OK, that’s it for everyone who actually ran in the election except for an independent named Antoni Grochowski who didn’t appear to actually have an issue and got fewer than 50 pity votes. But, as I noted above, there are a couple of other parties that didn’t have candidates in this race that can take some good news and bad news away from last night’s proceedings too.

Conservative Party of Canada good news: Canada’s current governing party, the party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, can spin this as proof that Alberta voters have already realized a vote for the NDP was “a risky experiment.” They certainly will try to do just this. Whether anyone anywhere else will buy this is another matter entirely.

Conservative Party of Canada bad news: If I were a federal Conservative, this result would worry me. In one of the most conservative ridings in the most conservative big city in the country, in the capital of the oilpatch for heaven’s sake, the party that espouses the same philosophy as the Harper CPC, led by a former Harper MP and with close ties to the federal party without carrying much of its heavy baggage, nevertheless faced a tough fight. Particularly if you count PC voters as potential Joe Clark Red Tories, even here in northwest Calgary the numbers suggest a promising future for strategic voting. Sorry, but this does not bode well for the federal Conservatives – especially elsewhere in Canada.

Communist Party of Alberta good news: Thanks to the controversy surrounding the Wildrose Party’s sleazy Chinese-language leaflet, which accused the NDP of being commies, the Communist Party actually momentarily became a tiny blip on the radar.

Communist Party of Alberta bad news: Really? Yes, Virginia, there is a Communist Party of Alberta!

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  1. I think there is an irreducible hard core of PC support in most of Alberta, with the possible exception of E-town, that will continue to vote PC through thick & thin, until and unless the PC party evaporates completely. I think the PC vote in Foothills reflects this reality. What’s more interesting is how the rest of their former votes split. I think more progressive or pragmatic “Red Tories” are shifting their votes to the NDP, rather than to Wildrose, which does not reflect their values, or to the Libs or AP, which are essentially irrelevant. On the other side of the spectrum, more dyed-in-the-wool small-C conservatives that were past PC supporters are seeing Wildrose as their new political home, as it is free of the PC baggage of entitlement and corruption.

    I think how Alberta politics might shake out in the coming years is a more competitive, less one-party dominant scene, where the NDP & Wildrose exchange election victories every one or two cycles, but with less one-sided legislatures than in the past, while the PCs join the Liberals and the others in political irrelevance. I think this would be a healthy development, since it would make governments more accountable and more responsive than we have seen in the recent era of what have really been elected dictatorships.

  2. Totally predictable. Rich fascists constituents voting for a fascist party.

    Ultimately the result of this by-election is still irrelevant since the NDP has a majority – thank goodness.

    1. Note to readers: I personally think the characterization of Wildrose supporters as “rich fascists” is both unfair and wrong on a number of counts, however, I am going to allow this comment on the grounds that, since political discourse on this issue has already been debased by the Wildrose Party’s McCarthyism, I might as well embrace the new Alberta reality.

      1. I appreciate your comments regarding the garbage posted by that person and I understand your desire to allow free speech and all that. However, your rationale for allowing comments like that to be posted on your blog is incredibly flawed, which I find very disappointing. People like this poster contribute nothing positive to society and represent everything that is wrong with it.

        1. Rhetoric.

          You still haven’t explained why David’s rationale is flawed. Feigning righteous indignation is no substitute for well reasoned discourse.

          1. Dave’s rationale is that “those bad WR guys are doin’ it so I might as well do it too.” Not a flawed argument. Petty and unreasoned and juvenile and disappointing, but not flawed.

  3. so a Wildroser who hands out false and slanderous information wins the by-election. Will there ever be any ethics in politics?

    1. Ethics in politics is a choice we make as candidates, and as voters. Since behaving unethically is often effective, there will always be unethical people in politics. What is new is that thanks to the takeover of the media by ideologues and the Republicanization of the Conservative Party of Canada, it has become institutionalized. I frankly see little choice but for the progressive parties to do many of the same things, for the sake of the country. A depressing prospect.

  4. Good analysis. I agree with Dave that the NDP has to learn to play a bit of hardball to fight the Wildrose. They still have to work on sending experienced candidates that people believe they vote for. There performance is still the best given where they have come from–which is the bottom!!! I am pretty disappointed with the Alberta Party because anytime I ask them a straight question I get a pretty mushy answer. They remind me of Jim Hightower’s famous line that “There is nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos”.

  5. Clear to me that the Wildrose party can go nowhere. They lost 100,000 votes last election. Their arrogance of not wanting to merge with the PC’s will ensure neither party wins in 2019 and Notley is given a second majority.

    1. Three and a half years is an eternity in politics. We’ve had four different Premiers in Alberta in the last 18 months.

  6. Well, I mean, if the best Harper’s cheerleaders can do is claim “We held Calgary Foothills,” then that is, regardless, bad news for them, but good news for Canadians and also Albertans. From now on, the Conservative Party cannot ignore Alberta the way they used to, and may actually have to campaign there.

  7. I agree with Jim on the state of the Wildrose Party. I think they really screwed themselves when most of their party bolted to the PCs and their extreme positions don’t help them either. I think the vote splitting could play a big factor. A lot will matter on what the government does and what unforeseen factors come. I don’t think we will see three premiers in the next four years because that was based on factors that were particular to the Tory dynasty. If the NDP is allowed to become a dynasty, Chris’s point could become a reality. I agree with Adam on his observation about Harper’s cheerleaders and their rationalization. It should be no comfort that the race was close and that the NDP has increased their vote in that riding. I think the Conservatives can’t take Alberta for granted anymore and that is a good thing.

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