PHOTOS: Cathy Heron announces her plan to run for mayor of St. Albert last night. Below: Mayoral candidate Cam MacKay, retiring Mayor Nolan Crouse, and Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

City Councillor Cathy Heron announced Thursday evening she’ll be running for mayor of St. Albert.

Ms. Heron’s widely expected declaration of her intention to seek the job Mayor Nolan Crouse announced Jan. 5 he would be leaving after the Oct. 17, 2017, municipal election makes official what had to be the worst kept political secret in this prosperous and rather smug bedroom suburb of about 65,000 souls northwest of Edmonton.

Councillor Cam MacKay made the same announcement on Tuesday.

Since it would be fair to say the two declared candidates come from different sides of a divided and frequently dysfunctional city council, last night’s announcement guarantees an interesting mayoral race no matter whom else decides to throw their hat in the ring.

Because Mr. MacKay unquestionably appeals to voters who would be likely to support the Wildrose Party and Ms. Heron’s 80 or so supporters in the St. Albert Community Centre last night leaned noticeably to the old progressive wing of the Progressive Conservative Party, there may be broader lessons about Alberta politics to be learned from this upcoming vote.

Be that as it may, your blogger lives in St. Albert and has twice run for council, respectably but unsuccessfully, so whether or not the topic is of provincial or broader interest, there’s bound to be some coverage of this contest in these pages. (For the record, I wouldn’t run again in St. Albert on a bet!)

Ms. Heron made reference last night to the divisions on the present “difficult council” and framed the upcoming race as being between those who believe “St. Albert is more than sewers, roads and budgets,” and those who don’t.

She emphasized her sympathy for finding ways to build new capital projects such as a branch library and recreational facilities, and expressed a vision of a community “where your race, your gender, your sexual preference, or your country of origin will never stand in your way.”

Mr. MacKay – one of the councilors at whom Ms. Heron was obviously taking aim – was vaguer about his platform in his announcement two days earlier, but he is clearly identified with a faction on council that has been hostile to new capital projects, opposes most tax increases, questions the need for more public transit, and is critical of the size of the city’s government.

He expresses this as a common sense approach and describes value for taxes as the city’s No. 1 issue.

Mr. MacKay’s vision is supported by a vocal and determined group of right-wing voters who have been given a voice arguably disproportionate to their numbers by local media. They have a history of getting out the vote.

In the last municipal election in 2013, he and several other candidates were endorsed by two well-funded and largely anonymous groups that launched a series of negative attacks on Mayor Crouse in particular. Their funding remains a mystery, and there are signs they will be back this year. If they are, it is reasonable to predict the race may take a nasty turn again.

In a clear reference to this, Ms. Heron vowed last night to run a positive campaign, quoting Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”

Ms. Heron’s support, in your blogger’s estimation, is broader and less hard-edged than Mr. MacKay’s, but possibly much less determined as well.

So we may see played out in microcosm another like those that have become a hallmark of early 21st Century democratic politics elsewhere.

Interestingly, Ms. Heron’s campaign launch was attended by the mayors of three neighbouring communities, and she was introduced by Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes, who praised her for her work with the Capital Regional Board – which is not viewed as positively by many of Mr. MacKay’s supporters.

Shelley Biermanski, who ran for mayor supported by the same groups in 2013, did well against the sitting mayor (8,061 votes to Mr. Crouse’s 9,900), but that may have been motivated more by animosity against Mr. Crouse that Ms. Heron is less likely to experience.

Ms. Heron and Mr. MacKay were the two best vote getters in the 2013 council election – with 10,268 votes cast for Ms. Heron and 9,101 for Mr. MacKay.

Of course all bets (except the one about your blogger not running again) will be off if another candidate able to appeal to a significant body of St. Albert voters should enter the fray, splitting the vote one way or another.

In addition to Ms. Heron and Mr. MacKay, seven candidates have formally indicated their intention to run for council: Councillors Bob Russell and Sheena Hughes, both associated with Mr. MacKay’s faction on council, and newcomers Natalie Joly, Craig Cameron, Jacy Eberlein, Hannes Rudolph, and Jaye Walter. will have more to say about all of them, and the place they occupy in the political spectrum, at a later date.

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