PHOTOS: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who overcame a full-blown attack by all the usual suspects on the right in Monday’s Alberta-wide municipal elections, addressing the biennial convention  of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions in Calgary in June. Below: Bill Smith, Mr. Nenshi’s main conservative challenger, who didn’t do as well as some polls forecast, pollster Quito Maggi, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

The United Conservative Party’s media echo chamber is in a full-blown swivet trying to prove Alberta voters’ continued tilt toward progressive candidates in several prominent municipal and school board elections is not good news for Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

In fact, it may not be good news. It’s extremely difficult to interpret what voters have in mind when they make seemingly contradictory decisions in the polling booth. For example, electing the NDP to run the province, and immediately turning around and sending droves of stereotypical Conservative hacks back to Ottawa in 2015.

But it’s certainly not bad news for the NDP that voters in Calgary and Edmonton, to give two prominent examples, seemed happy to continue tilting toward middle-of-the-road, reasonably progressive candidates on both municipal councils and public school boards.

The third-term victory of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi must have been particularly gratifying to the NDP in this regard, even though Mr. Nenshi is far from a New Democrat.

After all, many of the usual suspects on the right – a group that includes the UCP’s strategic brain trust, the party’s chief ideologues at the Calgary-based Manning Centre, high-profile conservative MLAs and MPs, and the big-money bullies in the NHL trying to score a taxpayer funded new rink for the Calgary Flames – threw in everything but the kitchen sink to their effort to unseat Mr. Nenshi.

Nowhere is it written that Canadian voters feel obligated to stick to a strict ideological line when they vote in elections at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. If nothing else, the Canadian historical record proves that much, to the great annoyance of strict ideologues everywhere in Canada.

But everywhere it was written in Alberta’s mainstream media – or so it seemed this week – that the progressive-leaning electoral outcomes in communities large and small don’t mean that the NDP is not finished, kaput, done like dinner … just like they were saying when they were expecting a different outcome at the polls.

Postmedia’s reliably anti-NDP political columnist Lorne Gunter insisted that Monday’s votes change nothing, and in the next general election, the NDP “could probably be beaten by one of those floppy tube figures that car dealers use on their lots to draw attention to sales, provided Floppy Man had a decent get out the vote team and a couple of people who can tweet.”

In addition to pointing out, accurately, that progressive municipal candidates don’t have to run on the NDP’s record, he insisted that the problem in Calgary was really the fault of Mr. Nenshi’s main conservative challenger, former Progressive Conservative Party president Bill Smith. It turns out (according to Mr. Gunter) that not only is Mr. Smith a lousy campaigner, he’s practically an Alison Redford progressive! Well, whatever

At least Mr. Gunter’s copy was somewhat more balanced than an enthusiastic Postmedia headline writer’s excesses in the print edition, which is put together in Hamilton, Ont. “GRASPING AT STRAWS,” the headline screeched. “The NDP are dead wrong in thinking municipal election results will translate into success for the party in 2019.”

Premier Notley will need “an even bigger miracle” to win re-election in 2019 or whenever, another typical piece of analysis by Maclean’s chimed in to the general uproar. “The longer the NDP are in power, the harder it will be to repeat the shocking victory that won them the province,” a headline writer for the Toronto website once known as a national magazine remarked hopefully atop reporter Jason Markusoff’s  piece.

Well, it really is too early to predict the outcome of what is bound to be an uphill election fight for the NDP in a province that has traditionally voted for small-c conservative parties and in which those parties’ have many deep community ties.

But it is also true that the UCP is not a traditional small-c conservative party, but a group likely to lean under leadership candidates Jason Kenney or Brian Jean toward the ideological extremes of the North American conservative movement, a tendency whose appeal is far more limited that a party led by a moderate like, say, Ed Stelmach or Peter Lougheed.

So we shall have to wait and see. I wouldn’t advise betting the farm, if you happen to own one, either way. But then, that’s always my advice to farmers.

In the meantime, it seems to me, the UCP and its support network are upset mainly because their talking points memorandum will now have to be completely rewritten, and its new points memorized by supporters – a major inconvenience.

Obviously, UCP strategists had been planning to say repeatedly the conservative victories they were expecting in the municipal elections were a leading indicator of a massive UCP victory in 2019. Now, thanks to Alberta’s unpredictable voters, it’s back to the drawing board for a new key message to endlessly repeat in the lead-up to the 2019 election.

Speaking of how to predict what voters will do, the president of the polling firm that consistently forecast a huge win for Mr. Nenshi’s conservative-movement-backed opponent has admitted to “big, big polling failures.”

Before Monday’s vote, CBC Calgary reminded us yesterday, Mainstreet Research released several polls indicating Mr. Smith was cruising toward a victory over Mayor Nenshi of between nine and 17 points. Mainstreet also forecast several incumbent Calgary city councillors would be toppled. In the event, all of them were all re-elected.

Needless to say, this caused certain suspicions among some political observers, since Mainstreet was working closely with failing print media giant Postmedia, which in turn was acting as the chief cheerleader for Mr. Smith’s campaign.

This is unlikely, however. Mainstreet needs to look to its future business prospects. So, if mistakes were made, they were certainly honest mistakes.

Quito Maggi, the Toronto-based company’s president, told the CBC he’s investigating whether the firm “failed to connect with some younger voters and those who don’t speak English as their first language.”

The Mainstreet poll that showed Mr. Smith leading by 17 points, he admitted, must have been based on a “wonky sample.”


Yesterday marked anniversary of NDP leader Grant Notley’s death in 1984

Yesterday marked the 33rd anniversary of the death of Grant Notley, leader in 1984 of the provincial New Democrats, in an airplane crash near Slave Lake in north central Alberta that took the lives of five other people. Mr. Notley, who was the MLA for Spirit River-Fairview, was for 11 years the only New Democrat MLA in the Legislature. His death came shortly before the party’s breakthrough in the 1986 general election, to which he undoubtedly contributed significantly and in which the NDP won 16 seats. Mr. Notley’s daughter, Rachel Notley, is now NDP premier of Alberta.

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  1. The Edmonton Journal’s municipal affairs commentariat, comprised of the usually astute Paula Simons and the somewhat paleolithic David Staples, tried to sell a narrative that Edmonton voters were “cranky” and disgruntled, and that the capital city’s new Council needs to take heed. But let’s look at the evidence, shall we? No credible challenger emerged to oppose Don Iveson for the mayor’s chair; the closest facsimile was a fellow who advocated bringing back smoking in bars and lounges (and who, not coincidentally, happens to run a bar at the Chateau Louis). Even in a field that resembled the recent CPC leadership race in population, Mr Iveson managed to squeak back into office with over 70% of the votes cast…a real nail-biter, to be sure.

    Then you have City Council. Of the incumbents running again, only one, Dave Loken, failed to win re-election. The voters were clearly restive 😉

    Finally, you have voter turnout. Just over 30% of eligible voters stampeded to the polls to “throw the bums out” … ummm, wait a minute, no they didn’t. Change elections drive up voter turnout … and this one didn’t.

    Meanwhile, up in Grande Prairie, where I live, and where half of the previous Council (elected at large, like St Albert’s) chose not to run again, incumbent Mayor Bill Given easily coasted back into the mayoralty, and only one incumbent that did run, Kevin McLean, failed to win re-election.

    1. Loken’s is an interesting case. Loken was originally elected as a labour candidate, enthusiastically supported by his union, which I believe was CUPE. Then he betrayed his core supporters on the privatization of public resources. Having switched from the progressive side, to the non-progressive side, his voters dealt with him. They were “cranky” alright. For good reason. Staples mentions none of this in his ode to Dave Loken. Doesn’t fit the narrative.

  2. Conservatives in Calgary who read the tea leaves prior to the election, most notably CPC MP Michelle Rempel (whose name surfaced as a prime-time contender against Nenshi), came to the conclusion early on that the well-entrenched mayor was probably unbeatable.

    It’s is hilarious now to hear and read all the conservative-speak from Postmedia scribes, UCP supporters and conservative MLAs and MPs explaining and defending the demise of the well-financed Bill Smith and other conservative down-ballot candidates. The right’s lack of humility and arrogance is one of the most enduring benefits of the conservative collapse in Calgary and elsewhere across the province — especially if you’re a progressive. I for one, never get tired of self-entitled conservatives eating crow.

    One can only hope the whining and second-guessing on the right continues beyond 2019. Fudged polls notwithstanding, NDP success in 2019 is a likely scenario given the province’s recent economic turnaround and the right’s penchant for shooting themselves in the foot with constant bozo-eruptions.

    1. So let me get this straight, first you state that Michelle Rempel concluded that Nenshi was unbeatable, the you laugh at post media and UCP supporters defending Bill Smiths loss. Nenshi went from what 74% support down to I think 51% support? His popularity certainly has taken a hit. Personally the way the residents of the Midfield mobile home park were and are being treated by Calgary’s administration I thought they all should lose their jobs. Anyway J.E. you still haven’t responded to the fact that only 4 out of the 15(including the mayor) elected to council were considered to have progressive Union friendly platforms. As for the CBE I see 3 of the 5 people running for the school board under the Student’s First banner won. Listening to them being interviewed on the radio their platform sounded more conservative than progressive. So I still am having a hard time seeing this progressive juggernaut you speak of.

      Speaking of the enjoyment of watching self-entitled elites eating crow. Watching Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau this week has been a lot of fun. Enjoy your day

      1. Usually you are slightly than coherent than this, Mr Farmer. For example, we get that you think the Calgary mayor and council should have been replaced (although really, a trailer park incident)? But they were not. Your personal outrage does not translate into an electoral victory for the UCP. We’re not really talking about a “progressive juggernaut”…..we’re taking about the failure of Manning’s conspiracy shop to unseat a progressive mayor.

        As for your fling at the Federal Liberals, well that’s pretty feeble in a discussion about the failure of the UCP to sweep the civic elections, which I rather suspect they — and you — were counting on.

        “Enjoy my day”?

  3. The Grant Notley legacy certainly does live on in Rachel Notley.

    Re: “the right wing propaganda explain-away,” here is another interesting article on this topic:

    “How Naheed Nenshi’s Tense Re-Election Forces Us to Confront Canadian Racism. The world’s best mayor won a third term this week- – -but we should pay more attention to how he almost lost.”
    Quotes from the article: “For jounalists covering the campaign, it all started to feel too American…..In the end, the electorate wasn’t swayed. Calgarians again went progressive…..” And good on them.

  4. The results of the municipal elections last Monday seem to indicate a continued rejection of the old style politics of fear, loathing and divisiveness in favour of the “sunny ways” path first embarked on in 2015.

  5. Had Lorne Gunter made the “Floppy tube figure” comment a few years ago I’d have agreed whole heartedly; that is still the case for Conservatives in many (Mostly Rural) constituencies. There is still the occasional moment when I consider putting on my monkey outfit and running for the Conservatives……..At least in some ridings it’s become more interesting. Which is more than I could have dreamed of a few years ago.

  6. I believe that the scope of the Mainstreet polling error and the comments by their leadership team to those who questioned the numbers prior to and after the election speaks volumes about the integrity of this firm.

    From my perspective this has moved from an incorrect polling regimen to a bit of a joke. I can only imagine how Postmedia, the client, feels about being associated with this fiasco and with some of the comments that have been made. I hope they ask for a refund of their consulting fees….I certainly would. And then perhaps search out a new polling partner that has a more rigorous and accurate polling process.

    I think Calgarians know exactly why Bill Smith was not successful. And why Naheed Nenshi was successful. Those who are rushing to make excuses or explain this away are simply making themselves look a little silly.

    IMHO, Bill Smiths attempt to grab the gold ring was a major rookie move. I suspect he got conned into it by those who knew better or should have known better. The heads up for him should have been when all the pros declined to run.

    So now poor Mr Smith becomes an also ran and a has been thanks to some very poor judgement and a degree of, I suspect, desperation by the group who put him up to it.

    1. While the news stories say Postmedia “commissioned” the Mainstreet polls, I very much doubt this is what actually happened in the sense most of us understand the concept of a commecrial transaction. More likely, Mainstreet provides the polls for free and listens to Postmedia’s requests for research on topics that are likely to get heavy play. If this is right, obviously, the plan backfired!

    2. If the old boy Conservatives had been smart they would have backed Andre Chabot, who at least understands how City Council works. According to him though, he wouldn’t dance to their tune enough, so they put all their support and money behind the empty suit Smith.

      It was a nasty election; social media attacks on Nenshi & progressive councilors. Now after the election some nasty tweeters are bullying a woman who ran for council and lost, because she is pregnant.

  7. Well it is a tad embarrassing for the Conservative elite, especially the Calgary election result, so I am not surprised they are now making a great effort to explain it all away – Mr. Smith was not conservative enough, the weather was too sunny that day, etc…, so the result does not mean much. While I too would not bet the farm on the municipal results translating Provincially in a couple of years, it actually does mean quite a bit.

    The first obvious lesson is money doesn’t buy happiness. I have never been a fan of excessive money in politics and am glad that the well funded (by undisclosed donors) Mr. Smith did not succeed because of all of his TV and other ads. I think it might have actually worked against him, as voters who saw those expensive ads began to wonder who was funding them.

    A second lesson, is that Alberta (urban Alberta, at least) is a bit more progressive than the Calgary Conservative elite realize. I know they haven’t really come to terms in how Calgary voted in the last Provincial election and I am sure it causes them a great deal of angst to even think about there also now being non Conservative MP’s in their city. The days of calling someone Conservative and having them automatically win in most parts of Alberta may be over. Now in many places candidates are judged on their merits, as well as ideology and I think Mr. Nenshi despite his flaws had more merits than his opponent.

    A third lesson is voters can not be stampeded to vote for a supposed winner. I think the purpose of the incorrect polls was to establish Mr. Smith as being able and likely to win and the hope was it would lead other voters to jump on the bandwagon. Well that backfired spectacularly. Instead, I think some of Mr. Nenshi’s supporters who were worried he would not win turned out in droves and the polling company (along with the newspapers that published the poll) now have egg all over their faces. There is a contrariness in the Alberta spirit somewhere, and we are not necessarily going to vote for someone just because polls say they are more likely to win.

    Now, I am sure the Conservative elite in addition to licking its wounds may learn some lessons from this disaster for them, so I do not expect them to repeat all the same mistakes in the next Provincial election. However, it would be wonderful if they did just try to spin it all away and learn nothing from it. In politics, it does not usually end well for those that learn nothing and forget nothing.

    1. It looks good on them. Do I think that they have learned a lesson?

      No, I suspect that they are far too arrogant for that. So much so that they seemed to have learned nothing for the Jim Prentice fiasco.

    2. I think a lot of future mistakes are baked in the cake, by the anointing of Kenney as Manning’s native and true challenger. That means the UCP and their campaign can only go one way…hating on muslims and French Canadians + outrageous, palpable lies about the economy. The UCP has an enormous built in advantage because of the rural ridings that would elect Beelzebub himself, if we were running as a Conservative. That may not be enough this time. I sure hope so. Kenney is a piece of work, and Alberta will be in for a rough ride if he and his gang get anywhere near power.

  8. I do not think that this can be explained by difference is right or left philosophy.

    Rather I think it can be explained by looking at Bill Smith’s web site and his policy statements or lack thereof.

    He did not have a real platform. It boiled down to ‘elect me’. That was hardly a draw for Calgary voters.

    After all, who is not in favour of lower taxes, better services, and an end to world hunger? The only thing he seemed to omit was ‘family values’ but that we implicit in the pictures of his family I guess.

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