Alberta Politics
Calgary Mayor-elect Jyoti Gondek (Photo: Bittabola, Creative Commons).

The obvious lessons from Alberta’s municipal election will be hard for Jason Kenney and the UCP to learn

Posted on October 20, 2021, 1:40 am
9 mins

Many of Alberta’s highest-decibel conservative loudmouths were by turns appalled and furious yesterday at the outcome of Monday’s province-wide municipal elections.

The votes saw progressive mayors and councils elected in the province’s two largest cities and many other signs this place is changing for the better. 

Edmonton Mayor-elect Amarjeet Sohi (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Lorne Gunter, Postmedia’s reliably right-wing Edmonton political columnist, practically wept in yesterday morning’s Sun. “If anything, we will have an even more left-leaning council than before Monday’s election,” he moaned, apparently incredulous. 

Two new faces on city council, he complained, Michael Janz and Ashley Salvador, “are reliable leftists. They will fit right in with the Bobblehead Majority on council – the seven (and now perhaps nine) councillors who sit there and nod in unison every time administration puts forward an expensive, shiny, pie-in-the-sky plan to socially re-engineer how we live our daily lives. …”

In Calgary, reputed petroleum industry billionaire and right-wing social media hysteric W. Brett Wilson, didn’t even try to hide his fury and anguish. 

Having heard that Calgary Mayor-elect Jyoti Gondek’s intended first order of business once she’s sworn will be to recognize reality and declare that we are in a climate emergency, Mr. Wilson screeched: “Who fucking voted in this mess?” 

A significant plurality of the good people of Calgary, it would seem, despite the best efforts of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party and many a commentator like Mr. Gunter and Mr. Wilson. 

Alberta’s custom of holding all the province’s municipal elections on the same day allows politically alert observers an opportunity every four years to discern some trends that might not be obvious at first glance were we only looking at one community.

As the city council tallies in Edmonton and Calgary show, Alberta’s population, in its large urban areas at least, is home to significant numbers of voters who think and vote like ordinary Canadians everywhere. That is to say, they are small-p progressives. 

Alberta pollster Janet Brown (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Progressive councillors now outnumber conservatives by a two-to-one margin on Calgary City Council, Alberta pollster Janet Brown told the CBC.

The situation is even more striking in Edmonton, with a clear majority of councillors now on the progressive side, led by Mayor-elect Amarjeet Sohi, former bus driver, trade union activist, political prisoner and Liberal cabinet minister. 

Edmonton voters also “fired,” as UCP supporters like to say mockingly when things are going their way, three well-known right-wing councillors, Tony Caterina, Moe Banga and Jon Dziadyk. And they said so long to a fourth, Mike Nickel, by decisively rejecting him as mayor. 

“The province will once again have two relatively progressive mayors as counterpoints to Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP government,” observed columnist Don Braid of the Calgary Herald, noting that both are people of colour and Dr. Gondek will be the first woman mayor in Calgary’s history. 

Edmonton Councillor-elect Michael Janz (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This doesn’t mean smooth sailing, of course. Mr. Kenney’s party doesn’t play nice with opponents, and the opportunities for his government to make things difficult for Alberta’s big cities will be legion. The instinct to lash out with Trumpian fury will be hard for the Kenney Government to control. 

Other signs Monday that the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP majority government in 2015 might have been something more than the fluke Alberta conservatives insisted it was at the time included an almost clean sweep of public school trustees in Edmonton and Calgary who reject the controversial primary school curriculum still being flogged by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. 

“It looks like all of the CBE trustees and 8/9 EPSB trustees are against the draft curriculum,” tweeted Alberta Teachers Association Communications Coordinator Jonathan Teghtmeyer Monday night. “Tonight voters soundly rejected this awful draft curriculum. Trash the draft Adriana!”

Despite the UCP’s fingers on the scale, even Mr. Kenney’s constitutionally meaningless anti-equalization referendum and his fatuous Senate nominee election votes – the results of which won’t be known for several days for no good reason – are unlikely to be much of a boon to the premier. 

Alberta Teachers Association Communications Coordinator Jonathan Teghtmeyer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The anti-equalization question, misleading wording and all, will pass, but with only tepid support in the big cities. The Senate election is an exercise in futility anyway. There will be more said here on those topics when better numbers are available to analyse. 

Voters seem also to have rejected the other referendum pushed by the UCP, permanent daylight savings time, and in Calgary they even voted to restore fluoride to the water supply. 

In the meantime, the Monday-night brouhaha with Elections Alberta’s angry UCP-style tweetery appears to have legs, and perhaps the potential to grow into a scandal. Expect stories from major news organizations soon on what the heck is going on at that now-self-discredited office of the Legislature. 

So, with the next big political event in Wild Rose Country likely to be the provincial election expected in 2023, the events of Oct. 18 could turn out to be a useful analytical tool for all Alberta political parties.

For the NDP, the results indicate a large number of voters in the NDP universe, even if they’re not lifelong New Democrats. That probably means the party should stay the course charted by Ms. Notley, now the Opposition Leader in the Legislature. 

Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If the UCP were using their heads, they would take the results as a hint to dial back their full-on rage at progressive ideas and the people who advocate them, and to tone down the constant stream of snot-o-grams emanating their issues managers’ social media accounts.

They might also want to take it easy on their tendency to engage in anti-Canadian “fair deal” harangues, too, since a large and vocal opposition to their approach has spontaneously emerged as a response to their referendum. 

There are UCP politicians who seem to get this. Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, gracefully congratulated Mayor-elect Gondek on Monday night. 

But the probability is high Mr. Kenney and his inner circle lack the humility to learn from Monday’s lesson. 

So the chances are good that if Mr. Kenney remains, the UCP will be gone in 2023 or whenever the next election is called. 

26 Comments to: The obvious lessons from Alberta’s municipal election will be hard for Jason Kenney and the UCP to learn

  1. Dave

    October 20th, 2021

    As the old country saying goes, if you keep on throwing dirt, you just keep losing ground. So perhaps this is something for some of the divisive, mean spirited UCP inspired municipal election mayoral candidates to think about, if they are inclined to wonder at all about what went so wrong for them.

    Yes, Calgary and Edmonton do have a lot of serious problems now, as they have rightly pointed out. However where they get it wrong is in trying to be some pseudo populist hero who allegedly is the only one who can fix it, by tearing everything down.

    No the voters get we are in tough times, but the better response is for us to work together and that means having a leader who can bring people together, not one who does not work well with others. This is really not the time for that.

    I doubt Kenney will be around long enough to cause too much more grief for the new mayors, other than the damage already done. I suspect at some level he gets the message from the municipal elections, Albertans really want a more positive change. So perhaps he is contemplating how to leave the provincial political scene with as much of his tattered reputation intact, as possible. Of course, that will be challenging, much like a cat up a tree surprised at where he ended up and really not sure how to get down.

    Reply
  2. tom

    October 20th, 2021

    “So the chances are good that if Mr. Kenney remains, the UCP will be gone in 2023 or whenever the next election is called.”

    Dave, do you expect an election to be called sooner or later than the set date? Serious question.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 20th, 2021

      Tom: This is what they used to call the Sixty-four Thousand Dollar Question. There are a lot of factors in play here, but I do think the chances are quite high the UCP government will call an election outside the three-month legislated period in 2023. Obviously, they want to win, and just as obviously, they are in a deep hole of their own digging. Momentary advantage or an internal crisis over the leadership could propel them toward an early date. No relief from bad polls could push them to a later one. A new leader might choose to go with the existing law as a gesture of good faith. Really, anything could happen. DJC

      Reply
  3. Political Ranger

    October 20th, 2021

    So the contemporary definition of a Conservative is a miserable, belligerent, ignorant, loud and foul-mouthed cheerleader for big corporate shareholder interests. They have a seemingly knee-jerk reaction against any policy that benefits citizens.

    It’s a shame. Conservative thought used to be a bedrock of sober democratic possibility. It’s just another great historic institution that these current slobs, trolls and nutjobs have ruined.

    Reply
  4. Bruce

    October 20th, 2021

    Well, what a relief.
    The winds of change can be felt here in SW BC.
    This was the best news I’ve heard in some time on the Canadian political front.

    Imagine.
    (I hear a song coming on …)

    Reply
  5. Bob Raynard

    October 20th, 2021

    David, you have (accurately I believe) repeatedly used the phrase ‘right wing anger machine’, and it has never been more evident than in Lorne Gunter’s column yesterday. I think Mr. Gunter including a swipe at skinny houses was evidence of that.

    A huge reason for the municipal tax increases we have seen in cities is a result of population growth, and the resulting new neighbourhoods. New neighbourhoods require building streets, sidewalks, firehalls etc., and when people move into them they want the same amenities mature neighbourhoods want, like libraries and rec centres. I recently read one estimate that it takes more than 30 years for residents of a new neighbourhood to pay enough taxes to cover the cost of building their neighbourhood. Building skinny houses allows a city’s population to increase without the cost of building a new neighbourhood.

    Thus in the same column, we see Lorne Gunter complain about both increasing municipal taxes and an effort to reduce the cost of running the city.

    Reply
    • Mike J Danysh

      October 20th, 2021

      Another reason for rising municipal property taxes, often ignored by the Cons, is repeated cuts to municipal grants from 1993 to 2015. But nobody in polite society mentions this….

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        October 20th, 2021

        MIKE J DANYSH: The Alberta PCs were doing so many very costly shenanigans, and lost billions upon billions of dollars, when they abandoned Peter Lougheed’s good principles. The senseless cuts from Ralph Klein came about, which Don Getty said he initiated, made it so municipalities faced cuts, and had to increase property taxes. The UCP are doing the same thing, but you can’t expect any sense from these pretend conservatives and Reformers.

        Reply
  6. tom in ontario

    October 20th, 2021

    “…observed Don Brain of the Calgary Herald…”
    Yes, Mr. Blogger, on occasion he actually uses it.

    Reply
  7. Joe Waldron

    October 20th, 2021

    There is no Brain at the Calgary Herald.
    cheers

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 20th, 2021

      That has been obvious for a while. Thank you for pointing out my amusing typo. It has been fixed. DJC

      Reply
  8. Dave in Sask

    October 20th, 2021

    Imagine that, people In Alberta are pretty much mainstream Canadians. My guess is that the once readily available oil field jobs that have been lost pretty much changed Albertans minds and brought out their progressive instincts.

    Reply
  9. Abs

    October 20th, 2021

    Can you believe that one of the winning candidates for Calgary city council in the northeast made the 2020 hail storm part of his election platform — and won? Imagine, people have memories that stretch back to a year ago. What Kenney said (it’s nothing) and did (nothing) after that disaster, and what he said about high Covid numbers in the northeast came back to bite him.

    If it seems like Kenney was on trial in certain wards during Alberta’s municipal elections, it’s because he was, and he was found guilty of mishandling the major disasters of the hail storm, Covid and any number of other smaller daily disasters. Soon enough he might be holding press conferences at a landscaping company on the outskirts of town, appropriately close to a crematorium.

    Reply
  10. Mike J Danysh

    October 20th, 2021

    What a refreshing change is Don Braid’s commentary, compared to Lorne Gunter’s whining! I’m looking forward to Graham Thomson’s opinion on Friday.

    Jason Kenney has only himself to blame for the spectacular failure of the “vote conservative” push at the municipal level. This looks like classic self-defense in Canadian politics: vote for the opposite party at the next-lower level. Ontario is the archetype, where they usually vote Conservative provincially when a Liberal government is in Ottawa, and vice-versa.

    I see Jason the Great has promised to “work with” the two new mayors. As if he had a choice. But Jason’s idea of “working with” someone is to say, “Do this. Or else.” Expect a LOT of push-back from angry citizens when Kenney tries to bully the two big cities.

    I expect a large majority of the UCP MLAs to be (even more) sulky and irritable, now that they have a strong “opposition” in the big cities. Schweitzer has at least shown a bit of personal grace; let’s see if the other two Kenney-replacement candidates (Toews and Nixon) can follow suit.

    Reply
  11. Just Me

    October 20th, 2021

    I am entertained by the notion that both Gunter and Brett Wilson may soon quit Alberta. Hopefully they will take Danielle Smith and David Staples with them.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      October 20th, 2021

      JUST ME: And Licia Corbella too.

      Reply
  12. Phlogiston

    October 20th, 2021

    Many years ago, a lifetime ago it seems, when the Edmonton Journal was not owned by a hedge fund and was not an organ of right-wing, conservative interests and commanded a fair amount of respect from all sides, when it had many very good local reporters, reviewers, and columnists, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner party where one of the other attendees was a highly regarded and award-winning journalist who worked for the Edmonton Journal. At that time, Lorne Gunter’s horribly written screeds and right-wing rants had just started appearing in some of the op-ed pages of the Journal. I asked the journalist about the presence of these screeds. He appeared troubled by them but did not say so. What he did say is that among the other Journal employees, Lorne Gunter was a laughingstock who did not command anything but derision.

    Fast forward to 2021. Lorne Gunter long ago left or was pushed out of the Journal only to find a home in the Edmonton Sun. Now, both the Sun and Journal are owned by the same company. The Journal is now much reduced, Graham Thomson and Paula Simons are gone, along with many other fine writers and reporters, and we now have to put up with insane rants of Danielle Smith and the opinion pieces of other partisan hacks. Sigh…If it weren’t for the smattering of relevant local news that we value, such as it is, we would cancel our subscription.

    What occurred with the Elections AB Twitter account is very disturbing indeed. It belies a rot that seems to have taken hold in institutions that supposed to be non-partisan. Whether this is a deliberate strategy on the part of the UCP remains to be seen. The UCP may be taking a page out of the Republican playbook in which, because they realize they can only win by cheating, rather than competing, they tilt the game in their favour. That might seem alarmist, but some of the views expressed by UCP members do seem to align with the views of many Republicans, who do support voter suppression tactics and gerrymandering.

    In any event, I would not hold my breath for the truth to come out any time soon. The review announced by Elections AB looks to be like so much Kabuki theatre. Elections AB is investigating itself, which is never a good sign. The Acting Deputy Chief of Staff, Pamela Renwick, has said that the results of the review, because they include staff issues, will not be published, if they break confidentiality. Elections AB will selectively publish results if, once the review is completed, it determines that confidentiality can be maintained. These statements point to a propaganda campaign to do damage control, but take no action to ensure that Elections AB is non-partisan and professional.

    As for the braying from the conservative nut farm, Mike Nickel’s concession speech was divisive and utterly lacking in grace: “The voices of thousands who have spoken to the return of the status quo. I’ve got to be honest: you’re in for some tough times ahead, some very tough times ahead.” Good riddance to him.

    Reply
  13. liarspeaksthetruth

    October 20th, 2021

    Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Premier’s office as his staff engage in a mad scramble for phone numbers and contact information for the province’s new civic leaders.

    Reply
  14. Thomas Deak

    October 20th, 2021

    I am overjoyed that Councillor Dziadyk of Edmonton Ward TASTAWIYINIWAK was defeated! His right wing arrogance was palpable. I personally reminded constituents that he tried to place his fingers in the proverbial cookie jar, as he felt that taxpayers should pay for his personal MBA! Many constituents, myself include were tired of now former Councillor Dziadyk’s self-entitlement!! With a new Council soon to be in place, I hope municipal issues will now be dealt with on a basis of consensus & common sense! The people of Edmonton have spoken & I hope tone deaf Premier Kenney has removed his ear plugs to realize that his days in office are numbered unless he quits his vitriolic rhetoric and silly policies that hurt the average Albertan!!!

    Reply
  15. Bruce Turton

    October 20th, 2021

    It could be of greater interest to real people in Alberta if the proposal from the new mayor of Calgary about negotiating the $10 a day daycare with the Feds without the “aid” of the provincial buffoons could be taken up by Edmonton council, and possibly Medicine Hat.

    Reply
  16. Scotty on Denman

    October 20th, 2021

    Bleating from the sure-fire shofar: “Pray get ye to the wagon-laager lest be smitten by unmindful volleys of rage!”

    The one good thing about being surrounded is that none of your own risks taking friendly fire—especially when it can’t be afforded by dearth of adherents.

    Ask Kenney about factionalism, he ought to know the answer: can heresiarchs possibly be plural?

    Who’s the heretic, now, K-bairn?

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    October 20th, 2021

    PHLOGISTON: I also remember Mark Lisac. He was a great columnist in the Edmonton Journal. He’s no longer there. Ralph Klein and Rod Love had something to do with why he is gone. He never danced around the very costly shenanigans of the Alberta PCs. Ralph Klein and Rod Love are one of the reasons why Postmedia are mouthpieces for all things conservative. In The Sun, very costly shenanigans that the Alberta PCs did, and the UCP did, don’t make front page news. They are buried in the newspaper. Postmedia also had a role in why the UCP got elected in 2019, and from cheating.

    Reply
    • Phlogiston

      October 21st, 2021

      Thanks for the reminder, @anonymous. Sometime later that day, after submitting my post, I recalled Mark Lisac as well and regretted not including him. Not only was he an extremely good writer, he was a true gadfly to Klien, Love, West, and rest of the clown car that used to rule the province. After his stint at the Journal, he took over Rich Vivone’s Insight into Government newsletter from 2005 – 2013. He has since written a couple of novels: https://newestpress.com/authors/mark-lisac.

      Reply
  18. brett

    October 20th, 2021

    Sigh of relief for us here in Calgary. The thought of Mayor Farkas was enough to make one consider moving.

    Waiting for the Q3 UCP fundraising numbers. I assume those in the know already have them. Will it be three strikes and you are out….incredibly low polls, UCP preferred candidates for Mayor in Edmonton and Calgary soundly defeated.

    Will potentially terrible UCP Q3 fundraising numbers greatly eclipsed by the NDP be the proverbial straw that makes the UCP Executive Council and back room movers and shakers finally make a decision to dump the current driver of the clown car????

    Surely this

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      October 21st, 2021

      I think the results of Jason’s‘public inquiry’ should be out any day now too.

      Meanwhile, Alberta’s Covid deaths have now surpassed the total deaths on 911.

      Reply
  19. jerrymacgp

    October 23rd, 2021

    Scanning outside the two big cities, we also see some interesting election results. Here are some:

    – In the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, voters elected its “most diverse Council ever”: https://fortmcmurraytoday.com/news/local-news/incoming-council-will-be-rmwbs-most-diverse-official-voter-turnout-at-27-2-per-cent.
    – voters in the City of Grande Prairie elected a woman Mayor for the first time, Jackie Clayton, who beat her second-place challenger — also a woman, Eunice Friesen — by only 135 votes. Clayton was the incumbent, but wasn’t elected Mayor in 2017. A City Councillor who had served as Deputy Mayor, Clayton was appointed by Council to finish out the term after Bill Given stepped down to take a job as CAO of the Town of Jasper. (I’ve known Eunice Friesen for years, as she is a former RN who, with her husband, now co-owns a local funeral home). As for City Council, only three incumbents where re-elected. Newcomers to Council include an art gallery owner & 2019 Alberta Party candidate.
    – Medicine Hat also elected its first woman Mayor
    – the Town of Peace River also elected a woman Mayor, while the Town of Sexsmith’s incumbent woman Mayor was acclaimed for another term

    Reply

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