Monday, September 7, 2015

Wild Rose party scores convincing upset in Calgary against Conservatives

The victory for the Wild Rose party in the Calgary-Foothills constituency shows that small-c conservatives still have a good grip on parts of the city. However, the Progressive Conservatives came a dismal third in a riding they held since 1971,
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The Wild Rose party is an offshoot from the Progressive Conservatives (PC) formed when many conservatives became fed up with the performance of the Progressive Conservatives. Polls showed that Wild Rose would win the 2012 April provincial election. The polls were wrong and the Progressive Conservatives won handily. To add insult to injury, in December of last year, the leader of the party, Danielle Smith, and eight other members of the party crossed the floor and joined the Progressive Conservative caucus. Only five members were left in the Wild Rose party in the legislature. This did not result in the demise of the party as many had predicted.
While the NDP led by Rachel Notley in a May election swept to a convincing victory over both conservative parties winning 53 seats, the Wild Rose rose to 21 seats from five, eclipsing the Progressive Conservatives who managed to hold only 10. The new leader of the PCs, Jim Prentice, managed to hold on to his seat in the Calgary-Foothills riding, but he resigned because of the dismal showing of the party under his leadership. This resulted in the present by-election.
The NDP had a high-profile candidate, Bob Hawkesworth, in the riding and the party sent in experienced campaigners from Edmonton to help out. The premier, Rachel Notley even spent some time campaigning door-to-door with Hawkesworth. However, the party managed only a second place finish at 26 percent of the vote. This was quite a bit better than the 3.75 percent it drew in a by-election in October of 2014 but far from the 32 percent it achieved in the May election against then-premier Jim Prentice, coming close to unseating him. However, the NDP faces a grim economic situation with the NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci announcing the province is headed for a whopping $5.9 billion deficit due to the low prices of oil and reduced royalty revenues among other problems. The economic malaise may reflect negatively on the new NDP government.
The Wild Rose candidate, Prasad Panda, has been a loyal Wild Rose member. He ran for the party twice in the past and lost. Three times and he won. Panda won with about 38 percent of the vote. Panda won by a comfortable margin of more than 1,600 votes. Turnout was low at approximately 39 percent of eligible voters though good for a by-election. Panda is a senior manager at Suncor. He won the nomination against two other candidates back on August 11 with a whopping 770 party members voting.
The new leader of the Wildrose Party, Brian Jean, now can boast that the Wild Rose party could very well be the preferred choice of conservative voters over the Progressive Conservatives. He can also boast an urban seat for a party that is predominantly rural. Jean noted: "I don't think they've ever placed under 40 per cent in this riding. It's the strongest riding they have in Alberta and they've lost it. I think it clearly indicates where Albertans are going and they're going towards a Wildrose future." The PCs did garner under 40 percent of the vote before, but only once in 1989 when the premier lost his own riding even though the Progressive Conservatives won a majority. In this by-election the PCs came third with only 21 percent of the vote less than half of what they usually get and well behind the second place NDP.
No doubt there will be attempts to have the two conservative parties unite again to defeat the NDP next election. However, Wild Rose members may not be anxious to join up with the Conservatives any time soon after their recent experiences. They may believe and perhaps correctly that they can win on their own and that Conservative voters will vote for them during the next elections. The provincial PC brand is badly damaged. I append a right-wing "Rebel" video on the election results.

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