Mount Royal University Policy Studies chair, Duane Bratt, weighs in on the upcoming Alberta byelections and the impacts it will have on the current Alberta government

Byelections are rare in Alberta politics. In the last decade, there have only been three of them. Yet, on Oct. 27, there will be four byelections: one in Edmonton (Whitemud) and three in Calgary (Elbow, West, and Foothills). It is a “mini-election.” As such, the stakes are high, not just for the governing Progressive Conservative Party, but for all of the opposition parties too.

Even if the PCs lose all four byelections, they would still be the majority party in the Legislature and would still be the government of Alberta. That does not mean that the stakes of the “mini-election” are not high for the government. After all, there are four simultaneous byelections and all of the ridings were previously held by the PCs. If they are able to hold each seat, this would be a visible sign of support from Albertans. But if they lose a seat, or more, it would damage the PCs political credibility.

Duane Bratt Ph.D, is Chair and Professor in the Department of Policy Studies at Mount Royal University.

Photo courtesy of Mount Royal UniversityBut the biggest reason why the stakes are so high for the PCs is because Premier Jim Prentice, who won the PC leadership race in early September, lacks a seat in the Legislature. Prentice also decided to take the unusual step of appointing to his cabinet two more unelected ministers. Stephen Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton, is the new Health Minister and Gordon Dirks, former Chair of the Calgary Board of Education, is the new Education Minister.

Canada’s constitution allows for the Premier and Ministers to be unelected as long as they go before the voters ASAP. The voters in Foothills (Prentice), Whitemud (Mandel), and Elbow (Dirks) can either ratify or nullify the decisions of the PC party. If Mandel and Dirks are elected, they remain in cabinet. But if either one of them is defeated, then they will need to immediately resign. If Prentice is elected, he will continue to govern Alberta as Premier until the expected Spring 2016 general election. But if Prentice is defeated, he must resign as Premier, his political career would be over, the PCs would be thrown into another leadership race, and the province would be in political turmoil.

The stakes are also high for the opposition parties. The Wildrose Party has been leading in the polls due to the scandals surrounding former Premier Redford. Alison Redford resigned in March 2014 over a “culture of entitlement.” This involved, among other things, racking up a $45,000 bill for attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013, excessive use of government airplanes for personal and partisan use, and renovating a government penthouse to be used as an exclusive Premier’s accommodation at tremendous cost. The epicentre for anti-Redford anger is in Calgary Elbow because they were the ones who directly elected her. In addition, parts of the Elbow riding were hard hit by the June 2013 floods and there remain plenty of flood recovery issues. If Wildrose cannot take Elbow or at least one of the other ridings (most likely in West where former CBE trustee Sheila Taylor is the WRP candidate), it would be a sign that they are not a government in waiting and that the PCs remain very resilient.

“If Wildrose cannot take Elbow or at least one of the other ridings, it would be a sign that they are not a government in waiting and that the PCs remain very resilient.”

– Duane Bratt, Policy Studies chair and professor at Mount Royal UniversityThe other opposition parties are also looking to make breakthroughs. The Alberta Party, a progressive party which has never won a seat and received only 1.3 per cent of the vote in 2012, is pressing hard in Elbow. Led by party leader Greg Clark they have assembled an A-list of campaign workers, many of whom were part of Calgary Mayor’s Naheed Nenshi’s electoral machine. Clark’s campaign is managed by Stephen Carter, a successful political strategist who, ironically, ran Redford’s 2011 leadership campaign, her 2012 election campaign, and was, for a short period, Redford’s chief of staff. A poor showing in Elbow, where they have concentrated most of their resources, would be evidence that the Alberta Party is not a political force.

The NDP, who hold four seats in Edmonton, are campaigning hard in Whitemud. Their candidate is Dr. Bob Turner who has made health care the issue in going up against Health Minister Mandel. A victory by the NDP in Whitemud would show that they could become Alberta’s progressive option versus the two conservative parties (PC and WRP).

Finally, the Liberal Party has been losing votes and seats steadily over the last few elections. If the Liberals fare poorly in the mini-election, it would show that progressive voters have abandoned them in favour of the NDP and Alberta Party.

Clearly, for all five parties, the stakes are huge in the October mini-election.

Editor’s Note: Thumbnail photo courtesy of League of Women Voters of California. 

What are your predictions for the upcoming Alberta byelections?