As the governing United Conservative Party (UCP) braces for what looks to be a tough rematch against the Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP), Calgary-Klein is once again shaping up to be a key district in the victory scenarios for both parties.
Despite being full of historically conservative-leaning communities, Calgary-Klein made up part of the NDP’s “orange crush” in 2015.
Although the riding voted blue again in 2019, political analysts like Duane Bratt (Professor of Political Science, Mount Royal University) see it as a crucial toss-up.
From Bratt’s perspective, this election will see Edmonton continue its long-standing tradition as an orange stronghold. Similarly, the sea of rural and semi-rural districts outside of the two major cities are safely blue—for the most part. The onus once again falls on Calgary to be the decider for this election.
“Both parties know this. It’s why the NDP set up their headquarters in the city of Calgary,” Bratt explained. “Despite only having three seats right now, the NDP is spending an awful lot of time in Calgary—probably more time than they spent while they were in government.”
This story is part of an editorial partnership between the Calgary Journal and MacEwan University journalism.
Where Calgary is concerned, the NDP enjoyed unprecedented success in 2015—but Bratt claims the bar is much higher for them now.
According to Bratt, their 2015 triumph had a lot to do with vote-splitting between Progressive Conservative (PC) and Wild Rose candidates. This meant the NDP only needed to win 15 of Calgary’s seats. Now, Bratt projects that the NDP needs to carry 18 to 20 of Calgary’s ridings in order to unseat the UCP government.
In Calgary-Klein at least, the NDP seem to be rising to the occasion, with candidate Lizette Tejada currently polling at 53 percent, or 14 points ahead of the UCP’s incumbent MLA Jeremy Nixon. Tejada’s road to the candidacy reveals just how much the NDP is banking on this seat—the party had to conduct a second primary vote after revoking their first nominee due to controversial tweets.
Despite this being her first-ever provincial election, Tejada is feeling confident.
A lifelong Calgarian, she says she’s been motivated into action by the success of the 2015-2019 NDP government. As for her recent triumph to secure the NDP nomination, Tejada credits her eagerness to make herself visible in Calgary-Klein, and hear their most pressing concerns first-hand.
She sees healthcare as a key concern for residents.
“I think a lot of folks are being forced to think about that,” Tejada explained, referring to what she perceives as the UCP’s plans to introduce more privatization to the healthcare system.
“People are feeling this affordability crisis, so they don’t want to spend more money on items that are supposed to be part of this public institution we’ve always counted on.”
Jeremy Nixon, who could not be reached for an interview, has also been vocal on the issue of affordability.
As this marks his fourth overall campaign for Calgary-Klein’s seat, Nixon, who is serving as minister for seniors, community and social services, is also campaigning on his close connection to his constituents, particularly its seniors. In an interview with Global News late last year, he championed the government’s Affordability Action Plan as a much-needed branch of support for the province’s most affected—including the elderly.
Indeed, health care and affordability seem to be the definitive issues of this election, and the intersection of those two factors may be what prevents 2023 from being a simple re-run of 2019.
As a demographic, seniors reliably vote conservative, and the same is true in Alberta and Calgary.
According to Philip Flegel, a communications professor at Bow Valley College, anxieties about healthcare-related costs—especially in this post-COVID environment—may serve to alienate the very group of voters that typically form the backbone of conservative victories.
“I personally live in an ‘older’ area of the city… I hear the concerns of the seniors around me, and I think they’re very concerned about their healthcare,” Flegel explained.
Because the NDP has a “leg-up” on the healthcare issue, Flegel feels it could be their winning strategy to convert some lifelong conservative voters.
In any case, Calgary’s many electoral districts now appear to be a real-time signal of Alberta’s shifting political dynamics.
Calgary-Klein in particular is a microcosm of shifting demographic realities and voter preferences, particularly those tied to age.
Considering that, the ultimate question for this election then seems to be whether the NDP can effectively capitalize on some very widespread and generation-spanning concerns; or if the UCP, as Alberta’s undisputed monolith of conservatism, can successfully tap into the long-standing preferences at play within the Stampede City.
Voters will head to the polls on May 29.