Meanwhile, in Alberta…

On September 3rd Alberta’s Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda won a provincial by-election in the riding of Calgary-Foothills. This was the seat vacated by former Premier Jim Prentice following the Alberta PC Party’s devastating loss this May. It had been held by the PCs since the party’s 1971 own rise to power.

Political observers and pollsters alike had been watching the dynamic in Calgary carefully following the provincial NDP win in May: Did the province take a sharp turn to the left, or was voter disaffection with the PCs the key to the dramatic shift in tide?

The answer is complex, let’s take a look.

Polls released right after the provincial election showed that the appetite for change was high in Alberta. The NDP won the majority of the votes within rural and urban constituencies, from north to south and amongst voters of all education levels under the age of 60. What started as a protest vote, has been shown to have crystalized into broad-based support for the direction and policies of the Rachel Notley government.


Overlaying now what this means for the federal election, polls currently are showing that rural Albertans continue to support the Conservative party in overwhelming numbers, however, the cities tell a very different story. Some inner city ridings in Edmonton are either projecting to be won by the Liberals or NDP and in Calgary incumbents Joan Crockett and Davinder Shory are in pitched battles against popular former Liberal MLAs. A win for the opposition in Calgary Centre, the very heart of the oil patch would be a symbolic win for either party. The fact that this suburban Calgary riding went Wildrose means that the conservative movement in Alberta is hardly on life-support.

However, the other reality is that Alberta is not the range where cowboys and oilmen roam free. The demographics have shifted and younger Albertans have higher expectations of their governments. Albertans understand the importance of the oil and gas sector but also see an obligation to be stewards of the environment and develop energy in a responsible manner. In cities like Edmonton and Lethbridge where the federal NDP are surging, there is also a feeling that while the oil and gas sector has provided benefits to the province, individuals may not themselves have benefitted and in some cases may be falling behind their counterparts in Calgary. What remains to be seen is whether the values of a younger Alberta will hold up under the tremendous pressures that falling oil prices are bringing not only in terms of job stability but also government revenues. Albertans have come to expect a certain level of services from their governments and the difficult discussion are now underway as we move into two consecutive provincial budgeting cycles about where spending priorities will lie while prices recover.

With six weeks to come in the federal election, we will watch with interest to see how the leaders and their campaigns react to the shifting dynamics in Alberta.