Calgary Centre post-mortem

Colby Cosh looks at the Green Party surge and how Trudeau’s remarks affected the Liberals


Last night’s Calgary Centre by-election, won by media personality and former newspaper editor Joan Crockatt, was held in the most pro-Naheed Nenshi part of what is now a very pro-Nenshi city. Like Crockatt last night, Nenshi exploited a split opposition to win the Calgary mayoralty in 2010. But Calgary’s civic Ward 8, which makes up about two-thirds of the Calgary Centre riding, is a place where the mayor dominated all other contestants combined, taking 58% of the vote. The Green Party’s Chris Turner has close ties to Nenshi (though the mayor didn’t endorse anybody), and Turner was clearly hoping to capitalize on that success, employing Nenshi campaign staffers and Nenshian social-media tactics.

It earned him 26% of the vote. That’s still an amazing figure for a Green Party-labelled candidate in Calgary—especially an unknown one with essentially no pre-existing local political apparatus to exploit. From a standing start, Turner earned 20 votes for every three cast for the NDP’s Dan Meades.

The more meaningful pre-election data, however, may have come not from 2010 but from this year’s provincial election, in which Calgary Centre covers about the same area as three downtown constituencies: Calgary-Elbow, home base of both Ralph Klein and Alison Redford; Calgary-Buffalo, the city’s Liberal stronghold; and Calgary-Currie. The right-wing Wildrose Party got 12,694 votes there in April, and one would have to think that many of them were among the 10,201 who made it out to vote for Conservative Crockatt last night. (Her campaign was as Wildrose-heavy as Turner’s was Nenshi-heavy.) The Liberals had 8,449 provincial votes in the zone, and federal Liberal Harvey Locke got 9,034 last night.

That doesn’t speak particularly well for Locke’s performance, despite the fact that he kept pace with Crockatt deep into the evening. Calgary Centre represented a great opportunity for the Liberals, and Locke is one of the province’s best-known and well-liked conservationists. He needed to add to a dwindling base of diehard brand-loyal Liberals to win; instead, a Green spoiler attacked him in direct mailings as “stuck in the us-against-them environmentalism of the past” and grabbed four votes to every five of Locke’s. This is a pretty brazen move for somebody running under Elizabeth May’s banner, but I’m betting we will see more deployment of this Environmentalism 2.0 card from Green candidates.

Which brings us to the bushwhacking of Justin Trudeau, who made some comments about how Albertans are ruining the country on TV in Quebec a couple of years ago and was suddenly confronted with them by Sun Media in the last days of the campaign. I don’t know that these comments would have discouraged a loyal Liberal from voting for Harvey Locke. But Locke was supposed to have a great deal of red-Tory support that would have once gone to the incumbent MP, old Lougheed hand Lee Richardson (now Premier Redford’s principal secretary). Since Crockatt lost half of Richardson’s vote share, those voters certainly went somewhere. Or, rather, nowhere. Justin’s shoot-at-Alberta-from-the-hip himbo explosion probably kept quite a few of them at home on a chilly November day.

There is a lot of doubt afoot about the possible relevance of Justin’s comments, but nobody is really questioning whether they were foolish; if he was placed in a no-win situation, whose fault is that? Hint: it’s not only Justin’s. Some of the blame must go to the Liberals who are supposedly his rivals for the party leadership, but are acting as though he is already their leader and it would be unseemly to criticize him in public. Any one of them could have stepped in with some sharp words and helped rescue Harvey Locke. Instead, Calgary seems quite justified in rejecting the Screw Alberta Party by a narrow margin.

Locke, a former president of the Alberta Liberal Party, is leaving the door open for another Liberal run in the next general election. Anything is possible. But while voters might have seen Locke as a victim of circumstance this time, wouldn’t the perception be very different in 2015, especially if Justin Trudeau is the leader? At that point, wouldn’t Locke seem to Alberta voters like one of those guys who just never learns?


Calgary Centre post-mortem

  1. I count at least a dozen sketchy assertions here, from the idea that Calgary Centre was a “great opportunity” rather than a longshot which suddenly got a few less than miserable polls, to the idea Justin pointing out that Albertans, from a liberal standpoint, have been bad leaders has no upside.

    • Only a dozen? A good day for me then.
      The CPC was very concerned about the Liberals. (As it happens, the “less than miserable” polls actually include the one that counts.) And I don’t think I ever deny that the Liberals may sensibly wish to be the Screw Alberta Party; but that’s a pie they will have to split with the Dutch Disease Party, and they all seem to at least believe it is important to behave as a national movement (having spent a long time poo-pooing regional parties) and to deny antipathy to Alberta.

      • I feel that with a little bit of spin this so-called “screw alberta” thing people accuse JT of can be turned into “we know you’re not as bad as your MPs make you look, Alta, stop crying NEP NEP NEP and show the country you can do better!” His comments may be the start of something in that respect if he can start working it. And the downside is they keep every single Alta seat they have! (0)

        • So Alberta just has to realize that Justin had a good point? Tough row to hoe.

          • Indeed, although it may resonate with newcomers from other provinces I keep hearing about and urbane types angry with their rural representatives. And again worst that can happen is they hold steady in their seat total.

  2. The key number to analyze is 29.4 — the lowest turnout percentage of the three byelections yesterday. Despite all the national media coverage about how narrow this race could be, less than a third of voters turned out (and, despite Cosh’s assertion, the weather was quite pleasant right up until the close of polls).

    When no one bothers to turn up, little changes.

    • When no one bothers to turn up, little changes….. and whose fault is that. You get what you get. Whining about turnout is a fools’ game. It accomplishes little.

      • This may be the most not entirely stupid thing you have ever written, and I applaud you.

    • But if Trudeau is such a great hope for the LPC, and if Trudeau is supposed to win a majority government if he gets to lead the LPC, then Trudeau will need to get out the vote in big, big numbers. So how come Trudeau didn’t manage to get the big vote out this time around? It’s all about the voter turn-out, of course! So where are Trudeau’s hordes of supporters. Were they in hiding last night?

      • I would give an even chance near 100% of Liberal supports showed up for the Calgary centre vote.

        • Fair enough. But if that is the case, then the pundits have a lot to answer for. Why not then question the poll results which came out in strong support of Trudeau and the strong possibility of the Libs forming a majority government under Trudeau’s leadership? Here, Trudeau had been campaigning hard for Locke, yet with a 100% turn out of dedicated Libs, the numbers were still fairly low (at least not nearly high enough to forming a majority government). In the Durham by-election, the numbers for the Libs were not good either, and the same goes for Victoria. Where then does this swell of support for Trudeau come to the fore??? It seems strange to me that when being polled and those polls point in direction of a majority government for the Libs under Trudeau, that the poll was wrong. So why not question it instead of using it as empty spin?

    • I disagree. You are more likely to get an upset when turnout is low.

      • No. Because when turnout is low it’s most likely the undecided voter who hasn’t turned up.. and they’re the ones who make the upsets.

      • You are correct. If an upset is defined as an election result that defies past results, and does not adhere to the voting preferences of the qualified electorate, then low turnouts signify that only dedicated supporters show up at the polls. That is why GOTV is hyper-ctitical in by-elections. By-elections always have dismal turnouts, so getting out an extra 10% of your supporters can tip the balance neatly.

  3. The margin of victory wasn’t that close (4.2%). There’s no recount needed, etc.
    Sure, compared to Richardson, Crockatt failed to carry as many votes. Is that an idictment of the Conservatives, or a reflection of her own popularity?
    Personally, I think the media got itself spun into a tizzy chasing after ghosts. Another boring week in the news I guess.
    Here’s the analysis that should be being discussed: The Conservatives maintained their 2 ridings, the NDP their riding, in the byelections. If this is a barometer of the countries mood for the present Government, it would seem status quo is the result.

    • If the vote margin were a state going into the us primaries (where yeah yeah there are only two candidates), it would be considered strong romney/strong obama.

    • This is Calgary. A margin of victory under 25% is a nail biter.

  4. The Reform or Canadian Alliance candidate never got much more than 40% of the vote in Calgary Centre. Joe Clark and Harvey Andre were Redder than Red Tories who won the riding. Lee Richardson was a moderate Conservative.

    So a “Wildrose” Conservative gets 90% of the core Reform vote out in a byelection and wins. Redford and now this shouldn’t give Harper leverage against his right wing to settle down.

    • that should be “should give Harper leverage against his right wing”

    • How do you account for the net migration/immigration to Calgary/AB over the period in question? Calg pop up say 50% over the period in question (Reform/Alliance days).

      • That’s a factor, but do remember that there’s an element of self-selection in who chooses to migrate to Alberta. Sure, some people go there and import values from the region that they came from. But lots of others “go native” on arrival, and lots of others are congenitally warm to right-of-centre political values (particularly fiscally/economically) even before they arrive. The most staunch Liberal/Dipper Alberta-haters would never dream of moving there in the first place.

      • The net immigration/migration to Calgary might be up 50% since the Reform/Alliance days but that hasn’t changed the dynamics of certain neighborhoods. Just as Colby pointed out, Calgary Centre encompasses some very liberal neighborhoods. They vote for liberal mayors and liberal conservatives like Ms. Redford.

  5. I cannot understand the Liberals in the West who allow an Eastern elitist like Trudeau to say he thinks Alberta politicians are unfit and a PM from Quebec is superior just because of geography. That apology of his that tried to sluff of the slur as one against Harper and not all Albertans was bull$hit.
    He said Albertans and he meant Albertans.

    And not one wimpy Liberal from the West stood up to him and told him his bony a$$ wasn`t welcome as their leader.
    It looks to me like a Party that`s given up….no pride, no fight left.

    • That’s the least of what you cannot understand.

      • And you show, by your compliance with Trudeau`s words, to be one of the Liberals I was talking about.

        • I agree that Justin’s “apology” was pathetic in the extreme. It’s like an “apology” from a personality-disordered girlfriend – kinda starts out like an apology and morphs into an attack (in this case on Harper). Basically it was projection. And I say that as someone who up until now had a lot of time for JT.

    • “He said Albertans and he meant Albertans.”

      Right. Like when Reformers blamed “Ottawa” for their woes, meaning The People of Ottawa.

      Anyhow, as a Westerner I was disappointed that he apologized.

    • Right- Andrew- we have no pride. Liberals in the west are liberals because its convenient? Its the cowards choice? Are you kidding me? Something someone said 2 years ago is leaked by the Sun and we need to get angry about it? I am not a moron and nor are the other liberals in the province. On the other hand was David McGhuinty said was unacceptable and he paid the price- and yes not just us western liberals, but all liberals stood up in unison and said this is unacceptable. So before you start throwing around pejorative and buying into the propaganda of SunTV, get your facts straight. Liberals will chose their leader and Trudeau’s comments will factor into it.

  6. I always enjoy reading a Colby Cosh “post mortem” (heck even a fawning pre-mortem in the case of “a wild rise for one wild rose”) of an Alberta political event.

    Sure, in the past, he’s shown a little ankle here, a little uncovered neck there, now we’re moving to cleavage – just can’t decide whether it is frontal or butt.

    But the “Screw Alberta Party” was humorous. I got a chuckle.

  7. As a member of the Canadian voting majority who more than anything wants Harper gone, last night was a catastrophe. Like Harper’s majority in the House, Crockatt won only due to horrific (and worsening) vote-splitting by the 6 in 10 non-Con majority.

    If the non-Con parties continue to advocate parochialism and electoral non-cooperation, it looks like Canada’s right-wing can govern forever, barring a split in their own ranks.

    The only way it seems the non-Con majority could beat Harper is to organize some kind of non-partisan alliance of non-Con voters to defeat incumbent Conservatives in selected, vulnerable ridings.

    Not an easy task, since this kind of group would not have to just fight Harperites, we’d also have to fight non-Con party stalwarts, staffers and apparachniks. Not easy at all.

    • I believe the name “Canadian Alliance” is now available!

    • … or just show up to vote. Like another commenter said, voter turnout was abysmal for the Calgary by-election. How many “progressives” didn’t bother showing up to vote? Why criticize the system and the apparent 6-in-10 that didn’t vote Tory, instead of focusing on the 7.5-in-10 that didn’t bother showing up?

    • “the Canadian voting majority who more than anything wants Harper gone”
      The problem with that statement is that you are assuming that everyone who doesn’t vote CPC loathes Harper with every fiber of their being, as you apparently do. It’s just not that simple; voting behaviour is not that simple. Lots of people vote (and don’t vote) for all kinds of reasons, and support (and don’t support) parties for all kinds of reasons.

  8. The LPC, NDP, and GPC should commit to a primary process and send 1 progressive candidate up. They should also agree to making reform of First Past the Post and some variation of Democratizing the Constitution into their platforms as individual governments or as a coalition. If those commitments were made we could fix much that is wrong with Canada, but we citizens will have to force these policies on them.

    • I agree, though I think this should be restricted to no more than 10%-15% of federal ridings since it is important that parties be seen to be functioning on a national basis.

      • How is it important? To who?

        More importantly, what business is it of ours to be dictating how different private parties choose to run.. or not run.. a candidate?

      • Stefan, “reform of First Past the Post” does not necessarily mean proportional representation. It can mean the Single Transferable Vote or STV system, which allows voters to indicate their preference in 1, 2, 3 etc. The result would be that candidates have to reach out to supporters of other parties to ask for their 2nd place or third place votes… more cooperation, less acrimony and less animosity. The other result is a representative in Ottawa who actually reflects the wishes of a majority of the riding.
        Sure, it would likely produce fewer majority governments, but if that meant more cooperation in Ottawa, better individual MPs and weaker party discipline, perhaps it would be worth it?

        • I agree Robert- Preferential Ballots are the next step, in tandem with making voting a whole lot easier and more accessible. These two simple things can fundamentally improve the democracy deficit in our country, increase voter turnout and ensure that your representative was selected by the 1st & 2nd place votes of alteast 50% of the voters in your riding.

    • Whoops, that’s right, isn’t it? Richardson took the Sir Humphrey job. I’ll correct that.

      • Since we’re splitting hairs, Richardson took the Bernard job, not the Humphrey job.

  9. The key is that a lot of voters stayed home – a protest abstention vote. The voter turn-out was less than 30%, one source has it at 27%, which was the lowest of the three by-elections by a long margin. A lot of Tory voters just sat on their hands.

    • Exactly— 28000 fewer voters than in 2011.

      The Conservative vote dropped by 20000 and the Liberal vote only by 1400—that will tighten up any race.

      • But the Green vote shot up from 10% in 2011 to 25%. Perhaps the Conservative vote dropped by 20,000 because Conservatives felt the outcome was predictable. Perhaps the Green vote shot up because Calgary Liberals were pizzed off with the anti-Alberta insults by McGuinty and Trudeau. …… Maybe Liberal Locke would have won in a cakewalk if Justin and David had said nothing.

  10. Nenshian?

  11. Reasonable analysis until the end. JT’s rivals aren’t acting as though he’s their leader – they just don’t want to join on a Conservative attack on him. And at least Garneau made it clear that he doesn’t share those views.

  12. In my opinion the most significant INFORMATION (as opposed to conjecture) from this by-election is just how close the result was, and by just how much turnout tanked. The Liberal Party did not lose this by-election, and the Green Party did not win anything much. With such a low turnout, they basically got all their supporters out to the polls, which of course drove up their proportion of the vote. Sure, there were some voters migrating one way or another, but that is not significant. The Conservatives, blessed with enormous coffers, the resources of both the Federal Government, so called News organisations like the Sun, and the Federal Conservative Party with oodles of voter data, and phone banks and volunteers by the thousands, failed to get their voters to the polls. Calgary Centre is ground zero for the impressive voter profiling and contact ‘machine’. The CPC knows EVERYTHING about everybody living in the riding. Tastes and preferences, where they shop, what issues hit each voter where they live. With all those resources, you are virtually guaranteed that they led the horse to the water, but the horse refused to drink. This is a disaster for the Federal Conservative Party, mitigated only by the fact that the public will think that they actually won.

    • Liberal Locke just told the media that McGuinty’s anti-Alberta insults did him in and that Justin’s French superiority comments didn’t add to the debacle. Liberal Albertans parked their votes with the Greens who’s popularity shot up from 10% in the 2011 election to 25% in the byelection. If those Liberals had still voted Liberal, Locke would have won in a cakewalk. McGuinty and Trudeau suppressed the Liberal vote in Calgary-Centre, and that’s obvious now. And now the question is: is Justin political dead meat?

  13. Breaking news from SUN NN clarifies Liberal Locke’s assessment of his loss.


    “OTTAWA — Harvey Locke says sentiments expressed by Liberal David McGuinty helped dunk his campaign, but absolved Justin Trudeau for similar anti-Alberta comments.

    “I think more the McGuinty comments than the Trudeau comments if I can be frank,” said Locke, who lost to Tory Joan Crockatt by about 1,200 votes in the Calgary Centre byelection, one of three races Monday.” … More….

    This update clarifies your comments, and it appears McGuinty’s anti-Alberta insults did him in … and Justin’s French superiority comments must have just capped things.

    My question is do you really believe that Calgary-Centre voters are 25% Green when they only got 10% in 2011 general election? Where did all that Green vote come from… May? Suzuki? … or did Justin and David spook the Liberal voters and they parked their votes with the Greens to punish the Eastern Liberal bastards??

    If Trudeau, Rae, Goodale, others, hadn’t showed up and McGuinty stayed shut up could the Liberals have won in a cakewalk??

    • A cynic might say that Locke knows who would be buttering his bread in the future. Criticize a big mouthed back bencher or the future leader of the party – what to do, what to do ….

  14. Really? – the liberal brand is that mighty in Calgary Centre?- Where is this analysis coming from??? The Greens started with a 17% base- they have always done well in Calgary Centre. That 17% I refer to is what their Volunteer Coordinator – Natalie Odd received in 2008 when she was the green candidate. This number dipped to 10% in 2011 with a commiserate rise of the NDP vote to 14%. This NDP vote collapsed into the Green Party this time around to provide them with a 25% total. The total NDP+ Green vote in the last two elections has always stayed a consistent 24-29%. INow what Locke had to do was take his base of 18% from 2008 & 2011 and grow it to 33% – by appealing to provincial and federal liberals and progressive conservatives And in that sense- he did a masterful job. To say that the highest result a non conservative has gotten in Calgary in 44 years is something to poo poo makes absolutely no sense. Before you write your next piece of commentary sir- please delve a little deeper into the facts.