All posts tagged Calgary Centre By-election

Attack on Kent Hehr highlights deepening fissures in Alberta Liberal ranks

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr with a crowd of Liberalberta supporters in the background. (Bad joke. I apologize.) Below: Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.

An angry and public attack last week on Liberal MLA Kent Hehr by Alberta Liberal Party President Todd Van Vliet suggests the party’s caucus is splintering under the leadership of former Progressive Conservative Raj Sherman.

Mr. Van Vliet’s rambling and bitter attack on Mr. Hehr was prompted by the Calgary-Buffalo MLA’s contribution of a guest post to the Daveberta blog, in which he mused about the victory of the Conservatives in the recent Calgary Centre by-election, a race in which 60 per cent of the votes cast were shared among three progressive candidates.

Since there was so little difference in the core beliefs of the Liberal, Green and NDP candidates in the federal race, Mr. Hehr wondered, wouldn’t it have made more sense to run a single progressive candidate against the Conservatives?

The lesson of this at the provincial level should be obvious, Mr. Hehr concluded, accurately if not particularly realistically: “The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big-tent party.”

Nothing new here and, seeing as he’s a very smart man, Mr. Hehr is certainly as aware as the rest of us of just how hard it would be in practice to stitch together the big tent he proposes. Indeed, Alberta Liberals before Dr. Sherman took the party’s helm have been preaching the gospel of progressive unity (under a Liberal banner, of course) for as long as most of us can recall.

Liberal pleas for New Democrat supporters to vote strategically for the almost-progressive Liberals would appear to be deeply embedded in that party’s political DNA.

So it was surprising that a party official reacted at all, let alone the way Mr. Van Vliet did – in a sharply worded press release that accused Mr. Hehr of “back room political engineering,” possibly with Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government, and all but invited him to quit the Liberal caucus.

“MLAs have their own opinions and even can choose to cross the floor and join another party if they disagree with their own party’s directions,” Mr. Van Vliet wrote. “While Mr. Hehr may be working in good faith to create a stronger alternative to the PCs, working to eliminate one’s own party would not seem to be the best way to do that.”

It’s impossible for those of us who are not Alberta Liberal insiders to know for certain if Dr. Sherman encouraged and supported Mr. Van Vliet’s eruption, but it seems likely. At any rate, other than telling a reporter Mr. Hehr is free to speak his mind, Dr. Sherman has maintained a studied silence on the issue since Mr. Van Vliet’s outburst. The Liberal leader also seems to be in no rush to reassure Mr. Hehr publicly that he remains welcome in the party’s five-member Legislative caucus.

Now, we need to pause here for a moment for the benefit of readers who don’t follow Alberta politics closely to consider clearly just who Mr. Hehr is. In one sentence, he’s a widely respected MLA with an inspiring story who would be welcome in any political caucus in the Legislature – well, except perhaps the one he’s a member of right now. Indeed, he has been courted by more than one of them.

At 43, Mr. Hehr has an unusual and uplifting story: a talented young athlete who hoped some day to become a physical education teacher, he was struck by a bullet while a bystander near drive-by shooting in 1991 and became a quadriplegic. Instead of despairing, he completed a BA in Canadian studies and a law degree, practiced law, became an articulate advocate for the disabled and against gun violence, and was elected to the Legislature in 2008.

If he were a member of the government party, Mr. Hehr would certainly be a cabinet minister – and don’t imagine for a moment that’s not been made clear to him by Premier Redford’s PCs.

Yet Mr. Hehr has so far remained steadfastly a Liberal, even after his party was sent packing as the Official Opposition by the far-right Wildrose Party in the 2012 election.

This is not to say Mr. Hehr hasn’t looked around for a respectable way out of the increasingly dysfunctional Alberta Liberal caucus. In 2010, before Dr. Sherman became the party leader, he briefly entered the Calgary mayoral race but pulled out before the election when it became evident his victory was not in the cards.

At the moment, it is fair to say, he is the only member of the caucus who could be described as a credible and available alternative to Dr. Sherman as the leader.

That fact may put into context Mr. Van Vliet’s grim-sounding reminder to Mr. Hehr that “Liberal bylaws state that membership in the party is open to those who ‘subscribe to the principles, aims and objectives of the party.’ Mr. Hehr, more than anyone, should understand that eliminating this party through a merger would not be within the objectives of the party. At the very least he must know that such talk would create uncertainty.” (Emphasis added.)

It is not impossible, given all this, that Mr. Hehr is indeed considering his options. Other members of the caucus are truly indistinguishable in their views from the New Democrats.

So maybe Dr. Sherman will succeed in his quest to turn the Alberta Liberals not just into the Liberalberta Party, but into the Raj Sherman Party of Alberta – although perhaps not in quite the way he anticipated.

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And the winner is … no one: everybody missed Monday’s biggest story

Alberta families like this one just stayed home Monday and watched TV. Below: Pollster Janet Brown.

So who stayed home?

While poll analysts and pundits pontificated yesterday about what the somewhat-less-than-stellar victory of Conservative Joan Crockatt in the Calgary-Centre by-election might mean for the national political parties, the real story went largely unexamined – to wit, the wretched voter turnout.

With fewer than 30 per cent of the eligible voters in the inner-city Calgary riding able to bestir themselves to wander out and cast a ballot, it’s pretty obvious that a clear majority of electors truly didn’t give a hang about who governs them, or how. Indeed, given recent historical trends, the same thing can probably be said of all of Albertans.

“The big story from Monday night isn’t that Calgary Centre is leaning more left or more right,” observed the well-known Alberta pollster Janet Brown in a note she sent me. “It’s that the vast majority don’t care who represents them in Ottawa.”

“Although it got far more news coverage than the other two by-elections that were held Monday, Calgary Centre had the lowest voter turnout,” she observed, noting that 30 per cent isn’t all that unusual for a by-election, but it ought to be for this one.

“It was shockingly low for this particular by-election because the news coverage was so intense,” Ms. Brown said. “Every national public affairs program … covered the Calgary Centre by-election on multiple occasions.”

Well, maybe. Ms. Brown certainly speaks the truth about voter turnout. It was at 55 per cent in the riding in the 2011 general election, and at 29.4 per cent Monday it compared unfavourably to 35.8 per cent in Durham, Ont., and 43.9 per cent in Victoria, B.C., neither of which received quite the national publicity.

So what caused this truly pathetic turnout? We can only speculate.

It has been fair in the past to accuse the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of engaging in Republican-style voter suppression tactics, especially in the last federal general election, but it is said here this likely did not pay much of a role in Monday night’s Cowtown tally.

True, the efforts by the Conservatives and the party’s Sun News Network auxiliary to dredge up old comments by prominent Liberal Party figures and spin them as anti-Alberta were an effort of sorts to persuade some Liberal voters to stay at home.

If nothing else, this suggests the private polls to which the Conservatives had access made it clear Liberal candidate Harvey Locke was not losing support to Green candidate Chris Turner, and that in their estimation he still had the potential for growth.

Still, with Ms. Crockatt seemingly languishing in voter enthusiasm, the Tory effort this time focused more on a desperate drive to get out their vote than an organized effort to keep anyone else from the polling booths. Anyway, there was no way the national neoconservative party would take the chance on creating a Pierre Poutine-style scandal in a low-stakes Alberta by-election when observers and opponents were sure to be on the alert for misbehaviour of just that sort.

They’ll save that for the big one in 2015 or whenever, and for more desperate circumstances than these.

So who stayed home, and why?

It’s doubtful New Democrat stay-at-homes had much impact, if only because there were so few of them. More likely, the majority of the small number of committed NDPers in the riding who voted strategically against Ms. Crockatt would have switched their votes to the Greens, although it sounds as if a fairly significant number held their noses and went Liberal too.

Mr. Locke seems to have held the Liberal vote, and Ms. Crockatt also held onto her always-motivated Alberta Wildrose Party base. Moreover, fringe candidates managed to collect only a fringe vote.

So, it is said here, the largest group of stay-at-home non-voters in Calgary Centre Monday were Redford Red Tories, the kind of people who supported former MP Lee Richardson in past elections without qualms and who, in the event, just couldn’t live with themselves if they voted for a Wildroser like Ms. Crockatt and at the same time couldn’t bear to vote for anyone who wasn’t a Conservative.

If this theory is correct, the split on the right played out relatively harmlessly from Ms. Crockatt’s perspective, while the split on the left meant Mr. Turner drained votes from Mr. Locke. Oh well, as said here last time, there’s no point moaning about this, it’s the way the system is designed to work and it’s not likely to be changed any time soon.

But Ms. Brown thinks I’m giving Alberta voters way too much credit. “I think people stayed home because they simply don’t care who represents them in Ottawa,” she argued “They feel so disconnected from their federal representatives on a day-to-day basis, that they don’t feel much of a stake in who wins.”

She holds out hope they’re likely to be more engaged in a general election, when there’s more attention on the personalities and the policies of the leaders.

Well, it’s all grist for the mill. Maybe someone will do some ex first-past-the-post facto research and find out for sure.

Regardless, if my speculation holds any water, it goes to an important point. Both New Democrats and Liberals, if they are to have any chance of success in the next federal general election, need to do more than just fight over their own split voters.

One or the other of them is going to have to find a way to persuade soft Conservative voters – those legendary Red Tories – to come across and vote for someone who isn’t a Conservative.

In most places, convincing them merely to stay at home won’t make the grade.

Well, Ms. Crockatt has already jetted off to Ottawa to be sworn in and this will be the last I will have to say on this topic for a little while.

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Go back to sleep everyone: another Tory win in Calgary

Joan Crockatt, the first pest past the post, flanked by Calgary MPs Rob Anders and Jason Kenney, gives her victory speech in Calgary last night. Actual victorious Alberta Conservatives may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: The unsuccessful Liberal, Green and NDP candidates; the real Ms. Crockatt.

Oh, how very depressing.

Progressive voters outnumbered Conservatives, Big-P Progressive and otherwise, by a largish margin in Calgary Centre – and split their vote in last night’s by-election so tidily between the Liberals and the Greens, with a smattering to the NDP, that Joan Crockatt, one of the weakest Conservative candidates in a generation, managed a comfortable victory.

Just over a quarter of the eligible electors voted.

So after all the Calgary Centre hype, here in a nutshell is the Harper Conservative election strategy for 2015. It seems to have worked just fine in Calgary last night.

Indeed, if I were a true-blue Tory, I’d be thinking of opening up my wallet right now with a generous donation to the Greens!

Of course your blogger is personally disappointed by this outcome in that he predicted a Green victory in the by-election, and thus was double-skunked, seeing as the Liberals’ Harvey Locke had considerably outdone the Greens’ Chris Turner and in turn been outdone by the Tories’ Ms. Crockatt by the time the dust had settled. No matter, though, he’ll just remind readers that he originally bet on Ms. Crockatt, who when the closing bell had rung was indeed the winner.

At any rate, the progressive vote split, so convenient to the Conservatives, allowed Ms. Crockatt, a tiny but apparently sufficiently perfect neoconservative for Calgary’s tastes, to hang on to a victory that while close enough to make the evening exciting at times was nevertheless convincing enough, and grew more convincing as the night went on.

And that was in the Calgary riding that had the best chance of electing someone other than another Harper Tory.

The Harper Conservatives and Ms. Crockatt’s supporters in particular must be thanking the first electoral god past the pantheonic post for the undemocratic vagaries of Canada’s electoral system.

Ah well, no point moaning. That’s the way the system was designed to work, and it stood the challenge of democracy once again, so everyone can go back to sleep for the moment.

If there are lessons in this, they are Delphic, more auguries than axioms.

But if anything is clear from the opposition standpoint, it’s that notwithstanding hoked-up allegations of anti-Albertanism, even in Cowtown’s hotbed of Conservatism, it sure doesn’t hurt to have Justin Trudeau come out and campaign for a fellow.

Presumably this has been duly noted by the Tory slime machine, and as this is written they are no doubt topping up the tanks of sticky psycho-reactive goop for the 2015 election campaign. Mr. Trudeau had best be braced for icy jets of psychomagnotheric slime from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unsavoury gang of Gritbusters.

The Greens too can take comfort that their support is wide, even if it is not satisfactorily deep, which is always a problem in our unbeloved system of single-member plurality, otherwise known as the first pest past the post.

The news is not really all that good for the Harperites either of course, despite two comforting by-election victories, unless progressives can be induced again to split their vote – as happened last night in Calgary and Victoria. In that case, the outcome may be happy enough for the W.L. Mackenzie King of the 21st Century.

As for my New Democrats, I am hard pressed to spin this their way, unless it was simply the better part of valour that led to their uninspired and unenthusiastic campaign in Calgary Centre. One can only hope.

Which leaves us where exactly? Well, pretty much where we were yesterday, as a matter of fact, only without the bracing tonic of an impending by-election.

As predicted here before, Ms. Crockatt has the right attitudes to do well in the Harper Tory caucus, and will soon be a key player by the PM’s inner circle.

On Monday in Calgary, will the Tories come second … or third?

Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt campaigns in Calgary while a supporter covers his face in embarrassment. (Joke.) Below: The winner of Monday’s by-election, as forecast by Perfesser Dave, Chris Turner.

The great political minds of Alberta are pondering today where Conservative Party candidate Joan Crockatt will place in Monday’s Calgary Centre by-election.

Will she come second? … Or third?

You think I’m joking? This is no joke – especially for Prime Minister Stephen Harper!

Face it, people, if the Conservatives lose the safest seat of safe seats – in downtown Cowtown, for crying out loud – it is not going to tell a happy story about where Canadians are at when it comes to Mr. Harper’s angry neoconservative caucus, a government so cranky it can’t even stay on the same page as its provincial cousins who run the government in Edmonton!

But the contest now as it’s coming to be seen here in Alberta is that by election day each of the Liberals, Greens and Conservatives will own about 30 per cent of the committed vote in the riding, and the NDP will have the remainder.

So the race could go any of three ways, and in normal times there’s just enough of an edge from old habits that die hard for the Tories to win it easily.

But these, as they say, are not normal times. The Harper Conservatives, so focused on ideology they couldn’t see the dangers of their alliance with the far-right Wildrose Party, which they enthusiastically backed in last spring’s Alberta provincial election, have upset their own political applecart.

They have so alienated the riding’s traditional Tories – the kind of people who are comfortable backing Red Tories like their neighbour Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, and former federal PC leader Joe Clark, who once represented the riding – that many of them are determined to teach their no-longer-comfortable federal political party a lesson by voting for someone else.

What’s more, despite her ability to articulately present her thoughts, Ms. Crockatt has turned out to be a far-from-ideal candidate.

Apparently thoroughly controlled by her Wildrose/Harperite advisers, the former journalist and right-wing commentator has avoided all-candidates’ forums, earned the wrath of Calgary’s popular mayor and run away from the media she’s supposed to understand. In economic terms a harsh, far-right ideological candidate, Ms. Crockatt seems to have assumed she could count on the riding’s traditionally reliable Tory vote without thinking too deeply about what kind of Tories many of those voters are.

But a lot of them, it’s turning out, are Red Tories just as disturbed as other Canadians about the authoritarian tone the country has taken on under Mr. Harper’s heavy hand.

Yes, Ms. Crockatt is a good door-to-door campaigner. But a lot of Calgary Centre voters, it is said here, are paying attention for once to the issues, and as a result we have a real race.

So what’s going to happen? Well, I’ve been wrong before and I will be again, but it’s said here Green candidate Chris Turner, an author, will win by a whisker.

The logic behind this speculation?

Easy. Liberal Harvey Locke, a lawyer, may hold most of his 30 per cent of the vote, shown in two recent Forum Research polls, helped a little by the recent visit of the undeniably charismatic Justin Trudeau and hindered a bit by the Albertans Go Home ejaculation Wednesday of former federal Liberal Energy Critic David McGuinty.

The bogus two-year-old “exclusive” about supposedly anti-Alberta remarks by Mr. Trudeau, dredged up by the Sun News Network in an attempt to resuscitate Ms. Crockatt’s flagging campaign, will likely have little impact – or at least not the impact its generators intend.

Mr. Turner, meanwhile, will hold the quarter of voters committed to voting Green who were identified in the last Forum poll and look to gain more support from other anti-Tory camps.

NDP candidate Dan Meades will lose a few more of his remaining 8 per cent, as soft Knee-Dips continue to migrate to the next-best anti-Tory candidate. They will go to the Green because it’s just too hard for a New Democrat to vote for a Liberal.

Then there are the Tories – deeply split now in the riding between the Wildrose rightists and ideological hardliners who dominate Ms. Crockatt’s campaign and the Redford-style Red Tories who were happy with their softer-edged former Tory MP, Lee Richardson, who is now Ms. Redford’s principal secretary.

But if it’s hard for NDPers to vote Liberal, it’s even harder for Conservatives – and that would be true even if the former Liberal natural resources critic hadn’t shot off his mouth about Tory Albertan MPs. That’s why, it’s said here, Mr. McGuinty’s ill-timed commentary and Mr. Trudeau’s long-ago remarks won’t have much impact on the outcome Monday. Many disaffected Red Tories have already made up their minds to go Green, rather than Liberal or NDP, and as usual Mr. Harper’s brain trust has concentrated its fire on the wrong opposition candidate.

So what’s the risk to these unhappy Conservatives of teaching the Harper-Wildrose crowd a lesson by voting for a Green? Virtually none. Heck, everyone’s pretty green nowadays anyway!

So Mr. Turner will pick up a few strategic NDP votes and lot of strategic Red Tory votes. At the last minute, he’ll even pick up some extra strategic Liberal votes, cast by electors either unhappy about Mr. McGuinty’s blathering or following those soft New Democrats to the strongest anti-Tory candidate.

Then the patented Alberta come from No. 3 strategy will have worked again! Indeed, a fourth Forum Research poll is said to be about to be released within hours that will confirm this predicted flow of votes toward Mr. Turner.

So Monday’s vote will be really close, I predict, but it’ll shake out in this order:

  1. Greens
  2. Liberals
  3. Tories
  4. NDP

Then again, I may be out to lunch. Maybe the NDP will come third. We’ll see on Monday.

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Latest Calgary poll results – perhaps aided by party’s sophisticated moves – show Green Wave developing

Calgary Centre Greens get ready to surf the Green Wave, expected momentarily. Actual Green Party supporters may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Chris Turner, Joan Crockatt and Naheed Nenshi.

The latest poll of residents of the Calgary Centre riding shows a Green Wave developing among opponents of the Conservative Party in the Nov. 26 federal by-election.

Organizers for Green Party candidate Chris Turner are taking a highly sophisticated approach to polling in the Calgary Centre by-election, tipping their supporters when they get wind of opinion polls in the riding and instructing them to be sure to pick up their phones and answer the questions.

Nothing wrong with this, of course – but it should serve as a warning to undecided voters and other observers, especially journalists, that the “narrative” candidates’ campaigns try to spin around small-sample polls like those being conducted in Calgary Centre can be easily manipulated by smart efforts to game the polling process.

In the case of the Calgary centre by-election, the narrative being developed by Mr. Turner’s supporters is that their candidate is the only one with momentum after he appeared unexpectedly in third place among respondents to a Nov. 12 poll of riding voters conducted by Forum Research Inc.

And it may well now be true, as Mr. Turner told the Globe and Mail yesterday after another Forum research poll appeared to confirm the results of the Nov. 12 survey, “we’ve got the momentum now. I know for sure we can win it. This is the most vulnerable Conservative campaign in Calgary in decades.”

The Nov. 12 poll showed Mr. Turner in a strong position to vault into the lead among the riding’s many voters who are opposed to front-running Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt. This would be an important consideration for strategic voters opposed to Ms. Crockatt and looking for the best candidate to whom to give their anti-Conservative vote.

The Nov. 12 Forum poll put Ms. Crockatt in the lead, barely, with 32 per cent of committed supporters. Liberal Harvey Locke was in second place with 30 per cent of those surveyed and Mr. Turner – at that time surprisingly – was in the key No. 3 spot with 23 per cent. NDP candidate Dan Meades had 12 per cent, according to that Forum survey.

The Forum Research poll released last night appeared to reinforce the narrative. In the survey conducted Saturday, Ms. Crockatt was back up a little at 35 per cent, but well below the 48 per cent she recorded in the first poll on Oct. 26. Mr. Locke was holding at 30 per cent. Mr. Turner had moved up again to 25 per cent. Mr. Meades’ support slipped to 8 per cent.

If this narrative sounds familiar to Alberta political observers, it ought to. It was exactly the strategy used to catapult Naheed Nenshi into the lead in the October 2010 Calgary municipal election and Alison Redford to victory in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race. Both really got on the radar when a poll unexpectedly placed them in the No. 3 spot in their respective contests. Mr. Nenshi is now mayor of Calgary and Ms. Redford, of course, is the premier of Alberta.

It is likely no coincidence that many of the same people backing Mr. Turner were also involved in the Nenshi campaign, and possibly in the Redford campaign as well. Indeed, Mr. Nenshi stepped into the fray last week, slamming Ms. Crockatt for not showing up at some all-candidates’ forums.

So journalists and citizens interpreting the various Forum Research poll results ought to take note of the fact that the survey samples are very small – the Nov. 12 poll had only 376 respondents and the Nov. 17 poll had 403, which means that approximately four responses could move the level of support for any given candidate by a full percentage point.

Interactive voice response surveys like these Forum polls (which is pollster talk for robocall push-button polls) tend to have lower response rates than other polling methodologies, further increasing the impact of individual respondents.

After the Nov. 12 results, media quickly picked up on the fact Ms. Crockatt’s support appeared to be dramatically lower than it was on Oct. 26, when she recorded the backing of 48-per-cent of respondents. Journalists also quickly ran with the idea Mr. Turner was the candidate whose support was showing the most upward movement.

So it is significant – though impossible to criticize – that a Green Party organizer emailed committed supporters a note headed “There is another poll tonight – be sure to pick up,” not long before the latest survey.

“Word from Chris Turner’s Head Quarters is that another poll is being conducted at this very moment,” said the email from Green Party Volunteer Co-ordinator Natalie Odd to committed Turner supporters. “Please be sure to pick up any calls your receive this evening!”

The emails were followed up with phone calls to supporters, although the pollster actually appears to have called a day later than the party expected.

In addition to such emails and calls, Mr. Turner’s supporters posted similar messages on Facebook and some people distributed the call-display number the polling company was using.

As previously noted, there’s nothing wrong with this, any more than it would be wrong for a politician to encourage supporters to show up at all-candidates meetings and cheer loudly. Other campaigns may also be doing the same thing.

But as citizens we need to be aware that this method of polling can produce results that do not precisely reflect the true distribution of public support at the time the survey was taken. Furthermore, we would be naïve not to realize that poll results influence voter preferences during campaigns, especially among undecided voters pondering a strategic vote against a particular candidate.

Advance polls in the Calgary Centre by-election are scheduled to open today.

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Will the Tories meet their Waterloo on the field at Calgary Centre? One can only hope!

Napoleon after the Battle of Waterloo. Events in the Calgary Centre by-election may not turn out to be exactly as illustrated. Below: Liberal Harvey Locke, Conservative Joan Crockatt and Green Chris Turner.

Is Joan Crockatt about to meet her Waterloo?

As reported first by Dave Cournoyer of the Daveberta blog and moments later by the Globe and Mail, a new poll released yesterday shows the by-election campaign in Calgary-Centre tightening into a three-way race among Ms. Crockatt, who is the Conservative Party’s standard bearer, and Harvey Locke of the Liberals and Chris Turner of the Greens.

Ms. Crockatt has been described by many commentators, with some justice, as a polarizing candidate. Even so, it would be a shocker if an electorate in a dependable Calgary riding were to send a brisk message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the way he runs the government by electing either one of the two environmentalists who showed well in the Nov. 12 robopoll by Forum Research.

The survey, of 376 randomly selected residents of the downtown Calgary federal electoral district, showed Ms. Crockatt, a former journalist and right-wing commentator, in the lead – but barely so, at 32 per cent. Nipping at here heels were Mr. Locke, with 30 per cent of the respondents, and Mr. Turner, with 23 per cent.

Forum says the margin of error for the poll is five percentage points, which would certainly appear to put Ms. Crockatt and Mr. Locke, a lawyer and prominent conservationist, within spitting distance of one another.

The NDP candidate, Dan Meades, who was nominated late and whose party for some reason only recently made much of an effort in the riding, trailed distantly with 12 per cent.

The idea that a robocall poll – called an interactive voice response, or IVR, in pollster talk – with a tiny sample to boot, could call it right when I’ve said repeatedly I thought Ms. Crockatt would be a shoo-in because of the way Calgary voters historically behave leaves this blogger torn.

I’ve called ’em wrong before and will no doubt call ’em wrong again, but it still makes me cringe when it happens. On the other hand, given Ms. Crockatt’s hard-right economic views, nothing could delight me more than to see Calgary Centre’s voters coalesce around any more progressive opposition candidate, Mr. Locke looking like the most likely at the moment, to give Mr. Harper and his unconservative neoconservatives a sound and much deserved spanking on their home turf.

Given the choice I’m going to plump for the horserace and pray that progressive voters in the riding rally ’round the best placed non-Conservative.

The Calgary vote will take place on Nov. 26.

After the Battle of Waterloo, which was fought on Sunday, June 18, 1815, in present-day Belgium, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to the British: “Exposed to the factions which divide my country, and to the enmity of the great Powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career.” One can only hope for a repeat of history.

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Tweetergate? Meatergate? For heaven’s sake, stop her before she Tweets again!

Alberta’s Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith Tweeting “let them eat steaks” over the worldwide web. Injudicious Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The offending Tweet; the real Ms. Smith.

Alberta Opposition Leader Memo to Self: Whatever was I thinking?

Whoever does Wildrose Party Leader Danielle “Marie Antoinette” Smith’s Tweeting for her – and one can’t really shake the sinking feeling that it might be Ms. Smith herself – needs to memorize a new adage for the online era: Tweet in haste, repent at leisure.

Well, maybe leisure isn’t exactly the way to describe Ms. Smith’s at times panicky, at times cranky, always voluble responses to Tweetergate, or maybe that should be Meatergate, her scandalizing if not quite scandalous suggestion via Twitter on Sunday that the potentially E. coli-riddled meat XL Foods is dumping by the truckload in a Brooks landfill ought to be given instead to the hungry.

“We all know thorough cooking kills E. coli,” Ms. Smith Twittered innocently in that first blush of success that comes with the thought of a terrific riposte that really ought to set Premier Alison Redford’s Tories back on their heels. “What a waste!”

To put that another way: The peasants are rioting because they have no rib eye? Let them eat tainted chuck steak!

Didn’t take long for the seething responses to start rolling in: “UR KIDDING, FEED TO THE HUNRGY WHY NOT FEED IT TO UR PARTY INSTEAD,” said one countercheck quarrelsome to what Ms. Smith must have thought was just a modest quip. From there, while the rest of us chuckled, it was all downhill from Ms. Smith’s perspective.

And really, who can blame her opponents, having been handed an opportunity like this one, right down there with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s famous “death by a thousand cold cuts” crack in 2008, the last time a case of unwholesome tainted meat broke wide open in front of Canadians?

Like Mr. Ritz, Ms. Smith is a member of a far-right fringe party with a reputation for a serious lack of empathy. Of course, in the case of Mr. Ritz’s Conservative Party of Canada, the lunatic fringe is in power, which is troubling to say the least. At least Ms. Smith’s Wildrosers are still merely baying at the gates.

Maybe the trouble was that what Ms. Smith seemed to be suggesting sounded suspiciously like what XL Foods, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and all our various stripes of conservative politician wanted to do when the U.S. Customs Service discovered a problem with the steaks from Brooks: Hand them off to the dumb Canadians!

Through the day Sunday, Ms. Smith Twittered away, explaining that some of the beef being dumped had tested negative for E. coli, that cooking works really well to get rid of the stuff and that NDP Leader Brian Mason was surely being insensitive for calling her out for her insensitive Tweet.

She finally gave up yesterday, retreated to the familiar and sympathetic ground of talk radio, and issued a half-hearted apology – trying to spin the heated reaction to her glib suggestion as proof folks here in Alberta don’t trust “officials,” whomever they may be.

Well, good try, I guess. But it sure sounded like it was “Danielle Smith, c’mon down,” the Angry Birds of Twitterland were Tweeting.

The thing is, we live in a global village now, and at the centre of the village is a virtual Place de la Révolution. Even if your name isn’t Marie Antoinette, that’s not a place you want to be making a trip!

So here’s some free advice for Ms. Smith, worth what she paid for it: Just shut up before the virtual tumbrels start to roll for you!

Then again, here’s your BlackBerry. Let those Tweets fly. Go ahead and make my day!

+ + +

In other Alberta news, meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally got around yesterday to setting a date for the Calgary Centre by-election, so the campaigning will now begin in earnest – except for the NDP, which strangely had not planned to pick a candidate until Oct. 27. On Sunday, the NDP changed their nomination meeting date to today.

This seems likely to all but cede the bulk of the opposition vote on Nov. 26, when the by-elections are to take place in three Canadian ridings, to either Liberal candidate Harvey Locke or Green Party candidate Chris Turner.

Well, so be it. The candidate nominated by the Conservatives, former journalist and market-fundamentalist hawk Joan Crockatt, still comes to the contest with a significant edge, thanks to the inexplicable voting habits of Calgary electors.

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By-election watch: Calgary Centre Grits hope to benefit from Justin Trudeau’s reflected glow

Justin Trudeau passes through the Calgary Centre riding, as seen by the media. Actual Liberal Party of Canada leadership candidates may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Conservative Party candidate Joan Crockatt, still the front-runner in the by-election that hasn’t been called yet; Liberal candidate Harvey Locke looking outdoorsy; the real Mr. Trudeau.

With the federal Liberals suddenly looking as if they have a little momentum courtesy of the media’s incipient relapse of Trudeaumania, perhaps there’s the vaguest possibility of a horserace in the eventual Calgary Centre by-election.

At any rate, the Liberals have a respectable Calgary Centre candidate in the person of conservationist and lawyer Harvey Locke, who may not have the highest profile around but at least can reflect some of the glow of media ardour for Justin Trudeau as he passed through Cowtown just before announcing his own grab for the brass ring.

Mr. Trudeau’s high-profile Liberal Party leadership bid, in turn, has boosted his once-flagging Liberals’ popularity into and beyond the territory occupied by the NDP, at least according to poll results published yesterday by the National Post.

The Greens also have a reasonably appealing Calgary Centre candidate in author Chris Turner, who writes about sustainability issues.

Alert readers will be aware that all of this matters because Prime Minister Stephen Harper must soon call a by-election in the downtown Calgary riding where his Conservative Party of Canada in late August chose as its standard bearer market-fundamentalist on-air talking head Joan Crockatt.

Alas, while the New Democrats are finally getting around to trying to nominate a local candidate after a few higher-profile names declined their party’s proffered parachutes, it’s hard to see how the likes of Brent Macklinson, Scott Payne or Matthew McMillan can use the contest to do much to raise the profile of Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair in the West.

Well, maybe the NDP have stirred the entrails and written Calgary Centre off, which wouldn’t be unreasonable given the habits of that city’s voters. Or maybe a bigger name is still waiting in the wings.

The riding was vacated back in May by former Conservative MP Lee Richardson, who had a reputation as a slightly pinkish Tory. Mr. Richardson went to work as Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary, a position for which a meaningful job description seems to be lacking. A by-election must be called by Nov. 18 if the vote is to take place before Christmas.

Why this has been taking Mr. Harper so long is a mystery to everyone, since in the normal course of events the Conservative candidate in a Calgary riding, Ms. Crockatt, should be a shoo-in. The longer the PM waits, the greater the chances Ms. Crockatt will slip her foot into her mouth, creating opportunities for her opponents.

Which brings us back to the matter of the suddenly lustrous Mr. Trudeau – who is certain to adopt the standard and frequently effective Liberal practice of flashing left while preparing to turn right. Stating this axiom is all very well, but it would be a terrible mistake – as former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney suggested not so long ago – to underestimate Mr. Trudeau.

The main knock against the Liberal leadership contender seems to be that he lacks legislative experience. But legislative experience is a commodity that may in fact be the kiss of death for anyone campaigning nowadays on a claim they can reinvent politics – which is very likely exactly why Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae decided to pull the plug on his own ambitions.

From an Alberta perspective, anyone inclined to laugh off the 2012 beneficiary of the Trudeaumania phenomenon would do well to remember two other politicians with limited legislative experience – Alison Redford and Naheed Nenshi. The former is now the premier of Alberta and the latter the mayor of Calgary after each ran just the kind of “transformative” campaign Mr. Trudeau is bound to try.

Getting back to Calgary Centre, perhaps His Nibs the prime minister continues to temporize in hopes the Supreme Court will rule in his favour on the case of Etobicoke Centre and he’ll only have to call three by-elections.

In Etobicoke Centre, the Conservative MP is appealing a ruling of an Ontario court that his election day victory is null and void because of campaign shenanigans. The court, like the prime minister, is taking its time. Two additional vacant ridings, one in Ontario and the other in B.C., also await by-election calls.

Meanwhile, back in Cowtown, it is said the word has gone out to the city’s many Conservative MPs (and that would be all of them) that they are to behave themselves and campaign for Ms. Crockatt.

Calgary East MP Deepak Obrai obediently went door knocking with Ms. Crockatt last week, and other Calgary MPs can be expected to join her as their marching orders come through.

Mr. Harper, however, may want to make an exception of his neighbour, Calgary West MP Rob Anders, and demand instead that Mr. Anders stay home.

It’s not that Mr. Anders doesn’t support Ms. Crockatt – au contraire, he shares her enthusiasm for the sort of nutty neoconservative economic nostrums that are apparently still popular in Calgary. It’s just that, well, he is known to be Canada’s Most Embarrassing MP, and it’s entirely possible that he would not be a particular asset to Ms. Crockatt’s election bid.

Then again, no matter what you may have read about the supposed sophistication of the downtown riding, it is in Calgary, and we all know what Calgary always does at election time.

With or without Mr. Anders’ participation, it sounds as if Calgary Centre should brace for a Christmas by-election.

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Strikebreaker issues bizarre condemnation of Tory candidate for management role in strike

A strikebreaker drives across an early morning picket line during the Calgary Herald strike in early 2000. Below: Catharine Ford, Joan Crockatt.

It takes more than a little brass for retired Calgary Herald editor and columnist Catherine Ford to condemn Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt as someone who all but caused the strike at that newspaper in 1999.

In a Globe and Mail article last week that characterized the recently nominated Conservative standard-bearer in the upcoming Calgary-Centre by-election as a “polarizing candidate” – as a case can be made she is – Ms. Ford was quoted assailing Ms. Crockatt as “one of the main reasons workers went on a union drive in 1999 and ended up in long strike (sic).”

Ms. Ford also characterized Ms. Crockatt “as a ‘drive-by editor,’” which the Globe reporter helpfully described as “someone who makes significant changes in stories without consulting the writer.”

Just for starters, whatever Ms. Crockatt’s role in the Herald strike may have been – and it is said here it is preposterous to suggest she single-handedly provoked the strike or even was a major contributor to it – Ms. Ford also played a significant role in assisting the company to hurt her co-workers by busting their union.

That is to say, Ms. Ford was a strikebreaker. She lent her prestige, her high profile in journalism and Calgary society, and her undoubted talents as a scribe to writing for the Herald while her friends and colleagues took the risks and walked the picket line. And for what? Heaven knows. Her future was more secure than those of most of the journalists who actually stood up for the principles she had long claimed to espouse. It makes no difference that she crossed our picket line “electronically” – filing her copy by email and telephone – rather than in person.

Ms. Crockatt, whatever her journalistic and leadership sins may have been during her short tenure as managing editor of the Herald, was not a strikebreaker. She was legitimately in management at the time and owed a duty to her employer to show up for work, if not to take any pleasure in it.

The characterization of Ms. Crockatt as a drive-by editor, by the way, is ours, the strikers, and not Ms. Ford’s. We had mean nicknames for Ms. Ford too, although there was no exclusivity in that. We had mean nicknames for almost everyone long before we contemplated joining a union, including one another.

“I have seen this woman at work,” Ms. Ford went on, according to the Globe’s account. “I do not trust her. I would not trust and I will not in any circumstances vote for her.”

In the years since the Calgary Herald strike, which began in November 1999, there has been a lot of myth making about what happened and why. I was the vice-president of Local 115A of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada throughout the strike and I left the Herald afterward rather than try to work for an organization that treated its employees so shabbily, so I think I speak with some knowledge of the situation.

Was Ms. Crockatt “one of the main reasons” we went on a union organizing drive in 1999? Her management style, which was interfering and immature, was a factor, to be sure, but not much of one, in my view. I would characterize her more as an annoyance.

It is simply absurd to suggest, as the Globe’s story does, that Ms. Crockatt was a major cause of the strike. Like all the managers, she took the party line, as was to be expected in such a situation. But in reality, her role was relatively minor. She was an unseasoned manager, and she certainly alienated some journalists through her approach to her job, and I suppose a few of them may have signed a union card as a consequence, but really that’s about it.

Either acting on her own or someone’s orders, she did shut down the informal newsroom group and told it to meet off-site to discuss journalists’ concerns. In doing that, it is true, she gave us one more reason to unionize.

But the underlying causes of the strike were our concerns about job security at a time when the employer’s attitude clearly indicated an interest in the idea of eliminating the jobs of more experienced (and thus more expensive) older workers, and perceived pressure from the publisher’s office to insert right-wing, pro-government editorializing into our fair, accurate and balanced stories.

By the way, while regular readers of this blog will recognize that I am not a huge fan of Conrad Black, I don’t blame him for the strike either. As proprietor, Mr. Black must have played a role in the conduct of the labour dispute, and it is hard to believe that he did not influence strategic decisions as the strike progressed. But he would have had very little to do with the fundamental origins of the strike.

Nor do I blame the leadership of our union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers, although it can be criticized for making strategic errors that may have made the strike harder to settle – for example, the demonization of Mr. Black, which may have been fair enough in moral terms, but which was strategically counterproductive.

My personal view is that no one deserves more blame for the strike than Ken King, who was the publisher at the time we joined CEP, and who as such surely made the strategic assessments of the strength and commitment of the union that contributed to the way the employer conducted itself. As a union activist, of course, I was not privy to those discussions within Hollinger Inc., the company that owned the paper. But, ultimately, ex officio, the publisher was the company’s man on the ground in Calgary and must take responsibility for the way things unfolded.

The push for news coverage that reflected the views of corporate Calgary’s boardrooms also must have originated in the publisher’s office, and certainly not in the mind of Joan Crockatt!

Mr. King was replaced part way through the labour dispute, before the legal strike actually began, by Dan Gaynor, who had a reputation within Hollinger as a successful tough-guy, effective at dealing with unions. Mr. Gaynor too must shoulder some of the blame for the company’s conduct during the strike, and the fact it was needlessly prolonged. However, he certainly wasn’t responsible for the simple reason he wasn’t publisher when we started down that road.

There were likewise many senior executives in Hollinger who surely understood that the striking employees were good people who had loyally served the company, and who would have accepted a reasonable or even a significantly inferior contract to settle the strike. But they too became caught up in the dispatches they were receiving from their leaders on the ground – led by the publisher of the day, whoever that was – and allowed the travesty to continue.

The false promises and cowardly decisions of the leaders of the Graphic Communications International Union in Washington, D.C., our supposed union brothers, also helped to encourage the strike, prolong it and ultimately contributed significantly to the defeat the strikers. Finally, the role of the Alberta Labour Relations Board was an utter disgrace, which rankles to this day.

So to cast Ms. Crockatt as the cause of the strike, or even a significant contributor to it, is risible. For heaven’s sake, one of her key roles once the strike was under way – if reports from inside the Herald Bunker are to be believed – was to deliver a welcome cake to strikers who had given up and gone back to work!

Anyway, the fact that Ms. Crockatt was an inexperienced manager or a lousy editor does not strike me as a sound reason to vote against her in the Calgary Centre by-election.

If you’re going to vote against Joan Crockatt, do it because she advocates a heartless and harmful economic philosophy and because the party she is standing for increasingly represents an existential threat to the survival of a unified Canada.

As for Ms. Ford, she and Ms. Crockatt were on the same union-busting team. For her to now attack Ms. Crockatt’s role in the strike is bizarre. If she so distrusted Ms. Crockatt, she should have said something in 1999!

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‘Crowdsourcing our confidence’? Don’t bet on 1CalgaryCentre, whoever’s behind it, having much impact

A crowd: They have wine and balloons, and they’re all dressed in white. Does this make them progressives? Have they been crowdsourced? Alberta Diary is not certain and you shouldn’t be either. Below: Calgary pollster Brian Singh, Calgary Centre Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt.

“Crowdsourcing our confidence” will get a progressive candidate elected in Calgary Centre? Just asking…

A few days ago a website appeared called that asks voters in the central Calgary federal riding where there will soon be a by-election to take part in an “innovative and evolutionary approach to democracy.”

The by-election, whenever Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets around to calling it, is widely expected to be a coronation of Conservative nominee Joan Crockatt, the former journalist and right-wing commentator who is anything but progressive. Ms. Crockatt beat five other candidates on Aug. 24 for the federal Conservative nomination to replace department MP Lee Richardson, who quit in May to become Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary.

The goal of, according to the man behind the website, is to select and then elect a progressive Member of Parliament for the riding, thereby changing the face of Calgary.

Well, so far, so good, but progressive voters – and especially those progressive voters who support the New Democratic Party – have good reasons to be suspicious of this effort, which is almost certain to end up with the endorsement of a non-New Democrat candidate as the “progressive choice” for Calgary Centre. is saturated with the vague, feel-good rhetoric of several recent political efforts of varying success associated with the mooshy middle of Alberta politics – Re-Boot Alberta, the failed Alberta Party that grew out of the Re-Boot and Renew Alberta conferences, and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s successful 2010 campaign.

From this it would be reasonable to assume the same group of people involved in all those efforts may have something to do with this one. However, that’s quite hard to say for sure after talking with Brian Singh, the Calgary pollster whose company Zinc Research was associated with the Nenshi campaign and whose name is one of only two that actually appears on the website. (The other name belongs to the guy who developed the website, which makes sense because the site is pretty good.)

For his part, Mr. Singh isn’t saying who, other than himself, is involved in 1CalgaryCentre, other than to promise that, eventually, more will be revealed. (If you think this sounds a lot like the pre-election Alberta Party policy dance of the thousand veils, you’d be right.)

Mr. Singh sees himself, I have been told, as something of a political provocateur and social media guru, so it’s possible he’s doing this to be provocative and generate some media coverage.

“I know it sounds cryptic,” he told me, somewhat apologetically, “but as they come forward we’ll be putting them up on the website.” Whoever they are, he added, there are is core of about eight people currently involved in this effort at this point, but there has been input from many more, including supporters of all political parties.

Other than that, though, we are on our own for the time being – although there is plenty of speculation about who these people may be among the politically obsessed.

It’s safe to state categorically, for starters, that this effort has nothing to do with the Democratic Renewal Project, Athabasca University history professor Alvin Finkel’s longstanding campaign to get progressive Albertans to vote strategically against this province’s conservative juggernaut.

And it’s also reasonably safe to conclude that not much will come from it, since, Mr. Singh’s wide circle of friends notwithstanding, no one in any of the major political parties likely to run a candidate seems very interested in

From the New Democrat and Green perspectives in particular, I think it’s safe to conclude that whomever those parties nominate, their candidates will not be the choice of the participants in the 1CalgaryCentre process, whatever it may be and whoever they may be.

It is predicted here that 1CalgaryCentre will ultimately endorse someone with ties to Alberta Party/federal Liberal/Nenshi campaign circles – say, Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim, Mayor Nenshi’s chief of staff and still a potential Liberal contender despite his best efforts to avoid that fate, or former Alberta Liberal/Independent/Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor.

Beyond that, at least as things appear from here, it seems quite unlikely 1CalgaryCentre will have much impact at all on the outcome of the Calgary Centre by-election.

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