Uniting the right: Paul Hinman, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party wins Calgary – Glenmore by-election

In the 2008 provincial election, 41% of Albertans came out to vote, electing 72 Progressive Conservative members to form the government of Alberta, 9 Liberal members and 2 New Democratic Party members to form the official opposition. In Monday’s Calgary-Glenmore by-election, 27 212 votes were cast, 40.5% of everyone eligible, and Calgary-Glenmore chose to replace former legislative member Ron Stevens with the leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party (WAP), Paul Hinman to represent them at the Legislature. Winning the by-election with 37% of the vote, the Liberal candidate, Dr. Avalon Roberts and the PC candidate, Diane Colley – Urquhart received 34% and 26% of the vote respectively. The New Democratic Party, Social Credit and an Independent all ran as well and together received 3% of the total vote.

The most interesting breakdown is the vote spread between Hinman and Roberts, and Hinman and Colley-Urquhart. While only 276 votes separate Hinman from Roberts, 1189 votes separate Hinman from Colley-Urqhart, astonishing considering both the 2004 and 2008 election this riding was won by the PC candidate with 51% of votes cast. This may be one of the few times in Alberta’s history where the split happened between the right and not the left. Even if the NDP candidate received no votes, Hinman still would have taken the riding by 128 votes over Dr. Roberts. As the Liberals conceded defeat last night to Hinman, it is my opinion that the Alberta Liberals should still carry a sense of pride that out of 27 212 eligible, they were able to capture 3 776 of those, and place second with a 3% point spread separating them from the WAP win. Furthermore, they were able to capture the left vote while the right votes floated further right to the WAP.

Political pundits throughout Alberta had been busy in the twenty four hours after the results were announced Monday evening. As many Albertan political junkies crowded around the live feed of election results and Twitter, a growing ripple of shock echoed through the comments posted. As the polls opened, so did the floodgates of speculation, the most common prediction across the province gave it to Colley-Urquhart with the ten point spread between her, Dr. Roberts and Hinman. Telling; Albertan’s couldn’t dare to hope that a PC candidate would be unable to win and that there truly was an alternative. As the results came in, political pundits such as Dave Cournoyer (daveberta.ca) and Trish Audette (Edmonton Journal) tweeted live updates of the polling results as many others offered commentary and increasingly emotionally motivated shock.

While many in Alberta are desperately anxious to see political change, I feel confident that very few were able to predict the outcome of Monday’s by-election although Hinman was a strong candidate and did pose a genuine threat to the PC’s. He previously represented Cardston – Taber – Warner for the Wildrose Alliance Party from 2004-2008, has been a vocal right-wing leader in the Southern Albertan community, and has worked his way into several right-wing groups and boards throughout the bottom half of this province. However, despite his strong track record, just how Colley-Urquhart didn’t take this seat is puzzling. The last time a PC candidate lost a secure riding in such a devastating manner was Calgary-Buffalo in 1992. A riding that has been held by a PC member for the last 40 years, Hinman did more that upset a solid voting block, he also proved very pointedly that the PC’s giant tent may not be big enough for Alberta any longer. WAP’s campaign of “Send Ed a Message” clearly resonated more strongly with voters that anyone originally thought.

The Progressive Conservatives are as close to facing a crisis amongst their ranks as a governing party can get in Alberta. This is by no means spelling the end, and the loss of one seat is not going to sink Stelmach, although this is not the greatest news for a man facing an upcoming leadership review that hasn’t look too positive for a while. However, it does say after a summer of upset, miscommunication, and substantial deficit announcements the PC’s are not immune to everything.

The remaining question though is that while the Wildrose Alliance Party is uniting the right, what will happen to the left? It is not clear that the left and center voters must move forward, not just in Calgary-Glenmore but Alberta wide. A strong and effective opposition is always desired over the 72 seat stronghold the PC party had for so long. One lone candidate may not be able to shake the buttresses, but it does prove that voters are looking for a strong alternative. Alberta’s left could learn from this. Wildrose Alliance Party is a product of the right-wing parties, the Wildrose Party and Alberta Alliance, recognizing they are stronger together than apart. When will the Liberal’s and the NDP’s see this? It is not effective to have 9 members sit in one grouping and 2 members sit in another and bicker amongst each other in between hurling insults at the PC’s in Question Period.

Currently, the votes cast stand as counted and the Liberal and PC parties have made their respective results known internally. Notably though, Hinman may be facing an reprimand from Elections Alberta as the Liberal party has filed a complaint against Hinman for campaigning outside of polling stations. The Liberal party sent out a rather uplifting video clip of Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr informing Paul Hinman of his wrong doing and breach of section 135 of the Elections Act.

Calgary-Glenmore byelection results

Total eligible voters: 27,212

Total votes cast: 11,028

Turnout: 40.5 per cent

-Wildrose Alliance: Paul Hinman -4,052 (37%)

-Liberal -Avalon Roberts -3,776 (34%)

-Progressive Conservative -Diane Colley-Urquhart -2,863 (26%)

-NDP -Eric Carpendale -148 (1%)

-Social Credit -Len Skowronski -118 (1%)

-Independent -Tony Grochowski -71 (1%)

All 66 polls reporting

Source: Elections Alberta

Originally published September 17th, 2009. Features section, The Meliorist, Lethbridge Alberta. Volume 43, Issue 02.

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