Last week, we took a look at the election readiness of Alberta's governing New Democrats. This week, we look at what many consider the heavy favourite to win the upcoming election, Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party.
Election readiness - United Conservative Party
In July of 2016, Jason Kenney launched his bid to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. Since then, he has had successive wins - first to become leader of the PCs, garnering a yes vote to unity from those members, winning the United Conservative Party leadership, and finally to take his seat as MLA for Calgary-Lougheed. His biggest challenge lies ahead of him as he seeks to lead the UCP to government in the next general election.
There is little doubt that Kenney is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, it’s almost taken for granted that his performance will be up to the task. But flashbacks to “bozo eruptions” from candidates in previous campaigns have to be something that is keeping their strategists up at night.
Today we will go through the readiness of the UCP for the spring election. It was announced this week by the NDP that a Speech from the Throne will be held on March 18, 2019. As a result, many pundits are now speculating a mid-April election date.
As of today, the UCP has nominated candidates in 79 of 87 ridings, the most of any political party in Alberta. The majority (61 to be precise) of these nominations have been contested, showing a healthy interest in becoming a candidate for the party. The party claims over 300 individuals have participated in the nomination races, garnering over 58,000 votes, cumulatively.
There have been some sour grapes expressed along the way from a handful of those who defeated or unsuccessful in their attempt to secure a UCP nomination but this, in and of itself, is not unusual. Party officials are confident that disruptions created by losing contestants are simply a byproduct of overwhelming interest in the UCP nomination process. It’s hard to argue against that point as the vote tallies in these races have shown the UCP to be a powerhouse; with hundreds, if not thousands, of Albertans turning out to vote for their preferred candidate.
Ridings to watch
UCP nomination candidate Sonya Savage is an expert on pipelines and energy policy, having worked in the pipeline sector for 12 years and completing her Masters of Law in Environment and Energy. She is certainly a candidate to watch and should she be elected, would likely draw some attention as a potential cabinet minister.
This was setting up to be quite the interesting race, until news broke this morning that incumbent NDP MLA and Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen would not be running for re-election. Jansen won in 2015 as a PC candidate with 32.7 percent of the vote before crossing the floor in fall 2016 to the governing NDP. Her departure from the race likely means an easier path for Savage in the spring election. No word yet on who the NDP might name as a replace candidate in this riding.
Also registered as a candidate is Andrew Bradley for the Alberta Party who has worked in the trades and the oil and gas sector.
Calgary-Elbow is set up to be a battle between incumbent MLA Greg Clark, former leader of the Alberta Party, and former UCP leadership contestant and lawyer, Doug Schweitzer.
In the 2015 election, Clark won the riding with 42.2 percent of the vote against former PC cabinet minister Gordon Dirks. This riding was the constituency of former Premiers Ralph Klein and Alison Redford.
While no one is taking this riding for granted, the organizing and campaigning prowess of Schweitzer is admirable. Schweitzer has a long record of organizing in Alberta conservative politics and while Clark may be popular, it will be tough to overcome the UCP campaign infrastructure in this race. Both Clark and Schweitzer are happy warriors for their parties and you can expect this to be an all-out ground war when the election is called.
Also running in the race is NDP candidate Janet Eremenko who also ran unsuccessfully in the 2017 Calgary municipal election.
The United Conservatives are banking on the star-power of candidate Laurie Mozeson to win this race. Mozeson is a retired crown prosecutor, Justice of the Peace, and Citizenship Judge. She is thought to be on the list of potential cabinet ministers should she and her party win the election.
Mozeson will be taking on incumbent MLA Lorne Dach who won this riding for the NDP in 2015 with 55.4 percent of the vote. Adding to the intrigue is the candidacy of Alberta Party Leader and former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. This is a riding that could come down to a 3 way split. The question on everyone's mind in that scenario is whether Mandel can convert dissatisfaction toward the two front runner options, UCP and NDP, into actual votes for the Alberta Party. That will be a tall task but if any Alberta Party candidate has the profile to make that difference, it would be Mandel.
This new riding created in fast-growing west end of Edmonton will see incumbent MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark Jon Carson up against UCP candidate Nicole Williams. Williams has a long history of involvement in Alberta conservative politics and has demonstrated an impressive campaign work ethic. She reportedly won the UCP nomination in a landslide and is one of the most active social media users amongst the candidates. The majority of her posts demonstrate her team's commitment to pounding the pavement in the riding and door knocking, which is certainly what any party would want to see from their candidate.
It will be a riding to watch as Carson captured 57 percent of the vote in his former riding of Edmonton-Meadowlark. The demographics of West Henday suggest it will be young, suburban families with the most voting power in the upcoming election. Winston Leung, a public servant, will also be running in the riding for the Alberta Party.
Karri Flatla, a long time resident of Lethbridge, small business owner, and real estate broker is up against NDP Environment Minister and political lightning rod, Shannon Phillips, in Lethbridge West.
Phillips has long been a party stalwart for the NDP and in 2015 she won the seat with 59.3 percent of the vote. Her campaign experience will certainly be tested by the rookie candidate, Flatla, who has demonstrated strong communication skills and message discipline in the short period of time since she won the UCP nomination.
In many ways, this race can be seen as a referendum on the NDP government’s carbon tax and Climate Leadership Plan, of which Phillips was a key architect and proponent. You should expect some fireworks in this race as it's no secret that Lethbridge-West will be a target seat for both of the front-running parties.
Also running in this race is Patricia Chizek for the Liberal Party.
The United Conservatives have nominated former President of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Travis Toews, as their candidate in this constituency after longtime MLA and former minister Wayne Drysdale made the decision to not seek reelection this spring.
While no NDP candidate has been registered with Elections Alberta in this riding, we're flagging it as one to watch because of Toews impressive background. Toews is a business owner and has managed a corporate cattle ranch for 15 years as well as an environmental oilfield company. He holds CPA and CMA accounting designations as well. Should the UCP be successful in the spring election and Toews wins his seat, he may be looked at by party leadership to assume extra duties.
Also registered as a candidate in this riding is Jason Jones for the Alberta Party.
Campaign war chest
It’s no secret that the UCP has been incredibly successful in fundraising in the short time since it was founded in July 2017. However, the amount of money they've managed to raise is simply astounding. They recently disclosed a record-breaking haul of $3.9 million in Q4, bringing their 2018 fundraising total to $5.7 million. The NDP has yet to disclose the results of their Q4 fundraising efforts but they would be hard-pressed to match the numbers put forward by the UCP.
The UCP has started to run TV campaign ads with the tagline “Alberta Strong and Free” and are expected to continue efforts to push a positive message in the lead up to the campaign.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney has been very open about some big plans he has for the province, should he take the premier’s chair - including vowing that Bill 1 of his government would repeal the NDP’s carbon tax, while joining the legal challenge against the federal carbon tax led by the governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Kenney is expected to make pipelines and the economic health of Alberta key focuses of the campaign, while contrasting his plan against the NDP’s record in government. With the stamina of an energizer bunny, you can expect him to criss-cross the province many times over between now and election day.
With public and internal polling showing the UCP with a healthy lead in the rural seats and in much of Calgary, it's expected that Kenney will spend significant time during the campaign stumping for votes in and around Edmonton as the party tries to break through into what was thought of as the NDP stronghold.
We’ll be back next week with our final election readiness edition, where we will look at the campaign planning of the Alberta Party, Liberal Party, and Freedom Conservative Party.