Sunday, February 10, 2008

Calgary to become the PCs Waterloo?

Will the Alberta PCs lose the upcoming provincial election? No probably not, but the day after the election there will still be no joy in Tory land.

Calgary, once a conservative fortress is poised to decisively abandon Ed Stelmach and the Alberta Progressive Conservatives.

In 2004 Ralph Klein's desultory campaign about nothing cost the Conservatives three seats to the Liberals in formerly solid blue Calgary. Last year they lost another when Ralph Klein's riding went to Liberal Craig Cheffins. They won't be getting any of those seats back.

Since 2004 five Conservative MLAs have announced their retirement plans. A combination of being permanently knocked out of the cabinet power elite in Stelmach's northern rural coterie and a recognition that hard times are coming for the Tory brand in Calgary.

Those who were left aren't happy. Infighting, accusations of fraud, ideological purges and complaints of heavy handed control by the distant Premier's office are the daily news from Calgary's Conservative MLAs. Long time Tories have voiced loud disgust over the city's treatment.

Several ridings have already been tacitly conceded to be easy Liberal pickups, perhaps none more so than my own home riding of Calgary Buffalo. In 2004 then Solicitor General Harvey Cenaiko held onto the seat by his fingernails, with a narrow margin of about 600 votes against the Liberal candidate. The NDP candidate for the riding came in much further back in the pack despite a devastating combination of charm, wit and good looks - did I mention I'm also very humble?

After the leadership contest which featured every single Calgary MLA supporting the losing horse Jim Dinning, Cenaiko made a hamfisted and rather desperate attempt to suck up to the new boss by promoting Stelmach's son within the provincial Sheriff's department. It ended badly for Cenaiko, he was banished to the backbenches and it was unambiguous that was where he would be spending the rest of his political career. He's taken the hint and he'll be retiring after the election. Expect Calgary Buffalo, which was a close call for the PCs even with a Cabinet Minister on Ralph's team to be an easy pickup for the Liberals.

Calgary McCall only stayed in the Conservative column last time by a little over 300 votes after a recount. With Ralph gone and Calgary souring on the Conservatives it should be a turkey shoot for the Liberals.

Calgary Egmont, with it's internecine battles, unhappy right-wingers and star Liberal candidate would be a tough fight for the Tories even without Craig Chandler determined to punish the PCs for his downfall sniping from the sidelines. Expect it to also enter the Liberal column.

Calgary Montrose is another toxic brew of scandal and litigation with an MLA who bolted the party in a very public display of spite and burned all the bridges on his way out of town. With unhappy PC activists promoting a narrative of fraud and abandonment by the party, the conservatives in Montrose are in disarray and a capable campaign could easily tick off another win for the Liberals.

There are other potential surprises in store from Calgary come polling night. Foothills, Bow and Calgary North West in particular are not quite the low hanging fruit of Buffalo but if Calgary continues its recent trend of souring on the Conservatives, evident even before Klein's departure, the high water mark of an opposition tide could easily encompass all of them.

Calgarians are unhappy and feeling unappreciated. The ideological contempt for the idea of rent controls expressed by Stelmach and his government was not appreciated in this city of renters.

After this election the Conservatives will still be in power, but the framework of decades of careful gerrymandering that has made one rural vote worth a half dozen urban ones will be on bald display.


rabbit said...

A big problem is the new gas royality regime. Although some have tried to deny it, it's having a serious effect on exploration. Almost every major oil company has significantly reduced its Alberta exploration budget.

In regards to rent control, even if there is support for it the conservatives were right not to implement it. It simply creates more problems than it solves.

Cliff said...

Thumb on scale for oil companies making multi-billion dollar profits: Good.

Thumb on scale for working families getting 300% rent increases: Bad.

Got it. Makes perfect sense.

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