With the Alberta provincial election just three days away, I have to take a look at some races to watch outside Calgary and Edmonton to supplement my previous posts of the races to watch in those cities. Polls have consistently shown that the Wildrose Party has a large lead outside of these cities, but that doesn't mean there'll be a few races to keep an eye on Monday.
It seems each pollster has divided the province differently when the publish their breakdowns. Some divide the province outside the two cities into three regions (North, Central and South), some just 2 regions (north and south), while others just lump in all the non Calgary and Edmonton bits into one breakdown. This has proven to be rather problematic in trying to determine how things are going outside the cities. Especially noting that Northern Alberta votes (somewhat) differently than southern Alberta.
Let's take a look at some recent polls
Abacus (April 18-19)
Think HQ Public Affairs (April 17-18)
Forum Research (April 16)
Leger (April 13-16)
What these polls show us is that the Wildrose Party is polling around 50% outside Calgary and Edmonton, almost 10 points higher than the provincial average. We also see that they are polling better in more conservative southern and central Alberta than in northern Alberta, between 5 and 10 points better. Meanwhile the Tories are polling around 30% in the region, about where they stand in the province as a whole. Their support is contrary to the Wildrose, as they are better in the north than in the south, but even still, they are around 10 points behind the WRP there. In third place is the NDP, which appears to have moved well ahead of the Liberals for third position in rural Alberta. Forum Research shows them strong in the north, while Abacus shows them strong in the south. Not sure which is true, at this point. Their average appears to be around 10%, which is where they are at provincially as a whole. Finally the Liberals are in single digits in the region, and will not be a factor anywhere in my opinion. They are well below the provincial average in the region, perhaps as much as 5% less, which is half of the 10% they are at in province wide polls.
Now that we know where the party's stand, let's take a look at some races to watch.
With the Wildrose Party with a comfortable lead in the polls in the north, it's safe to say they will win most of the seats in the region. So, the seats we should be watching will be those where their strength is weaker. But first, let's take a look at some open seats in the north.
This riding is located northwest of Edmonton, and went strongly for the Tories in the last election. The retiring incumbent is Ken Kowalski who secured 70% of the vote in 2008. If he were running again, those numbers would probably be enough to ensure his re-election. However, the seat is now open for a Wildrose pick up. They are running well known columnist Link Byfield, who also happens to be a “Senator-in-waiting”, having been elected by Albertans back in 2004 to sit in the Canadian Senate (he has yet to be appointed, as he is still waiting for an opening). Byfield is running against Maureen Kubinec, a local county councillor. The Wildrose Party didn't run a candidate here in 2008, but the Alberta Alliance ran a candidate in 2004 that won 9% of the vote. This will be a very interesting race to see if this seat will be caught up in the Wildrose wave on Monday.
The rapid growth of Fort McMurray has resulted in the previous riding, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo to be divided in half. The Tories won Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo in 2008 with 63% of the vote. The MLA elected was Guy Boutilier, who has since switched parties to Wildrose and is running for the WRP in the now smaller version of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, next door. This means that this new seat of Fort McMurray-Conklin will be open. The Wildrose candidate is Doug Faulkner, the former mayor of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray's municipality. The Tory candidate is another municipal politician, Don Scott who has served on the region's municipal council for just a year and a half. It seems to be that this will be a very easy pick up for the Wildrose Party. For the record, the WRP did not run a candidate in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo in 2008 and the Alberta Alliance got just 3% of the vote in 2004.
On the east side of Edmonton lies this riding, represented by former Tory Premier Ed Stelmach. Stelmach is retiring, opening this seat up. Stelmach won this seat by a huge margin in 2008, getting 78% of the vote. The Wildrose Party did not even field a candidate in that election. The Tories are running Stratchona County councillor Jacquie Fenske to replace Stelmach. The Wildrose Party is also running a strong candidate in Shannon Stubbs, a former Reform Party staffer. While the Tories did very well here in the 2008 election, the Alberta Alliance ran a strong campaign here in 2004, getting 11% of the vote. In that election, Stelmach who was yet to be Premier, won just 48% of the vote. This is sure to be another exciting race to watch.
Tory MLA Mel Knight will be retiring, creating an open seat in Grande Prairie-Smoky, in the province's northwest. Knight secured 59% of the vote here in 2008, well ahead of a fractured opposition, including the WRP candidate that won a strong 13% of the votes. The Tories are running a strong candidate in Grande Prairie County reeve Everett McDonald. Wildrose will be running local farmer Todd Loewen. Due to this being an open seat, I think the Wildrose Party will have the edge here, despite the experience disadvantage of their candidate.
On the east side of Edmonton lies the suburban riding of Sherwood Park which is being vacated by Tory MLA Iris Evans. The Tories hope to keep the seat with their candidate, former Strathcona County mayor Cathy Oleson. Oleson might be a bit of a political liability however, having been on the losing end of her mayoral race back in 2010. Oleson has a lot of experience however, compared to her main rival, Wildrose candidate Garnett Genius, who is just 24. However, Genius has some political experience, having interned in the Prime Minister's office. In 2008, this was a strong Tory riding, as Evans was elected with 63% of the vote. She'd probably be re-elected if she were running again. However, the seat is open, and it's anyone's guess who will win at this point. It is a weaker riding for the Wildrose however. They didn't run a candidate here in 2008, and they won just 3% of the vote in 2004 as the Alberta Alliance.
St. Albert is another suburban Edmonton riding, with a past of electing some Liberals, and even an NDPer. Retiring Tory incumbent Ken Allred won 54% of the vote here in 2008, against the Liberal incumbent, Jack Flaherty who won 36% of the vote. With the Liberals down and out in Alberta this election, they are unlikely to win this seat back. Plus, reports tell us there Liberal campaign there is non-existent. So, this looks like another WRP-PC fight. The Tories are running local businessman Stephen Khan. Wildrose is running former St. Albert city councillor James Burrows. With experience on their side, and having an open seat, I like the Wildrose's chances in this riding. Their only thing holding them back is having no candidate in 2008, and just a 4% showing under the Alberta Alliance banner in 2004.
Stony Plain is an exurban riding, located to the west of Edmonton. The Tory incumbent, Fred Lindsay is retiring, making this an open seat. Lindsay won a strong 63% of the vote back in 2008, but without an incumbent, the Tories could be in trouble here. They are running a strong candidate however, in former Stony Plain mayor Ken Lemke. Wildrose is running local businessman Hal Tagg. Wildrose won 6% of the vote here in 2008, one of their better districts in the region. However, the Tories have a strong candidate, and a strong base of support in this riding. It's going to be another interesting race to watch.
This riding, located east of Edmonton on the Saskatchewan border is our final open seat in Alberta's north. The outgoing Tory MLA, Lloyd Snelgrove won a huge 81% of the vote back in 2008. The Tories are running former Lloydminster city councillor Richard Starke. Wildrose is running local farmer Danny Hozack. The WRP didn't run a candidate here in 2008, but it was one of their better ridings in the province in 2004 where they finished second with 26% of the vote. There is a strong conservative base in this riding, and with it now opened up, it looks like Hozack will have the edge.
Other races to watch:
With the Wildrose Party expected to sweep the region, our focus lies on the ridings where they might not win.
Battle River-Wainwright is arguably the strongest strictly rural Tory seat in northern Alberta. Their incumbent is Doug Griffiths who won this seat in 2008 with a massive 79% of the vote. The question is, how many of these voters are conservative voters, and how many are Griffiths voters. He was certainly strengthened by a lack of a Wildrose candidate in 2008. In 2004 when the Alberta Alliance ran, Griffiths received a still strong 65% of the vote, while the AA finished 2nd with 15%. The Wildrose Party is running a strong candidate in Dave Nelson, a local rancher and school trustee.
Leduc-Beaumont is a suburban riding located on the south side of Edmonton. The riding may be moderated by Edmonton's sphere of influence, giving the Tories a boost in this riding. Their incumbent is George Rogers who won 65% of the vote in the riding's predecessor, Leduc-Beaumont-Devon. Wildrose on the other hand won just 7%. The WRP will be running businessman Dave Stasiewich. His chances in this riding will all depend on how well the party does in Edmonton's suburbs.
Spruce Grove-St. Albert
If the Tories win one riding in northern Alberta outside of Edmonton, it will be this suburban Edmonton seat. The incumbent for the riding is Doug Horner, the leader of the party's right wing. Horner ran for the leadership of the Tories, but lost to Alison Redford. I predict that right wing voters here will be less tempted to vote Wildrose because they will be comfortable with a strong MLA like Horner. Horner also did well in the last election in the riding's predecessor of Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert where he won 61% of the vote. Wildrose didn't even run a candidate. When the Alberta Alliance did run a candidate in 2004 they won just 5% of the vote. The WRP will be running Travis Hughes, a Certified Engineering Technologist.
Strathcona-Sherwood Park is another suburban Edmonton riding that the Tories have a good chance of retaining. Their candidate is incumbent Dave Quest who won the predecessor riding of Strathcona with 66% of the vote in 2008. Wildrose did not field a candidate, and the Alberta Alliance won just 3% of the vote here in 2004. The Wildrose Party is running Paul Nemetchek, a railway signals and communication technician. If the WRP wins this seat, than it will be a terrible night for the Tories.
West Yellowhead, nestled along the BC border will be a race to watch just because it is the upstart Alberta Party's best chance of winning a seat. The centrist Alberta Party is led by former Hinton mayor Glenn Taylor. He is also the party's candidate in this riding. Taylor was excluded from the debates, despite the party currently holding a seating in the Legislative Assembly. They are usually included in most polls, and are usually around the 2% mark. Taylor's exclusion from the debate will in all likelihood kill his chances of picking up this seat, no matter how strong his campaign is here. The only silver lining for him is that this is probably one of the more left leaning rural ridings in the province (if you can call it that). It did vote NDP in the 1980s and went Liberal in 1993. The combined left of centre vote in this riding in 2008 was 42%, and Taylor will have to win almost all of that to win the riding. That will be near impossible with both the Liberals and the NDP fielding candidates. Now, Taylor may also attract some Tory votes, weakening their incumbent Robin Campbell who secured 54% of the vote here in the last election. This may allow the Wildrose candidate, forester Stuart Taylor to come up the middle and win. The WRP however won just 4% of the votes here in 2008.
Southern and Central Alberta
Southern and Central Alberta will be Wildrose country on Monday, and you will be hard pressed to find a riding in the region that won't go WRP. In my view, with Wildrose under performs in the region, there may be up to three ridings that they could lose:
Perhaps the weakest riding in the southern Alberta for the Wildrose Party is Banff-Cochrane. The party did not run a candidate in 2008 and the Alberta Alliance won just 6% of the vote here in 2004. However, the riding will be an open seat, as Tory MLA Janis Tarchuk will be vacating the seat. This riding also has a large left wing base, as the combined Liberal-NDP-Green vote from 2008 totaled 49%, about the same as Tarchuk received. It's a remote possibility that the Liberals or the NDP could come up the middle and take this, but that's probably a pipe dream for either party (for the record, the Liberals appear to have the better shot of the two parties). The Tories hope to retain the seat with their candidate, master electrician Ron Casey. Wildrose is running rancher Tom Copithorne. I would have to give Copithorne the edge in this riding at this point, but it could prove to be one of the election night surprises.
Lethrbidge-East has been only red dot in a sea of blue in southern Alberta in every election since 1993. That is the Liberals have won this riding in every election since 1993. The current MLA is Bridget Pastoor who was elected as a Liberal in 2008 with 42% of the vote. However, she switched parties to the Tories last year and will be running for re-election as one. The question for this riding is, is this a Liberal seat, or is this a riding willing to vote for a centrist candidate no matter the stripe? If it's the latter, it will help Pastoor in her battle against the more right wing Wildrose Party. The Liberals, after all are polling in the basement in southern Alberta, and therefore are unlikely to win this seat. But if they do get a significant proportion of the vote, they could ensure enough of a vote split to allow the Wildrose Party to win. The NDP also has a strong presence in the city which could further enhance Wildroses' chances here. Wildrose is running Kent Prestage here, a local businessman and public servant. The party won 6% of the vote here in 2008.
The best chance for the NDP to win a seat outside of its base in Edmonton is here in Lethbridge-West, home of the University of Lethbridge. Unlike Lethbridge-East however, Lethbridge-West has never elected a Liberal since the city was divided into two ridings in 1971. One poll shows the NDP at 17% in southern Alberta, no doubt buoyed by the strong candidacy of their candidate Shannon Phillips, a researcher for the Alberta Federation of Labour. Her campaign was recently boosted by the endorsement by former Lethbridge mayor Bob Tarleck. However, the NDP only won 10% of the vote here in 2008, so they will have to count on some Liberals votes in order to win. The Liberals won 35% of the vote here in 2008 for the record. The Tories may not be a factor in this riding, as their MLA Greg Weadick won just 44% of the vote in 2008, and will have that number decrease substantially if polls are to be believed. The Wildrose Party is running Kevin Kinahan, a school principal in nearby Taber. Vote splitting will sure help Kinahan's chances in this riding. The Wildrose won 7% of the vote in 2008, and will have to increase that to win the race.
Other open seats:
With their high polling numbers, it doesn't appear likely that the Wildrose Party will lose any of the open seats in southern and central Alberta.
Wildrose candidate Bruce Rowe, the mayor of Beiseker, will be the most likely victor in rural Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills where the party is benefiting from a strong 21% 2nd place finish in 2008. They will also have the best odds of winning Lacombe-Ponoka. They are running insurance sales manager Rod Fox there. The WRP won just 6% of the votes there in 2008, but the Alberta Alliance won 18% in 2004 and were in 2nd place. The race in Cardston-Taber-Warner, in the heart of Mormon Country on the US border, won't even be close. This was the only seat that the Alberta Alliance won in 2004, and the WRP barely lost in 2008 by just 49 votes. They are running Gary Bikman, the Deputy Mayor of Stirling as their candidate. The race probably won't be close in Highwood either where Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is running. Wildrose won 12% of the vote in this exurban Calgary seat in 2008. While not the strongest support, you'd have to think that their leader would win in the heart of Wildrose country. Also in the heart of Wildrose country is the riding of Little Bow where Wildrose won 23% of the vote in 2008, one of their best finished. There is no doubt they'll win this open seat with numbers like that. They are running Vulcan County councillor Ian Donovan. Finally, the riding of Medicine Hat will also be vacated. For an urban riding, Medicine Hat is quite conservative having never elected a Liberal since 1930. Its urban nature could prevent a Wildrose victory, so it might still be a riding to watch. They are running businessman Blake Pedersen against another businessman, Darren Hirsch of the PCs. Wildrose won 7% of the vote in Medicine Hat in 2008.