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Tory victory in Calgary-Greenway riding turns 'unite the right' merger on Wildrose terms into political roadkill

Prabhdeep Gill

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Last night's clear victory by Progressive Conservative candidate Prabhdeep Gill in the Calgary-Greenway byelection may not completely eliminate the possibility of a merger of Alberta's two major conservative parties, but it certainly means it is unlikely to occur on the terms desired by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

Just after 10:30 p.m., Elections Alberta posted online results for all 67 polls in the East Calgary riding showing Gill comfortably on top with 2,292 of the ballots cast, a hair under 30 per cent of the minuscule vote.

Gill's nearest competitor was Wildrose candidate Devinder Toor, who captured 1,957 votes, just under 24 per cent.

Presumably riding a wave generated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's popularity and Calgary-Skyview MP Darshan Kang's electoral machine, Alberta Liberal Karbani Khalil edged out the NDP's Roop Rai for third place, 1,870 votes or 22.6 per cent to 1,667 or 20 per cent, in the last half hour of vote counting.

However, notwithstanding the embarrassment to the government of coming fourth after the Liberals, arguably the night's biggest political loser was the Opposition leader, Jean.

He's been trying hard in the months since the death of Manmeet Bhullar, the riding's previous MLA and an obvious PC leadership candidate who died in a highway crash last November, to press increasingly uncomfortable Tories to agree to "unite the right" under the umbrella of his Wildrose Party's harsh and inflexible market fundamentalist ideology.

Chances of that happening are now negligible. And the chances of anything like it happening with Jean automatically appointed as the leader of the united party are virtually zero.

At the very least, he would have to face a runoff leadership contest with candidates from among the PC ranks who are considerably more credible and vastly more palatable to the kind of small-c conservative Alberta electors who have proved themselves capable of electing an NDP government. For example, former broadcaster and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen.

So it's said here the dream of the Wildrose brain trust and the master manipulators at the Manning Centre of pushing the political window in Alberta further back to the right through a Wildrose takeover is now on life support, even if it's not quite dead.

Last night's Tory victory on Calgary's multi-ethnic East Side certainly goes to the PC Party's recent narrative that only it can win for conservatives in urban Alberta, notwithstanding the Wildrose Party's byelection victory Sept. 3 in Calgary-Foothills.

That Wildrose victory had electoral fluke written all over it -- more the result of legitimate anger at former Tory MLA and premier Jim Prentice's petulant decision to throw in the towel moments after he learned the extent of the PCs humiliation by the NDP in the May 5 general election.

So it should come as no surprise voters in the traditionally conservative West Calgary riding found it hard to vote PC … that time.

But given the size of the NDP's election victory on May 5, the length of time till the next general election in 2019 and last night's pathetically low voter turnout in Calgary-Greenway -- less than 30 per cent of the riding's 28,278 eligible voters could be bothered to vote -- it's risky to read too much into the latest tally.

Alberta's partisan mainstream media was already trying to spin this as a huge NDP defeat last night, which is baloney. Still, it can't be a good sign for the NDP -- at least in Calgary -- that it could be bumped out of third place by an Alberta Liberal Party that not long ago appeared to be completely moribund. This is true with or without a Trudeau bounce to explain the results away.

Since interim Liberal Leader David Swann clearly doesn't want the job, perhaps this will be enough to attract a dynamic leader with appeal in more than one riding who has the potential to get the Alberta Liberals back into the game. We’ll see, I guess. You have to ask: Where's Hugh McDonald now that the party that rejected him in 2011 needs him again?

Speaking of moribund, what does this say about the one-MLA Alberta Party, which once tried to market itself as a potential political home for disaffected Liberals but in this race couldn't even be troubled to test the waters?

Well, this way at least there will be no potential challengers to Alberta Party Leader and sole MLA Greg Clark, who continues the now lengthy tradition of a new party that does politics a new way … and as a result can barely get on the radar.

I'm sure the Alberta Party's stalwarts will be having a big coffee party to talk about what to do next.

Finally, credit where credit is due, last night's results show that Mainstreet Research, the Toronto-based pollster that has been playing a highly visible role in Alberta politics lately, did very well with its March 11 demon-dialler survey of voters in the riding.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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