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This shouldn't be a surprise: Trudeaumania 2.0 fails to deliver in Medicine Hat

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Glen Motz

Well, it's obviously going to take more than a dose of Trudeaumania 2.0 to get the good burghers of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner to vote for someone who's not a Conservative.

Just to put an end to the suspense, all the polls hadn't yet reported as this story was put to bed, but it was pretty obvious the Conservative Party candidate has rolled to victory that can only be described as comfortable in yesterday's by-election in the geographically large rural-urban riding in Alberta’s deep south.

Last time I looked at Elections Canada's by-election website, anyway, Conservative Glen Motz was leading with something like 70 per cent of the vote, so I think we can pretty safely declare the retired policeman the winner and forget about hearing anything interesting from Medicine Hat for another 48 years or so.

As for the Liberal candidate in whom the chattering classes had invested so much, well, chatter … businessman Stan Sakamoto … he was trailing with about a quarter of the vote.

The last time a Liberal was elected in the Hat, see, was 1968 -- and that was Bud Olson, who was really a veteran Social Credit MP, elected to the House of Commons four times under that strange currency-reform movement's banner, with a time out during the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958. When Social Credit fell apart, he got in one more time on a wave of Trudeaumania Classic, which was the real deal.

Hatters, as they’re known, had had enough of the elder Trudeau by 1972, and Olsen was defeated in the election of that year, notwithstanding having spent a spell in the federal cabinet as minister of agriculture. He was later rewarded for his service to the Liberals by being made Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, a job he held from 1996 to 2000.

It tells a story about the mood in that particular riding nowadays that of the other four parties with candidates in yesterday's by-election -- the Christian Heritage Party, the Dippers, Libertarians and Rhinoceroses -- it was the Christian Heritage candidate who captured by far the most of the afterthought vote.

None of this should come as a surprise to political observers who pay attention to Prairie politics -- the Hat nowadays is the kind of place voters would distrust a Canadian Donald Trump for being too liberal.

Why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got excited enough by the potential in the Hat of all places to bother jetting out there, even for a day -- attracting a crowd of 2,500, mostly curiosity seekers, obviously -- is a mystery. If there’s a kernel of a hard political truth in this, it’s that places like Medicine Hat are unlikely ever to vote for Liberals or New Democrats and both parties waste time and fritter away political capital paying attention to them.

By the same token, while we can hardly deny Canada's cornered Conservatives the right to celebrate their victory, a Conservative by-election in Canada's political Jurassic Park hardly portends a change of heart among Canadians in other parts of the country, or even other parts of Alberta.

About the only time before 1968 that the Hat hit the big time was in 1907, when Rudyard Kipling, England's Nobel Prize-winning poet of empire and prophet of imperialism, that era’s answer to Bob Dylan, toured the place and its gas fields, observing that it had "all Hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be Medicine Hat.”

Three years later he did a noble service to mankind by persuading the town's leading citizens not to change the name of place to Leopoldville or Gasburg.

The by-election was called after the previous MP, Conservative Jim Hillyer, elected in 2011, was found dead in his Ottawa office on March 23. An autopsy pointed to heart disease.

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

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