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The best candidates aren’t necessarily the best candidates in important Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

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Bob Turner

In the race to knock off an unelected health minister whose main qualification is that he’s a former elected mayor, it’s a commentary on the state of Alberta that a distinguished hematologist, oncologist and medical school teacher stands far less of a chance of pulling off an upset than a young entrepreneur whose businesses are not even named in his campaign materials.

Well, welcome to politics in suburban Alberta!

The Cross Cancer Institute doctor, you see, is Bob Turner, candidate for the centre-left New Democratic Party. The young businessman is Tim Grover, candidate for the right-wing Wildrose Party. Judging from the turnout of professional journalists at their announcement news conferences in the Edmonton-Whitemud riding at lunchtime yesterday, the mainstream media agrees with this assessment of the two candidates' relative chances.

Whatever else this is, it's reality, Alberta style.

The former Edmonton mayor who is now serving as unelected Premier Jim Prentice’s unelected health minister is Stephen Mandel. With his past and present high profile, he is the man to beat in in the by-election set for … well, soon. Prentice hasn't actually trusted us with that information yet, nor which riding he intends to run in himself.

But we’re going to need to know it all by next Wednesday if the premier and his two unelected cabinet members are to be able to sit in the Legislature when the next session starts in mid-November. The other is former Evangelical pastor and Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, who will run in Calgary-Elbow, the riding once represented by disgraced premier Alison Redford.

Given the recent record of the Progressive Conservative Party -- whether or not the elevation of Prentice to the premiership by a few thousand Progressive Conservative Party members amounts to putting Alberta under “new management,” as he claims -- all three of them richly deserve to lose. But don't hold your breath.

Given the record of the PC Party in Edmonton-Whitemud, Mandel's chances of winning are excellent. Citizens there have reliably voted PC for most of the last 43 years and it has been represented by two Tory Premiers -- Don Getty and, until just the other day, Dave Hancock.

But, as both New Democrats and Wildrosers were quick to point out yesterday, Getty lost the seat to Liberal Percy Wickman in 1989. The seat was held in 1993 by another Liberal, business professor Mike Percy, who is now Prentice's chief of staff, a turn of events that proves … something.

As for Hancock, he may or may not have been unhappy when he retired from politics two weeks ago. Leastways, interestingly, Hancock's former constituency office was closed right down and then snapped up by the Wildrose Party as its campaign office.

Whatever that may mean, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith took care at yesterday's newser not to raise the party faithful's hopes so much that a not-entirely unexpected loss in Whitemud would set them on their heels, admitting a victory there will be an uphill battle for her party even as she urged voters to "send the PCs a message."

Indeed, Grover's candidacy may reflect that reality -- his is not exactly a household name in Alberta. He is a well-spoken and presentable young man, but he is best known as the Get Out the Vote chair of Edmonton mayoral candidate Karen Leibovici's unsuccessful campaign last year. In fairness, that campaign's failure to get out it’s vote should probably be laid at the feet of Leibovici, not Grover.

Nevertheless, it's mildly surprising that the Wildrose Party -- lacking a standard-bearer with "Percy" in his name -- couldn’t find a higher-profile candidate for this important battle than Grover.

The party said in its official handouts only that Grover has opened and sold five small businesses over the past several years. According to his Linkedin account, these included an online grocery shopping service, a teashop and a business consultancy.

As for the NDP's Dr. Turner, you certainly can't say he’s not qualified to talk about Mandel's portfolio. But if Grover faces an uphill fight, Turner's struggle is probably more akin to climbing Mount Everest.

Still, he told the reporters who showed up at his news conference, sometimes people succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds in his work, which is fighting against cancer. "I see the political process in the same light. If you don't try, you're not going to beat 'em."

William Munsey, a Saskatoon-berry farmer from the village of New Sarepta and president of the Alberta Party, announced last week he will contest the riding for his party, which has no seats in the Legislature. The Alberta Liberals have not yet named a candidate.

If Turner can get significantly more votes for the NDP than the Liberal and Alberta Party standard bearers, he will render an important service to the New Democrats even if he doesn't come close to defeating Mandel.

Such an outcome would make a powerful point that, in the Edmonton area at least, where the NDP enjoys significant support in several ridings, progressive voters really only have one choice if they want representation in the Legislature.

Apparently we're not 'building Alberta' any more!

What driver in these parts hasn't seen the road signs naming former premier Alison Redford and declaring that we're "Building Alberta" hereabouts? What Twitter user can forget #BuildingAlberta, the annoying hashtag that used to be affixed to every Government of Alberta Tweet?

Well, we're building Alberta no more. Premier Prentice has seen to that! Leastways, on Thursday, he mercifully pulled the plug on the irritating and silly campaign.

Alas, something new and equally brainless is almost certain to be along soon from the fertile imaginations of the social media boffins in the government's Public Affairs Bureau. #NotBuildingAlbertaJustNow? #MakingAlbertaSafeForToriesAgain?

Readers are invited to submit new slogans for the Prentice Government's Twitter hashtags and other essential public communications to Alberta Diary.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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