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As soon as Alberta NDP picks a new leader today, the party's focus should turn to Edmonton by-election

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Rachel Notley

After today, when the Alberta New Democratic Party has at long last chosen a leader to replace the retiring Brian Mason, she (or he) needs immediately to turn her (or his) attention to the Oct. 27 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

That's because, if the buzz from some conservative-leaning campaigners is to be believed, there’s a sense on the doorsteps of the suburban Edmonton riding that if the opposition to unelected Health Minister Stephen Mandel is coalescing around anyone, it's coalescing around the NDP's candidate, Dr. Bob Turner.

Indeed, it's even possible some Wildrose supporters could cast a strategic by-election ballot for Turner, an Edmonton oncologist and medical school professor who has exhibited unexpected passion about health care issues on the campaign trail. If they do, their theory would have to be it's more important to see the Jim Prentice Tories beaten than to gather a few more votes for one of their party's weaker candidates in this go-round, businessman Tim Grover.

I utter this hopeful thought aloud with a certain trepidation because I still think Mandel has the edge in that particular constituency, and because I know I will be roundly assailed by the Alberta Liberal Party's increasingly cranky supporters, who are bound to point out, quite rightly, that I am known to be a card-carrying New Democrat.

Well, so be it, I talk to everyone, usually in a pretty friendly fashion, and I hear what I hear. I recognize it would be wrong.

Still, this is not a completely implausible scenario. First, Turner, as noted, has turned out to be a surprisingly effective campaigner -- ready to loose newsworthily fiery darts at both the pre-Prentice Progressive Conservatives' horrible health care record and the Mandel's already apparent deficiencies as unelected health minister.

Mandel was also Edmonton mayor recently enough to have some constituents remember his role in civic decisions they didn't like.

Second, at least one poll -- the ThinkHQ survey last cited here on Thursday -- shows the NDP, PCs and Wildrose all within 1 per cent of one another in the Edmonton region (at 25, 26 and 27 per cent respectively) with the Liberals trailing distantly at 16 per cent.

Well, Edmonton-Whitemud is certainly in Edmonton although not a part that has normally been friendly to anyone but Tories -- but these are not normal times.

The other opinion poll cited by celebrity poll analyst Eric Grenier was done by Lethbridge College and shows the PCs with a more comfortable lead -- 32.7 per cent to the NDP’s 23.5 and 22.4 for the Wildrose, with the Liberals again trailing far behind at 10.2.

Under such circumstances, it is not completely improbable to imagine the progressive vote at least gathering around a credible NDP candidate.

Perhaps as a sign of their desperation, the Alberta Liberals have published a preposterous press release claiming to show evidence candidate Donna Wilson, an RN and PhD nursing professor, is running ahead of all the other parties' candidates in the riding.

Alas, for Wilson, who is a fine person and like Turner would make a terrific MLA, not only was this statistic the result of a push poll, but we can prove it because the Liberals published the wording of their doorstep question: "Will you vote for Liberal Candidate Dr. Donna Wilson, another candidate, or are you unsure or undecided?"

Faced with no named alternatives and a pleasant Liberal campaigner at their front door, most Canadians -- who are unfailingly polite if they're anything -- will take the hint and provide the answer that's desired. Doesn't mean they’ll vote that way, though.

This silly poll identified about a third of decided voters in the riding as Liberal supporters, fewer than 20 per cent backing all other candidates, and close to fifty per cent undecided. Taken together, this is merely fantasy. The predictive value of this naïve enterprise is essentially zero.

As an aside, if you're going to have fun with polls, you need to imitate those successful political campaigns that come out with a plausible sounding opinion survey not long before election day that puts your candidate unexpectedly within striking distance of victory -- like Naheed Nenshi in the Calgary mayoral race in 2010, Alison Redford in the PC leadership race in 2011 and now Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, in Redford's old riding.

What did all three candidates have in common? The assistance, as Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer pointed out, of strategist Stephen Carter.

Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud are only two of the by-elections taking place during the Oct. 27 mini-election, as the four races are inevitably being seen. The other two are in Calgary Foothills, where Premier Prentice himself is seeking a seat, and Calgary-West. All four seats are traditionally safe for the Conservatives.

Getting back to the Capital Region where we started and the NDP is showing some strength, tomorrow isn't too soon for the new NDP leader to rally the party's troops around Turner and send them out to the doorsteps of Edmonton-Whitemud.

That said, it's not much of a feat of prognostication to predict that's exactly what the Knee-Dippers will do -- it's on the leadership convention’s schedule for tomorrow, no matter who wins the race.

In this, as in all other matters where democracy is involved, there's no absolute certainty about who will win -- but it’s predicted here the winner will be Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, who has been the front-runner from the get-go. The other candidates are Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and union leader Rod Loyola.

As for Mason, whatever he was, the first sentence of this post notwithstanding, it was never retiring! Least of all now that he’s giving up the leadership and feels free to say exactly what he thinks.

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

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