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Wildrose Party wins Calgary-Foothills byelection, and fairly decisively, but leaves plenty of grist for the mill

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Prasad Panda and Brian Jean

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Within moments of Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda emerging as the winner in the Calgary-Foothills byelection yesterday evening, the Calgary Herald was spinning the story as "a major breakthrough for the Wildrose Party and a blow to the NDP government."

This interpretation is not unexpected, even if it overreaches a trifle.

Still, Panda deserves to savour his victory, which when all the poll results were in was pretty convincing.

However, the numbers are interesting and worthy of some crunching, quickly now and in detail later. They contain good news and bad news for each of the parties involved and, arguably, a couple that technically were not. 

Wildrose good news: Well, they won, didn't they? And not just a seat, but a seat in a city. It's an opportunity for the Wildrose to expand their appeal to urban voters in Calgary, which they must do if they are eventually to form a government, and perhaps even to city voters in Edmonton, which is still solidly NDP and quite pleased about it. The victory significantly helps their narrative that they are the only conservative party that can win in the next general election. 

Wildrose bad news: They hardly walked away with it, according to Elections Alberta's unofficial numbers, in one of the more conservative ridings in the more conservative of Alberta's two big cities. The NDP, which only got 444 votes in the 2014 byelection and fielded an uninspiring if experienced candidate in Bob Hawkesworth, nevertheless gave them a run for their money. The PCs, who were supposed to be finished, polled very strongly too, suggesting there's life in the idea of a centrist conservative party. So this is not necessarily a signal Albertans are about to embrace the Wildrose. 

NDP good news: With more than 3,000 votes, the governing party came a respectable second in what had to be considered an unpromising riding for them. Remember, this is a district where the Conservatives won the previous 15 consecutive elections. This is evidence that their victory in May was not a fluke, and only hints that "the honeymoon is over." Premier Rachel Notley has also seen that the Wildrose plays hardball, and one hopes she will reach the obvious conclusion that if New Democrats hope to succeed in the long run, they must play hardball too.

NDP bad news: Well, close usually only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say, and, anyway, when the dust settled this wasn't all that close. They lost. This will be used by their opponents in the Legislature and the media to establish the narrative that Albertans are suffering buyers' remorse after electing them, and, of course, that the honeymoon is over. That story may well stick.

Progressive Conservative good news: Actually, you can make a case that the Tories enjoyed the best news of the night. They were supposed to be deader than the proverbial mackerel and yet candidate Blair Houston polled almost as strongly as the governing NDP. Certainly voters in this riding had every reason to disdain them, thanks to former premier Jim Prentice's petulant performance as soon as his party lost the May 5 general election. And yet, here they are, obviously still a major player in Alberta politics -- in need of a high-profile leader, sure, but clearly still in the game. This will be a powerful disincentive to those Tories who think they have to join the Wildrose to succeed.

Progressive Conservative bad news: Their caucus is still stuck in single digits in the Legislature.

Alberta Liberal Party good news: With almost 800 votes, there's still a little life in their damaged brand.

Alberta Liberal Party bad news: With fewer than 800 votes even with their leader right in the neighbourhood, there's not much life in their brand.

Alberta Party good news: Well, it's a wealthy neighbourhood, so maybe some of those 610 supporters can make a generous donation. They certainly have enough enthusiasts for a Big Coffee Party!

Alberta Party bad news: Even in a town with a popular mayor associated with their brand, they can barely get on the radar. Their few supporters may now see the wisdom of strategic voting for someone else.

Green Party good news: 377 votes.

Green Party bad news: 377 votes.

OK, that's it for everyone who actually ran in the election except for an independent named Antoni Grochowski who didn't appear to actually have an issue and got fewer than 50 pity votes. But, as I noted above, there are a couple of other parties that didn't have candidates in this race that can take some good news and bad news away from last night's proceedings too.

Conservative Party of Canada good news: Canada's current governing party, the party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, can spin this as proof that Alberta voters have already realized a vote for the NDP was "a risky experiment." They certainly will try to do just this. Whether anyone anywhere else will buy this is another matter entirely.

Conservative Party of Canada bad news: If I were a federal Conservative, this result would worry me. In one of the most conservative ridings in the most conservative big city in the country, in the capital of the oilpatch for heaven's sake, the party that espouses the same philosophy as the Harper CPC, led by a former Harper MP and with close ties to the federal party without carrying much of its heavy baggage, nevertheless faced a tough fight. Particularly if you count PC voters as potential Joe Clark Red Tories, even here in northwest Calgary the numbers suggest a promising future for strategic voting. Sorry, but this does not bode well for the federal Conservatives -- especially elsewhere in Canada.

Communist Party of Alberta good news: Thanks to the controversy surrounding the Wildrose Party's sleazy Chinese-language leaflet, which accused the NDP of being commies, the Communist Party actually momentarily became a tiny blip on the radar.

Communist Party of Alberta bad news: Really? Yes, Virginia, there is a Communist Party of Alberta!

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


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