Despite the best efforts of Alberta’s United Conservative Party government to tilt the playing field steeply in favour right-wing candidates, voters in both Calgary and Edmonton elected progressive mayors yesterday.
Amarjeet Sohi, a soft-spoken former bus driver and trade unionist who was once a political prisoner in India and served as a minister in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet from 2015 to 2019, has been elected mayor of Edmonton. He replaces Mayor Don Iveson, who did not seek re-election.
Jyoti Gondek, a champion of the controversial Green Line LRT was born in the United Kingdom, where her parents had immigrated from Punjab. She was elected in Calgary’s Ward 3 in 2017. She holds a PhD in urban sociology. She will be Calgary’s first woman mayor.
Obviously, both were excellent candidates for the role of chief magistrate of Alberta’s two largest cities. Just as obviously, neither was the candidate Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party wanted to see as the elected leaders and spokespeople for roughly half of the population of Alberta.
It is widely understood that the UCP’s deceptively worded anti-equalization and daylight savings referenda, not to mention its constitutionally meaningless Senate elections, were organized to get the party’s red-meat conservative base out to vote against progressive candidates on Alberta’s province-wide municipal election day, which is usually a low-turnout affair.
The government also passed municipal election funding legislation that makes it easier for right-wing Political Action Committees to throw money at municipal candidates.
The UCP is widely reported to have loaned political strategists and issues managers to the campaigns of the leading conservative candidates for mayor, Mike Nickel in Edmonton and Jeromy Farkas in Calgary, both acrimonious grandstanders as city councillors very much in tune with the UCP’s divisive style of politics.
The UCP effort may not all have been for naught — it will take a few days to figure out what happened in city and town council races throughout the province, not to mention the referenda and Senate votes — but it is obvious already from the Edmonton and Calgary results that it was hardly a resounding success.
The outcome in Calgary must have been particularly bitter for Calgary’s former Manning Centre, the political activism hub founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, which has spent nearly a decade trying to implant a cadre neoliberal politicians in Alberta’s municipal governments.
As political blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out back in 2013, the Manning Centre’s real target was outgoing Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who had “taken a proactive stance on urban development, alarming the cabal of developers who have greatly benefited from near unlimited urban sprawl along the city’s edges.”
Farkas himself was an apparatchik in the Manning Centre’s “council tracker” project from 2013 to 2017, when he quit to run for council.
The likes of Jack Mintz, the UCP’s favourite economist, and former Stephen Harper advisor Tom Flanagan are said to have been key advisors to Farkas’s campaign. Gondek’s campaign was managed by Stephen Carter, the fellow behind Nenshi’s and former premier Alison Redford’s come-from-behind wins in 2010 and 2011.
Well, like rust, neoliberals never sleep, so we can assume that in addition to grinding their teeth at yesterday’s mayoral results in Edmonton and Calgary, deep-pocketed conservative PACs and think tanks will be back soon dreaming up schemes to take over Alberta city halls in the next municipal elections, four years hence.
Elections Alberta Twitter meltdown remains unexplained
While political Alberta waited nervously for voters to mark their ballots at municipal polls throughout the province yesterday, a bizarre meltdown was under way at Elections Alberta, the supposedly independent and non-partisan elections office run by the provincial legislature, where someone using its Twitter account started trolling the authors of critical comments.
This began when former conservative MLA Derek Fildebrandt published a polling-booth photo of what he said was his filled-in anti-equalization ballot and called on others to vote Yes too.
Folks who pointed out it’s illegal to publish an image of your ballot, and asked what Elections Alberta might do about it, began receiving snot-o-grams from the agency’s Twitter account.
“Apparently, the people running social media for @ElectionsAB have decided that election day is the day for sarcasm,” tweeted University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach, often a critic of the government. “It’s a provincial referendum, and our own provincial bureaucracy is mocking people for expecting that provincial election laws might apply?”
The tone of Elections Alberta’s tweets, many observed, sounded a lot like the kind of childish abuse associated with some UCP ministers’ press secretaries and “issues managers,” and was not a good election day look for a supposedly non-partisan body that should be trying to safeguard the democratic process.
Eventually someone at Elections Alberta deleted one of the offending tweets, and sent another saying, “Unfortunately, one of our staff at Elections Alberta was unprofessional in responding on Twitter today. We sincerely apologize for that. Albertans have the right to expect Elections Alberta to always remain unbiased and respectful in the election process.”
The next tweet said: “We have spoken to this individual and can assure Albertans that this type of discourse is unacceptable, and will not continue. We take our responsibility as a non-partisan office seriously, providing unbiased and accurate information to Albertans.”
But some of the offending Elections Alberta Tweets remain. Says one, directed at Leach: “I’m sure you’re well aware of the federalist state, the three levels of government, and how extra veres and intra veres powers are assigned, just as much as an old tweet holds no value versus an up-to-date one. Move on, Andrew.” The author, it is presumed, intended to say ultra vires.
Regardless, more than a few tweets will be required to reassure many Albertans that Elections Alberta is not now being run by trolls from Team Kenney.