Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alberta Gets to Vote on Monday - Will Progressives Show Up?

There are elections for municipal politicians and school board trustees all over Alberta on October 18.  These elected officials are the closest to the community but ironically result in the lowest voter turnout.

There are some indications that this is changing in Calgary and Edmonton at least.  I have not had the time to review other places to get a sense of voter turnout intentions.  I can only hope the sense of the import of the opportunity to participate in our democracy is hitting home with Albertans.

One of my passions is citizenship and citizen engagement.  This blog is often focused on those concerns.  I hope for more than citizens turning up to vote but actually knowing what the want from government and making an effort to see which of the candidates comes closest to their values and concerns.  That takes a bit of time but with the Internet this research is very easy to do.

I am not going to tell you how to vote but I do want to encourage you to vote.  I especially want to encourage the progressive thinking Albertans to vote.  The people with this value set have become very disillusioned with politics and have withdrawn from democracy as a result.  That is no way to change the system.

Elections are about choices, change and charting courses. So let me make some observations about the Mayoralty races in Edmonton and Calgary in that context.

Edmonton is a two-horse race between Mandel and Dorward.  Both fine candidates but with very different world and local views about issues and the direction for the city.

There is an undercurrent of this contest being a proxy race for the next provincial election in Edmonton.  I think there is some truth to that.  Dorward is an unsuccessful PC candidate from the last political election but is now the favourite of the Wildrose faction in the culture war in right wing politics in Alberta.  Mandel is less defined as a partisan politician but he is being framed as the PC Party choice.  I actually think he is better understood and the anybody but WAP choice.

How this will undercurrent of provincial party influence plays out on the choice for Mayor of Edmonton will send a message about the potential strength of the WAP in Edmonton.  Right now the WAP is very weak in Edmonton but a win or even a strong showing by Dorward will be seen as a serious shift in momentum for the Wildrose in Edmonton.

It is entirely possible for Mr. Dorward to win this election for Mayor on Monday but only if progressive voters continue to stay home on election day.  If progressive stay indifferent to consequences of elections or presume a Mandel victory so they don't need to bother - don't be surprised by a Droward win.

This is an even more interesting race for Mayor.  There is the same provincial implications undercurrents.  McIver the early leader is the Wildrose choice.  Then we have Barb Higgins, the recently retired TV news anchor cum candidate who thinks she is the right person to run a multi-billion dollar civic budget.  She is the PC darling with the backing of the Dinning PC leadership brain trust.

Then we have Naheed Nenshi, the upstart outsider progressive candidate with a more modern and motivated campaign approach based on issues and policy. Nenshi was at first a group of third tier progressive candidates including Wayne Stewart and Bob Hawkesworth but he broke from that pack.  Nenshi is now tied with the original front runners all around 30% support according to a very recent Leger poll.  Hawkesworth has withdrawn and is supporting Higgins.  Stewart has also withdrawn and is supporting Nenshi. Just to make it more interesting.

Here is a chance for progressive voters in Calgary to vote for a young, intelligent, articulate and capable political alternative.  They can show up and support the momentum of Nenshi and send a message to the establishment that runs Calgary that their presumption of the perpetual traditional right-wing conservative political culture is not a given in the future of that great city.

Full disclosure - I know Nenshi the best of all the candidates.  He is involved in Reboot Alberta too and was one of the people who helped merge the Renew Alberta group with the Alberta Party as a progressive centrists political alternative for our province.  I worked with Ric McIvor a few year ago on men's issues in bullying and domestic violence and his knowledge and understanding of the complexity of the issues impressed me.  I have never met Barb Higgins but know a lot of the people running her campaign.

There is a very important subtext to the Mayoralty races in Edmonton and Calgary with potential implications for the future of provincial politics in Alberta.  If McIvor and Dorward win the Wildrose will become even wilder and emboldened.  If Higgins wins the Calgary establishment will rise up and once again want the run the province from behind closed doors like they did when Ralph Klein was Premier.  If Mandel and Nenshi win we can see signs of a shifting in the political culture in the province and the old one-party system is an artifact of the past.  It will show that there is a yearnings for a more progressive, inclusive, accountable government that is open, based on integrity and stewardship - not just getting and keeping personal political power

The choices made by Edmonton and Calgary represent two-thirds of the Alberta population.  That alone has serious implications for politics in the rest of the province.  None of my readers  will be surprised by my choices.  I am voting for Mandel and would vote for Nenshi - if I lived in Calgary.

If you want a progressive political culture in the Next Alberta register now for RebootAlberta 3.0 at


  1. Anonymous1:03 pm

    There is also a very interesting race shaping up in Okotoks with a PC and establishment-backed candidate for Mayor (Beth Kish) up against a more progressive, populist candidate, Bill Robertson. Bill is a schoolteacher and a former ATA president. Throw in a number of Wild Rose party members running for council, many of them backing Robertson, and you have an interesting dynamic in the town at the centre of Danielle Smith's new stomping grounds. Watch the drama unfold as the local newspaper's online poll shows the two candidates for mayor running in a race that's too close to call.

  2. Blake Robert1:58 pm

    Its a totally absurd to suggest Mandel is the PC choice. A few big names does not an endorsement make. Most PC footsoldiers, the kinds of folks who put in the hard work it takes to win an election, are backing the Dorward campaign. Don't let the cocktail party crowd fool you, Dorward is the choice for conservatives of all stripes.

  3. Edwin Erickson3:03 pm

    Great post, Ken. Personally, I expect better turnouts around the province than we have seen in recent elections. This time around, even in the most remote rural areas of the province, there seems to be a spirit of at least a limited sense of re-engagement and contemplation of change. It's great to see significantly increased numbers of citizens willing to step up to the plate as candidates - I see that as an indication of potential increased voter turnout, as well.

  4. Good post but I believe your stripes are showing:

    "It is entirely possible for Mr. Dorward to win this election for Mayor on Monday but only if progressive voters continue to stay home on election day."

    You seem to be identifying Mandel as the 'progressive' candidate in this election (as well as indicating that 'progressives' should vote for him). Trying to tie Dorward to WAP is a somewhat disingenuous also.

    Stephen Mandel is trying very hard to stay under the radar at this moment because he knows his position is tenuous. I haven't seen a single pre-election poll in Edmonton and being that most of the MSM in Edmonton are pro-Mandel I suspect his incumbency is in a great deal of danger. Dorward might not be the 'most progressive' choice but is a realistic alternative to shake out some of the current politicians on council and add some governance.

  5. Anonymous10:00 am

    Quite frankly, I agree Mandel is the way to vote.

  6. Personally, I would like to see Stephen Mandel win to continue the progression on issues such as expansion of the LRT to all areas of the City, new development for the municipal airport, the downtown new arena project and my favorite the Edmonton Seniors Declaration-the commitment to being an age-friendly city.

    I expect that if Mandel is re-elected there is a very good chance that he will retire after the next term. Three years later in an open mayoral election let's see the real fireworks begin with Dorwood, Robert Noce (my possible ward candidate) and other promising candidates that would run for Mayor if Mandel did not run again.

  7. Anonymous10:51 am

    Thanks for the advice on Calgary. And what about Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray? Ken, you must have some opinions on that one, and the result of that race will have implications for the oil sands industry, hence the rest of the province and Alberta's reputation overall. I suspect Mayor Blake gets more international media coverage and attention from NGO's than the Mayors of Calgary and Edmonton combined.

  8. Gail Docken11:22 am

    If Stephen Mandel doesn't win . . . I'm leaving the city.

  9. My thinking exactly, but I had to chuckle at your line about "I am not going to tell you how to vote." Man up!

  10. Anonymous1:41 am

    What we need is a true conservative choice, a Wildrose Alliance member. That's why I'm voting for Barb Higgins.

  11. Anonymous4:27 pm

    Actually most PC's are supporting McIver. Wildrose's president is supporting Higgins.

  12. Hey, the good guys won for a change.


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