CALGARY – A byelection loss for Alberta’s NDP is “bad news” for the government and a sign that Calgarians may be suffering buyer’s remorse after May’s provincial election, says at least one political scientist.
NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci has acknowledged that a message was sent with Thursday’s victory by the Opposition Wildrose in Calgary-Foothills.
David Taras of Calgary’s Mount Royal University says there is no way to sugar-coat it.
“I think the honeymoon is over in Calgary and it didn’t last long,” Taras said Friday. “Virtually every NDP MLA in Calgary now feels a chill down their spine, because they now see their victory in May may have been a fluke and they may not be there for long unless they really dig in and protect Calgary’s interests.”
Rachel Notley’s New Democrats won 14 of 25 seats in Calgary on their way to a majority government on May 5.
Since then, Calgary’s oil sector has taken even more of a beating by low oil prices. ConocoPhillips Canada recently signalled that it plans to lay off 500 employees and contractors, while Penn West Petroleum announced this week that it was cutting about 400 jobs.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that at least 35,000 jobs have been lost in Alberta’s oil-and-gas sector this year.
Since being elected, the New Democrats have forged ahead with tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, along with a plan to review rates the government charges oil companies.
Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda won the byelection to replace former Tory leader and premier Jim Prentice with 38 per cent of the vote compared with 26 per cent for NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth, a former city councillor and MLA. Tory candidate Blair Houston was third with 22 per cent of the vote.
“If you add the Wildrose numbers to the Tory numbers, it turns into a real shellacking,” Taras said.
“(The NDP) threw everything but the kitchen sink into that riding — Premier Notley came repeatedly. They had a star candidate who has been a great public servant and a real gentleman, so the balloon was punctured.”
Ceci said hard times may have led people to vote Wildrose, but he suggested the result doesn’t indicate how Calgary as a whole feels about the NDP.
“The low price of oil is making things stressful for families,” Ceci said late Thursday night.
“Why don’t you tell me if the honeymoon’s over? I think what Albertans are seeing is a government that’s getting to work, getting down to all of the things they want to see us do.
“We’re not out of touch with Calgary. We’re always in touch with Calgary.”
Taras says there is a real difference between Calgary and Edmonton, where the NDP won every seat.
“It’s early days, but there’s a divide between Edmonton and Calgary, between perceptions in Edmonton and perceptions in Calgary about whether the government understands oil and gas, is sympathetic to it and is going to be supportive,” he said.
“I think there’s suspicion, there’s nervousness and worry that the government is far too ideological.”
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