The Tories lost Calgary Elbow Tuesday night and probably for a very long time. They had held it since its inception in 1971. Not only that, over the years they tweaked it, twisted it, revised it, replotted it, and carved it, so that a solid Tory vote would always be assured for their MLA, Ralph Klein. Klein was first elected as a Tory in Calgary Elbow in 1989 and became Premier in 1993. The gerrymandering of the Riding was a work of art, really. A text-book example of political manipulation.
Despite all of this conniving, Special Ed in only six incredibly inept months of power has left the masterpiece in tatters. Elbow now belongs to Craig Cheffins, and the Alberta Liberal Party. For those who count, Cheffins' victory puts 4 seats in the Grit column in Calgary. The last time Calgary had 4 Liberal seats was in . . . . . wow! They've never had 4 seats in Calgary. Ever.
There were several reasons why Cheffins scored his victory. First of all, Cheffins was a first class candidate. He has a strong likeability factor. He was able to easily frame and discuss the issues and stayed 'on message.' The message - 'Send the Government a message.' Cheffins, his wife and many friends were tireless door campaigners. He also had a strong history of community service. Furthermore, Grits from the four corners of the city together with the three Calgary Grit MLA's elected in the general Election of 1984 and their organizations, worked the doors night after night identifying the Liberal vote. Cheffins' Election Day organization took care of the rest.
But that is only part of the story. Leader of the Alberta Liberal Party Kevin Taft has a been a workhorse since his election as Leader in the spring of 2004. By reason of the strength of his considerable intellect, his methodical step-by step building of the Party, and the consistent and effective legislative performance of he and his fellow MLA's, he must also share the kudos for the victory.
And then of course, we must not discount the effect on the election of Special Ed and his government of small-minded and vengeful rural-based Tories.
Stelmach's government has done virtually nothing since its election. There are many Tories who support this non-action. There are many neanderthals in the Tory government and caucus who still cling to the minimalist theories of the neocon movement that emerged during the Klein years. That view holds that the people of Alberta are dyed in the wool conservatives who don't want government to spend their money or interfere with their lives for good or bad under almost any circumstances.
This view was reflected by the Tories throughout their campaign right up to the last day. Ron Liepert, Minister of Education, announced that because of the soaring loonie, provincial revenues would be down and therefore people shouldn't expect much in the way of new schools. Not to be outscrimped, Minister of Advanced Education Doug Horner, said that the same held true with respect to the earlier Klein commitment of adding more spaces for students at the University of Calgary. The government , said Horner, needed more time to look at the costs of this commitment so, - again - don't expect much in the forseeable future. Wide spread support for this minimalist view amongst Calgarians may have been 5 years ago, or even 3 years ago, but not today. Too many families have been adversely impacted by a lack of what they need.
Thus, the good burghers of Elbow were looking to the government to do something - about schools, universities, hospitals, and housing. The popular Mayor Bronconnier had taken the pulse of the city and knew that was the mood. He left no opportunity go by to publicly lambaste the government for breaking a commitment to provide no-strings-attached funding for necessary capital and infrastructure projects. After all, Bronco is running for re-election in the fall. His withering attacks took their toll, as did the mindless counterattacks led by the likes of David Rodney, Tory caucus Chair and Sustainable Development and Environment Minister Ted Morton.
Stelmach's announcement that his government was going to build and pay for a new hospital in the south part of the city was widely regarded as cynical. It had been promised by the Tories for about a decade with absolutely no concrete headway having been made since that time, while the costs of the project soared. He got no points for that.
And then there was the pathetically weak public persona of Special Ed himself. He continues to be a dreary, sometimes tongue-tied communicator. He has the demeanor of a man without intensity or passion, who cannot control his bickering caucus, and who continues to stumble along without a plan.
The result: Grits took almost half of the vote - 48.8%, up by more than 12 % from their performance in 2004. The Tories took 38.14% of the vote, down by about 13.5 % since 2004. Oh yes, in 2004 more than 3000 more people voted than in this by-election. Thus, enough Tories moved to the Grits, and enough Tories, those who perhaps couldn't stomach the Grits, stayed home. The result was a Grit victory.
The Stelmach government is reeling. It seems that it is blindly staggering about, hoping vainly for a return of the old days, when Albertans voted Tory regardless of how inept and incompetent they were. Those days are gone. If there is no improvement in the government's performance - and given the talent in the caucus and the upper echelons of the public service, there is not likely to be any improvement - well, get ready to greet Premier Kevin Taft after the next general election. And you can say you heard it here first.