Stay a while, cast a ballot

CBC Online News | Updated Feb. 4, 2008

By Andree Lau

It's the little things that give away the newcomers to Alberta. It could be something as small as a green and white Saskatchewan Roughriders sticker on their bumper. Or maybe it's the hard Maritimes' R in their pronunciation. Or it could be a bottle of Purity syrup in their cupboard.

While most would hesitate to identify themselves as Albertans, they represent an untapped group of voters who could shake up the provincial election.

Saskatchewan newcomers have plenty of company in the stands when the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders play in Edmonton or Calgary. (Jimmy Jeong/Canadian Press)

Since the 2004 provincial vote, more than 300,000 people have moved to Alberta from other parts of Canada. Taking into account others relocating out of the province, Statistics Canada estimates the net migration is closer to 131,000 between July 2004 and June 2007.

Armed with two university degrees, Michael Morrison, 25, moved from Fredericton to Calgary in October 2005.

"In Fredericton, I always say there are three [job] opportunities after you graduate," said Morrison. "You can work at a call centre, you can move to Korea to teach, or you can move to Alberta. Those are your options."

Morrison said he's looking forward to voting in his first provincial election, even though many of his friends have told him they will likely stay away from the ballot box.

"A lot of people from the Maritimes probably aren't going to vote because they don't really see this as their province," he explained on a noon break from his job as an academic adviser at the University of Calgary.

Michael Morrison, who moved from Fredericton, works at the University of Calgary.

But Morrison believes that's a lost opportunity.

"One of the biggest issues facing Alberta is affordable housing, and that issue affects, for the most part, people from the Maritimes who don't own houses … trying to find a place to live, can't afford a house, can barely afford apartments."

The biggest hurdle, says the transplanted New Brunswicker, is the distinction between home and where someone lives.

"Home is where our families are and probably where we'll go back to, but we live here now and we can make a difference here now. So maybe if we change things now, it'll get better for us while we're here."

Keith Brownsey, who teaches political science at Mount Royal College, agrees that engaging Alberta's newcomers in provincial politics is a challenge.

"Their world isn't here," said Brownsey. "Their world is back in Newfoundland. Their world is back in Yorkton. And that's to be expected."

He said most newcomers bring the same political ideologies from their home provinces to Alberta, but he blames a lack of party organization for not capturing the support of these eligible voters.

"Not all of these people coming out from Newfoundland and other places are Liberal and New Democrat. A lot of these people are Conservative, but I see no party going after them," said Brownsey.

Passionate leader wanted

Mark Kelly's cellphone cuts out periodically as he drives his truck home from a worksite outside Grande Prairie. The 19-year-old started working as a line locator almost immediately after he landed in the northern city from Hawke's Bay, N.L. last fall.

"I figure I'm living here and things in Alberta probably do need some changes, especially for people living in northern Alberta," he said of casting a ballot.

The majority of newcomers to Grande Prairie work in the oil and gas industry. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Kelly, who lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a duplex, said he'd like to see bigger benefits from the government, like tax cuts or a rebate.

"You're making big bucks, but your value of life is no better. You're still spending all your money on your house, and all your money on your big truck, huge payments for everything. And it'd be nice to get a break on something."

Kelly said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is an example of the kind of politician he's looking to support.

"He's trying to do a lot. He's a fiery guy. He's kind of a man for the people. He's Alberta's Ralph Klein, that's our Danny, right?

"That's the kind of person we like to vote for: a real guy who's actually going to stand up, try to do something – not just some suit from Calgary who's got a bit of cash."

Influx of newcomers could impact handful of ridings

If there is any political impact from newcomers, Brownsey predicts it will come in the half a dozen ridings, such as in Fort McMurray and the Edmonton area, where there is a large concentration of people from other provinces.

Finding an affordable place to live is a hot topic among newcomers to Alberta. (CBC)

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo is a riding to watch, he said, because of the social and economic upheavals, such as housing shortages and drug abuse problems, in the booming city.

It's estimated 20,000 Newfoundlanders live in Fort McMurray — almost one-third of the city's population — but there's no indication they vote as a group.

In the 2004 federal election, popular former mayor Doug Faulker, who is originally from Newfoundland, ran as a Liberal and was trounced by the Conservative candidate.

But it will be hard to quantify if partisan changes in a riding come from newcomers aligned with their traditional allegiances, or if voters are simply angry with the status quo, said Brownsey.

Alberta's success could sway votes

Born and raised in Regina, Lindsey Curtis left Saskatchewan for the chance to work for a large corporation. The job offer from CP Rail was too good to pass up, and the 27-year-old moved to Calgary in August 2005.

Curtis, a rail traffic controller, said she was aware of Alberta's advantages, including lower provincial taxes, while growing up in the neighbouring province to the east.

"Alberta has set an example and has set a successful standard in terms of how a province has been run. So I think people look to take that away and implement it in Saskatchewan," said Curtis.

That kind of record can hardly hinder the Conservatives' 36-year dynasty in Alberta, she said. But Curtis pointed out many of her friends have moved back to Saskatchewan, where homes are cheaper and the oil and gas industry is on the rise.

She plans to pay close attention to the provincial campaign before deciding who to vote for.

"I wouldn't say I'm a diehard Liberal or a diehard NDP [supporter]. I'm going to be looking for the party that's going to be offering the best package," Curtis said.

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