NDP says its campaign is now more organized in Calgary, but will it matter?

New Democrat Kathleen Ganley ran her 2015 campaign in Calgary-Buffalo out of her Ford Taurus station wagon. She didn’t have a campaign manager or many volunteers beyond family and friends.

Party won Calgary with little ground game in 2015

In the 2015 election, NDP candidate Kathleen Ganley ran her campaign out of her car. This time around, she's running a more traditional race with an office, volunteers and funding. (Reid Southwick / CBC)

New Democrat Kathleen Ganley ran her 2015 campaign in Calgary-Buffalo out of her Ford Taurus station wagon. She didn't have a campaign manager or many volunteers beyond family and friends.

Ganley, who later became Alberta's justice minister, rode a big orange wave that swept her and other New Democrats to power in a massive, historic upset.

In Calgary-Buffalo, her Progressive Conservative opponent Terry Rock spent $92,000 on the race. Ganley shelled out just $3,000 — and won. That works out to roughly 67 cents per vote.

"At the outset, 21 days out, no one really expected me to win," says Ganley, who's now running in Calgary-Mountain View. "As things went along, that started to change."

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The NDP won in the traditionally conservative fortress of Calgary on a shoestring budget in 2015, clinching 15 of 25 seats, despite being outspent in every riding. Rachel Notley's popularity soared as voters soured on the PC dynasty that was besieged by claims of arrogance and entitlement.

'A different feeling'

This time around, New Democrats say they're better organized with a deeper war chest to wage a more meaningful contest on the ground in Calgary. Ganley now has a campaign manager, headquarters, funding and a small army of volunteers.

"There's a different feeling as well," she says. "There's a lot of momentum. People are coming through the doors volunteering their money, their time to take signs, whereas last time, we didn't have that going on."

But Jason Luan, a former Progressive Conservative who lost his seat to the orange wave in Calgary-Hawkwood in 2015, says he's seeing no evidence things have changed as he campaigns for the UCP in the redrawn riding of Calgary-Foothills.

It's déjà vu, says UCP candidate

Luan says he hasn't seen much of a presence from the local NDP candidate, while campaign materials emphasize Notley as the brand, rather than the party.

"It's like they're wanting to redo what they did last round, betting everything on this one person, Rachel Notley," he says.

Hit the drop-down menu to find out how much each of the three largest parties spent in your riding in 2015.

Luan's defeat in 2015 was a striking upset in Calgary. He was an incumbent MLA who spent $73,600 defending his seat, but he was toppled by the NDP's then-21-year-old Michael Connolly, who spent $840 in cash and in-kind donations. Connolly is not running this time.

Jason Luan, a former Progressive Conservative candidate who lost under the orange crush in 2015, says he hasn't seen much of a change from the NDP as he campaigns for the UCP in Calgary-Foothills. (Submitted by Jason Luan)

Brandy Payne, another New Democrat who is not running again, had a $740 budget when she defeated one-time Tory cabinet minister Jonathan Denis, who marshalled a war chest of more than $85,000.

Like many other PCs in 2015, Denis had fundraised on his own, having amassed $30,000 from individuals and corporations who contributed more than $250 each.

Not a single NDP candidate in Calgary had raised any money. All of their financing came from the party.

Dirks outspent all Calgary NDP candidates combined

According to campaign filings, NDP candidates in Calgary spent a total of $135,800 in 2015, which is less than what the PCs spent on a single riding — Gordon Dirks shelled out $157,000 on his unsuccessful bid for Calgary-Elbow.

In total, PC candidates in Calgary spent a stunning $1.8 million.

David Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, says the NDP became better at fundraising in government, while also making it more difficult for opponents to raise and spend money. The Notley government banned corporate donations, which the PCs traditionally relied upon, and limited candidate spending in each riding to $50,000, a cap many PCs exceeded in 2015.

The New Democrats say things have also changed on the ground. They say that across the province, not just in Calgary, they've already quadrupled the number of volunteers they had at the end of the 2015 race and expect to keep growing.

Political analysts say the April 16 vote will be fought largely on the leadership and policies of UCP Leader Jason Kenney and NDP Leader Rachel Notley, which makes local riding contests less important. (Canadian Press)

Similarly, they say they had 21,000 campaign signs in place across Alberta as of Wednesday, compared with 21,200 signs that were up at the end of the 2015 contest.

"In terms of organization, it's night and day," says NDP incumbent Craig Coolahan, who clinched the Calgary-Klein seat in 2015 after spending less than $3,800, compared with PC Kyle Fawcett's nearly $68,000.

'Didn't matter last time'

Stewart says so-called ground game — door-to-door canvassing, identifying supporters and getting them to the polls — can make a difference in close races, not in lopsided ones.

But he predicts the April 16 vote will be based largely on the differences in policy and leadership between the NDP and UCP, which means "the local candidate races are going to rank a very distant third."

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Barry Cooper, who also teaches political science at the University of Calgary, says he doubts the New Democrats will be able to harness a stronger organization on the ground to secure the same level of voter support they received in 2015.

Cooper says the NDP is defending a record in government while facing very different conservative opponents. He says it means each candidate's level of spending may not be enough to sway the vote.

"It certainly didn't matter last time."

About the Author

Reid Southwick spent 10 years in newspapers reporting in New Brunswick and Alberta before joining CBC in late 2017. In Calgary, he has covered business news, crime and Alberta's fentanyl crisis. Get in touch with Reid by email at or on Twitter @ReidSouthwick.