Alberta byelections: What do the results mean for each party?

The Progressive Conservatives took the same four ridings they won in 2012. Same old, same old? A look at the numbers may reveal some clues as to what direction Alberta is heading.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith conceded the party's defeat at the byelection headquarters of her defeated Calgary-West candidate Sheila Taylor. (CBC)

The Alberta political landscape looks much the same the morning after Monday’s byelections.

The Progressive Conservatives took the same four ridings they won in 2012.

The wins means Premier Jim Prentice and his two previously unelected cabinet ministers, Stephen Mandel and Gordon Dirks, now have seats in the Alberta legislature.

A look at the numbers may reveal some clues as to what direction Alberta is heading. Here’s how it breaks down, party by party.

Progressive Conservatives

What seemed unlikely just months ago became reality last night, when the Tories won Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-West, Calgary-Foothills and Edmonton-Whitemud.

The party’s support was dropping following the resignation of former premier Alison Redford, who left in a cloud of controversy about her leadership style and use of government planes. 

Byelections are rare in Alberta, and having four of them at the same time was a big gamble by Prentice, according to Keith Brownsey.

A political science professor at Mount Royal University, Brownsey says the dangerous move ended up paying off for the PC party.

“He won. And he won convincingly.”

“Instead of saying that Jim Prentice is a failure, now you look at him like a master strategist. It paid off for him and it paid off for him big.”

Some political observers suggest the results show voters were willing to move on from the Alison Redford era of the PC party.

“I think voters sent the message that they’re willing to give Jim Prentice a chance, maybe not forget, but certainly forgive,” Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown said. 

“They seem to buy into Prentice’s message that it’s under new management.”

However, Brownsey said the new premier still has to contend with much of the anger and distrust that has grown in the province, saying he will continue "dealing with the aftermath of Alison Redford’s two years in office.”

In Calgary-West, PC candidate Mike Ellis outpolled Wildrose candidate and former Calgary School Board chair Sheila Taylor by just 300 votes.

The other PC candidates racked up substantial leads, particularly in Calgary-Foothills and Edmonton-Whitemud, where Prentice and Mandel received almost double the number of votes earned by the second-place candidates.

Wildrose Party

The fate of the Wildrose Party and its leader Danielle Smith was the question on many lips after the dust settled on Monday. 

The official opposition had every reason to expect good things on Monday, given the controversy about Redford’s spending and personal use of government planes, which were confirmed in a scathing report by the Alberta auditor general in August 2014. 

However, the party didn’t pick up a single seat, and even came in third-place in two of the four ridings.

The result raises questions about leader Danielle Smith’s future, the Wildrose’s ability to appeal to urban voters and the overall campaign strategy, says one expert.

“I think their campaign tone and campaign message was off,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist from Mount Royal University in Calgary. “They spent an awful lot of money on this. They faced a weakened PC party and they were shut out.”

As for Smith, she announced that she would put her leadership up for review at the party's annual general meeting next month. She said that she wants a firm mandate of at least 77 per cent support.

Brownsey said Smith's announcement is most likely a move to head off any attempts to question her leadership. He said by calling for a review so quickly, she doesn't give opponents in her party much time to organize.

"It’s a smart move,” he said. 

Another possibility, Brownsey said, is that she set the high bar as a way to allow her to move on from the party. 

"She may be looking for a graceful exit,” he said. 

Whatever Smith's plans, Brownsey said the byelection losses will likely have a big impact on the Wildrose's fundraising efforts.

Alberta NDP

Fresh off a contest that saw popular Edmonton MLA Rachel Notley elected the new leader, the Alberta NDP had high hopes going into Monday’s byelection.

Their most high-profile candidate, oncologist Dr. Bob Turner, came second in Edmonton-Whitemud, besting the Liberal and Wildrose candidates.

While Turner’s 3,150 votes paled in comparison to the 6,003 won by Mandel, it could be seen as an impressive showing in a riding that was held for 17 years by former MLA and interim Premier, Dave Hancock. 

“For the NDP, I think this was a great moral victory for them,” Brown said.

“I think it really sets them up to position themselves as the real opposition in Edmonton and might set them well for electoral success, maybe in some downtown ridings where they might have a greater chance of electoral victory than a place like Whitemud, that really is one of the safest PC ridings in the entire province.”

However, the results shows the party still has a lot of work to do in Calgary. The party got under 500 votes in the three Calgary ridings.

Alberta Liberals

“The Liberals also had a bad night last night,” Bratt said.

The party placed either third or fourth in Monday’s contests. They were beaten by the centrist Alberta Party in Calgary-Elbow, where party leader Greg Clark placed second behind Education Minister Gordon Dirks.

The Liberals went from eight to five seats in the 2012 election, and there is no sign that the situation is improving.

Alberta Party

Alberta Party supporters are feeling good about the Clark’s showing in Calgary-Elbow. Political strategist Stephen Carter was involved in Clark’s campaign which ensured there was a strong presence on social media.

However, the Alberta Party’s showing was anemic in the other three ridings, where candidates received under 300 votes.