Even in Alberta, political connections are inevitable in municipal politics

They don't fly partisan political banners or plaster their posters with familiar party logos, but don't be surprised if your candidate of choice in the municipal election has some connection to an established political party in Alberta.

Electors in Edmonton and Calgary view partisanship as inappropriate, political scientist says

Don’t be surprised if your candidate of choice in the municipal election has some sort of connection to an established political party in Alberta. (CBC)

They don't fly partisan political banners or plaster their posters with familiar party logos, but don't be surprised if your candidate of choice in the municipal election has some connection to an established political party in Alberta.

Flaunting it too heavily though, according to University of Alberta political scientist James Lightbody, could work against them.

Lightbody said cities on the Prairies have a deeply ingrained practice of keeping municipal politics largely non-partisan.

"The electors in Edmonton, Calgary, most of Prairie cities, view partisanship as inappropriate at the local level," said Lightbody.

"They (voters) understand that some candidates are Liberals, and some are Conservatives, and so on. But any attempt to inject overt partisanship inevitably leads to a backlash."

The danger of being aligned with a specific political party, said Lightbody, is the candidate will be held responsible for the mistakes of the party — before, during and especially after the election.

"It seems impossible not to step in a cow-pie, if you get involved as a party," said Lightbody.

There are obvious political leanings in some campaigns.

Political past and present

Edmonton Ward 5 candidate Sarah Hamilton was endorsed by former mayor Stephen Mandel, and former Progressive Conservative party president Katherine O'Neill. Hamilton worked for Mandel when he was Alberta health minister, under then-premier Jim Prentice.

Jacquie Fenske, former PC MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, is now running to be mayor of Strathcona County, and former PC MLA David Xiao is running for Edmonton city council in Ward 5.

Beatrice Ghettuba, former St. Albert Liberal candidate, is running for a seat in Ward 4, as is Aaron Paquette, who ran for the federal NDP in the 2015 election.

Candidate Tricia Velthuzian worked for the United Conservative Party as a research analyst before taking a leave to run for city council in Ward 4.

Ward 12 candidate Nigel Logan previously worked for the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek, Denise Woollard, as constituency manager.

Ward 8 candidate Kirsten Goa quit her job in the premier's office in May to run for Edmonton city council. (Goa campaign photo)

Until May, Ward 8 candidate Kirsten Goa worked in Premier Rachel Notley's constituency office. Goa said she's been thinking about running for quite some time, and quit her job to focus on the campaign.

"What I like about municipal politics [is] we can stay out of ideology," said Goa.

'Gladiators' enjoy the political ring

Sandy Pon, candidate for Ward 9, sought the Conservative party nomination in 2015, but lost to Matt Jeneroux, who went on to win the seat in Edmonton Riverbend.

Ward 10 incumbent Michael Walters ran for the Alberta Party in the 2012 election.

Lightbody said it's no surprise that so called "gladiators" end up being involved in different levels of political activity.

They're the ones who like to work on campaigns, raise money, volunteer to door knock, and even run for office, he said.

"When an election comes around, they just cannot turn aside."

Though there are some with provincial and federal party connections, Lightbody cautioned against reading too much into the outcome of a municipal election.

"It's not a referendum on the provincial government," he said. "If it were, Iveson would lose because he's the New Democrat candidate."

Economy a big issue in Calgary

That's not necessarily the case in Calgary, according to University of Calgary assistant professor Jack Lucas.

Lucas said a hotly contested mayoral race between incumbent Naheed Nenshi and former PC party president Bill Smith is generating interest and exposing pent up voter anger about everything from municipal taxes to the provincial government carbon levy.

Political scientist Jack Lucas says Calgary residents are feeling the impact of the economic downturn while they decide who they will vote for. (University of Calgary)

"To some extent, it's clear that people are considering this broader context when they're thinking about who to vote for," said Lucas.

Lucas, who teaches a class in municipal politics, said while Nenshi isn't identified as being an NDP proxy, the sharp economic downturn in Calgary has had an impact.

"There's a perception, fair or unfair, that the provincial and municipal governments haven't been doing enough to reduce the tax burden that people who are in economic tough times are facing," said Lucas.

Lucas said it's not just the mayoral race that is attracting interest; there are also a number of competitive ward races.

"Whatever's going on in Calgary is affecting the mayoral race, and also appears to be affecting the ward-level races," said Lucas.

Lucas is part of the first Canadian municipal elections study, where research into voter preference is being conducted in eight cities over the next two years.

A survey currently underway in Calgary is asking residents a wide range of questions to determine what influences their municipal election choices, Lucas said.

Preliminary data from the first round of surveys is expected by the end of the week.