By 10:45 p.m. on Nov. 26, a palpable sense of profound disappointment was setting in at the Liberal headquarters of the Calgary Centre by-election. Calgary Centre, a riding that has been conservative for almost half a century, will be blue once again. Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt won the by-election with 36.9 per cent of the vote. Liberal candidate Harvey Locke was an excruciatingly close second, garnering 32.7 per cent of the vote.
After the grassroots success of Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s campaign in 2010, many have become politically engaged to a degree hitherto unseen in Calgary. In a city known for low voter turnout and remarkably predictable results, Nenshi proved that it is valuable to engage with young people in Calgary and that a motivated youth vote is a dangerous political tool in this city.
However, with the shockingly low voter turnout for the federal by-election of under 30 per cent, the Conservative candidate will once again be off to Ottawa from Calgary Centre, filling the seat left vacant by Lee Richardson, who took a post with Premier Alison Redford’s provincial Conservative party.
The entire night smacked of missed opportunity. The Green Party’s Chris Turner finished third with 25.6 per cent of the vote, sapping votes from the Liberal candidate and vice versa. The opportunity was not simply to unseat a Conservative MP, this by-election was a chance to communicate strongly to the federal government and to demonstrate that Calgary is a relevant place to campaign for all parties.
The federal Conservative party has disrespected the intelligence of voters in Calgary for too long by offering incompetent candidates and refusing to engage with voters during campaigns. This by-election was no different. Crockatt repeatedly ducked public forums, which drew the ire of Mayor Nenshi.
When Crockatt announced she would be missing the Nov. 19 City of Calgary sponsored “cities matter” debate focusing on urban issues, Nenshi said, “if I were [Crockatt’s] political strategist, I certainly wouldn’t miss this. She’ll make her own decision. I just hope that it’s not because she doesn’t want to answer questions about the future of Calgary.” Crockatt — mirroring Rob Anders’s infamous public-forum dodging — claimed that she was door-knocking, which, in her view, was a more effective way of engaging with voters.
Nenshi’s comments put pressure on Crockatt to attend the debates later on in the campaign where she noted that she supported cuts for the CBC because the French language channel supposedly broadcasted pornography.
“As long as they’re still funding some porn channel on the web, there’s going to be people who look at the CBC and say there’s still room for cuts,” said Crockatt. “Just research it on Google — it’s there.”
Many in Calgary Centre do not agree with her controversial position regarding the CBC or her assertion that Calgarians would support more Chinese investment similar to the purchase of Nexen because, as Crockatt said on Nov. 19, “our largest trading partner in the U.S. is a basket case financially and we need to start looking for other markets.”
The proof of dissent against Crockatt lies in the evidence that the majority of Calgarians in her constituency voted against the Conservative government, a fact that brings little solace now that the results are all counted. If the Green Party candidate or NDP candidate had thrown their support behind Locke, there is no question that it would have been enough to swing the balance of the by-election. However, when the Green Party’s Turner was interviewed post-election, he mentioned that he understood the dangers of vote splitting but didn’t think it was wise to compromise so late in the game and that polling data is notoriously unreliable.
While the comment about polling data is valid, it should have been obvious that there was precious little chance of anyone beating a Conservative months ago, and an infinitesimally smaller chance of that person being from the Green Party. When it started to look as though the race would be close — close enough that the Liberals had a shot at beating Crockatt — someone, be that Green or NDP, should have made the call to unite the vote and do what was necessary. This is not Vancouver Island, Montreal-Papineau or Toronto-Danforth. It is Calgary-Centre, a city that has not elected a federal Liberal since Trudeaumania in 1968, and has only elected three MPs in Canadian history that were not ideologically conservative. Now that all three non-conservative parties have lost, one can only hope the message that was sent was loud enough to demand attention from the federal government. Perhaps future elections will not only be as interesting as this one, but will also produce significant results.
It is undoubtedly important to vote one’s conscience, but when a political party holds the reigns of a city so tightly and so far beyond the point of complacency, pragmatism must prevail over ideology.