CALGARY—Moments after messing up the NDP’s momentum with a provincial byelection win in Calgary last night, the opposition Wildrose encouraged its members to readjust their sights to the federal vote and a victory for Conservative leader Stephen Harper.
Wildrose leader Brian Jean, a former Conservative MP under Harper, told party supporters to take a short breather before getting back to the campaign grind.
“Many of us, most of us—I’m hoping all of us—will continue to campaign for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government,” he said.
“That is the very best option for Canada.”
The rowdy Wildrose crowd chanted, “Harper! Harper! Harper!”
The Calgary-Foothills byelection provided the first stumble in the NDP’s unprecedented climb to power, and took place in a constituency that had been held by the Conservatives since 1971.
With all 66 polls reporting, Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda won with 38 percent of the vote compared to 26 percent for NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth, a former MLA and Calgary city councillor.
Tory candidate Blair Houston, a restaurant owner, was third with 22 percent of the vote.
Less than 90 minutes after polls closed, the NDP had issued a concession through a news release from Alberta Finance minister Joe Ceci congratulating Panda on the victory.
“We knew that it would be an uphill battle given the history of the riding and the economic challenges we face because of the collapse in oil prices,” noted Ceci.
“We hear the concerns about oil prices loud and clear,” he added.
“And we are working hard to release an economic recovery plan in the coming weeks.”
Hawkesworth urged his supporters to put things into perspective.
“In a byelection less than a year ago, we polled less than five percent in Calgary Foothills,” he noted.
“So before we say it’s too bad about tonight, at least we were contenders and we came close.”
The byelection in Calgary-Foothills was called after former Tory premier Jim Prentice won the riding on election night in May—only to resign from politics that same night when his party was handed their walking papers by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP.
Some pollsters, including Janet Brown of Calgary, expected it to be a hotly-contested race between the NDP and the Wildrose.
She suggested the NDP was eager to win to prove their general election victory wasn’t a fluke while the Wildrose needed to prove it could win an urban riding.
Notley rejected the premise, saying the outcome of the byelection was not a “litmus test” for her government, which has a comfortable 53-seat majority in the 87-seat legislature.