Monday, December 22, 2014

Tories, NDP win byelections

OTTAWA—It shouldn’t be news that the Conservatives have won a federal byelection in Calgary Centre—but Joan Crockatt made this one interesting.
In a night of byelection drama, Crockatt squeaked out a win in the riding right next to that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in what should be a Tory fortress.

The Conservatives also won the Ontario riding of Durham yesterday, with Erin O’Toole easily reclaiming the seat vacated by former cabinet minister Bev Oda.
And on the Pacific coast, NDP’er Murray Rankin pulled clear of a robust challenge from Donald Galloway of the Greens after a long night in which the lead changed hands half-a-dozen times.
“We knew this would be a tough fight,” said federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who was on hand in Victoria to congratulate the newest member of his caucus.
The NDP is a party at the centre of Canadian life, and one that is on the move, Rankin noted.
“I see the faces of a great national party, steadfast in our determination to build a better Canada,” he added.
But it was Calgary—a city that’s seen its share of political drama of late—that attracted all the attention as establishment candidate Crockatt ran neck-and-neck with Liberal challenger Harvey Locke for most of the evening, eventually edging ahead for a margin of just over 1,000 votes.
The former journalist wound up winning with about 37 percent of the popular vote—the lowest for an MP-elect in Calgary Centre since the riding was created in 1968.
“Conservative support in Calgary Centre remains strong and growing,” the beaming victor maintained after arriving to a cheering throng at her campaign headquarters.
“It was a nail-biting evening but I’m a new candidate, I’m not an incumbent, and byelections are always challenging for a majority government,” she reasoned.
Running in a bedrock small-c conservative seat, Crockatt ran a safe, low-key campaign that had the Liberal and Green contenders nipping at her Conservative heels.
Locke finished the night with almost 33 percent of the popular vote—matching the Liberal party’s 1993 high-water mark in Calgary Centre—while Chris Turner of the Greens garnered more than 25 percent.
“I’ve always said that you either have a victory party or a wake,” Locke said after popping a bottle of champagne.
“So let’s have a good wake.”
Quoting a line from the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem” (“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”), Locke said, “I think we made a crack.”
Byelections do tend to be hard on sitting governments, but Calgary Centre wasn’t supposed to be a problem for the Harper Conservatives.
The riding hadn’t seen a three-way race since Reformers and Progressive Conservatives were fighting for the right to roast a Liberal in the early 1990s.
The combined conservative vote Calgary Centre hadn’t fallen below 50 percent since 1972.
But Crockatt’s vocal support for the upstart Wildrose party in the last Alberta election appeared to divide the local conservative base, with some openly defecting to support Locke.
“More than 33 percent of the people didn’t want to rally to my standard, so I lost,” noted Locke.
“I think that the question for me, as a Liberal, that has been answered tonight is can a Liberal run competitively in Calgary and the answer is unquestionably, yes.”
Turner also ran a strong campaign that may have been aided in the final stretch by Liberal gaffes elsewhere.
First, Liberal MP David McGuinty was quoted calling Alberta MPs “shills” for the oil industry and suggesting they “go home” and run for town council if they want to be so parochial.
Then a November, 2010, French-language interview by Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leadership heir apparent, surfaced in which he stated that “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda.”
Trudeau apologized but not before federal Conservatives had a field day, stalling Liberal momentum in Calgary Centre and making the Green option—and a welcome Liberal-Green vote split for Crockatt—more viable.
It all served to make a routine byelection electric.

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