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Calgary adds a little Grit

As Alberta’s Tory haters celebrate what appears to be the emergence of
cracks in the PC’s province-wide rock-solid base of support, I thought
it might be useful to see how the Progressive Conservatives are taking this
week’s minor “get” by the Alberta Liberal party.

Shortly after 10 pm on Tue, Jun 12—that is, the night Liberal Craig
Cheffins dealt Premier Ed Stelmach’s government a humiliating blow by
handily taking former Premier Ralph Klein’s Calgary-Elbow seat away
from the PCs for the first time since 1971—an email press release from
the Government of Alberta graced the inboxes of the province’s news
media.

“Premier Stelmach pleased with byelection victory,” boasted the
headline. In the release, Stelmach waxes enthusiastic about the night’s
other byelection—in which Tory Jack Hayden easily held on to
Drumheller-Stettler—thanking constituents there “for placing
their trust in my government.”

But, Ed, whither Calgary? “Calgarians have sent a message and I have
heard that message clearly,” Stelmach affirmed.

So while there might be a certain tendency towards schadenfreund among the
redder citizens of Redmonton this week, it’s important to remember
that, while these byelections have shown that the Tories are largely rurally
based and increasingly irrelevant in urban Alberta, none of this comes as too
much of a revelation. These same dynamics were in play during the last
provincial election, and while the Liberals made modest gains in Calgary
then, the sea of Tory blue remained wide and deep.

It’s also worthwhile to remember that only about 35 per cent of
eligible voters cast ballots in Calgary-Elbow. Tory voters don’t switch
teams; they simply stay home when they aren’t happy. Again, this echoes
the last general election, where Tory strategists admitted their biggest
challenge was not attracting supporters—they have plenty,
thanks—but simply getting those supporters to bother voting.

And, finally, Stelmach’s email shows that no one is more aware of the
Tories’ shortcomings in Cowtown than the Tories themselves. If Northern
Albertans have enjoyed the extra attention that comes from having a Premier
whose attitude towards us isn’t the charming mix of indifference and
hostility his predecessor effused, they ought to know that, effective
immediately, the Government of Alberta will be kissing Calgary’s ass
harder and longer than ever before. Calgary has spoken; is Steady Eddie
listening too closely? V

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