Re-UPDATED: Once again, nomination races take early by-election focus
[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]
A progressive Conservative in Macleod and a strong Libertarian [UPDATE: and New Democrat] in Fort McMurray-Athabasca are the only
two three by-election candidates finalized so far, but the coming weeks will see a number of interesting nomination contests unfold.
UPDATED: See below for Conservative nomination key dates in Fort McMurray-Athabasca.
While your guide has had her nose down doing some client work, and assembling an Ontario Pundits' Guide database (see on.punditsguide.ca for the end-result), some of by-election nominations races have already concluded, while others are just picking up steam. Let's take a look at where things stand today.
Western Wheel associate publisher John Barlow defeated three other nomination contestants – University of Calgary and Hill staff alumna Melissa Mathieson (whose High River home became the focus of the Prime Minister's Alberta flood cleanup photo op), Springbank businessman Scott Wagner and Blackie area rancher Phil Rowland – for the Conservative nomination on March 8. Originally from Saskatchewan, Barlow had previously run a close second for the provincial Progressive Conservatives against no less than Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, and was the only candidate in the nomination race not to be endorsed by the National Firearms' Association over his less than strident position on the RCMP's seizure of weapons during last year's Alberta floods. He won after 3 days of balloting spanning Pincher Creek, Claresholm, and ending in Barlow's hometown of Okotoks where 1,200 of the 1,500 ballots were cast.
The Liberal race so far features Husky Energy technician and former U Lethbridge student president from Okotoks, Dustin Fuller, who has been reassuring people that a Liberal government would not bring back the gun registry, and says the RCMP seized the High River weapons "without due process" and without being subject to any inquiry. I am not aware of an NDP candidate for the area as yet.
As Daveberta points out, the federal riding overlaps provincial seats mainly held by Wildrose MLAs. But given that the blue team has nominated someone from the Progressive Conservative wing of the party, I just don't see an opening for the Liberals here in the same way we saw with Brandon-Souris, particularly not with the candidates on offer from the opposition party to date, notwithstanding some well-attended events with Justin Trudeau in the riding last year.
If we were going to see a Brandon redux anywhere in the current round of by-elections, it might well be in the more northern vacant Alberta seat – and even that would be stretch, though it could set the Liberals up for a more competitive race in the smaller seat next time around. And indeed, unlike Macleod, the party already has two nomination contestants in the field, and a nomination meeting date set. The membership cutoff was March 13, and the meeting will be held on March 29.
First into the race was the manager of a Métis local and former consultation manager for the joint industry-province oil sands reclamation organization CEMA, Kyle Harrietha. It was interesting to see Dimitri Soudas speculate in the leaked Conservative Party strategy documents that they might approach the Fort McMurray mayor Melissa Blake to run for them, because in fact it was Harrietha who ran her successful re-election campaign last fall, after running a provincial Progressive Conservative campaign in one of the Fort McMurray seats the previous year. That, and bringing numerous federal Liberal politicians (and me) to see the city and the industry it supports would already given him a good leg up on his competitor for the Liberal nomination – a business agent for an Operating Engineers local, Chris Flett – and a better start than most Liberal candidates on the prairies.
Now all that said, I know quite a bit more about Harrietha than his opponent for a very good reason – we have an extended, blended family connection, and the last two times I visited Fort McMurray I stayed at his place. So take that into account.
On the NDP front, it has identified a candidate from the house of labour, as you'd certainly expect in a resource extraction town like this, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair travelled to Fort McMurray to meet with her while the Liberals were convening in Montreal. No date has been set as yet, and it's not clear whether Suncor heavy truck driver and Unifor health and safety rep Lori McDaniel will have any competition. The NDP looks set to run on the issue of temporary foreign workers among others. UPDATE: Lori McDaniel was nominated on March 13.
[As an aside, I find some of David Akin's claims about where the NDP would and would not run fully funded by-election campaigns quite speculative, and not really consistent with any past history on their part. It defies common sense that a national political party could not run 3 fully funded by-election campaigns simultaneously if it felt that was warranted. And moreover, the way that *party* as opposed to *candidate* spending limits are set for by-elections - i.e., a global party limit is set for the entire round of by-elections to be spent in one or all of the ridings as they choose - gives a party more resources to allocate. The Trinity-Spadina by-election was hardly a surprise to any astute political watchers over the past year. If anything, the Fort McMurray-Athabasca vacancy was by far the bigger surprise. I'm sure David wouldn't write this unsourced, but I'm guessing his sources might be following the old maxim that those who don't know talk, while those who do know, don't.]
One interesting feature of this by-election will be a strong campaign from a Libertarian candidate – firefighter and film-maker Tom Moen – who says provocatively that he wants "gay married couples to be able to protect their marijuana plants with guns". He's running his campaign on a NationBuilder.com platform, and it's certainly the most professional Libertarian candidacy I've ever seen in a federal or provincial race in Canada. Also, he has an interesting, public, and controversial connection with Neil Young.
All of which implies that the Conservative Party had better get its candidate in place soon. Declared so far are Athabasca county municipal politician David Yurdiga, and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo lawyer Arlan Delisle. However, the party has also approached municipal councillor Guy Boutilier, who has yet to announce a decision, according to Fort McMurray Today. UPDATE: nominations close for the Conservatives on March 24, with a membership cutoff of March 31.
Once NDP M.P. Olivia Chow resigned her downtown Toronto seat to run for mayor, the starting pistol fired in the Liberal nomination race … and promptly backfired on the first aspiring contestant, Christine Innes. The former two-time candidate launched a website Thursday morning in support of her bid, but was undercut by media calls placed by the Liberal Party outlining why it planned to deny her a greenlight for either the by-election or any riding in 2015. Innes responded to the ruling late in the day by suggesting the true motive was her unwillingness not to challenge Toronto Centre M.P. Chrystia Freeland for the nomination in University-Rosedale. Various proxies litigated the issues of bullying and designating ridings back and forth for several days on Twitter and in the mainstream media.
The takeaway is that many Liberals seemed happy to be rid of Innes, and to have her made an example of, in spite of the now-plainly-obvious damage it has done to the party's commitment to open nominations. Zach Paikin took the opportunity to hang his inevitable withdrawal from his now 5th or 6th riding nomination attempt on an issue of "principle", but while that will get you column inches and called a "star candidate" in the headlines, the truth is he probably would not have won the Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas nomination even in the most open nomination race ever organized.
Moving fairly quickly into the vacuum Innes' canning created was COPE labour lawyer and sometime Toronto Star columnist Glenn Wheeler, who was unable to attend his party's recent convention, he wrote, because it would have forced him to cross a picket line set up by a local of his own union. Wheeler's interest was telegraphed by a Star reporter that night, though he hasn't launched a campaign yet as far as I know. We can probably expect him to be challenged, but apparently the party did not have a star candidate lined up when it executed Innes' exit.
Monday morning also saw the show-of-force announcement by long-time-for-his-age NDP activist Joe Cressy in the race to replace Ms. Chow as the party's federal candidate. Cressy, who had to prove he had the moves and stature to contest such a prized nomination, rolled out not one but two profiles by national columnists, endorsements from federal, provincial and municipal politicians, and a number of key activists from the cultural communities within the riding and the party. While the national media all assume Cressy won't be challenged, he knew full well he might be and needed a strong launch, which you'd have to concede he pulled off. No nomination date has been set as yet, given that the party's candidate search policy requires that affirmative action candidates be sought out and asked to run before a meeting can be called.
No sign yet of the Conservatives in this riding, but I suspect we'll see a similar pattern to previous federal and provincial by-elections lately, where only the candidates truly seen to be "in the hunt" for victory will get substantial vote-shares, while the also-rans will underperform their typical general election benchmarks in each riding.
One interesting detail reported by David Akin is that the Speaker won't be signing the warrant notifying the Chief Electoral Officer of the vacancy in this riding until he returns after the Commons break next Monday. That being the case, the earliest call we would see is the first weekend of April for May 12, assuming all three by-elections were held on the same date.