When federal New Democrats—and some Grits, under a Liberals-for-Linda banner—door-knocked for Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona last fall, it wasn’t policy that won over voters. “Most of us couldn’t tell you the difference between cap and trade and carbon taxes,” says Alvin Finkel, an Athabasca University prof who campaigned for the NDP candidate. Instead, the team presented stats showing how Duncan won twice the number of votes in 2006 as the Liberal. “What we emphasized,” says Finkel, “is that she could beat the Tory.” Today, Rahim Jaffer—the Tory in question—is no longer in Parliament. And Finkel, of Alberta’s Democratic Renewal Project (DRP), hopes the same approach will work for Alberta provincial politics, dominated by the Tories for 40 years: the group proposes a non-compete strategy among opposition parties and has identified a by-election in Calgary-Glenmore this fall as a possible test case.
The gambit does complicate what already promises to be a tight race. Abandoned by former deputy premier Ron Stevens for a judgeship last month, Glenmore opens up just as excitement heightens around the Wildrose Alliance, a right-wing party benefitting from growing conservative anger over Premier Ed Stelmach’s swollen deficit and upped oil and gas royalties. Paul Hinman, Wildrose’s former leader, will run; so will popular city alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart, a Tory.
The DRP is backing Avalon Roberts, a Liberal who finished a healthy second in the last two elections. The campaign isn’t perfect—the NDP will run a candidate, the Greens will not—but the race may echo the Calgary-Elbow by-election of 2007, an upset Liberal win. This time, the Wildrose will siphon votes from the Tories. Yet the fact the NDP refuses to play ball throws a bit of a spanner into the DRP works—a symptom of what the group’s Phil Elder, a law prof who has himself run for the NDP, calls “the narcissism of small differences.” The NDP and the Liberals share much and could weaken the Tories, if only they joined forces. Thus the Alberta Tories prevail.