Building support takes time in Calgary Centre, but little evidence it’s being done
By Bruce A Stewart
The federal riding of Calgary Centre will vote in a by-election soon.
Sometime within the six months following an MP’s resignation from the House, the Prime Minister must call for a new election in that riding.
Lee Richardson resigned as the riding’s MP on 30 May, so by the end of November the election date has to be set.
In the meantime, the various parties have been undertaking their nominating meetings, and getting their candidates ready.
What’s missing from this picture is any solid evidence that any of the parties is using this time to try and swing the riding’s voters behind their candidate.
It’s become normal for Conservative Party candidates to keep a low profile in recent years. I recall when Deborah Meredith (Conservative) lost to Joyce Murray (Liberal) in the March 2008 by-election in Vancouver-Quadra by a scant 35 votes. Meredith had spent the pre-writ period and the entire by-election campaign hiding from voters: no glad-handing on the street, no unscripted public appearances, no all-candidates’ meetings, no meet-and-greet at a major transit hub, nothing. Questions by the local media went unanswered.
Thirty-five votes is nothing. But following orders to keep silent was apparently more important than doing what it took to win.
Compare that to the work of successful candidate Matthew Kellway (NDP), now the MP for Beaches-East York. A full year ahead of the 2011 election (which, you may recall, came about because of the fall of the Government on a confidence motion, so starting work in 2010 didn’t guarantee there’d even be a vote to try and capture anytime soon) Kellway was working the community.
I first met him at the entrance to one of the subway stations in the riding meeting and greeting the morning commuters. At that time he wasn’t even the candidate of his party — but he was out, introducing himself, with leaflets saying he was going to seek the nomination, explaining why he chose to run for the NDP rather than some other party, and asking what was on our minds.
Came election day and the mainstreeting, public meetings and the like done over time led to a solid win over an eighteen-year incumbent in what was deemed to be a “safe” riding (and not for the NDP).
So using the time available can and does make a difference.
It’s not like Calgary Centre isn’t a riding where the opposition parties don’t have prospects either. This is the riding that went back to the Progressive Conservatives in 2000 to elect Joe Clark, after all. Much like Bob Rae’s riding of Toronto Centre, Calgary Centre has a mix of communities, some parts of which are solidly Conservative, some happy to vote Liberal, still others where the NDP has support. Voters, in turn, are willing to switch parties for the right candidate — something that doesn’t happen in many other places.
Yet my friends on the ground in the riding make it clear that no one is taking advantage of the time the Prime Minister has granted them to get out there and start trying to win.
After all, Stephen Harper could have called the by-election — with as short as a three-week campaign start to finish — right after his Conservative Party wrapped up their nomination process in August. Instead he’s let the setting of the date drift — a pure gift to his opponents.
Apparently they don’t much care.
Joyce Murray may have only won Vancouver Quadra by thirty-five votes in March 2008, but she parlayed that (as the incumbent) into a nearly 3,500 vote lead half a year later when the general election came in October 2008 — and strengthened her hold on the riding again in 2011. Fighting to win, in other words, is worth it, even though this one seat changing hands wouldn’t affect the Harper Government in the slightest.
What this tells me is that the electoral district associations in Calgary Centre are moribund. They’re old-timers’ clubs, with the same faces sitting around the same tables closed to newcomers, resistant to hard work, and happy with their lot as “happy warriors” losing again and again. (This is similar in many ways to MP Andrew Saxton’s (Conservative) riding of North Vancouver, where the EDA was happier losing to a Liberal than doing the work to win — and where the old guard turned on the new EDA President that had worked with Saxton to score the win after the victory, for daring to upset their tidy little world.)
So go ahead, Calgary Centre. Prove me wrong. But I’ll bet you won’t — and I’ll bet you’ll have the same old whinge about “Conservative domination” when you’re done.