Alberta still a Conservative stronghold, but politics of COVID-19 wounds Tories

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In Alberta’s toss riding, the federal election was all about provincial politics.

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A handful of rides in Calgary and Edmonton hosted competitive races, while the Conservative Party of Canada dominated the rest of the province. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s handling of the pandemic has angered voters across the political spectrum, hurting their federally conservative counterparts in the polls.

The Federal Conservatives, led by leader Erin O’Toole, lost two of Alberta’s rides on Monday – one from the Liberal Party and one from the New Democratic Party. A third Alberta riding was too close to call.

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Because Alberta is a conservative stronghold, even a small dent in the party’s position is notable.

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“There’s such symbolic value when rides go on in Alberta,” said Janet Brown, a surveyor in Alberta. “If there are six riding flips in Ontario, no one really cares.”

Mr Kenny’s United Conservative Party is in turmoil, with moderates arguing they thwarted the pandemic by lifting public-health restrictions on Canada Day, leading to a hospital crisis ahead of Labor Day. Meanwhile, the right flank accused him of overstepping when he introduced a vaccine passport system and reimposed some restrictions last week.

Kenny was attacked after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh declared a state of health emergency and Alberta canceled all non-emergency surgeries to make room for COVID-19 patients in its ICU. He pointed to Mr O’Toole’s previous praise for Mr Kenny’s pandemic management, meaning such a failure would be widespread with the Tories in charge in Ottawa.

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Mr O’Toole declined to answer questions about his earlier support for Mr Kenny and canceled the interview in the final days of the campaign. He also did not disclose how many CPC candidates have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Liberal candidate George Chahal in Calgary Skyview issued an ad at the end of the campaign highlighting Mr O’Toole’s praise for Mr Kenny’s pandemic policies. Mr Chahal, a former city councilor and well-known community member, ousted the Conservative office bearer and now has a shot at joining the cabinet in minority government.

Calgary Skyview, formerly known as Calgary Northeast, was taken over by the Liberals in 2015.

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In Edmonton Grisbach, NDP candidate Blake DesJarlis will replace Conservative Kerry Diotte. At Edmonton Center, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP were in a three-way tight race on Monday evening. The Conservatives had held the seat before the election.

Voters in Edmonton Strathcona returned Ottawa to the NDP’s Heather McPherson. The Conservatives won the rest of Alberta’s seats.

Mr Trudeau’s return to power in the 2019 election angered Alberta, and Mr Kenney often fueled anti-Trudeau sentiments to strengthen the UCP in Alberta. But support for liberals, or the NDP, in the urban riding partly reflects voters’ frustration with Kenny, Ms Brown said.

Calgary Center is traditionally a swing riding, but the Conservative incumbent, Greg McLean, remained in his seat. He took over the riding in 2019 defeating the then-Kent Heher of the Liberal Party. Mr Hehr resigned from cabinet following allegations of sexual harassment, but after an investigation he was cleared of willful wrongdoing.

Even with a handful of seats, the woes of Mr. Kenny’s pandemic and the turmoil in the UCP caucus affected the election in Alberta. His future as premier is in doubt as local UCP officials are rumored to be pressing for a review of the leadership.

“Today is going to be the least interesting day of the week,” said Ms. Brown.

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Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said the UCP’s performance of the pandemic may have pushed some traditional conservative voters into the People’s Party of Canada. Indeed, PPC was second or third behind the Conservatives in several races in Alberta on Monday evening.

And while some backed the PPC to oppose Mr Kenny’s pandemic response, Prof. Young argued that moderates may turn to liberals or NDP candidates.

“I have never seen people so angry at the government as I have seen in relation to the Kenny government in the cities of Alberta,” she said.

Alberta canceled all non-emergency surgeries last week because its intensive care units are overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. Alberta and Saskatchewan have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and their hospitals are struggling to cope with the crush of serious cases.

Alberta had 954 COVID-19 patients in hospital as of Sunday, and 216 of them were in the ICU. The province now has more than 20,000 active COVID-19 cases, and front-line health care professionals are calling on the federal government to send support from the military.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Granthshala editors, giving you a brief summary of the day’s most important headlines. .

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