By-elections are being held in four ridings across Alberta on October 27th. This mini-election, of sorts, is needed to elect Premier Jim Prentice and two of his cabinet ministers to the legislative assembly. More importantly, the four races will serve as a weather vane in the rapidly shifting winds of politics in Alberta today.

We shouldn’t read too much into the face value results because Jim’s team is risk averse and has chosen circumstances that will lead to favourable results and at the same time, by-elections give the electorate a safe place to punish governing parties without dramatically affecting the party  balance that currently exists. With that in mind, here are 7 things to look for as the results roll in next Monday.

1. How many ridings will the PCs hold?

Premier Jim Prentice (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

In my opinion, the surprise addition of Calgary-West to the slate of ridings up for grabs was meant as a buffer for Premier Prentice. Losing one of three ridings looks worse than losing one of four. So what result do the PCs need? 4 for 4 would be a pretty big win for Jim, yet 2 of 4 in these ‘safe’ areas should be viewed as a considerable indictment of Alberta’s natural ruling party. If they pull out 3 wins (the most likely outcome) then it is easily spun as a good mandate for the new leadership with only a little collateral damage (all Alison’s fault) along the way.

2. Who will win Calgary-Elbow?

cc: Premier Jim Prentice
Education Minister Gordon Dirks (credit: Premier Jim Prentice)

Education Minister Gordon Dirks is in the toughest spot of the four PC candidates. Alison Redford’s old riding will be a magnet for discontent and many voters will be motivated to punish the PCs. At the same time, opposition parties have  had a target placed here ever since she resigned as Premier. Calgary-Foothills andEdmonton-Whitemud will likely go PC, Calgary-West is more challenging but Calgary-Elbow is very much up for grabs.

3. Can the Wildrose demonstrate growth?

Danielle Smith (credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

As much as these by-elections are a test for the PCs, they should also be a big test for the Wildrose. Much of their support province-wide is in protest to a tired dynasty that has become riddled with scandal in the past few months. Simply put, the Wildrose has to be attracting voters who are looking to finally oust the PCs. If the Wildrose are going to be a big threat in 2016 then they should be attracting lots of voters in these by-elections. Look to see how many votes they secure. In 2012, they secured almost 20,000 votes across the four ridings and despite likely low turnout in a by-election the Wildrose should be able to demonstrate growth across the board. If they can’t identify and pull more than 20,000 votes it may be an indication that the government-in-waiting will have difficulty breaking through it’s 2012 ceiling.

4. Turnout

A voting lineup 9Zcredit: https://www.flickr.com/marrngtn/)
A voting lineup (credit: http://www.flickr.com/marrngtn/)

By-elections have little result on the makeup of government and so people are less likely to make the trek to the polls. This opportunity though includes some big names at a critical time. A little over 65,000 voters came out to vote in these four ridings in 2012 – expect fewer next Monday, but call it a big news story if turnout has grown. A low turnout will indicate more comfort with the status quo but high turnout will show motivation for change.

5. Will Greg Clark be a difference maker in Elbow?


Greg Clark is the new leader of the Alberta party and his campaign has some big fire power behind him in the form of former PC and Liberal provincial campaign managers Stephen Carter and Corey Hogan, respectively. The Elbow race is critical for the future of the Alberta party. After dismal showings from strong candidates in 2012 the new kids on the block need a win (or at worst a very strong 3rd) here to remain viable as a party. If Clark does take the seat, then the party gets an important toe-hold and could be well positioned to seriously change the political dynamic in Alberta in 2016.

6. Can the NDP actualize their high poll numbers in Edmonton?

Edmonton-Whitemud NDP Candidate Bob Turner credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Whitemud NDP Candidate Bob Turner (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

It’s not like Edmonton-Whitemud has ever been a hotbed of socialism but the NDP was polling at the top of the heap in Edmonton over the summer. They’ve attracted a great candidate inDr. Bob Turner but he is still running against a popular former mayorin the province’s traditionally strongest PC riding. A win or strong second for the NDP will show that Edmonton is indeed ready for Rachel and will indicate a significant shift.

7. Will the Liberals maintain relevance?

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman credit: Dave Cournoyer)
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman (credit: Dave Cournoyer)

I don’t anticipate the Alberta Liberals winning any of these seats, but a poor showing will be a disastrous signal for the party. In 2012, only their incumbent MLAs held their seats and since then the party has looked more like a group of individual MLAs that happen to have offices near each other. Two of those MLAs are about to jump to run federally and if progressive voters coalesce around other parties next week it will be a sign of big trouble for the grits. The saving grace, though, is that the party has attracted some good name candidates in  Susan Wright (Elbow) and Donna Wilson (Whitemud). The Liberals should be getting around 1,000 votes in each riding and significantly less would be problematic.