Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Race For Calgary Varsity (& Cardston-Taber-Warner)

718 votes.

Harry Chase won Varsity for the Liberals by just 718 votes in 2004. Which has been eating at the Tories ever since - had they managed, in the middle of Klein-feld, to inspire 719 more people to come out to vote, or had they door-knocked in 2 more polls, or had they done literature drops in 2 more apartment complexes, things may have gone differently.

The thing is, Calgary Varsity has never really been all that SAFE for the Tories - they had previously held onto the seat, but the Liberals were routinely getting 3000 to 4000 votes - it was only a matter of time until the Liberal voters came out on polling day and the Tories stayed home, and history would be made - and it was. Located just North of the downtown core, Varsity includes a lot of older communities - Calgary built North before it built South - which now house a significant number of long-time residents and retirees, and an equally significant number of college and university students renting suites, apartments, houses and rooms. As such, it's a riding that can go either way, depending on the issues of the day, and the campaigns themselves.

The Candidates:
Harry B. Chase (Lib)
Jennifer Diakiw (PC)
Tim Stock-Bateman (NDP)
Brennan Lytle (WAP)
Sean Maw (Grn)

Harry B. Chase won this riding in 2004, against most predictions. The former teacher and chair of the Friends of Medicare has served as the opposition Infrastructure critic in the Legislature. Considering how much there is to criticize on that file, it's surprising Chase doesn't have a bigger profile. A former critic for Parks with the Liberal caucus, Chase has worked in Kananaskis Country, and advocated for the creation of a park there along with the people at Save Kananaskis. A hard worker and doting grandfather, Chase is trying to shore up his support and hold this seat. His win in 2004 inspired Calgary-area Liberal supporters, and rallied them in part to help get Craig Cheffins elected in the Elbow by-election. Now, he needs them to rally again, to hold this seat against a strong PC challenger.

Jennifer Diakiw features a picture of McMahon Stadium on her homepage - which is the stadium in which the perennially under-achieving Calgary Stampeders store their equipment in preparation for the annual Labour Day beat-down at the hands of my beloved Edmonton Eskimos (and their 12-year old idiot of a head coach). An experienced fundraiser and former Chair of Special Olympics Calgary, Diakiw is a grandmother - which shocks many people who, after meeting her and experiencing her non-stop contagious enthusiasm and vitality, mistake her for someone 10 or 20 years younger. Tireless and well-connected, Diakiw's campaign is a reflection of her own enthusiasm and work ethic. Perhaps the best indicator that her campaign is having an effect, though, comes from an anonymous source within the Chase campaign: "We're nervous about Diakiw. VERY nervous." As well they should be.

Tim Stock-Bateman is a well-known and universally-lauded advocate for the homeless and working poor. formerly the Director of Operations at CUPS Community Health Centre, Stock-Bateman is now Director of Development for Corporate & Foundation Relations for the University of Calgary. Unlike many candidates who firmly believe in their heart of hearts that we just need to turn our swords into ploughshares and join hands and sing kumbaya and everything will be flowers and rainbows, Tim is a realist: He's seen the dark underbelly of reality. He's seen it, and doesn't like it, and wants us to change it through hard work in solving the actual problems, not in prettying up the symptoms. This riding isn't traditionally strong for the New Democrats, but a 3rd place finish for Tim is a good goal here.

Brennan Lytle is a 26 year-old Political Science grad from the University of Calgary. Currently employed in the energy sector, Lytle has been politically active for as long as he's been legally allowed to, running for Public School Board trustee at 18 years of age in Wards 6 & 7. This riding usually sees the Alliance support levels on par with the NDP, so look for Lytle to be running for 3rd place. It's not that Brennan's a bad candidate - far from it. But most university students are too idealistic to embrace right-of-centre philosophy (sad but true - youth has a well-known liberal bias), and many of the ticked-off Tories in this riding, Lytle's bread-and-butter going into this campaign, are at the age where they're more inclined to stay home and grumble about Stelmach than come out and vote for a 26 year-old.

Sean Maw ran federally for the Greens in the riding of Wildrose in 2006, and finished SECOND to Myron Thompson (okay, granted, it was a DISTANT second, but still...). Sean has been keeping a blog of his experiences during the campaign - definitely worth a read. A teacher of Engineering at Mount Royal College, Maw has worked as Research Director at the Olympic Oval, and is involved in work that will hopefully lead to Gold for Canada in Vancouver 2010. The Greens have been running candidates in Varsity as far back as 1993, with their best result coming in 2004 (753 votes - a close 4th). Maw's message of sustainable growth is one that plays well to the youth in the riding, but they will be more inclined to help keep a Liberal environmental advocate in the Legislature than vote Green and risk having the Tories take the seat back.

Cardston-Taber-Warner lies at the heart of Alberta's "Bible Belt". Located in the province's Far South, this riding likes to "buck the trend", as it were. A study of the runners-up in this riding since 1997 tells you all you need to know:

1997 - Social Credit
2001 - Alberta First Party
2004 - Progressive Conservative

The runner-up in 2004 is hoping their party doesn't end up where the other 2 have, but I digress... down here, it's all about trust. Who do you trust to represent you, who do you trust to do the right thing, and who do you trust to tell the truth? In 2004, the voters trusted Paul Hinman, narrowly electing him by 131 votes over then-incumbent and former area Reeve Broyce Jacobs of the PC's. The time since has seen Hinman's status and visibility on the rise, provincially - but he has been under fire here at home.

The Candidates:
Paul Hinman (WAP)
Broyce Jacobs (PC)
Ron Hancock (Lib)
Suzanne Sirias (NDP)
Billy Turner (Grn)

Paul Hinman has gone from a well-connected, low profile rural politician in 2004 to the leader of the "other Tories", the great hope for the right wing, and a poor man's Preston Manning as leader of the Wildrose Alliance. Handling himself well in the Leader's Debate, Hinman is leading his party with pledges of lower taxes, a return to the previous Royalty Regime, and democratic reform. The Tagalog speaker (I am VERY jealous - having an impossible time learning the language!) is making promises that may get the Alliance elected in as many as 4 or 5 ridings across the province. The problem for the constituents in Cardston-Taber-Warner, though, is another promise he made, in the presence of God: Wedding vows. Hinman is divorced, and divorce is not taken lightly down here. While many in the cities treat divorce with the same attitude they'd treat having laser eye surgery, for the residents in this riding, it is a BIG DEAL - and while they like Hinman's politics, he has lost some of the values voters in the riding. And when you're winning your seat by 131 votes, losing ANY votes is not a good thing. Hinman may in fact lead his party to 4 or 5 seats in this election - but Cardston-Taber-Warner might not be one of them. Hinman may win the war, but lose the battle at home.

Broyce Jacobs is a farmer and former rural Reeve. Sound familiar? He's not the only person with those credentials who's running against Paul Hinman. Unlike that OTHER E.S., though, Jacobs was defeated in his riding in 2004 - as mentioned above, by a small number of votes. Broyce is still well thought-of in the community, and he now has the full weight of the PC Party behind him, trying to knock off the leader of their main small-c conservative opponents. A motivated, well-funded team of PC's trying to win the riding for their candidate and for the good of their party may win the day, here, although for the people of Cardston-Taber-Warner, it's the strength of your handshake and whether you look someone in the eye that means a lot more than how glossy your flyers are. Jacobs won this riding in 2001 by 3,000 votes against an opponent from the Alberta First Party. He has no website.

Ron Hancock ran for the Liberals here in 2001, garnering just under 12% of the popular vote. This is a weak riding for the Liberals, and getting weaker each year - in 2004, they polled at under 9%. The Liberal Leader, their policies, and the "country folks have no place running a government" phase that the Libs went through after Ed announced his first cabinet will all play against Hancock here.

Suzanne Sirias is a Community Mental Health Therapist, and works with the local RCMP detachment as a Victims Assistant Advocate. She ran here in 1997, and again in 2001. Let's be honest, here - this is a riding that comes a lot closer to electing SoCreds in 2008 than it does New Democrats. Suzanne is a dedicated believer in the NDP, and has all the guts in the world - but she has as much chance being elected in this riding as I do waking up tomorrow and deciding that Highlander: The Source was NOT the biggest cinematic disappointment of my life. Which is to say, no chance at all.

Billy Turner is a real, honest-to-god Rodeo Cowboy. A bareback champion and competitor at the Calgary Stampede, Turner is also a political science student at the University of Calgary. Feeling a strong connection to the environment, Turner chose to run for the Greens is response to what he considered a laughable plan to address climate change and emissions by someone he refers to on his website as "Ed Stelmack". Billy's going to be a huge hit with the younger female voters of the area, but let's be clear: He's just trying to beat the Greens previous vote total of 225, and maybe beat the NDP candidate. Anything beyond that is a huge bonus.


Anonymous said...

Hinman's limited visits outside his own constituency provide ample proof of your assertion that the vote is close and he may lose it this time around.

Jacobs is running hard also, and doesn't have the distraction of having to be elsewhere at times during the campaign. It could also be said - and I think you alluded to that point - that some of the vote was a vote against Klein last time. May be hard to stomach for some Calgarians, but Klein was not universally beloved in some areas outside of Calgary.

I think Jacobs has at least a 50:50 chance of reclaiming the seat.

Anonymous said...

With respect to Varsity, Chase is running scared (not unlike some incumbents in Calgary and Edmonton of various party affiliations). Word is, on the day the Premier made an announcement at the UofC research park, Chase spent more than two hours across the road, on a bus bench, with some signs waiting for a chance to get some media attention. Don't know if he got any, but that was also at least two hours not spent on peoples' doorsteps asking for their vote.

Diakiw is running a much stronger campaign than I would have given credit for only a month ago. It is a diverse riding, but she is a good candidate for it, given her maturity and her connections to SAIT and the UofC. She manages to find common ground with seniors, young families, and students (I've spent some time in the riding and have seen it).

Anonymous said...

In Varsity, Tim Stock-Bateman is keeping a campaign blog too (