Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Saga of Calgary-West... No, the OTHER One...

Nation, there are a few areas of the city where small-c conservative politics are a messy, messy business. The reasons for this are unclear... it certainly doesn't seem to be tied to property values, however, as some of the most affordable homes in the city, those in the north-east, are in the fabled Ward 10 area of civic notoriety, and some of the most exclusive and LEAST affordable homes in the city are on the "'Burg on the Bow"'s western edge, within the federal and provincial ridings of Calgary-West.

What both areas share, though, is a history of conservative politics that could be charitably described as "somewhat questionable at times".

Calgary-West - the provincial constituency - is under the microscope at the moment, as the Nomination Vote that took place on January 21st has been ruled invalid by the PC Party.

This vote was notable for a few reasons: Firstly, it featured 2 particularly well-known candidates in Ken Hughes and Shiraz Shariff. Hughes had served in the past as a Member of Parliament, and was on Alison Redford's transition team as she moved into the Premier's Office after the PC Leadership Race last fall. He was also, very notably, the former head of Alberta Health Services, and stepped down from that role to seek what many thought would be a "shoo-in" nomination win, and eventually a cabinet position. Shariff was a 4-term MLA in Calgary-McCall, serving from 1995 to 2008. Prior to this, Shariff served as the President of the local PC Association in McCall, winning the seat in a by-election after the prior MLA had passed away.

Secondly, the vote was noteworthy for the sheer volume of votes cast. I don't have access to the exact totals, per normal PC nomination procedures, however I have heard the votes cast were in the 3,000-to-4,000 range, and that the Shariff victory was on the third ballot, indicating that the preferential ballot system had to be used as no candidate won a majority after the first count.

After Shariff's surprising win on the 21st - which was even a topic of discussion at the Calgary-Fish Creek nomination poll, where voting was underway when the news broke - Mount Royal University's David Taras was quoted in a Calgary Herald article on-line indicating that Shariff's ground-game had carried the day.

Not so fast, though...

The PC Party received complaints after the fact about the eligibility of some voters. It's unclear who made the complaints, however Party President Bill Smith said in a statement that "The PCAA does not hold any one candidate or campaign responsible for the unfortunate situation." The Party has declared the vote invalid, and has asked the Calgary-West PC Board of Directors to supply a list of 3 names to Party Leader Alison Redford, who will then choose whom from among those 3 will be the party candidate in Calgary-West.

I don't have any inside knowledge as to exactly what the complaints were, or who lodged them. I can tell you that my own nomination contest, in Fish Creek, was run with near-military precision. There was no doubt and no debate as to the outcome being a fair and accurate reflection of the will of those with 2012 PC Party memberships who lived in the riding. We had a tremendous Nomination Chair, and an experienced and wise Returning Officer: There was no room for any shenanigans, and I didn't hesitate for a second in signing off on the results, regardless of how close they were. It's worth noting, though, that these were both roles filled by local volunteers - and, had 2 other people been in the roles and not been suited to them, the resulting race and vote might very well have been a whole different kettle of fish.

Whatever the reasons for the complaints, clearly the Party received enough of them to cast the result in doubt (had the margin of victory been 500 and 2 complaints been received, we would likely not be having this conversation). The PC's felt they had to act, and threw out the result. The campaigns of Shariff, Hughes, and others are out the time and money that were thrown into securing the nomination for the constituency, which opened after the surprise announcement that Finance Minister Ron Liepert would not be seeking re-election.

Shiraz, of course, is not going down without a fight, and took his case to Facebook yesterday, posting:

"The nomination process for Calgary West was credible and set out by the constituency Board, comprised of committed and competent volunteers, such as Doctor Ryan Carter, brother of the Premier’s chief of staff. Other strong leaders in our community for whom we have high regard, were managing key processes, such as the credentials desk, which ensures the legitimacy of the voters casting ballots on nomination day.

I maintain that my campaign was run fairly. It was run with integrity and we followed the process. Other candidates in the Calgary West nomination had also stated their acceptance of the process, the fairness and the outcome. Most importantly, security on the day of the vote ensured that no one could cast a ballot without first proving residency in Calgary West with two pieces of identification. This process was undertaken in the same way for all other constituencies."
It remains to be seen what 3 names will be submitted by the Calgary-West PC Board for the Party Leader's approval, however it's safe to say that it would be a political nightmare for her if either Shariff's name or Hughes' name appear on that list. Whoever is appointed as the candidate will have to be able to WIN the seat in the upcoming election, and the voters of Calgary-West are notorious in their conservatism, and would likely give a rough ride to a candidate hand-picked by the Premier if they were parachuting in from elsewhere.

On a related note, I guess I should have checked and made sure my name wasn't on the "List of 3" before typing that last sentence. Oh, well...

The bottom line here, is that the Party found it necessary to, in the words of the President's release, "Disallow the nomination". That's a pretty big step, and one that they wouldn't take lightly. The complaints they received must have been pretty significant, for the embarrassment of proactively disallowing the nomination to have been lesser than the embarrassment of not acting and letting the complaints go public. It creates a political headache for a Premier who went into the winter break being criticised for a perceived lack of commitment to democratic principles, and who will at some point likely have to curtail debate on the Budget in order to pass it and move forward with an election call.

The PC's would NOT just be going through this exercise because they don't like Shiraz, or to get Ken Hughes on the ballot.

The exact details, we may never know. But let the conspiracy theorists rejoice!

The thousands of PC's in Calgary-West, who took time out of their lives to vote in their nomination contest, are watching closely to see what the Premier does to restore their faith in the party and the process.

As are the other 3.64 million of us.

No comments: