Conservative nomination races in stronghold Alberta could leave Alison Redford with a headache.
Early signs are the Alberta Premier could lose four of her MLAs and a top staffer to bids for Conservative nominations – Len Webber, Janice Sarich, David Xiao and Don Scott are all said by some in the province to be eyeing making the jump to federal politics, as is Matthew Macdonald, the premier’s office’s director of planning.
Departures of four MLAs could trigger by-elections, which could be hard on Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservatives, whose poll numbers have slumped since the 2012 election.
While Ms. Redford’s majority is not at risk – her party holds 60 of 87 seats – by-elections tend to be hard on governing parties.
“Generally speaking, there’s no question that by-elections are an opportunity for voters to vote against the government, without risk,” said Susan Elliott, the 2012 PC campaign manager, dismissing questions about polling numbers. “We are too far away from a general election to be watching the polls.”
Mr. Webber and Mr. Xiao confirmed to The Globe they’re “seriously considering” running in Calgary Confederation and Edmonton West, respectively. Mrs. Sarich didn’t return messages, but business cards with her information and a federal riding, Edmonton Griesbach, are circulating and her assistant said she’d be able to comment on the subject after Jan. 31. Finally, Mr. Scott said only he was “presently honoured to serve the Premier in my current role,” declining to confirm or deny his federal interest in the recently vacated riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca.
Mr. Webber said that, if nominated and elected, he’d like to push federally for the creation of an agency to coordinate organ and tissue donation, after spearheading a similar law provincially. Asked if the departure of MLAs would be seen as a rebuke of Ms. Redford’s leadership, he said: “If it affects the Premier, I’m sorry, but I’ve got a mission here and a passion I want to see move forward. If it affects the party in a way where we have to have a by-election, I guess so be it.”
Some polls have shown Wildrose leading the PCs in Calgary and rural Alberta, where Mr. Webber and Mr. Scott’s seats are. The Edmonton ridings of Mr. Xiao and Ms. Sarich are surrounded by current or former Liberal and NDP ridings. While Mr. Scott’s seat will likely not switch hands, “Xiao and Sarich are going to be close, and Webber they lose in a landslide,” one source said of the party’s by-election prospects, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In a December poll, the PCs were leading Wildrose 34 per cent to 29 per cent, but have lost support to the Liberals and NDP, Calgary pollster Janet Brown said. After backing Ms. Redford in the election, Liberal and NDP supporters “have returned to their traditional voting position,” she said.
Federal election law says provincial legislators can’t be official federal candidates, but that only kicks in one an election campaign is called. Alberta law only blocks MLAs from serving simultaneously as an MP. In other words, it’s up to Ms. Redford to decide when MLAs need to step down.