In Alberta’s coin-toss ridings, the federal election was about provincial politics.
A handful of ridings in Calgary and Edmonton hosted competitive races, while the Conservative Party of Canada continued to dominate the rest of the province. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s management of the pandemic has angered voters across the political spectrum, damaging his federal Conservative counterparts at the polls.
The federal Conservatives, under leader Erin O’Toole, lost two Alberta ridings Monday – one to the Liberal Party and one to the New Democratic Party. A third Alberta riding was too close to call.
Because Alberta is a Conservative stronghold, even a small dent in the party’s standing is notable.
“There’s such symbolic value when a riding shifts in Alberta,” Janet Brown, an Alberta pollster, said. “If six ridings flip in Ontario, nobody really pays attention.”
Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party is in turmoil, with moderates arguing he fumbled the pandemic by lifting public-health restrictions on Canada Day, creating a hospital crisis prior to Labour Day. Meanwhile, the right flank accuses him of overstepping when he introduced a vaccine passport system and reintroduced some restrictions last week.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pounced on Mr. Kenney after he declared a state of health emergency and Alberta cancelled all non-emergency surgeries to make room for COVID-19 patients in its ICUs. They pointed to Mr. O’Toole’s previous praise for Mr. Kenney’s pandemic management, implying such failure would be widespread with the Tories in charge in Ottawa.
Mr. O’Toole refused to answer questions about his earlier support for Mr. Kenney and cancelled interviews in the final days of the campaign. He also would not disclose how many CPC candidates are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
George Chahal, the Liberal candidate in Calgary Skyview, released an ad highlighting Mr. O’Toole’s praise for Mr. Kenney’s pandemic policies near the end of the campaign. Mr. Chahal, a former city councillor and well-known community member, unseated the Conservative incumbent and now has a shot at joining cabinet in the minority government.
Calgary Skyview was previously known as Calgary Northeast, which the Liberals captured in 2015.
In Edmonton Griesbach, NDP candidate Blake Desjarlais will replace the Conservative incumbent Kerry Diotte. In Edmonton Centre, the Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP, were in a tight three-way race Monday evening. The Conservatives held the seat prior to the election.
Voters in Edmonton Strathcona returned the NDP’s Heather McPherson to Ottawa. Conservatives won the rest of Alberta’s seats.
Mr. Trudeau’s return to power in the 2019 election angered Albertans, and Mr. Kenney frequently whipped up anti-Trudeau sentiments to bolster the UCP in Alberta. But in urban ridings support for the Liberals or NDP in part reflected voters’ frustration with Mr. Kenney, Ms. Brown said.
Calgary Centre is traditionally a swing riding, but the Conservative incumbent, Greg McLean, held on to his seat. He captured the riding in 2019, defeating Kent Hehr, then the Liberal Party incumbent. Mr. Hehr resigned from cabinet after allegations of sexual harassment, but remained in caucus after an inquiry cleared him of intentional wrongdoing.
Even with a handful of seats up for grabs, Mr. Kenney’s pandemic woes and turmoil in the UCP caucus overshadowed the election in Alberta. His future as Premier is in doubt as local UCP officials are rumoured to be pressing for a leadership review.
“Today is going to be the least interesting day of the week,” Ms. Brown said.
Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, noted the UCP’s pandemic performance may have pushed some traditional Conservative voters to the People’s Party of Canada. Indeed, the PPC was in second or third place, behind the Conservatives, in multiple races in Alberta Monday evening.
And while some on the right supported the PPC to protest Mr. Kenney’s pandemic response, Prof. Young argued moderates may have turned to Liberal or NDP candidates.
“I have never seen people as angry at a government as I’ve seen with respect to the Kenney government in Alberta’s cities,” she said.
Alberta cancelled all non-emergency surgeries last week because its intensive care units are overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. Alberta and Saskatchewan have the lowest rates of vaccination 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 those were in ICU. There are now more than 20,000 active COVID-19 cases in the province, and front-line health care professionals are calling for the federal government to send support from the military.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.