Analysis of Joan Crockatt’s Nomination as the Conservative Party of Canada Candidate for the Calgary Centre By-election
The first paragraph says it all: “Joan Crockatt is the Conservative nominee in Calgary Centre — and now the overwhelming favourite to become the next MP for the inner-city riding.” (Source: Calgary Herald)
But is still that simple? Are we still in the days of “win the Conservative nomination and you are guaranteed to be MP” in Calgary?
With the nomination of the Crockatt (here’s her bio), this presents challenging proposition for the “Conservative mindset” within the riding.
Let’s break it down.
Calgary Centre has long been a Conservative stronghold – from the Progressive Conservatives (PCs), to the Reform, Canadian Alliance and now the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). If we were to classify the riding now, it would be in-tune with the values of the Federal PCs of the 1970s and 1980s.
With the rise of Preston Manning’s Reform Party, the riding stayed within the realm of the “home team” conservatives amidst the demise of Mulroney’s (and subsequently Kim Campbell’s) PCs. Other than the aberration of Joe Clark’s re-election, conservative parties of one stripe or another have held this riding by comfortable majorities. However, these majorities have been amongst the weakest in Conservatives’ Calgary domain.
Two factors account for this relatively weaker majority.
- There is typically a 40% to 45% support for centre/centre-left candidates, albeit a fractured vote.
- Calgary Centre is predominantly Red Tory riding. And Red Tories relate more to old school PCs and Provincial PCs rather than Mr. Harper’s brand of conservatism.
It is no surprise that Lee Richardson – a known Red Tory – knew how to navigate the waters of Calgary Centre and delivered governance that aligned with the predominant mindset of the riding. Richardson also delivered one critical thing. Confidence. Confidence that Calgary Centre was his riding. And a consistent conservative riding.
However, during his tenure in Ottawa, a fascinating migration was happening – with the unification of the conservative parties in Canada and Harper’s stewardship to a majority, Red Tories were departing the CPC in droves. Richardson was among the last few until he departed to work for Premier Redford. His departure left a void for Red Tories in what many can consider, has emerged, as one of the most diverse ridings in Canada.
The reality for Red Tories under Harper’s regime, and his distaste for the middle ground, is that they no longer have an ideological home in Canada. And oddly enough at a time when Canada looks awash with Red Tory sentiment.
One could say that if the Red Tories had a comfortable home, Alberta would be that place.
Let’s fast forward to the Alberta provincial of 2012. This was effectively a family feud between the Alberta PCs and the upstart Wild Rose Party. When it appeared the that the Wild Rose were cruising to crushing victory and they appeared to have the measuring tape out ready for their move into the Legislature, Albertans woke up and sternly expressed their distaste for their form of conservatism, and resorted to the comforts of the provincial PCs. Conservative Party of Canada leaders and members alongside the Wild Rose Alliance, in their preparations for a celebration and their labeling of provincial PCs as basically “the Liberal Party of Alberta” never counted on voters to come out in droves to re-affirm their belief in what Alberta had become – a socially progressive society that values tolerance and diversity.
So what does this have to do with Crockatt’s nomination?
Besides starting her campaign early, Crockatt built her team with from the remnants of the Wild Rose campaign and relied on their supporters to build her base. Crockatt revealed her hand – she was staying firmly afoot in and campaigning within the right-wing camp that she was known for. Her actions presented a challenge for Red Tories – she effectively leveraged the cozy relationship between the Wild Rose Party and the Federal Conservatives, and her ascendancy isolated the riding’s centre-right moderates even more. Further, after a number of highly public “she said/he said” spats, she is not an ideal choice among provincial PCs.
While her new role is to try an reconcile all fractions within the riding’s CPC supporters, she is renowned for her polarizing views and has to undertake a significant cognitive shift to get to a headspace where she can attempt to reunify the party. However, given recent history and some of the personalities involved, she certainly has her work cut out.
What does this mean for the progressive vote in the riding?
They could not have hoped for a better outcome of the CPC candidacy race.
Assuming that the relationship with the Wild Rose Party dominates the minds of conservative voters, Crockatt faces two problems:
- Disenchanted conservatives don’t get involved in her campaign and stay home on election day; or
- There is recession of conservative support to a progressive candidate they can relate to.
The first scenario can lead to a lower voter turnout among conservatives. With an energized progressive campaign, a good “get out the vote” can give Crockatt a significant challenge on Election Day.
The second scenario is one of headroom and the ability to attain a majority. With Crockatt likely having reduced support, her hope for an easy majority hinges on low voter turnout. But digging into the math reveals another story. Crockatt in reality may have 35% to 40% of the vote secured, but also capped at this level. This would mean that the progressive side of the equation, in aggregate, while comfortably in the 40% to 45% share of the vote, can potentially see their headroom extend by 20 points to 60% to 65% of the popular vote. This allows for some flexibility among the progressive vote – if a clear strong candidate, they can get a solid majority; alternatively a race between two strong candidates can create discomfort for Joan’s perceived “slam dunk to Ottawa.”
No matter how you view it, CPC party members have, with nominating Joan Crockatt, handed progressives an interesting lifeline. It is now up to them to make the most of it.