Alberta’s reputation as a bastion of conservatism has been belied once again by the recent municipal elections. Both Calgary and Edmonton, which together make up over half the province’s population, elected progressive mayors. And in both cases they replace progressive mayors.
Not only did they win, they won big. In Calgary, Jyoti Gondek received 45 percent of the vote in a field of 27 candidates; her closest competitor, a right-wing conservative and UCP favourite, gained only 30 percent. In Edmonton, Amarjeet Sohi similarly won 45 percent of the vote while his closest competitor, again a conservative, gained only 25 percent, out of a field of 11.
Furthermore, both councils lean progressive. At first blush, it appears Calgary’s new council is about two to one progressives over conservatives, and Edmonton’s council looks like one of the most progressive in the city’s history.
Why, one might ask, in a conservative province, are the two major cities dominated by progressive councils. The immediate answer of course is that they are cities. They are urban. As in most places the greatest reserves of Alberta conservatism lie in the country, in the rural areas. And Edmonton, often referred to as “Redmonton,” has always had something of a lefty reputation.
Fifty years ago, the province’s urban areas shed the then Alberta reputation of being a rural backwater, turfed out the long-time Social Credit government and its association with evangelical Christianity, and elected the very urbane Peter Lougheed and his Conservatives. Alberta entered the modern era.
The trend continues. As people from many other places, from within Canada and without, arrive in our two big cities, attitudes broaden. One cannot help but notice that both mayors-elect are immigrants of Punjabi heritage.
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid sums it up nicely, “This is the look of Alberta’s great cities today—tolerant, forward-looking and ready to deal realistically with social problems.” I can’t help but agree. The future is uncertain, the need for economic transition challenging, but we’ve got the right people for the job.