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Panda wins Foothills byelection

September 4, 2015

 

It was Panda-monium in northwest Calgary Thursday.

 

Cheers greeted a Wildrose win in the Calgary-Foothills byelection, as Prasad Panda edged out NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth by roughly 5% of the vote, becoming the Wildrose party’s 22nd MLA in the current government

 

Wildrose party leader Brian Jean arrived with Panda to a throng of well-wishers packed into a northwest Calgary restaurant.

 

Addressing the crowd, Jean said Panda was more than just the choice of himself in his party, but of voters.

 

"This is an incredible step forward for the Wildrose, and Alberta," he said.

"I couldn't be more thrilled to have Prasad Panda join our caucus."

 

Thanking the crowd for their support, Panda said he was humbled to have won the support of voters, and said he looks forward to getting down to business with the rest of his party.

 

"Calgary's very worried about jobs, and the premier needs to understand that," he said.

An NDP statement conceded the election in an email just prior to the final numbers being posted.

 

"We had no illusions about this byelection," the statement from Finance Minister Joe Ceci, on behalf of Hawkesworth, said.

 

"We knew that it would be an uphill battle given the history of the riding and the economic challenges we face because of the collapse in oil prices."

 

Despite Panda’s victory Thursday night, his party is still dwarfed by the Alberta NDP’s 53-seat majority, handily won by Rachel Notley’s orange crush after the May 5 general election.

 

Low energy prices, coupled with economic uncertainty in the oil patch, had many questioning the policies of the new NDP government, and how they would interact with Alberta's energy sector.

 

Tory candidate Blair Houston was a close third with 24 per cent of the vote.

 

The byelection in Calgary-Foothills was called after former Tory premier Jim Prentice won the riding on election night in March only to resign from politics the same night when his party was handed their walking papers by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP.

 

Some pollsters, including Janet Brown of Calgary, expected it to be a hotly contested race between the NDP and the Wildrose.

 

She suggested the NDP was eager to win to prove their general election victory wasn’t a fluke, while the Wildrose needed to prove it could win an urban riding.

 

Notley rejected the premise, saying the outcome of the byelection was not a “litmus test” for her government, which has a comfortable 53-seat majority in the 87-seat legislature.

 

Nevertheless, she paid multiple visits to the constituency during the month-long campaign.

 

The race was nasty at times.

 

The Wildrose, which until now didn't hold a seat in either Edmonton or Calgary, accused the NDP of trying to scare voters by suggesting the government supports sweeping and punishing civil service job cuts.

 

The NDP fired back at the Wildrose for a campaign pamphlet, written in Cantonese, that compared the government to communists. The Wildrose said it meant to say socialists, and that their meaning was lost in translation. 

 

POOR TURNOUT

 

Voter burnout appeared to have affected voter turnout for Thursday’s Calgary-Foothills byelection.

 

Returning officers saw 4,146 ballots cast over the four days offered for early-bird balloters, representing about 12% of voters in the riding.

 

Just over 11,100 of 32,212 eligible voters showed up at polling stations Thursday, representing a turnout of roughly 34%.

 

Prentice’s election-night resignation condemned the riding to their third trip to the polls in less than a year.

On top of that, Thursday’s byelection came in the midst of a federal election campaign.

 

 

— With files from The Canadian Press

 

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