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Calgary’s mayoralty race a precursor for next provincial election, says pollster

Naheed Nenshi celebrates his victory as Calgary's mayor following municipal elections in Calgary  late Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. .
Naheed Nenshi celebrates his victory as Calgary's mayor following municipal elections in Calgary late Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A strong second-place finish in Calgary’s mayoral race by the former president of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives is likely something the new United Conservative Party will try and build on in the next provincial election, says a Calgary pollster.

FULL COVERAGE: 2017 Calgary election results

Naheed Nenshi won his third term as mayor with 51 per cent of the popular vote while Calgary lawyer Bill Smith finished with 44 per cent.

READ MORE: Naheed Nenshi holds on to mayor’s seat in 2017 Calgary election

Pollster Janet Brown said the late arrival in the race of political novice Smith was initially done as a test for the provincial vote in 2019.

Watch below from Oct. 16: Danielle Smith is joined by political commentator Janet Brown, former city councillor John Mar and Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt to talk about partisan politics and the municipal election.

Decision Calgary: How partisan politics have affected 2017 municipal election
Decision Calgary: How partisan politics have affected 2017 municipal election

“I think there’s a lot of work going on in conservative circles where they’re testing messages, where they’re testing systems, they’re testing all sorts of tools and that’s in preparation for the provincial election,” Brown said.

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“I think they will see important lessons were learned here. It says conservatives do need to take a close look at what it is about their policies that aren’t appealing.

“Although Nenshi is not a proxy for the provincial NDP, the fact of the matter is Calgarians were reluctant to go with the brand of conservative candidate. They opted for the more progressive option.”

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Click here for Calgary mayoral and councillor candidate results broken down by wards

Click here to find results from Alberta municipalities outside Calgary

Brown said voters traditionally choose more progressive candidates at the municipal level and more conservative ones when voting at the provincial or federal level.

Smith was asked if he expected the frustration he saw at the municipal level to carry into the next provincial election.

“Each campaign is different. Each candidate is different so it’s really difficult for me to say,” said Smith.

“I did get a strong sense from Calgarians that they’re frustrated about taxes. I suspect they’re feeling the same way provincially and with the federal government.”

READ MORE: 2017 Calgary mayoral candidates explain their priorities on property and business taxes

Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said Smith’s success might not be completely transferable to the newly merged United Conservatives.

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“Some of the folks are centrist PCers who won’t vote with the UCP. Bill Smith’s a very moderate conservative,” Williams said.

“Depending on who the leader is, the UCP may not be seen as moderate and may have their own challenges convincing Albertans they are going to be balanced and respectful enough of rights.”

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READ MORE: Whoever wins Alberta UCP leadership contest likely on ‘path to premier’s office’, says poll

Williams said voters in Calgary may be more receptive if former Wildrose leader Brian Jean were to win the United Conservative leadership over former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney.

“Jason Kenney makes (former prime minister) Stephen Harper look warm and fuzzy. He’s just not a very likable guy and Brian Jean is.”

But time is running out for Premier Rachel Notley, said Williams.

She said Notley still “has a shot” if the economy improves and there is a sign that the deficit will start to go down.

“The fact that somebody who isn’t a very good politician almost unseated one of the better politicians we’ve seen in this province tells you that being a good politician just isn’t enough,” Williams said referring to the outcome of the Calgary mayoral race.

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“It doesn’t matter how good a politician Rachel Notley is if the economy isn’t doing better. If we don’t have the deficit moving in the right direction, man it’s going to be really hard for them to win again.”

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