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Calgary Centre Byelection: Joan Crockatt Narrow Win A Wake-Up Call For Conservatives

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CALGARY CENTRE JOAN CROCKATT
Joan Crockatt's narrow win in the Calgary Centre byelection is a wake-up call for the Conservatives. (CP) | CP

The Conservatives have pulled out another win in Calgary Centre, but it's not one they'll be cheering and bragging about any time soon.

Joan Crockatt squeaked out a narrow victory Monday evening, claiming only four per cent more of the vote than Liberal candidate Harvey Locke, but the victory was seen as a loss by some.

Crockatt wound up capturing about 37 per cent of the popular vote, the lowest for an MP-elect in Calgary Centre since the inception of the riding in 1968. By comparison her predecessor, MP Lee Richardson, whose resignation triggered the byelection, won 55.7 per cent of the vote in 2011 and 55.6 per cent in 2008.

This downward shift in support is a "moral defeat," says Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, and "a sheet of plywood over Harper's cabinet door.

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Where Richardson differed from Crockatt, says Braid, was his ability to convince his constituents that he was on their side. He had broad appeal with both the high and low income voters.

Crockatt, on the other hand, was largely absent from debates and forums - a common Conservative campaign tactic. Many questioned her dedication and allegiance to voters in the riding and even Calgary mayor Naheed Neshi waded into the federal waters to question her absence.

Despite Crockatt's victory announcement "Conservative support in Calgary Centre remains strong and growing," John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail says "Crockatt made many Calgary Conservatives uncomfortable" with her political views. The fact that her campaign team was dominated by Wildrose strategists and that she had Calgary West MP Rob Anders campaigning by her side likely hurt her, says Ibbitson.

Locke's campaign likely suffered from keeping certain company as well, says Colby Cosh of Maclean's Magazine. Cosh argues that Locke would have captured much of the red-Tory support that would have once gone to the incumbent, but after damaging anti-Alberta comments made by Liberal MP David McGuinty and leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau last week, the comments "probably kept quite a few of them home on a chilly November day."

Ibbitson points out that the result of the vote was "much closer than it should have been," and points to the Green Party candidate Chris Turner's strong campaign as a factor that split the progressive vote.

However, both Braid and Ibbitson argue that the Green Party's strong third-place showing is also an indication that the party is finally finding a voice and place in politics. Braid points out that many conservatives who voted Green may have been those who did not like Crockatt.

"I think a lot of people voting Green are Conservatives who just can't bring themselves to vote Liberal," Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis told Braid.

"They're sending us a message. I'm just not quite sure what it is."

No matter what the message, argues Ibbitson, there is one message the Conservatives are missing when it comes to capturing the hearts and votes of Albertans. It's the lesson Wildrose leader Danielle Smith learned in her April defeat, that "economic conservatives can win elections, but social conservatism is a ticket to defeat."

Without a doubt, the close results at the polls are a wake-up call for the Conservatives, says University of Windsor political scientist Cheryl Collier.

"The brain trust that is the Conservative machine will not be taking it as granted moving forward as they thought they could," she told 660 News.

"It's been such a stronghold for the Conservatives for many years, they took for granted that the vote would go their way and I think they needed to pay more attention to it."

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