The Orange Crush has returned to Athabasca-Redwater for the first time in 26 years.
The NDP’s Colin Piquette was the winner of the Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater electoral race Tuesday with about 40 per cent of the vote. Piquette unseated PC incumbent Jeff Johnson and beat Wildrose Party challenger Travis Olson to become the riding’s new MLA.
“The room just erupted” when the results came in Tuesday at the Athabasca Train Station, Piquette said. Many long-time NDP supporters astonished that their party had won after so many years.
“A lot of them were just stunned.”
The last time any part of this newly made riding was represented by the provincial NDP was in 1989, Piquette said. The MLA back then was Leo Piquette, his father.
While there was a strong “ABC” (Anyone But Conservative) movement at work in this campaign, Piquette said the biggest reason for his win was the voters themselves.
“I think this was a vote of confidence in the people in this riding in themselves,” he said.
People had heard for years from the PCs that they had to have rock-bottom taxes, services and royalty rates or they’d starve in the street, and they finally had enough, Piquette said. NDP leader Rachel Notley’s performance in the televised debate also impressed many, and may have helped convince Albertans that her party was a viable alternative to the PCs.
“I think (voters) finally put their foot down, they rejected the politics of fear that have been driving our politics for far too long, and they demanded better of their government.”
Piquette thanked Johnson for his years of service and thanked Olson for coming down to the train station to congratulate him in person.
Expensive lesson, predicts Olson
Olson came in third in the race with 29.64 per cent of the vote – less than 0.25 per cent behind Johnson.
Olson said many his Athabasca office were surprised that the pre-election polls were actually right in predicting an NDP win, as many expected the PCs to mount a comeback.
“Albertans were ready for change,” Olson said of the results, noting that Notley’s strong showing in the debate and a wave of anti-PC sentiment helped drive the NDP into office.
The Wildrose also did exceptionally well, he continued – three months ago, they thought they’d be lucky to keep five seats.
“The way it looks now, we’re going to have official opposition (status) and we’ll be able to challenge the NDP and their tax-and-spend agenda.”
Olson said there were some “glaring issues” in the NDP’s budget, especially when it came to corporate tax rates and job creation, and predicted that its implementation would be “one of the most expensive lessons in economics in Alberta’s history.”
Still, he said it’s better to have someone with integrity in office than someone who doesn’t, even if you don’t fully agree with that someone’s ideas.
“The PCs have lost the moral authority to govern.”
Olson said he’d get back to work on his farm in the coming weeks, but didn’t rule out running for the Wildrose Party’s executive again (he used to be its vice-president).
Johnson signs off
Speaking to his supporters with a glass of red wine in one hand, Johnson expressed mixed feelings following Tuesday’s results.
“In one sense, I’m looking forward to moving back to a normal life, and in the other sense I’m disappointed that I wasn’t successful (with) all the work that everyone’s done,” he said.
“My family has sacrificed time and we’ve had a lot of friends and supporters and volunteers that have sacrificed and worked very hard for us. I’m looking forward to spending some time at home and deciding what’s next in our lives.”
Johnson said he was hoped the NDP would temper its policies, warning that their promises could easily push the province into a recession.
He also noted that conservative vote-splitting between the PCs and the Wildrose contributed to the NDP’s win.
“The irony is that the Wildrose opposition has elected a left-wing government.”